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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Avatar

I went to the matinee of Avatar 3D today and rather than bore you with a discussion of its themes or technical merits, I'm just going to give you a list of things I liked about it:

A) All the shit I read about it was wrong. No, it's not an environmental screed. It's not advocating some new tree hugging religion. It's not saying anything profound about the War on Terrorism. It's not Dances with Wolves in Space. The movie does resonate with these themes, but only in a way to engage you emotionally in the story, not to push one agenda or another.

B) Zoe Saldana was ferocious in her performance. She really makes that 12 foot alien hunter-priestess come alive. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Zoe Saldana should be a big star. A household name.

C) Cch Pounder had a great moment when she confronts Sam Worthington's character. Until that moment, I didn't know it was Cch Pounder, but after she gives the line, there was just something in that computer generated face that gave her away. Again, the performance comes alive.

D) Michelle Rodriguez. Show me some tough-talking chick who can fly a helicopter that looks like that? My heart goes aflutter.

E) Stephen Lang, who once played Ike Clanton as a ragged, sunburnt drunk in Tombstone, has been hitting the gym. Has he always had those guns?

F) I don't know how they did it, but they managed one key detail in the portrayal of Sam Worthington's paraplegic character: his legs were atrophied.

G) I hope not much is lost in the 2D version, because I don't know about you, but I don't have a Sony Real 3D projector at my house.

Should you go see it? Yes, I'd recommend it.

The 10th Caller

So no one wants ten bucks, huh?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hero of the Game

Last night I was playing a video game called Battlefield Vietnam. It's a first person shooter set during some of the major battles of Vietnam, Hue city, Operation Hastings, the Ia Drang valley, etc.

Last night I was playing Operation Hastings and I decided I was going to be a hero. I stormed a checkpoint all by my lonesome, carrying a single shot rifle and a rocket launcher.

The checkpoint was deserted, or so it seemed. I went into a building, looking for the weapons depot so I knew where it was in case I needed it, and not finding it, I went towards another building. That's when an NVA soldier popped out from behind some trees to take a few shots off at me.

The AI players in this game aren't very good shots, so I shot him at close range with my rifle.

And then I saw two enemy tanks converging on my position.

The tanks are the worst. They have a turret gunner and of course, the big massive gun that makes a tank a tank. If the turret gunner gets you in his sights, you can run away because he's not a very good shot. But if the tank gunner gets you in his sights, you're gone. You're a pile of meat and shrapnel.

The tanks also require three perfectly aimed shots from a rocket launcher to kill. But you can only carry four rockets at a time.

And I had two tanks coming for me.

My heartrate quickening and my butt sliding up on the seat, I managed to get a shot off at one of the tanks with a rocket. I missed. It exploded somewhere behind him.

I zig-zagged my way back to the ammo crate to get more ammo, bullets from the turret pinging the walls next to me, a huge shell from the tank barely missing me.

I found a wall to duck behind, came out and got another shot off. A hit. While I reloaded, I hid behind the wall for cover. I came back out to hit him again. He was closer this time, which made it easier to get a direct hit, but that scared me.

I felt the dread deep down in my stomach. At that moment, I wasn't a guy playing a video game on his computer. I was a soldier in mortal danger and I had to kill these tanks.

Finally I destroyed one of them, but the other one was still after me. I ran into the building for more ammo and barely missed a tank shot. There was a brief flash outside and then the doorway filled with smoke. I wasn't hit, but I was scared.

The next time I stepped out that door, he had me.

I needed at least two more shots from my rocket launcher to kill him so I had to go out there at least two more times and the chances of me surviving even one were just ridiculous.

So what did I do? I growled like Han Solo and ran out of the doorway, straight for a cluster of trees. The tank fired, but he was dialed into the doorway and missed me, and as he swung his turret to get me, I fired a rocket right down his throat. Bam, direct hit, explosions, smoke, sparks. But he was still there.

As my character reloaded, I zig-zagged back to the building. The turret starts swinging back.

Fzzzzzzzzttt! I send him another rocket. It arrives in his mailbox like a cherry bomb and he explodes in a black mass of death.

"YEAH! GET SOME!" I shouted, the real me sitting at my desk. Then I went to the flagpole that marks the checkpoint and watched the meter drain red and then go blue, and heard the voice say something like "Enemy position secured."

A few minutes later, as the fight played out, my side emerged with the victory. A major victory they called it, as opposed to a minor victory if you barely survive.

I should have gotten a medal.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Ten Bucks

To the first person who can name the band, the song, and the album that this clip came from.

No shit. I will send you ten bucks.

Do Not Feed the Troll

Advice I ignored in this thread on Outside the Beltway. I'm Herb, of course, and my last post was directed to a dude named Have a Nice G.A. who had the gall to say this:
If they (the terrorists) have won anything, it's sympathy form the left, and also from the left a great apparatus for propaganda, because these gain votes.
Sympathy from the left? Fuck you, dude.

As I said in response:
"The Left," as you call them, has no sympathy for terrorists or Islamic jihadists. Their ideas (religious extremism, suppression of women, hatred of the west) as well as their methods (terrorism, oppression of their own people) are contrary to our ideas and our methods.
Yeah, sorry to break your bubble, G.A. You've been outsourcing your thinking to talk radio again. Not a good idea, unless you're listening to the sports zoo.

Anyway, the back and forth devolved into more nothingness, and I should have known better. I should have known G.A. was a troll, just trying to piss the liberal off, trying to get him to say something stupid. And you know, I fell for it.

I fell for it hard. It did piss me off, and responding back to him was stupid.

So I laid a little troll trap of my own. Knowing his pathetically predictable biases, I asked him:
Hollywood liberals. Socialist crusaders? Or cutthroat capitalists?
His response?
All of the above, and I think these might be the people who don't understand what socialism means,
All of the above? WTF? The terms are mutually exclusive! It's like having a blind seeing-eye dog!

So my send-off:
Ha! Sorry, no more playing, G.A. Dining room table and all that...

All of the above??? The socialist who is also a capitalist! Heel-larious!

Epic fail, bud. Epic fail.
He responded, and I was tempted to continue the debate, but nope. Not gonna do it. Wouldn't be prudent.

And it would be much like arguing with a dining room table.

His response is laughable:
I guess you don't understand communist millionaire, Hey, but those are your limitations.So if you make billions of dollars that you don't share with the populace pushing your anti capitalist, anti American, anti Christian, anti free market, films, Hmmmm, what does that make you?
Hollywood is anti-capitalist?

You've gotta be kidding me.

Anti-American? Blah. What does that even mean? That they're critical of America at times? So what? I'm critical of myself at times. But that doesn't make me Anti-James. To be more concrete about it, does Hollywood actively root for the downfall of America?

Hell no. Where are they going to get all their money? (Yeah, if you're counting on foreign sales to fill the gap, sorry. We may be down, but we're not out. American markets are not yet obsolete.)

Anti Christian? Is that why there's so many movies with religious characters and religious themes? Is that why Mel Gibson made Passion of the Christ?

Anti free market? The free market is why Hollywood was able to make hundreds of millions of dollars this weekend. (Of which, I admittedly get my small piece.)

I mean, need I say more? This guy is just trying to piss people off. And it worked.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Shrinking States

I'm not thinking of moving or anything, but when I saw this article (Where Americans Aren't Moving), I thought...ooooh, that's where I want to go.

But then I click over and see the list of states.

California
Michigan
Illinois
Ohio
New Jersey
Florida

You know, some of the most populous states in the country...

1 in 10 Million

The last time I was on a plane, airport security pissed me off so much that I could have killed someone. I wrote about the experience here.
A minor inconvenience, for what purpose? Safe from what? Breast milk and bottled water? Ladies with shampoo in their baggage? Dudes in wheelchairs? Digital cameras in the same tub as laptops?

Fuck that. I'll take my chances.
What are the chances, one might ask, of being the victim of a terrorist attack on an airplane?

Nate Silver crunches the numbers:
There were a total of 674 passengers, not counting crew or the terrorists themselves, on the flights on which these incidents occurred. By contrast, there have been 7,015,630,000 passenger enplanements over the past decade. Therefore, the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.
Duh!

Of course, one of Silver's commenters makes this minor point:
To say "one incident per 3,105 years airborne" is fine, but we are missing any correlation or causation from the security measures. Maybe the "tens of thousands of flights have been incident free" because of the restrictions? We'll never know.
Perhaps...but let's examine what we do know.

Silver finds "six attempted terrorist incidents on board a commercial airliner tha[t] landed in or departed from the United States: the four planes that were hijacked on 9/11, the shoe bomber incident in December 2001, and the NWA flight 253 incident on Christmas."

Six whole incidents.

Vigilant passengers successfully stopped 2 of them, and attempted to stop a third in Flight 93. Airport security didn't stop any of them.

If the TSA has indeed foiled a terrorist attack with their absurdly unhelpful security measures, I'm guessing we probably would have heard about it, especially during the Bush years.

So while I've never heard of the TSA thwarting a terrorist attack (or finding even a second shoe bomb after all the millions of shoes they've searched), I have heard of them totally fucking up their own security.

Just read this article by Jeffrey Goldberg:
On another occasion, at LaGuardia, in New York, the transportation-security officer in charge of my secondary screening emptied my carry-on bag of nearly everything it contained, including a yellow, three-foot-by-four-foot Hezbollah flag, purchased at a Hezbollah gift shop in south Lebanon. The flag features, as its charming main image, an upraised fist clutching an AK-47 automatic rifle. Atop the rifle is a line of Arabic writing that reads Then surely the party of God are they who will be triumphant. The officer took the flag and spread it out on the inspection table. She finished her inspection, gave me back my flag, and told me I could go. I said, “That’s a Hezbollah flag.” She said, “Uh-huh.”
Clearly what we need are even more useless security measures.

Grandpa Moment

I know it makes me sound like a grumpy old man, but I've had it up to HERE with the ignorant, lazy, and incompetent fools that pass for projectionists these days.

No wonder theaters are trying to go to all-automated systems. It's almost as if they're saying, "Sorry, teenagers. We gave you a chance, and you fucked it up."

You might have heard about a couple of big movies that are playing in theaters this weekend. Avatar, which is still doing brisk business, and Sherlock Holmes. In fact, it's been a record weekend at the box office.

Each time I call a theater to address a problem, I get the run around. I get excuses. I get put on hold and left there.

"We're too busy," is the universal response.

No shit, you're busy, but A) That's no excuse for not doing your job and B) full auditoriums + working ads = happy advertisers, whereas full auditoriums + no ads playing = lost revenue.

These fuckers can't see the big picture if it slapped them upside the face. And hey, I understand. They're young. They're dumb. They're part-timers. They don't work for a living; they work for a little extra pocket money.

But that doesn't give them license to be uncooperative, careless fools.

Fire them all, I say. Hire Mexicans instead. I'll learn Spanish, no problem. Just let me work with someone who gives a shit. Like...anyone but these teenagers!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Rich Lowry's Ghosts

So Amazon sends me an e-mail trumpeting their 70% off sale and I think, "70% off? I like the sound of that."

So I click over and immediately go to the books section, start looking through the "mystery and thriller" category because that's my thing, and what do I find?

A book called Banquo's Ghosts by Rich Lowry. The title piqued my interest first, but then I recognized Lowry. Lowry is the guy from the National Review who went all "starbursts" over Sarah Palin. I've seen some of his posts on their blog, the Corner, but they always struck me as right-wing drivel.

But maybe his book is different. He's credited with a co-writer, Keith Korman, and it is a novel, so maybe it's just genre drivel.

But alas, that does not seem to be the case. From the Publisher's Weekly "review":
National Review editor Lowry (Legacy) and Korman (Swan Dive) have written an exciting, intelligent novel that delivers the thriller goods and tosses barbs at do-gooder politicians, government obstructionists, reporters and a wide array of liberal weenies. Unlikely hero Peter Johnson, a mildly buffoonish writer working for the Crusader, a left-wing magazine, is recruited by CIA agent Stewart Banquo for the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist. Banquo figures no one would ever suspect Johnson, known for his drunkenness and willingness to take a bribe, to be working for the CIA. Johnson, who accepts the job for a variety of reasons, heads off to Iran. A series of double crosses lands Johnson in the hands of the Iranians and sets up the rest of the plot involving a chillingly plausible terrorist attack. A major thread left untied points to what should be a much anticipated sequel. Expect a boost from author appearances on Hannity's America.
My question: A boost to who?

No, let's just dissect this for a minute. I haven't read a word of the book but I don't really like what I see. Peter Johnson? What kind of lame-ass generic name is that? You're writing a novel. You can come up with any kind of name you want. And you pick Peter Johnson? Why, because Ward Cleaver was taken?

And the "left-wing magazine" is called "the Crusader." Because you know those lefties are on one crusade or another save the trees, the whales, the giant earthworm from Montana that no one's ever seen. Right-wingers never go on crusades. Unless the crusade involves communism, gay marriage, the unborn, or Muslims, of course.

But I digress...

The plot, as far as I can tell, involves "the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist." Now maybe I'm missing something, but isn't the "top Iranian nuclear scientist" kind of like the bottom nuclear scientist in any other country? I mean, you're the guy who specializes in something your country doesn't yet do. Sure, we're playing around in a right wing fantasy-land here, but why couldn't it be a top Russian nuclear scientist working with the Iranians? Better yet, a dissident Pakistani nuclear scientist with sympathies for Al Qaeda working for the Iranians?

I digress even farther...

I love this part though: "A major thread left untied points to what should be a much anticipated sequel." Oh yeah? You sure the guys who didn't come up with "Peter Johnson" of the "Crusader" didn't fuck up and just leave that thread hanging cuz they didn't know what to do with it?

No, it's set-up for the sequel, cleverly called World War III. In bargain bins everywhere next year.

So Much For That Idea

Looks like I won't be getting on an airplane anytime soon. I was thinking about finally flying somewhere next year, but you know what?

Fuck that.

I refuse to be treated like a terrorist.

I refuse to participate in "security theater" measures that DO NOT PROVIDE SECURITY but do provide major inconveniences to all the non-terrorists flying the not-so-friendly skies.

I will take a train or drive or just stay here in Colorado if I want to go anywhere. But I'm not getting on a plane unless it's going to a saner place and not coming back.

Updated: Kevin Drum made me laugh with this:

Apparently al-Qaeda doesn't need to bother with real terrorism anymore: just light off a firecracker on a plane and the U.S. government will react as if a major city had been leveled. Why not just ban air flight entirely and be done with it?

Don't Get Sick and If You Do, Die Quickly

I couldn't pick folk-rock singer Vic Chesnutt out of a line-up, never heard one of his songs, or even his name. He died this week from an overdose of muscle relaxants, but I'm not sure if it was intentional or not.

But the closing paragraphs had some resonance viz-a-viz the healthcare debate:
Chesnutt had recently struggled with a lawsuit filed by a Georgia hospital after he racked up surgery bills totaling some $70,000, the Athens newspaper reported. He said he couldn't afford more than hospitalization insurance and couldn't keep up with the payments.

The problems baffled his Canadian bandmates, Chesnutt said.

"There's nowhere else in the world that I'd be facing the situation I'm in right now. They cannot understand what kind of society would inflict that on their population," he said. "It's terrifying."
I'm sure some Republican out there is saying to himself, "Well if you didn't want to pay for $70,000 worth of surgery, you shouldn't have gotten $70,000 worth of surgery," as if surgery was some kind of optional luxury good like a flat screen TV and this guy was out getting butt fat injected into his cheeks.

No, he was paralyzed. In all likelihood, he needed that surgery. So why are they trying to stick him with a $70,000 bill? That's half the value of the mortgage on my home.

The home that is my biggest expense, the home that's going to take me 30 years to pay off.

My question: How can any reasonable person expect a paralyzed guy to pay $70,000 for surgery?

No, let me rephrase that:

How can any reasonable person expect anyone to pay $70,000 for surgery? Jesus Christ.

You know what this country needs more of? Working-class doctors. You know what we don't need more of? Republicans bitching about healthcare reform.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Now I Have a Machine Gun

Okay, so maybe not a machine gun.

But I do have an iPod now! Oh glorious purple iPod. With your little screen and easy to use controls. You can play music and tell me what it is! You've got video too! Albeit on a little screen, but if you do a lot of standing around at bus stops and rolling around on public transit, it's pretty convenient. Oh and podcasts and audiobooks and games and all this other stuff! All neatly organized, too.

I love you, iPod. If only you weren't so damn proprietary...

Is it just me, or does my head look too small for my body in this picture? The stylish pull over was a gift from my brother.

That's my niece holding on for dear life.

Here's my nephew holding up his prized Xbox and new games. Look, his eyes are already glazed.

Angel got a "new" bike. (It's new in the sense that it's never been put together, but it's been sitting in my shed since she was born... Long term planning. It's a gift.)

Oh, and you know what else I got? A puke-free, Players of the Century tagged LT jersey. The LT.

Merry Christmas everybody. Hope you're watching Die Hard.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Garden

Missing from Bob Cesca's best political documentary list, The Garden. I finally saw this movie yesterday, and it brought me to tears.

It was --by far-- the best political documentary I've ever seen, better than anything Michael Moore could come up with. It tells the heartbreaking story of the South Central Community Garden, the largest garden of its kind, an experiment in community revitalization and urban farming that lost out to greed and mean-spiritedness.

Do I recommend it? Highly. It's not just a great documentary; it's a great film.

Viral Video of the Day

I saw this video posted somewhere while I was at work and made a mental note to watch it later. Never happened...

Until now.

And after hearing the first line, especially the droll way it's delivered, I'm glad I finally watched it.

"Star Wars the Phantom Menace was the most disappointing thing since my son..."

Updated: Part 2 is hilarious! I love this dude.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Don't Bring a Gun to a Snowball Fight


This video fills me with Chrismas cheer. The scenario:

A snowball fight in the street. An off-duty cop gets involved, pulls out his gun and calls for back-up.

The best part?

People intentionally throw snowballs at this dickhead. They start chanting "Don't bring a gun to a snowball fight." As backup arrives and the on-duty cop tries to handle the situation, some guy starts asking the cop, "What the fuck is wrong with you?"

What the fuck is wrong with you indeed?

Te-Nehisi Coates, commenting on the video, says:
The fact that "there are only a handful of bad cops" cuts no ice with me. If only a "handful of McDonald's are spitting in your food" your not going to McDonalds. Likewise, I don't even ask the cops for directions. Better to take my chance with a dude on the street. At least if he decides to shoot me, he stands a chance of being prosecuted.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bad Writing

So I'm reading this really bad horror novel and no, that's not redundant. There are, on occasion, really good horror novels but this is not one of them. I will spare the author embarassment and not name him/her or the book, but I will include some of the blurbs on the cover.

"One of my must-read authors!"
"------ is a writer to watch!"
"It won't be long before ----- is taking big bites out of the field of horror fiction!"
"------ gives his/her audience what they crave in spades!"

The book is about a werewolf and includes this passage:
"His fingers and toes were white-hot lances of agony as the skin split to allow for razor-sharp claws to erupt; likewise his gums split open, blood staining his mouth as his teeth became razor-sharp fangs in a drooling maw of sharp, canine teeth."
No shit. I typed that straight out of the book.

"White-hot lances of agony" is good, but then something happens to this sentence. "To allow for razor-sharp claws to erupt." For? We don't need that "for."

"To allow razor-sharp claws to erupt" is much smoother.

Then, we've got this horrible sentence fragment: "blood staining his mouth as his teeth became razor-sharp fangs in a drooling maw of sharp, canine teeth."

Man, where to start? If you strip out most of the adjectives, this sentence tells us one thing:
His teeth became fangs in a mouth full of teeth.
What's another word for mouth? Maw. What's another word for "razor-sharp fangs?" That's right. "Sharp, canine teeth."

Now here's the thing. As a writer, I could totally write that sentence. But I would rewrite the hell out of it. I'd cut it way down, to nothing, but that's my style.

"His mouth became a drooling maw of razor-sharp fangs." And even then, I'd hate it.

I'd want a better verb. I'd want to lose the "mouth/maw" redundancy. I'd rip it up and put it back together again. "Razor-sharp fangs emerged from his drooling maw."

Yeah, I'd keep that. It plays hell with the word count, but then again, I don't write for a living, so I'm not exactly getting paid by the word. Instead, I'd rather craft a coherent sentence.

Side Benefits of Medical Marijuana

When someone tries to rob your marijuana dispensary, you can call the cops.

Look at this dude.

I don't know if he was roughed up by the cops or the dispensary owners, but he got fucked up.

I love that the cops were called, that they came to the pot dispensary, and instead of busting down doors, confiscating cash and plants, and carting people off to jail, they had to take statements.

Oh, there will be a prosecution. But not for growing, possessing, or selling pot.

That's progress.

PS. Also notice how this is filed in the "attempted robbery" category and not, as it normally would be, in the "drug deal gone bad" category.

Say It Ain't So

You know, I've posted about my disappointment in Dan Simmons but I was ready to get over it. The guy is just too good a writer. But then I read this in his latest semi-monthly "Message From Dan:"
Don’t worry, I won’t get into politics. There’s enough of that on the “Hot Button Issues” section of my forum here. But I will say that this one-year-later November of 2010 was disturbing. Anger and division and suspicion and breakdown of traditional political dialogue runs deeper in the country than any time I can remember since the end of the 1960’s during the depths of the Vietnam War days. Recent choices, decisions, and directions by the president and party we voted into power last year have polarized me in ways I haven’t felt since the late-1960’s . . . demanding some action. It’s just harder now to find the proper venue for constructive political action, but I shall. I suspect many other people – on both sides of many of these issues of war, peace, and the economy – will as well in the coming months and years.

It makes me sad.
Now, contrary to what some may believe, I try not to be a knee-jerk guy. I try to put myself in other people's shoes, try to understand before being understood.

But I read that bolded sentence, and went "Huh?"
"Recent choices, decisions, and directions by the president and party we voted into power last year have polarized me in ways I haven’t felt since the late-1960’s..."
So I take it Dan doesn't like the Lily Ledbetter Act...

Or S-Chip.

Or stem cell research.

Or Sonia Sotomayor.

Or the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

I'm assuming that he doesn't like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but then again, who does? I would have preferred to do without that one, but then again, I would have preferred to do without the whole economic meltdown thing, too.

Maybe Dan's disappointed that Obama hasn't closed Gitmo. Maybe he's worried about trying terrorists as criminals like we did all those years before George W. Bush "decided" we didn't need laws and courts and all that other pansy liberal stuff.

Maybe he really really wants Obama to get rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

But something tells me that's not what Dan's talking about. I wouldn't advise it, but take a look at the "Hot Button Issues" section of his forum.

Some of the headlines of recent Simmons posts:
Paul Krugman IS "A Dangerous Dysfunction"
VDH (As in Victor Davis Hanson): Obama versus History
Cap and Steal
Schumer Calls Flight Attendant "Bitch"
A Little Learning is a Bidenesque Thing
Holder and Race-Based Politics
Gitmo by the Lake
Ayn Rand
Obama in Oslo
Islam U
The Most Boring Man in the World?
Brooks: Bearded Mideastern Religious Fanatics
Their Shackles Are Their Own Problem
Ahmadinejad: US Blocking Return of Savior
Obama's Approval Rating Lowest of any President
Peggy Noonan on THE SPEECH
George Will: This Will Not End Well
Alinsky Does Afghanistan
Krauthammer: Uncertain Trumpet
Oh God. It's like Pajamas Media all over again.

$Wankster$

Last night, my cousin sent me a text gloating over the hated Raiders beating my beloved Broncos. His text included his signature: "$gangster$"

I found that funny because 1) he ain't no gangster and 2) he ain't got no money.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Worst "10 Best" List Ever

Courtesy of Bob Cesca, who puts together a list of the ten best political movies of the last decade.

Michael Moore gets three nods, for Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, and SICKO.

Now, just speaking for me personally, if I were putting together a list of "10 best" list on anything, and one guy got three nods, I'd think...okay, I need to diversify.

Not my list, but my tastes.

Around the Web

The Washington Post compiled "The Worst Ideas of the Decade," and surprise-surprise, many of them are cherished Republican/Right-wing ideas, like torture, letting Osama Bin Laden go at Tora Bora, the prosperity gospel. (Ugh, how I hate that prosperity gospel shit.)

(And don't give me that "But they're a liberal paper!" bullshit. Some of these were written by conservatives. You're going to tell me that Reihan Salam is a liberal? Um...no. And yet, there he is, writing critically of the "compassionate conservativism" of George W. Bush. He must have Bush Derangement Syndrome or something, I guess, huh?)

This column from Will Wilkinson, perhaps the world's most reasonable libertarian, is worth reading in its entirety. He describes riding on a plane with an Iraq War vet returning from combat. The crew mentioned the soldier and asked for applause "to thank one of the real heroes who keeps America safe."

Wilkinson continues:
I hesitated to join the applause.

Hadn’t we known for years that the war was predicated on misinformation? Were we all so ready to agree that it was keeping Americans safe? It was, in fact, killing and wounding thousands upon thousands of Americans--many more than were killed on 9/11. Our troops, in turn, have killed tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis who did nothing to any of us. Maybe the soldier on the airplane signed up to keep me safe and to protect our freedom. But why should we all have to agree that his choice was free of false assumptions? Why should we be expected to display our gratitude, to put our hands together, for what may in the end be a senseless waste of life and a squandering of national power?

Yet all of this is expected of us. By a flight attendant in an American flag tie. So I hesitated. But sooner or later we all feel the ugly nudge of conformism and make some small surrender to keep up appearances. On that juddering plane descending through the clouds, it seemed worth communicating that I was not, after all, on the side of the terrorists.
I, too, am not on the side of the terrorists, but if you try to tell me that we're fighting in Iraq to keep me safe or to preserve my freedoms, I'll blow a big raspberry in your face.

I don't live in Iraq, can't be touched by the WMD they don't have, won't be voting in their elections, won't be going to their schools...

You want to fight for my freedom? Let me smoke pot without a prescription. Hell, let me smoke a cigarette at a bar. Let me drive my truck again. Let my Mom get married officially. Don't kick my girlfriend out when her visa expires.

The biggest threat to my freedom isn't Saddam Hussein or Iraqi insurgents. The biggest threat to my freedom is right here at home and comes from my fellow citizens.

On another subject, this exchange from this interview made me laugh and cry all at the same time:
Q: What role did loose lending practices play in masking declining wages during the last period of economic expansion?

A: Easy credit has been America's substitute for decent wages.
Oh snap!

I used to know this dude that urged me to vote against a minimum wage increase a few years ago. I ignored his pleas and voted yes, but he argued that it would make it harder for companies to hire people. Makes sense on a certain level but correct me if I'm wrong, doesn't making a shit wage make it harder to participate in the economy?

So let's see...a company paying more for labor...or a person --a living, breathing, thinking, feeling person-- having more buying power? Um, I think I'll side with the person.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Process

Not to make my blog all Vukovar, all the time, but this is the same passage as before, only with some edits.

You interested in a peak at the writing process? Okay, you're weird, but here you go!
Vukovar, Croatia - November 18, 1991


The constant air strikes and artillery bombardments had turned Vukovar into a city of ruins. The streets were paved with rubble and broken glass. Most of the buildings had been blasted to bits of crumbled concrete, tangles of twisted rebar, and heaps of scattered bricks. The ones that were still standing were pocked with shrapnel divots, their windows and doors blown out, roofs caved in.

“It’s beautiful, no?” Dmitri said, heaving for breath. His face was dripping with sweat and grime. He wiped his brow with his sleeve but it just smeared his forehead with streaks of dirt.

Monte stared out at the scarred landscape from atop the hill. The town’s water tower, still standing even though chunks had been blown out of it, caught his eye in the distance. It was such an obvious target, it must have been a point of honor among the JNA to destroy it. And yet it remained upright.

Monte found that beautiful. The willful destruction of a city was something else, certainly not beautiful.

“Stunning,” Monte said, though even that word failed to describe it. Heart-breaking, depressing, ugly, enraging. They would have qualified too, but stunning would do.

He detached the wide-angle lens from his camera and fitted it with a long lens from his satchel. From this viewpoint the town spread out before him, its winding streets and battered buildings appearing like miniatures in a diorama. War smoke filtered the light and cast everything with a desolate gloom.

Monte tried to make it beautiful through his viewfinder, marking each attempt with a click of his shutter. He finished the roll and popped it out, letting the camera dangle from a strap around his neck as he labeled the expended roll with a permanent marker. He had his own system, known only to himself and his agent in New York, Spencer. It made no sense to anyone else, but after over a decade in the hot zones of the world, he and Spencer somehow made it work.

He loaded another roll and considered shooting some more shots from the hill top –the climb was worth it—but he figured he had gotten enough. The only thing to see from up here was a dead city.

Just as he was turning around to start the climb back down the hill, an artillery battery started walking another bombardment down one of Vukovar’s streets, kicking up plumes of dust and smoke. The explosions echoed in the valley –boom, boom, boom.

Monte quickly snapped off a few shots with the camera, trying to capture the moment of detonation. He was always off a few seconds, but no doubt, Spencer would say the shots were beautiful when they got back from the lab. That one’s a magazine cover, and that one goes into your book. But Monte knew it wasn’t his best work.

A few blocks away from the explosions, Monte watched a few squads of lightly armed paramilitaries fan out amidst the rubble, following the artillery but trying to avoid getting directly under it. Most of them were in store-bought uniforms that indicated they were definitely not JNA, but even through the telephoto lens, Monte couldn’t read the patches on their sleeves. There were a few wearing the square shubara caps and double bandoliers typical of the Chetnik movement, so Monte guessed they were Serbs.

He pointed them out to Dmitri. “White Eagles?”

Dmitri squinted. “Nah, just hoodlums from Banja Luka.”

“Look at how they’re following those shells. You think they’re coordinating with the JNA? ”

“Would you follow shells if you were coordinating with the JNA? No. They’re hoodlums from Banja Luka, out for a weekend of fun and games. They’re following those shells because they think that’s where the action is. But as you can see from here, there is no action. Only shells. Come on, we’re too visible up here.”

He scrambled down from the crest of the hill and took refuge under a tree, leaving Monte alone at the top. Monte hadn’t felt exposed until that moment, but he saw Dmitri cowering under the tree and the hoodlums from Banja Luka, who were half-drunk on slivovitz and nationalist anthems and wouldn’t think twice about taking a shot at some man-shaped figures on the hillside.

“Come on, you fool,” Dmitri said. “You want to die for those pictures?” It was becoming a common question - you want to die for those pictures? - but the answer never changed.

No, Monte did not want to die out here in Croatia, not for pictures, not for anything. Want had nothing to do with it. Whether you live or die in a war zone relies on the vagaries of time and space. Some places will be, at different times, more deadly than others. One minute, a crowd of people are standing on a street corner. The next they are obliterated by flying metal as a mortar shell explodes at their feet. Fifteen minutes later, Monte is stooping over their bloody remains, taking snapshots. The same space, different times, different levels of danger.

So far he had been lucky. He had never been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was often, through the nature of his work, often in the right place at the right time. And when he went home, back to the states and the half-empty apartment he rented mostly for storage space for the few possessions he could not carry, he returned with nothing but bad memories, nightmares, and mild alcoholic tendencies.

Monte met Dmitri at the tree and grabbed one of the branches overhead. “So when can we get down there?” he asked. “I want to go into the city.”

“So do I,” Dmitri said.

Another round of artillery shells rained down on Vukovar in the distance. Monte felt the explosions in his bones.

Dmitri did too, but he quickly replaced the momentary dread that was on his face with a grin. “After they’re done bombing.”

“When do you think that will be?”

“Let me consult the Colonel,” Dmitri said. He held his thumb and pinky to the side of his head like he was talking on the phone. “Hallo, Colonel? Yes, Dmitri here. I was just wondering, uh, when will the assault take place? Yes, thank you.” He tilted his head and smirked. “He put me on hold.”

“Cut the shit, man,” Monte said. “I just don’t want to be up here when the city falls.”

“Then let’s get off this fucking hill.” He shouldered his M70 and started leading the way down the path.

What a Dummy

I will never forgive the GOP for trying to foist Sarah Palin on the rest of us. Hey, I get why they like her.

She's a living breathing personification of their wildest hopes and dreams. The GOP establishment likes her because she's a reliable line-tower. The base likes her because she tells them what they want to hear.

But at some point, even they must realize that the woman is just not cut out for the position they carved out for her.

I speak mostly of Visorgate. The gist: Sarah Palin, vacationing with her family in Hawaii, was spotted by the paparazzi. To "hide," she marked out the "McCain For President" on her visor.

Some people thought this might be a dig at her running mate. I happen to believe Palin's explanation:
"In an attempt to 'go incognito,' I Sharpied the logo out on my sun visor so photographers would be less likely to recognize me and bother my kids or other vacationers.
It doesn't impress me, of course, but I believe it.

Palin has shown she can be as petty and immature as any politician, but when did she start this passive-aggressive stuff? Hasn't she been mostly just aggressive with none of this passivity crap?

Aside from that, Palin strikes me as the type of idiot who would think conspicuously blacking out the logo on her visor would make her more "incognito" than just leaving it alone.

I mean, don't just take off the visor or anything. Just black it out with a Sharpie, you know, so the paps can get their before and after shots and start making uneducated guesses about your motives...

That Palin, she's quite a thinker!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Something I'm Working On - Part 2

As alluded to in the previous post, a bit of a story I'm working on. Read it if you're bored, and if you want, give me some feedback. I'm still working on it, so I'm not so concerned with the language. Do you get what's going on? Who's involved and what they're doing?
Vukovar, Croatia - November 18, 1991

The constant air strikes and artillery bombardments had turned Vukovar into a city of ruins. The streets were paved with rubble and broken glass. Many of the buildings had been blasted to bits of crumbled concrete, tangles of twisted rebar, and heaps of scattered bricks. The ones that were still standing were pocked with divots from shrapnel, windows and doors blown out, roofs caved in.

“It’s beautiful, eh?” Dmitri said, heaving for breath. His face was dripping with sweat and grime. He wiped his brow with his sleeve but it just smeared his forehead with black streaks.

Monte stared out at the scarred landscape from atop the hill. The town’s water tower, still standing even though chunks had been blown out of it, caught his eye in the distance. It was such an obvious target, it must have been a point of honor among the JNA to destroy it. And yet it remained upright.

Monte found that beautiful. The willful destruction of a city was something else, certainly not beautiful.

“Stunning,” Monte said, though even that word failed to describe it. Heart-breaking, depressing, ugly, enraging. They would have qualified too, but stunning would do.

He detached the wide-angle lens from his camera and fitted it with a long lens from his satchel. From this viewpoint the town spread out before him, its winding streets and battered buildings appearing like miniatures in a diorama. War smoke filtered the light and cast everything with a desolate gloom.

Monte tried to make it beautiful through his viewfinder, marking each attempt with a click of his shutter. He finished the roll and popped it out, letting the camera dangle from a strap around his neck as he labeled the expended roll with a permanent market. He had his own system, known only to himself and his agent in New York, Spencer, but after over a decade in the hot zones of the world, he knew that it worked.

He loaded another roll and considered shooting some more shots from the hill top –the climb was worth it—but he figured he had gotten enough. The only thing to see from up here was a dead city.

Just as he was turning around to start the climb back down the hill, an artillery battery started walking a shell bombardment down one of Vukovar’s streets, kicking up plumes of dust and smoke. The explosions echoed in the valley –boom, boom, boom.

Monte grabbed the camera and quickly snapped off a few shots. He wanted to capture the moment of detonation, but he was always off a few seconds. No doubt, Spencer would find some way to salvage the prints when they came back from the lab but Monte knew it wasn’t his best work.

A few blocks away from the explosions, Monte could see a few squads of lightly armed paramilitaries fanning out amidst the rubble. They were following the artillery but trying to avoid getting directly under it. Most of them were in store-bought uniforms indicating they were definitely not JNA, but Monte couldn’t read the patches on their sleeves even through the telephoto lens. From the few wearing the square shubara caps and double bandoliers typical of the Chetnik movement, Monte knew they were Serbs.

“White Eagles?” Monte asked, pointing them out to Dmitri.

Dmitri squinted. “Nah, those are just hoodlums from Banja Luka.”

“You think they’re coordinating with the JNA? Look at how they’re following those shells.”

“Would you follow shells if you were coordinating with the JNA? They’re hoodlums from Banja Luka, out for a weekend of fun and games. They’re following those shells because they think that’s where the action is. But as you can see from here, there is no action. Only shells. Come on, we’re too visible up here.”

He scrambled down from the crest of the hill and waited for Monte under a tree. Until he saw Dmitri cowering under the tree, Monte hadn’t felt exposed. Vukovar’s defenders weren’t known for their crack snipers, but it occurred to him that the hoodlums from Banja Luka were more likely to get a shot off than any Croat sniper hiding in the rubble. If Dmitri was right about them, they were half-drunk on slivovitz and nationalist anthems and would have no qualms about taking a shot at some man-shaped figures on the hillside.

“Come on, you fool,” Dmitri said. “You want to die for those pictures?” It was becoming a common question from Dmitri but the answer never changed.

No, he did not want to die out here in Croatia, not for pictures, not for anything. But Monte had been in a lifetime of combat zones and came away from them with nothing but bad memories and nightmares, though there was that time he broke his ankle jumping off a helicopter in Beirut. Whether you live or die in combat is up to the vagaries of time and space, to chance. One minute, a crowd of people are standing on a street corner. The next they are obliterated by flying metal. Another minute, Monte is stooping over their bloody remains taking snapshots.

Monte met Dmitri at the tree and grabbed one of the branches overhead. “So when can we get down there?” he asked. “I want to go into the city.”

“So do I,” Dmitri said. Another round of artillery shells rained down on Vukovar in the distance. Monte felt the explosions in his bones. Dmitri did too, but he quickly replaced the momentary dread that was on his face with a grin. “After they’re done bombing.”

Just Something I'm Working On

An idea...

The epigraph:
October 30th, 1991

Spencer,

Thanks for the coffee and cigarettes. Maxwell House is fine, but next time: Folgers. The best part of waking up and all that. The cigarettes, keep them coming and keep them cheap. I’ll square up when I get back stateside, but those cigarettes are necessary with a capital N. A cigarette and a smile makes the locals act almost like friends. Speaking of, the JNA assigned me a bodyguard so maybe you can quit worrying about my safety. You’d like him, Spence. He’s a big Lakers fan, just like you. (Fuck Divac. Go Bulls!) We depart for Vukovar tomorrow, so this will be it for a while. I expect to be back in Osijek in a couple weeks, but Vukovar is going to be hot, hot, hot, so expect a lot of film to be coming your way. I just dropped a half dozen rolls with the UN , mostly stuff from the Krajina, so keep your eyes peeled. If Banja Luka was any indication, Vukovar is going to be bad. You bloodsuckers back home will squirt in your pants when you see the carnage.

My best,
Monte

PS. Remember: cigarettes and Folgers.



November 2nd, 1991

Dear Monte,

It’s probably too late, but DO NOT go to Vukovar. The State Department says the city’s fall is IMMINENT. There are even rumors that the HDZ is willing to sacrifice Vukovar for international sympathy. By all accounts, the next several weeks will be a BLOODBATH. Go back to Osijek IMMEDIATELY. We’ve arranged for travel to Sarajevo and want coverage of the peace demonstrations there. There are also parliamentary motions going on and we need eyes on the floor. You know what to do. All the necessary credentials are in Osijek, as are two cases of Chinese cigarettes and, I’m assured by hotel staff, a can of Folgers. For your sake and ours, stay out of Vukovar.

Spencer

PS. The Krajina pics just came from the lab. Stewart says you should do a book, they’re that good. Keep up the good work…in Sarajevo.
More later.

The Hebrew Hammer

I don't know how this movie was made. The concept is so ridiculous I can't imagine a roomful of people thinking it would be a good investment. A spoof movie of old blaxploitation flicks featuring a Jewish badass who must save Hanukkah from an evil Santa Claus bent on destroying it.

I watched the first ten minutes for free here, and let me tell you...this shit is funny.

As Santa is betrayed and gored by his own reindeer, his last words are "Et tu, Blitzen?"

At the Jewish Justice League, which looks like the Pentagon in the shape of a Star of David, the Chairman of the Worldwide Jewish Media Conspiracy says to the Chairman of the Anti-Denegration League, "Frankly I think you're a putz!" To which, the Chairman of the Anti-Denegration League says, "Don't denigrate me! I'm against that!"

A high concept with lots of mass appeal? No. But there are worse ways to waste your time.

And I Thought I was Cynical

When Ross Douthat writes:
My column tried to make the substantive case for why Republicans should champion alternatives to mass incarceration. But bring the African-American vote into the equation, even on the margins, and you can make a politically self-interested case as well. In the age of Obama, in a country that will be majority-minority in a few short decades, the Republican Party needs to do something to alter its image with non-white voters. And championing criminal justice reform seems like a much more plausible way of changing how blacks think about the G.O.P. than all the “hip-hop” Republicanism that Michael Steele can muster.
Is he just being cynical? Or is he making a decent point?

I'm not sure.

The whole "reform prisons to win black votes" thing borders on cynicism, and yet... that whole "reform prisons" thing is a good idea, although not for the reasons Ross suggests.

I don't give a shit about the fortunes of the Republican party. If they weren't so stupid, I suspect they wouldn't need to champion an issue to change "how blacks think about the G.O.P." After all, it's not Republican ideas that keep black people out of the party, but racist Republicans.

But I do care about our society, and worry about bad things can get once we decide prison can solve all our problems.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sharing is Hard

We all know I'm a liberal asshole. I'm also the type of guy who lives in a, how shall we say, a multicultural neighborhood. I can't converse with most of my neighbors because we don't speak the same language. Not only that, but the neighborhood is full of every hue and color you can imagine.

There's a convenience store three blocks down that's run by guys from the Middle East who speak French, Spanish, English, and their native language, whatever that may be.

Some Koreans own the gas station in front of the Mex Mall but let a taco truck park in their lot and even run an extension cord into the building.

When I ride the bus, I'm often the only white face. On the 105 bus, which goes up and down Havana, it's amazing how many waves of civilization you cross through. From Colfax to Mississippi, it's Asians. I've seen people that looked like they just walked out of the jungles of Thailand get on that bus. Further down, you hit an East African part of town; Somalis, Ethiopians, all Muslim head dresses and poxy complexions. Then later, India. They're smartly dressed, professional types. Probably two times smarter than me, and paid half as much.

My point when I say all this is that sharing is hard, but it's worth it. We could be living in some shit hole, one side fighting the other, Palestine right here, but we don't. I get on the bus, they get on the bus. Who cares?

So whenever I write a post about all the divisive bullshit that goes on, I'm going to tag it with "Sharing is Hard." Because it is. But one you acknowledge that, you also have to remember that it's worth it.

PS. If you haven't seen the movie Invictus, I recommend it. Nothing ground-breaking or anything, but it is the work of a master (Clint Eastwood) and captures some pretty interesting performances, especially from Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and the guys who make up Mandela's security team.

The point of the movie? Sharing is hard. But it's worth it.

Glibertarian? Nah...

Wow. Matt Welch has it made. The basic thrust of this is this:

French healthcare is better than the US system, which I like because I use it, but it comes with a big welfare state, which I don't like because, well, I'm a glibertarian.

But what I don't get is, doesn't he live in the United States? And if he does, does he fly to France every time he needs to see a doctor?

Man, what a luxury. If I need to see a doctor, I've got to figure out which bus to take, sit around for a long time, wait four weeks for the test results, go down to Walgreen's for the prescription, and all this with premiums and co-pays.

But it must be nice to hop on a jet and get all that nice French healthcare...

Leave it to Krugman

Paul Krugman states the obvious:
Talk to conservatives about the financial crisis and you enter an alternative, bizarro universe in which government bureaucrats, not greedy bankers, caused the meltdown. It’s a universe in which government-sponsored lending agencies triggered the crisis, even though private lenders actually made the vast majority of subprime loans. It’s a universe in which regulators coerced bankers into making loans to unqualified borrowers, even though only one of the top 25 subprime lenders was subject to the regulations in question.

Oh, and conservatives simply ignore the catastrophe in commercial real estate: in their universe the only bad loans were those made to poor people and members of minority groups, because bad loans to developers of shopping malls and office towers don’t fit the narrative.
The only thing I'd quibble with is this:

These people are not conservatives.

They are stooges for the Republican party. And "stooges for the Republican party" does not automatically equal "conservative."

What's conservative about self-delusion? Nothing.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

That's It

Two fucking hours. That's how long it took me to get home tonight.

Two hours...all because the train was a few minutes late.

So guess what, State of Colorado? This experiment in doing the right thing is over. Tomorrow, I'm driving to work.

Facebook Disasters

Facebook regrets to inform you...your parents are divorced.

Your Dad doesn't like "Yo Momma" jokes.

You and your stupid goatee...

Yippie Kai Yay, Motherfucker

This is kind of jokey, but it provides 5 good reasons why my favorite Christmas movie is the bestest Christmas movie ever made.

In Your Face!

Check out this dunk. It's Jordanesque.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I wonder...

What it would be like to have a conversation with Henry Rollins.

Do you think he would talk for three hours straight without letting you get a word in edgewise? Or would there be some back and forth there?

I could tell him about some idiot I saw on the bus to work and he could tell me about some idiot he saw on the tour bus in Poland on a Black Flag tour in 1986.

I've been to Disneyland, I could say.

That's cool. I've been to Iran.

Did you ever see that movie...?

Are you kidding? I was in that movie.

It would only go down from there. Then I'd be reliving all the spoken word sessions I listened to as a young man. I still have those tapes somewhere...

Cheating Justice

I have a confession to make.

I never liked Tiger Woods. Oh, sure, I was impressed by his prodigy at golf, but that was tempered by my general antipathy towards golf. You can't really get too excited about a sportsman if you don't like his sport.

But as the years went on, my lack of opinion on Tiger became an opinion: A hopelessly negative one.

It started with the endorsement deals, the Nike ones in particular. I remember reading that they signed Tiger to a $10 million deal to promote the brand and thinking, "So the company that pays poor third-world laborers pennies on the dollar to make their shoes and clothes and hats and all that other crap is going to spend $10 million to an already rich American dude to sell it?"

That not only struck me as patently unfair, but it just seems like bad business. Oh, I'm sure the bean counters made it work though...which makes me wonder what they'd do if the brass decided to give the factory floor a raise and skip the celebrity endorsement. You know, make money by making a better product not by having a pretty spokesman.

But then again, we're talking about Nike. This is the kind of company that during my high school years -and the heyday of 90s gang violence- stocked an all-red shoe and an all-blue shoe, but not an all-green one or an all-purple one. You know, not that they were marketing to the gang element. The larger public's hunger for gang-related clothing was just coincidence, I'm sure.

I digress from Nike...back to Tiger.

The latest stories coming out of the Tiger Woods is just further entrenching my dislike of the dude. Okay, so you got yourself a pretty blond swimsuit model for a trophy wife. So what? I'm supposed to be impressed by that? You're a rich sports hero. Like you're going to hook up with Mary Jane Rottencrotch.

But then you go around the world banging all these other pretty model/porn star types. They know you're married, but don't care. A hole in one with Tiger Woods? I know straight dudes who wouldn't pass that up.

And then when you get caught, you pull all these shenanigans. Have you heard the tape? I don't know where that came from, but that's some evil shit right there. He asks a girl to take her name off her phone because his wife found it and he might be calling her.

So the wife's suspicious (for good reason, apparently) and he thinks so little of her that he asks his girlfriend to deceive her even more. And it's such a petty insignificant deception (taking her name off her phone so it's just her number) that it's a delaying tactic more than anything else.

And now...today...there's news that Tiger is taking an "indefinite leave" from golf, an activity many people do for fun! Why? Because he made a fool out of his wife and all these other women. And himself.

Pity? I have no pity. I hope he retires from golf forever. I hope he loses all of his endorsements. (As McDonalds gives every burger flipper a raise and Nike opens a factory in Detroit.) I hope his wife leaves him and takes all his money. I hope his kids can someday forgive him. And I hope he dies, many many years from now, a bitter old man with a broken heart.

It would allow me to reinforce my already flimsy belief in the concept of cosmic justice.

You Go, Girl

Good for you.

My guess is that your hubby either thought you'd never find out (in which case he's a character-free selfish asshole) or if you did find out, you'd forgive him (in which case he's a selfish asshole and a fool).

Rewriting History

I did something today that I never thought I'd do. I deleted a couple of posts. Not only a couple of posts, but a couple of my most popular posts. (I expect my daily traffic to plummet now.)

Normally, I'm against this kind of thing, but I've had it. People searching for a certain CNN reporter can find info on her elsewhere. I am no longer the one-stop shop for all things related to the Damon that is named Arwa. (Stupid grammar used to confound Googlers.)

Not only that, but everyone who came to my blog by Googling the name (spelled phonetically) Stef-an-ee Ay-brums along with certain parts of the female anatomy?

Fuck off. Have some respect.

Even in private, I'd feel a little shame in typing "so and so's pussy" into a search box, and yet I get people every day looking for So and So's pussy or tits or So and So's bikini.

But that's just me. You know, the type of guy whose character doesn't flutter away when no one's looking.

The Idiot's Guide to Troubleshooting

Damn. First day back to work and I'm talking to an idiot. He sounds like he's 70 years old and he's in Florida so he probably is.

So he's reporting a problem. This particular problem has a few causes, the most common being USER ERROR. Being as lazy as I am intelligent, my first task is to determine if that is indeed what's going on.

After all, if it's a technical or equipment problem, I have a few things I can do to either fix it or send it to someone else who can.

But I can't fix stupid.

If you don't know what you're doing, in the words of Flavor Flav, I can't do nuthing for ya, man. That's your problem, or more properly, your boss's problem.

So starting from this "legitimate problem or incompetent fool" jump off, I asked the old guy some questions. His answers were so vague as to be meaningless.

You know you're in trouble when the guy you're speaking to says something like, "Well everything looks okay."

No doubt, bud. But looks can be deceiving. You know what? Let's go back a step. Let me ask you this: Is everything working properly? No? Then everything is not okay.

So now that we're back where we started...

What's worse is the guy was feeding me bullshit. I ask him what a little LCD window says. He tells me it says everything is fine.

No, dude. What does it say verbatim? I know it doesn't say "Everything is fine." It says something else, which you think means "everything is fine." It probably says some technical mumbo jumbo, a code of some sort followed by a message. "Ready to run" is one option. It might say something else.

But it won't say, "Everything is fine." You know how I know? Because there isn't a single piece of equipment in the world that says "Everything is fine."

Now I don't want to sound like a mean young'un, but the fact that you're telling me it says "Everything is fine" indicates to me that you're not looking in the right place...or you're not looking at all.

In fact, with these answers I'm starting to believe "user error" is what's going on here. And if that's the case...

Can't do nuthing for ya, man.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Bathtub Angel


This is my niece taking a bath. She came over with her brother this weekend while the folks were out doing Christmas parties. My nephew raided my MP3s. My niece made cute faces and funny sounds. A good time was had by all.

Stuff

I picked a good week to be off. It's been snowy and cold, the snow making a bike commute impossible, and the cold making a bike-less commute miserable. Thankfully, there has been no commuting during this trying time.

Word on the street is that we're going to be warming up this weekend, at least above freezing for once, so I might have missed Winter 09-10's first sub-zero blast completely.

And what have I done with my vacation, you ask? Squandered it.

Last weekend, I went up the hill to Blackhawk, got a room with my brother and cousin, and proceeded to get into all kinds of trouble. Not really, but I did pig out at the buffet, lost all my "fun" money at penny slots, and had some good laughs.

True story:

As we were preparing to go out for the night, my cousin was considering wearing his LT jersey. He said LT, and knowing that he's a Broncos hater, I figured he meant LaDainian Tomlinson, the LT that plays for the Chargers. But nope, he meant THE LT, the one and only Lawrence Taylor, the player I most idolized as a kid. My teen years were misspent as a Giants fan and it was all LT's fault!

So when my cousin pulls out a pristine Giants uniform with Taylor across the back and the number 56 in big white letters, my first thought was: I want it.

I asked him how much he wanted for it. He didn't want to sell it, but if he was, he wanted something like four hundred bucks.

Four hundred bucks? For a jersey?

He proceeded to show me that it was a Players of the Century jersey, had the official patch and everything. A jersey without that patch would cost under a hundred, but with the patch, it's special. It's a collector's item. We're talking investment material here.

But I'm not paying that much for a jersey. If it was a real jersey that LT had worn in a game, maybe...maybe. (Although I think I'd use the money to buy new tires on my truck instead.) But for some dumb jersey made for pennies in a factory in Taiwain with the super-special Players of the Century patch? Forget it. Not for LT. Not for John Elway. Not for anyone.

Here's the punchline: my cousin decided not to wear the LT jersey that night. So my brother did. And after a night of drinking free casino beers, my brother gakked all over it. The pristine white letters on the front were stained with beer puke, forever altering its auction potential.

The view from our room:

That skyscraper on the right is the new Ameristar Hotel and Casino, which is a pretty classy joint with a really good buffet. They've got rooms with spa bathtubs right by the windows. Imagine sitting in your private jacuzzi, a flue of bubbly in your hand, and looking out those windows...

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Last Words

Some weeks ago, I polished off John Gardener's most well-known book, Grendel. It's a retelling of the Beowulf story from Grendel's point of view, but it's...well, weird. It's written in that post-modern minimalist style that is so popular these days, a stream of consciousness wordgasm that is rarely coherent but always vivid.

I couldn't make it all the way through the first time. I had to set it down for a while and come back to it later, when I was better prepared for its pretensions. I mean, sure, it's a retelling of Beowulf, but not like Michael Chrichton's Eaters of the Dead or even Zemeckis's movie, which seeks to add a new and exciting dimension on an old tale. And sure, it's from Grendel's point of view, but it doesn't seek to give us any psychological insight into Grendel, the character.

It just uses all of this --Grendel, his mother, the dragon, attacking Hrothgar's meadhall, Beowulf-- as a means to engage in a very opaque philosophical discussion.

It's not a novel about Grendel the monster.

It's a prose poem about the very nature of our universe, sung in the key of Grendel.

When I got to the end, the very last sentence, it dawned on me that I had just read perhaps one of the best last sentences in literature. It was certainly the best last sentence that I've read in a long time. I'm sure there have been others, with all the books I've read, but there was just something perfect about this one.

It's the last few moments of Grendel's life. He has just been humiliated and mutilated by Beowulf. Grendel is dying. His last words:
“Poor Grendel’s had an accident,” I whisper. “So may you all.”
Now would be a good time to resist the urge to ask, "So what does it all mean?" In the context of the story, and the nihilistic vein throbbing throughout Gardner's prose, I think it speaks for itself.

After reading it I wondered where it would fit on the list of top last lines, as if some esteemed person had reviewed the whole of literature and ranked the last lines on some kind of merit. Surely this one would be on that list, at least, if not in the top 20.

I was right about at least some of that. It is on the list, but it's listed at 50.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Wolfmother

Lately I've been digging on Wolfmother's latest record, Cosmic Egg. The cool thing about it is that much of it is straight up stoner rock, underground style. I'm not talking Queens of the Stone Age. I'm talking Atomic Bitchwax. I'm talking Fu Manchu. Nebula.

And of course, I'm talking about Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.

Take the song Sundial. The lyrics are silly, the rhymes obvious. And the riff is eerily similar to N.I.B. by Black Sabbath, but you know what? I'm alright with that. (I'm not the only one who noticed, either.)

Derivative? Yeah, but fuck I love it.

I mean, listen to this. You've got the uber-distorted N.I.B. riff for a few bars, then it breaks down into an rock opera-y section of grand sustained power chords accompanied by a piano used almost as a percussion instrument. That goes on for a while...

And then all hell breaks loose as the Riffs of War are unleashed.

The other song that got me, the one that got me first actually, was 10,000 Feet. Again, a victim of silly lyrics and explosive riffage, but this one fulfills the Led Zeppelin requirement for a stoner rock degree.

Owing more than a little to Kashmir, it just builds and builds, one collection of riffs after another. There's even strings, just like in Kashmir! (Listen to it before it goes away.)

Seriously, it's one great riff after another. The last minute or so is a text-book example of how to bring a song to a crescendo.

The Tea Party Rapper

This one goes out to my brother.
I'm a big fan of nerd core, but this guy is no Andy Samberg.

For one, Andy Samberg actually tries to be funny. If lines like this are to be believed, Hi Caliber lives in an irony-free universe of his own creation:
And I have a new hero; his name is Joe Wilson
The crooks in Congress are making a killin'
Um, Mr. Caliber, your new hero Joe Wilson? He's one of those "crooks in Congress."

Two Can Play That Game

This one goes out to my cousin Josh.

The story behind it can be found here.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I Ain't Bragging

But I don't have to work for the next ten days...

And, let me tell you, it's a well-earned ten days.

Denver, We Have a Problem

I found this map at this Denver Post article. I mean, look at this! The map represents the Denver metro area, including Boulder, and the already-approved-by-voters plans for a light-rail system.

The light-blue is what's built now. The dark blue is under construction and the gold is up next, starting construction next year. All the red --the bulk of the planned light rail system-- is in major trouble and may not even happen.

No, let me rephrase. All the lines in red WILL NOT happen.

Witness:
In its report, BBC questioned whether all these elements — a huge grant from the federal government, "a public-private partnership that has never been accomplished on this scale anywhere in the United States," and "an unlikely increase in sales-tax rates to unprecedented levels" — will coalesce for RTD.
In order for this to happen, we need to get ALL of these things:

A) A federal grant
B) A private company stepping in
C) A sales tax increase

The first point is easiest, because the feds are always handing out money. It will make a lot of people angry, especially the Tea Party crowd, but it's doable.

The second point is ludicrous. A private company is going to finance the construction and operation of a light-rail line...and make money how? From riders? Yeah, right.

And a sales tax increase? Who's going to vote for it? The Tea Party types won't. Folks who are struggling to pay what they already pay won't.

It's just not going to happen.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Message to George Will: Do Not Opine About Things You Know Nothing About

George Will should smoke some pot instead of writing about it, because the dude clearly doesn't know what he's talking about.

His first mistake:
State governments, misunderstanding markets and ravenous for revenue, exaggerate the potential windfall from taxing legalized marijuana. California thinks it might reap $1.4 billion. But Rosalie Pacula, a Rand Corp. economist, estimates that prohibition raises marijuana production costs at least 400 percent, so legalization would cause prices to fall much more than the 50 percent assumed by the $1.4 billion estimate.
How did the Rand Corp figure that out? Sounds to me like they just pulled that out of their ass.

They're comparing production costs in a model that doesn't exist (wherein marijuana is legal and taxed) with a model that does (prohibition)? No shit? It's an estimate based on an estimate, and I'm supposed to be impressed?

But there's more:
Furthermore, marijuana is a normal good in that demand for it varies with price. Legalization, by drastically lowering price, will increase marijuana's public health costs, including mental and respiratory problems, and motor vehicle accidents.
George, George, George. In the past ten years, you've bought more bow ties than bags of weed, so let me clue you into a dirty little secret of marijuana prices.

They are remarkably stable.


A quarter ounce of schwag will cost you about $20 bucks. A quarter ounce of kind bud (the kind you get at the dispensaries...almost all of it locally grown) will cost you about a $100. So it was 10 years ago (20 years?), and so it is today.

The scenario Will envisions, prices going down as the market is flooded with legal weed, is ludicrous to anyone who actually participates in the cannabis market.

Prices will act like prices do on other products that appeal to the connoisseur, with the good stuff commanding a premium (think Starbucks/Lafite-Rothschild wine) and the not-so-good stuff going for a discount (think Folgers/Boone's Farm).

That's how the market will form. Will prices go down? Some of them. But some will go up, too.

As for the negative side effects Will is worried about...bah. Motor vehicle accidents? Fricking motor vehicle accidents?

The majority of motor vehicle accidents are caused by people who are NOT on marijuana. What should we do about them?

And mental and respiratory problems? Look at the bow-tied conservative wanker suddenly aligning himself with the nanny-state that sacrifices individual liberty out of some vague concern for my mental and respiratory health.

I love this, though:
States attempting to use high taxes to keep marijuana prices artificially high would leave a large market for much cheaper illegal -- unregulated and untaxed -- marijuana.
I see...so nothing would change.

Except that you would have the option to buy it legally. Oh the humanity!

Will's not done wanking though:
Colorado ranks sixth in the nation in identity theft, two-thirds of which is driven by the state's $1.4 billion annual methamphetamine addiction.
An alarming statistic, no doubt, but what does that have to do with legalizing marijuana?

Short answer: Nothing.
[Attorney General Suthers] is loath to see complete legalization of marijuana at a moment when new methods of cultivation are producing plants in which the active ingredient, THC, is "seven, eight times as concentrated" as it used to be.
Yeah, I've heard that before. And it's probably true.

But like super-concentrated Tide, with super-THC-concentrated pot, you smoke less of it. Unless you're an idiot like George Will.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bad Writing?

So tell me if this is too cheesy...specifically the last part
Micah knocked on the door with gloved knuckles...

A moment later, the door opened a crack and a woman peered out at us over the security chain. I could only see half her face, but I recognized the dread locks and dimples from her drivers license photo. We had the right apartment, at least.

"What you want?" she said.

Geneva Russell, twenty six. She had co-signed for her boyfriend Ronnie's bond a few months prior but he never showed up to court. We were the unlicensed bondsmen that were there to pick him up on a warrant.

"We need to talk to Ronnie, Geneva," Micah said in a calm, familiar tone.

The eye widened at the mention of her name. That kind of familiarity from a complete stranger can be eye opening.
I think it's actually kind of funny...

Good Bad Writing

There’s good writing. There’s bad writing. Then there’s good bad writing.

Case in point: Richard Laymon’s novel The Beast House.

Here’s a paragraph from Chapter Three, in which our heroine Tyler (yes, a female Tyler) wipes blood from her face:
As the men started toward their car, Tyler knelt on the passenger seat and took a plastic container of Wet Ones from the glove compartment. She crawled out. Plucking one of the moist towels from the pack, she scrubbed her face. The paper came away smeared brown-red.
What’s wrong with this? you might ask. There’s strong active verbs (knelt, crawled, plucking, scrubbed, smeared). There’s not very many adjectives and the ones that are there add something to the sentences. And there are no adverbs.

In fact, it’s actually a pretty vivid description of what’s going on. So what’s the problem?

There’s too much going on. That’s the problem.

Laymon uses four sentences to describe the simple act of Tyler getting a Wet One out of the glovebox and wiping her face with it. A whole paragraph! Narrated step by step, leaving no action undescribed, no dot unconnected.

And hey, I understand. I’m a writer. I’ve done this too. You’re writing a story, narrating a story, and pretty soon the Narration overtakes the Story. Instead of “When he got home, he grabbed a beer and fell on the couch,” it becomes something grand, like “When he got home, he went straight to the kitchen and opened the fridge. He leaned on the door shaking with condiments and enjoyed the cool air blowing in his face. Three beers sat like soldiers on the shelf and he grabbed one. He popped the top with his bottle opener, tipped it back, and let the cool liquid pour into his mouth. He went into the living room and flopped on the couch…”

I could go on. I could even clean it up a little bit, put in some more strong active verbs, hone the adjectives a bit. (I try to skip adverbs anyway. Adverbs are very bad. And yes, "very" is an adverb and I just used it and look at how simple and meaningless that sentence is!)

So while a writer will get stuck in this narrative morass, a writer must also take into account the reader. And the reader, having the ability fill in gaps with their imaginations, doesn’t need to be spoon-fed every little action.

At least this reader.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Tax Cuts For Dubai

The shit has hit the fan in Dubai. Dubai World, the company the Bush administration was going to put in charge of US ports, is in major debt.

A year after the global slump derailed Dubai's explosive growth, the city-state's main investment arm, Dubai World, revealed this week it was asking for at least a six-month delay on paying back its $60 billion debt. Major credit agencies responded by slashing debt ratings on Dubai's state companies, saying they might consider the plan a default.
Yeah, if I didn't pay my bills for six months, that would be considered a default.

Clearly, Dubai needs a tax cut to help them resolve this financial problem.

Oh, wait! Dubai hardly has any taxes.
Individuals living in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are not subject to income tax. Like most other countries in the Middle East most government expenditure is funded by revenues from the oil industry. There is also no tax on rental income, capital gains, inheritances, or property transfers (stamp duty).

Black Friday

Everywhere, Black Friday...

CNN is doing a story on where the deals are. My e-mail inbox is full of offers from every company I've ever done business with for Black Friday sales. All over the web, it's Black Friday, Black Friday, Black Friday.

Buy, buy, buy!

Because if the last year or so has taught us anything, it's that over-exuberant consumerism has absolutely no down side.

When "Drill, Baby, Drill" Goes Bad

An article for intelligent people!


Typical Republican whining about regulations:
McInnis spokesman Sean Duffy said Tuesday that "having the most punitive rules in the nation" has been a big mistake.

"As the industry was hurting, as the economy in general was hurting," Duffy said, "in comes this very anti-industry, anti-jobs approach."
Wah! Anti-industry. Wah! Anti-jobs.

Only there's more to the story than Democrats being mean to industrialists.

The rules implement 2007 laws requiring more weight be given to health, wildlife and environmental concerns when making decisions about oil and gas development. The laws were passed amid record-breaking rates of natural gas drilling and complaints from landowners, conservationists, hunters and anglers about the impacts.
When you read "record-breaking rates of natural gas drilling," think "Drill, baby, drill."

When you read "complaints from landowners, conservationists, hunters and anglers," think "socialist agenda."

Instead of asking a Republican, let's ask a "real American," Brett Corsentino, described in the artilce as "a fourth-generation dairy farmer in south-central Colorado."
"What has hindered these companies is overproduction. I know about that because I'm a dairy farmer," he said.
Clearly, we need to make it easier for these companies to overproduce even more, removing roadblocks to polluting water supplies and screwing over landowners.
I like the way Mark Udall thinks, especially about this bark beetle problem we've got going on out here.
Udall talked about converting beetle-kill trees, which are already being turned into pellets for wood stoves in Kremmling, into other forms of biofuel.

“There’s been a lot of conversations among a lot of us about how do you create markets for this potential biofuel,” he said. “You can only make so many fence posts and so many pencils and so many bark-beetle belt buckles.

“And when you put into the mix that much of this timber is not particularly well-suited for middle- or even high-end lumber markets, then there’s a natural inclination to consider whether, with the new technologies we have, could you turn this biomass into biofuels, particularly ethanols. And the Farm Act, the Ag Credit Act and the Clean Air Act all provide opportunities to provide additional incentives to see if this is a real and sustainable operation or economic activity.”
I saw this coming over a year ago.

Visionary? Me? Nah....

Haiku 2

Delirious me
Stares at the flickering screen,
The colors a blur.

A Haiku

Tired beyond pain
Gone half-mad from lack of sleep
Seeking a warm bed

Just a Thought

Perhaps it's just this recession thing we're going through, but I wonder why...

If retailers can afford to offer such steep discounts on Black Friday, the day that they supposedly start making a profit, why can't they do that for the other ten months of the year?

A loss-leader is a loss-leader is a loss-leader, right?

Investment Advice

A buddy at work was talking about how Facebook was trying to go public and said that he should get in on that.

No, you shouldn't, I said.

Facebook is tremendously popular...right now. But fads, especially internet fads, are horrible investment vehicles.

Just look at Myspace. In 2006, Myspace was at the top of the internet heap. By 2008, Facebook was kicking their ass.

I suspect next year some social networking site we've never even heard of (yet) will be kicking Facebook's ass. Don't invest in them either.