Saturday, September 30th 2006

Hellz yeah!
posted @ 9:14 pm in [ ]

Did I make the September 30th deadline to finish South Africa? You bet your sweet Botha! I’ve got another editing pass or two, but the writing is done and that sucker is getting handed in to my committee chair Monday. Tuesday, source collection for Gujarat.

Target for Gujarat completion: October 21 Target for Part II completion: November 18 Target for Part III completion: Jan 1

So, on track: whoo-hoo! Thanks for the encouragement and support. Further updates as events warrant.

I found out some interesting stuff about South Africa. For one thing, the Afrikaners were such oppressive bastards that South Africa joining the British Commonwealth in the nineteenth century offered significant improvements to the lives of the native population, and by some accounts, the Brits annexed South Africa specifically because they were horrified by the Afrikaners’ savagery toward the locals. Kinda reminds one of the of World War II Croatia’s Ustasha, which horrified Nazis.

I found out that the primary force shoving the majority of the population through violentization was noneother than Da Police. 9-1-1 wasn’t just a joke in South Africa — one might as well call up the local police station and say, “Hi, I don’t have my passbook on me. Would you like to beat the hell out of me, torture me some, and perhaps kill me and dump my body in a shallow grave by the river?” And the police would say, “Gosh, would we! We’ll be right down with some equipment with which to electrocute you!” Now, of course, we wouldn’t actually bother the police. We’d call our private security firms. Yeah, the government won’t be holding a monopoly on violence there in the forseeable future. South Africa is totally hosed, and it’s not getting better anytime soon.

Fish-eye filter: more details by request.

Wednesday, September 27th 2006

If you could go back in time, whom would you smack in the head?
posted @ 8:36 am in [ ]

I begin with another confession: I hate the Transcendentalists. Hawthorne has his moments, and Whitman, when he’s not being a total narcissist, is all right. The rest of them, though, can go to hell, and, let’s face it, probably already have. Melville had one good book in him, and then utterly failed to shut up. I was subjected to Billy Budd, and in addition to its annoying content — without anywhere near as much whipping or keel-hauling as there should have been and no monkeys to speak of — playing hide-and-seek with the verb in every damn sentence really pissed me off. Don’t even get me started on Bartleby.

I think the essence of the problem is that America is too young a country to have a really excellent literary tradition yet. If you compare the Norton Anthologies for American Lit, and say, British Lit, the quality of the latter eclipses the former like Walt Whitman’s libido eclipses Emily Dickinson’s. I think one could make a strong case for all American literary writers (as opposed to the pamphleteers, who, yeah, had some game, but we get to read those guys in lit class about as often as Emily Dickinson hosted a hootnanny) having sucked before Mark Twain. Seriously, where do we get off even preserving the writings of the Pilgrims for posterity? Whey the hell didn’t they burn that crap to keep warm in the Massachusetts Bay Colony rather than inflicting it upon us?! Oh, the lives they would have saved, both then and now! Perhaps they were trying to subject each other to self-immolation that they might warm themselves at each other’s expense. If only I could go back in time and tell them just where to cram that stripling’s scratchy-ass pen…

Anyway, I was having a perfectly nice conversation with a friend last week, and it fell out that I, a person who considers herself fairly well read in the literary traditions of western civilization, hate the Transcendentalists. I know I’m supposed to appreciate them, but if I could go back in time, I would really like to smack them in the collective head. Especially Emily Dickinson. I just hate her poetry. Aside from the whole “Yellow Rose of Texas” thing, it’s trite, hypocritical about enjoying life, and just generally sucky. If it came across my editorial desk, I would send it back stamped, “No, no, a thousand times, no!” and maybe enclose some boogers. My friend pointed out that she never intended for anyone to read it, and he’s right. By her act of producing it, though, and dying without having destroyed it, we have all been made to suffer.

If you could go back in time, whom would you smack in the head, gentle reader?

Monday, September 25th 2006

New England’s seasonal projectiles
posted @ 9:33 am in [ ]

No, gentle reader, this isn’t a write-up of last night’s pathetic Pats game. I won’t complain about the crappy decisions Some People made about salary caps, but I will say that They better hope I don’t see Their wrinkled, saggy butts coming, because I’ll kick them like Vinatieri making a 54-yard field goal. But, like I said, this isn’t about that.

This is the time of year when I miss New England. Sure, we have fall in Colorado, and it’s even nice. It’s sunny, of course, and cooler, and the Aspen trees turn yellow. Sometimes one even turns orangey-yellow. It’s not the same, though. New England is a place of small beauty, of tiny, unexpected waterfalls in the woods; of dappled patches of sunlight stretching through maple leaves; of the cozy feel of low-ceilinged colonials. Colorado is incomprehensibly vast. I never get used to the very bigness of it all. I mean, the Rockies are pretty much scenic overkill, dominating everything with in-your-face majesty. Mesas, buttes, and the shocking blue of sumberged molybdenum are all enormous and up in your grill, like a dude you don’t want to pick a scenic fight with. The 300+ days a year of sunshine are pleasantly assaulting. This time of year, though, I miss the surprise of small Macintosh apple trees, and of coming around the bend of a narrow, winding, obstructed-view road, last paved during the Truman administration, to see a bright red hillside of turning blueberry bushes. I miss actual apple cider and the smell of cherrywood smoke from neighboring chimneys. I miss leaf colors other than yellow, like a stop-motion fireworks display obscuring white clapboard. I miss hucking chestnuts at my classmates.

If you’re not from a part of the world where chestnuts grow wild, you may not know that the smooth nut itself (which you can purchase at Safeway pretty soon, cut a little “X” across its pointy tip, and stick it in the oven with a bunch of its friends for a while for a tasty peel ‘n’ eat snack) grows inside a spiky hull a little bigger than a golf ball. While the hulls are still green, they’re pretty heavy for their size, too, making them spiky, a little bit sticky, and of course with a woody, nutty center for maximum velocity and impact. When I was a kid, we used to wait for this time of year because some of the chestnuts would start falling, and others you could get to fall by throwing, oh, for example, a disused soccer ball, up into a chestnut tree. Few things make as fine projectile ammunition as underripe chestnuts. Of course, the dried chestnuts always made for a nasty surprise while secreted inside an innocent-looking snowball. You’d just have to take a couple of minutes to find one that hadn’t opened. It was also good to get chestnut hulls and/or semi-composted leaves into an unsuspecting classmate’s hood, because we often used our hoods. Not like kids these days with their clean, sterile, unused extraneous hoods full of nothing. In my day, we not only used our hoods to put our heads in, we used the entire chestnut hull: projectiles until the chestnuts fell out, then cruel and unsuspecting hood fodder. Kids these days are wasteful.

The more I thought about it, I realized that not only did we hood-conscious and rosy-cheeked darlings assault each other with chestnuts, but each season brought with it an exciting, all-natural and freely-available projectile all its own. Winter, of course, offered DIY snowballs, and the forts that might deter them. Summer and early fall had crabapples, which were small enough to sting, and you could carry a lot at once just in your pockets. Spring and early summer offered butternuts, which also seasoned up nicely into a year-round projectile with a little planning. When butternuts fall off the tree, they’re about two inches long, a lumpy inch in diameter, and they’re green and sticky. So if you threw them hard enough, they’d not only hurt, they’d stick, and offer more pressure to the contusions they caused, especially if you tried to scrape them off: an added bonus. Once dried, they’d be the size of a long, skinny walnut, woody and sharp, which was also not without its charm.

One other unsubtle thing about Colorado is that, unlike in New England, people here have guns. Usually not in a Michigan Militia way; more in a Ducks Unlimited way. I used to ask myself why that was. Was it because New England is, as its odd little road signs proclaim, “Thickly Settled?” Was it because, in the cradle of the Revolution, we take the term, “well-regulated militia” seriously? Was it because there just aren’t as many things to hunt in New England that you’d want to eat (skunk, ‘possum, porcupine, squirrel, sparrow, as opposed to about-to-be-buffalo burgers or the haplessly grazing pre-elk jerky), and that you’d need the toothpick after eating Colorado game rather than eating your New England-caught wild game gingerly off a toothpick? All those are of course possible, but it might also be that Coloradans just don’t have access to good chestnuts.

Thursday, September 21st 2006

posted @ 10:16 am in [ ]

Alert reader Elizabeth sent me this link. Not only a classic MIT hack, but a fitting tribute to 9/11, and great visuals. Thanks Elizabeth!

Monday, September 18th 2006

So how’s it going?
posted @ 1:55 pm in [ - - ]

The project I was working on daily for the last two months being over, I am attempting to return to a schedule of writing, cycling, working and blogging on a more or less daily basis. So far so good. I put in a good hour on the bike this morning, am caught up on the classes I’m teaching, I’ve started a new method of getting through the sources for the dissertation and getting writing done that I hope will keep the momentum rolling, and lo, I am posting. Petra is helping.

I have a new plan for getting OUT OF SCHOOL ALREADY. It is in part spurred on by a fine, fine, superfine job posting I saw; in part inspired by my annoyance at the fact that my friends keep graduating and leaving; and in part encouraged by a new discovery I’ve made about the current chapter I’m working on. You may remember from my postings in late January of this year that described my dissertation project that it’s basically in three parts: Part I is about Athens’ model of how people become dangerous violent criminals, and also about who else has done some sort of quantitative study of violence before me. Part II is a series of pattern studies of violent societies: Yugoslavia, Peru, South Africa, Gujarat, Tombstone. Yugoslavia and Peru took forever, but I think it will all go more easily now, because it turns out that South Africa isn’t a separate case — it’s just a different phase of the same process. This makes me feel like I’m over the “hump” of Part II and coming down the downslope. Part III is a bunch of wacky math analyzing the pattern studies.

The New Plan is this: 1. Finish Part II this quarter (by mid-November).
2. Do Part III during DU’s six-week break from mid-November to early January.
3. Submit my rough draft and defend during the winter quarter (January - March).
4. Graduate at the end of the spring quarter (June).

To that end, then, I gotta go get back on my head.

Thursday, September 14th 2006

For the love of trebuchets
posted @ 9:06 am in [ ]

Recently, I was discussing the Dave Barry Guy Test with a friend. For those of you unfamiliar with the Test, Dave Barry is a humor columnist and author who wrote a book roughly 10 years ago about the world of guys. He draws a sharp distinction between guys and men, carefully pointing out that not all men are guys, and that not all guys are men, either. A Doberman Pinscher is like a man, while a Lab is more like a guy. Here is the ultimate test:

Q: Two guys outside of Austin, Texas have constructed a trebuchet [that is, a catapult that works on a counterweight system instead of being of the Wile E. Coyote-style ropecutter variety] that can fling a Buick the length of a few football fields. What do you think of that?

A guy will say, “Cooooooool!” whereas a man/woman will say, “Why?”

I first encountered this quiz on the radio just after Dave Barry’s Book of Guys had come out. I was under my car, fixing something, and swearing a lot, so probably it was the brakes. I also had a small, stinky cigar that was helping keep the bugs off me in the muggy New England afternoon. Upon hearing the word, “trebuchet,” I stuck my head out and shouted, “Coooooool! What can they fling with it?!”

Yeah, that explained a lot to me. I had often been “one of the guys,” but this was validation. Anyway, when I described this moment to a friend of mine, upon his observation that I was very guylike, he hipped me to this dual-axis elliptical freaky-deaky treb. Check it out! He also suggested a pieing-from-a-distance application. So great was my joy that I felt the need to share it with you.

Monday, September 11th 2006

I guess I gotta…
posted @ 9:25 am in [ ]

So it’s the 5-year anniversary of September 11. I had been up late working on some sort of paper or something and was sleeping when the fateful events occurred. Phillip came and woke me up and told me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center and another one had crashed into the Pentagon. I was annoyed that he had woken me up for a stupid George Bush joke. I got up and went into the living room to watch events unfold on CNN. “There’s no punchline,” I said. Lisa and I watched the second plane hit the Towers on CNN together and expressed our disbelief over the phone, 2000 miles apart.

As I began to get my head around what was happening, there were four people I HAD to find.

  1. My father-in-law. His company had offices in the Towers. It was a difficult two hours before we found him. He was on a business trip to Newport Beach. He would be “stuck” there for a few days, but was probably the most okay of anybody. He found out later that the manager of the branch office in the Towers had felt the first impact, and, having been working there in the early ’90s during the van bombing, evacuated the entire office immediately. Everybody made it out alive but him. My in-laws, who lived in northern New Jersey in a town where a lot of folks worked for major companies in Manhattan, knew dozens of people who never came home.

  2. My friend Scott. Scott had an office in the Pentagon that I think was obliterated by the plane that hit it. I couldn’t get through on the phone anymore after the below call, so I sent him an email exhorting him to get back to me and let me know he was okay. Fortunately, he had decided to change departments and had blown off a departmental staff meeting, so he wasn’t in that morning. I was relieved and delighted.

  3. A family friend’s son, who lived in New York. He had the same name as one of the passengers from the planes that went into the Towers. I frantically called his mom and finally got her. She was terribly upset, but her son was okay. It wasn’t him on the plane–just someone with the same name.

  4. My friend’s brother. He had had a meeting in the Towers that morning. Apparently, he had been drinking the night before and slept through the meeting. When he found out what was going on, though, he didn’t contact anybody. Instead, he got in his car and drove home to upstate New York. My friend was really worried about him until he finally heard from him about 12 hours later. Then he wanted to kick his ass.

One of the lessons I took away from this experience is that blowing off meetings saves your life. Not just in some sort of abstract, adding-years-to-your-life kind of way like eating bran or quitting smoking, but very directly. I now blow off 15% of all meetings.

What were you doing?

Saturday, September 9th 2006

The ABC News Propaganda Machine
posted @ 9:29 am in [ ]

I know some of you already know about this, but ABC is planning to put a miniseries “docudrama” on the air about 9/11. They claim it’s based on the 9/11 Commission Report, but it’s actually pretty far off base. This week, a number of activist organizations have been spearheading campaigns to get it yanked off the air.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I’m pretty miffed that the ABC news organization, with which I’ve had some contact, and for which I have had a great deal of respect, would cheapen themselves by airing tasteless and inaccurate crap about a national tragedy that America is really not over yet. Futher, although I actually read the 9/11 Commission report, I know that the vast majority of Americans haven’t, and this is really going to confuse the giant proportion of us who don’t do our homework. A lot of people are going to mistake ABC’s bullshit partisan propaganda (written by a Republican operative for political purposes) for accurate reporting, and ABC knows it.

On the other hand, I’m not sure I feel resonsible for millions of my countrymen being lazy. Normally, I would say I didn’t feel the need to protect American viewers from stupid propaganda, that they’ll see through it. But I’m losing faith in John Q. Public pretty fast, and I think he’s losing bits of his brain like Ray Liotta in that hilarious scene from Hannibal. So, I’m conflicted.

Here’s what I did. I ignored most of the “Hey, sign this petition” emails I got from various organizations. I did sign a petition, though, in part because the link and the plea came from a family member. I include both, in case you want to hustle over there and sign it (do hurry if you decide to do it–this thing is set to air on Monday for maximum exploitation):

Have you heard about the “docudrama” ABC is planning to air next week about 9/11? It was actually written by a Republican operative. They’re presenting it as factual, but an FBI agent quit the project saying “they were making things up.” The program, as it stands, is designed to make it look like the Clinton administration was responsible for 9/11 . . .

ABC is starting to reconsider, thanks to an outpouring of calls and letters — I just sent them a message through TrueMajority. There’s only a day or so left, though. Check it out, and sign on:

I signed it, and I added a brief paragraph of my own. I’m paraphrasing–my capture didn’t work.

I was born during the Vietnam War. I grew up cynical and conflicted about my country until the day after 9/11. The way my country came together made me feel truly proud and patriotic for the first time in my life. I hung an American flag sticker in the back window of my car. I wrote letters to the New York Fire Department. I was proud of our heroes. When the current administration instead drove a wedge between the united people, I felt something precious was taken from us all. I took down that little flag the day we invaded Iraq. I don’t understand why a respected news organization would tarnish itself by presenting fiction as fact, and issuing partisan propaganda. Making the divisions of our formerly united people deeper hurts us all. Please reconsider what you’re planning to do.

I stopped short of saying it was something Fox would do.

Anyway, if this is something you’re concerned about, feel free to use the link above to sign a petition about it. If not, that’s okay too. Finally, if you haven’t read the 9/11 Commission report, it’s not a bad idea to peruse it. I don’t currently trust my government enough to take it as gospel, but I think it’s important to check out what our government tells us happened in any case. Here is the link to the official site.

Friday, September 8th 2006

Sports improvement
posted @ 11:00 am in [ ]

So I was having a belt with Greg a couple of weeks ago, and we were talking about violence in sports. Specifically, there may not be enough of it in some sports. Especially basketball. I mean, look at it. The dudes collide from time to time, but they hardly ever throw down. Basketball might very well be more entertaining with more violence. Someone goes to do some kinda fancy dunk or something and gets an elbow right in the larynx instead.

On the other hand, boxing (visually speaking, anyway) is pretty much nothing but pounding, and it’s not any too intersting to watch either. I think boxing would be more entertaining with the addition of other tasks: go ahead and beat the hell out of this guy, but in the same time frame, you must complete one of the following (for example)…

  • Balance your checkbook
  • Make the origami animal of your choice
  • Make and eat a pastrami sandwich
  • Start an appealing little herb garden
  • Schedule at least three appointments with health care professionals
  • Build a card “house”
  • Sew a prom dress
  • Rebuild a carburetor

You get the idea. I think a separate task would really improve the entertainment value of boxing. But what about hockey, which already has a nice balance of overt violence and task completion? I have three words for you, my friends: drunk monkey hockey. Originally, Greg and I just talked about monkey hockey. I thank Phillip for the “drunk” refinement.

Now, monkey hockey is just what it sounds like: hockey being played by chimps. Why chimps? Because they’re smart, they could absolutely play hockey, they’re big enough, they’re competitive, and best of all, they have even worse attitudes than most of the NHL. The fighting would remain intact and become more entertaining (and likely involve more poo flinging), while at the same time, every moment would be interesting to watch. Who doesn’t want to watch chimps playing hockey? Now how much would you pay? But wait, there’s more! How much better would that be if the chimps in question were also drunk? Some chimps are mean drunks, others are just funny… that’d keep people from running to their cars in the third period, boy howdy. Screw the traffic!

This of course opens the door for a number of entertaining team names for the DMHL. For example:

  • The San Jose Simeons
  • The Michigan Monkeyshiners
  • The Detroit Damn Dirty Apes
  • The Peoria Primates
  • The New Zebidee ‘Zees
  • The Pittsburgh Poo-flingers
  • The Thornton Thumb-wielders

C’mon, I bet you can think of a bunch more… Also, what should the rules be like?

Thursday, September 7th 2006

Speaking of spam…
posted @ 9:51 am in [ ]

I’m very amused to report that the postings below that have been rants about spam are, oh yes, attracting spam. There’s something hilariously circular about that.

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