Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Memorial Day weekend 2005

Friday night we went to see Madagascar. I'd read reviews that called it mediocre, so I wasn't expecting much. As a result, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Our four-year-old lost interest at some point, but still did pretty well staying in her seat even as she squirmed within it. People said the penguins were the best part, and they were good, but I didn't think they outshone the rest of the movie by quite that much.

It was fun to sit in an audience of laughing children. We were seated pretty close to the screen, so we could hear all the kids behind us when they laughed. There's certainly simple joy in child laughter.

Saturday there was some shopping for food and other errand-style items.

Sunday night we got together with a friend of ours who mixed me a drink whose exact contents I never fully grasped. What it meant, ultimately, was that I'd finally been served an alcoholic drink girlie enough for me to consume.

When I was well underage, my mom gave me a tiny bit of amaretto. I had trouble drinking it, and likely did not have enough to have any effect. A few years ago, my wife made me a drink that I made an effort to quaff completely, but it took a long time to get it all down, and I didn't really notice it.

Sunday night, however, they tell me that I had what they considered to be quite a bit to drink, and in very little time. My wife said what I had would have put her on the floor. It made me dizzy. I'm 31 years old, and I've just passed a landmark event that many people have had by the time they're 18. If my wife is to be believed, I held what I drank pretty well, so I take a certain unearned macho pride in that, but I'm not sure what else to make of the experience. I didn't much see the point of it.

Monday I did laundry all day with a break to visit another friend of ours whose movie I had not taken the time to return in many months. I'm not proud.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Negotiating with a four-year-old.

Her: Can I do finger paints?
Me: No.
Her: I can do one finger.
Me: No finger paints today.
Her: How about hand paint?

("Can I borrow $10? No? How about $50?")

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Pop culture, 1989

It's hard to believe it was 16 years ago that Paula Abdul was famously singing "Straight Up," but it was. "I don't mean to make demands," she sang, "but the word and the deed go hand in hand." Sage words.

That year I went to one of her concerts in Peoria, IL, and a boy with my name was called on stage for a hug from the singer. She was about to be married, and the audience had expressed their disappointment at their own lost opportunity. "Kyle," she said, "you never called." Then she hugged him and sent him back into the crowd of people who were not marrying her. I watched from what seemed like a mile away.

That very night, I and the folks who went to the concert with me decided to see Batman after the concert. It had been hyped like no movie I could remember, and we still had a blast. Purists complained that Batman's back story had changed too much. It's an integral part of the character that the man who killed his parents could never be found, for instance. I agree, and yet it did not detract from the Prince-dominated soundtrack, the irrepressible Joker played by Jack Nicholson, or drop dead gorgeous Kim Basinger as Vicky Vale. I wanted her to come back in the sequel, but they went with a Bond Girl strategy instead. How could you keep a playboy like Bruce Wayne from having a new trophy on his arm every time you see him? It made more sense and all worked out in the end. I was later drawn to see Batman & Robin just for Elle Macpherson's cameo.

To this day, I'll be playing Quake, and with an enemy in my sights think to myself, "have you ever danced with the Devil by the pale moon light?"

That year was also the year of the Tiananmen Square protests in which a lone man stood down a line of communist tanks. It's a striking image, but it nevertheless reminded me of a line you can now hear at your local theater. In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur Dent lays before a bulldozer about to demolish his house. The foreman at the scene asks him, "Have you any idea how much damage that bulldozer would suffer if I just let it roll straight over you?"

Arthur is surprised at this question. "How much?"

"None at all."

No one knows what happened to the tank man, but we know what happened at the end of the protests. Violence broke out, and as you might expect in a conflict between soldiers and citizens, there was a massacre.

For me, 1989 was just part of high school, most of which I disliked. I had my first computer, but not my first modem. Now I'm nearly twice the age I was, and I can't help but notice there's still a Bush in the White House, and I still have a fruit for a computer.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Of books and toilets.

A few points about the Koran desecration story:

Even before we knew it was true, it was so believable. After Abu Ghraib, nothing is out of the question, and frankly desecration of a holy book doesn't hold a candle to beating prisoners to death.

The way the administration lied about it is outrageous and yet it has the same ho-hum business-as-usual feel to it as the desecration story itself.

The ultimate statement, I think, of the truth of this is the lameness of what's passing for defense. I've read in more than one place, "it can't be true because it's hard to flush a book down the toilet." Gone are the days of "our troops wouldn't do something like that." I don't hear them using the "terrorists deserve it" line anymore. The "no worse than a college hazing" foolishness has passed. All that's left is "books don't go down toilets."

I think if you ask an American soldier to Get The Job Done, our fine men and women in uniform will figure out how to do it. If we hadn't taught our four-year-old daughter to respect books and not to flush arbitrary objects down the toilet, I think even she could figure out the solution to this vexing problem.

Do it a page at a time.

It's a better way to humiliate the prisoner anyway! Why waste a whole book with one flush when you can stretch the tragedy over an hour or two?

Then again, after the initial desecration, how much worse is the second or hundredth? I'm feeling the same way about America right now. We've been manipulated, lied to, atrocities committed in our name, for years, and this is just another one.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

My reassuring daughter.

Me: Goodnight, Sweetie.
Her: You're not a monster, Daddy.
Me: [pause] That's right, Sweetie.
Her: That's right.
Me: I love you. Sweet dreams.
Her: I love you.

Where did that come from?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Spencer Bachus vs. Bill Maher

  1. Bachus calls Maher a traitor.
  2. Maher points out that congresspeople have better things to do than attack comedians.
  3. I laugh.
This is basic flame war stuff. Ordinarily I'd roll my eyes and mutter something about wrestling with pigs, but lately I've been pretty grumpy about the hot air coming out of the legislature, and this struck me as just the kind of barb they had coming.


Rumor has it that the only two posts in Toehold's history to use the word "rumor" are these:
  1. Another pet to entertain our dogs.
  2. Mouse warfare.
Coincidentally, they both involve animals (I might have said they both involve rodents, but rabbits are lagomorphs).

You might say I don't write about rumors much, but that's debatable. With that in mind, I offer a few rumors.
  1. Michael Jackson likes little boys, perhaps too much.
  2. Climate change denial is based on lies.
  3. When there's more fighting in Iraq, that means we're winning (which can only mean that when the fighting stops, we will have lost).
  4. My daughter: adorable.
  5. That unpleasantness at Abu Grhaib? Just a few bad apples. Nothing to do with the goings on at the White House.
  6. Mac users love rumors.
  7. I've heard Rumors, heard of Rumors and listened to Rumors.
There was a rumor that this list would be ten items long, but I don't do top ten lists.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Ignorance is not exactly torture.

Two things, briefly.
  1. In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates' Deaths. I encourage you to read it if you haven't already. The "punch" line is that American troops tortured and killed an innocent young man. I think many torture proponents think that "yes, we tortured people but they were all bad." I think to myself, "self, how many people have we tortured? What are the chances they were all terrorists?" It seems to me that a policy of torture necessarily leads to torturing innocents.
  2. In two discussions on Obsidian Wings I've pointed out the Sanchez torture memo to people who say the Bush Administration's military is doing a good job of finding and punishing those responsible for torture. Sanchez reported to a general who reported to Rumsfeld. Both times I pointed this out, it was ignored.
Body and Soul also points out:
Some conservatives will tell you this is America at its finest -- the military is investigating itself. The truth is, until poked and prodded by reporters who didn't accept the stories handed them, the military was doing as little as it could get away with. And it will keep doing so unless the prodding continues.
I've heard that investigations take time. That's fair. What I see here, however, is investigations taking a back seat.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Just to reiterate...

(Both) reactions to my interview with Jesus have noted that I somewhat stuck my neck out on that one. Interviewing Jesus is controversial, I guess. Christ always was something of a radical. I've always loved that about Jesus; he shook up the establishment.

My favorite part of the interview was very late in it, so if you saw the article but didn't manage to wade through the whole thing, I'll reprint the best part here:
Can torture be justified?

Let me ask you this. If a man holds a gun to your head and tells you to torture an innocent or he will kill you, what do you do? I'll tell you what I'd like you to do. You refuse to do the Devil's work and come join Me in Heaven. You think terrorists will kill you if you do not torture, but I tell you that choosing not to torture is on the path to everlasting life with Me and my Father. There's no strength in inflicting suffering on others, especially when it's done out of fear. It's cowardly and shameful. No one knows better than I do that My children are not all strong enough to stand up to the forces of Evil, but I am still sorely disappointed by choices I see made every day.

And I won't even tell you how angry I am at the apathetic response from you kids. It's unspeakable. I will be most cross if the sources of this Evil are not found and removed from power.
Anyway, let me say one more time that the opinions expressed by the Lord do not reflect the opinions of this venerable blog. That is, I want to be clear that I don't always agree with the One who knows all and provides the very definition of morality.

That having been said, I'm very interested in any responses on the topics and opinions given. Just don't think you're arguing with me here. Disagreeing with the views expressed in the interview is disagreeing with God.

Monday morning white board.


An oldie, but a goodie. Maybe later I'll add "(STUPIDITY = BUSH?)" but I'm not sure how political I want to get.

Friday, May 20, 2005

TUB Challenge 6: Nothingness.

I've been playing along with The Ultimate Blogger as a non-contestant (and that's been a catalyst for some of my finest work). You could say I'm an uncontested Ultimate Blogger. Anyway, challenge  6 is up, but if you read the text and watch the video, there's nothing there. This is both interesting and disappointing.

It's disappointing because it's basically no challenge. "Write something interesting about food" was a good challenge, but anyone could come up with "ah, just write something."

It's interesting because it leaves the field wide open to wild interpretation. It will be fun to see what happens when there are no boundaries. I thought of a few possibilities.
  • A post with no text and no title.
  • A story that features lots of nothingness. (e.g., "she gave me a piece of paper and said, 'here's my number; call me', but the paper was blank!")
  • Could you write something consisting entirely of questions? Did anyone else notice the title of the challenge was "question mark?"
  • Write something about a directionless void, and make the whole thing black text on a black background. Users have to select it all to read it.
I also thought of posting a link to my whole blog. If long entries are good, then 70,000 words must be great! Ultimately, I guess this is my "no effort" entry in the "no challenge."

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Mom retrospective.

It's been four months since my mom died. I'm probably not done writing about her, her life, or her death, but I'm making a list of those posts so far.

In life.

A year of ALS. Written about a year after I learned of her diagnosis, this discusses how the disease changed her life.

Mom's progress. Written about a month before she died, this discusses her worsening condition and some of my own reaction.

In death.

My mom died. Written three days after her death, it has her obituary and a brief rundown of the events in the last few days.

Morphine Written at Mom's bedside two nights before she died, this is what showed me I needed to say goodbye.

Advice on death. I learned a thing or two. I share them with you.

Being there. I remember what it was like to be there when she died.

In gratitude.

Wilton Mortuary It's about what a good job the mortuary did, and an individual there who left an impression.

The best dog watcher. It's about the terrific dog watcher we had at the time.

In memorial.

Spelling checker, meet thy match. Mom was the "werst" speller.

Death's comfort A perspective on death.

In reviewing these, one thing that interests me is my predictions. One source says life expectancy for ALS patients after diagnosis is three to five years. I'm sure that's true, but it's more descriptive to say that 80% of ALS patients die within two years. Seven months before Mom died, I could tell she she wouldn't live another year. One month before she died, I was skeptical that she'd live another six months. I gave up hope and said goodbye two days before she died.

More posts written later.

An unexpected memory of Mom I recall feeling hopelessness and guilt.

My son sure does remind me... My son was born 11 months after Mom's death, and sometimes he reminds me of her.

An anniversary. About my ongoing grieving, and things that have stuck with me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Social Security's proponents.

There were many comments on my recent Social Security post (and by "many" I mean "more than two"). I wanted to respond a little.

Garou wrote:
I do find it. . . disturbing that AARP is weighing in on this issue. The minimum age for membership in AARP is 55, and the SS "crisis" occurs in about 40 years. In other words, the people who are least likely to be affected by any changes are trying to prevent changes.
That's a good point, but it's also true that they're the people with the most experience with the issue. Most of them probably are concerned about their own checks above all, but probably some of them are concerned about their children. Their concern comes from experience in matters we can understand on paper but have yet to face personally. It's like veterans taking an interest in the next war. True, they won't fight in it themselves, and things have changed since they were in uniform, but their perspective is not without merit.

Frankly, I think the issue of Social Security affects more people in America than a lot of the other things we wrangle about.

Lee wrote:
The AARP has been doing the right thing in that regard with it's commercials on the topic. Seen it? A plumber says he must tear down the house to fix the kitchen sink.
I saw it (and a criticism of it), but I'm a little surprised it had that much impact. Maybe it was more pervasive than I thought, but I figured it would be drowned out by presidential droning.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Zire 72 Handheld

I got a Zire 72 the weekend before Halloween, and I've been enjoying it. The main selling point for me was Bluetooth. I don't have to plug it into my laptop to sync it, so it doesn't play into my phobia about wearing out my USB ports every time I want to take the laptop away from my desk.

Its camera takes (icky ASF) video as well as stills, but the video requires a memory card for some reason. Just to see how it worked, I borrowed the memory card from our Nikon. The Palm's camera is basically a bullet point on the box. It doesn't do well in low light, and zoom is done with elbows and sneakers. It has some features to help with those, but they're clunky.

Supposedly it will play music, but I have another device for that.

It takes voice memos, and I actually like it better than the standalone device I was using before simply because it's much easier to get the audio to my computer to listen to without the Palm than it was with that other recorder. Basically the Palm works as I'd wished the recorder worked.

It has a gorgeous color screen with obviously better resolution than the m505 I had before. The old apps that I carried from the m505 look really blocky and crude compared to the native software.

I don't like the blue color paint and I don't like that it comes off so easily. In less than a month, it had silver showing through where the paint had been easily scraped off. The best I can say for the stuff is that I like the feel of it. My other Palms have been slick when my hands are dry, but this one is easy to hold regardless.

I was disappointed to find that some of the software that worked on the m505 didn't work with this. My favorite solitaire game comes up with a blank screen but then works normally after tapping the screen once.

I don't like the new Graffiti 2 text entry alphabet. I can't write "L [space]" without pausing significantly. I like that writing a capital letter means writing halfway between the letter and number areas, but I see no way to tell it to write a lowercase letter in a place where it's decided to automatically capitalize (e.g., after punctuation), so "Appt. with Bob" becomes "Appt. With Bob" even when I'm willing to go through the old "triple shift" to make it not so.

I don't like the new buttons on the face either. It's not true that I'll use the camera and music player more than the todo list and memo pad. It's true that I can remap those buttons (and I have), but it's not true that I can remember which is which now that they're above each other instead of next to each other. Also, though I didn't use the feature much, I always liked that the buttons were convex enough to push with the stylus. Now they're concave and really require a thumb.

All in all, I'm glad I got it. What annoys me about it is mostly based on past experience with an older Palm.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Bush Is Trying to Dismantle Social Security

This is unexpected good news. Half of America Believes Bush Is Trying to Dismantle Social Security. I've been thinking this for a while; what Bush really wants is not a fixed Social Security but a castrated Social Security. I try to give him the benefit of the doubt, but the doubt remains. I think he (and like-minded individuals) have thought for a long time that SS was just a bad idea at the outset, and now's their chance to correct FDR's mistake.

Part of why I think I owe some "benefit of the doubt" is because I often have my head stuck in Talking Points Memo, and they've been referring to "privatization" as "phase-out" for quite a while. I figured the fact that I get a lot of my SS "news" from there, and the fact that it supports the phase-out interpretation, meant that I could very well be falling for some bias.

I figured "phase-out" was a minority view. Few people really want to end Social Security, and few people really believe that the President wants that. Most people, I figured, weren't so steeped in Internet sources. Most people were getting their news from the take-it-at-face-value folks at CNN, and they wouldn't go around calling it "phase-out."

Well, the masses seem to have taken my point of view after all. Are the TV folks doing a better job than I thought? I don't know; I'm just happy to hear it.


I know you're reading this.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Torture's Dirty Secret: It Works

This article proposes a thought about torture I hadn't considered: its real purpose is to intimidate a whole community.
This is not a controversial claim. In 2001 the US NGO Physicians for Human Rights published a manual on treating torture survivors that noted: "perpetrators often attempt to justify their acts of torture and ill treatment by the need to gather information. Such conceptualizations obscure the purpose of torture....The aim of torture is to dehumanize the victim, break his/her will, and at the same time, set horrific examples for those who come in contact with the victim. In this way, torture can break or damage the will and coherence of entire communities."
I find this especially nauseating, not just because it's torture, but because it means there really is a payoff. It reaches a desired goal. I don't think the ends always justify the means, but some people do, and it becomes that much harder to stop the insanity when there's an end.

And just to be clear, I don't think terrorizing a whole people is a worthwhile goal either.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Windless Side of a Stone

I'm looking forward to reading everything written on the Windless Side of a Stone. A few remarks right off the bat:
  • That's quite the nice template the brother-in-law set up. Perhaps I should ask for help with mine.
  • That big banner graphic needs to go. I see two lines of the first post.
  • It's not random!
  • I'm diggin' the clever name. Reminds me of a movie I haven't seen in a while.
  • Finally, let me encourage my handful of readers to beat feet to my sister's blog and partake of her most excellent thoughts.
Maybe it's time to make a blogroll on the sidebar...

Friday, May 13, 2005

Toehold interviews Jesus Christ.

[Special thanks to my good friend at Random Brain Dribbles for taking the (long) time to read an earlier draft and make many good suggestions, some of which I used verbatim.]

Do you support gay marriage?

I love the gays as I love everyone else, and I think it's beautiful when they love each other. To sanctify that love in holy matrimony is not to be dismissed.

Do you favor abortion?

I feel a great sadness for those whose lives are endangered by pregnancy, but I can never condone the taking of an unborn's life. I welcome into Heaven those who willingly die so that others may live, but abortion is wrong.

Since your laws allow abortion, I would be very pleased if My people would do what they can (with kindness and love) to keep women from choosing it. Teach them about birth control so that they do not resort to abortion. Give them everything they need to deliver healthy babies. Do not sow fear and shame in those who have accidentally become pregnant. Encourage them to make the right choices with their children, and make those choices the easiest they can be.

How do you feel about stem cell research?

Stem cells have much healing to offer you, but you must limit your research so that it does not take lives. Killing in the name of healing is no virtue. While you're at it, you should look into the amazing variety of plants and animals on the Earth I gave you to help as well.

Do you favor displaying the Ten Commandments in government buildings?

I think they should be on every billboard. In fact, I may do that next Thursday. I worry, however, about having them in government buildings. Christians were persecuted by governments in My day. It's nice to see My followers in great favor in this land, but there may come a day when that is not the case. On that day, I don't want a government which is comfortable doing the work of the most popular religion because that religious work may be the persecution of more Christians.

Do you think creationism should be taught in schools along with evolution?

It's certainly true that I created all the animals (and let them evolve from there), but that's a religious truth, based on faith. It has no place in a biology class any more than teaching history in a math class. A science teacher who says that not everyone believes in evolutionary theory tells the truth and serves students well, but to teach about the Creation would not be teaching science. Children should be going to Sunday school to learn about the Creation of Heaven and Earth (and many other Divine truths).

How do you feel about Supreme Court appointments?

I don't know why Bush didn't appoint me. (Actually, I do know, but I don't want to embarrass him any further.) Suffice it to say that I'm willing to serve when asked.

Just so that we are clear, the rulings of the Supreme Court do not affect My truths. Your courts have been wrong before, and will be wrong again, but My judgments are never wrong.

What do you think about government health care for all citizens?

It's important that you kids take care of each other. You are your brother's keeper! I like a lot of the things you've done to encourage each other to become doctors who heal the sick, but you capitalists can really go too far sometimes. I love nothing better than cruising the streets mending the lame and granting sight to the blind, but you also have to take care of yourselves.

Raising the minimum wage?

If people cannot pay for the most basic needs of decent housing and food with the wages they earn, then you need to look at ways to help them. Raising the minimum wage is one way, but it may not be as simple as that. Help the poor! Love one another!

Just the other day the Holy Spirit said to me, "I've really got to get down to that Congress and straighten them out on minimum wage. JC, I tell you, you turn your ethereal back for a split decade, and things just go all to gosh darn it." If your legislature had any sense, it would write a law that adjusted the minimum wage automatically instead of wasting all this time adjusting it by hand.

Did you like Bush's tax cuts?

No, but I forgive him. I'll expand on this in the question I foresee next.

Would you rather cut taxes or reduce the deficit?

This money you're spending without having is going to have to be paid back (and more) by your children. Please stop passing the buck to those you're supposed to be caring for. I don't have much concern for taxation levels, but selling your children into poverty so that you can keep more of your coin? Is that what I taught you? No.

Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and render unto Me that which is Mine. You must pay for the functioning of your government. Cutting taxes is fine, but you must spend correspondingly less as well.

Do you think declaring bankruptcy should be easier or harder?

I think that declaring bankruptcy should be nigh unheard-of, not because people in debt won't be able to do it but because there will be no more people in debt. I can't stress this enough. Love each other! Help each other! If someone is suffering, the community should be there to help.

Do you think we should limit the awards from malpractice lawsuits?

This is really a matter of insurance companies. Insurance is a great good indeed, but the companies selling it are, in many cases, going straight to Hell, and with good reason. If you only knew. I'm not here to blow the whistle on those poor souls, but I will tell you that limiting awards on malpractice lawsuits is treating the problem at the wrong end of the patient. Stop the insurance companies from fleecing the doctors, and the doctors can help more people. They're taking lives. I can't make it any simpler than that.

What do you think is outsourcing's impact on the economy?

It's bad for you Americans, but it's good for the rest of My children. I hope the practice continues. You who are blessed with gold have an obligation to reach out to your brothers and help them up. I did not give you wealth to hoard it.

Can you tell us the impact of trade agreements?

These things make a difference, but not necessarily how you think. The real reason I want more trade in the world is that it makes you kids less likely to go to war. You should have learned to share in kindergarten. It improves the lives of everyone.

What do you think of immigrants working in America?

Just like outsourcing, it's good. As I said before, from those to whom much is given, much is required. I blessed America with many gifts, and Americans have an obligation to help others who were not as blessed.

Would you allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?

I wish you'd stop sticking your metal poles in the Earth completely. I gave you a ball of nuclear fire hundreds of thousands of times larger than the Earth, and you're still pumping black soup out of the ground. A little while ago, when you didn't know how to use the wind and the fire for energy, I understood. Now, however, I think it's time to grow up and stop spoiling what I've given you. I know you'll get there eventually, and I don't mean to sound as though I don't have infinite patience, but it really does pain me to see the destruction of my creatures. I gave you the Earth to care for. Don't ruin it.

Would you want private accounts in Social Security?

No. If you want your own retirement money, use a 401(k) for My sake. You are responsible for each other. Social Security does that better than most of your laws, and I'd like to see it stay. You wouldn't believe how upset FDR is about all this talk of murdering his baby. The angels keep telling him he's not in Hell, but sometimes I have to talk to him personally to calm him down.

Preemptive military force can be justified...

Only if you're absolutely sure that the enemy will attack and kill you. Enemies who want to attack but can't need not be attacked. If an enemy wants to attack, and you're not sure whether they can or not, give them the benefit of the doubt. I welcome the slaughtered innocents into my arms, but I would have preferred them on Earth doing My work. And while we're on the subject, from now on, "shock and awe" is reserved for Me and Mine. If I want fire rained on Baghdad, I can very well do that myself, thank you.

What I'd really like to see is preemptive humanitarian efforts. When you see your neighbors in trouble, help them. They cannot continue to be your enemy when you show only love and kindness.

Can torture be justified?

Let me ask you this. If a man holds a gun to your head and tells you to torture an innocent or he will kill you, what do you do? I'll tell you what I'd like you to do. You refuse to do the Devil's work and come join Me in Heaven. You think terrorists will kill you if you do not torture, but I tell you that choosing not to torture is on the path to everlasting life with Me and my Father. There's no strength in inflicting suffering on others, especially when it's done out of fear. It's cowardly and shameful. No one knows better than I do that My children are not all strong enough to stand up to the forces of Evil, but I am still sorely disappointed by choices I see made every day.

And I won't even tell you how angry I am at the apathetic response from you kids. It's unspeakable. I will be most cross if the sources of this Evil are not found and removed from power.

Any thoughts about the PATRIOT act?

I definitely think you youngsters need to keep an eye on each other, but this is not the right way to do it. You're right to address problems you see, but now that your fear has passed, it's time to think about it and make changes.


Love 'em. There are many paths to Me, and none of you are really capable of knowing the Truth. I love all My children, even those who do not accepted me as their personal Savior.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell the readers before you go?

Bill and Ted had it right. Be excellent to each other. If you find this idea confusing, I wrote a whole Book about it, and I'd really like it if you'd read it. Thanks for listening. You've been a terrific audience. I love you all!

[Questions came from this page. Answers are not without my bias, but they are what I think Jesus would say. As such, some of them disagree with my own opinions.]

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Label me, please.

This post at The Fire Ant Gazette pointed me to a political typology quiz which identified me as a liberal. At 17% of the general population (and 19% of registered voters), I'm part of the largest group they identify.

Not knowing anything about how they came by that result, I can't really speak to how meaningful it is, but it was fun to look over the charts on their issues page. From it, I get the impression that liberals are uniquely unified in their views.

What shocked me most was the results of a survey on torture.
Overall, the public is divided over using torture against suspected terrorists when such tactics may yield important information. Roughly half (51%) say it is never or rarely justified, but 45% believe it is at least sometimes justified.

Liberals are most strongly opposed to resorting to torture; 77% say it is rarely or never justified.
That's just stunning.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

More Ultimate Blogger remarks.

My recent gripes about The Ultimate Blogger received more comments than any other post in my blog's history. I can hardly let that go without comment.

Two comments basically agreed with me. The other two responses, I think, are summed up pretty well in one:
while i agree with some of your assessments, and i think we may definitely tweak the rules for a second edition, it was never intended just to find the best writer. we always wanted a strategy element, and wanted to make the competition fair for more people who do photoblogs or videoblogs or mp3blogs and the like. we select winners based on what we think is the most entertaining entry that fits the challenge and that we would want to show other people.
I have no problem with making the contest more of a multimedia creativity contest than pure writing. The "blogger equals writer" preconception is all mine. The worst I can say is that the contest description might have been ambiguous.

I'm also not questioning the criteria for placing immunity.

I found a strategy element interesting at first, but the more I look at it, the less it appeals to me. First, it adds no entertainment value. What's entertaining on Survivor (which, I should mention, I've never watched) isn't here because it's behind the scenes. Second, as a "viewer," strategy spoils the results. As the contest goes on, I see the players with the winning strategies (or luck) as much as those with greatest skill, but I really only want to see the greatest skill. Not only that, contestants who know their strategy will save them need not strive for immunity (i.e., they don't have to write anything good).

That you talk about tweaking rules for a new contest is interesting to me because I had already come up with some alternate rules for a post I hadn't published. I might as well put them here.
  1. Everyone who enters pays a small fee (say, $1).
  2. Actual contestants are selected at random from entrants.
  3. Entrants, not contestants, vote on who advances from round to round.
  4. Winner takes all the entry fees.
The game would need someone to run it. This person would collect the entrance fees and tally the votes. Contestants could try to get cooperation from voters, but they'd have no way to verify the results. Nobody in a position to gain any money ever has control over who gets it. The only incentive for players is to win over the audience. I'd use the condorcet method to see who's voted off to make strategy voting even sillier.

The problem would be taking payments from everyone, and you'd want software to handle the voting. Also, the fact that you're selecting contestants at random might qualify it as a lottery under some laws and require you to follow state gambling regulations. Finally, I wouldn't be surprised if someone's already found a good way to do what we want, and I'm just reinventing the wheel here. Research might be in order.

Anyway, thanks for the remarks, and thanks for the contest. It's certainly given me something to write about.

A year ago today...

My first post still draws traffic because of other people wondering what the hell "status 1" is supposed to mean in their error messages. I feel for those people.

I feel also for the people who come here looking for information on ALS. The most helpful thing I had to say about it was some things to do when someone you love is dying from it.

A year ago today I started this modest blog, and what do I have to show for it?

Yesterday (before this post), I did some quick and dirty analysis on my archives and found:
  • 409 posts
  • 1252 outgoing links (mean three per post)
  • 69935 words (mean 170 per post)
  • 58 comments on 39 posts (95% of my posts get no comments)
As recently as a month ago, I had two regular readers, but I may have picked up more recently by drawing readers from The Ultimate Blogger.

When I started, I wasn't sure I'd go a week. My goal has been to average a post per day, and—see above—I've more than met that goal. Still, I fret from time to time about what I'm going to post from day to day. This in spite of the fact that even now I have over a week of posts written but not published.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to another year, and I hope you are too.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Ultimate Blogger: Challenge 3 summary

Challenge 3 asks our intrepid Ultimate Blogger contestants to submit a photo on the theme "morning." More or less. See all the official contestant entries in one long scrolly page at the Challenge 3 archive page or click the links below for official and unofficial entries in my usual approximate order of appearance.
  1. Mine (non-contestant): My sunshine.
  2. James: 5:13 a.m.
  3. Sonny: The saddest bike in Paris
  4. Joel (voted off): Every Morning I reach For The Sky, And A Lot Of Things Follow Me There.
  5. Medya: AM hours in nature
  6. Mimi (won immunity): New York Mourning
  7. Willow: sleepy salutations
  8. Lois: Early morning dew on spring lilacs
  9. Lyova: Bangkok, 5.46 am: Ladyboy
  10. Ritchey: Pretty Literal Interpretation
  11. MDC (non-contestant): The Ultimate Blogger At-Home Player Post 3: Sunup Snapshot
The nice thing about this challenge is that it's hard to be longwinded in a photo. This is the first one where I can honestly say I gave full attention to every entry. My favorites were Mimi's, James's, and Sonny's (not necessarily in that order).

My sunshine.

This is the face that wakes me up in the morning. It says, "Wake up, Daddy!"

Monday, May 09, 2005

Quick links: Torture, Iraq, national security, and Social Security.

Soldier lifts lid on Camp Delta "For the first time, an army insider blows the whistle on human rights abuses at Guantánamo"

British Memo Busts Bush. A leaked secret British memo says that Bush had made up his mind to attack Iraq (and make the intelligence serve that goal) at a time when he was telling us just the opposite.

REAL ID The United States is getting a de-facto national ID. Schneier talks about why this is a bad idea.

A post from Talking Points Memo "All the president has done is take the problem -- steep benefit cuts -- and redefined it as the solution. That's not a plan or a solution; it's a word game."

The Social Security Trust Fund is Irrelevant (Or How Al Gore Was Right) It argues that, because paying for Social Security is the same problem regardless of whether there are treasury bonds to "do" it, we may as well not have the treasury bonds. It's an interesting point.

Teh Utlimate Bloggaarrr.

I'm grumpy about The Ultimate Blogger competition. I'll state up front that this is a result of some expectations I set for it early on, and not necessarily a result of some failing on TUB's part.

I thought of it as a writing competition.

It turns out, however, that the best writer does not necessarily win. Alliances have formed behind the scenes, and there are groups of contestants voting together. Contestants don't have an incentive to vote off the worst entry; they'd rather vote off the toughest competition. The only reason the clearly best isn't voted to oblivion outright is the awarding of immunity.

In this light, a good strategy might be to write non-threateningly mediocre (or even bad) entries, avoiding immunity and voting. When the bloggers left are all obviously inferior, write like crazy to get constant immunity. Who'd want to read that?

It might make entertaining television, but I think a different method is needed to find a top candidate.

Challenge 3 irritates me further since it's essentially a photography competition. I know that blogging now incorporates photos, sounds, and videos on top of the more traditional words and links. I guess the Ultimate Blogger folks are covering the bases here. Maybe future challenges will involve audio and video. Maybe there will be a challenge in which contestants search for the best link(s) on some topic. That would round out some of the blogging genres. Still, it bugs me.

It's probably a bias toward what I see as my strength. I post the occasional photo, but I really think of this blog as verbal. If I'd been selected as a contestant, I'd probably be thinking right now that I was at a disadvantage. Asking bloggers to photograph isn't such a stretch, but it still seems to me like asking authors to sculpt.

Maybe I'll slop something off to pretend that I'm still playing at home, but I'm getting a strong "don't embarrass yourself" vibe off this one.

That, and I'm swiftly losing interest in a competition where the best are eliminated first.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Ultimate Blogger: Challenge 2 summary

The Ultimate Blogger competition is still going on, and I'm still participating (as a non-contestant), and it seems premature to keep writing "still" for all this when it's only Challenge 02: Tired Technologies. Contestants were asked to write about long-abandoned technology they used to love. I almost wrote about NetHack, but the sad truth is that I still play from time to time. Regardless, here are the entries in approximate order of appearance:
  1. Medya: how to use " straw" ?
  2. Mine (non-contestant): Old school tech retribution.
  3. MDC (non-contestant): The Ultimate Blogger At-Home Player Post 2: Tired Technologies
  4. Sonny: A Short History of Fashion Technology
  5. Mimi: Hey Boys
  6. Willow: sad fate of the mix tape
  7. Ritchey: Tech Talk
  8. Lois: A toboggan of cards
  10. Karsh (voted off): So Many Memories
  11. Joel: Welcome to my Friday...
  12. James (won immunity): .
The shocking revelation is that Crash has bowed out. I've had a busy day and have not read all these entries, so I'll refrain from picking favorites. I will say, however, that Mimi is starting to look like a one trick pony. Can there be a topic that she cannot relate to sex? Perhaps that could be challenge three.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Old school tech retribution.

On the text-based UNIX systems I used in college, the options for live communication were limited. IRC was available, which is like instant messaging today, but it was also popular to talk to other users who were logged into the same computer. On a busy night it was not unusual to see over 200 people using the same massive computer, and since we were all bright-eyed students on the same campus, we loved to interact.

To allow others to talk to me, I set permissions on my pseudoterminal such that anyone on the system could access it. This was meant (and understood to be) for friendly conversation, but there was a dark side.

In my explorations, I figured out that I could send terminal control signals to users who had made themselves available this way. I wrote scripts to cause various unwanted effects to the victim of my choice. These scripts contained "live data" such that merely displaying the program on my screen caused the effect for me that the code was made to cause to another. They were like forbidden incantations in ancient texts. I wrote them, but I didn't look at them.

One night, minding my own business, I suddenly got a screen full of worms. I recognized the program as a toy that draws lines on the screen (in text) and wriggles them around. It's a neat trick, but I didn't invoke it. Someone else on the system had taken advantage of my invitation to conversation and plastered my display with worms, interrupting what I was doing.

The system kept audit logs of every program any user ran. Why this information was available to everyone on the system, I don't know, but I called it up and found the only user who'd run the 'worms' program recently.

He'd logged out.

Then I got an email. "Sorry about that," he said, "I was just showing that trick to a friend. You'd have to know quite a bit to figure out who it was..."

Pissed off, I replied that I had figured out who it was, and if he'd sign back on I could show him a trick or two of my own.

No reply.

I fumed and I lurked. He came back after some time, and I sent him data that cleared his screen a couple times per second. He disappeared again, and I called it even.

A year later, I met the guy who'd been sitting next to the guy who'd wormed me. He still recognized my name after all that time, and he described my return justice as "swift and definitive." He said that the guy, faced with a blank screen, had been forced to reboot.

Those were the days. The internet population was a tiny fraction of what it is today. Gopher was new, and the web hadn't taken off. Research and preparation paid off, and knowing the deep dark secrets of a computer I'd never seen gained me notoriety.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Ultimate Blogger: Challenge 1 summary.

Here's a summary of posts from The Ultimate Blogger Challenge 01: Vapid Vittles. Contestants were asked to write something about food (though, true to what I wrote, a few of them took the opportunity to talk about sex). All contestant entries are posted at the Den (which is nice if you want one page to scroll through and read everything), and non-contestant entries are comments on the Challenge post. These are in approximate order of appearance:
  1. Mine (non-contestant): Dorm food.
  2. Enjanerd (non-contestant): Minute Rice is not the same as floor rice
  3. Ritchey: CHALLENGE NUMBER UNO: Ritchey's hot food entry
  4. Sonny: Korea Snack Bar
  5. Medya: Mama I am not hungry
  6. MDC (non-contestant): TheUltimate Blogger At-Home Player Post 1: Food
  7. Mimi: Dinner at Mimi's
  8. Eddie D (voted off): Significant other white meat
  9. Lois: You gotta crack a few eggs
  11. Crash: Spice
  12. James: Dinner...
  13. Karsh: Design for Dinner
  14. Willow: the first to be last (almost)
  15. Freddy (non-contestant): Your new favorite summer drink
  16. Joel: Eat Shit.
  17. Hason (non-contestant): making fried lard paste
My favorites were mine, Lois's, Ritchey's, Mimi's, and Eddie's (not necessarily in that order).

A few quotes about fear.

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
---- Franklin D. Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

"Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is."
---- German Proverb

"Fear is just a feeling. You feel hot, you feel cold, you feel afraid. Fear can never kill you."
---- Chiun, "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins" (film)

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Is Al Jazeera trolling?

I saw Control Room, a documentary about media relations with the United States Central Command in Iraq, especially Al Jazeera. It was interesting to hear the different perspectives. What struck me most, however, was a statement from Samir Khader, senior producer at Al Jazeera about that station's role. He said:
My own feeling is that the message of Al Jazeera is first of all educational, to educate the Arab masses on something called democracy, respect of the other opinion, the free debate--really free debate, no taboos, nothing is called taboo. Everything should be dealt with intelligently and with openness and to try by using all these things to shake up these rigid societies, to awaken them, tell them "Wake up! Wake up! There is a war around you. Something's happening in the world. You're still sleeping. Wake up." This is the message of Al Jazeera.
I goggled at the screen when I heard this. It's exactly the justification put forth by Internet trolls for their inflammatory behavior. "We're trying to shake up The Establishment," they say, "to make people think, for a change."

I don't actually have a problem with "all topics discussed, openly and intelligently," but I've too often seen that used as a justification for a worthless discussion. I like a good Swiftian modest proposal, but I've found that sometimes trolls take it too far. That's my concern about Al Jazeera. Are they trying to have, or be a part of, a good discussion, or are they trolling for viewers? I know they didn't invent sensationalism, and I don't mean to pick on Al Jazeera for that. The real story here is my own bias. I heard "all topics discussed" and "shake up rigid societies", and that meant "troll" to me, immediately. It's possible Khader is sincere, but the phrases he used to express that screamed "insincere" at me.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Meta: rejected food.

The first challenge for The Ultimate Blogger competition was called "Vapid Vittles." The challenge was to write something entertaining about food. I wasn't selected to be a contestant on The Blog is Right, but I figured I might play along anyway. (Don't tell anyone, but, to be honest, I think the best part of their prize package is the cash. I wanted to enter just for the attention.) So I wrote about dorm food, an unending source of entertainment for me and friends over *cough* ten *cough* years ago.

Before settling on that topic, I toyed with the idea of deriving inspiration from "Weird Al" Yankovic. I have a considerable collection of his fine CDs. Of the 129 songs I have in iTunes, I counted 14 that were about food.

The other obvious idea I had was to use food as a sexual metaphor, and write something with a lot of double entendres in it. I'm talking about a slightly more clever version of "hungry for a hot thick sausage." I refrained from that because, today at least, I'm not that clever.

Dorm food.

A wise guy once said, "What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." For two years of my life in college, I lived and ate at the college dorms.

I heard a theory once that all the food in the cafeteria was created from only two substances. One of them was runny, drippy, fluid stuff, like water but more tasteless. The other was hard crunchy material, like chalk but harder. The recipes were nothing more than what proportions to mix, and what flavor and color to add. From the "steak nuggets" that were served at lunch, reheated at dinner, and paving roads the next day to the Jell-O that jiggled a little too much for me to think it was inanimate, it was all the same thing. It just looked like selection.

Not knowing what would be on the menu from day to day, it was important to have a backup plan. For a while, my plan was cereal in the little individual boxes. I dropped that plan when the winner of the daily "most expired cereal" contest was over two years old.

My other backup plan was rice. No matter what else was there, they always had plain white rice. Overcooked or undercooked, it was always approximately edible, and I ate some every night. On bad nights, I ate nothing else.

That stopped when I finally correlated the rice with certain unpleasant results in the bathroom.

Unidentifiable food was common. Sometimes there were labels; sometimes there were only puzzles. There was once a pan of brownish gray masses sitting in a bubbling ooze. Somebody must have spilled the food coloring. A friend of mine wrinkled his nose and asked the guy behind the counter, "What is that?"

The cafeteria worker answered, "Do you want any, or not?"

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Bush and reporters.

At our President's recent press conference, he made a statement and then took questions. Here's a section of the transcript:
THE PRESIDENT: [...] Stretch. You mind if I call you Stretch in front of --

Q I've been called worse.

I don't know who that reporter was, but the transcript really does not do justice to his reaction. I took a bad picture of my TV screen, let the dog chew on it for a few minutes, and then scaled it down. Here it is:
I've been called worse
As I recall, this is as he's saying, "I've been called worse." I don't know who this guy is or anything about him, really. Maybe he looks like that all the time. Maybe the reporter behind him just sneezed on his hair. Who knows? When I saw this, however, my reaction to his reaction was, "that guy's pissed." Who could blame him? The President of the United States just called him "stretch" on national television. The White House press corps doesn't carry the same celebrity status as Simon Cowell, but I'm guessing he wanted a little more recognition than offered. What that look says to me is, "yes I do mind, Mr. President. I don't appreciate you shattering my illusion that the leader of the free world is more mature than the people I went to high school with."

Here's another:
As I recall, that was taken as he was asking his question.

This reminds me of something else from the press conference. Before the thing started, the folks on NBC made sure to mention that it was the first conference in a year. I've heard that the Bush administration keeps the press at a distance more than administrations in the past, and the press are (understandably) grumpy about that. I view the "stretch" exchange as symbolic of all that. Calling a reporter by a name you've made up communicates that the reporter isn't important enough to bother remembering. All the press can seem to do about it is glare.