Tuesday, October 31st 2006

Election hoo-ha
posted @ 11:28 am in [ ]

Like anybody who is interested in politics, I’m glued to various coverage of next week’s midterms. I’m not talking about all the negative ads or anything — I’ve pretty much had it with those. We have some super-tight races in Colorado, though, and I really appreciate the national efforts currently going on to get good folks elected and eject jerks. People all over the country are contributing to what is essentially the Colorado Jerk Ejection Effort. One of the organizations helping out is MoveOn.org, who asked me to put this on my blog. So I am. Hey, it’s the least I can do to help their efforts for some some quality jerk ejection.

Call For Change

Monday, October 30th 2006

Gujarat’s done!
posted @ 9:00 pm in [ ]

So I finished the Gujarat chapter, and submitted it about half an hour ago. Here are the vitals:

Gujarat: 129 pages and 35,018 words Total diss: 521 pages and 152,185 words

And now, on to Tombstone!

I can’t believe I wrote something that’s over 500 pages. Aieee! I found out that the cycle of violentization moves in a compressed time frame in the instance of a smaller pocket of violent society inside a larger, more stable one. I also found out that whatever it is that keeps India from being homogenous and keeps it all diverse and wacky and theoretically ungovernable is probably what keeps it from collapsing into civil war on a larger scale. The right-wing ideologues (who incidentally want to make India homogenously Hindu) can’t make inroads just anywhere, and the cycle of violentization can’t take hold in the larger society without really broad simultaneous participation. Earlier on in the project, I was concerned that, with the violentized Muslim community, India might be 12% sleeper cell, but I now think that at most, violence may recur in Gujarat, but not not the whole country.

Speaking of right-wing ideologues, Lisa sent me this hilarious article: “Everyone knows Rush Limbaugh’s just faking,” by Linwood Barclay. I would just give you a link, but the one I have doesn’t seem to work, and you simply cannot miss this one!

Now, I know this may offend those who suffer from this particular condition, and these individuals might not like it much when I suggest that a certain person with this diagnosis is exaggerating his symptoms, but I have to say, I think Rush Limbaugh is just pretending to be a dick.

While the right-wing radio host does exhibit most, if not all, of the common characteristics of this behaviour, it’s so rare for all of them to coalesce at a single moment that one can only conclude Limbaugh’s most recent performances are nothing short of fraudulent.

I’m no expert diagnostician, but nobody could be this big a one. Limbaugh must be acting.

Consider what Rush Limbaugh said this week about Michael J. Fox.

The Canadian-born actor did an ad for a U.S. politician who supports stem cell research, a controversial field that many believe could lead to a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Fox suffers from Parkinson’s, and anyone who has seen him in television interviews in the last few years is aware of his symptoms. Awkward, involuntary movements, occasional speech difficulty, tremors.

Those symptoms are much in evidence in the ad.

Said Limbaugh on his radio show: “He is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He’s moving all around and shaking and it’s clearly an act.” Limbaugh also suggested Fox probably went off his medication before filming the ad.

It’s difficult to imagine that anyone could say anything so amazingly uninformed, so incredibly moronic, and actually believe it. That’s why I’m so convinced Limbaugh was acting.

At this point, it’s probably useful to review the most common symptoms exhibited by a person with EDS (extreme dick syndrome) for those not up to speed on them:

  1. Exhibits a level of arrogance rooted in a feeling of superiority, without having any attributes to feel superior about.

  2. Is capable of achieving levels of hypocrisy (railing against drug addicts when you are one, for example) previously thought unattainable.

  3. Blow-hardedness.

  4. Is indifferent to the woes and misfortunes of the disadvantaged.

  5. Lies his ass off.

  6. Goes to the “6 items or less” checkout with a dozen things.

  7. Never lets ignorance of a subject keep him from shooting his mouth off about it.

  8. Believes facts are overrated.

  9. Chews with his mouth open.

  10. Always finds some little thing the waitress did wrong to justify not leaving a tip.

Anyone who has four or more of these symptoms is very likely suffering from EDS. Sadly, at the moment there’s no known cure for this condition. Researchers are still debating whether you’re born with it, or it’s a lifestyle choice. The real problem is, people with this condition don’t make for a very sympathetic cause.

But in Limbaugh’s case, it’s probably a moot point, since he’s just putting on a show.

My guess, in fact, is that Rush Limbaugh is a liberal plant. A Democratic plant. The Democrats, who appear to be on the verge of winning back both houses of Congress, don’t want to leave anything to chance. What better way to turn things their way than for a prominent spokesperson for the right wing (nudge nudge, wink wink) to say something so astonishingly and despicably vile that it will make fair-minded Republicans vote Democrat, or at the very least, stay home.

I know these statements of mine are going to enrage genuine sufferers of EDS everywhere. “How dare he say that!” they’ll say. “We know we’re rude and insensitive and total jerks 24/7, and he’s got a lot of nerve suggesting otherwise.”

I will say this, however. If it can be determined by an independent panel of experts that Rush Limbaugh is, in fact, a dick, I will apologize, unreservedly.

Thursday, October 26th 2006

Snowy ramblings and strange bedfellows
posted @ 9:38 am in [ ]

Here in Colorado, it’s snowing today. I know that between The Shining and the Rockies’ reputation for skiing (the mountains, not the baseball franchise — hell, they barely even have a reputation for playing any baseball), people think Coloradans need periscopes when it snows so we can go to the Safeway. Actually, though, I would consider the winters here in town to be pretty mild. We get maybe a week or so of serious winter coat weather, and when it does get around to snowing, the snow is gone within hours. The sun comes out, and whatever snow was on the roads is literally just steaming vapor by around noon, as opposed to the insatiable shopping-cart-ingesting piles of cruddy permafrost we get in New England that hang around until May. All that pleasant, fluffy snow and mild temperatures make Colorado winters relatively painless. That is not to say that driving to work in the snow here is like a cheery rendition of “Sleigh Ride,” but at least you know you probably won’t be driving home in it. Consequently, falling snow doesn’t fill me with dread like it did when I lived in New England (well, as an adult, anyway), nor, it seems, anyone else. I have yet to see pre-storm panic shopping in Colorado, even though I see a snowplow maybe once a year. I thought I heard one about 10 minutes ago, but it turned out to be a garbage truck.

Today, fortunately, I don’t have to go anywhere in particular, which makes the falling snow that much more enjoyable (except, of course, for the first time I wrote this post, when we lost power for about a nanosecond and I lost the whole damn thing. That part was NOT enjoyable). It’s just so cozy, when it’s snowing outside, to curl up inside, in warm slippers and a favorite sweater, and, you know, drink. Okay, I probably won’t drink. I have a chapter to finish. I do still need to get a ride in, though, so I’ll probably do what I always do when I still need to get a ride in and I can’t really get away, or fluffy preciptation, however temporary, would be up to my wheel hubs. I’ll go out to the shed and get my road bike, which I’ll set up on the trainer in my living room, and get some rug miles in.

Now, I won’t lie to you: riding on the trainer is very effective, but it’s also unbelievably boring. I used to put in a movie to watch while pedaling, but I would either still get bored or I’d get too involved in the plot and stop pedaling, and it would be really hard to keep up a good, consistent pace. Then, last year, I discovered The Sopranos for the first time. I could watch that show all day. Except I can’t, because I have to write, and teach, and ride my bike, and get a bunch of crap done, so I really can’t just sit and watch anything. So I started watching The Sopranos while I rode my bike on the trainer. Somehow, the addition of homicidal goombas and their occasional nice plate of bracciole really added to the entertainment value of the training experience. Still, though, I would sometimes get sucked into the dialog and slow down or stop.

This week I added a new innovation: knitting. I set up the trainer, put in The Sopranos, stuck my working ball of yarn in the water bottle cage, and knitted while I pedaled and watched mobsters getting whacked and enjoying a little bracciole. When I needed to change positions, I set the knitting down (or tucked it into the front of my shirttail like a spiky kangaroo pouch), got into a more tucked position, and pedaled hard for a bit. Somehow this winning combination gives me a solid, nonstop hour.

Tuesday, October 24th 2006

Electronic dog interaction fix
posted @ 9:24 am in [ - ]

I don’t currently have a dog, because I don’t have the room in my home or schedule to make a dog sufficiently happy. However, I do sometimes miss having a dog around. During those trying times, the same alert auntie to bring us “Messin’ with Sasquatch” also sends an interactive electronic dog. Plus, no crotch sniffing, garbage eating, or crapping on the carpet, ever. G’head, take him for a spin!

Saturday, October 21st 2006

Messin’ with Sasquatch
posted @ 7:45 am in [ - ]

My auntie alerted me to an ad campaign after my own heart. I believe it’s for beef jerky, for which I have no particular use (although if I did, Colorado seems to have enough jerky — beef and otherwise — to build another fourteener completely out of dessicated meat), but I don’t even care. The ads consist of guys hanging out in the woods, eating beef jerky and playing pranks on Sasquatch. The old standards are there all right, including sticking Sasquatch’s hand in warm water while he’s sleeping. Plus, Sasquatch is a pretty good sport, which only makes it funnier. He kind of groans, like he’s been to hundreds of frat parties and seen it before. Just click on the camera hanging off the tree there to see them all. There’s also a game and some other cool stuff, and the graphics are really tight. Go check it out. Go now!

Friday, October 20th 2006

“Think about it.”
posted @ 9:16 am in [ ]

So the other day, I was talking to my lawyer. (Don’t worry, everything is okay.) He’s a really fun dude, and one of the few kinds of lawyers that actually champions the little guy and stuff. Therefore, he will be one of a scant few attorneys who will be reincarnated as something pleasant rather than as a dung beetle.

Anyway, he mentioned to me that the “letters to the editor” section is always his favorite part of the newspaper. He prefers the Rocky Mountain News to the Denver Post because they are more likely to print the longer, wackier letters (and hence the most entertaining ones). He begins by scanning through the letters and looking for ones that end with a single sentence: “Think about it.” That’s how he knows he should go back to the top of that one and read the whole nutty letter. Apparently that closing is a tip-off to entertainment value.

Needless to say, I checked it out. I only found a few letters to the editor that ended like that (a couple online and one in an old paper we had lying around), but they were pretty whackjobby, all right. One was about a congressional candidate, one was about terrorism, and one was about immigration. They were all somewhat conspiratorial in tone. Has anyone else made similar observations about letters to the editor ending in “Think about it.”? I want to get a bigger sample before I generalize too much, here.

Thursday, October 19th 2006

How should I vote?
posted @ 1:44 pm in [ ]

This week, I received an email from a friend that included a “progressive” voting guide for this year’s Colorado ballot initiatives. Now, I already filled out my ballot and voted by mail (more on that in a moment), and okay, I voted similarly overall, but this freaked me out a little bit. See what you think. Personally, I believe how one votes is an intensely personal matter of conscience, so I hate the idea of someone (even someone with whose choices I largely agree) telling me how I should vote. On the other hand, I know some perfectly intelligent people are intimidated by the legal jargon in the initiatives themselves and may not be sure how to interpret some of the language. I can see where something like this could be valuable to them, even if they are essentially putting everyone’s fate in the hands of an organization. Yikes, I hope they trust these folks!

I probably spent a grand total of around 40 minutes involved in the voting process this year, and I think we can all scare that up from somewhere. I spent a few minutes taking the state up on its offer to send me a ballot by mail, about 20 - 25 minutes with the voter’s guide figuring out what I thought about the ballot initiatives, and then about 15 minutes filling out my actual ballot, double-checking it, and making sure I had followed all the instructions (of which there are more than on a Publisher’s Clearing House entry).

Now, I have a little pang of conscience about voting by mail. I think going to the polls on election day is a fabulous and exciting thing, and I’m not crazy about all the lazy voting options. But, oh well, I wish the public were more jazzed about the democratic process in general. Colorado lets you vote at specific polling places on Election Day, earlier than that at a bunch of convenient locations, and by mail. Initially, I was opposed to all that, but I think it probably improves voter participation a lot, and the state is pretty serious about preventing fraud and what-not, so I warmed up to the idea. This year, a few different organizations sent me ballot-by-mail request forms to fill out and send in, so I did it, and I reckon there’s something to be said for voting in your living room with nobody waiting behind you and the option to go look things up in the voter’s guide if you forget what you decided.

Anyway, it’s certainly true that some of the language of the ballot initiatives is hard to follow, and for a few of them, I couldn’t quite picture what the real-world outcomes would be. In those cases, you gotta love the “for” and “against” arguments in the voter’s guide. They usually present the best arguments on either side, and if all else fails, you can pretty much tell what the agendas are like from the buzzwords.

For example, these days, there’s a lot of straw man accountability going on from the conservative camp. For instance, No Child Left Behind is supposed to make schools more accountable for public education, but it doesn’t frickin’ work at all, and arguably has made matters much worse. I confess, however, that it has always seemed so illogical and bizarre to me, I’m not sure how it was realistically supposed to work in the first place, so I may just be missing something here. Anyway, when I see a bunch of talk about making X accountable, that raises a red flag. I want to know exactly how this accountability is going to work, and what it’s about, and what it’s responding to, how it’ll be enforced, who decides, and so on. Often, it’s a case of the conservative agenda blaming the victims of its own policies (e.g., poor people, foreigners, black people, brown people, gay people, women, etc.) and then trying to slap a big-buisness, carrot-and-stick sorry excuse for a solution on it. In practice, NCLB, for example, punishes poorer schools and those that have higher immigrant populations, or forces principals to restrict test takers or fudge their numbers so they don’t lose any more funding than they already have; whereas wealthier, white schools just sail along, getting more and more funding to “keep up the good work.”

Rich guys do this kind of accountability-hosing all the time. When I was the president of my current university’s graduate student association, I used to go to board of trustees meetings, and was surprised by how often rich guys think anything can and should be run like a business. A university, though, is not really like a business, and neither is a public school or a government. They need to be run differently. The word, “accountability” in a ballot initiative to me is a red flag that it’s this kind of a plan: we don’t like how X public institution is working, so we want to run it like the sales department of a business. If you perform in a way we like, we’ll give you money. If you don’t, we’ll punish you. It usually means “long-lasting institutional blame where it doesn’t belong.”

Consequently, when I was checking out the ballot initiatives that demand, for instance, a lot of accountability in school budgets like it’s a battle cry, that made me suspicious. It looks like those items would create more bureaucracy, take time away from teachers and administrators whose time would be better spent teaching and adminstering, and it wouldn’t allow schools to spend money on what they need, instead forcing them to spend the same amount of money everyone else is on exactly the same things, which doesn’t make sense at all. Plus, any time there’s some sort of enforcement system, that takes a lot of time and money to install and maintain it. Schools just need more damn money, that’s all. Forcing them to budget a certain way isn’t going to fix that. So: NO!

With the help of the voter’s guide’s “for” and “against” arguments, it really wasn’t too difficult to figure out which initiatives I thought were reasonable, and which were totally delusional. It really didn’t take a whole lot longer to make up my own mind than it would have to find, download, and print a .pdf file, and I was confident I was voting my conscience and not someone else’s agenda. This kind of voting “recommendation” sheet makes me squeamish, although it is at least better than not voting.

Monday, October 16th 2006

Nietzsche Family Circus
posted @ 10:28 am in [ - ]

This is a hilarious site Lisa told me about. It SO warrants reposting. It pairs up a Family Circus cartoon with a Nietzsche quote. Sometimes They’re kind of surreal, and other times they really seem apt. It’s a very Nietzschean experience. Check it out. You can even just keep clicking on “refresh” and see a whole parade of them. Clever stuff!

Friday, October 13th 2006

My PBS affiliate must be living on ramen
posted @ 5:16 pm in [ ]

As many of you know, I’ve been spending a lot of time writing lately. Sometimes I go outside on my porch and write there, which is nice. We’ve been having the occasional cold snap here in Colorado lately, though, so sometimes I am forced to endure the indignities of working inside. I know, I’ve gotten pretty spoiled living out here, what with typing outside in mid-October and not having my fingers just break right off as if they’ve been soaked in liquid nitrogen. Anyway, sometimes when I’m working inside, it’s just too damn quiet, and I turn on the TV for background noise.

I don’t know if you’ve checked in on network TV lately, but during the daytime, it’s saturated with two things: news broadcasts that have nothing left to say because they’ve already said everything on three other hour-long newscasts before noon; and court shows where the litigants’ stupidity, ignorance, greed, and failure to use contraceptives try my faith in humanity and its gene pool. There is but one other option: PBS.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I dig PBS. Who else has the grapes to run a Ken Burns documentary miniseries, I ask you? If you’re up at midnight looking for a non-talk show, non-infomercial, who’s got Marie Antoinette trying to get Louis XVI to do the nasty? Who else would dare to talk about string theory, making the apparently rash assumption that I — a person who is clearly a member of the public and in possession of a television set — am still somehow not a complete mouth-breathing moron? Who loves ya, baby? PBS.

I have to say, though, that the daytime offerings on my local affiliate are looking mighty flimsy, whereas they used to be pretty good. Now, sandwiched between many hours of children’s programming (since I don’t have children and it’s been, oh, 25 - 30 years since I indulged in much of it myself, I often find it annoying, and sometimes mildy creepy, but always lousy background noise) is a two-hour chunk of time during which the following airs:

1:00 Wild Chronicles I think this should be called, “The Crittercam Show.” At some point during the half-hour, some hapless critter, usually acquatic, but occasionally a landgoing quadruped, is getting a camera installed on it. I’m not sure if the company that makes crittercams underwrites the show, or if all the persons of science investigating marine and quadrupedic life on this planet are experiencing a complete and collective failure of imagination (when the only tool you have is a crittercam, every problem looks like a manatee with a crittercam-shaped empty spot on its back?), but when I see that dude come on at 1:00, I know some critter is getting the papa razzi treatment. Think about it: one minute, you’re swimming along, being a walrus or whatever, minding your own business, and: THWAP! Now there’s a camera on your frickin’ back, and you sure as hell can’t get it off, because you’re what? A pinniped. You’re hosed! You have no damn appendages whatsoever that can possibly reach back there.

Okay, the footage itself is kind of funny, because you often see the critter’s nose in the bottom of the shot and the cam, not surprisingly, has the POV of something riding on its back (”Wheeeee!”), but then the show invariably winds up with some sort of conservation guilt trip in some random jungle or other. Really, the only surprise to this formulaic show is: Who’s gettin’ cammed?

1:30 Yes, Prime Minister This is the current series in a cycle of British sitcoms that routinely hang out in this slot. As far as I can tell, it’s about the tyranny of the bureaucrats in Parliament. I’m not completely sure, though, because apparently what passes for the rollicking ride that is dry British parliamentary hilarity is often lost on me.

2:00 Daisy Cooks! Daisy is a nice lady of Hispanic extraction who has a Brooklyn accent you could slap a crittercam on, except when she’s exaggerating the Spanish pronunciation of ingredients. The food looks pretty good, except it is infested with meat. What really makes me nuts about Daisy, though, is that her instructions are not very evocative. “Fry the onions until they’re gorgeous” does not help me out. How do I know when they’re sufficiently gorgeous? After two mudbaths, a pedicure and a makeover? After they come back from seeing the shallots, who are helping them get their groove back? “It smells like heaven” likewise gives me no information about the scent of anything much, because never having smelled heaven, for all I know, it could smell like anything from Glade Plug-ins to the Buddha’s armpit. Well, it would have to smell good, though, you might say, but I submit to you that good Peccorino Romano cheese smells like festering old gym socks, but you can grow to find it at least more fragrant than Obsession for Men, anyway. Seriously, how the hell do I know what this woman has in mind? It’s like trying to drive 80 mph through an unfamiliar construction zone with your friend who gives directions like, “turn right where the water tower used to be,” or, “Don’t go past the place with the ugly sweater.”

2:30 Jacques Pepin: Fast Food My Way Okay, I like Jacques Pepin. His accent reminds me of my friend Stephane’s, the stuff he makes looks really good, and French food is a big fave of mine. In my opinion, though, his preparations are fast primarily because his knifework might break the sound barrier. The other day, he needed some bread crumbs, so he instantly cut this piece of bread into hundreds of tiny, perfect cubes, and then proceeded to chop them into dust. It’s possible we were meant to breathe them in along with the meal as they hung in the air like a slightly starchy vapor. I’m not sure I could reproduce his stuff, either.

Now, my local PBS affiliate used to have some good stuff on in the afternoon. Lidia, America’s Test Kitchen, Nick Stellino… All I can conclude is that the cash I send them (so they won’t hound me beyond all limits of decorum) just doesn’t go far enough to keep them from having the monetary resources of a Dickensian street urchin, a crittercammed sea urchin, or, you know, some kinda urchin.

Monday, October 9th 2006

Atheist complaint window
posted @ 11:10 am in [ ]

I think one of the hardest things about not having a particular deity or religious figure is not having anyone to beseech when one’s life falls down the crapper. “Why, God, WHY?!” just has to be more satisfying than, “Aww, maaaan! Not AGAIN!” While there are a number of religions that instruct adherents to merely suck it up, whether it is the Way of Things or the Deity’s Will, I think there is nonetheless a very human moment where one feels ripped off by the universe and wants to file a complaint with the universal overseer.

For example, if I’m flying down the road in a 1990 conversion van with velour captain’s chairs and mood lighting, and the left rear wheel just falls right off at 70 miles an hour, if I’m Catholic, I might thank an appropriate saint once I’m able to pull over safely, possibly while spouting a stunning string of blasphemies like some sort of perverse rosary. If I’m agnostic, though, all I get is to shout an expletive and go look for that wheel along the highway. I guess I could curse centrifugal force as I hike back the quarter of a mile to find that sucker lying in a field, but I don’t think that’s anthropomorphic enough. I think there is something deep in our spiritual makeup as human beings that makes us want to go talk to the entity who’s supposed to be looking out for us and lodge our annoyance. I think we want to know who’s responsible.

So what is an agnostic or atheist to do for human fulfillment of his or her indignation? Find the most annoying person on television and blame her? Gorge oneself on vodka and Oreos until one cannot stand up? Ride one’s bike up a steep geological formation, trying not to throw up until the rage is gone? Shout one’s displeasure at the cosmos from the driver’s window of a VanDura? Suck it up and have a heart attack, foregoing a religious funeral and instead opting to get dumped in a Hefty bag on the Colfax bus? If you were a heathen disbeliever, what would you do? The best answer gets a “WWID” bracelet.

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