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.