Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...
31 October, 2005
Never Too Early
It's never too early to plan some beer drinking for next summer. The Great Taste of the Midwest
will be on August 12th next year. Tickets go on sale on Beltane. (That's May 1st for all you non-pagans.)
Happy Halloween, everyone! We had a spate of kids coming to our door for chocolatey goodness earlier but it seems to have abated. Check out this site
to discover how Halloween is played out around the world. Perhaps most telling is how the French view the day:Unlike most nations of the world, Halloween is not celebrated by the French in order to honor the dead and departed ancestors. It is regarded as an "American" holiday in France and was virtually unknown in the country until around 1996.
Also, check out the History Channel
to learn about the history of the holiday.
And to any pagans/Wiccans out there, Happy Samhain
Darren Aronofsky, director of the cult classics, Pi
and Requiem for a Dream
, has a new film coming out called The Fountain
. "Spanning over one thousand years, and three parallel stories, The Fountain is a story of love, death, spirituality, and the fragility of our existence in this world." The release date has been pushed back until sometime next year so, in the interim, he'll be directing an episode of Lost.
There is just no excuse for this kind of crap
Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong
will be weighing in at 3 hours
. Speaking of Peter Jackson, he has signed on as executive producer
for the film adaptation of the popular video game, Halo.This site
has 13 brief clips from the forthcoming Harry Potter flick.
No, this isn't Mel Gibson reprising his role from the Lethal Weapon
films but rather him explaining his latest project, Apocalypto
.The film's stars will be unrecognizable to most moviegoers, and they will speak in the Mayan tongue of Yucateco, Gibson said. It will be light on dialogue and heavy on images and action. It's set 600 years ago, prior to the 16th-century Spanish conquest of Mexico and Central America.
He sure has a hardon for dead languages. Now, if we could only keep him on Latin...
28 October, 2005
First the Chinese Took It Seriously
The White House is highly unamused with The Onion
for its use of the Presidential seal. It's so unamused that it's wasting taxpayer money to stop them
Back to Nature
Since I'm now working at the DNR (that's the Department of Natural Resources), I present a bit of nature.
Firstly is noted naturalist Aldo Leopold
. Although born in Iowa, he came here to Madison in 1924 and went on to basically invent the practice of wildlife management. A Sand County Almanac
is his best-known work and snippets from it and his other work can be found at this page
Another naturalist with ties to Wisconsin is John Muir
. He was born in Scotland in 1838 but emigrated with his family to American at the age of 11 in 1849. The family made their way here to Wisconsin and started a farm. Muir eventually went to college at the illustrious UW here in Madison before heading out into the wild. He is probably best-known for his push to make Yosemite Valley into a National Park. For this, he is enshrined on the new quarter for California. You can read some of his works at Project Gutenberg
An Encomium for Uncle Des
I got word this week that an old high school teacher of mine had died. Details are almost non-existent as all I was told was that he was found dead in Ireland. A small cadre of us called him Uncle Des. He taught history at a small school in west-central Wisconsin - a town called Strum. After the 9th grade, my family moved from the north side of Chicago to the boonies of Wisconsin, a bit south of Eau Claire. I ended up in the bounds of the Eleva-Strum school district. I was a city kid and my high school in Chicago had a freshman class of well over a thousand students. (Possibly near 1,200 but I cannot recall.) My new high school had a total student population of around 200. It was culture shock, to say the least. I was the only guy to have long hair and I proudly wore my Jethro Tull t-shirt which made me profoundly unpopular and caused my fellow students to hold me suspiciously. Uncle Des had heard that some kid from Chicago would be starting and he obviously looked over my student records and he knew all about my educational history - the gifted program, several years of Latin, etc. He was excited to have such a student in his class. He sort of took me under his wing. While my fellow students guardedly eyed me, he was immediately open and friendly. It was a good feeling to know that a teacher looked forward to having me in his class. As time wore on, he hired me to paint his house and so I got to know him a bit outside of school as well as being introduced to his wife. He sheltered me and a friend from those horrid u-rah-rah rallies before football games for which attendance was mandatory. I think Uncle Des was 35 when I started at the school so we weren't super-dramatically separated by our ages. We talked about music a lot since we both enjoyed it. He gave me and a couple other students independent studies in Constitutional law.
But history was his thing. Juniors took American history and this allowed Uncle Des to really go into his favorite historical period - the U.S. Civil War. We spent weeks and weeks on it reading texts, watching videos, and seeing slide shows. I recall very well how he grossed out some of the girls in the class with his gruesome descriptions of what passed for field medicine in those days. He showed a surgeons medical kit on a slide and it was wholly composed of saws & blades for amputation. Then he proceeded to describe how the "surgery" was performed with glee. Hacking off limbs sans anesthesia, blood and screaming everywhere - it was funny to watch the girls cringe. But he taught with great enthusiasm generally, not just the Civil War. He loved history and he loved to teach. I recall many times watching him come into the room just before class wringing his hands with a smile on his face and saying, "You are gonna LOVE today's lesson!"
I think his enthusiasm for teaching declined a little bit each year because there were so few students willing to learn. Students were from small towns or farms - they had no interest in history or academics generally, from what I recall. He suffered through constant cries of, "Why do we need to know this stuff?" Always was the relevancy of his discipline called into question and I think it got to him eventually. There were exceptions, to be sure, but most kids didn't give a rats ass about history and they let him know about it. But for those few of us who were interested in history, who were interested in academics, Uncle Des was a treat. He really went out of his way to teach and challenge us. Also in the process of getting to know him, I was given some insight into the politics of the school. Not so much which teachers didn't like each other, although there was a bit of that, but more grading and how students were treated behind the scenes. Uncle Des revealed how he couldn't fail anyone and, believe me, there were many kids who deserved to fail. Uncle Des and an couple other teachers had me grade some tests from other classes and, let me tell you, there were some remarkably ignorant kids there. I recall seeing many true-false and multiple choice questions left blank and some plain stupid answers. I recall grading tests for the remedial physical science class one time. People would answer the biggest gimmes wrong. I don't remember the questions exactly but they were like:
The force that keeps us on the earth instead of floating off into space is:
D) All of the above
I shit thee not – kids would answer this kind of question wrong. And then there was the time in one of Des' American history classes when a blonde girl asked me with all seriousness why we celebrated the 4th of July. I suppose it wasn't so much the ignorance as we are all ignorant, but it was the total lack of interest in learning that so many students had. And they passed! A diploma from that school was (is?) worthless. The valedictorian got the same piece of paper saying the same thing as did the football player who could barely read and write. Don't get me started on jocks. To be sure, there were some really nice guys in sports, that's not the issue. But they got treated like royalty. Their shit didn't stink. There was one time when a bunch of the football team (which basically had the same kids on it as the basketball team) got busted drinking. Now, this should have meant suspension from athletics but of course they were pardoned. But this wasn't the fault of the students, it was of the community. Virtually no one in the community at-large gave a hoot about academics. It was all about sports and this attitude filtered down to the kids. And the teachers felt pressured to make sure Johnny Starquarterback got at least the minimal GPA to participate in sports even when he or she was completely undeserving of it. I recall talking to many a jock after they received their ACT scores of 8 or 10.(/rant)
Anyway, the real beginning of the end for Uncle Des, however, began several years ago. I don't know all the details but he and his wife got a divorce and he lost custody of his kid. I don't remember his kid's name but I do remember that is was Gaelic. (Uncle Des was Irish and proud of it.) Every so often I would hear tales of him from Dogger or Miss Pamela whose parents still lived up north and were part of the grapevine. He quit or lost his job and turned to alcohol and, apparently, drugs. He ended up on a wanted list for neglect of child support payments. And now he's dead.
It really saddened me to hear of his death despite not having spoken with him for many years. He was a teacher, mentor, and friend who had a great impact on my life. Regardless of his sad final years, I'll always remember him for his great enthusiasm for history and his love of teaching it. But most of all, I will remember him as someone who reached out to a very lonely kid who had found himself in unfamiliar surroundings with no friends and a splintering family.
I came across the following site today and it reminded me of him. I know that, if he were alive today and still teaching, he'd have a grin a mile wide on his face as he fumbled with a computer and projector to show it to his students.Virtual Gettysburg
27 October, 2005
Yeah, I know I'm a day late and a dollar short here but what's new?
Daniel Craig (above) has been cast as the new James Bond
, replacing Pierce Brosnan. First up is a version of the very first Bond book written by Ian Fleming, Casino Royale
. Pre-production has already begun on its follow-up as well.
Last Sunday, PBS's Masterpiece Theater showed a new (well, new to viewers in the United States, anyway) Sherlock Holmes adventure called "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking"
Rupert Everett (above) plays Holmes in this original screenplay. The story involves the murders of pubescent daughters of the aristocracy. A reviewer in our local free-weekly, Isthmus, declared that Holmes had been CSI'd, but that's going a bit too far. While you see the heads and faces of corpses, there is no gore nor any super-zip-into-the-wound camera trickery. But it was also no Basil Rathbone retread. Here, Holmes is the misanthrope that Doyle made him out to be and we first see our hero in an opium den. The story is quite good with its mix of sexual perversion, murder, and fog. There's lots of fog. Oh, and lots of nubile teenage girls.
Lastly, I've discovered a new artist. His name is Mark Bryan
. I really like this one:
Next Up: Wal-Mart
Producer/director Robert Greenwald hasn't been taking the Bush presidency too well. Using Bush as an excuse, he has tried to make up for the piece of trash that was Xanadu
by producing a series of decidedly left-of-center activist documentaries. In 2003, he gave us Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War
which he followed up the next year with Uncovered: The War on Iraq
. Also in 2004, he released the controversial Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism
. And now he goes after Wal-Mart with Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price
While nearby Stoughton has rejected a Wal-Mart Superstore, it looks like our neighbors to the east in Jefferson are embracing it
American Life in Poetry: Column 008
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of poems have been written to express the grief of losing a parent. Many of the most telling of these attach the sense of loss to some object, some personal thing left behind, as in this elegy to her mother by a Nebraskan, Karma Larsen:
Milly Sorensen, January 16, 1922 - February 19, 2004
It was the moonflowers that surprised us.
Early summer we noticed the soft gray foliage.
She asked for seedpods every year but I never saw them in her garden.
Never knew what she did with them.
Exotic and tropical, not like her other flowers.
I expected her to throw them in the pasture maybe,
a gift to the coyotes. Huge, platterlike white flowers
shining in the night to soften their plaintive howling.
A sound I love; a reminder, even on the darkest night,
that manicured lawns don't surround me.
Midsummer they shot up, filled the small place by the back door,
sprawled over sidewalks, refused to be ignored.
Gaudy and awkward by day,
by night they were huge, soft, luminous.
Only this year, this year of her death
Did they break free of their huge, prickly husks
and brighten the darkness she left.
Poem copyright 2005 by Karma Larsen, and reprinted by permission of the author. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.
Here is what you need to do if you want Harriet Miers to be on the Supreme Court: forget it.
Miers is going to slinker back to the White House because she has withdrawn her nomination
to the SCOTUS. I'm wondering if I should feel sorry for her. Did Dubya really want her for the position or was she a pawn in some sort of machination? Likely the latter, I suspect. Did she do it willingly? Is she a hapless victim or is she really that big of a sycophant to take a big one for the team?
26 October, 2005
Word of the Week
With Halloween nearly upon us:
Samhain (sow-in) n. the first day of November, marking the beginning of winter and a new year for ancient Celts
25 October, 2005
Religiosity As a "Useful" Genetic Trait
In his book, Darwin's Cathedral
, Professor David Sloan Wilson posits that religiosity was a useful genetic trait for our ancestors "because it had the effect of making social groups more unified" and thusly the more organized and disciplined groups were more likely to survive. Read more here
The Vagaries of Religious Experience
Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and Director of the Social Cognition and Emotion Lab, recently posted a piece up at Edge called The Vagaries of Religious Experience
. He theorizes that "God is nothing more than an attempt to explain order and good fortune by those who do not understand the mathematics of chance, the principles of self-organizing systems, or the psychology of the human mind." He begins by positing that people believe in God, not (completely) because they are told to do so, but also because of their experiences. Becuase of experiences, he maintains, people's brains try to put the best spin on things, try to explain them despite there being no substance to the spin/explanation. Examples of our brains putting an empty spin on something:For instance, when experimenters approached people who were standing in line at a photocopy machine and said, "Can I get ahead of you?" the typical answer was no. But when they added to the end of this request the words "because I need to make some copies," the typical answer was yes. The second request used the word "because" and hence sounded like an explanation, and the fact that this explanation told them nothing that they didn't already know was oddly irrelevant.
In another study, experimenters approached people in a library, handed them a card with a $1 coin attached, and then walked away. Some people received the card on the top, and some received the card on the bottom. Although the two extra questions on the bottom card — "Who are we?" and "Why do we do this?" — provide no information whatsoever, they do give one the sense that puzzling questions have been posed and then answered. The results of the study showed that the people who received the bottom card were, in fact, less curious and less delighted twenty minutes after receiving it than were people who received the top card because only the latter felt that something wonderful and inexplicable had happened. In short, what William Paley did not realize is that statements such as "God made it" can satiate the appetite for explanation without providing any nutritional value.
He goes on to talk about how "highly ordered phenomena can and do emerge from random processes" and that people's perceptions of chance are greatly skewed. He says: "When people look out on the natural world and declare that there must be a God because all of this could surely not have happened by chance, they are not overestimating the orderly complexity of nature. Rather, they are underestimating the power of chance to produce it."
BI can't do it justice here so go read it. It's very interesting plus you get to ogle a Nesker cube.
Anne Rice Goes to the Dark Side
Anne Rice, author of the Vampire Chronicles and some erotica, has become a Christian
."I promised," she says, "that from now on I would write only for the Lord."
I'll admit that I've never read any of Rice's books so I can't say that I dread what she comes up with for her lord. Instead I'm just sorry to hear of another person gone over to the Dark Side.
Her next book is entitled Christ the Lord : Out of Egypt
and is due next month. It concerns the life of Jesus Christ at the tender age of 7.
No End to the Sith
While the release of Revenge of the Sith
on DVD will satiate Star Wars
fans for a while, George Lucas is planning on 2 new TV shows to continue the story. According to the folks at Entertainment Weekly, a CG-animated show set during the Clone Wars is moving forward while a live-action series that takes place between episodes 3 & 4 is due to begin pre-production. I'd link to something from the official Star Wars
site but it requires a subscription to get anything interesting out of it.
On the Gramophone
I was introduced to Richard Cheese and the Lounge Against the Machine
this past weekend at the houseparty I described below. RCatLAtM play various pop/rock songs in a lounge style. Artists covered range from Metallica to Michael Jackson and everything in between. Unfortunately, Cheese's site does not include any whole songs as samples but there are montages featuring clips of the songs on his albums. Here
is the sampler from his latest album, Aperitif For Destruction
If you're a guy who wants to feel superior in your cock size or perhaps you just want to know that other members of the human race have similarly sized or angled members or whatever, check out Erection Photos
. Or feel free to peruse the site if you just like looking at men's genitals.
What do you think of this woman's breasts? Well, you can rate them and many other mammary glands at Rate My Boobs
You can contribute to either of these sights or perhaps you'd like to contribute to Betty Dodson's Genital Art Gallery
and tell the world why you love your naughty bits so much.
R.I.P - Rosa Parks
Tomorrow issue #3 of the comic book Revelations
will be released. I splurged a couple weeks ago and bought the second and third issues of the Serenity comic as well as the 7 issues of Y: The Last Man
which haven't yet been put into a compendium. I re-read the first volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
and then plowed through the second. And so I'm about ready for a new installment of something. Speaking of comics, the new issue of Entertainment Weekly features a piece on Watchmen
. It was interesting to read about its genesis but I was disturbed by the curmudgeon that is co-creator Alan Moore. While I have a great respect for Moore's work, he came across as a real asshole in a couple quotes. While I certainly can't berate him for his less-than enthusiastic reactions to Hollywood, but he made a comment about how Watchmen is a comic book and the story should only be told in that medium and this really rubbed me the wrong way. I take his side regarding the Hollywood adaptations of his work (with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
being horrible and From Hell
having a terrible ending) but I don't think that the change of medium is mutually exclusive with getting a good movie made. Maybe he was having a bad day when he was interviewed but I feel that a motion picture adaptation of his work doesn't have to be horrible just because it's a motion picture. Often times the film version of a story that was originally conceived to appear on paper is terrible. Hollywood is egregiously guilty of this. But I don't think it's the medium – it's the lack of a good script, lack of an imaginative director, etc. Kubrick's The Shining
and Scott's Blade Runner
are the first two films that come to mind when I think of movies made from books that work well in the new medium. While both deviate from the source material, neither is formulaic nor strictly adheres to Hollywood conventions. So it can be done. Still, Moore is right to have skepticism.
Last night I enjoyed another adaptation but, this time, it was a pen'n'paper role-playing game adapted to the computer. While I had loaded it last week, yesterday was the first time I tried playing The Temple of Elemental Evil
. It is an old Dungeons & Dragons adventure given a new lease on life via the PC. The First Edition rules were updated to the latest (3.5) and the game beautifully ported over to the computer. While I'm sure I played the adventure back when it came out, I don't recall anything about it so I was starting fresh. I was, however, starting anew when it came to PC games. Although I own Baldur''s Gate, I've never played it so I would also be learning a gameplay interface from scratch.
I loaded the game and ran through the tutorial which was surprisingly handy. I decided to use pre-generated characters instead of rolling up my own from scratch. With my party of five ready, I began. We started in a city whose name I forget and, while walking down the street, hear a cry from an alley. We rush to investigate and find a man hovering over a woman's body. Dispatching with the man, a thief, we find the woman to be dead. She is wearing a brooch which identifies her as Canoness Y’dey of the Church of St. Cuthbert. Our next step is to travel to a podunk town called Hommlet to return the brooch to a member of her temple.
Hommlet turns out to be your average village with the usual characters and amenities found in such places: a blacksmith, a trading post, an inn with rooms and serving mead & ales, plus the temple and farmers. Upon returning the brooch to the chief cleric, we discover more. The village is suffering occasional raids by brigands and the cleric, Terjon, suspects that they are based in an old abandoned moathouse nearby. In the course of our discussion with him, he also revealed that he fought a decade ago against the hideous creatures of the Temple of Elemental Evil but lost a necklace (or was it an amulet?) during the battle and has never been able to recover it. So we had a choice between going up against the brigands or finding a long lost piece of jewelry. We chose the latter once and died so I decided to concentrate on the brigands at the moathouse.
The moathouse is surrounded by swamps and approaching it means being attacked by giant toads. Not the greatest threat in the world but still a pain in the ass. Entering the moathouse itself, the brigands immediately attack us. And we die. Well, we did defeat them once but we were wounded badly. I rested the party only to encounter a group of giant lizards who were dynamite! Every time I started the campaign over, we died at the hands of the brigands. I suspect that I am supposed to poke around Hommlet more and either enlist some folks there to join our band of hearty adventurers or there are some better weapons & armor to be had. We are lowly first-level characters and we need to find some way to kick it up a notch.
In the Company of Geeks
I spent much of this past weekend with The Dulcinea down south in Forest Park, IL to attend the housewarming party of a couple friends. I made a couple tapes for the drive which included the Doctor Who audio drama, …ish
with The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
by Genesis as filler between the episodes. It was not too coincidental that, upon walking into Don & Jean's living room, we heard the strains of Genesis from that very same album. (You see, Don abetted my decent into progressive rock back in 1987 when he suggested that, if I liked old Genesis, then I should check out Marillion.) I made my way to the kitchen as I was burdened with lots of beer and cheese and coffee. Since there are some fine brews unavailable to FIBs in their native habitat, I thought I'd share the love. First let me explain the kinds of people who were at the party. These were friends whom I know via my brother or via someone I know via my brother. Most of these people, if not all, are gamers, sports fanatics, andinto sci-fi/fantasy while several of them enjoy progressive rock. So, in other words, it was a big geek fest. Thusly Lake Louie's Warped Speed Scotch Ale
had the Star Trek thing going for it. I also brought a sixer of New Glarus' Barley Wine
. (I also read recently that New Glarus now has a Smoked Rye Bock available.) Being from Wisconsin, I just had to bring cheese. In this case, it was a block of garlic white cheddar from Cedar Grove
. The final treasure was a bag of coffee beans from local roaster Just Coffee
. The blend was called The Reanimator with a label quite appropriate for Halloween. It was also fitting as many folks at the party are fans of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft
who penned a story entitled "Herbert West: Reanimator"
. Indeed, our host Don is tight with the folks who publish the role-playing game (Call of Cthulhu) based on Lovecraft's work and has contributed to more than one published adventure.)
Anyway, the usual suspects were there watching the White Sox in the World Series and carousing while doing their darnedest to polish off a half barrel of Newcastle. The Dulcinea hit the barley wine early and got inebriated quickly. I wandered around mingling with everyone. On my way out for a choke, I ran into Paul, a friend of my brother's whom I hadn't seen in over a decade. I remember that, as a kid, he worked in a gaming store at the Brickyard Mall in Chicago. Looking at my goatee, he remarked that he hadn't seen me since before the time I was able to grow facial hair. I found out that he, like myself, is a computer tech. So we had much to chat about.
Shortly after Saturday had turned into Sunday, I was on the couch with my brother and Jean. Somehow the topic of Marillion came up and Jean started to give an encomium about their album Clutching at Straws
. I can't recall every single bit – something about how it was best to block out the outside world and open yourself up on the inside when listening to it. I shall have to send her a Clutching
-era show. The Dulcinea and I spent the night on the futon in the basement while Tim, Suzie, and their kids slept upstairs. In the morning, the Reanimator coffee was made and we all hung out and chatted. It was a good opportunity for The Dulcinea to chat with folks as she was sober and Don & Jean didn't have a bunch of guests to attend to so conversations were extended. As the start of the Packer game drew near, I threw on my Packer socks to complement my Packer sweatshirt. Then Don made Bloody Marys. And then Tim went out and bought Chicago dogs and fries for all. The first half of the game went well with the Pack taking a 17-0 lead. Tim called my brother who is a Vikings fan and gave him tons of crap.
And so a good time was had by all. Everyone liked The Dulcinea and I think she appreciated the rampant dorkiness. For my part, it's always fun to hang out with my friends down south. Everyone is a dork like me so we're never at a loss for conversation. Many of my brother's friends have known me since I was a kid and, looking back, it's a bit odd to think that I used to pester them Nowadays I get invited to their parties.
The Bridges of Ketchikan Gateway Borough
Before Hurricane Katrina struck the coast this summer, it was business as usual in Congress. There was the usual partisan bickering and the usual pork spending. And Republican Congressman Don Young of Alaska went hog wild. As chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, he got nearly 1 billion dollars worth of pork directed at his state
including money for two bridges linking mostly remote areas.A mess of thorny devil's club and salmonberries, along with an old chicken coop, surrounds the 40-year-old cabin where Mike Sallee grew up and still lives part time on southeast Alaska's Gravina Island. Sallee's cabin is the very definition of remote. Deer routinely visit his front porch, and black bears and wolves live in the woods out back. The 20-mile-long island, home to fewer than 50 people, has no stores, no restaurants and no paved roads. An airport on the island hosts fewer than 10 commercial flights a day.
Yet due to funds in a new transportation bill, which President Bush is scheduled to sign Wednesday, Sallee and his neighbors may soon receive a bridge nearly as long as the Golden Gate Bridge and 80 feet taller than the Brooklyn Bridge. With a $223 million check from the federal government, the bridge will connect Gravina to the bustling Alaskan metropolis of Ketchikan, pop. 8,000.
Included in the bill's special Alaska projects is $231 million for a bridge that will connect Anchorage to Port MacKenzie, a rural area that has exactly one resident, north of the town of Knik, pop. 22. The land is a network of swamps between a few hummocks of dry ground. Although it may or may not set the stage for future development, the bridge, to be named "Don Young's Way," will not save commuters into Anchorage any time, says Walt Parker, a former Alaska commissioner of highways.
Then came Katrina. Recently Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma tried to block the $453 million slated for those two bridges and redirect the funds for rebuilding Interstate 10
which was severely damaged by Katrina. The response? Sen. Ted Stevens, the veteran Alaska Republican, was dramatic in his response. "I don't kid people," Stevens roared. "If the Senate decides to discriminate against our state . . . I will resign from this body."
Alaska's Republican representatives obviously find the concept of charity and of helping others foreign. The people of Alaska, at least, do not. And, there is a curious twist to the story: Many residents of Alaska appear to support forfeiting the bridge money for hurricane relief. "This money, a gift from the people of Alaska, will represent more than just material aid; it will be a symbol for our beleaguered democracy," reads a typical letter to the Anchorage Daily News.
Young, who made sure his state was one of the top recipients in the highway bill, was asked by an Alaska reporter what he made of the public support for redirecting the bridge money. "They can kiss my ear! That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard," he replied.
Ah, redirecting money to help rebuild the infrastructure of hurricane-devastated areas of the country is the dumbest thing he's ever heard. Wonderful. Coburn's attempt failed 82 to 15. Apparently if this pork were to be better-spent, then all pork would become a target for, well, being spent better. Can't have that, can we?
22 October, 2005
Support Your Local Chocolatier
One of my favorite makers of chocolate, Scharffen Berger, has been bought
by mega-purveyor of crappy chocolate, Hershey Company. :(
Women in Uniform
I don't know if this
is what Iron Maiden had in mind when they wrong the song "Women in Uniform", but I like it. Take a peek and see if you also think the Israeli Defense Force should have it's own swimsuit calendar - lots of semetic goodness.
The Flu is Coming...
With the Avian Flu in the news on a quotidian basis, perhaps it would behoove us all to learn about it instead of just hearing the apocalyptic voices of the talking heads on TV. Here's a couple relevant sites:BBC News In Depth - Bird FluPandemic News
Yeah, I know a whole news site devoted to pandemics is unsettling but thus is the age in which we live.
Columbus Day (Better Late then Never)
Yeah, I'm a bit tardy on this one.
I found The Columbus Page
and there's some good stuff to be had there regardless of whether you consider Chris to have been a brave white man or an imperialist exploiter and murderer. For instance, you can read "Early Peruvian recorded daily life under the rule of Spanish conquistadors" which is an account of the Nueva Cronica of Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala published in 1615. Howard Zinn
is wonderful, but you can get some first-hand accounts here of CC and what he wrought.
String Theory for Dummies
Almost as if to prove Charles Murray wrong...
Dr. Patricia Schwarz has thrown together a webpage
about string theory. While Dr. Schwarz can handleadvanced mathematics, I cannot. So she was nice enough to put together her webpage for dummies like me. The answers to questions like "What is theoretical physics?" and "So what is string theory, then?" come in 2 flavors, basic and advanced. Here's part of the basic definition of string theory:Think of a guitar string that has been tuned by stretching the string under tension across the guitar. Depending on how the string is plucked and how much tension is in the string, different musical notes will be created by the string. These musical notes could be said to be excitation modes of that guitar string under tension.
. In a similar manner, in string theory, the elementary particles we observe in particle accelerators could be thought of as the "musical notes" or excitation modes of elementary strings.
Ya know, I always thought I was an expert in excitation modes. Must ask The Dulcinea for her opinon on this.
An Game of Debased Fervor
Now this looks like an interesting RPG (role-playing game): Bacchanal
. From the site:"It is late summer in Puteoli, south of Rome, 61 A.D., when the city finds itself playing unexpected host to the god Bacchus. Caught up in the madness of wine, the citizens throw off their togas and mingle as equals with slaves and foreigners in a debased fervor. And your own plans for a hasty departure are lost to this decadence which separates you from the companion with whom you would travel."
Oooh! I'm all over a game of debased fervor. Mingling with slaves...mmm...
Oh, this'll piss off the Xtian right
A a new survey
reveals that "young women are leading the way in tearing down sexual taboos in North America"."Feelings of sexual guilt plummeted, especially among young women. Attitudes toward premarital sex became dramatically more liberal over the same period," the analysis of 530 studies spanning five decades and involving more than a quarter of a million young people said. "Oral sex has become so popular. In previous generations, oral sex was considered disgusting. Now young people see it as another way of being sexual," Twenge said.
"It's also part of the general trend of sexual behavior moving away from marriage and reproduction and toward pleasure."
I can imagine the apoplectic reactions of right-wingers everywhere. Not only is promiscuity running rampant but women are taking on masculine traits and vice-versa. The Rapture can't be far off, can it?
We Need Another Stephen Jay Gould
Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve
has re-emerged and is stirring up controversy. However, instead of claiming that blacks as a group are less intelligent than whites as a group because of genetic endowment, he is now pushing the idea that women generally don't have the genetic prerequisites for mathematics and science. He wrote a piece which appeared in the September issue of Commentary magazine. The Australian has a nice article
about Murray's reemergence.Opinion is widely divided on how encompassing a role genetics plays in intelligence. But Murray -- who believes intelligence is the most important attribute if society is to become a true meritocracy -- is convinced that new breakthroughs will reveal that biology plays an overwhelming role in intelligence quotient, which in turn helps predict societal success. In examining the differences between the sexes, he cites as proof the fact that, among mathematically gifted students, seven times as many boys as girls scored in the top percentile of the standardised American SAT mathematics test.
"It has been known for years that, even after adjusting for body size, men have larger brains than women. Yet most psychometricians conclude that men and women have the same mean [average] IQ (although debate on this issue is growing). One hypothesis for explaining this paradox is that three-dimensional processing absorbs the extra male capacity. In the [past] few years, magnetic-resonance imaging has refined the evidence for this hypothesis, revealing that parts of the brain's parietal cortex associated with space perception are proportionally bigger in men than in women.
The article also points out something I didn't know, namely, that Murray "is bankrolled by the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation -- the most influential financial supporter of right-wing ideas in the US…" Being a Wisconsonian, I find this Bradley Foundation highly disconcerting.
Earlier this week, Slate published a piece
by Stephen Metcalf called "Moral Courage: Is defending The Bell Curve
an example of intellectual honesty?". Metcalf quotes a a post by Andrew Sullivan
praising Murray and his co-author, Richard Herrnstein:One of my proudest moments in journalism was publishing an expanded extract of a chapter from "The Bell Curve" in the New Republic before anyone else dared touch it. I published it along with multiple critiques (hey, I believed magazines were supposed to open rather than close debates) - but the book held up, and still holds up as one of the most insightful and careful of the last decade. The fact of human inequality and the subtle and complex differences between various manifestations of being human - gay, straight, male, female, black, Asian - is a subject worth exploring, period. Liberalism's commitment to political and moral equality for all citizens and human beings is not and should not be threatened by empirical research into human difference and varied inequality. And the fact that so many liberals are determined instead to prevent and stigmatize free research and debate on this subject is evidence ... well, that they have ceased to be liberals in the classic sense. I'm still proud to claim that label - classical liberal. And I'm proud of those with the courage to speak truth to power, as Murray and Herrnstein so painstakingly did.
Metcalf then questions Murray's "truth" by looking at the sources of much of Murray's data for The Bell Curve
- the work of J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur Jensen.Rushton and Jensen came to my attention when Murray fingered them, along with Lawrence Summers, as the impetus for his new Commentary article. The two published a "comprehensive survey" of evidence supporting The Bell Curve this past June in the journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Murray—who leans heavily on Rushton and Jensen's work both here and in The Bell Curve—identifies this survey as being the "strongest argument" yet made by race realists. Rushton has been retailing the idea of black inferiority for decades, though in two distinct styles: In pseudo-legitimate journal articles, he sounds a very Murray-like note of scholarly disinterest; at avowedly racist conventions, in front of the likes of David Duke, he argues that white women's birth canals are larger than black women's, allowing white women to give birth to larger-brained babies. In his 1995 book Race, Evolution and Behavior—now a race-realist classic—Rushton argued that "Negroids" are underevolved in comparison with "Caucosoids," because Caucosoids, having abandoned Africa for colder climates 110,000 years ago, were forced to develop their "intelligence, forward planning, sexual and personal restraint." Negroids, meanwhile, are characterized by smaller brains, larger genitals, sexual license, and lower IQs.
Charles Murray and his ilk aside, the question of whether the cognitive abilities of women vs. men and one race vs. another is an empirical one. That a particular part of the brain is larger in men than in women is true enough but there is no consensus as to what this means. At the very least, the jury is still out and, from other things I've read, it has no bearing on innate intelligence. While I agree with Sullivan's contention that "Liberalism's commitment to political and moral equality for all citizens and human beings is not and should not be threatened by empirical research into human difference and varied inequality", he also maintains that, "the book held up, and still holds up as one of the most insightful and careful of the last decade." Yet it hasn’t' really, has it? Metcalf points to Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man
and its critique of The Bell Curve's
data. Indeed, Murray's conclusion came under constant attack since it emerged and there is nothing approaching a consensus in the scientific community in support of his ideas. In fact, I'd say that the scientific community has basically rejected them while the only people to embrace them are racists. The one truth of Murray's is "Universities are supposed to be places where we talk about these things, not run from them," he says. "These are, in the end, questions of data, not my opinion." Unfortunately, his embrace of evolutionary psychology for seemingly racist and malicious ends will probably only serve to taint the field as a line of inquiry. It is also unfortunate that Gould is dead because I haven't found anything written by scientists who write for the layman that stands up to Murray's new cause. Indeed, it seems that people are backing away lest they be tainted.Lisa Randall, an eminent Harvard theoretical physicist and cosmologist, had agreed to dissect Murray's work, which appeared in the September issue of Commentary magazine in the US, for Inquirer but on reflection declined to respond. "The reason is that this just isn't news and it's not worthy of being covered," she says. "If it really gets to the point where people accept it, I can explain the many logical fallacies in his piece."
I find her decision frustrating because taking Murray to task is exactly what we need. I feel the same way about biologists who refuse to stand up and shout down proponents of Intelligent Design. Many folks in the science community refuse to address ID because they feel it lends an air of credibility to it in the public's eye. If ID is ignored, they reason, people will see it has no scientific merit and it'll just magically disappear and Darwin will triumph. The problem with this is that, as a group, Americans don't know fuck about science whether it be biology or physics or chemistry or whatever. I think that, if ID gets all the press, then the public at large will just give it credence. "Well, if schools want to teach it and it's on the news, then it must be legit." Americans cannot distinguish science from bullshit. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. Biologists must stand up for biology and scientists everywhere must stand up for their field. Whatever you may think about ID, it is not science!!
Scientists need to stand up and shout this. The public needs to know this. Richard Thompson
is defending the Dover School District in Pennsylvania in a lawsuit over their introduction of ID into school curricula. Here's an exchange with him:
"So you want to change the definition of science to include the supernatural?""Yes," he says, "we need a total paradigm shift in science."
He wants to destroy science and the scientific community cannot sit around in their labs while he and people like him run roughshod over centuries of work and, more importantly, the truth.
Madison's First Microbrewery
We eastsiders here in Madison are finally getting a brew pub and the city is finally getting its first "true" microbrewery - the Ale Asylum. More from the Crap Times here
. An excerpt:"We'll be the only true microbrewery in Madison," said Dean Coffey, the award-winning brewmaster at the Angelic Brewing Company who recently left the downtown brew pub.
Coffey is teaming with another ex-Angelic employee, Otto Dilba, in launching the Ale Asylum. The pair has put together a small group of local investors - including several members of the non-profit Madison Homebrewers & Tasters Guild - and have leased 7,800 square feet of space at 3698 Kinsman Blvd. near the MATC campus.
One side effect of this is that the Angelic will stop brewing its own beer. Oh well. At least they'll still serve quality suds. Now, I wonder if the Asylum will be serving real ales
. With a brewery conditioned or keg beer, the aim is to produce a product with a long shelf life, which is ready to drink as soon as it leaves the brewery. The conditioning in the brewery is completed, the beer is chilled and filtered to remove all the yeast, and pasteurised to make a sterile product. The beer is put into a sealed metal container, the keg.
These processes have a profound effect on the beer. Filtration and pasteurisation remove flavour and character from the product, and pasteurisation adds distinctive flavours of its own - a sort of burnt sugar flavour. These processes also remove the natural carbon dioxide in the beer. In order to make the beer lively, and also to dispense it, the beer is made fizzy with excess carbon dioxide - this gives the beer a distinctive bite. Keg beers are generally served very cold to disguise the taste, or lack of it. Some beers such as Guinness and the so-called nitrokeg beers do not use carbon dioxide alone, but a mix of this and nitrogen gas. This produces a creamier and less fizzy beer, and tends to produce a distinctive head. However nitrokeg beers still undergo the sterilising processes which prevent the beer attaining its full flavour potential. Indeed, nitrogen tends to eliminate bitterness, making for a blander product still. (Nitrokegs are also called smoothflow, creamflow, cream ales and similar names.) All canned beers, all draught keg beers, most bottled beers, and nearly all draught lagers undergo these processes. ...and real ale
There is a clear contrast with real ale. Real ale is a living fresh beer that undergoes a natural second fermentation in the cask. Like any natural product, the beer will age and go off, and therefore must be drunk within a strict timescale. It requires care in handling on its way to the pub, and care within the pub to bring it to perfection. However, real ale can reach its full flavour potential, without filtration, pasteurisation and added gas.
The difference starts in the brewery. Real ale is put in casks, which nowadays are usually metal but a few brewers still use wood. A small dose of sugar is added to encourage further fermentation and some beers are dry-hopped - a fistful of hops is added, to produce an extra dose of aroma. Finings are also added to the beer before it is sent to the pub. This is a glutinous substance made from the swimbladders of fish. Finings sink through the beer, attracting particles of yeast, until the beer is clear. This natural process ensures an attractive product without needing to filter and remove flavour. Finings are not actually drunk, remaining in the sediment, nor do they alter the flavour. The cask is now sealed, and will be transported to the pub for the next stage of its life. We have described a generally traditional brewery. There can be differences with more modern plant. Rather than using open fermentation tanks, some brewers used sealed conical vessels. Some brewers use a liquid extracted from hops rather than the whole flowers - generally with inferior flavour. However, providing the end ale is allowed to undergo its secondary fermentation in the cask, it is still cask conditioned beer, real ale.
Friday Skin (On Saturday - But Only Just)
American Life in Poetry: Column 007
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Leonard Nathan is a master of short poems in which two or three figures are placed on what can be seen to be a stage, as in a drama. Here, as in other poems like it, the speaker's sentences are rich with implications. This is the title work from Nathan's book from Orchises Press (1999):
The Potato Eaters
Sometimes, the naked taste of potato
reminds me of being poor.
The first bites are gratitude,
the rest, contented boredom.
The little kitchen still flickers
like a candle-lit room in a folktale.
Never again was my father so angry,
my mother so still as she set the table,
or I so much at home.
Word of the Week
Since I was blathering on about Dubya...
kakistocracy (kak-uh-stock'-ruh-see) n. government by the worst people.
On the Gramophone
Because I saw Steve Hackett
in concert on Tuesday, this week's tune is by him. Check out the solo acoustic guitar piece "Horizons"
. Part of it was nipped from a Bach cello piece but no matter - Bach was a fucking genius so it has to be good.
21 October, 2005
Fashion of Ages Past
While Ian Anderson wasn't the first man to don a codpiece, he was probably the first to don one for work in a few hundred years. The codpiece has a long and storied history and you can read all about it at this page
. I love the opening of the second paragraph:
"That the development of the codpiece was a necessity is commonly agreed upon by fashion historians. However, there is some disagreement about when it first came into use."
The codpiece was a necessity
. Oh to be a fashion historian. I think codpieces are cool and men's fashion has been crippled for ages. Women have all sorts of clothing to accentuate their bodies, e.g. - push-up bras, tight pants, etc. whereas haberdashers have virtually nothing to give to we men along these same lines. OK, who's with me to bring the codpiece back into fashion? If women can wear tight shirts and enhancing bras to draw attention to their chests, I think it only fair that we men have a similar option for our John Thomases.
A New and Notable Beer
For a long time in years past, beer was fermented uncovered so various yeasts floating in the air could be recruited to do the job. But now there's an odd variation on this theme.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present OPB - Original Pussy Beer. It's a special brew by Toi Sennhauser who made the beer with yeast from her own vagina
. Well, at least it wasn't yeast from someone else's vagina.
Ann Coulter Can't Talk to a Liberal
Radio host and blogger Brad Friedman clashed with Ann Coulter on Ron Insana's talk show the other day. Apparently Ann fled in terror halfway through the program. Either that or she had to go and purge herself of her lunch. An mp3
of the show is avaiable at Brad's blog
If You Thought Richard Clarke Was Harsh
There's an article
up Slate about a speech delivered by former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson. In it, Wilkerson made it clear that he is highly unamused with the Bush administration:"[T]he case that I saw for four-plus years was a case that I have never seen in my study of aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations, changes to the national security decision-making process. What I saw was a cabal between the vice-president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy didn't know were being made. And then when the bureaucracy was presented with the decision to carry them out, it was presented in such a disjointed, incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn't know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out."
Of Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense, Wilkerson said: "Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man." Yet, with regard to Iraq policy, he was "given carte blanche to tell the State Department to go screw itself in a closet somewhere."
(The full text of the speech can be found here
Early on in Bush's first term, I wanted to believe that he and I just had (several) genuine ideological disagreements. I wanted to believe that our disagreements were at least honest disagreements. I hoped that his intentions were true, that they weren't malicious, and that his administration wouldn't be exceptionally deceptive. This is a strange confession considering that the first president I have any memory of is Jimmy Carter. Having grown up in the post-Watergate era, I never had any faith in government to be shattered by Tricky Dick. The general attitude that I took on was that our leaders were conniving bastards – all of them. Like most Americans, I really want to trust our leaders but can only trust in them to cause me to mistrust the whole lot of them. I mean, all politicians are deceptive but I felt that a good Christian could at least have more than a modicum of honesty. But Bush's presidency has turned out to be a near-constant stream of lies, omissions, fraud, war, et cetera, et cetera. Richard Clarke's book, Against All Enemies
, was just the tip of the iceberg.
With Bush's litany of lies and his constant stream of comments that are encoded for and decoded by his Evangelical base, there are few statements he could make that I would actually believe to be earnest. Among them are "I hate fags" and "I don't understand the Theory of Evolution and I don't care to". Kanye West's exclamation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that "George Bush doesn't care about black people" was probably an ill-considered emotional outburst but as time marches on, it seems to contain a kernel of truth. I think it's probably more accurate to state that George Bush doesn't care about anyone, regardless of color, but rich people. In his speech, Wilkerson said that Bush is "not versed in international relations and not too interested in them either." What in the name of fuck does he do all day? International relations and its failings are the hallmark of his presidency and he doesn't give a hoot about them. Does he have brush from his Texas ranch flown to White House so he can clear it out of the Oval Office? And where have all the traditional Republicans (i.e – fiscal conservatives) been the past 5 years? We have this huge debt that keeps growing and a fucking war yet the media is all worried about who leaked Valerie Plume's name to the press and how to best make Judith Miller a martyr.
Hell in a handbasket, I tells ya.
20 October, 2005
Two Wrongs Do Not Make A Right
I checked out Pandagon
today for the first time in a long time and found that one of the bloggers there was leaving while another, Pam Spaulding
would be joining. And so I went to Pam's blog to see what kind of lefty she was. I read a post
by someone named "Radical Russ" about a bill passed by the House:"The bill seeks to thwart class-action obesity lawsuits against food manufacturers and restaurants."
Russ, however, only has an axe to grind with McDonalds, etc. as the rest of his post argues that fast food restaurants should be forced to put nutritional information on their products. While he concedes "If you don't know that a lifetime daily diet of Double Quarter Pounders with Cheese is going to eventually kill you, then your death from obesity is just weeding bad genes out of the pool." (Ooh! Nice play there, Big Boy, on the Theory of Evolution which is under attack by Christian zealots, most of whom don't understand the theory anymore than most of those who oppose the imposition of "Intelligent Design" into our public schools.) But in his own rage to harm the fast food industry whatever the cost, Russ calls for a compromise:"So let's compromise. If the fast food industry could agree to print nutritional information on their packaging, I could agree that they should never be sued for obesity-related claims. Seems fair to me."
I'm sorry but two wrongs do not make a right. Regardless of what McDonalds and their ilk do regarding labeling, they should not be sued for causing obesity. Russ conveniently ignores the issue of whether or not the obese should have legal recourse against, say Frito Lay and Hostess. Apparently for him, if all the energy you can muster is to jump in the car, hit a McDonalds drive thru, and go home, your ability to sue should be dependant on labeling. If, however, you can only muster enough energy to drive down to the grocery store and strap on a feedback of Doritos and Twinkies, then it's your own fault. How are these two scenarios different? If one eats unhealthy food and doesn't exercise, this is not the fault of the food producer and/or restaurants. Believe me, there is no love lost between me and fast food chains, but to make them accountable for a wrong they did not commit and to absolve individuals for any responsibility for their diet is indefensible. What would Russ want next? To be able to sue the producers of television shows and video games because they produce products which induce lethargy?
The next person that sues McDonalds for making him/her obese ought to be laughed out of court. And they ought to have their voting rights withdrawn. Our voting rights are a wonderful thing and they are given to just about anyone because of the presupposition that one needn't be a member of an aristocracy to be able to exercise judgment in determining how we are ruled. There is a belief in our country that everyone can sift & winnow through facts and come to an informed opinion. From this informed opinion comes a well-considered vote. If you are unable to figure out on your own that a diet of McDonalds and no exercise is deleterious to your health, then your qualifications to cast a well-considered vote in an election are lacking.
Just because a purveyor of unhealthy food refuses to label their products (and instead forces the consumer to ask for a sheet containing the info or to seek the information on the Internet) is no reason for lefties to abandon our principles of fairness. You cannot pretend to advocate fairness and then turn around and apply it selectively to suit your own whims. If that's the case, then your advocacy is a charade for, being fair & impartial means you are fair & impartial to everyone whether it be Noam Chomsky or McDonalds.
14 October, 2005
13 October, 2005
American Life in Poetry: Column 006
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Rhyme has a way of lightening the spirit of a poem, and in this instance, the plural, spirits, is the appropriate word choice. Lots of readers can relate to "Sober Song," which originally appeared in North Dakota Quarterly. Barton Sutter is a Minnesota poet, essayist, and fiction writer who has won awards in all three genres.Sober Song
Farewell to the starlight in whiskey,
So long to the sunshine in beer.
The booze made me cocky and frisky
But worried the man in the mirror.
Goodnight to the moonlight in brandy,
Adieu to the warmth of the wine.
I think I can finally stand me
Without a glass or a stein.
Bye-bye to the balm in the vodka,
Ta-ta to the menthol in gin.
I'm trying to do what I ought to,
Rejecting that snake medicine.
I won't miss the blackouts and vomit,
The accidents and regret.
If I can stay off the rotgut,
There might be a chance for me yet.
So so long to God in a bottle,
To the lies of rum and vermouth.
Let me slake my thirst with water
And the sweet, transparent truth.
Reprinted from "Farewell to the Starlight in Whiskey," Rochester: BOA Editions, 2004, by permission of the author. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.
12 October, 2005
Word of the Week
Because I'm a coffeeholic.
zarf (zarf) n. a metal holder for a coffee cup without a handle, used in the Middle East.
On the GramophoneThe Dirty Three
will be at the Cabaret Metro this Friday. I will be in Milwaukee seeing Son Volt that night but I did catch The Dirty Three several years ago at the East End here in Madison when they opened up for Man or Astro Man?. From what I recall, the violinist took pulls from a bottle of Jack Daniel's all night long. Check out "A Track From Nate Denver's Neck"
09 October, 2005
Is 20th Century Books Closed?
I ask because I'm staring in on a comic book binge. I've never been a big fan of comic books but I check out Alan Moore's From Hell
at the behest of a friend in the mid 1990s and fell in love with it. I went to 20th Century Comics when it was still just off the square to get each new issue as it was published. After it finished its run, I never found another graphic novel/comic book that seemed interesting. This was probably a block on my part concerning superheroes but so it goes. I did grab The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
when it came out on the basis of Moore's name but, after reading it, I again found reading pleasure elsewhere. At some point or other, I did read Watchmen
and enjoyed it but it still couldn't jump start any abiding interest in the medium – it came and went. Then I went to Netherworld Games a couple weeks ago to check out the newest gaming store in town. They had nothing in the way of Call of Cthulhu stuff that I didn't already have so I wandered the aisles to see what there was. There was a set of shelves dedicated to comics. There were the mandatory sections devoted to Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman
plus comics devoted to gamers such as Dork Tower
. I perused the shelves a bit more and came across a graphic novel which caught my eye - Y – The Last Man
. It was a softback compilation of the first half a dozen or so issue of the comic called "Unmanned". It concerns a guy named Yorick Brown who, because of a freak occurrence, finds himself to be the last man alive on earth. Something happened to instantaneously kill all male animals leaving destruction and a world almost completely inhabited by women. Oh, he also has a male monkey who survived as well. Yorick goes out to seek a scientist who may be able to determine what happened protected by a Secret Service agent known only as "355" and they must contend against a group of misandrynous Amazonian women who find the tragedy to be Mother Earth's way of cleansing the planet of a plague. We find out that Yorick's sister, Hero, has become a member of the group. And all the while Yorick wants to get to Australia to be reunited with his girlfriend.
It's a good story with an interesting enigma and so I was eager to get the next volume, "Cycles". I tried to find 20th Century Books on Park Street but couldn't. Instead, I went back to Netherworld. While there, I grabbed the first issue of the Serenity comic book to feed The Dulcinea's Firefly addiction. I devoured volume 2 swiftly and also read the Serenity comic. Inside there was a preview of a new story called Revelations
- a murder mystery concerning the death of a high-ranking resident of Vatican City. And so I ventured out today to get volume 3 of Y – The Last Man and check out other comics. Having decided to go to a proper comic book store, I went out to Monroe Street to hit Capital City Comics but couldn't find it. Where the fuck are all the comic book stores?! My destination then became Westfield's Comics. Fortunately, it was still in business and still where the Yellow Pages said it was over on the west side.
Unsurprisingly, it was filled with dorky white males in their early 20s. I found shelf after shelf of colorful books with names both familiar and foreign. There were plenty of issues of Batman – The Dark Knight or whatever that series is called in addition to countless comics that I've never heard of. I ended up buying the third volume of Y – The Last Man, the first two issue of Revelation, and all 3 of Serenity. And so it seems that I've now acquired a new addiction, of sorts. If any of these comics sound interesting, here's some links:"Unmanned"(PDF)Preview of Revelations #1
While becoming interested in various comic books is not a bad thing, it does mean that my attention is divided even further. I'm in the middle of what seems like a million different series/serials. In addition to graphic novels, I'm in the middle of listening to the cycle of the 8th Doctor Doctor Who audio dramas. Well, I'm nearing the end, actually. I'm in the middle of The Last, after which, there are two more stories in the story arc of The Doctor and Charley in the Divergent universe. After listening to them, I can finally listen to the latest 8th Doctor story which takes place after they leave the Divergent universe – Terror Firma. Another recent release is Thicker Than Water, a 6th Doctor story. For better or for worse, it's a sequel to Arrangements for War which means I'll have to listen to it again before TTW. In addition to Doctor Who, there's also the Sapphire and Steel
series, of which, I've listened to the first story. I've heard the first two Space 1889
episodes. And I'm about 13 episodes behind in Claybourne
On TV, I still must watch season 1 of Lost and the fourth DVD of Firefly. I dare not open a book lest I find myself in the middle of the Master and Commander
Oh, and I'm in the middle of MPD Psycho. Unfortunately, it seems that neither Bongo nor Four Star have the third DVD. Plus Four Star has both series of Riget (The Kingdom)
. So there's several hours of TV viewing that lies ahead.
OK, I've got jerk pork in the slow cooker that is nearly done so it's time to get some red beans & rice going.
Some Recent Viewings
I've watched more DVDs the past month or so than the previous 8 months of this year put together. Must be a mental adjustment made for the autumn. Or something. Anyway, I thought I'd mention some here.
First I'll get the one related to rumpy-pumpy out of the way: Beyond Vanilla
. It is a documentary exploring sexual pleasures beyond heterosexual intercourse. An worthy topic, to be sure, but it was a fairly boring watch once I got used to seeing naked people. The video is split into sections looking at different practices and their practitioners. There's BDSM, needle play, vinyl, scat, water sports, playing with fire, and a couple others I cannot recall. Oh! There was a bit on asphyxiation stuff. And fisting too. The video does a good job of explaining the various practices and showing people saying how much they love each one. In fact, the whole thing got very repetitive and boring. Each section laid out what each practice was, the instruments used, etc. This was inevitably followed by a montage of people saying how much they loved being spanked, pissed on, wearing vinyl suits, being choked while they masturbate, or whatever and then they'd launch into a soliloquy about how the whole thing is so spiritual and they feel like they leave their bodies and reach an ecstatic state and blah blah blah.
One element of the video that I have not yet formed a full opinion on is the fact that most of the people interviewed were either gay men or porn stars. While I have nothing against homosexuals or porn stars, the video had this element to it which made me think that, at any minute an evangelical Christian narrator would start in on a tirade: "This is Sodom and Gomorrah! These are an abomination against Christ, our Lord!" blah blah blah. The video did everything to show that people find pleasure in all sorts of activities but virtually nothing to show that these people are anything but gay men and porn stars. As I watched, I felt like it was just playing into all the worst stereotypes out there. It was like watching a video about poverty which showed nothing but well-to-do white people helping poor black folk. There can be no doubt that there are plenty of nice middle class men and women in America who love to be tied up & spanked, urinated on, etc. Beyond Vanilla
just came across all too often like a 20/20 segment about homosexual perversion – I kept waiting for John Stossel to appear and praise the free market for the diversity of dildos available.
What the hell else have I seen lately? Ooh! There was a documentary about Paul Bowles
called Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles
. I knew very little about Bowles other than that he'd written The Sheltering Sky
which was turned into one of my favorite films by Bernardo Bertolucci. I appreciated Bowles' admission that he was an atheist as well as his derogatory comments about religion but, overall, it was a mediocre documentary. Granted, I learned about a topic about which I knew nothing before watching the film but, considering it was only 70 minutes long, it dragged at the end. There just wasn't enough variety for me. The highlights had to be the snippets of conversation of Bowles, William S. Burroughs, and Allen Ginsburg when they were gathered together. Some good stories and talk about how Bowles was mistakenly labeled a Beat writer by some. While I certainly didn't want a 20-hour Ken Burns extravaganza, something seemed to be missing. I think it was any sense of continuity. It was a couple random bits thrown together and then something biographical. And then more random bits. It felt like it was edited together in a hurry – things seemed too chaotic and, just when a narrative was being imposed, it came to an abrupt halt. The film did precious little to explain why Bowles was famous or why he should be the subject of his own documentary. In addition, the video indicates that Bowles and his wife were made for each other, very close, and that he was never the same after her death in the early 1970s. But there's never much about the role she played in his life, how she affected his writing, and whatnot. It's a major topic that is just glossed-over. I felt like I watched the Cliff Notes version of his life – there was little depth to any topic whatsoever.
Another recent watch is Vozvrashcheniye (The Return)
. It's a Russian film about two brothers who are about 14 and 16 and who live in a rural area with their mother. One day their father returns home after a 12-year absence and he takes them on a journey. The film is about their relationships with their father and with each other. I thought The Return
was a fantastic film. Not only from a technical point of view with its washed-out grays and greens, but also from a narrative perspective. Excepting the boys, virtually no other characters are given names, including their parents. The return of the father is heralded with a mere, "Be quiet, your father is sleeping" – no fanfare at all. Plus the reason for the father's return and the destination of the journey are also never given. The boys, Ivan and Andrey, have a fairly typical relationship with each other at the beginning of the film – antagonistic. Such is the way of brothers. As they travel with their father, it changes. There is still antagonism but also bonding. The older brother, Andrey, teases Ivan at the beginning of the film but he quickly becomes subservient to their cold, domineering father. Ivan, on the other hand, finds his courage and rebels against paternal authority. The muted colors give the film a harsh and cold austerity to it which mirrors the father and stands in stark contrast to the intense relationships the boys have with their dad and each other. It's as if they're struggling to retain some human warmth and emotion in a very cold world.
The film is not only a wonderful character study, but also a poignant look at boyhood.
07 October, 2005
Moments - Chilling and Otherwise
My first week of work away from DHFS is finally over. I must admit that it was certainly not bad. In fact, it was rather interesting. Monday started with an explanation from my manager of what happened. Most of you probably know that state jobs are acquired by knowing someone or being in a particular manager's favor. By law, however, the jobs must be posted and a recruitment process followed. Thusly people pretty much ignore the official job postings – people such as my manager. Instead he relied on an email from the state regarding my former position. The way he explained it to me was that he ignored the posting instead relying on the email and this particular email did not include the time that resumes must be received by to be considered. And so my resume made it to Mother DOA at about 3:20 the day of the deadline and, unbeknownst to my manager, the deadline was at 2:00 precisely. Hence, I (and Steve) lost my job. With that and a tour of the office, I was sent downstairs to meet Robbie and Bulimia, my fellow PC techs working the bench. They showed me the ropes and I started working on some computers that needed fixing. By Tuesday two things had become glaringly obvious:
1) IBM NetVistas are a complete fucking pain in the ass to disassemble. My fingers are way too thick and long to be prying around inside their cases. No wonder they're put together by some of the more diminutive members of our species. Adroit as we are, we big, burly white men just can't reach inside there without scraping our hands and getting blood everywhere.
2) It is boring work. It's not so bad running to clients' sites but most of what I've been doing is replacing power supplies & motherboards and paperwork.
On Tuesday I went out to Dean on the Beltline to return some aforementioned NetVistas and grab some more that were broken. It was a delightful surprise to see Otto amble up to me as I walked in the door. I hadn't seen him since he was let go from DHFS back in June. So we chatted and caught up with one another's lives. He likes it over at Dean but is also looking for a new challenge. He remarked that, although he wants to change positions, one benefit to the job is that he gets to visit various clinics in the area and meet all the hottie nurses. I also did the same routine out at Promega in Fitchburg (a close suburb of Madison). I discovered that, although my street map of Madison is only a couple years old, it is woefully out of date as it was a bloody odyssey getting there. While it didn't take me 10 years, it did take me an extra 15 minutes to find the joint as well as a few extra miles worth of gas. My maps says to take Fish Hatchery Drive. There is no Fish Hatchery Drive! Instead the proper street to look for is East Cheryl. I was relieved when I finally saw the Promega sign. I pulled in and moseyed into the lobby. The middle-aged women there sympathetically told me that I wanted the other
Promega building across the street. By "across the street" she meant across a 40-acre field and then
across the street. And so I drive over. Entering lobby #2, I felt like I was in the office of that evil company in Robocop
. I don't know why – the joint just had this slightly creepy feeling to it. There was this life-sized statue of a samurai by the window and it just had this weird ambience.
On Wednesday, I was told by my manager that I was being given a new job – that as goodwill ambassador. He was sending me back to DHFS for one (1) day as a "goodwill gesture" for having messed up the contract. When I awoke Thursday morning, I was rather looking forward to seeing my old co-workers and giving Pete shit about his gyros addiction. It was nice to have so many people smile and say it was nice to see me again so I felt bad revealing that it was just for the day. I went upstairs and saw Jason and he invited me out to lunch with some friends of his who work at the DNR, my probable next placement. We went over to the GEF 2 building and met up with five guys from the IT department there. There was Pete, Brian, and three others whose names I cannot recall. It was chilly that day – in the mid-50s – and two of the guys were wearing shorts. One had hair halfway down his back which was unrestrained. I would learn later that he's a manager of some kind. The web server gentleman ordered a salad because he has gout. Another guy had 2 wide-gauge earrings in each ear which contrasted with his dress shirt and Dockers. Although married, he started a never-ending stream of remarks about the waitresses and their breasts. One hottie's tits were sort of oddly shaped – they were just oddly angular – and so a lengthy conversation about why they should be so ensued with theories being bandied about pertaining to various types of push-up bras and her frilly blouse. Jason had told me that, although I'd be interviewed by a guy named Phil, Brian would probably sit in on the interview. I told Brian about my impending interview and he said to make sure to mention that I like Seinfeld and the conversation took a turn towards the TV show. A couple "Do you remember the episode where" comments and a few insults later, I found that they had accepted me as one of their own. The conversation improbably then meandered to men's deodorant and they're various scents. After lunch, I went outside for a smoky treat with the big guy who sat opposite me. We chatted and he said, among other things, that I'd fit in well and that he'd teach me to do some programming. Having met some goofballs there and gotten along with them very well and having Jason put a good word in for me, I have no doubt that I'll get the gig at the DNR should I be put up for it.
Today I went back out to Dean and worked on the never-ending stream of PCs that intermittently power down of their own accord. Plus I got to meet Pete. Pete is a system engineer which means he maintains servers. He and Robbie are friends so I got to meet him when he wandered over to our bench to hurl insults at my co-worker. Pete had replaced a RAID card in a server and now the stupid thing was in a boot loop. He even did a little dance yelling "I hate Windows" whilst doing these weird hand motions with a large piece of packing foam. I helped him out a bit before returning to this fucking Promega piece of junk on which Windows struggled and failed to install drivers for a plethora of devices. During our conversation, he asked who I was and how long I'd been there. I explained that I had been at DHFS until this week and he said, "So you're one of the guys who got screwed over." He also said that Marcie, one of my fellow contractors at DHFS, had chewed out my manager. I was a bit surprised by this. Marcie is a project manager type person and, although we chatted occasionally, I never knew that she had authority to chew out any type of manager. You learn something new everyday, I guess. My day ended with an all-too lengthy meeting about employee benefits. I need to fill out some paperwork now. The HR guy who did the presentation had with him the bane of modern-day life: Powerpoint presentations. (Why David Byrne seeks to make art out them is beyond me.) During the course of his explanation of the changes to our health insurance, he really emphasized the rising costs. Not so much the amount we'd be paying out of our pockets but of health care costs generally. The little graph showing the costs to the company and his explanation that the general trend is about a 10% increase each year really struck me. Ten fucking percent! Why is this? Thank you the free market. Is health care really just getting grossly more expensive each year or are some people just lining their pockets? I mean, come on! I can see why gas prices fluctuate as they do but it's not like doctor bills should be affected by a hurricane or a war in a doctor-rich country. Doctors and their services aren't traded on any kind of futures market, are they? I understand inflation but aren't the increases in health care costs just fucking ridiculous? I'm a middle class single – I can't imagine being a parent working at Wal-Marts for $7/hour trying to provide and pay for insurance for a family. I'm surprised citizens aren't borrowing money from China to pay bills like the federal government.
Outside of my day job, I did a computer job last night for a retired professor. He got a brand spanking new PC to replace his old one which still had Windows 95 on it. And so he hired me to get the new one setup and copy data over from the old one. The latter proved to be a remarkably large pain in the ass because the PC is so old and 95 has no USB support which meant that I couldn't use a thumb drive nor my external DVD drive to grab data from the hard drive. Instead I had to pull the old drive out and slap it in my external converter kit hoolie and hook it up to the new PC. But before I could do that, I had to copy the contents of about a million Zip disks to it. Holy fuck! It was like a goddamn nightmare flashback. It was so slooooooooooow. The customer needed his mail and such copied to the new PC. He swore up and down that he used Outlook Express for e-mail on his old computer but I could not find hide nor hair of any OE accounts. Then again, I haven't dicked with a 95 PC in years. As far as I know, all the OE folders are xxxxxx.mbx. So his inbox should have been inbox.mbx but it was nowhere to be found. I did find in.mbx as well as other .mbx files but they're associated with Eudora, the e-mail client given to university users. While the guy was incredibly nice, it was incredibly frustrating having to show him how to drag icons and windows around, how to click on the right mouse button, how to copy something, etc. Holy fuck! This shit is 10 years old now! Copying and pasting is no longer some new and exotic function reserved for dorks at MIT. If you have a Windows 95 box, that means you've had a right mouse button and copying & pasting at your fingertips for at least 8 years. *At least*. This guy is smart. He was a fucking law professor. And computers don't elude him totally. He's a Photoshop wiz – I mean, he can paste Britney Spears' head on any vixen's body and make it look real yet copying and pasting eludes him. And so does the hierarchical file system. There's no doubt in my mind that he could dazzle me with legal ramblings until I fall ass over teakettle onto the floor yet trying to explain digging 3 folders deep to find a setup executable was like trying to teach a quadriplegic to dance. Still, there are worse people out there. Like the woman who didn't equate my words "the clock" with the, um, clock, at the right-hand end of the Windows taskbar. You know, "clock" as in the thing that tells the time. She was expecting a round thing with hands that go in circles. Did I travel back to the 1970s when people still thought digital watches were cool or what? Then there are people who are just so afraid of computer that, when you tell them to click on something, they refuse lest the computer start on fire. The one person I won't miss at DHFS is a lawyer. (I will preface this by saying that the last time I she said a word to me, she was nice and was even smiling.) I always got stuck going up to her desk to find out what the problem was and every time it was a problem that had been ongoing for multiple months and she only called it in when she had to finish a project that was the equivalent of moving a mountain when she had 5 minutes in which to do it in. "My Word keeps doing this so I can't print and I have to print 500 pages for a meeting in 2 minutes." And so it was always with a scowl that she greeted me upon crossing the threshold into her office which I considered to be one of the circles of hell. She was like Cerberus but with only one head. I almost yelled at her once because the only words that came out of her mouth were bitching. Everytime I asked her to describe the problem she would reply, "It doesn't work."
Me: "Are you getting any error messages?"
Her: "It doesn't work."
Me: "What were you doing when you encountered the problem?"
Her: "It doesn't work."
I nearly threw my hands up in frustration. I basically told her that I can't read minds nor can I go backwards in time so she'd either have to live with the problem or answer my questions with something beyond "It doesn't work". How the fuck do people get office jobs when they’re either totally ignorant about computers and/or deathly afraid of them? One thing I have noticed is that, while people bitch about computers, I don't hear people saying that they want to go back to their old IBM Selectric typewriters. I heard that frequently at Amfam. As if they never broke. They did. I know this because I met many a typewriter repair guy as a kid.
I had this strange moment today as I was cussing about those stupid IBM NetVistas. There I was wearing my anti-static smock with my hands shuffling around inside an IBM computer. It occurred to me that I have turned into my father. My father fixed computers for IBM for 25 years. Now, I grant you that they were mainframes so it was a bit different but the same general premise. I had this vision of my dad surrounded my stacks of punch cards cussing like a sailor as he tinkered with the guts of a 3270. And there I was cussing like a sailor with my hands inside a NetVista. A chilling moment, I assure you.
American Life in Poetry: Column 005
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Though many of us were taught that poems have hidden meanings that must be discovered and pried out like the meat from walnuts, a poem is not a puzzle, but an experience. Here David Baker makes a gift to us through his deft description of an ordinary scene. Reading, we accept the experience of a poem and make it a part of our lives, just as we would take in the look of a mountain we passed on a trip. The poet's use of the words "we" and "neighbors" subtly underline the fact that all of us are members of the human community, much alike, facing the changing seasons together.Neighbors in October
All afternoon his tractor pulls a flat wagon
with bales to the barn, then back to the waiting
chopped field. It trails a feather of smoke.
Down the block we bend with the season:
shoes to polish for a big game,
storm windows to batten or patch.
And how like a field is the whole sky now
that the maples have shed their leaves, too.
It makes us believers — stationed in groups,
leaning on rakes, looking into space. We rub blisters
over billows of leaf smoke. Or stand alone,
bagging gold for the cold days to come.
David Baker's next book, "Midwest Eclogue," is forthcoming this fall from W. W. Norton. "Neighbors in October" is reprinted from "The Truth about Small Towns," University of Arkansas Press, 1998. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.
Word of the Week
Many people here in Wisconsin aren't yet ready for the long winter's haul. So let's fondly remember the months of June through September.
aestival (est'-ih-val) adj. of or relating to the summer.
On the Gramophone
If you were ever to go drinking with Pete and I, no doubt you'd hear us singing "Crack Whore Blues"
by The Neckbones at some point late in the night. I suggest listening to the mp3 instead.
At Face Value
Everyone knows that David Cronenberg is not normal. He is, after all, the man who made Naked Lunch
, Dead Ringers
, and eXistenZ
but he let his weirdness spill off of the screen and onto the set while filming his latest, A History of Violence
. In order to help stars Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello get into the swing of their sex scenes, Cronenberg and his wife did the nasty
on the set. Reminds me of Paul Verhoeven directing the shower scene in Starship Troopers
while in his undies to help calm all the young, inexperienced actors.
Hurry and post a pic of your boobs for charity
! Only a day left!
If you have or are into large labia (and who isn't?), then this site
is for you. Not only are there pictures of luscious labia, but helpful tips on tanning them as well:When your pussy lips are all safely oiled up with tanning lotion, lay back and open your legs wide. Try to keep your labia minora closed so the inner skin doesn't dry too much. It's easier if you have very big inner lips because you can simply squeeze them together and lay them to one side of your vulva, keeping the entrance of the vagina covered. Just move your labia from time to time to let both sides tan evenly.
Yeah, those uneven tans on labia are such a faux pas
According to researchers, young women are in the lead of tearing down sexual taboos.
And now onto matters non-sexual.
Sam Harris has a new screed up at The Huffington Post called "There is No God (And You Know It)
. An excerpt:Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle. The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. This is a thankless job. It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. It is, moreover, a job that the atheist does not want.
It is worth noting that no one ever need identify himself as a non-astrologer or a non-alchemist. Consequently, we do not have words for people who deny the validity of these pseudo-disciplines. Likewise, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma. The atheist is merely a person who believes that the 260 million Americans (eighty-seven percent of the population) who claim to “never doubt the existence of God” should be obliged to present evidence for his existence -- and, indeed, for his benevolence, given the relentless destruction of innocent human beings we witness in the world each day. Only the atheist appreciates just how uncanny our situation is: most of us believe in a God that is every bit as specious as the gods of Mount Olympus; no person, whatever his or her qualifications, can seek public office in the United States without pretending to be certain that such a God exists; and much of what passes for public policy in our country conforms to religious taboos and superstitions appropriate to a medieval theocracy.
As Richard Dawkins has observed, we are all atheists with respect to Zeus and Thor. Only the atheist has realized that the biblical god is no different. Consequently, only the atheist is compassionate enough to take the profundity of the world’s suffering at face value.