Friday, December 30, 2005

Impeach Bush Now!

That's what Bob Krumm is saying:

It’s like cussing. Several years ago I went to Kuwait for four months to live in the desert surrounded only by other cavalrymen. Like everyone else there, my language was atrocious at the end of the tour. Whether used as adjective, exclamation, or punctuation, the F-word made its way into my every sentence. I was trapped in my own feedback loop of swearing. However, it didn’t take me long after my return to remember that civilized people don’t talk that way.

What those within the
Impeach Bush-crowd don’t understand is that, similarly, civilized people don’t use the I-word all the time.

Oh, but they’ll learn. When they push the issue in Congress, and it comes to the floor of the House for a vote, boy, will they learn.
Just like when Representative John Murtha stepped forward to declare: "Withdraw immediately." (He only later, under the heat of scrutiny, changed it to "Move away, real soon, carefully.") and the Dems leapt all over it, only to scamper away when the declaration was put to a vote on the floor of the House. (Twice!)

Democrats are "stuck on stupid." Republicans should take advantage of that. Play their bluff again. Put a motion on the floor and watch them scamper away again. Let America see that they aren't serious, just partisan. Again.

It shut up the "Withdraw now!" clamor, and it will shut down the impeachment talk.

Go for it!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Quote for the Day

That Crawford Tillinghast should ever have studied science and philosophy was a mistake. These things should be left to the frigid and impersonal investigator, for they offer two equally tragic alternatives to the man of feeling and action; despair if he fail in his quest, and terrors unutterable and unimaginable if he succeed.
H.P. Lovecraft in From Beyond

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Back Into Battle

[I posted this to BoardGameGeek earlier and decided to crosspost it here.]

Back in my high school and college days, I used to play some D&D games and a few Avalon Hill hex-and-counter wargames. I fell out of that crowd, and haven't played in twenty years.

At the start of 2005, though, my friend Mark was looking for a regular opponent for the table-top miniatures game Epic: Armageddon so he introduced me and bought me a starter pack. I've really taken to the game -- I went from total unfamiliarity with the Warhammer 40K universe to regularly beating Mark in one year -- and it has sparked a regeneration of interest in gaming in general.

First, I tracked down an old AH favorite game, Afrika Korps, on eBay and bought it, though I haven't played it yet. Then I found the Memphis gaming group this month and got together with some of them. We only had time for Ra, but I found myself really enjoying the game and the people. I'll be going back when I can.

I've also restarted playing chess, to sharpen my analytical skills. So far I'm only playing a computer program until I can get decent again.

Today, Mark and I... well, we went directly into the deep end of the pool. He found a copy of Flat Top, an old favorite of his, another AH hex-and-counter game about WWII naval battles in the South Pacific. He'd already made a copy of the rule book for me to study, so we just dived in. We began with a scenario (remember that), a shorter, simplified, "game within a game," called "East Solomons."

Set up alone took nearly two hours, though some of that time did include tracking down loose chits. Running through the rules, making sure everything was correctly ready, and fixing my plane errors took another hour. (When the rules called for "34" planes, I took thirty-four chits, not thirty-four points worth. Oops!)

We managed to make it through the game from 1AM until 11AM in about 6 hours. Ten turns of a 66 turn scenario. We made a lot of mistakes, and unevenly applied the rules we remembered to apply when we remembered; we also inadvertantly or not left out a lot of rules and procedures, but we did it!

Yeah, we bit off a lot to chew but we definitely had fun, in that "my brain hurts" kind of way that wargamers experience until one day the game just clicks and play suddenly becomes transparent. Or as transparent as a chart, counter and "formation box" heavy wargame like Flat Top can become.

First lesson? Start small. This game may have been the wrong place to start, but Mark's an old Navy man so he "gets" the theme and we both like wargames. We were smart to begin with a scenario and not the whole enchilada here. Even so, we joked about why admirals need staffs.

Second lesson? We need more tables! It takes three: one for the game boards; one each for our "formation box" charts and all the other charts and rules we need. Both our apartments are small and cramped, and mine has a friendly, inquisitive cat, so we might need to find some public space that will let us take it over for a day. (Hah! Maybe we just need to clean up the clutter in our apartments.) Any ideas?

Lastly, I had forgotten how absorbing hex-and-counter wargaming can be. I've already had that sensation of utterly losing myself in play with Epic and I like it. This one will take some work to master, but wandering around the Pacific, looking for carriers, watching for his aircraft, was a lot of fun.

Now I need to take that Afrika Korps box down and get all the pieces ready. Maybe we can try that one as a joint-unstiffener before we wade back into Flat Top again.

Yeah, my brain hurts right now, but I'm a happy guy. I was pretty dumb to not be gaming all these years.

THURSDAY UPDATE: Mark has posted his thoughts on the grueling endurance test that was Flat Top.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

And Now The Truth Begins to Emerge

I hate publishing a whole article, rather than excerpting it here and linking there but I think this one is short and sweet:
U.S. President George Bush decided to skip seeking warrants for international wiretaps because the court was challenging him at an unprecedented rate.

A review of Justice Department reports to Congress by Hearst newspapers shows the 26-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court modified more wiretap requests from the Bush administration than the four previous presidential administrations combined.

The 11-judge court that authorizes FISA wiretaps modified only two search warrant orders out of the 13,102 applications approved over the first 22 years of the court's operation.

But since 2001, the judges have modified 179 of the 5,645 requests for surveillance by the Bush administration, the report said. A total of 173 of those court-ordered "substantive modifications" took place in 2003 and 2004. And, the judges also rejected or deferred at least six requests for warrants during those two years -- the first outright rejection of a wiretap request in the court's history.
And there you go. Now we begin to understand what was happening and why.

I'm still waiting to learn how many Executive Orders the President signed bypassing FISA courts, and how many innocent, non-terrorist related people were infringed.
Joke of the Day

In heaven, the policemen are British, the chefs are French, the lovers are Italian, the engineers are German, and everything is run by the Swiss.

In hell, the policemen are German, the chefs are British, the lovers are Swiss, the engineers are French, and everything is run by the Italians.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Update for Linkers

Just so you know, I switched off the hotlinks for the bloggers bash graphics. For all hotlinking actually. If you need the "New Memphis Mafia" button accessible for your site, just let me know and I'll hook you up.
They Support the Troops, Except When They Don't

It's a mantra from some on the Left: "We support the troops." Except, of course, when they don't:
Just as the seemingly intractable nature of the war has led to a growing recruitment crisis, so the United Services Organisation, which has been putting on shows for the troops since the second world war, is struggling to get celebrities to sign up for even a short tour of duty....

Newton said many celebrities have been wary of going because they think it might be seen that they are endorsing the war. "And I say it's not. I tell them these men and women are over there because our country sent them, and we have the absolute necessity to try to bring them as much happiness as we can."

Fear is also a factor. "They're scared," country singer Craig Morton, who is in Iraq on the USO's Hope and Freedom Tour 2005, told USA Today. "It's understandable. It's not a safe and fun place and a lot of people don't want to take the chance."
Say one thing, do another. For some, partisan politics trumps all.
You Had Your Fun, Now I Have Mine

I'll be away from the computer all day today, off slaying the Emperor's enemies in Epic. Normally the Battle Bunker is closed on Mondays but today is a special Monday -- the day after Christmas -- so they'll be open to serve your shopping and returning needs.

We usually play a game built around 2700 or 3K point army lists and had originally planned a "mega battle" of 6K points for today, which would take about 5 hours or so to finish. But other Epic players want to join us, so now we're likely looking at six players and maybe as many as 30,000 points total! It promises to be a long day....

But fun, in that brain-wracking way. I find that I like the strategic thinking of this game, the planning and execution, the sudden and sometimes terrible surprises of large-army combat. I've even taken chess back up, albeit with a freeware program on my computer, to sharpen my skills.

Because you never know when some general, having just lost his key man, will turn to scan the crowd, point a sharp finger my way and bark, "You! Lead my forces to victory!"

Later, y'all.

MONDAY NIGHT UPDATE: Whew! What a day. We got there about noon and started setting up just before one. We finished setup around 2:30. The first turn took three hours and we never even finished the second before one guy got dispirited, another fell asleep, and another had to leave. Man, oh man.

We had three armies to a side; two sides. Each side was 18,000 points. The whole battle was 36,000 points! Unbelievable. I think it's the largest game we may see for quite a while. Eldar, Space Marines and Orks (that's us) vs. Eldar, Space Marines and Imperial Guard. The IG has lots of artillery that can reach across the field and pound us before we can even get moving. It was brutal at first. Mark was our overall general; Fuzzy and I his lieutenants. Two of the three guys we faced were long-time players of Epic and very good generals.

We elected to wait for them to move up, then start whacking away at them. That mostly worked.

It was a huge mess and lots of fun. My Space Marines anchored the center and did their job in holding it. I even lent support to Mark's Orks on our right flank. Fuzzy had the left flank and he was rolling it up by the end of turn one. In turn two, he broke a large section of our opponents' forces and was clearly going to control his side of the board. I was still securing the middle and Mark was slowly grinding away on the right, suffering a lot of frustration from his direct opponent. But he also broke a lot of the enemy's forces.

A slow, draggy, chaotic slugfest. It was enthralling!

TUESDAY UPDATE: Mark reports on his experience of the mega-battle.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Holiday Bonus Quote of the Day

From that endless spring of silly that is The Tick:
You're on a first name basis with lucidity, little friend. I have to call it "Mister Lucidity" and that's no good in a pinch.
The Battle of Trenton

Two hundred and twenty-nine years ago today, General George Washington led the ragged remnants of the colonial army to a last-ditch, do or die, surprise raid against British and Hessian troops in Trenton, New Jersey. Victory was a long shot at best; failure would end the Revolutionary War that day. Still, Washington pressed forward.

Take a few minutes to read this story and then think about our modern day soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. They are the inheritors of those incalculably brave and determined men that frozen morning over two hundred years ago.

They fight today as they fought then: for government of, by and for the people. They fought for words and principles, but they fought with guns. Do not forget that.
Same as it Ever Was

It seems I'm not the only one to see broad parallels between our present age and the Civil War era.
In subduing the Confederacy, Lincoln took his bearings by his constitutional duty to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution." Though this is the subject for another day, it should be noted that, given the Supreme Court's handiwork in the Dred Scott case, he was not an advocate of judicial supremacy. As president and commander-in-chief, he suspended habeas corpus, used martial law, instituted military trials, and exercised power to the limits of his constitutional authority in a manner that illuminates the loose nature of those limits when confronted by necessity. Yet Lincoln preserved the rule of law and became the Great Liberator.
PowerLine blog has been on my regular reading list for quite a while now.

What bothers me about the New York Times stories on the NSA is that they have yet to prove any harm coming to someone from the allegations. As they themselves admitted, they sat on the first story for a year before publication. In that time, they apparently were unable to find anyone who had been violated by the NSA.

It seems that the NYT is shocked, just shocked!, to find out that the US government, in a time of war, is spying on people, some of them Americans. They are whipping furiously, trying to turn their nugget of sugar into a mountain of cotton candy. But given that Bush's poll numbers are now cracking fifty percent, it would seem that the American public isn't buying what they're selling.

Now, I'm no fan of government spying. But it has yet to be shown that anyone, much less Bush himself, did anything illegal, simply because they could and not because they had reason to believe in something nefarious first. It's being presented to the public as Presidential whim and fiat when the case more correctly appears to be one of acknowledging limits, taking specific steps in specific cases to bypass those limits, and documenting the whole thing for accountability's sake.

Find me cases where the President used a government agency to harrass and crush his enemies -- as Clinton did with the IRS -- and I'll be angry. But right now, it's just more of the same partisan noise. And it looks like many Americans recognise that.

The problem is, as always, that we create powerful positions and laws and tools. When bureaucrats try to exercise those powers and find themselves frustrated, they want more. It has been ever thus. It's not a partisan problem, it's a government problem. The solution isn't more laws and tools aimed at political enemies and supporters, but fewer tools with more power in them.

A willingness to accept that sometimes a life of freedom and liberty is fraught with danger and risk must replace the "take care of me, I'm scared" mentality being pushed by the ignorant, the cowardly and the crafty. I'm not sure that most present-day Americans are that kind of people, though, and so there you are.

If you want someone to take care of you, you have to give them power. And if you want someone to watch over the guardian, then you need to give away even more power. It's just that simple.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Freakin' Christmas

Regular readers know that I'm an atheist, so the religious aspects of Christmas don't hold any meaning for me. I'm an incipient curmudgeon, so all the forced social merriment sours me. (On the other hand, I do make a point of sincerely saying "Merry Christmas" everywhere I go, especially to store clerks. Go figure.) I've made a point this year of avoiding all the stores and malls -- because the crush of people really does creep me out now. Trying to buy yet another token of genuine emotion as though somewhere in the exchange of consumer products chosen from a specific, pre-determined list of wants, that genuine emotion will be made manifest and will have real meaning, strikes me as hollow in the worst way.

More than usual, I have no real sense of it being Christmas-time this year. It's just a rainy dreary day today.

I wish that more folks would wake up from the consumerist daze they are in. Buying "stuff" isn't the same as giving, as though the total cash value translated into depth and profundity of feeling. Giving isn't a transaction; it's a sacrifice. Running up your debt to surround those strangers you call family with more devices and distractions that will further alienate you from each other isn't how the lifelong bonds that sustain you are built.

I wish more folks who call themselves Christians would live where the rubber meets the road. Growing up in the Catholic Church, I was taught the "true" meaning of Christmas, but it's amazing how many folks can hold the incompatible ideas of the modern, secular shopping spree that is "the holiday season" alongside the idea that their God willingly gave up his son to be tortured and murdered by their ancestors because he wanted to offer them a chance at redemption. It would seem that one idea of "giving" rather dwarfs the other.

But that's just me, an outsider looking in. The stores are still open for a few more hours as I write this, so shoo. You've got shopping still to do.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Thought for the Day

From the brilliant Edmund Burke:
Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites--in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity;--in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption;--in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon the will and appetite is placed somewhere: and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds can not be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I Been Bashed

I'm home from the bash and it was the most successful yet. Total turnout was about twelve or so. Eric (whom I had an interesting conversation with about podcasting) has the master list. Mark and I were the first there, after an abbreviated afternoon of wargaming. We played a three-sided game with another Epic player that ended poorly for us. We whacked away at each other (Space Marines vs. Orks) so that the other guy (playing Eldar, a very powerful army) was mostly undamaged when he moved in. It was a mess. I was this close to a win, but a decision I'd made earlier in the last turn came back to haunt me.

As always, there were more conversations at the bash than any one person could follow. Pulp Faction Rachel mentions some of the things she discussed, and I wasn't part of any of that! (By the way, Rachel is even more attractive in person than her online photos suggest; pictures do not do her justice. I mean, uh... wow.)

Some old faces I haven't seen in a while, like Jon Sparks (fashionably late from an office party and sporting a Nightmare Before Christmas tie) and Chris Lawrence (in town for the holidays) were there. The best part was meeting bloggers I'd never even heard of, like Markus (an up and coming actor) and Bret. As I noted above, so much was going on with me talking with bloggers I already knew that I didn't learn that Bret was a writer for the U of M Daily Helmsman until I googled his name at home! I'm sorry I missed talking with him and Markus (who has a great "life in Memphis) blog) now.

I didn't do my Howard Beale "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more," but I'm open to invitations to come down and let y'all take pictures some other time. Buy me lunch and we can set it up! Autoegocrat wants in on some of that action, too. He turned out to be every bit as passionate as his writing on The Pesky Fly suggests. A very intense guy, in the good way.

We did watch some television, though. Eric had an episode of Boondocks on his laptop which he shared. It was my first time seeing it, and it is pretty funny. But it struck me as really strange that conversation stopped for twenty-some minutes.

Politics, of course, reared its head. You could tell because some of the bloggers moved to the other end of the table when it came up! But that's one of the qualities we noticed about the Memphis blog scene, how there are different, but overlapping, tribes or flavors. The night-life bloggers, the political bloggers, the daily life bloggers, etc.

Who else? There was Paul, whose blog was unjustly left out of the Memphis Flyer list of best Memphis blogs. He lives downtown and he goes out and he blogs about it. Mr. Pesky Fly, Chris Davis, was there and once again, I missed the chance to pigeon-hole him for an hour. But, he was funny and good-humored as always. Oh, and Len, of course, who stood in for his cobloggers and was his usual dry, wry self.

Quetzal was a pretty nice venue, if a tad expensive. Their sandwiches were thick and meaty, with very thick-cut tomato slices, and a good-sized salad on the side. We were left alone in our little private room -- which was a good space for this kind of group. The wifi seems to have functioned perfectly. But it does seem that the next bash needs to happen in a smoking facility, as the cool kids kept disappearing to the smoker's court every so often. On the other hand, Quetzal had a pool table right next to the room. No one played, but I think that might change next time. We'll see....

Those of you who planned to attend but didn't? Well, you just missed out. Plain and simple. It was a bubbling party. You didn't get to touch Rachel's ice-cold flask. Or watch Bookdocks or see the "nasty" pics from that site. Or get your picture taken with Karen's factotem. Or debate which show had the best first season.

See? I bet you are already sad now, aren't you? These things always end too early. Never enough time.

Pics haven't been posted as I write this, though lots were taken. I'm sure by the time you visit those links above, they will be, along with more write-ups.

Thanks to everyone who attended. I'm guessing Valentine's Day or thereabouts next year will be time for the first 2006 bloggers bash. Start clearing your schedules.

THURSDAY UPDATE: Bash reports continue to roll in. Markus and Mark have posted theirs. Len has pictures!

Here is yours truly with The Factotem:

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

It's [Back] On! Christmas Holiday End of Year Bloggers Bash

(Never mind the earlier concerns about Quetzal. Everything's fine.)

The Bloggers Bash is ON. It is set for Wednesday, December 21st at 7PM. It will be at Quetzal, at 668 Union Avenue, across from the Commercial Appeal building. It is open to anyone who has a blog, a livejournal or a MySpace page, or any other blog-like website.

The space is wi-fied, so bring your laptop. Liveblogging is encouraged. So are cameras. I have promised to do my Howard "I'm mad as Hell and I'm not going to take it any more" Beale impersonation in the direction of the CA. (Though it will be pitch dark outside at that hour. Ha! Didn't think of that, did you smarty-pants?)

Below is a bash graphic you are free to use on your own sites. It comes in two flavors: Good Santa and Bad Santa. Your call. Please help to spread the word about this bash by promoting it on your blog, livejournal, MySpace page, etc. The more the merrier. These bashes are purely social events and always a lot of fun.

I would prefer that you download the image to your own server, but I have enabled hot-linking until the 21st so anyone who doesn't have an image host can use these. The text below the graphics is the direct image URL you enter on your blog, if you hotlink. (Please be gentle with my bandwidth, OK?) It doesn't show on this black background, but the Good Santa image has a thin black border around it, for white backgrounds.

See y'all there!

A Christmas Story...

... in less than thirty seconds and re-enacted by bunnies! Note that this is the "Ralphie and the air rifle" story, not the baby Jesus one.

I like that movie, although it's beginning to be overshown now. But I was born just at the tail end of that kind of Christmas atmosphere, when the emphasis was still on family get-togethers and the world coming to a stop while we did. I have very fond memories of my pre-teen Christmases.

In a way, I feel sorry for so many of the kids today, for whom Christmas is an orgy of gimme-gimme, playing alone, broken families that won't come together, and the world barely slowing down for a morning.
Freedom on the March Again

Freedom House released its 2005 report and the results are pretty heartening:
The people of the Arab Middle East experienced a modest but potentially significant increase in political rights and civil liberties in 2005, Freedom House announced in a major survey of global freedom released today.

The global survey, "Freedom in the World," shows that although the Middle East continues to lag behind other regions, a measurable improvement can be seen in freedom in several key Arab countries, as well as the Palestinian Authority. In another key finding, the number of countries rated by Freedom House as Not Free declined from 49 in 2004 to 45 for the year 2005, the lowest number of Not Free societies identified by the survey in over a decade. In noteworthy country developments, Ukraine and Indonesia saw their status improve from Partly Free to Free; Afghanistan moved from Not Free to Partly Free; and the Philippines saw its status decline from Free to Partly Free.
You can also read the full report, where you'll see that "Free" countries is at its highest level ever, more than double thirty years ago!

If you look on page five of the report, they have a graph showing that during Clinton's second and Bush's first term, the number of "Free" countries stayed pretty level. It's only been since the US, Britain and Australia spearheaded the Global War on Terror that there's been an uptick in the trend.

Hmm.... I blame George Bush.
Uh Oh

This news is disturbing:
The thieves used blowtorches to cut through the thick steel walls of a bunker where the explosives were stored, ABC News said, quoting the officials.

The missing 400 pounds of explosives includes 150 pounds of what is known as C-4 plastic, or "sheet explosive," which can be shaped and moulded and is often used by terrorists and military operatives.

Also, 2,500 detonators were missing from the storage explosive container, or magazine, in a bunker owned by Cherry Engineering.
I hope this doesn't auger something bad.
A Friendly, if Fuzzier, Face

A familiar local face is now blogging. Stop by and say hi.

The post title? You know how he has that headful of thick brown hair? (Moi, jealous? Pfah.) His new beard is the same way. I had the pleasure of meeting him in person earlier this year and it was a surprise.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

eBay Weirdness

Via the not safe for work Fark come a truly bizarre eBay auction product description. If you can get past the ALL CAPS AND NO PARAGRAPH BREAKS, you'll see this guy is truly, deeply twisted. He's not just selling an aquarium lid, but a whole new life for you!

The fun thing is how he charges you actual postage, an extra dollar and fifty cents for "fudge factor" and then another seven dollars as a "handling charge" for the work of selling the lid. All to advertise his services as a counsellor. What a tool.
Lazy Sunday

I gave up watching Saturday Night Live many years ago. It's just not funny. Painfully not-funny. But last night, since CSI was running late I flipped over to catch a bit of "Weekend Update" before CSI started, just in case. And because Tina Fey is hot.

Imagine my surprise when I saw "Lazy Sunday", which may be the funniest thing they've done in years. It was Chris Parnell and some new guy going a white-boy rap about getting up on Sunday to go see The Chronicles of Narnia, or as they put it "The Chronic -- WHAT?! -- less of Narnia." Dead serious white guys doing a pretty hilarious rap about movies, cupcakes, cabs and waiting in line that completely sends up the inherent lameness of being middle-class whites in the Big Apple.

Funniest. SNL bit. In. Years.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Kingfisher Geyser Mystery Solved

The Enid News and Eagle appears to have solved the mystery of the Oklahoma geysers (more here) thanks to a modern, reader-interactive website:
We got a tip on reader comments yesterday that was very helpful to us in getting the right questions asked. A reader posted a comment that gave the name and location of a Chesapeake rig that had experienced a “gas kick” at about 9,200 feet last week. The reader explained that they lost the drill pipe and circulation. We took his information and further queried some local experts, who gave us some more clues about possibly happened and helped us understand what questions we needed to ask.
Our reporter started making phone calls around 9:30 a.m. to Chesapeake and to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. They weren’t prepared to give us immediate answers. We continued to watch the other news coverage about the Kingfisher geysers, and no other organizations had any different information than what was reported on Monday.
The newspaper opens its web pages to reader interaction. A reader posts a tip and the paper follows up on it. They are ahead of the authorities on the investigation. They get the answer, because the reporter had the right information to do the asking with.

Welcome to modern journalism and web-based, interactive newspapers.
Things Don't Change Much

If you want proof that things don't really change all that much, and that human nature is pretty constant, try reading this column about articles in the Enid, Oklahoma, Daily Wave.

Commecialisation of Christmas?
The stores were crowded this afternoon. Plenty of Christmas goods were on display, and the busy buyers looked them over eagerly. The prospect for a fine Christmas trade could hardly be excelled.
Even the Commercial Appeal's new-look, people-centric style is very familiar:
Mrs. W.J. Hughes and daughter, Miss Elste Hughes, gave the second of a series of receptions in their home on West Broadway yesterday afternoon. About 50 guests were present and enjoyed a very pleasant event. After games and music, a delicious luncheon was served to the guests.
At the time this was written, Oklahoma wasn't even a state. This was the era of Teddy Roosevelt, silent pictures, Model-T Fords and horse-drawn carriages sharing streets, the Spanish-American War.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

You Know the Drill

If you're here about the bloggers bash, follow the link for more info and some graphics you can use. Or just scroll down; you might find some interesting reading on the way.

Otherwise, no posting until Wednesday night or, as is more likely these days, Thursday sometime. Wednesday is Busy Day and I'll be away all day.

Heard any good jokes lately? I'm not a joke person; more of a wit, pun or quip sort of guy. You know: japery. However:
A police officer is cruising the streets, doing his rounds, when he sees a guy with twenty ducks in his car. He pulls the guy over and demands, "What are you doing? Take those ducks to the zoo. Right away!" He lets the guy go, with a warning.

The next day, the cop is back on the same street when he sees the guy with the ducks again! He pulls the guy over and says, "Didn't I tell you to take those ducks to the zoo yesterday?"

The guy says, "I did! But today they want to go on a picnic."

Later taters!
Sydney Riots Gain Form

The rioting in Sydney continues, though on a much reduced scale. You can read the usual news coverage at The Australian and from the Sydney Morning Herald, or by listening to Sydney talk-back radio station 2GB.

I've been listening to 2GB off and on, and looking for some local reporting with some success. The history and shape of the problem is beginning to come into focus. The American press line is "racist white Australians, egged on by hate caused by the War on Terror, are attacking innocent Arab-Muslim Australians." The truth, as is often the case, is much less terrible, more local, and more prosaic.

First, the history of violence in Sydney isn't recent. Via Tim Blair comes this 1974 report, which notes:
Jennifer Cornwall, who is writing a municipal history of the shire, said Sunday’s riot was part of a continuing problem fanned by the rise of Pauline Hanson, Tampa and terrorists. “Now they’re fighting the ‘Lebs’, as they call them, but I have a 1974 report by the council on problems between locals and so-called ‘wogs’ that talks about parochialism and racism,” she said. “Before that, the locals fought the ‘Bankies’. Really, it’s partly about protecting your territory from outsiders and sticking with your mates."
The whole article is the usual lefty blather, but buried within are nuggets like the above.

Reading around, I came across this tale of growing up in the center of the rioting, Maroubra Beach. The blogger is a Sydney cabbie with a street-level view of what's happening.

What we learn is something very familiar, especially Lefty students of class struggle.

The area is a tough, working class neighborhood. There is a strong sense of community that would be very familiar to any New York Bronx, Chicago South Side or Los Angeles South Central resident. When people are packed into low income, run down neighborhoods, sense of place becomes very important. For young men who otherwise have no outlet for their boisterousness and aggression, defending their "turf" and falling into gangs happens quite easily.

Add to this the surfer territoriality. I can remember back in the Seventies a band from California, America's Surf Central, called The Surf Punks, who had one album, Locals Only and their "hit" My Beach. It was funny to us Southern boys, but fighting for control of the local surf and keeping out the invaders was serious business.

Beaches and surf are limited resources. When your beach becomes popular and others (in academe-speak "The Other") start showing up and competing with you to take a part of that away, you get defensive. Mix all this together and you get a volatile situation.

What's been happening in Sydney is that Lebanese-Australian (LA) young men have been coming to the beaches from their inland neighborhoods. The "'Bra boys" as they are called, have been defending their turf. There have been confrontations. It's the stuff of classic American working class novels and movies.

Now, let's add in some more complexity. The "lebs" (the most recent slang insult name) are bringing in their culture, which says that women who dress in bikinis and shorts and tight tops are whores. They are taught that these women deserve whatever happens to them. The LAs have no reason to respect these women, as they aren't taught to respect the larger Australian law and political culture when it conflicts with their religious culture.

The result has been years of reports of gang rapes and assaults but little apparent response. The police and government have been treating these gingerly, bowing to political PC pressure. The LAs learn to further disrespect the police and the law. The working class white Australians also learn not to respect the law and the police.

New wrinkle: while the cops can and do make a lot of arrests, they have a problem with judges in courts releasing people on easy bail, to return overnight to the streets and back into the conflict.

It all came to a head Sunday, December 4th, when another gang of LAs swaggered onto Maroubra Beach. These men attacked the two life guards on duty, sending them to the hospital. The 'Bra boys had to respond, not to the assault -- because they also have issues with the life guards who are seen as extensions of the police -- but because of the flexing of muscle on "their" beach.

Another factor is alcohol. The anger of the crowds was fueled by alcohol, as many people admit. The government and police have reponded to this by getting new powers to ban sales of alcohol in certain parts of Sydney (shades of American laws that restricted alcohol sales to keep lower class workers in line) and also to create "spot zones" where alcohol is banned. Part of the problem with this approach is that the LAs don't drink alcohol. It's banned in their culture.

And so began the back-and-forth cycle of attack and response by counter-attack. This past weekend may have been the peak, as the Sydney community is responding rapidly and with concern. But there have still been incidents, like an expected attack against a mosque and a fire-bombing of a church last night.

The press has been doing a spotty job of reporting the violence, because the Australian press is much more worried about PC than their American counterparts. "Men of Middle Eastern appearance" is the euphemism of choice. So is reporting violence and action without mention of which "side" is doing it. Like these examples:
• A 23-year-old man was in St George Hospital ...[with] a knife embedded in his back ... [after] an altercation outside a golf club with a "group of males of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern appearance".

• The Australian flag at the Brighton RSL Club and burnt it in the street. Youths were seen at a garage filling bottles with petrol in nearby Monterey.

• 50 carloads of youths smashed more than 100 vehicles with baseball bats and other weapons

• Gunshots near Northies Hotel at Cronulla

• At Caringbah... four men got out and began attacking patrons of Antonio's Pizzeria. They knocked a woman unconscious on the footpath and smashed the window of a denture clinic.
All were commited by Arab Muslim men, but the reporting leaves it open.

At heart, then, this is mostly a not-atypical lower class turf struggle. But we must add to this the "clash of civilisations" that is also going on. Because the two sides have very different views of how society in Australia works. This, too, is an old story. America went through great spasms when Eastern European, Mediterrainean and Irish immigrants began to arrive in America in the late 19th century. The new immigrants were seen as smelly, ignorant, drunken; with strange and base mores; little more than animals. They were herded into slums and encouraged (whether by police or bigotry) to stay there.

It took decades for this country's dominant white Anglo-Saxon, Protestant over-culture absorb them. You can still see echoes of the old fears and stereotypes in popular culture. (Irish cops, Saint "Paddy's" Day, making fun of funny foods and accents) You see new struggles as we work to absorb the growing Hispanic minority.

But in all these cases, the cultures share a lot of things. Christian, European (or Euro-derived) foundations cross all these peoples. In places like Europe and Australia where Arab-Muslim immigration is greater and their minorities are larger and less well-integrated, the values that affect public behavior, family behavior, duty and responsibility, and especially religion are markedly different. Though family, work and community are both highly valued, they find their expression in very divergent ways.

For the Euro-PC leftists, much of Arab-Muslim culture is seen as little more than barbaric and primitive. While they may pay lip service to values like "tolerance" and "respect" they don't act it out. In fact, they will frequently try to use their daily interactions to try to "educate" the Arab-Muslims (especially the women) into Western, secularised, values.

Now, I happen to agree with many of those values -- work, education, freedom of expression, control of self. It's in being seen as shoving it down their throats that we create a defensive posture in return, one that encourages retreat into their own community rather than melding with the larger, native one. A hostile dominant culture creates a self-protecting smaller one.

This is all old news. We've seen it happen around the world, over and over. It's just that this time, the gap between the two colliding cultures is sharper this time. This time, the dominant culture is also very tepid, conflicted and hesitant in assimilating the smaller one. Rather than assume that the new will be brought into the old, leaving traces of itself in the new mix, we have PC Lefties who seem ambivalent, who want to bring in the old culture but somehow without removing any traces of the old nor inflicting the values of the new while still expecting the values of the new to magically appear in the old, welcome and problem-free.

That's a pipe dream, of course. It's going to be a mess; it always is. Folks will be hurt and some aspects of culture will be lost. If we want to make sure that Western, capitalist, democratic, secular values succeed -- and I do -- we must make sure that other, conflicting values are changed. We must be dominant, like it or not.

What's happening in Europe and Australia is a result of wanting things both ways. It can't happen, so you end up with ghettos of minority culture inside an oblivious and self-satisfied majority. Add in political alienation -- always attendant when one group is an estranged minority -- it becomes a volatile mix guaranteed to explode at some point.

Australia seems more willing to address their immigration assimilation problem more openly. Good on them! They are seeing these riots as "grog-fueled yob behavior," (according to one Australian pundit) which is true to a very large extent. Their solution comes in finding ways to both blunt and channel young male aggession first, and then finding ways to bring their minority further into Australian society and culture.

They are having the same idiotic battle on how this happens as the rest of the Anglosphere. Many PC Lefties are abashed at their own culture, even self-loathing in many cases, but absolutely unwilling to change it except in their own image. This often has little to do with the values of the immigrant society, and more to do with utopian delusions. For all its other faults, the old WASP and "One Australia" cultures had tremendous power and cohesion, a strong ability to bring other cultures into itself while not entirely obliterating them. The arrogant pride was dangerous, especially to the immigrants and to foreign nations, but accomplished a lot of good and made possible the gains of recent decades.

That is the new problem for the Anglosphere, recognising when to slow down change, to begin rejecting change for its own sake, and to pause long enough to incorporate and adapt to what its absorbed. It also involves looking to some values that have been rejected, or are in the process of being rejected, and figuring out how to re-strengthen them with the new paradigm.
More on the Oklahoma Geysers

The mud / water / gas geysers in Oklahoma that I posted about here are now spreading into a two-county area.

Local authorities seem to be relatively certain it's not a leak in any gas pipelines. It's noted that the leaks seem to be following the path of Winter Camp Creek (nee Dead Indian Creek), which seems to indicate a natural origin.

The story mentions that the water bubbling up is "cold." That's good news, since it tends to discount the possibility of hot magma rising to the surface. In some comments attached to the story, other possible explanations are offered, most centering around natural gas deposits naturally shifting closer to the surface.

Floppy Coppy

Via Samantha Burns comes word from Britain that they are employing ten cardboard police officer cutouts. (Link has picture.) What's scary is that the cardboard cops are working!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Salt Mines and Water Don't Mix

While doing research for the next post, I ran across the story of the Lake Peigneur Disaster.
The five-man night crew had run into some drilling problems during their shift and decided to stay a while until the seven men day crew showed up at 6:00 AM. By 6:30 AM, the drilling rig started to tilt slightly. The crew suspected that the drilling rig was collapsing under their feet. They radioed Texaco's district office in New Iberia about the problem. Both crews decided to abandon the platform and head for shore, which was just 200 to 300 yards away.

The water of Lake Peigneur slowly started to turn, eventually forming a giant whirlpool. A large crater developed in the bottom of the lake. It was like someone pulled the stopper out of the bottom of a giant bathtub.
The funniest part is this line from the end of the story:
The environmental catastrophe that was anticipated at the time of the accident never materialized.
You don't say.
Odd Geological Activity

Just aimlessly surfing around, I came across a story about geysers and mud eruptions in Oklahoma since Friday. (Another story here; also a discussion at Free Republic.)

My first thought was a possible connection to the New Madrid Fault Zone, but it's too far to the west. It is, however, in the Meers Fault Zone, which is still active, though in a very minor way.

Is the Meers zone becoming more active, as is happening at Yellowstone? What the Kingfisher, Oklahoma, stories don't include is whether the mud spattering up from the ground is warm or not. They also don't indicate how officials know that gas is coming out. (Other than the sound.) Natural gas is odorless; the sulphur smell we associate with natural gas is added by utility companies to help homeowners be aware of gas leaks in their homes.

There is a slight possibility the gas leak is from a ruptured line, but given the spread of the geysers around the area, that seems unlikely. The presence of mud means water is coming out with it, which might mean an area aquifer has a gas pocket in it that's somehow gotten close to the surface. Also, Kingfisher is a natural-gas producing area, so it could very well be natural.

But.... It might also be magma below the crust is moving closer to the surface, as it happening at Yellowstone. That's not a real danger, as the eruptions seem pretty minor, but it's something to watch. Geographically, Meers and New Madrid are darn close. Activity at Meers might mean something to folks around New Madrid.

Maybe. Most likely not. Still....
Being Too Careful

I had UPN30's 9PM newscast running in the background and caught anchor Bonnie Kinney actually talking about killer Stanley "Tookie" Williams' "alleged" victims. Alleged?

He's been convicted in a court of law and that conviction has been upheld repeatedly. He's going to die for those murders in a few hours. I think we can dispense with "alleged" now.

Jeez. Talk about cautious.
The Year in Review

James Lilek's look back at 2005:
Behold: 2005 was the most important year in human history.

Okay, maybe not. There have been better years, and worse ones. The Goths did not sack New York City. No plague. Asteroids didn’t deform the globe. The center held, and if some rough beast was slouching toward Bethlehem it appears he was diverted to a time-share in Branson for the season.

Nothing blew up—over here at least. Despite the usual rash of false alarms, Americans no longer seem to be waiting for the other shoe bomber to drop. The economy grew much more than gloomy reporters expected. The Batman movie was good, for a change. No one on the Supreme Court tested positive for steroids. Politically, the Administration seemed determined to get the third year of its second term out of the way in the first.

All in all, not bad. If something wretched happens in 2006, Aught-Five will be regarded like 2000, another year when we blithely sailed along, amusing ourselves with gaudy TV, insouciant Internet amusements, Powerball, and the transient couplings of toothsome thespians. Athens reborn!
Word for the Day

Via the new-to-me Double-Tongued Word Wrester:
Tramp Stamp: n. 1. a tattoo on a woman, especially on the back at or below the waistline. 2. a hickey (on a man).
Great amusement for language lovers.

Thanks and a hat-tip to Possumblog, who is one highly entertaining blogger of life near Birmingham, Alabama.
Rioting in Sydney

In the American press, the rioting taking place the past two days in Sydney, Australia, carries a faint tinge of "angry white Australians" attacking the Muslim community.

But dig deeper and the story is a bit more one-sided. And worrying. It began last weekend when a group of men of "Middle Eastern appearance" (the Australian press euphemism of choice; the slang word is "leb" for Lebanese, the majority of the immigrant, Arabic, Muslim population) showed up at a public beach and threatened the life guards. The men beat the two life guards bad enough to send them to the hospital. It was a battle over "beach turf."

If you want to hear the more unfiltered version of events, you can listen to Sydney Australian radio station 2GB. It's a news/talk station (the Australians call it "talk back" radio -- Have your say!) that is covering the latest developments as soon as they learn them, and fielding calls from Australians reacting to events. Bear in mind that Sydney is sixteen hours ahead of us.

The reactions are interesting. Mostly what you hear is concern for the public safety, and anger at armed groups of young men (regardless of ethnicity) making the streets a "war zone." There is also some angered confusion at the official response from police and government. The police are announcing a new riot squad -- that will be operational in January. The government is talking about banning the sale of alcohol (which the Muslim young men don't drink) in the affected areas, or in having the power to instantly create "spot zones" where the sales of alcohol is immediately banned. Yeah, right.

There was a report when I was listening earlier that police had raided a rooftop where they found dozens of Molotov cocktails and crates full of rocks, stockpiled by the Arabs. Shades of the Paris riots! There are also reports of guns being brandished and used by both "sides."

The reactions of the hosts to reports of guns is amusing to an American like me. They speak with horror and surprise and a certain amount of disgust. But given that the primary weapons of choice are knives and fists at close range, and baseball bats to car windows all over the place, it's not a serious concern for them, yet.

Callers seem to be baffled at the lack of immediate action by government. Most plans I've heard generally involved getting ready for the next weekend, or finding the right force (local police are overwhelmed and unprepared, even in Australia's largest city; the Army is thought to be overkill) to bring in. Callers want community action right away, to defuse the anger and bring the young men under control.

It's interesting to listen to. The prevalence of text messaging to organise spot mobs and to plan actions (or responses) is making it hard for police to interdict. The shared language (although Ozzie accents can get thick) makes this situation much more accessible than the Paris riots were. (Though I stress that things down under aren't nearly as terrible as France.) It gives Americans a bit of an idea of what we might be facing in a few more years.

Or not. I've lost the link now, but a demographic study has shown that Muslim Arabs are never more than five percent of the population in almost all American counties. There are some exceptions -- parts of LA; Dearborn, Michigan -- but Muslim Arabs are a very small part, for now, of the American mosaic. There just aren't the packed-in ghettos nor the cultural and employment isolation Arabs face in Europe and, yes, Australia. Most Arab-Muslim Americans are busy about the business of living their lives.

Which is good news for us. But you should give a listen to 2GB for at least a bit to see what might have been. Or what may be.

[Digressions.] Sydney has had racial tensions for many years. If you read Tim blair's blog you'll see they've been dealing with it since the Seventies. But in recent years there have been regular assaults by "Middle-Eastern appearance" men against white Australians. This problem has been festering a while now.

It may be the summer heat which is triggering the explosion. (The public officials are also blaming alcohol.) Don't forget that Australia's seasons are opposite ours. Right now it's coming on high, hot summer Down Under. And if you listen to 2GB, don't forget that they are about seven hours ahead of us. Afternoon listening will get you the late-evening program.

Australian "talk back" radio hosts aren't conservative like in America. They are most decidedly more liberal. Like most other Anglo-descended nations (Britain, Canada, New Zealand, etc.) what they call conservatism is much more "big government" adapted than their cousin-strain in America. PC is way more observed and respected. Listening to the hosts' disbelief that "it's happening here" would be amusing, if the subject at hand wasn't so awful. They are also very observant that their actions and statements on the air have an effect on the situation, so they tend to behave in a more calming way. It's an interesting cultural difference, at least to me.

Really, skip the American press coverage, if you have any interest in this subject, and go straight ot the Australian coverage. Just go to Google and search there, or start with Tim Blair's blog and follow the links.

Last, the difference between Australian talk-back and American talk radio is striking. The hosts tend to keep their comments short and to the point, then get right back to the phones to hear what callers have to say. Callers are given long stretches of time, without interuption except for ad breaks, to make their points. Compare that to America, where the hosts talk, talk, talk and only give short time to callers. I can remember a time when people like Rush would give callers their time. No more; it's about the star now.

Even locally, someone like Mike Fleming will flap his yap incessantly, then rush through a few callers quickly, cutting them off or finishing their thoughts for them. You have to go to WDIA/1070 to hear people speak their whole mind, or Andrew Clark on WREC/600 on weekends. Clark is especially good at letting callers work themselves through their thoughts, though he suffers from a stable of regular callers who seem more concern with hearing themselves on the radio than with furthering discussion. I haven't listened to Janis Fullilove or Leon Gray in a good while, so I can't say what their shows are like.

EVENING UPDATE: I made a point of watching the BBC (World) evening news and CBS. The BBC was surprisingly even handed, for them, though they were explicit in laying blame on "neo-nazis and skinheads" (their term). CBS was much, much worse. They made sure to blame angry, simmering, white racism for all the problems. The incident last weekend with the two life-guards being sent to the hospital was an "allegation," a pretext for whites going berserk. They showed some folks on the street cleaning up broken car glass, implying it was caused by white rioters when in fact it was almost certainly the work of "men of Middle Eastern appearance."

The BBC at least addressed the Muslim Arab side of the problem, but CBS made it an explosion of white supremacy, pure and plain. Awful.

MIDNIGHT UPDATE: Here is an excellent analysis of what led up to today's riots -- police and governmental indifference to rising trends.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Christmas Holiday End of Year Bloggers Bash

So, it strikes me that we should have a bloggers bash sometime before the year closes out. I stepped aside from doing these for other, better, organisers to come forward. Doesn't look like a bash is going happen otherwise, so I'll get the ball rolling.

Somewhere in the next two, three weeks. Still in the Midtown area? Weekday or weekend? Bar, restaurant, cafe, library public room?

Just my thoughts: Dish was pretty nice, if noisy. I have rethought my displeasure with Cafe Francisco, so that's cool too. Weekday around 6 or 7PM seems to work. Weekends will be filling up with holiday parties, but they do allow for late night hilarity.

On the other hand: We've never had one out in the 'burbs. Is it their turn now? Any good wi-fied spaces out there? Or is the Midtown vibe more conducive to bashing?

Start with the suggestions so we can begin to narrow things down. If you have a blog or website, please consider spreading the word. As always, the more the merrier.

Ho ho ho.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Looking for Good Blogs?

Blogging is still a new experience for many. You find one you might like, but then there are literally hundreds of thousands more still to sample. Where to start? Where to go?

Well, Jon Henke has assembled a pair of lists of the top tier political blogs, left and right. You can find the Right Wing blogs list here and a companion list of Left Wing blogs here. His descriptions are mostly fair and pretty accurate and should give any newcomer a lot of new reading.
Insert Boilerplate Here

Just a note, as I do on Tuesday nights: No posting until late Wednesday, if at all. Wednesday is Busy Day, or Away From The Keyboard Day. I will be off in a distant part of the galaxy serving with the Emperor of Man's Space Marines, killing Orks, Eldar and heretics.

Be good until later!
This Modern World Detourned

The Memphis Flyer runs the not-funny This Modern World strip. I saw this a couple of weeks ago and, with recent events, I was moved to detourn it into this:

What is detourning? If you aren't familar with situationist expression, you can read this seminal text to learn more. Basically, it's living life at every moment as though you are in the center of a giant party / parade / personal television show / spectacle. Imagine if the whole MTV network was about you. That's situationist. In fact, MTV is, or was back when it was freeflowing, the almost perfect expression of situationist thinking!
Lite Brite Request

If anyone in the reading audience here has an old copy of the game Lite Brite they would like to donate to me, please let me know. I'm really only interested in the little colored pegs you stuck into the light board. I'd like to adapt some of those pegs for army units and building models for the tabletop wargame I play.

If your kids are grown and gone, or you have an old one (it doesn't have to work as long as the colored pegs are there) sitting in the closet gathering dust, and you wouldn't mind giving it away, please email me at the address on the top left. Thanks!

I've mentioned that I play Epic:Armageddon, a table-top wargame using small figures to stand in for army units. It's part of a very broad category of games that try to recreate the experience of war. These range from highly abstract games like go and chess, to the old "hex and counter" games like PanzerBlitz and Squad Leader, to figures on tables games like Epic, to modern computer games like Call to Duty. There are even role-playing and card games that try to capture the strategy and conflict of war.

I got started with "hex and counter" games back around high school. These are games where a map or board of some terrain or actual location are overlaid with a grid of hexes. The players have small cardstock squares to stand in for the units they will play. Games came with a booklet of rules, sometimes small and sometimes as long as a novel. Charts and tables covered conflict resolution, the actual working out of fighting between units. But in my late twenties I fell away from it all.

Thanks to Mark, I got back into all this at the start of the year. We now regularly play Epic, and I've gotten a renewed interest in the old wargames. But I've also gotten into the newer, so-called "German" games, which aren't about conflict or war, but are much friendlier and more social. The games are much smarter and more adult than the usual boxed game like Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit, while keeping the friendly, social, "let's play a game" atmosphere.

All of this is to set the stage for this article about "hex and counter" wargaming. It's a bit more pessimistic than I think is called for, but it's a good overview of the old board games.

True, kids today are into the computerised versions, which allow for first-person, immersive, play with realistic graphics standing in for the imagination the old board games required. I think there's room for a hybrid game style that hasn't appeared yet. It may even already be out there; I don't know, as I don't play console or PC games. All I know is Civilisation and Age of Empires. I know that Sid Meier had a PC version of the Battle of Gettysburg, where you directed units across a field and the computer handled the conflict resolution.

Anyway, for those of you unfamiliar with old-style wargaming, this article is a good overview.
Thought for the Day

Today's thought comes via The Tick:
Evil is just plain bad! You don't cotton to it. You gotta smack it in the nose with the rolled-up newspapaer of justice! Bad dog! Bad dog!
Bonus thoughts!
But time's a-wasting and evil's out there making hand-crafted mischief for the swap meet of villainy. And you can't strike a good deal with evil. No matter how much you haggle! We don't need to look for a bargain; goodness is cheap because it's free, and free is as cheap as it gets.
And this:
Everybody was a baby once, Arthur. Oh, sure, maybe not today, or even yesterday. But once! Babies, chum: tiny, dimpled, fleshy mirrors of our us-ness, that we parents hurl into the future, like leathery footballs of hope! And you've got to get a good spiral on that baby, or evil will make an interception!
Pithy final observation:
Gravity is a harsh mistress.
So much, much more here and here.

I leave you with this:
You just toasted the best BLT joint in the tristate area; prepare to pick up the tab!
Does This Sound Familiar?

Britain's Conservative Party (also called the Tories) elected a new leader, David Cameron. He will be going up against Gordon Brown, who is replacing Tony Blair as the leader of the Labour Party. Blair has said he is stepping down in May.

Cameron says the party must revive itself with "modern compassionate Conservatism." But don't let that fool you, as he listed his immediate, broad platform:
...creating a full-bodied economic policy which went beyond just tax; giving freedom to those on the frontline in public services; national and international security; and ensuring social justice by strengthening the voluntary sector.
Sounds vaguely Bush-like, doesn't it. You have to wonder just how much he's modelling himself after the American President. On the other hand, it's important to remember that other Anglo-sphere conservative parties aren't nearly as far to the right as the American Republican Party. Most accept openly the idea of the social welfare system and an intrusive government.

On the gripping hand (ie. the third hand, for those of you who aren't Larry Niven fans), America doesn't have the same kind of far-far-right, nationalist parties like England, France and Germany, the true neo-Nazi parties.

Most election watchers in England still favor Labour to win handily, but it will be fun and informative to see how well Cameron does in the next six months.

Monday, December 05, 2005

That Was Unpleasant

I'm not sure how it was for others, but I haven't been able to access Blogspot or Blogger all evening. Not until just now. No more posts for you tonight, I'm afraid.
Rock -- Hillary Clinton -- Hard Place

Speaking at a college / high school function to an audience of 4000 in one of her hometowns, Hillary Clinton was heckled by anti-war protesters! Video here.

Two or three years ago she was the Great White Hope for many Democrats. She carefully triangulated herself into a position of carefully confronting the administration while also being seen as "pro military." Now she finds the sands have too-quickly shifted under her feet, thanks to the MoveOn / anti-America / hard Left crowd, and she's suddenly too conservative.

She is facing demands to drink the koolaid of the anti-war Left in their Internet putsch to take over the direction and platform of the Democratic Party. Can she maneuver out of it? Will she suddenly find herself, like Joe Lieberman and Harold Ford, on the wrong side of party momentum? Or will she reposition herself again?

I'm guessing she thought the Kerry campaign was too left for most of America and would fail, setting her up to move the party a bit centerward, ala husband Bill, with her at the head. Instead, there is tremendous energy to continue the agenda-less leftward trajectory of the party, to even more vigorously pursue the "anti-Bush in every way" approach that keeps narrowing with every new iteration.

Just out of curiousity, can any of the Democrats or progressives who read this blog give me a short list of the actions they propose to take if elected back into power in Washington? Difficulty: it must be a series of positive actions. You shouldn't use "no more of..." or "not...." It has to be real steps from the Democratic principles you espouse.

Have fun!
Definition of the Day

From a discussion of spyware and malware, comes a definition:
What is it with blog pages that link to another blog, which links to another blog, and so on?

This is the principle of the "Möbius blog ring", whereby the information is wholly one-sided and is repeated so often that it is taken for fact by anoyone reading it. As the reader moves from link to link, their indoctrination in the rhetoric increases, with the theoretical maximum value being reached when they return to the original "source" blog. Once a "Möbius blog ring" is entered, the ability of the reader to avoid reading the next blog in the series decreases proportionately.

The "Möbius blog ring" is also known as "Internet journalism".
[NOTE: Cleaned up and altered just a bit from the original.]
Get Your Gun

I'm sorry not to get to this sooner. It's been in my bookmarks for a while, just waiting. Thanks to Nashville Files for pointing this out.

NewsChannel3's Andy Wise recently did a series of reports called Get Your Gun, about obtaining a gun permit, taking classes on gun use and safety, and choosing the right weapon. I haven't seen it (see below) but others have commented positively on the attitude and point of view Wise takes. Here's his preface:
My experiences inspired me to produce the series you can watch below. We call it "Get Your Gun" because we wanted to reach those of you who are considering for the first time -- like me -- to arm yourself. Through our production of this series, I have developed an enormous respect for firearms, the experts who use them and our Second Amendment right as Americans to bear them. I am convinced that if more of us had a healthy respect for guns; if more of us as citizens knew HOW to use them, WHEN to use them, WHERE to secure them; and if more law-abiding citizens properly CARRIED the appropriate handgun, crime would not be as much of a problem.
That's a far cry from the report I once saw on Fox13 where Allyson Finch waved a 45 on camera, with her finger on the trigger, even pointing it into her own chest.

Kudos to Andy Wise for this. I hope it gets more exposure.

I'd like to watch these clips, but I apparently don't have the right media player for NewsChannel3's tech guys. That's odd, since I have the most recent Firefox browser and put in the latest updated Windows Media Player, but there you are. It's not my job to have the right equipment, but their job to broadcast in the most available formats. Too bad for NewsChannel3.

It's part of the reason I don't link to WREG/3's website that much. If they won't serve the public, but expect the public to adapt to them, then they aren't in the customer service business. With all the media options these days, I don't give them a second thought.
The Neighborhood is About to Get a Lot Larger

An interesting scholarly essay that argues that English is about to become the de facto official language of India:
There is something exciting in being surprised by a turn of events, and proved wrong. I spent a quarter of a century agitating for India to do like Japan, China and Korea, for the government to take the initiative in integrating the elite with the non-elite by having school education only in local languages. And restoring to Indian languages the top end of their functional range, now occupied by English. But it didn’t happen. The elite simply won’t give up English.

So now, the non-elite has taken charge of the situation by laying claim to the language associated in India with a middle class existence. They are ready to turn India into a vast English-speaking country, where we, the elite will have to scramble to keep our footing. Where interesting things are going to happen.
As I said, it's a bit scholarly and assumes a familiarity with India readers may not have, but the idea that within a generation or so the Anglosphere will grow by about a billion people, with a different but common culture to mark them out, is exciting.

We're seeing the leading edge in the telecommunications market, where call centers can be staffed by moderately competent English speakers at a fraction of American wages (but that are still generous wages in India), and in computer software.

Look at how Japan and Japanese are slowly infiltrating American culture, and the Japanese have little interest in learning American English, preferring to adapt our words into their language. Apaato for apartments, konbini for convenience stores. Still, the Japanese culture, via anime and technological innovation, enters American culture. But a nation of a billion speaking native English and trying to enter the Anglo market will have a much larger influence on our culture.

Will it come to displace African-American or Hispanic cultural influences, where those culture are contiguous or interpenetrating to ours? It should be interesting to watch.

And the other upside is that all those Bollywood extravaganzas won't need subtitles any more! The Indian cinema dance style is already being seen in music videos here. Can't wait to see if the musical style -- pulsing, rhythmic and lyrical -- makes it, too.

India seems to be trying an incredible experiment. Rather than going through the Industrial Age to get to the Information Age, as China is doing right now, they seem to be trying to leap directly into the Information Age. Ubiquitous English speaking is a part of that formula. Rather than trying to build an industrial infrastructure, only to then disassemble it to become Info-centric, the Indians seem content to import their industrial needs (as Info Age countries learn to do) and immediately start in on building the information infrastructure they need.

It will be interesting to watch India and China compete. Each wants to be the regional superpower in that corner of the world. China seems content to merely protect itself by being on par with the world. They still view China as the Middle Kingdom, the center of the world, just as Americans view America as the center of the world. Their ambitions, though, don't seem to be bending the world to their desires but to being strong enough to keep the barbarians out of their world, or on its fringes.

The Hong Kong model, of assimilation into the world of the Anglosphere, of being uber-capitalists and business leaders world-wide, isn't going to be adopted, but subsumed into the larger Chinese autocratic system. The New China will not really resemble go-go Hong Kong, but Europe without the social safety system. Heavily regulated with strong governmental controls.

India, though, seems to be seeking assimilation into the Anglosphere. They seem to want to become on a par with America or Australia, freely interacting with other English-speaking nations as a business equal.

The next twenty years will be fascinating to watch.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Another Spin in the Death Spiral

Peg Phillip mentioned it on her blog this week, but today Commercial Appeal editor Chris Peck made it official. More reader-created content is coming to the daily.

Note that I didn't call it "citizen journalism." That's because it's not what is going to happen. CJ is when readers and members of the community are given pretty free reign to write and contribute to the paper. What the CA is proposing is just more of what they've been doing. Let's go through the Peck-itorial and see what I'm talking about.
Walking out of Malco's Studio on the Square a few nights ago I overheard a teenager say this about Johnny Cash:

''No, I think he was a real person. I think my grandmother listened to him!'' she exclaimed to a skeptical movie mate who wasn't quite sure if The Man in Black was real, or when he allegedly was so famous.

I wanted to stop and say: He was real! His story is real! The life lessons of ''Walk the Line'' are more profound than Harry Potter!

A tug on the sleeve saved me from myself. And Potter fans, rest easy. I liked ''Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,'' too.
Notice his position in this little tale. The ignorant public. His authoritative knowledge. The desire to straighten someone out. He wanted to give an opinion while he was at it, one which set one thing above another. Remember this.

He goes on to talk about reviewers at the paper.
That's reviewing.

John Beifuss doesn't ask my permission to opine about movies as he sees them.

Nor do our food writers, or music reviewers, or dance critics.
He's talking reviewers, not reporters here. Remember that, too. This is all about opinion, not fact-based reporting.

Now, why the local daily for a mid-sized Southern community has a dance reviewer or a classical music reviewer or a theater critic is a mystery to me. It's something to do with high and low culture. The number of people who attend all the city's dance recitals, classical music performances and theater shows in any given week is likely a lot smaller than the number of people who bowl, but they are also more likely to buy a newspaper, so I guess they must be served.

On the other hand, the CA did boot Frederic Koeppel. He was an absolute and ossified elitist whose arthritic view of culture poisoned the "arts" pages for years. Koeppel was like an avatar for some lost, dead view of the "cultural elite." The paper is still bad about reviewing only fiction books that maybe will sell a couple of dozen copies, maybe (so is the Memphis Flyer; witness their recent books issue), rather than more popular titles, or even non-fiction not related to fiction.

Ah... I digress. Back to the topic at hand.

Peck goes on about reviewing, and differing opinions before landing on the First Amendment.
Opinion, in fact, underscores what the First Amendment is all about.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison weren't thinking about reviewing ''Walk the Line'' when they wrote that Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech, but these Founding Fathers most assuredly were defending the right of people with different opinions to speak out without fear of retribution.
Well... the Founding Fathers were more concerned with political and religious speech, which were often the same thing in England at that time. America was filling up with religious dissidents from England and Europe. Dissenting from the Crown could land you in jail, find you stripped of your property and possessions, banished or even killed. Trying to argue with a government that was inclined to imprison and execute dissenters, and could easily do it, led to a desire to rein in that power for any government.
If anything, newspapers and other media need to generate more discussion, open up more space and time for dissenting and opposing views.

Letters to the editor are one way of doing that. Online reader feedback is another.
Notice no mention of the paper's web forum (where employees of the paper do not participate) or their blogs. (Or is that how Peck sees the website? As a big talkback?) Notice who controls this discussion -- the paper's editors, who decide which letters to run or whether and how to answer "online reader feedback," whatever that is.
The growth in citizen-driven reviews of everything from cars to movies to men worth dating suggests that the power of citizen opinion is becoming stronger with introduction and access to more and more digital tools that allow people to link up and share ideas. If legacy media don't make room for more voices, more citizen opinion, more of a conversation about the events of the day, New Media will simply work around those barriers and create forums for opinion in other venues.
I'm not at all clear what "citizen-driven reviews" means. Is that some shorthand for "the Web?" Or "blogs?" It seems that way when he later uses terms like "legacy media" and "New Media."

The "power of citizen opinion" has always been strong, it's just that papers in the last few decades have been able to suppress and redirect it. The 'Net has already shattered the Mainstream Media's control of the national (and regional and local) debate. They were the "barriers" Peck writes about.

But again, notice that for Peck this is all about opinion, not fact. He's been very careful to only talk about people's opinions, not on people doing their own reporting, or criticising the reporting done by the "legacy media." Can you see where this is headed yet?
At the newspaper we are looking for ways to make it easier for diverse opinions to be shared among our readers and online users. In 2006 we're going to look for ways to gather more opinions, more commentary, more shared expertise online and in print.
The paper already does this in their "Appeal" sections, where a lot of the content is written by members of the community.

It's a mixed success. The "talk of the coffeeshop" columnists were as prone to use their columns to promote their own pet causes as to report what their customers were saying. Businesses frequently turned in press releases which went directly to print. (I'm told this also happens frequently in the Business section.)

What all this lacks is fact-based reporting of events or actions or conditions in Memphis many neighborhoods. Not stories about local neighborhood association meetings or the latest hoity-toity parties, but stories about rip-off businesses or bad landlords or street conditions or the neighborhood-busting activities of large businesses.

But notice that it's opinion and commentary. He finally mentions "shared expertise" but that brings me to my point. Who will decide whom to ask? Who will choose what to print? If something really cool comes over the transom or into the email Inbox, does it see print?

That's what is going to happen. It's not so much that the CA wants more discussion as that they want more content. And they want to stay firmly in control of what sees print. How often have you seen the paper print guest editorials, along with stories, about a topic, but the number of editorials that agree with the paper's position is larger than the number that disagree? Where are the guest columns that take to task those writers or the CA's reporters and editors?
'm confident our own reviewers will continue to be authoritative and informed voices. Their ideas, their perspectives will need to be tested against all comers.

I think that's the way it should be.

In our nation, the competition of ideas, not the monolithic imposition of one institution's view over all others, allows us the opportunity to be the most informed, persuasive and creative society on Earth.
Apparently, the "competition of ideas" doesn't extend to analysis of the stories they create or publish, nor to independent reporting from the community.

Peck is on a fool's errand, trying to open the doors to the milling crowds outside while keeping guard on who comes through into his precious paper. The reporting and editorial stuff will stay firmly in the hands of the elite, those trained professionals who undergo thorough training in reporting and writing, who have expertise in the subjects they cover, are rigorously overseen, and can maintain the high standards of "fair, objective and neutral."


I predict the result will be more of the fluffstuff that's been creeping into the paper. More "commentary" will replace hard reporting. More "experts," chosen by the CA on the basis of their idea of who is best to speak on these things, will appear. For all his talk in the column of dissenters, you won't be seeing the outsiders and dissenters of Memphis appearing more frequently. It will be more by more of the usual suspects in the Memphis civic and poltical bureaucracy.

Rather than investigating and dissecting these people, which is the paper's job, or giving room to those who will do that, the CA will be giving them an expanded forum. Filling up their pages with the inanity of daily trivia, rather than telling us what we cannot learn without someone powerful doing the asking.
I Suppose Some Thanks Are In Order

I didn't mention it at the time, but I was rewarded twice in the Memphis Flyer's annual Best of Memphis ad magnet. For the second time, Jackson Baker highlighted Half-Bakered (along with Fishkite, Smart City Memphis and his colleague The Pesky Fly). It's the second time he's done it, though this year he seems to be a bit less back-handed in his compliments. I'll take "industriously quirky" any day but you have to admit the following is carefully couching his barbs:
His misreadings are as frequent as his right guesses -- something true of any wild swinger and an explanation of sorts for the name of this blog (don't ask). A bonus: He does long takes on the local media -- interesting even when they are misguided.
Misreader, misguider, wild swinger, guesser. OOOOOOOOOOoooooo-kay then. Thank you!

Anyway, they had a reader's poll question on best local blogger and Half-Bakered tied with Rachel Hurley's two sites, Rachel and the City and Scenestars. I'm fine with this. Rachel's blog is definitely more fun reading than here.

I take these things with a grain of salt. I mean, look at what else got voted on in the reader's poll. Best department store? Best mall? Best bank? Jeez. And look at the winners, too. The writers and editors of the paper may fancy themselves exemplars of the Left, mainstream progressives or whatever, but their readers are decidedly bourgeouis, the very folks they ought to be mocking. But no, they pander to them instead, and their self-delusions, while profiting handsomely.

I'm not being mean. They are who they are more honestly (comparatively speaking) than the folks at the Commercial Appeal. It's why I don't criticise them so much. They don't make pretensions of being objective and neutral as the daily does. I certainly don't agree with a lot of what they publish, but it doesn't require deeper examination for ulterior motives, either. Jackson Baker excepted, of course.

After all, even Editor in Chief Bruce Van Wyngarden admits to reading this blog. Can't hardly dislike that guy, now can I?

Anyway, I was surprised to learn I won the reader's poll. H-B is a pretty acquired taste, after all. I'm relentlessy negative and critical, lacking in humor, and I regularly disappear for varying lengths of time. I don't comment on every topic of the day. I don't cover nightlife -- having no social life -- like a dozen other blogs do. On the other hand, I'd imagine that only a very few of the Flyer's readers even know what blogs are, much less read them.

I am one of the very few Memphis blogs that critically comments on local politics, though we have plenty of other political blogs. Smart City is much more in-depth; Thaddeus is more scandalous. But I guess my willingness to ask about the rumors of Herenton's crack addiction or call Carol Chumney a watery-eyed grind or call corruption what it is carry some interest.

The sad reason I don't worry so much about these kinds of things is that I've learned they don't mean much to this blog. I watched the traffic meter after the print edition of the Best of Memphis poll came out. I think the weekly total of visitors coming from the Flyer's site was less than fifty. I can't quantify search engine hits for "halfbakered" but they didn't noticeably spike either.

Fifty out of the "500,000" readers the Flyer claims, is one-hundredth of one percent. Negligible at best. So, while the esteem, such as it is, of paid professional writers means something, winning the "readers" poll only means the local media has done a terrible job of alerting Memphis to the other possibilities out there.

And why am I not surprised by that?
Picking Bales

Brock over at Dark Bilious Vapors does a fact checking on a Commercial Appeal story about the cotton industry.

I should add that you ought to have DBV on your daily blogroll. They are way over on the koolaid drinking Left, but are decent people nonetheless. They often link to worthwhile reading, and can sometimes be pretty funny. If the acid boildermakers of The Pesky Fly are a bit much but you still want to know what's going on over in Loonystan, then the acid wine coolers at DBV might be your drink order.

And yes, Len, that was a compliment!

Oh no, please save us from another TNG Trek film. The article says that Captain Picard -- er, Patrick Stewart, has had meeting about playing Picard once again.

I have no problems with Stewart's performance as Picard, but it's time to let the corpse of Trek cool a bit. Braga's gone now from involvement with the franchise; Berman may be next. The next film is purportedly going to feature an all-new, younger cast in a story set before the first (TOS) series. They should let the series go fallow after that.

In their latest Trek podcast, Lene and JK point out that when you look at the landscape of Trek today, it's the fans who are carrying the legacy, not the studio. Fanfiction continues to tell the stories of Trek and fan films are the only new "movies" being made at the moment.

But they also point to something that I think is the way of the future, albeit a limited one, for the franchise. They mention that TOS was the originator and that every series and film and novel since has merely been elaborating the original idea or exploring variations and nooks of the universe. I think they've hit it. That's why the fandom is still so vibrant, because they can go where the franchise won't -- into darker stories, wildly imaginative variants, love stories, grand action, back stories. The studio has placed so many limits on what Star Trek "can't" do, or what it has to do, that they can't tell a lot of those stories any more.

The way for Star Trek, unfortunately, is "forward into the past." They need to go to a format -- movies of the week, miniseries, direct to DVD, web downloads -- that allows stand-alone stories. Then they need to open the franchise to writers, directors and actors who have stories they want to tell. Let there be a "David Lynch Star Trek," tell the story of Spock's childhood, tell an all-Klingon story full of violence and drama, revisit the "Mirror, Mirror" universe. It's a chance for people to add yet more texture to the legacy. It's an opportunity to play with the assumptions and conventions of Star Trek.

The possibilities are enormous, but ultimately limited. The galaxy is vast, yes, but still a finite place. Even in Star Trek. I think the "ship and crew" thing is played out, at least as the franchise is handling it. Science has opened up whole new possibilities that the original series, and early TNG, have now locked out. Star Trek is no longer a likely future, just a quaint idea of what could have been, like Fifties' sci-fi with its needle-shaped rockets, BEMs, evil scientists and room-sized banks of computers.

Part of the problem is that science has out-stripped the imaginations of most Hollywood writers. The world a mere fifty years from now is not imaginable today, as the world of 1950 was to writers like H.G. Wells. Even professional science fiction writers today have a hard time trying to create a possible future farther than a mere twenty years down the road. Opening Star Trek to people who can create really outlandish stories ideas is good, but the franchise is locked into a vision that precludes most of them.

Star Trek needs to go away. Possibly forever. It's Final Frontier optimism speaks for itself. It's time for another view to come along. It's likely going to be dystopian right now, as that seems to be the cultural zeitgeist, but sooner or later the pendulum swings back. Another generation will find a way to speak to the future. Don't block them with old ideas taking away the production money.