Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Quote of the Day

In accordance with our principles of free enterprise and healthy competition, I'm going to ask you two to fight to the death for it.

- Monty Python

Whatever Happened To "Mission Accomplished?"

From a news story on

    President Bush insisted he would not withdraw U.S. forces "without having achieved victory."
Whatever happened to the big banner on the aircraft carrier that said "Mission Accomplished?" Another Bush lie? Looks like.

Vets Running For Office - Guess Which Party?

In this breakdown of Iraq veterans running for Congress, note how many of them are running in the party that sent them to war, and how many are running in the party that wants to end the war.

Support our troops! Vote Democrat anything but Republican!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Day In The Life

For some reason, I keep running into the Beatles today. Beatles references, Beatles tunes, whatever. My iPod randomly played four Beatles songs in a row during my workout, my iTunes randomly played three of them in a row, a co-worker made a Beatles song reference, and the Tullys down the street was playing a Beatles tune when I grabbed some afternoon bean.

Goo goo ga joob, I suppose.

A Stupid Smartly

In case you need such a reference, here is an Encyclopedia of Stupid. Via the SA forums.

Movie: Sideways

We watched Sideways a couple of nights ago, kind of on a whim (hey, we've got this DVD and haven't watched it yet.) It was good. Very similar to About Schmidt in that it focuses on normal people who encounter other normal people who all have normal problems and do normal things. Also like that movie, it's kind of a road trip film, a convention that has sadly lay fallow recently.

I have to admit though that it's stuck with me. Even more than Walk the Line, I find myself thinking about Sideways in my off-time, going over the characters, the story, and so on. I'm liking it more almost in spite of myself.

It's worth checking out, even if it sounds a little pretentious. That's half the fun.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Take A Risk

Via Bobby, something too cool not to blog: Risk, with Google Maps. Amazing and fun.

Turkey Travel

Liz and I flew back to Tulsa for Turkey Day again this year. Tickets were pretty expensive, so we ended up redeeming frequent flyer miles and going First Class because that was the only thing that was left. In First Class, they bring you lots of wine and you get to spend most of the trip in a stupor, enjoying your large seats and lots of legroom. Too bad work won't spring for that all the time.

We saw both families and a couple of friends, but overall the trip was way too short. I brought several copies of WizKids' new game Tsuro, which was a major hit on both sides of the family. Still, we only had one full day with both sides, and thanks to a nice bout of insomnia, I had to cut out a couple hours early from my family otherwise I might have fallen asleep on their couch.

I had a day off yesterday, caught Walk the Line with Crabby, Liz, and Seth (great movie!), and otherwise got ready to go back to the grind today. I've gone through all my work emails in preperation for it, so at least I'm walking into a relatively short to-do list.

Up In The Sky!

The SETI@Home project has released a new, upgraded version of their software - a perfect time to hop on board if you haven't already. Search for aliens from the comfort of your living room!

Sunday, November 27, 2005


Sigh. Stuff like this certainly isn't helping to make the case for a monorail as a mass transit device here, but for cryin' out loud we need something.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Black Friday Report

Liz and I did the Black Friday thing this year, because we're masochists who enjoy subjecting ourselves to that which we hate the most: throngs of mindless consumers all lining up to fork over money to gigantic corporations for things they don't need. But if we're one of those people, then...


Anyway, there were a lot more people out this year than have been out the last two years, but the overall store selection seemed worse. Liz got some new duds, and I ended up with my yearly Black Friday acquisition (new wallet). We entertained the notion of going to Best Buy to try to get a digital camera, but made it as far as the front door before the massive lines scared us off.

While we were walking back to our car, a hick in a big pickup with a bed full of discounted E-Machines computers asked us if we were looking for one. I realized after I told him no thanks, but I'd love a cup of coffee that he was a scalper. A scalper scalping E-Machines computers.

Tickle Me E-Machines?

The best part was coming back and looking on the Internet for deals. Turns out you can get the same prices - or better - online for a lot of the Black Friday stuff at Best Buy and many other websites.

I think next year, I'll sleep in and shop online. And not have to face the scalpers.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Logging On

When I logged back into Urban Dead as my zombie, this little nugget appeared on the log:

    Apple Venus said "I don't have good attack skills. Someone pl. kill the Z and dump the body outside! Barricade needs strengthening again." (11-20 21:19 GMT)

A Question of Politics

Is it just me, or does Bush look and sound a lot like Beavis?

"Heh, heh, you forgot Poland! Heh, heh, anyone want some lumber? Come on, I've got some big old wood for ya, heh heh. Yeah. Heh. Wood. Heh. Heh. Yeah. Lots of hard wood. Heh. Heh. Terr'rists! Heh heh. Fire!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

It's the End of the Classics As We Know Them

Perhaps those more studied than myself can explain why we're now offering the classics as text-messags on cellphones. Or more appropriately, I ask, LOL OMG WTF???

Weekend Not In Vegas

I started off the weekend with a friendly game of poker at Captain Chott's pad. I went in badly but shaped up by the end of the night, ending about seven bucks over my buy-ins. Enough to buy my buddies lunch next week.

Yesterday I hit the gym early and then came back for a little online poker (play money, mom) and then to see Angela and John. We all ate at a really good "mediterranian/american" place, which had the best tabuleh I've eaten since my family's recipe. The cook came out to ask me what I thought of it, and I told her what I just wrote. We talked about Lebanon for a few minutes (she'd asked if I'd been, and I had to say I hadn't, so maybe I should go and get some street cred for that part of my family).

Today, I started off with a little more online poker (play money, mom). Both touraments I ended up winning, probably because I was the only person treating the play money like it's real money. Play money tournaments seem pretty cool because there's usually only three or four players who are playing seriously, and the rest are usually out in the first ten minutes, which is plenty of time to observe betting patterns and so forth. Now, I just hope that I'm learning good habits rather than bad ones.

Today, the gym, some Civ 4, and the finale of Rome tonight.

Oh, yeah: don't watch Cellular. It sucks.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Reading Too Much Into It Part Three

So what's specifically bad about the Galactic Empire? Aside from the editorializing in the opening crawl, which refers to it only as "evil," what we know about the machinations of the Galactic Empire is very little.

Towards the beginning of Episode 4, Grand Moff Tarkin informs his underlings that the Imperial Senate has been abolished, and the last traces of the old Republic have been swept away. So what little representation member-planets had under the Republic is gone. But as Ep. 1-3 demonstrate, that representation was little more than appeasement in the first place, as the Senate had no real authority to do anything. We can assume that little has changed in the Empire, except for the fact that Emperor Palpatine has his own army - but it is difficult to envision Palpatine using the Stormtroopers in a way that would contradict his own designs. Therefore, if something the Empire did exploited one of its member-planets, and the issue was raised in the Senate, it's highly unlikely Palpatine would have acted against his own interests.

But the Empire operated for ninteen years with the Senate, suggesting the shift of power to Palpatine and Palpatine alone was a very gradual process, in much the same way that dictators throughout history have assumed power gradually rather than all at once.

The Empire's true crime, however, comes from the nearly arbitrary destruction of Alderaan with the newly-launched Death Star. It is difficult, if not impossible, to argue the moral imperative of killing billions of people instantaneously simply to demonstrate the power of the Death Star, and therefore force other planets to live in perpetual fear that the same thing could happen to them - a powerful motivator!

So clearly the Empire is bad. But is it worse than the Repubulic? That's open to debate. Frankly, the answer is no. Although the Republic lacked the ability to destroy entire planets, it could be arguably worse by prolonging the suffering of their inhabitants through negelect and outright exploitation. From Gungans without representation to allowing corporate interests to directly enslave entire planets, the Republic is just as culpable as the Empire in the suffering of its people.

Next: The New Republic and Power of the People

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Religion and Liberalism

This weekend over on Daily Kos, a diary went up about What It's Like To Be An Atheist. As with many discussions of religion within the context of the modern Left, it skewed very much towards how religious people (on the right) will often marginalize atheists or agnostics, and how this person felt that the religious people were really just the nutty ones for believing in such nonsense.

Today, someone posted this diary: Ten Things Religious People Want Atheists To Know. This quite possibly rates as one of the best things I've ever read on Daily Kos. It's well-reasoned, and offers a very compelling defense not simply of religious beliefs, but on another level why the Left is incredibly remiss in discounting the value of religion and religious beliefs to the vast majority of Americans (and the world).

Note that I myself am not "religious," and my worldview is that of a Theravada Buddhist, although I do not attend a Buddhist religious institution nor do I actively practice many of the necessary precepts of that faith.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Koan For You

Let's say you like ancient coinage (like me). Then, let's say you like George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series (like me). Then, let's say someone goes off and makes a bunch of replica coins from the series.

Am I the target audience?

Not Two Thousand

Not two thousand words, but a thousand. And they completed the chapter that (thusfar) has been giving me the most trouble. Grand total of solid words is just shy of 13,000, with probably another 13,000 in fragments and other bits I'll use later.

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Self-Induced Long Weekend

I took today off work, and I've been using it wisely. I got a big backup of yardwork out of the way (raking, mowing, pulling plants, etc.) and cleaned up the kitchen. Then, I drove down to the gym for a while, and was able to go at a nice steady pace rather than feel rushed and pressured like I do when I go over lunch. That's kind of what this weekend was like: coasting and taking time to relax without feeling rushed or pressured.

Saturday I did some work around the house, bummed over to Seattle long enough to pick up my comics, and then came back to the house to do more work and install Civ 4. Yesterday was kind of more of the same - Liz and I have been taking turns reading A Feast For Crows, so she read while I worked on some stuff for the office (yeah, even on a relaxing weekend off I do a little work). My only regret is that I didn't get any writing done, but since it's only 2:20, I can probably worm some in before I take off for the evening (Alliterates meeting tonight).

I can probably get a good two thousand words in before I go.

Tulsa is the Seat of Taoism and Islam

They went and released Civilization IV. God help me.

Reading Too Much Into It Part Two

So the old Galactic Republic wasn't a perfect representative government. That's acceptable as long as it actually kept order, right?

The fact is, the old Galactic Republic wasn't all that much of a government at all. A decent comparison might be made with the first, rather impotent, confederate government instituted in the United States before we adopted our current constitution. The Galactic Republic had no real effective central government, allowed special interests to quite literally rule entire planets, and relied in a completely ineffectual religious order to "keep peace and justice."

The beginning of Episode 1 explains that taxation of trade on Naboo is in dispute. The Trade Federation, a privately-controlled conglomerate that holds a near-monopoly on legitimate interstellar trade in the Republic, has invaded the planet of Naboo with its own private army and taken the elected leader of that planet hostage. Rather than defending a member state with its own government force, the Republic itself does absolutely nothing - in fact, the Trade Federation (which holds a seat on the Senate - akin to Wal-Mart or Time-Warner being given seats in the House of Representatives) actively works in the government to mire the process in politics. Even if the government had been able to intervene, as happens after the no-confidence vote that preceeds Palpatine's rise to Chancelorship, the Republic has no standing army and therefore no way to enforce its edicts. Even if it were to call for economic sanctions against the Trade Federation, for example, the Federation could choke the lifeblood of a dozen planets merely be halting access, as they have done to Naboo.

The best the Republic has to offer are the Jedi Knights, "guardians of peace and order." A whopping two are dispatched to Naboo (Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi) to ascertain what is occuring, and to take action if necessary. The Jedi manage to escape with the Queen, but the planet itself and its millions of inhabitants are still held in the thrall of the Trade Federation - a situation remedied not by Republic (or even offical Jedi) intervention, but by an uprising among the native Gungans, who don't even have representation in the Senate.

The Republic is not only a military failure, its lumbering bureacracy and lack of a standing military creating a situation where the wealthy can easily exploit the weak without fear of retribution, but its intelligence network is a joke. The easiest example is the Jedi order unable to recognize a Sith lord so closeby - for years, Palpatine confers with the members of the Jedi council, including Mace "Badmotherfucker" Windu and the almighty Yoda, but neither of these Jedi recognize him for what he is (and, when a member of their own order learns the truth and reveals it to Windu, his first reaction is suspicion of his own religious brother, rather than the power-hungry bureaucrat who has shown every intention of keeping his supreme executive power).

To make matters worse, someone has ordered an entire army of clones fifteen years before they appear in Episode two - an intelligence failure so complete it makes one wonder whether Yoda and the rest of the council are not knowing accomplices to Palpatine's plans. Not to mention that Kamino, the planet upon which the clones have been incubating and training, has been purged from the Jedi records - a fact that doesn't worry Master Yoda as much as allow him to make a joke to the "younglings" at the expense of a concerned Obi-Wan Kenobi!

Even on the street level, the Jedi cannot deal with petty crime. In Episode 2, on the capital planet of the entire Galactic Republic, Obi-Wan is offered a drug called a "deathstick" while he is dressed as a Jedi. His response is not to go to the local authorities (if there are any), but to use his Jedi powers to force the drug dealer to go home and "rethink [his] life." Assume for a moment that Jedi power supercedes local authority, and assume that Obi-Wan's method of dealing with the situation is the correct means of judicial process in the Republic - the fact that a drug dealer was brazen enough to offer a person who had the authority to be judge, jury, and jailor an illegal (and, by the sound of it, dangerous) substance means that the drug dealer certainly didn't take the Jedi very seriously. It also leads one to wonder how many other Jedi were customers!

What the evidence from the first three movies shows is a Republic modeled on a very loose, non-interventionist style of capitalism. There is zero government input (and if the government wanted input, it is doubtful it could enforce it) into economic and social affairs - almost a Libertarian dream come true. Unfortunately, this has created a situation where the natural expensions of a weak central government have grown - the Trade Federation has grown out of control and wields its own private army, invading entire planets and oppressing the inhabitants, for example. While I'm passing no judgement on such a system of government, it's very clear that the thousands of years of peace and (for some) prosperity have created a situation where one person with enough drive and ambition could easily take control - the lack of government has almost created a power vacuum that Palpatine was only too happy to fill. The question really isn't how Palpatine could have risen to power, but rather why someone didn't do so earlier.

Next: The Empire - Better or Worse?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Bah, Humbug

Here's something I don't like: when coworkers send their seven-year-old kids around the office with order forms selling stuff I don't want or need as fundraisers (or worse, just passing the sheet around for their kids without making their kids do the work of actually trying to sell the stuff on their own). It's not that I don't like schools or kids, but telling a doe-eyed moppet why I don't want to buy a Christmas wreath for the second time today really made me realize how rude this practice can be.

Strange Dreams

Last night, my zombie dream took a strange turn: no zombies. Everything else was the same though - trapped in a building, lots of people who don't realize the danger, me running around telling everyone they need to get out, etc.

Except instead of hordes of zombies, it was the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. Go figure.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

When The Churchbell Chimed It Rang 29 Times

30 years ago today, the Edmund Fitzgerald broke apart and sank.

I Heart Shotgun Zombie

I had an incredible morning on Urban Dead today. My survivor got involved in a huge fight in the mall where he's been camping - infected three times, and killed three zombies (headshots for 130 XP each!) Check out his current XP:


Reading Too Much Into It Part One

Having all six Star Wars films on home video allows me to watch them (or pieces of them) whenever I wish. And as some of my friends can attest, I've been giving them a lot of though lately, not just as the greatest postmodern art film(s) of all time, but examining the world Lucas created as a whole.

My line of questioning began with "what makes the Galactic Empire so bad?"

Which I tossed around (and I'll get into later), but I arrived at a better question:

"What made the Republic so good?" In other words, why the rebellion against the Empire in an attempt to restore the Republic? What did the old system have going for it that was so great?

The simple answer is "well, democracy stupid!" But of course it's far more complex than that. First, let's look at what we know of the Republic itself.

Ruled from the capital city of Coruscant - which covers an entire planet - the Republic spreads across most of the entire galaxy. Each planet sends a Senator to Coruscant to participate in the Galactic Senate - one representative for each planet, regardless of each planet's racial composition or population (see Ep. 1, Ep. 2). It is not clear whether the Senators are elected or appointed, although there certainly appears to be no galaxy-wide standards for either election or selection. Using Naboo from Episode 1 as an example, Senator Palpatine's position as Senator is never clearly explained.

Further, Senators act only as representatives to the Galactic Senate, and wield little power on their own planets. Again using Naboo from Ep. 1 as an example, Queen Padme Amidala is the head of her planet's state - but all is not well on Naboo. The Gungans, another sentient race who share the planet with their human counterparts, have little contact with the world above their oceans. Their relationship with the Queen is icy at best (Ep. 1), and only outcasts like Jar Jar go above the water, even though it's clear that Gungans do not need to be immersed in water to survive. This fraction of sentient species implies two things: that if there are elections for either Senator or Queen, then the Gungans very likely do not participate in them; and there seems to be no great rush on the part of either the Senate or the Queen of Naboo to include the "other half" of the sentient creatures of their world in policymaking decisions.

The Gungans do have a leader of their own, Boss Nass, and appear to be allowed to rule themselves with some degree of autonomy. But as the end of Episode 1 illustrates, the involvement of the humans on the planet in Galactic affairs does affect the Gungan population when the droid army begins slaughtering them as well. It is this knowledge that finally incites Boss Nass to act against the invading Trade Federation in a battle where many of his species die - but at the end of the film, although Amidala proclaims thanks and friendship, there seems to be no move to grant the Gungans the same rights and status as the other humans. Jar Jars inclusion into the Senator's party as a "Gungan representative" in Ep. 2 seems to take some steps to correct this, but it is still unclear what rights the Gungans have, if any, in their Galactic represenation, even at the end of Ep. 3.

Extrapolating from Naboo, it is reasonable to assume that many other planets across the galaxy have similar racial compositions, and similar situations where some sentient beings do not share the same rights as others. Thus, the first problem with the Republic: it is not a true representative government. By allowing its member planets to disallow certain races or species from policymaking decisions, even when those policymaking decisions would affect those races or species, the Republic is, at best, a form of oligarchy, if not outright racist.

Next Time: It's an Impotent Governing Body Anyway

Back In The Swing

I'm three-for-three doing the gym this week, and don't plan to slow down today. I'm even hoping for a seven-fer, although I may give myself a day off on Sunday (I am, however, helping a co-worker move, so based on how that goes it could be like a day at the gym).

And I gotta say, I feel pretty damn good about it!

A Matter of Size

Ever wondered what a scale graphic of our Solar System would look like?

There ya go.

Via the SA forums.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Simple Pleasures In Life

And this is why I love Troma movies: gore, zombie chickens, lesbians, and overt political humor.

The Day After Election Day

I was remiss in not talking about our local elections until now, but I think anyone local reads Jeff's blog anyway, and I doubt I could match his coverage (and his recommendations and thoughts were pretty close to mine).

Looks like things turned out pretty well. The law that would have repealed fuel tax and made it impossible to expand the bridges across Lake Washington went down in flames. We voted for stricter audits of governments, against two laws that would have limited malpractice settlements against insurance companies, Democrat Ron Sims handily defeated Republican challenger David Irons, and we voted to ban cigarette smoking all over the state.

That last one is a bit of an exageration, and it was the one thing that happened that I don't like one little bit. Let me explain.

I don't smoke, I enjoy a nice pipe or cigar every now and again, but cigarettes ain't my thing. I don't like being around them that much, and I don't really like going to places that allow smoking.

That being said, Seattle is probably one of the most anti-smoking cities as it is. There aren't a lot of people here who smoke to begin with (not like, say, New York or London), and even without laws most restaurants don't even have a smoking section. Hell, most bars don't have a smoking section.

Which doesn't really bother me, because as I said, smoking isn't my thing.

But this measure seems like overcompensating to the point of absurdity. Not only does it ban smoking in all public buildings, but it bans smoking 25 feet from the entrance or ventilation of any public building. There are some areas in downtown where smokers will basically have to stand in the streets if they want to smoke - for blocks on end.

I look at it this way. I may not smoke, but I'm smart enough to make a choice as to whether I want to hang out in a place that allows smoking. And in Seattle, I have that choice, because unlike other places (Oklahoma), there's already a shitton of bars and restaurants that are smoke-free anyway.

In the grand scheme of things it's not that big a deal, but it does make me a little sad that Beth's will never be the same.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Last Con of the Year

This last weekend was Wizard World Texas in beautiful Dallas, the last convention of the year. This means I don't have to travel for work until next March. Yeah!

This con was notable because I met and talked with one of my favorite comic creators of all time, James O'Barr, who did The Crow - a very important part of the formative years of my life. I went to the Dickies 500 NASCAR event to help promote our new game, which was pretty much what you would expect 150,000 Texans in once place to be like. Neither of the drivers from Washington won, so meh. I did get a nice suntan all over my face though, and the people-watching was fun.

I also managed to make out with quite a few trade paperbacks. I finished Loeb and Turner's run on Superman/Batman, where they reintroduce Supergirl, and Loeb and Sale's Daredevil: Yellow. Can you tell I'm kind of into Jeph Loeb? Yeah. His writing is amazing. I got Superman For All Seasons for my birthday too, so I'll have even more Loeb goodness to write about soon.

That's really all I've got. I made it back to the gym today - hopped on the bikes rather than the eliptical so I can start to vary my cardio workout a bit. Texas was like a four-day gluttony binge, so I'm being very good about what I eat and how much I exercise.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Finding Old Friends

It's always cool when you reconnect with an old friend. Maggie, who worked with me back at Drury's writing center, has a blog and is living in South Korea. How cool is that?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Winter is Coming

Daylight Savings Time last weekend accelerated the Northwest winter into overdrive. It's now dark at about 5 PM, and we've still got a month and a half to go before it peaks and starts to get better. I've been steeling myself for this all year, but that doesn't make it any more or less crappy now that it's here.

So I'm abiding. After being awesome about the gym last week, I was completely lax this week. So I'm hoping to get a chance to work out a couple of times this weekend, and then get back into it full swing next week. The novel is coming in trickles, and I have a feeling I'm one good damburst away from twenty thousand words or so.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Debate Goes On

So is Star Wars a tribute to old sci-fi serials based on deeply-grounded myths, or is it the greatest postmodern art film ever?