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Saturday, January 31, 2004

Thoughts On The Recent Nominations

Okay, I've been fielding a lot of questions from friends lately asking what I think about the recent nominations. I don't have to tell you that there have been a lot of surprises -- the obvious candidates doing what they were supposed to do, but just not in the way that they were supposed to do it.

Let's start with the big contenders: after the time spent laying the groundwork, everyone knew that Lord of the Rings was going to come on strong in Iowa, but the real shocker was that there were no acting nominations -- nabbed, obviously, by the insurgent Kerry. Now he's enjoying the reverse side of that press negativity that had written him off as recently as two weeks ago: the Kerry surge created that "everybody loves a winner" feeling that carried Lord of the Rings to a commanding lead in New Hampshire and has Peter Jackson a sure lock for the Vice-President nomination.

But here's the tricky part: a strong military feeling in the voters has been pushing not only Vietnam Vet Kerry, but also Master and Commander, and New Hampshire was the real battleground. Thus, Best Actor turned into a three-way fight between men with proven credentials: Sean Penn (Golden Globe winner for Mystic River), Bill Murray (Golden Globe winner for Lost in Translation), and Wesley Clark (Commander of NATO forces in Bosnia). At this point, it's just a crap shoot as to who can prove to the voters that he has the gravitas to deserve the nod, but look for a surprising showing from Johnny Depp, whose strong anti-Navy position is a sharp contrast to the other contenders and whose rousing antics really fired up the base. But he's still a pirate, no matter what he managed to do in Vermont, and a lot of voters who flirted with his charm won't commit when it comes time to get hitched.

And there's just no way to talk about the nomination fight without mentioning the backlash. Howard Weinstein used his newly-minted Internet campaigning machine to rise to an unexpected dominance, but he peaked too early when he used his sway to get "Chocolat" onto the cover of "The Nation," which left only enough influence to get lefty-darling Kucinich another nomination. (Weinstein owed it to Kucinich to make up for his disappointment at losing Chicago to that overhyped, underwhelming ham with the putty nose, Lieberman. "Joementum" my ass -- he'll always be Mr. Tom Cruise to me.) After that stumble, the rumors that Weinstein was "unbalanced" and had shouted "Miramax" at Sundance petered out the momentum completely and kept him to a surprisingly poor result. That left the field open for a studio release about a horse with a big heart that just wouldn't quit -- John Edwards -- to come from nowhere to post a strong showing. With that kind of feel-good populism matched with a glossy sheen, there was just no room for the "independent." The small-potatoes hippie stuff was fun for a while, but it's going to be the big money boys when the rubber meets the road.

And it has also been a remarkable time for the ladies as well. The women that bared it all won it all: Charlize, Diane, Naomi. But Judy Steinberg Dean played it close to the chest and failed to ignite the base. As for the nomination of Shoreh Aghdashloo, it seems obvious that no one is ready to vote for a woman of color, so her campaign must be nothing more than a vanity project.

It seems that we're looking at a horse race at this point. Until we get a little further down the road, there's just no way to tell who will have that golden chance to walk down the aisle, look straight into the TV cameras, and spew a line of self-serving bullsh*t.

 11:53 PM

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Required Reading

I am strongly recommending to everyone these days that they read Kenneth Pollack's Atlantic Monthly article, "Spies, Lies, and Weapons: What Went Wrong." Pollack is a former intelligence analyst and the author of the 2002 book "The Threatening Storm: The Case For Invading Iraq," which featured prominently in a lot of debate over whether we should invade. He has now written a very comprehensive article analyzing the same evidence in the light of what we know now, and it's extremely thought-provoking. Read it for yourself, but here's the short version:

The Left gives too little credence to the fact that Saddam had a long history of lying his ass off right up to the moment someone proved he was lying; and a history of being proven to have more prohibited materials than he admitted. The Left also gives too little credence to the fact that Saddam was about six months away from a nuke when we invaded Kuwait. The intelligence community was complacent in its own presumptions that Saddam would be a mad dog in search of WMD; the intelligence agencies had become overdependent on the UN inspectors to feed them information. The Right gave too little credence to the experience of those that had gone before; when rumors were discounted, they assumed it was because of a political failing rather than a sober assessment. And the Bush administration was guilty of egregiously mis-selling the war in Iraq because it trumpeted only those possibilities that were labeled "worst case scenarios," without telling the rest of the story.

It's a sobering read, both because it details the dangerous world we live in, and the dangerous battles going on in our own government.

 1:07 PM
So that's the way to get an Oscar nomination.

Consider this.

As borne out by this link, which is decidedly not safe for work, four of the five performances nominated for Best Actress contained nudity. And the fifth nominee was the child star of "Whale Rider."

When Charlize Theron seemed to follow Nicole Kidman's "win an Oscar by hiding your beauty" plan, I thought that might be the start of a new trend. But perhaps the true trend leader is Halle Berry's strategy of "appearing butt-nekkid on screen."

 12:06 AM

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Watta Letdown

Today's article by Cintra Wilson about Mel Gibson's "The Passion" may be the low point in Salon.com's history. The article -- which apparently requires a subscription to read -- features Wilson passing off innuendo, opinion and guess as proven fact. I am a big fan of Cintra Wilson's work, such as her attack on last year's Oscars, but this is just pathetic.

It's an interview with Rev. Mark Stanger, an Episcopal priest invited to a preview screening in Illinois. It has some good cracks about the way that the Religious Right is using the film as a crass "marketing" opportunity, but it quickly deteriorates into assumption and unjustified criticism. Take, for instance, this exchange:

So, Mel Gibson seems to be arguing that the gospels are factual documents.

Exactly. And that all of the references to the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament, were proof of fulfillment of prophesy, whereas it's most likely that in order to make sense of the events surrounding Jesus' death, the gospel writers searched the Hebrew scriptures to find things.

So, after the crucifixion, writers of the New Testament were looking back at the Old Testament and finding connective threads to make sense of what they were writing?

Yes, exactly, the way anybody looks into their own faith tradition to make sense of traumatic events in their own life. Also, some of these [New Testament authors and their communities] were already being persecuted themselves for their beliefs. So, the way to make sense of that is to show Jesus as a model of patience under suffering.


You know, when Matthew says that the events of the Gospel came to pass to fulfill precise prophecies in the Old Testament, you can either accept or reject Matthew's teaching on that point. But if someone makes a movie that accepts Matthew's viewpoint as correct, you can't fault the filmmaker as if his choice were completely unjustifiable. Yet that's exactly what Wilson and Stanger do: they form a mutual admiration society founded on softball questions and the fundamental assumption that no one could reasonably take the Bible seriously.

There are also the times when the Rev. Stanger reveals himself to be a little hypersensitive:

One of the ways [Gibson] tries to produce an air of authenticity in the film is to have the principals speaking Aramaic, the dialect of Hebrew that Jesus would have spoken, and the Roman soldiers and Pilate speaking Latin.

But
very chillingly, in the interview after the showing, Mel Gibson said the reason that he had [his cast] speaking those original languages -- and I didn't misinterpret him, because he told a long story to illustrate it -- he said, "If I was doing a film about very fierce, horrible, nasty Vikings coming to invade a town, and had them on their ship with their awful weapons, and they came pouring off the ship ready to slaughter -- to have them speak English wouldn't be menacing enough."

How did that hit you?

I almost puked. It was so xenophobic: The good guys speak English; the bad guys speak these other languages. It wasn't a consistent view, because in the film Jesus was speaking the same language as his tormentors, but even so, I think it was meant to cause confusion and awe in the audience, to have these horrible people speaking either a Semitic or an ancient language like this.

Did you feel like that the use of these ancient languages was a veiled anti-Semitic comment?

Anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim. Some of those words in Aramaic sound a little bit like Arabic -- Arabic is a Semitic language too. [In the film, it came off like] nasty foreigners were doing this thing to our beautiful Jesus. So when Mel Gibson said in the interview that the reason for the other languages was to highlight the brutality, that kind of freaked me out. I could see how it would work on an unsophisticated audience.

It's probably the same feeling that people in Guantánamo Bay have, having had soldiers barking at them in English for two years.


(emphasis in original). Yes, you read that right. The good Reverend almost puked because the bad guys didn't speak English, even though none of the characters spoke English. And he's ready to condemn Gibson because Aramaic sounds too much like Arabic, even though it is completely correct as a choice of language (unlike Gibson's more debatable choice to use Latin).

The capper is that Rev. Stanger gets irritated with the film's graphic depiction of Jesus's crucifixion. He's got a good point here:

Jesus' crucifixion was made too singular. This was an ordinary event. Jesus was one of dozens of insurrectionists that the local Roman occupiers would have crucified, but [Gibson] tried to make his suffering especially agonizing and horrible. That was the other subtext -- I thought there was an unspoken assumption that somehow, for Jesus' death to have meaning to believers, it had to be more horrible than any other kind of suffering and death. The film doesn't really say that, but that's the idea, and that's why it has an "R" rating -- for the violence. The protracted scourging.

He then makes some good points about how the violence of the movie seems gratuitously graphic, which certainly seems like a valid viewpoint (though it may go too far to connect that violence to the visions of Sister Emmerich, about which much has been written elsewhere). He then blows it in the final words:

I think a 5-year-old who has to get cancer surgery and radiation and chemotherapy suffers more than Jesus suffered; I think that a kid in the Gaza Strip who steps on a land mine and loses two limbs suffers more; I think a battered wife with no resources suffers more; I think people without medical care dying of AIDS in Africa suffer more than Jesus did that day. I mean, I don't want to take away from that, but this preoccupation with the intensity of the suffering, I think, has no theological or spiritual value.

Setting aside Stanger's claim that there is no spiritual or theological validity to the belief that Christ's death was a sacrifice for sin (something that Stanger calls "so primitive" elsewhere in the interview, but which is flatly part of the New Testament), it's simply ludicrous to say that these other people suffer more than any one of Rome's crucifixion victims. Lest we forget, the point of crucifixion is to torture the victim to death through suffocation. The only way to breathe in that position is for the victim to pull up, which means that he must tug on the nails that hold him to the cross; to get relief from that pain, he has to relax and lose the ability to breathe. Agony, or suffocation. Agony, or suffocation. Over and over, for a couple of days, until someone takes pity and breaks his legs so that he has no choice but to suffocate.

The furor arising over "The Passion" infuriates me, both because the Left is getting its panties in a wad before people have a chance to see it, and because the Right is hardselling the movie before people have a chance to see it. Is it anti-Semitic? Anti-Arab? Anti-irony?

STFU and watch it for yourself.


 8:42 AM

Monday, January 26, 2004

Good News

This is from the Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram, regarding church opposition to a drive to allow liquor sales in White Settlement, Texas. Yes, the name of the town is White Settlement, Texas. Here it is:

And if the petition drive [to allow liquor sales] succeeds? "We'll get an ongoing opposition," [Faith Baptist Fellowship pastor David] Dye said. "We'll do ads and fliers. We'll not just use the Bible; we'll attack economically, logically. [The committee] wants to profit off people's bad habits."

Well, I'm so glad that he will use both the Bible and logic in his argument. Aquinas, Newton, Chesterton, and Lewis are all doing 3000 rpm in their graves right now.

In other good news, teenager Mike Rowe of Mikerowesoft.com has settled Microsoft's lawsuit against him. He gives up the domain name, and The Evil Empire gives him an X-Box, training for certification on Microsoft products, and a tour of the home office. All in all, not a bad deal. Especially since Microsoft's opening bid was $10 and a threatening letter. This is a hysterical addition to the new line of "cybersquatting" cases, in which so-called investors bought up domain names that were similar to registered trademarks. Of course, Mike has every right to his own name, so it's a neat twist on an area of the law that was becoming settled.

And, in what we all hope is the beginning of a trend, a federal judge in Los Angeles has declared part of the Patriot Act unconstitutional. On the one hand, I'm glad to see that someone had the sense to realize that it is simply too vague to prohibit "giving expert advice or assistance to groups designated as foreign terrorist organizations." On the other hand, I am living in Houston, which has been infected with a crusty, cancerous sore called the Superbowl, which will (as best I can see) place me in grave danger of terrorist attack while also screwing up my commute. What's not to love?



 3:03 PM

Sunday, January 25, 2004

So it's really late, and I just got done listing over 70 CDs on eBay to try to get rid of some of the stuff out in the garage. Once I got them all entered, it was a pretty shocking insight into where I've been and where I am now. For instance, even the casual observer will note that I'm dumping a lot of Bob Dylan. I never liked Dylan that much, but I felt like I should like Dylan, so I kept buying albums hoping that his genius would be able to shine through that toadlike voice. It says a lot about me that I bought several albums just because I felt obligated to.

It's been a long, stressful, hateful week. I felt like someone crumpled me up like tinfoil, and it took all weekend long to even begin to uncrumple. And--if I may stretch the metaphor too far--you know how tinfoil never gets smooth again, no matter how hard you try? I feel like I'll never be smooth again. I'm carrying so much tension in my neck and shoulders and jaw that I'm starting to get nerve impingement problems.

Of course, I start dwelling on all this on Sunday night, knowing that tomorrow morning it all starts again.

God. It was such a good holiday. Jonah's birthday party was an absolute blast -- I managed to get all the lights up and running so that people looking for the party could find our house. From orbit. Jonah had a great time, though he was a little overwhelmed at having 40 people crammed into our tiny little house. And then, I had a great visit to Florida to be with my family. Things that could have gone wrong didn't; things that could have gone right did.

I should have known that something was afoot when I had a really stressful week after that -- the week between going to Florida and the week of Christmas. Car problems, long hours at work. But it was all okay because I knew that Christmas was coming. I started using Christmas as a crutch, an excuse, and an inspiration all at once.

And, of course, Christmas was very nice but not extraordinary, because I was hoping that it would be a liberation from all the stress that I was feeling. Of course, it wasn't, which meant I was in for one hell of a shock when I came back from the holiday straight into a particularly busy, stressful time at work. I got knocked off balance and I haven't been right since. I love Jonah so completely, so achingly, but he's fully mobile now and has turned into some sort of angelic version of the Tasmanian Devil. Shannon looks to me to bail her out at the end of a long day, and there's just not much left for me to give her.

So, if anyone locates a sense of purpose, a sense of balance, and a sense of relief, please let me know ASAP. I've been looking for them. And if anyone needs some barely-used Bob Dylan CDs, you know where to look.

 11:40 PM

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Okay, the "I Have A Scream" speech by Howard Dean--in which he fires up the crowd in Des Moines by doing his best Jesse "The Brain" Ventura imitation--is so two days ago. And the use of the Dean Scream in dance music is so over that NPR did a story on it. (Crappy, computer-hijacking RealPlayer required for link, but NPR plays the original speech with and without the disco mix, so it's useful for hearing the original context.) This meme has come and gone in the space of three days.

So why point it out? Because it still makes me smile. This is a particularly good remix.

 8:59 AM

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Stuck at the office late. Again. Big frickin' surprise. But, my irritation at being in my office at this hour of the evening is tempered by the religious experience of listening to "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots" in DVD-Audio. It's just frickin' fantastic.

I'll take questions now.

Q: What the hell?

A: I don't follow.

Q: What is this about pink robots? Are you freaking out up there in that office tower?

A: Yes. Yes I am, in fact. But not about the pink robots. I'm talking about the 2002 masterpiece of alt-prog-techno-rock, "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots" by the Flaming Lips. It's one of the best albums of the last ten years. Or the next ten, for that matter.

Q: Is this just your opinion?

A: Not necessarily. A song off the album won a Grammy, for whatever that's worth.

Q: Why haven't I heard of it?

A: It won in the little-known "Best Instrumental Song" category.

Q: Ah, I see. And which song won?

A: "Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon (Utopia Planitia)."

Q: I see.

A: Yes.

Q: It's that sort of album.

A: Yes.

Q: Sort of like something by...

A: Yes?

Q: What was that group with the weird album covers...

A: Yes?

Q: Yes.

A: Yes. They're a lot like "Yes"--if "Yes" had a complete suckectomy. Which is a tall order, because there's a whole lot of suck to suck out of "Yes." And I own the "Yesyears" box set, so I know from suck.

Q: Sure you're not freaking out?

A: No, I just pinched myself and it still hurt. By the way, the Lips also recorded a wonderful version of "White Christmas" that almost made it onto the Christmas album this past year. The only problem with it was that it sounded exactly like it was being crooned by Marvin the Martian through a cell phone, and I was trying to avoid the whole comedy thing. But a disc with the Flaming Lips's "White Christmas" and Tenacious D's "Cool Sh*t I Want" would be a hell of a Christmas release.

Q: And now you're watching a DVD of this robots thing?

A: No. I'm listening to the DVD-Audio of it.

Q: And that is different how?

A: It's not DVD audio, it's "DVD-Audio." An audio CD on a DVD. It's the "quad" of the new millenium, though you're not supposed to say that. You're supposed to call it "hi-resolution audio" because it has twice the resolution of CD audio and sounds incredibly sharp and defined. And it does. But the fun part is that DVD-Audio has five surround-sound speakers to work with. Most of the classical albums use the surround channels to give you a sense of the concert hall space.

Q: I see.

A: The Flaming Lips, of course, are a little more aggressive in their use of those back channels.

Q: I see.

A: When your Christmas songs sound like Marvin the Martian, you get into that kind of thing, you know? Drums that spin around the room and such.

Q: Ah. And will this "DVD-Audio" be the next big thing? Will I have to throw out my CDs and start over?

A: No, no, it's pleasantly doomed. The companies, in their brilliance, started a format war along the lines of VHS vs. Beta. Sony released its "Super Audio CD" as a direct competitor. So they've taken what was a niche product at best, and divided that little niche into two teeny-tiny nichelets. Sony has the Billy Joel catalog, while DVD-Audio has locked up the Grateful Dead and Steely Dan.

Q: Holy crap!

A: Yup. The demographic is apparently baby boomer technophiles with too much money and bad taste in music. It's taken a full year for anything decent to come out on either format, but it's finally happening. Beck's "Sea Change" is also a religious experience.

Q: You don't seem bothered that it's doomed.

A: No, I'm not. You'll recall that I was--and still am--a laserdisc enthusiast. So I know from lost causes.

Q: And you're at work right now?

A: Yes. Yes. YES! (sobs) I'm eating Chinese takeout, in fact.

Q: Listening to this DVD-Audio?

A: Yup.

Q: At work?

A: Yup. I got myself a good 5.1 speaker system and a SoundBlaster Audigy card. I figure that if I'm going to spend most of my frickin' days in this office, I might as well listen to good music while I do it.

Q: Isn't it distracting having pink robots over your shoulder while you work?

A: No more so than having a blog.

Q: I see.

A: Any further questions?

Q: Did you see the State of the Union address last night?

A: No, but Shannon filled me in by acting out the facial expressions of several people in the audience. I highly recommend her Hillary Clinton imitation.

 8:34 PM

Monday, January 19, 2004

3. Sputtering About Movies.

You know that feeling when you eat a slightly underdone hamburger?

More specifically, that feeling when you eat one of those really big, over-the-top burgers at Chili's or some such that they charge $9 for -- which is way too much, really, but you pay it anyway because you know what you're getting and a burger sounds pretty good -- and then you bite into your overpriced burger and the center is kind of gummy and the texture is a little weird and your upper lip curls with borderline revulsion as your tongue tastes the unexpectedly soft, cool flesh at the center?

And then you get diarrhea that night, and you realize that it was the stupid $9 burger that was underdone by the stupid line chef who couldn't care less about whether you're up all night crapping your brains out, because he knows that you won't come back and complain, even though you should, you really should, but you just never seem to make the call, and you just sit there crapping your brains out with self-loathing, reading an old copy of "People" magazine because that's the only thing in the bathroom?

And then everything is going along fine until four or five years later when you begin forgetting things, and you think it's just absentmindedness, but really what's happening is that bovine spongiform encephalopathy is setting in, and the "mad cow" prions are tunnelling holes into your brain like Swiss cheese, and when the doctors finally figure it out you're filled with an incredible sense of grief and anger, mixed with a sense of shame -- you never even complained about that burger all those years ago -- which is only alleviated when the disease destroys your memory and your higher brain functions, and the last thing that crosses your mind before you devolve into a persistent vegetative state is that it has all come to this: lying in your own waste in a hospital, forgotten and alone.

You know that feeling?

Legally Blonde 2 is exactly like that. The resemblance is uncanny.

And I liked the first one.

 6:35 PM
2. Sputtering About Electronics.

I spent most of Saturday assembling the new computer, and had a ball doing it. I highly recommend it to anyone with an inclination toward tinkering and a casual enthusiast's knowledge of how PCs work -- but not to anyone that just expects things to "work." I was able to get it all together and working quite effortlessly.

Okay, you're thinking I'm lying, and I am. 90% of it was effortless. I learned a lot from the experience, and would have an 100% effortless time the next time. Here are some insights:

1. Keep your eyes on the original goal. My goal was to build a system with a high price-performance ratio, not a particularly "fast" computer. I was inspired by an article on Tom's Hardware that talked about how there were amazing deals to be had with the Athlon XP chips, and another article that explained why dual-channel memory is not necessarily the greatest thing since sliced bread on the XP chip. Thus, I was able to find a motherboard and Athlon XP 2600+ (Barton) for a low price, and it was more than enough computer for what I needed. Ironically, I found an article online dated December 2002, in which such a system was described as "cutting edge" and "very expensive." The whole thing was spurred by a Dell online sale, when I talked to a Dell representative and realized that their cheap computers were crap and their good computers sure weren't cheap. If you build your own, you know where you're cutting corners.

2. You don't need "cooling solutions." Most DIY-ers are speed freak gamers, who overclock their machines to get top performance (at the risk of losing system stability). Thus, many DIY instructions are heavy on "cooling solutions" and "is your power supply strong enough" and so on. In fact, there is a cottage industry now to cater to tech geeks who trick out their computers with clear side panels and fluorescent lights and dragon-shaped fan grills and so on, until it looks like some El Camino nightmare from the South Side. I'm waiting for someone to build a device that makes the computer buck up and down, like when the cholos get together and see whose car can bounce the highest.

If you build a "normal" computer, you don't need extra cooling. Or neon lights, for that matter. But -- and this is a big difference -- every penny you put into quiet components is money well-spent. A fully-tricked-out PC can sound like a 747 at takeoff if you're not careful. I was worried about getting enough "cooling" in the system, and it turned out to be a total non-issue. I even disconnected the extra case fan that I had bought, because it was too loud.

Side note: there is something particularly weird about installing a heatsink. You get the CPU, and it's this wafer-thin piece of pressboard with a little tiny black nub on the top that is the actual processor. You marvel at how this tiny little black nub can carry such amazing computing power. And then you have to tightly clamp a MASSIVE, HEAVY BLOCK of copper onto it -- without "exerting pressure," mind you -- and the heatsink has its own dedicated fan blowing straight down onto the copper, because that little black nub draws 70 watts and puts out enough heat to warm your house. It adds to the mystique of the black nub, but really undermines the whole "great power in a small space" theme. We've shrunk computers to infinitessimal sizes, but soon we're going to need 10 ton air conditioners just to run them.

3. If you want no hassle, don't go for the new stuff. This was the biggest discovery. There's a new technology called "Serial ATA," which offers faster transfer rates to your disk drives. But, it's new, and motherboard makers are just starting to roll out support for it. I had a choice between two great discounted hard drives online: one was the regular ATA, and the other was Serial ATA. I chose Serial ATA because it would be more "forward-compatible;" there is no real-world speed difference between the two.

But that was the seed of my error. The rest of the computer was based on the insight that I could get a great deal by focusing on last year's technology, which had fallen to a very affordable price. This new idea didn't "match." And I paid for my hubris.

See, the computer didn't want this new-technology hard drive to be its only hard drive, because Windows always yearns for the past and goes running back to 1986 when anything goes wrong. Windows Setup wouldn't recognize the Serial ATA drive because it was "new," and Setup had to have separate installation files for something that is "new." And those files had to be on a floppy disk, which meant they had to be copied onto a floppy from the CD that came with the motherboard. So, I went across the street to the neighbor's house to copy the files, because I don't have a floppy drive on the Powerbook. (Apple renounced them, if you recall, and rightly so.)

Then, I discovered that installing those drivers was the first thing that Windows Setup wanted to do -- that is, before it loaded its own support for USB keyboards. So my USB keyboard (a holdover from the Powerbook) wouldn't work, even long enough to just press "S" to tell it to load the drivers on the floppy. Quick trip to Best Buy (just down the street) and I have a $10 old-school keyboard that will get me past this hurdle. (My neighbor had a wireless keyboard, and I wasn't sure that I could get that to work either. Too "new.")

But -- whoops! I finally figure out that there is a known problem with this motherboard not wanting to use a Serial ATA drive as the only hard drive. (It's kind of hard to tell, because the support on the website is translated from Taiwanese Chinese into Portugese, then into Russian, then into Swahili, then into the clicking dialect of the Kalahari Bushmen, then sung by a Tuvan throatsinger, and then translated into Engrish. The company -- which is one of the most reliable ones, believe it or not -- cheerfully fixed the problem with a BIOS update, which is easy to install -- if you already have Windows installed. And Windows wouldn't install without a hard drive. Impasse. Second trip to Best Buy, which has a huge sale on "old school" ATA hard drives, and I'm off to the races. I now have two hard drives, one "old school" drive, and the Serial ATA drive to hold the heavy data. Hey, you can never have too much storage.

4. The process of installing Windows is hilarious. You install it, and everything is smooth as silk. And then you use the smooth-as-silk "Windows Update" to install the 38 -- count 'em -- 38 "critical" or "important" security updates that have come out since your Windows CD was burned two months ago.

So, what's the result? A computer that is so much faster than the old Powerbook that my eyes water. The critical test was when I showed Shannon the program that pages through photos from our digital camera. The Powerbook took its sweet time to go from photo to photo, because it was taxing to the processor to redraw each photo. The new computer could flip through those bad boys like shuffling a deck of cards. And this is the cheap computer, remember. The "outdated" technology. The stuff that computer sites describe with vaguely condescending terms like "good price-to-performance ratio" and such. Damn straight. I'm all about price-performance ratio these days.

Other technical topics:

-- Big shout out to the folks at Creative, who made my Creative Nomad Jukebox MP3 player. They had a lower price and larger capacity than the iPod, which was why I chose it, though the interface was crap. Of course, on later models, they developed a much more user-friendly interface for the thing. Fortunately, they did the right thing, and figured out how to reverse-engineer the new interface to work on the old Jukeboxes. Big difference from, say, Apple. As you may recall from Friday, Apple quickly abandoned both the DVD player and the video chip on my Powerbook.

-- Big shout out to the folks at eBay, who made selling things a lot easier than I thought it would be. I cleaned out the garage, and instead of holding a garage sale, I tentatively put some stuff on eBay. The free market is a shocking thing, though. Once you give eBay their cut, and PayPal its cut, and realize how little the free market values your particular possession, there's just not much worth putting up for sale. But it's been a good experience thus far, despite the petulant questions from buyers.

 3:26 PM
Random thoughts are likely to come sputtering out today, as I sit at the office and try to reconcile myself to the stack of work before me.

1. Sputtering About Politics.

Dubya chose to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day by using the "recess appointment" process to name Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. You will remember that Pickering was voted down in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then renominated after the 2002 elections. His nomination has been filibustered by Senate Democrats, who chiefly point to the fact that he wrote a law review article supporting miscegenation laws as a law student, and then admittedly violated several canons of judicial conduct to favor a criminal defendant who had burned a cross as a "drunken prank." The "recess appointment" process allows the President to name someone to a vacant position while the Senate is adjourned; that person only serves until the Senate reconvenes. The theory behind recess appointments, of course, is that it's a lot harder to get someone out of office than to block their ascent to office in the first place. During the discussions over the Senate filibuster, the "recess appointment" power was frequently called "going nuclear," as in: "Things are bad now for Dubya's nominees, but he could always try to break the impasse by 'going nuclear.'" That gives you an idea of the level of political discourse at work. If you would like an in-depth analysis and history drafted by the Senate's (theoretically neutral) legal staff, this is an excellent resource.

Dubya's choice is, of course, utterly despicable. He is an un-American coward.

But, to put things in perspective:

- Eisenhower used the long-forgotten practice to put three Supreme Court justices on the bench, which left such a distaste in the body politic that the practice died out.

- That is, until Carter -- yes, Carter of all people -- named a district judge to the bench in Hawaii using the recess appointment power. Carter was a lame duck at the time, and the judge in question served only until the Senate could reconvene. Reagan, naturally, refused to renominate him.

- This gave Dutch Reagan a few ideas, which led to some tense negotiations in the Senate. Bush 41, an old Senate man himself (and consummate politician) considered the option but backed down.

- Clinton "went nuclear" at the end of his administration when, as a lame duck, he named Roger Gregory to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Gregory's nomination had been stalled for several months, and should be seen as part of a larger press by the Clinton administration to put the very first African-American judge on the Fourth Circuit, which covers Maryland, the Carolinas, and the Virginias. As soon as he seized office, Dubya withdrew Gregory's nomination, but renominated him when both Republican Senators from his home state insisted that he do it.

So, to be clear: Dubya is a despicable coward. So were Clinton, and Reagan, and Carter, but that doesn't excuse Dubya. If all the other presidents pissed on the dignity of the American people, would you do it too?

Afterthought: I got a one-a-day calendar called "Presidential Misspeak," which collects Dubya's various gaffes. I have found it to be extremely irritating, though. It has predominantly been nothing more than a collection of grammatical tangles -- the "put food on your family" ilk -- that avoid the much more serious, deadly statements that fall out of his mouth. For a much better list of Dubya's wacky misstatements, try Helen Thomas's run-down of 2003.

 10:53 AM

Thursday, January 15, 2004

ShannonG asks how I have "violated my religion" by buying PC parts. ShannonG is not one of the faithful, so I'll try to explain how the cult works.

I learned to program on the Apple II (not even the Apple IIe or II+), and I used a Mac II to lay out my high school newspaper. I walked all the way across campus in college to the Architecture Library to use the only Mac lab available. When I finally bought a computer of my own, I bought one of the original Power Macs. In law school, I finally got the scratch to get a laptop and bought the classic "Lombard" Powerbook. I had an Apple sticker on my car until it peeled and fell off. I told my own mother to buy an iMac because if there were any problems with it, "I don't do Windows." At least not over the phone. (Actually, I still stand by that. I still can't do tech support on a PC over the phone.)

Of course, there was a dark side to my faith. I lived through the dark days of the Clone Wars, and the Amelio days when it seemed like Apple would go the way of NeXT.

And now that I think about it, that original Power Mac had a serious bug in its PCI card handling that Apple refused to acknowledge. And that "classic" Lombard had its power adapter recalled because they had a nasty habit of bursting into flames, and Apple still refuses to acknowledge that some of the Lombards have processor daughtercards that fail to work under Mac OS X (though not mine), and Apple has abandoned support for the RAGE Pro video chip and the hardware-based DVD decoding in their original implementation of the technology. (If Apple had been more forthright about the Lombard's problems, I might still be as rabid as ever.)

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

And--lest we forget--Apple continues to charge a 30% premium for that sleek, candy-like styling. There used to be an argument that you were getting something for your money, like premium features and ease of use. The premium features argument is out the window these days, especially if you build your own, and XP is the first operating system from the Evil Empire that I consider to be an acceptable alternative to the Mac OS.

So, here I am. Ordering PC parts. Giving in to the Wintel conspiracy. I'm... just... so... tired.

And broke. I can't afford to be faithful right now.

 8:36 AM

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

No, no, it's not the cry for help that gets the response from my readership. It's not the plaintive cry, nor the reference to my mental ailments. It's that I criticized the steaming goat turd "Old School" which was "pretty good" according to ShannonG, and "has boobies" according to Will.

"Old School" had no arc, no redemption, and no good gags that weren't done better by Will Ferrell on SNL. (The American flag thong skit comes to mind.) The characters didn't change -- they were unlikeable at first, and they never changed, and there was no reason to like them in the end either. The trumped-up "competition/test" at the end was a pale ripoff of the surreally brilliant "academic decathalon" in "Billy Madison," and even "Stripes" had the guys win by "doing it their way" instead of suddenly developing super athletic powers.

It was, and I say this objectively and as a matter of provable fact, like having two homeless people beat you up and crap in your mouth and walk off laughing while you vomit in disgust and shame.

And for all the rest of you who would rather talk about that festering snot rocket instead of showing a little compassion, I say this: you are bastard people, and I hate you and your ass face.

To lighten the tone a little, here's a scene worth recounting. It was last Friday night, and I was exhausted and depressed, and driving to go pick up Shannon from a get-together she had attended. Jonah was in the back seat. We were listening to the VeggieTales "Silly Songs With Larry" CD, and the "Dance of the Cucumber"* had me laughing so hard, so uncontrollably, that Jonah was absolutely flabbergasted. He had a look of pent-up laughter on his face, like he wanted to laugh, just as soon as he was sure that Daddy was really laughing and wasn't dying or something. As soon as I calmed down to a normal laugh, he burst out in giggles at the humorous sight of his father wiping tears from his eyes. I needed that laugh, and Jonah enjoyed it too.

For those of you keeping track at home, that's right. Jonah doesn't understand a word of the songs, but we've been listening to them. We were listening for our own entertainment, like parents that get hooked on "Sesame Street" long past their kids' own interest in the show.

In fact, I'll call it like it is -- there was more genuine entertainment in that scene than in the entire film "Old School."

So there.

* For those of you who are uninitiated in the finer things in life, it starts this way: Larry the Cucumber sings an Argentinian tango in Spanish, while Bob the Tomato translates. Larry is tall and thin, Bob is short and round. Think Art Carney and Jackie Gleason. Or Laurel and Hardy.

Narrator: "Larry will be performing the traditional Argentinian ballad, 'The Dance of the Cucumber,' in it's original Spanish. Bob the Tomato will translate."
Larry: [singing] "Miren al pepino"
Bob: [translating in a dry, flat voice] "Watch the cucumber"
Larry: "miren como se mueve"
Bob: "see how he moves"
Larry: "como un leon"
Bob: "like a lion"
Larry: "tras un raton."
Bob: "chasing a mouse."
Larry: "Miren al pepino"
Bob: "Watch the cucumber"
Larry: "sus suaves movimientos"
Bob: "Oh, how smooth his motion"
Larry: "tal como mantequilla"
Bob: "like butter"
Larry: "en un chango pelon."
Bob: "on a ... bald monkey."
Larry: "Miren al pepino"
Bob: "Look at the cucumber"
Larry: "los vegetales"
Bob: "all the vegetables"
Larry: "envidian a su amigo"
Bob: "envy their friend"
Larry: "como el quieren bialar"
Bob: "wishing to dance as he"
Larry: "Pepino bailarin, pepino bailarin, pepino bailarin"
Bob: "Dancing cucumber, dancing cucumber, dancing cucumber"
Larry: "Baila, baila, ya!"
Bob: "Dance, dance, yeah!"
Larry: "Miren al tomate"
Bob: "Look at the tomato"
Larry: "no es triste?"
Bob: "Isn't it sad?"
Larry: "El no puede bailar."
Bob: "He can't dance."
Larry: "!Pobre tomate!"
Bob: "Poor tomato!"
Larry: "El deberia poder bailar"
Bob: "He wishes he could dance"
Larry: "Como el pepino"
Bob: "like the cucumber"
Larry: "libre y suavemente."
Bob: "free and smooth."
Larry: "Pero el no puede danzar."
Bob: "But he can't ... Okay! Stop the music! What do ya mean I can't dance? I can dance!"

 10:26 PM

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

I'm still swamped here at work, buried not so much under the work itself as under my own bad attitude and depression at having to get back into the dull grind and long hours. It doesn't help that I've been reading Molly Ivins's "Bushwhacked" at night, because no matter how funny she is, her subject matter just irritates the crap out of me. Paul O'Neill's recent revelation that Bush wanted to go to war in February 2001 also gets in my craw, but it's not a posting about that. Reading "Bushwhacked" is like touching a sore tooth with my tongue.

Things are tough. I find myself wrestling with the intense desire to do something -- ANYTHING -- other than work. In fact, the very act of showing up for work these days sends me into a dull panic. And, once again, it's not that the work itself is bad. It's that I seem to have changed. I've lost my taste for it. I think my still-distant plans have soured my enthusiasm for the present job, which is a damn shame because I'm going to be here for a good, long while yet. I stare at my computer monitor.

You know how in "Raising Arizona," Hi McDonough says in that dejected voice, "I found myself driving by convenience stores that weren't even on the way home"? When you read this next sentence, hear it with that tone.

I find myself surfing eBay for Christmas albums.

Anyway, I'm laboring to focus on the positive aspects of my present position. My shrink -- that's not a revelation, right? have I mentioned that I'm seeing a shrink? in fact, I'm saving my Zoloft bottles to make a strand of Christmas lights next year -- my shrink has tried to help me remember that my job is giving me all sorts of good "material" for my later career. But it's awfully hard. The sadness is pretty heavy. I'm not sleeping much at night, and that makes the days all the harder.

So, that's the update. The little guy is walking like a champ these days, and got promoted to a new nursery room at church. He's edging more towards meaning something when he says "Daddy." Shannon is on an interesting road, and I look forward to seeing where it leads her.

In other news, I finally broke down and violated my religion. The shame is overwhelming.

My trusty Powerbook G3 (approximate speed: Pentium III at 300 Mhz, with a slow hard drive) has been driving me crazy when I try to work from home, because it's so slow. So I bought a new computer. To save money and increase performance, I bought the various parts of the computer online and will assemble them myself. I wasn't willing or able to pay the $400-$500 premium for a sleek, sexy Apple. I get more performance for a lot less, and Windows XP is marginally usable. The fact that Apple made "iTunes" available for Windows may have been the final nail.

I am now a heretic. But it sure was a lot of fun buying computer parts from a free market where competition keeps prices down.

And, finally, a warning. You know that feeling when two homeless guys grab you and throw you down and crap in your mouth and then walk away laughing while you vomit from disgust and shame? The movie "Old School" is a lot like that.

 9:42 AM

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Still swamped at work, working late into the night. Hoping to climb out of the dungeon by the end of the week.

Once again, a tide-me-over. In this age of violence and crass mockery like "Punk'd," it's nice to see a genuinely clever practical joke.

 9:34 AM

Monday, January 05, 2004

Still no time to write that lengthy summary of December -- I'm working like a madman just at the moment, and I don't have time to breathe.

So, to tide over my adoring fans, I offer this site, which is 100% real and completely devoid of irony or parody, and which is deeper, funnier, and sadder than anything I could have ever dreamed up.

Cheers!

 8:56 AM

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