Thursday, December 30, 2004

There's No Politically Correct Way to Say This

A quote from a CNN article about a New York Times editorial:

    The Times added that it hoped Secretary of State Colin Powell was embarrassed to announce "the initial measly aid offer" of $15 million. "That's less than half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities" in January.
Did you catch that? I can't really say I'm happy to spend millions/billions on aid (I'd much rather do what Jeff did, and donate my own money), but for fuck's sake, the initial offer was less than half of what the Republicant's plan to spend for Bush's inaguration parties?

The sheer excess of spending more than $30 million on a party (must be all the pure Colombian that's gonna go up the President's nose) aside, "miserly" is a nice way of saying it. A lot of other, far less politically-correct phrases are running through my mind right now.

The Black Goat of the Pacific Northwest's Woods

Dino "Shub-Niggurath" Rossi, the Black Goat of the Washington Woods and Mother of a Thousand Dark Young Republicans, refuses to accept Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed's certification of Chris Gregoire as governor.

The picture of the above-linked Seattle Times article really says it all: his press conference seemed more like Dennis Rodman showboating for the camera than a political pronouncement, and once again, I get the distinct impression that Rossi is in this not out of any kind of political interest, but because he wants to feel special and important, and really likes the attention. Apparently confusing Washington State with Ukraine, he's calling for a revote.

Evidence that Rossi cares only about his own ego: his mantra that the election was a "mess" and that allowing Gregoire to take office would undermine voter confidence is itself doing far more to undermine voter confidence than installing the correctly-elected governor.

A Brief Musical Interlude

One of my favorite tunes that my mother used to play for me is Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe," a bluesy ballad whose meaning has been disputed since its release. There was even a movie about it at one point. There isn't much in the way of analysis available online, except for this piece that does a good job of telling us what the song isn't.

At first glance, it does appear that the song is about two young lovers discarding their baby off of a bridge, and the father later killing himself over the grief. The above article pretty much discounts that, but the author takes a rather rosy view of the song which, although can be substantiated in the lyrics, is only one reading. I've always heard something a little more sinister in these words, whether it's the bits about "nothing good ever happening on Choctaw Ridge," or just the dark, sultry way Bobbie Gentry sings the song. Living in the South, one of the things I began to recognize is that Southerners communicate as much with the things they do not say as the things they do say, and there is certainly something more going on in the song than meets the eye. I doubt it was simply the narrator rejecting Billie Joe, and I doubt it was latent homosexuality as portrayed in the film. The baby solution seems suspect as well, only because it would have been next to impossible for the teenaged daughter of poor farmers in the Mississippi delta to conceal a pregnancy from her family and then kill the baby, or have it die on her and dump its body.


The song came out in the 1960s, when abortion was still illegal (and the movie sets the action in the 1950s). A more likely, if darker, reading of the lyrics is that the narrator did indeed get pregnant, but decided to terminate the pregnancy rather than face the shame of her family (and society), who obviously don't care for Billie Joe and are likely too poor to have to deal with another hungry mouth. Abortion would have been performed either by a back-alley doctor or one of those ambiguous people to whom you go to take care of these kinds of "problems," or worse, she might have tried to induce a miscarriage.

Either way, if they threw the fetus off the bridge to try to dispose of it, and then Billie Joe killed himself over the guilt (perhaps he was the one that convinced her to go through with the abortion), the song makes a little more sense. Unfortunately, we don't hear much from the narrator's point of view in the way of emotional response (just her mother talking about her not eating dinner, which is most likely a response to the news that Billie Joe killed himself), so it's difficult to tell if she's as wracked by guilt as he is. We do know she doesn't kill herself, but she spends her time throwing flowers off the bridge, conjuring an image of a half-crazy woman weeping not only for a lost love, but for a lost child.

Hey, it makes sense to me, and work has been slow this week.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Disclaimer: I do not mean to denigrate anyone's suffering by the following post, nor do I wish to minimize the horror of what's happening in southeast Asia at the moment.

Today, I logged onto over lunch to check out the latest on the tsunami fallout in Southeast Asia. I haven't talked about it, because beyond hand-wringing about what a bitch mother nature can be at times, there isn't really anything to say. Apparently, some UN representative called the US' offer of aid "stingy" - although with Bush in the process of accomplishing his vision of a manned mission to Mars by putting one on the spreadsheets that track our national debt, I can't really fault us for being conservative here - and that may have prompted Bush to actually talk to press at his Texas ranch and announce a coaliition of aid. Good for him for taking the initiative, after the fact, but good for him.

Then I looked in the Entertainment section, where they posted a review of a film called Hotel Rwanda. The film deals with the 1994 genocide in that country, and a hotel owner who tries to save as many people as he can, a la Schindler's List.

What struck me, however, was the opening statement of the review:

    "During 100 terrifying days in 1994, nearly 1 million people died in a horrific genocide in the African country of Rwanda, as the ruling members of the Hutu tribe began a calculated effort to wipe out the Tutsi minority.

    This unholy act of inhumanity was compounded by the fact that the world stood silently by and did nothing to intervene.
1 million people in 100 days, and the world did nothing. A tsunami and the aftermath in two or three days, and we're forming coalitions.

Is it just me, or are our priorities a little out of whack? And I don't mean the United States, I mean people in general.

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

Soon, for less than $100, you can own The Complete Calvin and Hobbes. In hardcover!

How freakin' cool is that?

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Quote of the Day

If Northstar were American and Captain Britian were American and they loved America a lot and they were all combined with Captain America, that's how patriotic I am!

Land of the Dead

What's that, you ask? You want news from the land of zombie films? What about a behind-the-scenes look at the new Dead movie, Land of the Dead? Is that enough for 'ya?

Political Thoughts

Following our somewhat puzzling national election results, and a rather heated argument with my mother at Thanksgiving, I've been trying to figure out exactly what's going on with American politics. I've read a lot of Andrew Sullivan after I saw him duking out out with Bill Maher on whatever that show on HBO is that is like Politically Incorrect but with more cussing. I've been reading other conservative articles when I get the chance, and I've been watching liberal sites like Daily Kos trying to figure it all out. These are some things I've noticed.

Conservative voters feel alienated by liberals because they view liberals as intellectual snobs, mostly because liberals can act like intellectual snobs (see previous post, and posts made right after the election). Our message is often this: we're smarter than you, and if you don't see why your voting for Bush is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders, then you're a fucking moron who deserves to burn in your Red-State hell.

I don't necessarily disagree with this, but this is the exact same reason I hate conservatives: because a good deal of them act like this towards us, especially those in conservative-majority areas like Oklahoma. They feel that liberals ran this country for the most part of the last half of the 20th Century, and that they have been in the minority, so when they are in the majority (be it nationally, or locally), they tend to get a little prickish about it. I can't say I blame them, but I certainly don't like watching them do it to us, and I seriously doubt they like watching us turn around and say those kinds of things back to them.

Liberalism used to be the realm of Martin Luther King, Jr., of JFK and Bobby Kennedy. Our concerns are social justice: that people be treated equally, whether that means blacks have the right to vote without fear of being lynched; or if it means that a woman should be paid the same amount of money as a man for doing the same work; or if it means that gay couples should receive the same tax and health care benefits as married couples. It means personal freedoms that do not infringe of others' personal freedoms - which means that any child, regardless of their religious denomination (so not just Christians!), should be allowed to pray to themselves at school, but that the majority should not force the minority students (who also pay taxes) into saying their prayers.

It is the realm of James Madison, who believed that a Democracy existed not to enforce the tyrrany of the majority on the minorities, but to protect and treasure the minorities and allow everyone to live under one, big tent.

We've been called a lot of things: Nazis (I'm still not sure about that one), fascists, Commies, bleeding-hearts, nigger-lovers, you name it. But we were strong, and had a purpose. Our anthyms rang from the halls of African churches in the south, and from the airwaves by way of folk singers.

But it's all been supplanted; the airwaves belong to Clear Channel, who only plays artists signed to Clear Channel-owned labels (CC also happens to donate large sums of money to the Republican parties). They have managed to convince the people in the churches that liberals are not on their side; instead, we're out to get them by destroying their families, teaching their children the ways of Satan, and taxing them to death.

We have let them subvert our most powerful weapon: Christian churches. We've let them convince us that the churches are filled with dumb, NASCAR-loving rubes who hate fags and want to teach our children evolution - when, not a generation ago, those churches were the bastions of our call to social justice. And we have let them do it.

In order to regain our country - for make no mistake, this is our country, founded on the principles of Freedom and Liberty, not shallow-minded pseudo-patriotism and the willingness to sign away freedoms for corporate security - we must rediscover that we hold more in common with the people in those churches than the fat cats who now run the house. I do not believe for a moment that those Christians are really the dumb demons it's so easy to imagine; they are, or should be, our allies. It's time to reach out, to put aside the snobbery, and take back what is rightfully ours.

Incidentally, this all ties into my novel, which concerns itself with the fact that the current conservative social system is, in the end, unsustainable, which is something in our favor. But I'd rather not wait this one out; it's going to be a long road, and we cannot alienate our allies again, but I have no doubt that we can overcome.


There are some people who think the ALCU exists only to stifle conservative Christianity. These are the same people who think that it's OK to read a prayer over the loudspeaker at a high school football game, so long as it's an evangelical, Protestant, Christian prayer (no Buddhists prayers allowed!) Incidentally, they believe the former is evil because it has a problem with the later.

But, as you can see from stories about the ACLU protecting churches from eviction, protecting public baptisms, or defending students who pass out Christian literature, the ACLU is very much not anti-Christian. They simply believe that one person's religious rights should not trample another person's: that it's wrong, for example, to use the tax money of non-Christians to support the dissemination of Christianity through public prayer at a football game.

Fact: the one element guaranteed to annihilate any conservative "thought."

And the Red voters out there wonder why us Blue voters think they are easily-misled, stupid morons.

Rummy Tells The Truth

Linked from Metafilter: Flight 93 was shot down, by Rummy's own words. A slip of the tongue, a lie, or was he simply not paying attention and contradicting the official story?

I report, you decide.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Bigger, Longer, and Uncut

I watched my DVD copy of The Return of the King Extended Edition a couple of days ago - it's a monster at over four hours long, but watching it didn't seem like it took so much time. Jackson really outdid himself; I wonder if, in twenty years, I'll watch these movies and think about how bad the special effects look compared to whatever films are out then, but for now, they are damn near some of the best stuff produced in a long time.

Thanks largely to Jon's thoughtfulness in getting me the Scarecrow video book, my list of must-rent and must-see movies has quadrupled in the last couple of days. There's quite a few in the theaters I'd really like to catch as well: it seems I missed The Machinist, but I kind of want to see The Aviator (I typically dislike Scorsese, but I'm willing to give this one a shot), and Phantom, and one other I can't think of off the top of my head.

Greener Pastures

I'm trying to convince Blogger to let me move my posts over to my new website, So far, no dice, it keeps timing out about 3/4 of the way through. This is, incidentally, why there have been no posts in the last few days.

Do You Really Want a Governor Named "Dino?"

I've refrained from commenting on the Washington governor's race, because other Washington bloggers love to talk about it, I haven't been following it as closely as I should, and it seems like a lot of bad karma is going to come out of this.

Personally, I voted for Chris Gregoire, because she's a Democrat and Dino Rossi struck me as a bit of a slimeball interested only in hamming for a camera and getting his fifteen minutes of fame. In fact, that's how his entire campaign seemed to me: less of a political venture, and more of a Bob Roberts-style rockstar event. Gregoire, on the other hand, is a classic politician, the kind of person I want as a leader - dignified, somewhat soft-spoken, intelligent, and very self-assured. Rossi seemed like he's been trying to convince people he's worth it; Gregoire's tack seemed to be to let her actions speak for themselves.

That's really been a decent summary of the post-election mayhem here. Rossi's team immediately declared themselves the victors, even though the difference was less than 300 votes. They selected cabinet members, and as Jeff suggested, probably waltzed around the governor's mansion with color swatches. And with a good reason: if you realize the contest is going to be a close one, it's often better to strut as the winning peacock, because it's going to put you on somewhat higher ground in the PR department, as your opponent is going to have to deal with you declaring victory rather than the both of you trying to achieve it.

See also Bush in Florida in 2000.

The Democrats wanted a hand-recount. The Republicans didn't. The Democrats wanted ballots that had been incorrectly thrown out to be counted. The Republicans didn't. The Democrat's mantra was "count every vote." The Republican's mantra was "don't change the rules." In fact, I saw a car driving around Bellevue the other day, and the entire rear windshield was taken up with a sign declaring that mantra: "don't change the rules."

Now - and here's a surprise - the hand recount has put Gregoire ahead, and the Republican mantra has switched to "count every vote" and, although they're not declaring it publically, "it's time to change the rules."

The Democrats want them to count every vote. They have stayed the course, and have not flip-flopped. A pity we cannot say the same for our Republican fellows. It's really a shame to see Rossi now, because he sounds like a petulant child who didn't get his way: he is starting to float rumors that the election was rigged or somehow tampered with. Gregoire, as a true leader should, has exhibited the same grace and poise she's had since the day she declared her campaign.

I don't know how this is going to end, but being a leader is about how you appear under pressure. Dancing premature victory jigs and then whining when it turns out you were wrong is not how a leader should act, period.

I did want to note, as Jeff did, that our Republican Secretary of State, Sam Reed, has also been a model of leadership (he's practically been a saint, all things considered). Instead of taking the opportunity to grandstand, a la Katherine Harris, he's been an incredibly cool customer, putting aside partisan politics to do his job and do it well. Cheers to you, Mr. Reed; you and yours give me hope that the current trend of the Republican party being hijacked by petulant rockstar-wannabe pandering politicos who care little or nothing for the values they claim to represent or the fiscal responsibility that has been the hallmark of your party will only be a passing fad rather than a lasting problem.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas Eve

It's been great having Crabby here - last night, we watched part of a video we shot our junior year of college and did a commentary track for it, so I can put it on DVD and have multiple commentaries. It was great to watch some of that stuff again.

We put an offer on a house yesterday, but it was rejected. So it goes.

The Christmas gift I've used most thusfar was the book Jon got me, the Scarecrow Guide to Video. The SIFF tickets won't be good until May, and I haven't really received anything else, with the exception of a couple of nice shirts. Liz got a whole bunch of stuff - a high-end espresso machine, jewelry, and some clothes. From me.

I think I'm gonna spend some time setting up my new website, and seeing if I can transfer this blog over. I'm paying rent there, after all.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

More Mashes

For those interested in downloading other mash-ups, I found a decent blog of mash-up MP3s of varying quality. I've downloaded the MP3J songs, they aren't bad, if you're into Monty Python mashes.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Favorite Album of 2004

The intarwebs seem to be choked with all this "best of 2004" bullshit lately, so I figured I'd throw my own two pennies into the fountain and name my favorite album of 2004.

For a while, I'd been away from the music scene - most of the "popular" stuff was shitty, and there wasn't a whole lot going on in the rock world, especially after 1998. Rap-metal is a watered-down, apolitical, corporate excuse for teenaged rebellion, so System of a Down and Limp Dickzit just weren't doing it for me.

But slowly, music has begun to swing in another direction, a more mellow and original sound, and Seattle seems to be at the crux of a lot of it. This year I pestered people in my office to let me listen to their tunes, and I met Seth, who turned me on to other stuff. So I've encountered the Shins, Elliot Smith, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Grandaddy, and that's without going through my iPod. I loved the Garden State soundtrack, and that was close to being my favorite album of the year, but I would have to say that even better is "A Night at the Hip Hoptera" by The Kleptones.

I was introduced to mash-up music inadvertantly in college, when Mr. Stick turned me on to the Evolution Control Committee via NPR (no, really). The seed lay dormant until this year, when Seth directed my attention to A Night at the Hip Hopera. The entire album is Queen songs mashed with hip-hip tunes - a term that DJs use when then sample bits of songs, speech, or sound effects with other songs, speeches, or sound effects to create a new tune, or a mash-up song.

There's a legal question here, though, and one that the Kleptones tackle head-on in Night - in fact, the entire album is more or less about it - when does an artist's work cease becoming an artist's work, and when can another artist claim originality for using old stuff in a creative manner? They don't really discuss the artistic angle, but the legal angle, as the recording industry, already reeling from MP3 downloading, has also tried to crack down on DJs doing mash-ups, and a lot of their songs have subtle (and not-so-subtle) jabs at this.

But the argument is much older than mash-up music; was TS Eliot being creative when he used quotes, overheard conversations, and literary allusions to create The Waste Land, or was he just stealing other people's work and making it his own? The design of the poem, like a mash-up, intends to create certain feelings based on the person's associations to whatever the poet/artist is sampling. It's something I studied in college, and continue to enjoy thinking about.

But Night is much more than this: it's great to listen to at work, on the road, when you're cleaning, whenever - the creation of the album was so seamless and clean that it's a pleasure to hear the songs flowing together, which a lot of mash-up artists cannot accomplish. So huzzah to them for that.

Also cool is that you can download it for free (requires BitTorrent), and they encourage you to do this.

So for my favorite album of 2004, check out A Night at the Hip-Hoptera. You will not be disappointed.

Hot Topic: Voting Tests

I had a rather heated conversation with some family members over this topic during the Thanksgiving holiday, and at the time I don’t think I was effectively communicating my reasons for believing as I do. So let me lay it out simply.

I believe that American citizens should take a test before they can vote. That test should measure various kinds of intelligences, knowledge of current events, knowledge of American and global history, knowledge of geography, and knowledge of political philosophy. Many Americans would not pass this test, and many would lose the right to vote. Unfair? Un-American. Maybe – but this is what the Founding Fathers believed as they created the Senate. My support for this argument? Read on.

Image that we’ve got a small village. Here’s a few of the people who live in the village: a gourmet chef, who graduated from a prestigious culinary school; a science teacher, who has a degree in science from a four-year university; a fast-food worker and high-school dropout who happens to be an accomplished hunter; a four-star general; a college professor with a Ph.D in political science; a medical doctor; and a computer technician.

You live in this village, too.

One day, your computer breaks. To whom do you take your computer? That’s a thousand-dollar investment; you don’t want to trust it to just anyone. The computer technician has taken classes in how to repair a computer and he’s passed several certification exams. So, do you go to the high-school dropout? Nope, you take it to the computer technician. In this scenario, you have $1000 worth of property you’re protecting.

Now, you send your children to school. Who do you want to teach them about science? There’s a science teacher – not only has this person studied science, but this person has passed a state certification exam to be able to teach. All kinds of exams to graduate from college, and finally a certification exam. This is the person you want teaching science to your kids, not the chef. In this scenario, you’re protecting your kids’ education and learning – something every parent cares greatly about.

OK, so now your kids are graduating from school and you want to throw them a party. You’ve got 20 guests coming, and you want to make sure they don’t get sick from improperly cooked ribs – after all, food poisoning can mean death! Who do you get to cook your meal? Do you go to the computer technician, when there’s a gourmet chef in town who passed several exams and tests before graduating from culinary school? No way; you get the chef to cook your meal, because you can’t risk your guest’s health. In this scenario, the health (and possibly the lives) of 20 people are at stake.

Let’s say that, for whatever reason, you’ve been drafted to organize a class in gun safety. Fifty people will attend this class. Gun safety is serious business – misusing a gun, improperly cleaning it, and disrespect for the rules could result in death. Do you go to the college professor, who has never so much as picked up a gun in his life? Or do you approach the hunter, who has passed several NRA exams that certify him as a marksman? I’m thinking the hunter might make the better choice (the general is also an option). Risk: the lives of fifty (or more) people.

OK, the country has come under attack and your town needs to defend itself. Who should lead the defense? The science teacher? Why do that, when the four-star general has passed several exams to achieve his rank, and has a life of invaluable combat experience? Unless you’re a glibbering idiot, the general would be leading the defense – because the lives of a thousand people are at risk.

Now, it’s time to choose the next leader of your country. Assuming your country is like the United States, that leader has the power to annihilate 99.9% of human life with nuclear weapons – 6.1 billion people – or at the very least, as the power to ruin your nation – 280 million people. A hell of a lot more lives than the general is responsible for, or the hunter, or the science teacher, or the chef, or the computer tech. Who takes on this awesome responsibility?

Why is it supposedly a bad thing to restrict the responsibility for the lives of six billion people to those qualified to make that kind of decision? Who should be responsible for the lives of six billion people – the chef? The hunter? The science teacher? We are willing to turn far lesser responsibilities over to others, but there is some emotional response to the threat to take away the greatest responsibility of all and put it in the hands of those most qualified to make it. Why? What is the logical reason for this? What is the mental block?

It does not make sense. Period.

Holiday Blogging

I'm starting to get a backlog of things to post. Damn these holidays and their time requirements!

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Searching for Houses

Liz and I spent the afternoon yesterday with a real estate agent looking for houses. We found one that we really, really, really like; I'm going to talk to the mortgage broker on Monday and see if we can't work something out. When Crabby is here, we're going to take him through it (since he may wind up living with us for a while), but Liz and I absolutely loved the house. It's up in Kirkland, so it's not too far from work (nine miles away on the expressway), really close to grocery stores and so on, and still accessible to all the cool stuff in Seattle. The neighborhood is really nice and quiet, and the house has a large rec room downstairs that the previous owners gutted, but didn't do anything with - so it's taking away from the value right now, but Liz and I could do so much with it! Me with a chainsaw - sounds exciting (you do use chainsaws to make home repairs, right??)

Anyway, so far the process has been kind of a downer, but yesterday was a light at the end of the tunnel. Now, the trip to the mortage broker will determine whether or not that light is an oncoming train.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Long and Winding Road

This week jumped from slow to fast to slow again. The good news is that they are finally splitting my job into two jobs at work, so I can go back to focusing on what I'm really good at: PR. The bad news is, it's probably going to end up creating some animosity, because it's part of another situation that I'd rather not get into.

I had an odd experience today, when someone on a forum related to our game started a thread about cyber-stalking me - Googling my name and reading this entire blog. One one level, I'm flattered, but on another, it's more than a little creepy. Some of the stuff that comes up when you Google me is really old, and I'm not really ashamed of it, but I would rather people didn't form opinions about me based on it, either.

Crabby will be here in three days, and we're going to look at houses again (that we cannot afford). I gave Liz some of her Christmas presents early; she loved them. It's nice to have a little money to spend on each other at the holidays. She got me an awesome present: membership to the Seattle International Film Festival. Does she know me or what?

Another Member of the Family

Just got an email from my friend Arch - he and his wife Meeri had their first baby at 1:55 AM this morning! Congrats to both!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Dear Mom and Dad

A photo essay of what I've been doing in San Andreas. Thanks Seth!

A Moment of Clarity

Maybe it was the meeting last night, or the fact that my brain has been working on the premise of this new novel for the last, well, four years, but I had what I like to describe as a "moment of clarity" in the shower this morning. I'm aping Pulp Fiction, but every now and then I have moments - call it insight, or some kind of enlightenment, or something - where everything seems very bright, and it's like my pupils turn into pinpricks, and like a camera on the highest f-stop everything in the entire world comes into focus for just a second or two. I prefer "moment of clarity," because it captures perfectly that feeling.

Well, this morning I had one for my novel. I saw the whole thing, laid out in front of me like a path; I know exactly where it's going to end up, what my characters are going to do, and how they are going to get there. I saw, and I am thrilled by it.

I've got a block of marble, and I've seen the statue inside. Time to get carving.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Some Things Never Change

It's good to know that there are still the kinds of people out there who think rock and roll represents...

    "squalor, inhumanity, filth, depravity, ugliness and ignorance"
Now take a wild guess as to whether this person is a liberal or a conservative.

Writerly Things

Been a bit since I did a personal update. Last week practically flew by; Saturday was a big game at work that we did for a promotional stunt to help one of our product sell a little better, and I spent the rest of the day kind of lazing around. Sunday, Liz and I met up with a real estate agent to get a better feel for what's out there and to discuss our home ownership goals, and today we're going to take a look at a house that sounds great, but might be just a tad out of our price range. It's been empty a while, so the seller might be bargained down - or there might be something wrong with it. We'll see.

Sunday evening I watched Kill Bill parts 1 and 2 in order, which I thought would help them gel into a consistent movie. Instead, it really only served to highlight their differences. The first part is almost entirely action, while the second is almost entirely story and dialogue. Not that those things are bad, but I suspect it was editing that made them so; if the movie was planned as one, long film, I have a feeling the action would have been spread over the whole thing.

Yesterday I went to an excellent Alliterates meeting, where I got some really good feedback on the first three bits of my new novel (after doing the 10,000 word chapter thing in Crocodile Man, I'm going more Kurt Vonnegut and am calling these 1,000 word vignettes "chapters.") Work keeps me busy, but not with busy work, if that makes sense; I've had the chance to do a lot of the more managerial tasks lately, and the writing bits I'm good at, while passing off the busywork to my assistant. Delegating responsibility has always been my biggest flaw, so I'm easing into it.

Oh, here's an accomplishment: at our office, time seems to get sucked into these unnatural black holes called meetings. Last week, I had no time for bullshit, and we were supposed to do an ad concept meeting for an upcoming expansion, where we figure out a concept for the ad. These are usually creative brainstorming sessions, and can get pretty (unnecessarily) lengthy, because people don't always know when to stop brainstorming and start making decisions.

Typically, five or six people attend these meetings. For some reason, only three of us could make it, which helped. Meetings are like trips to Blockbuster to rent a video: the more people you have, the (exponentially) more time it takes to choose a movie. So I came in, said "OK, here's my concept." We talked about it for a bit, came up with a good solid headline, found art we could use, and agreed.

Total elapsed time: nine minutes.

Although I doubt that session will end up on my resume as an accomplishment, it felt great to carry the big guns of authority and timeliness for once.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Violent Video Games Save Lives

Seth pointed me towards a news story that proves Grand Theft Auto actually saves lives!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Game Review: Sid Meier's Pirates! Live the Life

Pirates! was one of my favorite games back in the day; I remember seeing the box in a software store, its scene depicting close combat on a smoking ship making my fantasy-prone mind dream a thousand dreams. I picked it up out of a bargain bin some years later, having played it at a friend's house after it debuted, and to this day it is the reason I have a spare 5.25 disk drive lying around.

They released a revision, Pirates! Gold, in the mid-1990s, but for some reason I never picked it up; why bother, when I had such a great game already? But this year, I decided to grab a copy of the most recent re-make, Pirates! Live the Life, because it was on sale, and I knew it would be fun - I saw the game demoed at several conventions this summer.

I wasn't wrong; it's a lot of fun. But it's also a remake, and horribly so; I think it's one of the only remakes where they took out some cool elements from the original, and added elements that just don't work.

All the familiar stuff is here: ship combat, fencing, sailing, wooing the governor's daughter, and so on. The game structure is nearly the same, right down to the text descriptions of what's going on, even if the graphics that serve as a backdrop have greatly improved. There's a lot more ships, and now you can upgrade your fleet to shoot different kinds of shot, hold more scurvy pirates, and sail faster, but otherwise it's almost exactly the same as the original 1987 release, but with better graphics. Fencing is now 3-D, and slightly more complicated - more than once, I've found myself going for the old controls - but not terribly challenging. The trading stucture is the same, the ranks are the same, even the quests are the same - the same evil Spaniards capture the same family members and take them to the same, random, unlikely places.

If you saw a lot of the word "same" in the above paragraph, that's basically what this game is: the same thing. They never billed it as anything more than a remake, but you'd think they could have come up with more than two stock Spanish villains to chase, or some different family members to rescue (or other side-quests to distract you). Part of what made the original game so compelling was the mutitude of things you could do, at least for its time, and now it's just, well, the same.

The one notable addition is that of the dancing, where you have to perform DDR-style codes to waltz with the governor's daughter so she'll marry you. If that sounds like a nonsensical, asinine nod to pop culture, you're not the only one who thinks so. It's my least favorite part of the game, aside from the slowdown during swordfights that makes everything choppy and hard to control.

All in all, I've enjoyed playing it, I will continue to enjoy playing it, but Pirates! had its time in the sun, and I'd like to see someone offer something just as innovative, set in that era, rather than more of the same.

Friday, December 10, 2004

One-Sentence Story

After devoting more than twenty years of his life to finding happiness, Lucas realized there was little purpose in looking until he removed the elephant's tusk from his midsection.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Random News Bits

I love quotations taken out of context:

    ...a transcript listed the cat's course work and 3.5 grade-point average.
And I thought my cat was smart!

No Comment

When I was first buying DVDs, I used to love listening to the commentary tracks. I remember stumbling across this website a while back, which offers commentaries made by users for download - so anyone from amateur film critics, to philosophers, to everyone else can make commentary tracks for their favorite movies and TV shows on DVD.

Seth mentioned that the project was a few years ahead of its time, and I agree; now that you can download a commentary to your iPod (or any other of a number of ways to listen to a commentary) and play it at the same time as the movie, without screwing around with CDs and other forms of media, maybe it's time to re-visit this concept.

One of my initial thoughts is to assemble some of the Alliterates, a few of the designers here at WizKids, and some others to do a commentary track about that horrific Dungeons and Dragons movie. Could be fun!

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Mr. Bean on Freedom

Actor Rowan Atkinson on freedoms, and a movement in the UK to attempt to criminalize religious hate speech. The first line is classic:

    To criticise a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous but to criticise their religion - that is a right. That is a freedom. The freedom to criticise ideas - any ideas even if they are sincerely held beliefs - is one of the fundamental freedoms of society. And the law which attempts to say you can criticise or ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed. It all points to the promotion of the idea that there should be a right not to be offended. But in my view the right to offend is far more important than any right not to be offended. The right to ridicule is far more important to society than any right not to be ridiculed because one in my view represents openness - and the other represents oppression.
Via Andrew Sullivan and the media.


What a difference 24 hours makes (via Daily Kos):


      Bush introduced Mike and Sharla Hintz, a couple from Clive, whom he said benefited from his tax plan.

      Last year, because of the enhanced the child tax credit, they received an extra $1,600 in their tax refund, Bush said. With other tax cuts in the bill, they saved $2,800 on their income taxes.

      They used the money to buy a wood-burning stove to more efficiently heat their home, made some home improvements and went on a vacation to Minnesota, the president said.

      "Next year, maybe they'll want to come to Texas," Bush quipped.

      Mike Hintz, a First Assembly of God youth pastor, said the tax cuts also gave him additional money to use for health care.

      He said he supports Bush's values.

      "The American people are starting to see what kind of leader President Bush is. People know where he stands," he said.

      "Where we are in this world, with not just the war on terror, but with the war with our culture that's going on, I think we need a man that is going to be in the White House like President Bush, that's going to stand by what he believes.

    and today...

      A Des Moines youth pastor is charged with the sexual exploitation of a child.

      KCCI learned that the married father of four recently turned himself in to Johnston police.

      Rev. Mike Hintz was fired from the First Assembly of God Church, located at 2725 Merle Hay Road, on Oct. 30. Hintz was the youth pastor there for three years.

      Police said he started an affair with a 17-year-old in the church youth group this spring.
I did get a heck of a laugh out of this.


Zombies? Love 'em. Love the Romero series (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead.) I like the Fulci pseudo-sequels, and I really enjoyed the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.

Heck, I even like zombie-inspired music, and I plan to protect my home against undead invasion. I plan to play the video game, and I have required reference material on my desk at work.

I'm prepared. Are you?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Writer News: There's Nothing New Under the Sun

In the latest iteration of the "plot wheel," two brothers have made a flip book designed to help struggling writers come up with movie plots.

Fire-breathing dragons / helicopters / post-apocalyptic England / American hero.

See? It works!

Evolution Watchdogs

My mom's a science teacher, and sent me a good link that summarizes what's been happening recently as Evolution is slowly whittled out of the classroom in favor of an uber-right-wing-Christian worldview. From the NSTA.

Celebrating the Great White North Abroad

When I did my backpacking in 1999, there were more than a few American kids who used to put Canadian flags on their backpacks to avoid being asked political questions, or to be identified as Yanks. I always thought that was a little squirrly, but that was before the Bush administration - I'm not sure what I'd do now. If I did decide to go the Canadian route, though, a company has made it much easier.

Ah, College

I remember writing papers like this in college, except mine were in philosophy.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Educational Video

Via Boing Boing and Seth, an educational video about How to Survive a Zombie Epidemic.

Weekend Update

It's been a while since I've done one of those "what's-going-on-in-my-life" updates, partially because I went out of town for eight days. I spent Turkey day back in Oklahoma, with friends and family. The trip had its ups and downs, but like all trips has begun to fade into memory. Since I got back, I haven't had any time to write, but I've been busy looking at houses. Liz and I were very interested in one local builder and a new development in Renton, but actually looking at the new development, the adjacent land, and the timeframe in which the lots we'd want would be available, and we're kind of returning to square one. Which is OK. Our next step is to locate a realitor, so hopefully we can shop around and find a house that way. Or a townhouse; I'd be happy with one of those, too, provided the walls weren't too close together.

That's really all there is to report; I went over to James' to test out the new Call of Cthulhu expansion, and I gotta say, the game has gotten better. Yesterday, we went estate sale-ing with Brook and Wendi; I scored an old TI-99-4/A computer, which I'm probably gonna end up selling on eBay, because it's bulky, heavy, and I don't have any games for it anymore.

I'm just Mr. Excitement these days. Maybe I need to get off my ass and put pen to paper a bit.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Quote of the Day

From Penny Arcade:

"It is like getting a ordering a pizza and getting a free walrus. Even if the walrus were excellent, I mean truly exemplary, I'm really not in the market for it and it's not why I ordered the pizza."

The Red and the Blue, Continued

For the second time in two days, I find myself linking to a thought-provoking article by Andrew Sullivan. After I watched Mr. Sullivan tear Mr. Maher a new one on whatever Politically Incorrect is called these days, my respect for him grows. Some of his views confuse me, but for the most part, he has some very interesting arguments.

Cat Problems

I've got to share something disgusting, because somehow, it's OK to write about this stuff in your blog and your friends will get a kick out of it.

Recently, we moved the cat's litterbox into the computer room. It used to be in our bedroom (I hate having a small apartment), and it got a little, ahem, stinky sometimes. So we relocated it to the computer room, which we don't spend eight hours a day slumbering in.

The last three mornings, as I've come in here to work before getting ready for Real Work, my black-and-white cat has come in to do some business. I'm not sure what's wrong with him, because they both eat out of the same dish, but Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ, he's laid down some stink. Every morning, about five minutes after I get in here, like clockwork, the room suddenly gets tear-inducingly smelly.

We asked the vet about his, umm, reek, and she suggested switching him to a food that would make him use the litterbox more. I said, I'm not sure you're paying attention - I don't really want him to use the litter box more, I want him to not stink so much.

Anyone out there have any feline dietary advice they'd like to share?

Seperate From the Herd

Via Andrew Sullivan, an interesting tidbit on Nietzsche and his influence on conservatives - the premise being that Nietzsche's emphasis on personal responsibility for creating a moral framework and worldview independent of religion (taking responsibility for your actions, rather than blaming them on others) is a conservative trait. I've always been troubled by this argument, and surely there are many liberals who are willing to blame "society" for the actions of an individual, but so too are there many conservatives who would blame God, or Satan, for actions, and require those religious constructs for any manne of morality. For example, those who believe that posting the Ten Commandments in schools will somehow help children act in a moral way, rather than giving children the tools to reason morality for themselves, as Frederich would have argued.

Still, it's compelling, and contains other links to other conservatives and their thoughts on the subject.

Incidentally, on the verbage of conservatism, I'm realizing that the moniker does not accurately describe the current administration, or even the current state of "right-wing" politics in the United States. I've used the term "neo-con" before, a somewhat derisive label, to describe them. I wonder if those of us on the left, who are attempting to advocate for personal responsibility and other non-stereotypically-liberal ideas, shouldn't create our own verbage to begin retaking of politics. Put simply, if the good aspects that make up conservative thought can be railroaded by the Neo-Cons, then perhaps the bad sterotypes that make up "liberal" thought in the public consciousness can become a new label, too.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Ultimate Geek

According to the Geek Hierarchy, I'm somewhere between the top of the heap and the next slot down, being that I am technically published, but so far haven't been paid for writing SF.

However, the chart may have to be altered slightly for Erotic Bible Fan Fiction. Not sure if there is any where Jesus and Mary Magdalene are Furries, but I didn't really hang out on that site long enough to find out.


Here's some practical advice about not putting pornography and pictures of your children on the same Photo iPod.

Quote of the Day

I realized what I've been feeling lately regarding the current political situation in the country is summarized in an 80s tune:

    Show allegiance to the flag, whatever flag they offer.
    Never hint at what you really feel.
    Teach the children quietly, for some day sons and daughters.
    Will rise up and fight where we stood still.

    - Mike + The Mechanics, Silent Running


"They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool,
'till you're so fucking crazy, you can't follow their rules."

- John Lennon, Working Class Hero


If I know all the answers,
I'm too smart.

If I keep my hand down,
I'm wasting my potential.

If I say what's on my mind,
Parent-Teacher Conferences result.

If I don't say anything,
I'm bottling my emotions.


When I make a joke,
I'm a smartass.

When I'm polite,
People tell me it's unusual.

When I use logic and reason,
I'm ignoring experience and emotion.

When I use my experinece,
They tell me I'm emotional and illogical.


I say we should care about children,
And they call me a Communist.

I say they are being illogical,
And they call me arrogant and self-righteous.

I make a generalization,
And I'm unfairly characterizing other people.

If I call them on the same,
I'm not being tolerant.


I think hate crimes should be punished,
and I'm a Nazi.

I cry when I read about dead American soldiers I knew in high school,
and I'm using them to further my liberal agenda.

I feel killing a hundred-thousand civilians is wrong,
and I'm a bleeding-heart.

I think two people of the same sex should be allowed to express their love,
and I'm amoral.

I think creationism has no place in a public school science class,
and I'm a bigot who stifles free speech.

I think Christianity has the same faults inherant in all religions,
and I'm telling people how to live.


My discarded black hoodie
let me down
as much as my own faith in humanity.


If I think I'm more intelligent,
Then I'm on my high horse.

If I want to be left alone,
I'm running from the fight.

When I do what I can,
It's never enough to satisfy the hunger.

When I ask just what the fuck I am supposed
To do and say and think and feel and believe
To finally still the
Unrelenting tide of criticism,
To simply be me,
Silence joins me to watch their words
Erode the padded brick walls locking my personalities from the world,
And with them,
Drops of me.

Monday, November 29, 2004

The False Azure Of The Windowpane

As I've noted before, I dig Vladimir Nabokov not just for his subject matter, but his lush, image-centric writing style. Both Nabokov and his wife Vera suffered from Synaethesia, a disease that makes the person associate different sensory responses with various stimuli; for example, in Nabokov's case, letters and words on a page caused him to see colors and other images.

The drug LSD reproduces these effects, but can be unpredictable, and people unused to dealing with the sensory perceptions might experience negative side effects.

Also of note is the video game REZ, which according to its sell sheet

    ...when sound and visual effects ultimately come together, Rez will open your senses to a totally unbelievable experience like nothing you have ever felt before.
REZ is, incidentally, the game that came with a USB-controlled vibrating "sensory device" in its Japanese incarnation. If you think that sounds like a masturbation tool for gamer girls (or, for wives or sigificant others of us gamer guys), then you aren't the first one to use this device for such devious ends.

Now, it is my understanding that you need either a Japanese PS2 to take advantage of this - that, or a modded US version.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Gallery of the Strange

Have some fun with Photoshopped Spider-Man comics. Some of these are priceless.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

We Don't Need No.. Wait a Minute...

The kids singing the chorus in Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall are suing the band for unpaid royalties.


Thursday, November 25, 2004

Saying "Thanks"

Inspired by a post of Jeff's blog, I've been thinking about some of the things I need to give thanks for while carving the turkey today. Most of these are "2004" kinds of things.

Thank you for:

Old friends, with whom I've maintained - and in some cases re-established - contact. There's nothing like sitting down to dinner and picking up where you left off some eight years ago, or picking up the phone, calling 'cross-country, and sharing slices of your world.

New friends, including people at WizKids who have become more than co-workers: they have become confidants, helping hands, and partners-in-crime.

The opportunity to join a group of like-minded writers, who have already helped me improve my craft.

The drive and free time to have finished my first novel, the desire to edit and publish it, and the strength to pick up the pen and start another.

Family, who allow you to fuck up big time and still hug you. And sometimes (pleasantly) surprise you in ways you can never imagine.

My job, for as much as I complain about it, has not only introduced me to a field that I never would have considered, but one in which I can excell. And the company I work for is really fucking cool: we make games for Godsakes!

And most of all my wife, who has seen me through some of the darkest hours in my life, not by providing a beacon at the end of the tunnel, but by standing beside me in the slimy darkness and never losing heart, even when I despaired.

Thank you all. Have a safe and happy holiday, too, and if you're reading this, remember I care about you in return, even if I can't tell you so in person, today.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Thought for the Day

My pre-Thanksgiving thought of the day:

Since Sears and K-Mart recently merged, might they become "S-Mart?"

Shop smart. Shop S-Mart.

Hey, it could happen.

One-Sentence Story Revisited

Espresso Stories is a website devoted entirely to tales told in twenty-five words or less (I discovered it through MeFi.) I'll probably get an account there and post some stuff - but I'm not sure if it's just a glamor site designed to stroke egos, or if it's more of a real place for writers to share an exciting way to hone our skills. Time will tell.

Friday, November 19, 2004

More Phun

More Photarshop Phun Posted by Hello

Fake iPod Ad

Fun with Photoshop. Posted by Hello

It's Chilly In Here

Thanks to Netflix, tonight Liz and I watched Cold Mountain. Not as bad as I thought it would be, but not great. Took itself too seriously at times, and was a little heavy-handed at others. But showed a great deal of restraint as well. It could have stood to be edited a bit, though.

Album Review: Encore by Eminem

Unlike most lefties, I not only like Eminem, I think he's an incredibly talented artist and satirist who used his skills to rise out of Detroit's slums, make a lot of money, and share a little bit of his social outrage with the world. I don't think he's homophobic, and his raps, especially the recent Mosh, have a distinctly political overtone to them.

Today I picked up his new album, Encore. I've got his other three albums, and I'm of the opinion that he's gotten better with age (The Eminem Show being his best work to date). Part of this is because he's become increasingly self-referential, and the more material he has, the more he can reference.

That being said, my initial thoughts about Encore were not good. A few songs into the album, and not only is he referencing himself, he's sampling himself, and the tunes have a high tempo that sounds more like Em's on speed than rapping. They've also got a distinctivly "Total Request Live" or nightclub feel to them, as if they were specifically (over)produced to be chart-topping hits. There's also a lack of cursing, and in some instances silence where you expect a f-bomb - I had to double-check to make sure I didn't have the "sanitized for my protection" version.

About three-quarters of the way through, when the songs get a little more traditional, I realized what he was trying to do: the entire album, or at least the first part of it, is satirizing the music industry. It's supposed to sound overproduced and clubby, and he intentionally left the cursing out (sadly, there's nothing on here that comes close to the shock value of Drips from The Eminem Show.) It's actually pretty slick, but I'm not sure if he really succeeds - a lot of the reviews I've read seem to miss the satire, as so many people often do.

I've gone through the album twice completely, so I'll probably need to give it another listen or two before I make up my mind, but it seems like it's a strong effort, but not quite as good as The Eminem Show. He's certainly toned down the anger, but anger is what he used to build a career, so the results are mixed, but overall, err on the side of being good.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

For Roman

For Roman: the Rules of Shotgun.

Speaking in Quotes

Now you too can Google scholarly articles so you never have to synthesize information again - just quote what smart people have said about something!

Good News From Okieland

Rarely does something good from Oklahoma ever make the national news. This article in the Washington Post is a happy exception (it might require registration, so I'm going to quote the whole thing below).

    Coming Out for One of Their Own
    An Oklahoma Teen Finds Love Where He Least Expected It

    By Anne Hull
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, November 14, 2004; Page D01

    SAND SPRINGS, Okla. -- The fliers arrived three weeks ago. Some came over the fax machines of local churches, and others appeared mysteriously around town. Printed in bold was the heading "Westboro Baptist Church." No seeming cause for alarm. Sand Springs, population 18,500, is a Christian stronghold in the gently rolling hills of eastern Oklahoma.

    But the message that followed was a rant against a 17-year-old Sand Springs resident named Michael Shackelford and his mother, Janice, the subjects of a recent Washington Post series examining Michael's struggles as a young gay man in the Bible Belt. The fliers posted a photo of Michael, called him a "doomed teenage fag" and announced that followers of Westboro Baptist in Topeka were on their way from Kansas to stage antigay protests in Sand Springs.

    Public theater is the specialty of Westboro Baptist and its minister, Fred Phelps, whose place on the extreme fringe of the antigay movement is symbolized by his Web site, But this time, Phelps picked a formidable target.

    Oklahoma could never be mistaken for a liberal blue state. President Bush grabbed the seven electoral votes here like a sack of candy, winning 60 percent of the popular vote. A state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage passed by a 3-to-1 margin.

    Sand Springs is the essence of pious Oklahoma. Downtown, a veterinary clinic with loudspeakers on its roof plays a taped carillon of hymns and patriotic songs. Michael and Janice Shackelford attend a large evangelical church where lots of worshipers bring their own Bibles.

    In the eyes of Phelps, any church that allows an openly gay person to attend Sunday worship is weak. "Was there no Gospel preacher in Sand Springs or Broken Arrow to tell Michael . . . that sodomy is a monstrous sin against God that will destroy the life and damn the soul?" the fliers asked.

    When Phelps announced that his group was coming to picket at several churches and the high school, fresh battle lines were drawn. To many here, homosexuality was a sin, but Michael Shackelford was their sinner. Just as the November election was reducing moral issues to red or blue, Sand Springs confronted subtler shades of truth. Janice Shackelford was terrified by the persecution of her son, then surprised by what happened next.

    "This Westboro outfit thought they could come to this town and break it apart," Janice said. "But it has brought the town together. It has opened some doors to talk."

    An Invitation

    After Michael's story was published, competing forces wrestled for his soul. The Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest gay advocacy group, invited Michael to attend its national dinner in Washington last month.

    "Oh, great," Janice remembers thinking. A year and a half after discovering her son was gay, Janice still held hope that he would renounce his homosexuality. She worried for his safety, especially after renting a video at Blockbuster about Matthew Shepard, the young gay man who died after being beaten and lashed to a fence in Wyoming. Mostly Janice worried about Michael's salvation. Attending the dinner in Washington might reinforce his belief that he is gay. "I felt like allowing him to go was condoning the lifestyle," she said, "and it would propel him to that even more."

    Yet something inside told her to let him go. One factor tipped it: Michael would get to meet Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew, who would be attending the event. Part of Janice wished that she could go, too, to see what her son wanted so desperately to see. But she worked two jobs and could find no one to take her shift at the barbecue restaurant where she is a waitress. It was decided that Michael would be accompanied by his 23-year-old sister, Shelly.

    In Washington, a tux was waiting for Michael in his hotel room.

    He brought his disposable camera to the dinner and asked a male model if it was okay to take his picture.

    The next day there was a luncheon and sightseeing of the monuments. A lesbian couple with a 3-year-old daughter took Michael and Shelly to dinner in Dupont Circle. Walking around the gay neighborhood, Michael was in awe. "It was like being around family," he said. "Seeing all those successful people, that could be me."

    Shelly, who shared Janice's views against homosexuality, was also in shock. "Men were holding hands with men, women were holding hands with women, and no one was yelling at them," Shelly said.

    What Michael wanted most was to buy his mother a book on being a Christian parent of a gay child. He found them at Lambda Rising, a gay and lesbian bookstore.

    When they got back home, Janice listened to their stories. "There's a life out there," Michael said, before racing off to the drugstore to have his film developed. Janice wept when Shelly relayed a story that Judy Shepard told about going to identify her son's body. He was covered in blood except for the clean streaks on his face where tears had washed down.

    Janice took the books Michael brought home -- "Always My Child" and "The Gay Face of God," among others -- but was not ready to read them. She piled them on a table in the living room, which is where they were still sitting when she received a call from her pastor.

    "Janice," he said, "We got a fax."

    Janice tried remembering where she had heard of Westboro Baptist -- and then it clicked. While visiting her oldest daughter in Las Vegas, she remembered seeing the group picketing a high school that was staging "The Laramie Project," a play about Matthew Shepard's murder in the town of Laramie.

    Janice listened with growing anxiety as her pastor, Bill Eubanks of Cornerstone Church, explained that Westboro Baptist was coming to protest Cornerstone for allowing Michael to worship there. When Eubanks called Westboro, a woman who identified herself as Fred Phelps's daughter told him that he had not been strong enough in "prescribing the truth about homosexuals."

    Eubanks, 53, has a deep-well Oklahoma accent and a 6-foot-2 frame that makes him a commanding preacher. He pastors a flock of 500, where bluejeans are welcome and men are not embarrassed to brush away tears when praying. The church held a voter registration drive in the run-up to the presidential election. A huge banner, hung from the rafters, said, "Family Under Construction." There was no doubt that "family" referred to a man and woman. Homosexuality is viewed as a sin.

    Eubanks had known Michael was struggling with his sexuality. But to the pastor, seeing Michael in church meant there was still a chance that he would turn away from homosexuality.

    Eubanks was disturbed by the fliers' hateful message, but he saw an opportunity.

    "I get to speak about the grace of God," he said. "No matter what the sin, God loves you. He is saying, 'Come on, come back to the family.' I was an alcoholic and a drug addict. I can see the possibility of change."

    A transformation, from gay to straight.

    "These are the hopes, that Michael will change," Eubanks said.

    The week before the protest, the pastor announced from the pulpit that they were in the midst of a spiritual battle. He read parts of the flier aloud. "We are family," Eubanks said. "We are going to stand united as a family."

    The response surprised Michael, who thought he would be cast out. People were being nice to him. Only a few weeks earlier he'd been called a "queer" at Arby's. Now there was a new menace in Sand Springs, and it was Fred Phelps.

    As more fliers circulated around Sand Springs, Janice knew it was time to talk to her 88-year-old mother, a fervent Baptist with a weak heart. All this time Janice had never told her mother that Michael was gay. "This would put her in the grave," she had warned Michael.

    After Wednesday night church, Janice drove to her mother's house. The words simply would not come out. Finally, Janice got up and turned the volume down on the TV and sat beside her mother. "I've been keeping a secret from you," Janice said. She stopped again.

    Just tell me, her mother said.

    "Michael seems to think he's gay."

    "Janice," she recalls her mother saying, "I'm a tough old lady. You should have told me sooner."

    And that was that.

    Us and Them

    The Sunday of the protest arrived. Birds hung in the brittle branches of blackjack oaks lining the driveway of Cornerstone Church. The Phelps entourage had left Topeka at 3 that morning and unloaded in front of Cornerstone in time for the 9 o'clock service. There were nine in all. Fred Phelps had sent his 51-year-old son, Fred Phelps Jr., and his daughter, Shirley Phelps Roper, 47. Under the watchful eye of several Sand Springs police officers, they spread out along the public patch of grass in front of the church.

    They raised their signs. Fags Are Worthy of Death. Fags Doom Nation. Fag Church. Your Pastor Is Lying. Others involved obscene drawings and references to excrement. One of the protesters dragged an American flag on the ground.

    A truck roared by from the main road and the driver shouted, LET HE WHO CAST THE FIRST STONE!

    Phelps gestured toward the church marquee that scrolled the message I hate the sin but love the sinner -- God! "It's a play on words, the sin and the sinner," he said. "You can't separate the two. There are some people in this world who are made to be destroyed."

    Shirley Phelps Roper chimed in. "With the right hand they are saying that homosexuality is a sin and they will fix you," she said. "And with the left hand they say that God loves you. They don't own salvation. They don't have the prerogative to fix the heart of man."

    Worshipers drove through the bottleneck, refusing to engage. Michael Shackelford rumbled past in his truck without notice. Janice arrived minutes later in her Oldsmobile, nervously gripping the steering wheel, eyes straight ahead.

    Inside the church, the congregation was standing and the six-piece guitar band was rocking.

    The Lord reigns

    Great is the Almighty

    The music and energy built until Pastor Eubanks bounded onstage. "Welcome to the reign of life," he said. "Amen?"

    "Amen!" the crowd shouted, whistling and clapping.

    "There is darkness and there is light and we are in the middle of the light," Eubanks said, to more thunderous applause. "Say it: God loves us all. All of us!"

    After the service, several people came up to hug Janice. One woman held her in an embrace that lasted two minutes, whispering to Janice the whole time.

    A burly man with a crew cut gave Michael a thumbs-up. "Man, you be who you are," Shannon Watie said, holding his Bible. "We got your back."

    Watie later said that he respected Michael for having the courage to come out. "I have the sin of pride, the sin of lying sometimes," said the 37-year-old father of two. "The reason why Jesus was on the cross was because we all do."

    Watie voted for Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage. Civil unions? He might have considered those. Homosexuality? "That's between the person and God," Watie said.

    Out in the foyer, Eubanks saw Michael and seized the chance. He invited Michael to lunch. There was work to do.

    'A Gathering of the Saints'

    After church, Michael drove the interstate with the windows of his truck rolled down and the stereo blasting Merle Haggard's "Kentucky Gambler," Michael singing every word.

    I wanted more from life, than four kids and a wife

    And a job in a dark Kentucky mine.

    In nearby Tulsa that Sunday night, a vigil was held in response to the Phelps demonstrations. It was organized by Tulsa Oklahomans For Human Rights and held at a gay and lesbian community center. Organizers set out 24 chairs. More than 220 people showed up; the overflow strained to hear from the sidewalk.

    Janice had been nervous to attend the vigil with Michael but there she was, standing in back. Several Tulsa ministers spoke out against Phelps. Most were from churches that Janice was unfamiliar with; Unitarian, Congregational and Diversity Christian.

    The Rev. Russell L. Bennett, president of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance, took the podium. "You are a gathering of the saints," he said, smiling at the crowd. "Now, in some parts of town, that might be disputed."

    Bennett recited a Bible verse in which Jesus scolds the leaders of his time for worrying more about narrow morality than the bigger picture. "Woe to you, hypocrites," the reverend said. "For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy."

    Janice was quiet, listening to phrases such as "radical inclusivity" and quotes by Robert F. Kennedy about the long arm that bends toward justice. Only once did she feel at home, when a man came up afterward and reached for her hand. "You know, we have been praying for you all week," he said.

    His name was Toby Jenkins and he was a Free Will Baptist pastor for 17 years before accepting that he was gay. Now he preaches at a gay evangelical church in Tulsa. He told Janice that the Bible is not the black-and-white doctrine that many say it is. He asked Janice if they could pray together, and he took her face in his hands and they stood motionless in the crowd, forehead to forehead, eyes closed.

    "I am going to have to think about all this," she said later.

    The next morning, the Phelps protesters were back in Sand Springs, this time picketing in front of Charles Page High, the school that grudgingly started a Gay Straight Alliance last year after an openly gay senior forced the issue.

    Shirley Phelps Roper stood on the sidewalk, holding her God Hates Fags sign and singing "America the Beautiful." Police were standing by, but all was peaceful. Several cars drove by with their own messages painted on the windows: Go Back to Kansas and God Loves Everybody.

    As school let out that afternoon, dozens of people from Tulsa Oklahomans For Human Rights arrived with brooms. In silence, they swept the sidewalk where the Phelps protesters had been. Michael was there, sweeping.

    A group of students walked by. One of them, a girl with long, silky hair and a backpack, was obviously fed up with all the protests and counter-protests. "Leave our homos alone," she said, to no one in particular.
You know, it's stories like this that prevent me from becoming a complete cynic.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Dress Like Grunts, Not Like Girls

A school in (surprise, surprise) Texas has banned a traditional "cross-dressing" day, that actually sounds more like a Sadie Hawkins day.

    The Liberty Legal Institute came to the aid of parent Delana Davies, who was concerned about officially sanctioned cross-dressing. Davies said having boys dress like girls is part of an effort to push a homosexual agenda in public schools.

    Still, the tradition is being scrapped and the district will hold "Camo Day" instead -- with black boots and Army camouflage to be worn by everyone who wants to participate.
So, it's bad to dress like girls, but it's OK to dress like soldiers.

Jesus H. Fucking Christ, can we go form our own country now and let these people steep in their own bullshit?

Strange Politik

I picked up a copy of The Stranger this weekend (Seattle's largest, and arguably best, indie newspaper, for those who don't live here), and found a compelling article on what they refer to as the Urban Archipelago. This article is now online, and contains some pretty interesting observations:

    Take a look at the second map. This map shows a county-by-county red/blue breakdown, and it provides a clearer picture of the bind the Democrats finds themselves in. The majority of the blue states--Washington, Oregon, California, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware--are, geographically speaking, not blue states. They are blue cities.

    Look at our famously blue West Coast. But for the cities--Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego--the West Coast would be a deep, dark red. The same is true for other nominally blue states. Illinois is almost entirely red--Chicago turns the state blue. Michigan is almost entirely red--Detroit, Lansing, Kalamazoo turn it blue. And on and on. What tips these states into the blue column? Their urban areas do, their big, populous counties.

    It's time for the Democrats to face reality: They are the party of urban America. If the cities elected our president, if urban voters determined the outcome, John F. Kerry would have won by a landslide. Urban voters are the Democratic base.

    It's time to state something that we've felt for a long time but have been too polite to say out loud: Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands. We are citizens of the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. We live on islands of sanity, liberalism, and compassion--New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and on and on. And we live on islands in red states too--a fact obscured by that state-by-state map. Denver and Boulder are our islands in Colorado; Austin is our island in Texas; Las Vegas is our island in Nevada; Miami and Fort Lauderdale are our islands in Florida. Citizens of the Urban Archipelago reject heartland "values" like xenophobia, sexism, racism, and homophobia, as well as the more intolerant strains of Christianity that have taken root in this country. And we are the real Americans. They--rural, red-state voters, the denizens of the exurbs--are not real Americans. They are rubes, fools, and hate-mongers. Red Virginia prohibits any contract between same-sex couples. Compassionate? Texas allows the death penalty to be applied to teenaged criminals and has historically executed the mentally retarded. (When the Supreme Court ruled executions of the mentally retarded unconstitutional in 2002, Texas officials, including Governor Rick Perry, responded by claiming that the state had no mentally retarded inmates on death row--a claim the state was able to make because it does not test inmates for mental retardation.) Dumb? The Sierra Club has reported that Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Tennessee squander over half of their federal transportation money on building new roads rather than public transit.
I especially like this:
    To all those who live in cities--to all those depressed Kerry supporters out there--we say take heart. Clearly we can't control national politics right now--we can barely get a hearing. We can, however, stay engaged in our cities, and make our voices heard in the urban areas we dominate, and make each and every one, to quote Ronald Reagan (and John Winthrop, the 17th-century Puritan Reagan was parroting), "a city on a hill." This is not a retreat; it is a long-term strategy for the Democratic Party to cater to and build on its base.

    To red-state voters, to the rural voters, residents of small, dying towns, and soulless sprawling exburbs, we say this: Fuck off. Your issues are no longer our issues. We're going to battle our bleeding-heart instincts and ignore pangs of misplaced empathy. We will no longer concern ourselves with a health care crisis that disproportionately impacts rural areas. Instead we will work toward winning health care one blue state at a time.

    When it comes to the environment, our new policy is this: Let the heartland live with the consequences of handing the national government to the rape-and-pillage party. The only time urbanists should concern themselves with the environment is when we are impacted--directly, not spiritually (the depressing awareness that there is no unspoiled wilderness out there doesn't count). Air pollution, for instance: We should be aggressive. If coal is to be burned, it has to be burned as cleanly as possible so as not to foul the air we all have to breathe. But if West Virginia wants to elect politicians who allow mining companies to lop off the tops off mountains and dump the waste into valleys and streams, thus causing floods that destroy the homes of the yokels who vote for those politicians, it no longer matters to us. Fuck the mountains in West Virginia--send us the power generated by cleanly burned coal, you rubes, and be sure to wear lifejackets to bed.

    Wal-Mart is a rapacious corporation that pays sub-poverty-level wages, offers health benefits to its employees that are so expensive few can afford them, and destroys small towns and rural jobs. Liberals in big cities who have never seen the inside of a Wal-Mart spend a lot of time worrying about the impact Wal-Mart is having on the heartland. No more. We will do what we can to keep Wal-Mart out of our cities and, if at all possible, out of our states. We will pass laws mandating a living wage for full-time work, upping the minimum wage for part-time work, and requiring large corporations to either offer health benefits or pay into state- or city-run funds to provide health care for uninsured workers. That will reform Wal-Mart in our blue cities and states or, better yet, keep Wal-Mart out entirely. And when we see something on the front page of the national section of the New York Times about the damage Wal-Mart is doing to the heartland, we will turn the page. Wal-Mart is not an urban issue.

    Neither is gun control. Our new position: We'll fight to keep guns off the streets of our cities, but the more guns lying around out there in the heartland, the better. Most cities have strong gun-control laws--laws that are, of course, undermined by the fact that our cities aren't walled. Yet. But why should liberals in cities fund organizations that attempt, to take one example, to get trigger locks onto the handguns of NRA members out there in red states? If red-state dads aren't concerned enough about their own children to put trigger locks on their own guns, it's not our problem. If a kid in a red state finds his daddy's handgun and blows his head off, we'll feel terrible (we're like that), but we'll try to look on the bright side: At least he won't grow up to vote like his dad.

    We won't demand that the federal government impose reasonable fuel-efficiency standards on all cars sold in the United States. We will, however, strive to pass state laws, as California has done, imposing fuel-efficiency standards on cars sold in our states.

    We officially no longer give a shit when family farms fail. Fewer family farms equal fewer rural voters. We will, however, continue to support small faggy organic farms, as we are willing to pay more for free-range chicken and beef from non-cannibal cows.

    We won't concern ourselves if red states restrict choice. We'll just make sure that abortion remains safe and legal in the cities where we live, and the states we control, and when your daughter or sister or mother dies in a botched abortion, we'll try not to feel too awful about it.

    In short, we're through with you people. We're going to demand that the Democrats focus on building their party in the cities while at the same time advancing a smart urban-growth agenda that builds the cities themselves. The more attractive we make the cities--politically, aesthetically, socially--the more residents and voters cities will attract, gradually increasing the electoral clout of liberals and progressives. For Democrats, party building and city building is the same thing. We will strive to turn red states blue one city at a time.

    From here on out, we're glad red-state rubes live in areas where guns are more powerful and more plentiful, cars are larger and faster, and people are fatter and slower and dumber. This is not a recipe for repopulating the Great Plains. And when you look for ways to revive your failing towns and dying rural counties, don't even think about tourism. Who wants to go to small-town America now? You people scare us. We'll island-hop from now on, thank you, spending our time and our money in blue cities. If an urbanite is dying to have a country experience, rural Vermont is lovely. Maple syrup, rolling hills, fly-fishing--everything you could want. Country bumpkins in red rural areas who depend on tourists from urban areas but vote Republican can forget our money.

    You've made your choice, red America, and we urban Americans are going to make a different choice. We are going to make Seattle--and New York, Chicago, and the rest--a great place to live, a progressive place. Again, we'll quote Ronald Reagan: We will make each of our cities--each and every one--a shining city on a hill. You can have your shitholes.
Just short of starting our own country, Dan Savage has a great idea, one I voiced not long ago: if they insist on fucking themselves, who are we to say they shouldn't?

The only problem is, of course, that they won't be content with only fucking themselves, they'll want to come and fuck us as well. Which is why I still think the seperate country thing is a good idea. I should flesh that out some more, to respond to some (excellent) reader points about my plan.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Cuts Like a Knife

For some reason, I always thought there were three different cuts of meat: steaks, roasts, and ground meat. Turns out I was quite wrong.

Monday, November 15, 2004

iPod Utilities

It's annoying not to be able to copy your iPod's contents to another computer.

Until now.

Ripples in a Pond

Many people misunderstand the law of Karma, especially as it relates to action and reaction. The typical definition of "karma" usually involves the universe taking vengeance upon bad person for negative actions, or rewarding positive actions, kind of like a cosmic Santa Claus. The best example that comes to mind is when you say something bad about someone behind their back, and then turn around and bang your knee on a desk - the person to which you're speaking might say, "well, that's instant karma for you!"

Except that's not what karma is. While karma is a law of cosmic cause and effect, it is best understood not as the universe, or some higher power, wreaking vengeance upon the wicked (this is, in fact, a very incorrect Judeo-Christian understanding of Karma, and it never fails to amaze me how many Western Buddhists still hold this belief). The imagery my Buddhism professor used to describe karma was "ripples in a pond," with your action acting like a force that causes waves in the cosmic water. Eventually, those waves will bounce off the shore and come back to their point of origin.

A more practical way to describe Karma is to imagine yourself having a good day or a bad day. On a good day, you might smile at people you meet on the street, in the office, at home, and so on. Someone having a marginal day might see you smile, and think "hey, things aren't so bad," and start smiling. Then someone else might see them smile, and the cycle continues. If you're having a bad day, and someone cuts you off in traffic, you flip them the bird. Then you cut someone else off. That person flips you the bird, and if they were having a neutral day, now they're having a worse one.

Therefore, Karma isn't necessarily something you see the results of right away, like, say, Calvinist Christianity (if you do good, God gives you money!) But it's a general law of cause and effect: if you spread positive-ness, then others will be more inclined to do the same. If you spread negativity, hatred, and so on, it's only going to cause others to do so as well.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately because a few days ago, I began thinking about the war in Iraq again, with the renewed offensive in Fallujah. While Mosul is falling, we're attacking Fallujah, and although we're missing statistics on civilian casualties, the number being floated around a couple of weeks ago was that one hundred thousand Iraqi civilians have been killed since the invasion.

While that number is certainly sobering, what worries me about it isn't the people who died, it's the cause-and-effect of the whole thing. That has worried me since we invaded Afghanistan. The terrorists are people who have somehow been wronged by the United States; an Arab businessman, comfortable in his home with his wife and kids, will no more pick up a gun to kill an abstract enemy villified by a fundamentalist sect than an American businessman with a house, wife, and kids would have done what Tim McVeigh did. The terrorists are orphans created by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, by Saddam's genocidal acts against the Kurds, by American support of both sides in the Iran-Iraq war, and by American weapons in the first Gulf War. Al Qaeda cannot recruit if there is no one out there who has been hurt, personally, by us. And a hundred thousand dead - that's a lot of orphans with nothing left to lose, and with a hell of a lot to hate. With each civilian fatality, we should be afraid simply because that person might have five children to swell Al Qaeda's ranks.

But the problem is that all killing begets more killing. Hate begets more hate, and violence begets more violence - by creating orphans, creating hatred, creating enemies, whatever. The hardliners in the Middle East are repsonding to American military action, a large part of which is a result of our support of Israel and its military actions. Israel was created as a result of Sho'ah in Nazi Germany. Nazi Germany was a result of economic hardship brought on by a mixture of shitty economies and punitive policies following the First World War, which was a result of... you get the idea.

The more I consider, the less effective military intervention in the Middle East becomes. We can change the nature of the ripples on the pond, and right now, all we're doing is sowing hatred and negativity. I have always felt this way, but I realized that the same principles must be applied to myself, my job, my daily interactions with people, and my relationships first. Because the ripples work upwards, too: the more positiveness my own actions create, the more chance we have to affect larger things in a positive way.

Sounds kind of mushy and weak, doesn't it? With all the crap going on at work these days, I found myself returning to the things I think I've neglected too long. Of course, getting out of the habits into which I've fallen will be difficult, but I don't think it will be impossible.

Chapter One Done

Got the first chapter of my new novel finished. 2500 great words. I'm hoping to start writing these with more regularity.

You're Not Cleared For That

Someone else has claimed to have discovered Atlantis. It's an interesting story, anyway; things like this make me want to take my alternate career path, the one I'd do if money and time were not concerns: underwater archaeology.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

World's Best....

Presenting this morning's random Internet find: the World's Best Cat Litter.

Altered Angels

A few months ago, on Jon's recommendation, I picked up Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan. I'm not the biggest fan of "cyberpunk" stuff, mostly because I find a lot of it fairly unoriginal, and one of the standard-bearers for the genre, William Gibson, has a writing style I find insufferably overwrought and self-indulged. But Altered Carbon was more detective story than it was cyberpunk tale, meaning the mystery aspect served as the framework for the book, rather than the nifty-but-awful-techie-future that serves as the framework for other tales in the genre, with story playing second fiddle.

Not that Carbon didn't include some of that, but it wasn't so overbearing as to be distracting.

Morgan put out a sequel, and I picked it up last week, since Tuesday was a one-DVD day (Shrek 2) and there haven't been any good new DVDs for a while, and there won't be any good DVDs for a while. It's called Broken Angels, and while it's a little more cyberpunky than Carbon, it's still not overbearingly so. I was half-expecting a shitty sequel, one cobbled together to fulfil a contract, or to make more money, but Morgan has crafted another fantastic mystery. This one takes place on a backwater planet embroiled in a civil war, more reminiscant of Firefly than anything else, and I discovered my doubts were unfounded about three pages in, when Morgan got the hook in my lip and started tugging.

I'll post more when I'm done reading it, but I encourage anyone who hasn't read Altered Carbon to get a copy and give it a whirl.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Oh, I Wish I Was In The Land Of Cotton

Here are a couple of interesting maps, for comparison's sake.

Fascism Revisited

The other day I posted a sermon about fascism that quoted the 14 points of a fascist government. Today, I offer an alternate view of what's happening in America: the re-emergence of Puritanism. I think Puritanism ultimate has the more compelling argument, because fascist states tend to move towards the government and patriotism as a means of replacing religion, rather than the government being tied to a religion.


Long ago, I suggested a site to Steve Jackson's Illuminated Site of the Week, and promptly forgot about it. Apparently in October, they deemed my site worthy. I suppose I should note I never would have found this without doing a vanity search on Microsoft's new search engine.