Friday, March 12, 2004

guerrillas in the theatre

The Guerrilla Girls On Tour is a touring theatre group with the philosophy " To create entertaining and educational performance works that combat sexism and racism while proving that feminists are funny." This reminds me of a joke:

How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?
ANSWER: That's not funny!

The first time someone told me this joke we were sitting in a Taco Bell, and after my friend asked the question, the girl in the next booth answered for him: "One, dammit!" I always liked that answer better.

Thanks to Mike Adams for the link.

just for the record

There are people who read this blog and don't know me, so just for the record I want to state that when I get snarky or show pathetic self-pity, I'm joking. Really. I have a strange sense of humor that not everyone gets, but it cracks me up a lot. That's what counts after all.

a great injustice

Oh, great. I had a fire in my apartment building just a few doors down from where I live. I could have lost everything. I could have been killed. In a world with any justice, this should have got me all kinds of attention. All my friends and family should have been calling to see if I was OK and if I needed anything. But noooo. My little brother lives in Madrid and the next morning he has a bunch of bombs going off near where he lives. Everyone calls him to see if he's all right. He's always done this to me. I learned how to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" on a harmonica, so he goes and learns how to play the guitar. Guess which one is asked to play at family gatherings. I join the high school swimming team so he goes and joins the basketball team. Guess which ones dad went to see.

When my sister and I were going to school, we ate cold cereal for breakfast and mom made us baloney and mustard sandwiches or sometimes just butter and sugar sandwiches (I kid you not) and a wormy piece of fruit. On good days she would stop by Circle K and buy a pack of Twinkies for us to split, or those Hostess pink puffball thingies that came in a package side-by-side that my sister always called "boobies". When my two little brothers were going to school, they got bacon and eggs for breakfast with pancakes. For lunch they got homemade cookies and roast beef sandwiches with Miracle Whip and actual lettuce or sometimes ham and freaking cheese. My poor sister and I would have killed for a bit of cheese (not counting that disgusting Kraft cheese-like product).

It's a good thing I'm so high-minded or I could get bitter about all of this gross unfairness that has ruined my life.

CORRECTIONS: In response to threatened legal action by my mom, I'm making the following minor corrections of some insignificant exaggerations:
We only got those bread and sugar sandwiches a couple of times and I kind of liked them.

There was only one alleged incident of potentially wormy fruit, but to this day I believe the hole I saw in my apple in third grade was a worm exit hole.

My sister and I did in fact experience true cheese several times during our childhood and didn't feel particularly homicidal over it.

La Shawn

La Shawn Barber is always surprising me by being so outspoken. She does it again in this book review of Uncle Sam's Plantation by Star Parker. I should be used to it by now, but wow. It must take enormous courage to take such an unpopular stand on issues that people are so sensitive about. I've always believed that welfare and other government programs had a lot to do with black poverty, but I could say so safely because I'm a white guy living in an area with few black people (mostly Asians and South Americans). La Shawn is a black woman living in Washington DC. Da-a-a-amn.

Thanks to La Shawn and others who are willing to stand athwart Black History yelling "stop!", I have a lot of hope about the future of our country and especially race relations in it. Actually, my hope is that race relations will disappear because people will no longer think of skin color any more than they do of eye color or hair color. This won't happen as long as so-called black leaders are constantly going around telling people that blacks are different, and we need the La Shawn's of the world to face up to them.

terrorism conspiracy theories

My first thought at hearing about the terrorist activity in Spain was that it was Al Qaeda. Then the Spanish government said it was ETA, a Basque terrorist organization. Then the ETA (speaking through an organization that specifically claims it does not speak for the ETA) denies responsibility and Al Qaeda claims responsibility. Now John at Inside Europe: Iberian Notes thinks the ETA did it anyway and wanted Al Qaeda to get the credit. His theory is that there are national elections coming up and ETA is hoping that Spaniards will blame Prime Minister Aznar for supporting the US in Iraq instead of blaming the actual killers, and this will cause Aznar to lose the election. Interesting hypothesis. However, I have an alternative hypothesis: it was really Al Qaeda but Aznar is afraid this will hurt him in the election so he is going to pin the blame on ETA at least until after the election.

And lets not forget the modifiers. Take your favorite theory from above and add: ETA actually did it but Al Qaeda supplied the bombs and/or paid them to do it, or Al Qaeda actually did it but ETA supplied the bombs and/or paid them to do it. Build your own scenario.

Chirac and the Oil-for-Palaces program

This Wall Street Journal article details a very thorough investigation into the Iraq Oil-for-Palaces program. Chirac's name turns up, which I find interesting because during the run-up to the war, Chirac's behavior was so bizarre that the only explanations I found credible were bribery and blackmail. Well, let me rephrase that: I found it incredible to think that Saddam could have bribed or blackmailed a head of state of a major European nation, but that was the only theory that seemed to me to adequately explain his behavior.

The theory that Chirac was trying to set up the EU as a counter to the US was far more plausible in itself, but it didn't explain his behavior. It was obvious that he was going to lose the face-off and lose credibility as a result. His best bet was clearly to make a lot of noise and extract all kinds of concessions from Washington before giving in with portentous warnings. Instead he went all the way to the humiliating finish, demonstrating his powerlessness in world affairs. Unless you can explain how an extraordinarily successful politician could have such poor political judgment or how being humiliated actually helped Chirac, this theory doesn't explain it.

The theory that Chirac was pandering to the peace movement and to his anti-American constituents didn't seem to explain it either. After all, he had a big part in creating the peace movement and provoking anti-Americanism. If Chirac and Schroeder hadn't put up so much resistance, the peace movement would never have achieved the momentum it did. It would have remained a fringe radical movement like it was for the war in Afghanistan. The legitimacy and hope for success that built it up into a huge movement was lent it by those two world leaders. I expect that Chirac was as surprised as anyone at how big the movement grew, so it is not plausible that he was counting on it for anything.

The theory that Chirac was concerned with legitimate French national interests also doesn't explain it. Again, it's very plausible that he did think France had a national interest in supporting a dictator who had oil and hated the US. It's also plausible that he didn't care that said dictator was a brutal mass-murderer as long as not too many Chirac voters got murdered. But it should have been evident at some point that Chirac was not going to be able to save his pet dictator and at that point he should have cut his losses and joined the winning side. He never did.

The theory that Chirac defended Saddam out of higher principles is a non-starter, even more implausible than the bribery/blackmail theory.

Since there was no theory that was plausible and explained his behavior, I've found it a great mystery. The most plausible theory that explained his behavior was that France itself, or some national company like ELF was involved in damaging relations with Saddam and that Chirac wanted to cover those up. But now, there is evidence that billionaire Frenchman Patrick Maugein, a friend of Chirac, might have benefited financially from the Oil-for-Food program, and that puts it just one step away from Chirac himself. Interesting.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

The Roe Effect

Back of the Envelope has a good article where he tries to quantify the Roe Effect. It's an interesting idea, and it would have been hilarious if he could have shown that abortion won the 2000 election for George Bush. Of course there are lots of problems with his analysis. He points out several himself and a commenter points out another: that just because a woman has an abortion, that doesn't imply that she will have few children overall. To tell the truth, I think Donald is wrong about the Roe Effect being an important cause of population reduction among certain groups, although it is arguably a symptom. I think those groups are failing to have enough children because they don't want the obligations. Abortion is just one of their methods for avoiding those obligations. If they didn't have abortion they would just use other methods.

houses of worship are reaching out to a flock of pets

That was the title of a Wall Street Journal article on the front page, March 10. St. Francis Episcopal church in Stamford, Conn. is offering Holy Communion to pets. The reason given is that they want to increase attendance at their services. This is not isolated to one congregation. WSJ reports that

With pews hard to fill, a small number of otherwise-traditional clergy are welcoming animals into the flock.

There are two possible interpretations of this blasphemy: the unlikely interpretation is that the clergy have decided that pets are sinners who need the redeeming blood of Christ. The more likely interpretation is that the clergy have decided that the Communion (one of only two religious rites endorsed by Christ) is a meaningless ritual to be exploited in order to increase attendance and donations.

The article by Elizabeth Bernstein is absolutely fawning. It only talks about bringing people back to church, never mentioning that this might increase donations. The opening paragraph describes how this new policy brought back a woman to the church who hadn't attended in ten years. It described her as "flipping though a prayer book and listening intently to the priest's sermon". Now I don't know about you, but flipping through a prayer book strikes me as just one level of boredom short of begging someone to shoot you. So how could Bernstein tell that although to all outward appearances the woman was trying desperately to find a way to occupy herself through unbearable tedium, she was actually "listening intently"? Then there is this:

Pet services are aiming to draw in the elderly, many of whom rely on pets as their only companions, and people who have strayed from religion because it no longer seemed relevant.

So, if you have a lonely elderly person in your congregation who has only her cat for companionship, the solution is to let her bring her cat to the service? For a Christian, that isn't a solution, that is dodging your responsibilities. And if a church actually does have to cater to your pet to be relevant to you, what you need is someone to tell you to straighten out your priorities, not someone to cater to them.

Following this, the reporter compares pet services to special services for children and singles.

The actual problem here isn't that parishioners are drifting away from the church as that the church is drifting away from parishioners. If the church is only there for entertainment and social functions, then they are competing with television, movies, bars, restaurants, the Internet, and clubs and organizations dedicated to special interests. If that's the only purpose of the church, let it die. It's just an outmoded social institution like vaudeville. The newer institutions are better.

I suppose that if I link this to the gay Episcopal bishop, I'm going to be called a homophobe and people are going to claim that I'm calling gay people animals. So I'm not going to make the connection. Nope. Don't want to get caught up in that.... Oh, what the heck: this is part of the same trend that led to the consecration of the gay bishop. There, I said it. The point is not that gays are like animals, but that both incidents are part of a movement to eliminate the Word of God from the Episcopal church (and other churches as well). Oh, they don't say they are eliminating it, but that's the effect. Instead of asking what God says and informing their faith by that, they first decide what they believe and require the Word of God to conform to their beliefs.

There is nothing new about this. European Christians have a sordid history of ignoring commands like "love your enemy" and instead went around killing, torturing, and making war against anyone who didn't share their exact religion. Not only did they violate the teachings they claimed to follow, they discredited the church itself in a way that has damaged its reputation down through the centuries. The modern Episcopalians are no different. By doing or endorsing immoral things from the leadership of the church, they discredit the church. Years hence, people will condemn the church by pointing out how they used to endorse divorce and licentiousness and abortion and sodomy, and gave the sacraments to animals.

after the fire

Well, the fire didn't spread. It only got one apartment although several others were damaged. I wasn't afraid of fires before, but I am now. I always thought if there was a fire it was no big deal, just go the other direction and find a way down. I know different now. This building has a long hallway, maybe 200 feet or so. The fire was at one end of the hallway. All the way down the hallway, the smoke had scorched the paint and melted the nails in the walls. That's enough heat to kill in seconds (and start another fire) up to 200 feet away from the actual flames. Fortunately, everyone got out before it reached that level.

Thanks to strict fire codes, the doors in the hallway were all fire-resistant enough to not catch fire and they were sealed well enough to keep the smoke from getting into the apartments and igniting something inside. Now I know how it was that fires used to be such a huge disaster. Before the days of fire codes, the entire top floor of that building would have gone up at the same time just from the heat of the smoke; last night, only one apartment was lost.

Another thing that surprised me was that during the fire, I saw the firemen in the building laying down plastic in one of the apartments below the apartment next to the one that was on fire. It looked like they were planning to soak the apartment above, probably just for safety, and they were taking the time to protect the one below from the worst of the water damage. Still, on the ground floor the carpets were soaked for fifty or sixty feet down the hall.

I was able to sleep in my place. They had bashed the door open (I think I'd like that job) but I didn't have the deadbolt locked so I could still secure the door with the deadbolt. The smoke smell isn't too bad (I don't think pig farms and stock yards smell bad either, so consider the source). The strongest smell is the plastic, but with my door closed it's pretty faint inside the apartment. The electricity never went out either so my digital clocks didn't all need to be reset. That was my biggest fear.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

my evening at the fire

Well, my apartment building is on fire. I'm not in the apartment building, I came back to the office because it's going to be a couple of hours before they know if my apartment is going to make it. I was thinking about how I could sneak past the police lines to get to my apartment to save stuff and you know, I couldn't think of anything worth saving. That either means I'm a well-balanced individual who understands the essential worthlessness of mere material, or it means that I waste all my money on transitory and disposable goods.

I'm actually not too worried. The fire looked like it was contained several apartments away from mine. For a while I was actually having a good time wandering around, saying "hi" to people I knew in the crowd. It was actually a very nice spring evening for a disaster. Someone (possibly even me) suggested that we should have weekly disasters as a social event. Then I ran into some of the people who's home had just been destroyed and that kind of put a damper on things.

Well, I'll let you know tomorrow if I had to sleep in a hotel or not. This is going to be a good test to find out if any of my family are still reading my blog. If I don't get a call tonight, I'm safe from forgetting-Mother's-Day guilt for at least a couple of years.

UPDATE: Not that anyone except Donald Crankshaw showed any concern, but I'm OK.


He splashed water in his face to clear his eyes and looked into the mirror again. He hardly recognized the face that peered back at him. Where had this middle-aged, balding, pear-shaped, red-eyed man come from? What had happened to the young, thin, good-looking babe magnet? Where did he go? John Weston shook his head sadly and saw the old man in the mirror mimic his motion as if mocking him. He lowered his head to wet the greasy remnants of his once glorious hair and pasted it down. He didn't have a comb, so he made do with his hands. He evaluated his clothing in the mirror: dirty sports shirt with a torn pocket, stained military fatigues for pants. He looked like a bum. Hell, he was a bum, the sheriff had kicked him out of his apartment yesterday and he had spent the night on the street. Oh well, the ads say they don't care about that kind of stuff.

He kicked open the door of the gas station restroom and stepped out into the sun, blinking at the brightness. The gas station attendant looked at him sourly but said nothing, probably thinking she should have kept the door locked like she was supposed to. John gazed across the street at the Center, took a deep breath, and lost his nerve again, sagging back against the restroom door in defeat. After a moment he reached into his pants pocket to pull out the remainder of his money. Two coins. On the wall near him was a pay phone, and he stood there gazing at it for a long time. With a sudden decision he lurched over to the phone, dropped a coin in the slot and dialed.

Bzzt. Bzzt. Click. "Hello?"


"Hey John, what's up?" his big brother sounded, well, not enthusiastic.

"I'm at the Center."

"Oh! Well, good! Have you already... I mean..."

"No, I'm trying to work up the nerve to go in."

His brother sighed, "Look, John, it's just a medical procedure, I don't know why you are so worried about it."

"Just a medical procedure. Why don't you do it then?"

"Maybe I will someday. Me and Judy, when the kids are older and don't need us any more."

"I was reading this stuff on the 'net..." His brother groaned. "No, I know you don't buy it," John added hurriedly, "but they made a lot of sense. They said it's not a real transfer, that they really kill the subject. The guy who wrote the site sounded like he knew what he was..."

"John," his brother interrupted impatiently, "they're a bunch of religious nuts. They think people have souls and you can't put a soul in a machine. Good grief man, you're an engineer, you don't believe that crap!"

"No, Paul, listen," John pleaded, "This guy wasn't religious, he was a computer scientist and he just said there is no basis for thinking that the process could transfer a personality. All they do is read your brain and then kill you. He says that the brain scan just gives information about you, it can't actually move your personality. He says that the Centers are the religious wackos, believing that they can transfer a personality just by scanning a brain..."


"He says it's the Center that's not being scientific or objective..."



"Why did you call me?" Paul sounded weary.

"Look, I was thinking..." John paused but his brother was silent, Paul knew what was coming. "I know I could kick the bottle, Paul, if I just had another chance." He cringed inwardly, expecting Paul to hit that word "another chance", there had been so many. But Paul was silent. His dear brother was trying to be patient. Trying to be understanding. Bless his brotherly little heart. John licked dry lips, "I just need a place to stay...". No answer. "Just a few weeks till I can prove I'm off the bottle and get a job."

John paused, but there was no answer from the other end. "I'll apologize to Judy. Hell, I'll get down on my knees and kiss the little bitch's ass..."

"John..." his brother warned.

"Sorry, sorry, I didn't mean that!" John interrupted, "I can get along with her, really. And the kids like me. You know I love your kids, Paul..."

"I know, John." his brother sighed deeply. "You're a good guy when you're not shit-faced, and I'd like to help you out. But there is no way Judy would allow..."

"At least ask her." John pleaded, "Let me talk to her..."

"No, John," his brother interrupted firmly. "She won't even let me bring it up and she sure as hell is not going to talk to you. Give it up. Go to the Center. Get the treatment."

"Yeah." John hung up the phone. He stared at the other coin for a minute, wiped a tear from his face, and plugged it into the slot. He dialed a number that he still knew by heart.

Bzzt. Click. "Hello?" Damn she sounded good.

"Barb, you sound great."

"John. What do you want?"

John remembered when she would hear his voice on the line and her voice would suddenly turn so warm and sweet and sexy. It was like magic. Now it seemed to get chilly. He told her, "I got kicked out of my place."

"Oh. I'm sorry." she really did sound sorry. "So where are you staying?"

"Well, actually I don't have any place..."


"Just for a few..."


John stood there silently for a moment, stooped forward with his forehead pressed against the phone booth. He was remembering how much she had once loved him. There were times when he wondered if she ever thought of anything else than how to make him happy. He had thrown it away because he didn't realize how rare and precious it was.

"Is that all, John?"

"Yeah. Never mind."

"OK, I've got to go. Bye." click.

John hung up the phone and wrapped his arms around himself as his body was shaken by a great shuddering sigh. His head bent in defeat, his arms still wrapped around himself, he stumbled toward the Center.

As he mounted the first steps of the outer stair case he was startled by a woman who cam running over to him. She was about fifty and seriously out of breath when she arrived, "Don't do it!" she panted earnestly. "It's suicide! Let us help you!" she glanced over her shoulder and when John followed her eyes he saw three security guards running toward them.

She was getting her breath back now. "God loves you! He wants to give you hope, not death..."

"Is he going to give me a place to stay and a job?" John asked sarcastically, raising his head and unwrapping his arms.

"Yes! We've got volunteers to give you a place to stay and help you find work." the woman said urgently, glancing over her shoulder.

"But I suppose I'd have to listen to a bunch of preaching about how I need Jesus," John said contemptuously, "No thanks, I'd rather be dead."

At this point the security guards arrived and began to handcuff her. She didn't resist, speaking earnestly to him instead, "You don't have to be a Christian, we just want to keep you from making the worst mistake of your life." The guards dragged her off, still trying to persuade him, "Across the street is the mission, go there and tell them you need help. Don't give up your life just because things look bad." The guards began bundling her into a van, but she was still focusing her eyes on John, "Don't give up! God loves you!" It was the last thing she said before the door slammed. John breathed a sigh of relief.

"We're sorry about that, sir." One of the security guards told him. "If it makes you feel any better, she's going to get a week in jail for the privilege of telling you that God loves you."

"She did me a favor." John laughed, "I was getting the nerves about this procedure but seeing that religious wacko reminded me how irrational I was being. God, I hate Christians!"

The guard laughed with him.

With a sudden feeling of confidence, John stepped smartly the rest of the way up the steps. Seeing the door slam on that religious nut's face had made his day.

The glass door opened automatically as he approached and he felt a draft of cool air gush out. Inside was a receptionist's desk with no receptionist, just a computer monitor facing outward showing the face of an attractive woman. Suddenly he heard a lovely contralto voice, "Welcome to the Transcendence Center, John Weston."

He was startled for a moment, then looked at the face on the screen. As he stared, it said, "Yes, that voice is me, I'm transcended. And I looked up your name from our face database, in case you are wondering."

"Wow." he said, "Why would anyone who looks like you want to transcend?"

"I didn't look like this before! Once you transcend you can modify your appearance to be anything you want, John. How would you like to go back to looking like this?" The face on the screen was replaced with a picture of a younger better-looking John Weston, with all his hair.

"Wow." he said again. "That would be great."

The pretty woman came back. "Well then I've just registered you, John. Go through the door to the right and have a seat. The technician will be with you shortly." She smiled broadly and John had to smile back. He felt a little foolish for his earlier doubts as he walked toward the door.

On the other side of the door was a sterile-looking room with a line of surprisingly comfortable chairs against one wall. There was one other door, rather strange and heavy looking. He thought it must be air tight or sound proof.

A few minutes after he entered, the door to the reception area opened again and a man, a woman and a small child entered and took seats at the opposite end of the row. They were black, probably a family. They were dressed similarly to John, and he fancied he saw the same look of desperation on their faces that he probably had on his. The man glared at him and he realized he was staring, so he looked away hurriedly. He hoped they didn't think he was a racist.

The ads made it look like transcending was a yuppie thing. It was supposed to be something that conscientious rich white people did to relieve the environment of the burden of their existence. But some web sites claimed that in reality most people who transcended were either homeless or in deep poverty or in prison, and that a disproportionate number were minorities. John shrugged, it made sense that people who did well in the meat world would want to stay there and people who didn't would want out. That didn't make it some sort of conspiracy to eliminate people who were considered less valuable members of society. Shit. If that was what was going on, the Christians would be behind it, not trying to stop it.

John was startled when the heavy door opened and a man stepped out carrying a tablet PC. "Mr. Weston?" the man said, "We're ready for you now."

John only hesitated for a second. Then he stood and walked firmly through the door. There was a fairly large room on the other side. It smelled strongly of disinfectant. At one side was a reclining chair with a complex hood at the head that looked a bit like an old-fashioned hair dryer. At the other side of the room was a small desk with a chair behind it and a fixed chair in front of it. An odd device hung on an arm from the ceiling to just before the fixed chair. John had no idea what it was for. Across from the single door he had entered was a double door leading out.

The man politely directed John to the reclining chair and when John had made himself comfortable, the man lowered the device over his head and made some adjustments. After a moment the man said, "OK, you can get up now."

John was amazed. "That's it? I thought it took hours to read the brain."

"Just a half hour these days," the man chuckled, "and that's how long you were in the chair. A lot of people get no sense of passing time." John nodded. "Now that was just the brain-recording step." the man continued. "You have to step over here and sit in this chair for the actual transfer."

John got up and moved to the fixed chair before the desk. He sat down and the man lowered the device on the arm. It had a little laser pointer on it and looked quite familiar. As the man lined the point of light up with the center of Johns forehead, John was trying to remember where he had seen this device before.

"Don't move," the man warned him, going around to sit at the other chair, "otherwise it will interfere with the transfer."

John started to nod, then stopped himself and just said, "OK." He was starting to remember that the device was related to unpleasant smells.

"Good." the man said. "Now, this is the legal part: I am recording this conversation. Do you, John Weston agree to have the Transcendence Center transfer your mentality from your living body to the Transcendence Personality Net, fully realizing that this decision is irrevocable and that your physical body will cease to function?"

John hesitated for a moment, fascinated by the mystery of the device, and knowing that he was just trying to avoid the question. He firmed his resolve and said loudly "Yes." Just as the word passed his lips, he suddenly remembered where he had seen one of these devices before. Last summer he had worked for a few weeks at a slaughterhouse. This device pointing at his head was identical to the thing that killed the pigs. With a shriek, he dived out of the chair, just as he heard the familiar pop.

"Mr. Weston!" the man shouted, "You have ruined the transfer!"

"Transfer, hell!" John shouted back, "That's a slaughterhouse gun! You were trying to kill me!" He scrambled to his feet and bolted for the door. He pulled on the handle, but it was locked. He quickly scanned for the locking mechanism but there didn't seem to be one. John spun around angrily, "Open the door!" he shouted.

But the man was not alone. Now there were three men. The new ones were two of the security guards that had rescued John from the religious nut outside. The three men came toward him purposefully.

"He... He tried to kill me," John pleaded to the guard that had joked with him outside. He pressed back against the door as the two security guards each grabbed an arm. "I wasn't transferred. I'm still here."

The man who had carried the tablet PC was now carrying a small gun. "I'm sorry, Mr. Weston," the man said firmly, "it would be better if we could use drugs for this instead of the guns, but no drugs have as yet been approved by the FDA for the purpose."

"I don't care how it's done!" John whimpered, struggling half-heartedly with the security guards. "I don't want to die. I'm still here."

"No, you are not 'there'. The legal transfer has already taken place and you are no longer legally a person, you are just a biological remnant."

"It doesn't matter what the law says. I know I'm still here," John whimpered as the man lined the gun up on his forehead. "No, please, I'm still here."


The man with the tablet PC finally opened the door, causing the already tense couple to tense up further. "Mr. and Mrs. Johnson?" he said to the couple. "And this must be little Chandra." He bent over to smile gently at the little girl. "Would you like to see the inside of a computer, Chandra?"

Chandra's stuck her thumb in her mouth, pressing back against her mother's knees and refusing to look at the man.

"I think I should go first," her father said.

"No," the man smiled. "It's better if we take the children first. We simply won't activate her on-line personality until you are there, so she won't even have to go a second without you." Chandra's parents nodded glumly.

"How about it, Chandra?" the man smiled and held out his hand. "Would you like to see a place were you can eat all the candy you want and it won't ever make your teeth go bad? Where you can swim like a fish and fly like a bird?"

"Like magic?" Chandra asked in her piping little-girl voice, her eyes wide in wonder. The man nodded and Chandra, with a look back at her mother for reassurance, took his hand and let him lead her to the door.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

I really need one of these

This is the Hovertrek Deluxe hovercraft with an enclosed cabin. I need an enclosed hovercraft for commuting during those cold San Francisco winters. This hovercraft doesn't have the speed or the coolness factor of the Hoverwing though, so I think I should get both.

Dennis Miller hiring hilarity

Atrios reports that Dennis Miller is hiring audience members for his new show. My first thought was surprise. I didn't know that entertainers hired audiences, especially entertainers as famous as Miller. Out of curiosity, I got on Google and in a few minutes managed to find a half dozen casting calls for "audience work". Most of them said they provide audience members for several different talk shows and game shows. In other words, this seems to be a very common practice. Here are some responses to the post on Eschaton:

Only infomercials actually pay audiences.

These are the actions of a dead and dying talk show.

OMG. Audience WORK? They have to PAY people to be in the audience for this show because it's that bad? This is beyond pathetic.

I have never, ever heard of having to pay audience members. Usually tickets are given away, and there's huge competition among fans of a show to get them.

So, who's footing the bill for this propaganda?
Rove? Scaife? Moon? Goebbels?

No one's commented on this part: include contact number, nationality, and age or age range(submit photo if possible)
WTF?! Nationality?? Age?? No 65-year-old Chinese need apply? We don't want you if you look French? Young Swedish women given preference? Or can you be any ol' kind of mongrel American as long as you can prove it with a passport?

From partisan self-confident ignorance to partisan self-righteous paranoia, Atrios's readers are always there to let you know just how bad the intellectual environment has gotten on the left.

Kerry petition

Here is a petition to get Kerry to release his military records. It's strange though. If you read the petition, the text implies that the signers are all Vietnam vets but there is no hint on the web page that only vets are expected to sign it. This could turn out to embarrass someone.

Monday, March 08, 2004

character development (the fictional kind)

Donald's impressive on-line novel has prompted me to post some of my own fiction. I'm not going to post the entire sixty page manuscript because I'm not happy with the narrative sections yet (they're pretty awkward). But here's a bit of character development and dialog that I'm quite pleased with. My goal here was to create an institution and characters that are distinctly feminine. This is in contrast to many stories that have female characters who could just as well have been men and done the same things. The narrative here needs a bit of work too, but I don't think it's too bad.

Excerpt from A Geometer of Saliche

The most beautiful building in Saliche is the Dianan Temple of Women’s Tears. Some indeed say it is the most beautiful in the entire world. The roof, a graceful white marble curve, sweeps out over the rooms and gardens like the wings of a mother hen protecting her chicks. Each square inch of the arcing roof is beautifully engraved with feathers. Inside are not large halls as in other temples, but small intimate rooms designed for heartfelt conversations and gentle counseling. Each oaken wall is carved delicately with a thing of peace or joy or simple beauty. The cult of Diana built this temple. It is a place to worship life and love. Not the love that infatuates the other temples of course. To the Dianans love is not a base animal passion, but a gentle and unselfish calling of the soul. It is the kind of love that a mother has for her child. Women’s tears are a symbol of this love. The Dianans, all of them women, say that the tears of children spring from their own wants and needs, but the tears of a virtuous woman spring from love or childbirth, two of the most wondrous things that are. A cynical poet of Carcelna once added that the tears of men spring from Dianan women.

The public sees only the beautiful part of the temple, the part above ground. In these glorious halls and chambers the priestesses of Diana carry out the joyous work of celebrating and worshiping love and life. Below ground there is another section of the temple, the Bowels, where the grim work of survival takes place. The rooms below are painted in somber colors, and a woman who goes down there must cover herself with a dark cloak. The unpleasant work that takes place down there must not be allowed to infect the joy above.

It was to these somber chambers that Priestess Roxanne was summoned. She hated the scratchy, dark woolen cloak she wore. It was even worse since she was allowed to wear nothing under it. Symbolically the cloak is supposed to represent a grim purpose that could be put on and taken off so as not to effect ones entire life with duties that are often repugnant. The purpose of all the inconveniences in the Bowels is to help ensure that no priestess ever begins to make a permanent office down here in the underbelly of the temple, embracing the cloak of darkness and its powers the way men do. Most of the temple business should always be conducted in the light.

Roxanne stood impatiently in the alcove to which she had been directed. She was a handsome woman with even features and high cheek bones. Perhaps some men would call her beautiful, but there was a hardness to her. She was a fourth level seeress, the most accomplished arcanist in the temple and the most effective at unpleasant tasks. Too often was she called down here to discuss her work. Not that she minded the work, not that at all. Secretly she reveled in the plots and the conspiracies, the spying and blackmail, the competition that pitted her mind against the great men of the province. Deep in the far reaches of her soul, where she seldom looked, she may even have reveled in the rare, necessary acts of violence. Perhaps even in the murders? No, surely not that.

She heard footsteps coming toward her in the dim light. A few seconds later High Priestess Cardena stood with her in the alcove, the mother and grandmother of all who served in the Temple of Women’s Tears.

“Thank you for coming, daughter”, the high priestess greeted her, “may life bless you.” She was a grandmotherly woman, blessed with the hardships of six children, twenty two grandchildren and, so far, three great grandchildren. Everyone loved her, even her rivals in the temple hierarchy.

“May love bless you, mother”, Roxanne returned the ritual greeting, “Can we get on with this, I think I’m developing an allergy to wool.”

Cardena smiled fondly at her but answered firmly, “I’ll send you an ointment daughter, but there is some urgency.” It was a gentle rebuke, but a rebuke nonetheless.

Roxanne couldn’t help smiling back at the high priestess anyway. Cardena’s deeply lined grandmotherly face became a thing of beauty with that gentle smile. “I bow to your wisdom, mother, what is the urgency?”

Cardena stopped smiling and a look of concern came over her. “I was hoping you would know daughter, for I surely don’t. Something of substance is happening in the world of men, and as always, we must stay a step ahead of them to protect our sisters and the children. When men do great things, they have so little care for small things.”

“You are speaking of the hunt for this geometer”, guessed Roxanne.

The high priestess nodded. “The Magistrate says that he is a spy, but I have never seen such a mobilization before. What has this Algier done to warrant such a commitment? Or is there even such a man? Could all of this have some other purpose? It occurs to me that a massive manhunt would be the perfect cover to commit a few convenient murders and make some quiet arrests.”

Roxanne shook her head, “I’m sure that’s not it. The men are genuinely worried about the man, though I don’t believe half of what I’ve heard about him. Shape changer indeed!”

“So what did he do?”

“I don’t know, mother”, Roxanne admitted, “just that some seer discovered him by accident and that he apparently mocked the magisters by the way he escaped”.

“What about the wyvern, daughter? What could have driven them to such recklessness?”

“It was summoned by that toady Bir Coron, and there is a rumor that he ended up guaranteeing it a life, so some poor prisoner had to be sacrificed when the day was done.”

The high priestess gasped in shock. “What is next, will we return to the days of human sacrifice?”

Roxanne grasped the old woman’s hands, suddenly sorry she had told her. “He’s only a cheap palace sorcerer, mother, a child who has gotten into water over his head. Any arcanist with talent stays at university or works for himself. The rulers simply don’t pay enough for the indignities that a commoner must face when working among lords and generals.”

“And is that why I was a palace sorcerer?” asked Cardena with an arched eyebrow.

Roxanne stammered guiltily, “Oh no, mother, I mean, back then it was an honorable position, I didn’t mean...”

“I know, daughter,” interrupted Cardena with a chuckle, “Please forgive me for teasing you.” She grabbed Roxanne and hugged her warmly, laying her cheek on the taller woman’s shoulder. “You have no idea how much I care for you daughter, and not just because you are truly the fruit of my womb. It is because I see myself so much in you.”

Roxanne hugged her back and laid her cheek on her mother’s head. “Are you like a man, mama, proud that you have spread your seed so well?”

“Not that, Roxy.” Cardena paused. “It is because I understand you so well, I know the joys you feel and the trials you face. I feel with you.”

“Do you, mama?”

“Why do you think I always give you the most difficult and dangerous work?”

“Because I am best at it?”

“That too, but also because you need it. You are not built to live a life of beauty, you need the ugliness to give meaning to the beauty.”

Roxanne thought about that for a long time. “I think you are right, mama.”

Cardena straightened up and stood back. “Of course, daughter, the Mother is always right.” She studied her daughter intently for a long moment then smiled at her with confidence. “Go find out what is going on, daughter, I trust you even with the lives of the children. May love go with you.”

Roxanne responded automatically, “May life be with you”.

Later that night, a slave delivered a vial to Roxanne from the high priestess, a salve for wool-rash. When Cardena had promised her the salve it had been a rebuke. But when she actually sent the salve, Roxanne knew it was not a further reproof, it was Cardena’s way of saying that she cared.

book recomendation

I just finished reading Donald Crankshaw's on-line novel, Fire. It's tremendous. If you like science fiction/fantasy, you really should check this out. I can't wait for the sequel.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Woohoo! Doh!

I just got a link on the Corner from Andrew Stuttaford who I've always considered the most thoughtful, insightful, and if I may say, courageous contributor to the Corner. Normally, this would be a big "woohoo!" moment, except that I wasn't really polling for a link, I just sent him a joke because it related to a junk food habit the two of us seem to share. So the link is to my website, which is hard to navigate backward and doesn't even have a hit counter. That makes it sort of a "doh!" moment.

When I set up that web site I was appalled that web technology still seems to be as bad as I remembered from the days of pain. That's what I call the time I spent building intranet web sites. I'm one of those poor benighted souls who never just takes anything the way it is, I always have to think about how to make it better. HTML and related technologies are just grotesque. I can think of no other word to describe the awfulness of the design of HTML, XML, and similar monstrosities. Imagine if, after using a cell phone for years, you had to go back to the old stuck-in-one-place party-line phones where you cranked the handle and said, "Marge, can you connect me to the hardware store? Yes, Frank said he'd have my paint in by today, and I just wanted to check before I hop in the old Model A and drive down there. No Betty's goiter doesn't seem to be responding to the garlic compresses so she's sending away for that new salve by Dr. Whoople. Yes, yes. Say, I'd like to talk to Frank now so I can get to the store before he closes up for Lodge meeting." That's how I feel working in HTML. It's annoying as heck. No, it's annoying as "h", "e", double toothpicks, by golly. That's why I haven't set up the web pages to look nice and have easy navigation.

So anyway, thanks for the link, Mr. Stuttaford.

tort reform and quality of life

As I left my apartment this morning I heard a whining small-engine sound, too high-pitched for a dirt bike, not high enough for a radio-controlled plane. Curious, I stepped out onto the landing and saw a some kids riding around the parking lot on motorized scooters. I stayed for a few minutes watching, leaning over the rail next to a ten-year-old boy who was lusting after the scooters just like me. Two of the kids had a spontaneous race and the winner ended up driving very fast into a driveway while looking back at the looser. It was an anxious moment for an over-protective guy like me, but really, traffic moves slowly in that driveway, so the only real danger was that he would crash into the parked cars on the other side. That, of course would have been more funny than dangerous.

I walked down to the rec center to put a few coins into a soda-machine for my morning caffeine fix. I prefer sodas in the morning to coffee because they are consistently good and coffee is so variable. If you get a bad cup of coffee, you either have to drink it anyway or delay the rush (yes, I'm going to get to the point, be patient). I returned to my building and got into the car. As I started to leave, I saw the apartment manager (who is hot, by the way) telling the kids they couldn't ride their scooters in the parking lot. These were shiny, brand-new scooters. The kids were probably riding them for the first time and this woman is shooing them off and telling them, "no fun today". That's cold. Now I understand concern for the kid's safety, but really the danger of being injured by a car is microscopic compared to the danger of a bad spill. You have to let kids take risks, stretch their abilities and use their own judgment sometimes, even when the consequences of poor judgment are pretty severe, otherwise they grow up to be wimps, fools, and Democrats.

But (and here is where I get to the point) it really wasn't the manger-babe who was making the decision to shut down the fun, it was the corporate lawyers. Those kids couldn't have fun today because some other kid got hurt in Los Angeles ten years ago and some greedy lawyer convinced his parents that they had just hit the lottery. I'm not really thinking about a specific instance here, just about the overall trend for people to think that tragedies ought to lead to a big payout and the lawyers who encourage that belief for a cut. When conservatives talk about tort reform, they concentrate on how much these law suites have cost us financially, but another cost, just as important, is how it has effected our quality of life. My apartment complex used to sponsor ski weekends. They would rent a bus and organize group housing in Tahoe. No more. I offered to give free swimming lessons to kids in the apartment pool (a lot of the kids are from inland areas of the Middle East and have never had a chance to swim before), but they couldn't let me do it because my certification had expired.

One of the problems with this way of enforcing safety is the fundamental irrationality of it. There is no way, no way, that those kids are safer learning to swim on their own while their parent sit around in deck chairs mostly ignoring them, than they would be if someone with an expired Red Cross Water Safety Instructor certificate were watching them and teaching them how to swim safely. But if a kid drowns, the apartment wants to make sure the parents are solely responsible. If these law suits make people safer, it is only as an accidental side-effect. The real thing they do is cause potential targets to try to reduce their exposure. If they can do that by making people safer, they will. But if they can reduce their exposure more cheaply by exploiting legal technicalities, they will do that instead, even if it increases risk.


Mike from Australia tells me about a section of river:
... on this side of the river the sign said "Crocodiles" and on the other side of the river the sign said "No Trespassing". I didn't think the second sign was really necessary.

Soldiers to hurl citizens from rooftops in case of high-rise attack

Another one from my right-wing insider, James. The story isn't that great, but I couldn't resist the headline. James thinks this device was invented by Hollywood stuntmen. I think he's confused. He's probably thinking of that huge airbag thingie like they had in Lethal Weapon when Gibson handcuffs himself to someone threatening to jump from a building and actually forces him to jump. This device is hard to understand from the description, but it looks like it creates a slow descent. No good for stunts.