Monday, April 30, 2007

Quite Possibly the Ugliest Thing In Existence

While walking my dogs in my neighborhood, minding my own business, I beheld a sight of singular revulsion. I stood transfixed by the horror. Click on the thumbs if you dare.

What an abomination! Let me break it down, deconstruct this appalling thing, if you will. For starters, it's a Hummer: to me, the vehicle represents the rape and wanton disregard of our planet, and conspicuous consumption at its worst. That's bad enough.

Moreover, this ugly SUV prominently features the Pepsi product logo, which brings to my mind a "no-choice" choice. Coke or Pepsi? Republican or Democrat? Not a very broad selection from which to choose. A fact I don't like being reminded of, thank you very much. Incidentally, it has a "Broom for Senate" theme plastered throughout. I have no idea of Broom's party affiliation, but it is a safe bet that this person will not be getting my vote.

Also featured: Bud Light. That recalls my consciousness to the continual watering down to the point of unrecognizability that which is strong and interesting and possessed of character. I want some good beer, dammat! Not this cheap, tasteless swill!

Most prominently featured: the Hooters logo and girls. OK, I'm strongly in favor of scantily-clad women. But this is just grotesque. To have women reduced to sex-object status for the purpose of selling bad food is more than I can stomach. At least in a strip club there's no dopey pretense. And there is less hot wing sauce on the patrons.

Still more, it's bad art! It reminds me of those creepy custom vans of the 1970s. Looking closer, I find that the women on the back of the truck are actually Paris and Nicole! EEWW! MY EYES! I'M MELTING! Chrissakes, is there no sanctuary, not even in my own neighborhood?!?

Castle Mania

My daughter had a school project for history due today - build a model of a castle. Why is this such a big deal, you may ask? Well, here's a little background: I am a nerd. I am passionate about history, and I have fairly extensive experience in making crafts and building models. So when my son had this exact same project three years ago, I coached him into building a fantastic fortress. It was well-proportioned, intricately detailed, and meticulously painted and landscaped. By many accounts, it was easily the best one in the class. According to the teacher, however, it lacked certain minor features that we felt were unrealistic for a castle of that size and era. And there was no room for those features, given the project's recommended scale, which we used! He ended up with a mere B+ on the project. That really chapped my ass.

Fast forward to now. My daughter and I, both informed and enraged by this eariler outcome, were determined to outdo that castle. My daughter in particular, currently maintaining a better-than-4.0 GPA (due to the weighting of honors classes), wanted to ace the project. But she was hampered by design-anxiety, because the castle could be no greater than 14"x18," yet it had to possess a great deal of detail. The instructions suggested a scale of one inch for every six to ten feet, or about 1:108 scale. If you've made any study of models, that scale should be a red flag - it's for smaller things, like ships and rockets, not a large castle or fortress. Again, my son used it for his model, and look where that got him. So we abandoned that in favor of a more reasonable one inch to twenty-five feet, or about 1:285 scale.

Finally last Wednesday she had more or less finalized her design, and Thursday night we visited Home Depot to purchase our materials. We spent two hours there, browsing everything imaginable to find the right objects from which to build the castle. We spent more money than I'd care to mention. Damn kids, taking up my resources!

Anyway, I spent the entire weekend, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, coaxing her through the process of building the model. I helped her with some of the key details - the gatehouses, for example. I also cut the wood with the chop saw from her measurements (if it weren't so last-minute, I would have taken the time to teach her how to use the saw safely herself). Anyway, after many discussions, modifications, disagreements, failures, tears, and hugs, not to mention much hard work, the castle is complete. Click below for a larger image. And if she doesn't get an "A" on this project, I invite you to come kick her teacher's ass with me. It'll be my last act! My daughter made me promise that if she didn't get an "A," I'd commit seppuku.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ownership

I read with interest a debate between GeistX of CubeZoo and DAV of Evil Bobby. It seems DAV had some venting to do about the election of seven years ago, and decided to trot out the well-worn idea that Ralph Nader ruined the election for Al Gore in 2000, and therefore, those that voted for Nader in 2000 should shoulder some of the blame for George W. Bush's catastrophic administration.

I have mixed feelings about Ralph Nader. He is certainly not the selfless idealist his supporters portray him to be. And I was disappointed in him for running in 2004. I thought he and his message had pretty much fizzled. So I have a lot of sympathy for DAV's point of view. But in this discussion, I have to come down squarely on the side of GeistX.

Buried in DAV's argument about blame for Bush's "victory" in 2000 is an assumption that Gore somehow deserved the votes that went to Nader, and that Nader's strategy of attacking Gore from the left was unfair and inappropriate.

Note to democrats: you do not own the vote of the left! You, like all politicians, must earn each and every vote. If the speeches you make and the policies you propose and the issues you stump fail to inspire the majority of electorate, you lose! It's that simple. You have no one to blame but yourselves, for failing to build a coalition large enough for victory.

Now, I happen to agree with the folks who advocate a proportional representation system. I think it would make for a much broader, more robust democracy. But it's not the form of government we have. Our Constitution and many of our laws reinforce a two-party division of power. So any "coalition government" we can build has to take place within a single party.

One way to broaden the political discourse is to join the party that best represents your views and try to shape that party's platform from within. Doing this provides a strong chance that your party can win control of some branch of government. This is what DAV advocates. But it does not guarantee an uncompromised agenda. Quite the opposite: it all but insures that you will be coping with a watered-down implementation of your legislative plan.

Another way to broaden political discourse, equally valid and useful, is to join a third party. This severely limits your chances at electoral victory, but doing so gives a strong, clear voice to the issues that matter most to party members. If your party's message resonates with enough people, the dominant parties have to respond to those issues.

I want to point out that this describes a lot of the history of our two major parties: they have evolved in no small part because of third party organizing and agitation. Heck, right here in Minnesota, you need only recall the name of one party to know that this is true: Democratic-Farmer-Labor. The Farmer-Labor Party joined the Democratic Party to create the DFL. This is what GeistX implicitly understands: that a vote for a third-party is not a wasted vote, nor is it a vote for the candidate furthest from your own views. It is a principled act with a long-term goal.

Another note to democrats: crying foul over your opponents' tactics is a laughably feckless strategy! Republicans have had their gloves off for a long, long time. Gore's delayed, weak response to the turmoil following the 2000 election, and Kerry's effete campaign and tepid defense in the wake of Bush's attacks in 2004 bear witness to this sad reality. Democrats seem unwilling or unable to fight back, and waste precious energy on the two-headed dunces of in-fighting and hand-wringing. Guys, put up your dukes! It's time for some ass-kicking. There are real battles to be fought.

The Dems better start owning their victories, and owning their defeats, and forget the feeble idea that they somehow deserve anyone's vote. Ralph Nader did not put George W. Bush in office. Don't forget that over 50 million people voted for Bush in 2000. Democrats must fight harder to win votes, and show that they are the party of the left, the party of the people. They do not own us! The elections of 2006 left me with some hope. Let us see how things develop...

Friday, April 27, 2007

Jon Breaks It Down

Jon Stewart really is the man. In this two-minute interview, he makes sharp, incisive points about what he does, and pillories the charade that was Gonzales's testimony.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Saber Rattling Time

Listen bitch! Don't even try to put your missile shit up in my grille! You'd better back off with that bullshit! Or I'm fitting to back the fuck out of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and things! Goddamn, motherfucker! Don't you be fucking with the Kremlin! We'll fuck that shit up! What's up Moscow!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Weekend by the Numbers

Number of birthday parties: 2
Number of dinners at home (out of three nights): 1
Total number of houseguests: 13
Loads of dishes done: 6
Loads of dishes left in sink: 1
Films seen: 1
Amount of time elapsed between scheduled start of film
      and actual start time: 37 minutes
Time spent at JC Penny's looking at purses: 15 minutes
Creatures slain: 3 (dragon turtle, zombie, werecrocodile)
Rank of Kasugai gummis, in deliciousness: 1
Sticks of butter stolen by pets: 1/2
Number of vodka martinis made: 4
Amount of whiskey in bread pudding, according to recipe: 1/2 cup
Actual amount of whiskey in bread pudding: 1 cup
Number of mohawks given to dogs: 1
Ice cream consumed in gallons: 3/4
Six packs of beer acquired for weekend gathering: 2
Six packs of beer remaining after weekend gathering: 2.667
Hours spent cleaning: 10
Satisfaction with cleanliness of house, scale of 1-10: 5
Cups of rice cooked: 4
Cups of rice served: 0
Books purchased: 3
Books read: 0
Number of walks: 2
Chance encounters at grocery store: 1
Number of naps desired: 2
Number of naps taken: 0
Overall satisfaction with weekend, scale of 1-10: 8
Number of naps needed to make weekend a 10: 2

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Nerd Knight

Some men play poker, some go to strip clubs. There are men who hunt and fish, while others go to ball games. Still others just sit in their buddy's garage drinking beer. Me? I play D&D. I get a fair amount of flak for this in some quarters. So be it. A man's gotta have a hobby or two. There are worse things I could be doing.

Besides, Fjolnir rules! The character I'm currently running is a classic dwarven fighter: an immovable cube of force dispensing justice with a cleave of his war axe. Damn he's a badass. And he's such an archetype he practically plays himself. But no matter. It's a simple pleasure to smite evildoers in the game world. My last character was kind of a pansy (in fact, he was literally a type of fairy known as a grig), so it's been fun to play a character who can really lay some wood on the bad guys.

Our gaming group is a tender one. We gather twice a month around six in the evening, and we make a feast for one another. It's so domestic! We're not really a beer and pretzels group of fellas. We eat like kings, keeping a fine table with all manner of victuals and sundries. Then we discuss world events and popular culture, and we settle in to play about eight o'clock.

The night is filled with frequent arguments, digressions, and endless comic relief. And more food. Not to mention plenty of gas. Hey, boys will be boys. The whole experience is a welcome reprieve from the mundane world of thankless work and unwholesome compromise. I'm looking forward to it again this weekend. Get your nerd on!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Stephen Colbert Is Ripping Me Off

Yesterday I published a short list of some of my favorite words, which included syzygy. A great word. I also started to script my brief piece about bees and cellphones, which I read about on Monday in the Independent. My dad sent me the link.

So anyway, on last night's episode, he used the word syzygy AND talked about the bees! WTF! I'm gunning for you Colbert! Are you trolling the blogs for material these days? Like you, I expect a proper citation. Until I get one, you are officially ON NOTICE!

Hang Up And Pollinate!

At least one German scientist thinks that the recent worldwide disappearance of the bees is being caused by cellular phones! Now the crackpot theories I offered seem almost quaint. But I've long argued that bees should cut down on their cell phone use, especially when flying. And now we find that it could actually be killing them! You queen bees out there, get control of your drones. Our honey is at stake!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Words I Like

folly byzantine conflagration robust nexus prodigious fine dammat sleek dipshit salacious bastid scion mighty jackass keen master reckon fuck syzygy futile onanist awkward seminal badass macabre feckless zippy snazzy fulcrum impertinent glib force alliteration elder ragged glory earthen thump fist cleave hidebound eviscerate frenzy giant passion clash charisma prime fanciful sensual curvaceous voluptuous...

OK, I'd better cut myself off before I start getting dirty.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Movie Roundup

A couple of weeks ago I rented a bunch of DVDs from the video store, but I never got around to writing about any of them. I've had this draft sitting in my list of unpublished posts ever since. Sigh. I wanna put something down and move on, so in forty-three words or less, here they are:

1. Stranger than Fiction - A funny and poignant tale of a man trying to live life more fully and break out of his mold. Will Ferrell was terrific in this role. My daughter and I both laughed heartily and got a little misty while watching it.

2. Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny - It looked funny, but I didn't actually watch it. So sue me. Maybe someday I'll get back to it. But then again, maybe Jack Black's shtick has worn a little too thin with me. We'll see.

3. The Magnificent Seven - Sweeping photography, a stirring score, and a charismatic cast make the American remake of The Seven Samurai a bona fide classic in its own right. Have another look at it.

4. Casino Royale - Quite simply the best Bond movie ever made. If you missed it in the theater, rent it! The parkour sequence alone is worth the time.

5. Science of Sleep - A quirky, unambitious, artsy foreign film by the man who directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It stars the multi-talented Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal. While it was somewhat interesting to me, I can't really recommend it to a general audience.

Readers might be amused to learn that I kept having to revise upward the number of words per capsule review. I started out with "fourteen words or less" but it got longer and longer. Jeez I'm a long-winded bullshitter. Or something.

Onward!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Life's a Riot with Spy vs. Spy

Do you harbor paranoid fantasies about everyone around you? Do you have an unnatural love of secrecy? Do you mentally calculate every possibility, no matter how absurd? Do you nurture an internal, unshakable belief in something which has no basis in reality? Do you obsess about controlling your surroundings? Are you withdrawn to the point of being a sociopath?

If you're like me, you probably try to hide these character flaws. But in the world of Cold War espionage as portrayed in The Good Shepard, these are survival skills. I often had secret agent fantasies as a boy, fueled by popular culture and film. And the idea still has a certain dangerous, edgy appeal. But Matt Damon's stoic, somber demeanor in the film reminds me too much of what I have been like during periods of my life. The traits that make a person a successful spy seem to be woefully at odds with the traits that make a person happy and fulfilled. I suppose there are plenty of creepy "spy personalities" lurking in the world today. It's probably a good thing that I'm not one of them. :-)

The problem with the film wasn't that it was too glamorous, nor too depressing, it was that it was not enough of either. Having been raised on the Iran-Contra hearings, then later exploring the whole history of the CIA, I know that the American intelligence community has had ridiculous highs and abysmal lows. The film is too earnest: one critic said it was "the Godfather of Spy Movies." Apt enough, I suppose. After all, it was directed by Robert DeNiro and executive produced by Francis Coppola. Ultimately, though, it was too fictionalized and procedural to be a character study, too melodramatic to be a history, and too polished and clean to be anything other than a Hollywood kiss-and-tell. Check out this video instead.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Not Now, I'm Busy!

Holy shit am I busy! Work is in high gear. They about doubled the requirements for the Q2 software release last week, but they did not extend the deadline nor the development phase of the project. Thankfully Spring is starting to sink in to my impenetrably thick skull. But I'm putting in a lot of extra time trying to complete my deliverables by our due date.

In other words, it's the perfect time to read a challenging and engaging book about the existence of God, resurrect my campaign, rekindle some friendships by becoming a regular in the Thursday night outings with the lads, nurse this tiresome case of carpal tunnel, write more in my blog, implement the idea, and plan that trip to Africa.

Go manic personality!

Friday, April 6, 2007

"Happy" Easter

I find Easter to be depressing. Here we are, celebrating a feast of, as Douglas Adams puts it, "a man getting nailed to a tree for saying how nice it would be if we all just got along." Wonderful. Spring is supposed to be about new life, renewal, anticipation, hope. But Easter clouds that wholesome image.

Since I don't believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus, all I can think about is the central act of the passion play: the crucifixion. So being around Church and Christians during Eastertime is not too appealing, especially on Good Friday. Even the name is macabre. What is "good" about a poor, hungry, innocent carpenter being betrayed, arrested, whipped, beaten, scratched with thorns, stabbed, mocked, dragged to a hill, spat upon, nailed to a cross, forsaken, and finally killed? Man, does that sound grim.

When I was a good Catholic boy, I thought the crucifixion was a singular event. Hidden from me was the simple historical fact that crucifixions happened weekly in ancient Rome. And to this day there are crucifixions of all sorts, and on all levels: from petty street crime, to systematic torture, to state-sponsored death penalty, to war and genocide, people all over the world are being sacrificed to appease our insatiable lust for blood.

So please forgive me if I have a subdued response to Easter. I can't get too excited about celebrating the death of an innocent or the folly of humanity, bent on continuing the tradition of bloodletting.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Bee Gone

The story of the missing bees has me captivated as well as concerned. As many as one billion bees have simply disappeared without leaving a trace. It's a bona fide mystery! Scientific puzzles like this seldom appear: it has a simple stature, yet it bears profound and even grave implications.

Have they all been killed in some natural or man-made ecological disaster? Have they been sabotaged by a terrorist force bent on destroying our pollination system? Or have they formed a hive intelligence and gone on some kind of eco-strike? I wish I was one of those washed-up scientists in a 1970s disaster flick - the hero who figures it out just in time to save the day. Yeah I would.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Blogomatic

Witty observation! Obscure, partially relevant link. Unexamined assumptions. Inside joke. Filler. Padding. Fluff. Half-baked idea. Smug, self-assured, largely unfounded opinion. Bland conclusion.