Monday, November 29, 2004

Bus people 8

He climbed on the bus with a slow gait, walking with a cane, lumbering up the steps of the bus, which knelt for him at the stop. He was in his 70s, I think, quite fat, too heavy for his muscles to carry. He wore a black beret at a rakish angle, and carried a good-sized backpack. In the rainy chill, he wore a fluffy coat, also outdoorish.

It wasn't until he got off the bus, waiting at the door for it to kneel for him again, that I saw that he was also wearing Bermuda shorts, khaki colored, and knee-high socks with his hiking boots. He turned and walked backward out the bus, climbing down the steps as if it were a ladder. As he hobbled away down the street, he looked like a Swiss mountain guide who had been mugged by Time.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

I'm back

I didn't know I was going to take a vacation when I pushed "Publish Post" last Monday, but that's what it turned out to be.

The odd thing is, the longer I stayed away from blogging, the less I had to say. It will be a few days before I work myself back into the illusion that I have anything worth blogging about.

In the meantime, there's a new Onion Dome up.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Kill Tinkerbell

Our dog Sadie has a thing about light. When the sun on a watch dial sends light glimmers dancing across the wall, Sadie jumps for it. We call the game "Kill Tinkerbell," and it has afforded us a lot of cheap entertainment.

Well, last week, our daughter hung the St. Nicholas stockings and plugged in flashing white lights across the mantle, giving a merry glow to the living room.

At 11:30 p.m., Sadie woke me up with her, Danger! Danger! Danger! bark. She can't sleep when there's Danger! and so she would come upstairs -- "Bark! Bark! Bark!"-- and try to lie down, but it was TOO DANGEROUS!, and so she would get up again. The only way to calm her down at times like this is to go and see what the problem is.

I followed her through the kitchen, and she looked around the doorway into the living room, every nerve trembling. "TINKERBELL IS BACK! AND SHE'S BROUGHT TINKERRAMBO!"

I had to unplug the lights so that Sadie could go to sleep.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

'Wishing upon a star'

In a review of Finding Neverland, Frederica Mathewes-Green points out an insidious trend in children's literature:
When Sylvia dies, Barrie instructs her son Peter (Freddie Highmore), "She's on every page of your imagination. You'll always have her here. She went to Neverland and you can visit her there any time you like." Peter asks, "How?" and Barrie continues, "By believing, Peter. Just believe."

Well, this is pure, double-filtered, lemon-scented hogwash. No grieving child should be loaded up with such malarkey -- burdened with the obligation to materialize his own dead mother through mental exertion, burdened to think that the inevitably fading or fluctuating memory is his fault because he failed sufficiently to "believe." Contrary to popular opinion, believing don't make it so. There is a reality about life after death, a "so," that exists whether we believe in it or not. We don't know much about it and can prove even less, but that doesn't mean imaginary projections will constitute reality if we squeeze the sides of our head hard enough. Believing in belief is a useless, superficial exercise. Real human conviction and experience travel in less predictable patterns -- as real playwright J. M. Barrie knew.

Disney has been telling kids to believe in believing at least since "When you wish upon a star / Makes no difference who you are / Anything your heart desires will come to you" (in a film that distorted the message of an Italian children's novel about the Prodigal Son).

Neverland isn't Disney, though, and the message that you can do anything you dream has filtered through the culture as the only "faith" message allowed in the secular world. It's true that children can, with effort and diligence, do more than they think they can. It's also true that God can do anything, but the middle message, that children can do anything, with just a wish and a dream, is "pure, double-filtered, lemon-scented hogwash."

The Orthodox Church

The classic overview of Orthodox history and theology, by Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, is online.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

I didn't know Dave Barry was Orthodox

But he must be if he has this intimate an acquaintance with tofu:
Of course not everybody is comfortable with the idea of eating turkeys, which are, let's face it, living organisms, like dogs or celery. You may wonder: Is there a more humanitarian option that you can serve for Thanksgiving dinner? There is. It's tofu, a semi-foodlike substance secreted by soybeans as a defense mechanism. Tofu can be used as a high-protein meat substitute, as well as a denture adhesive or tile grout. In its natural state, tofu is tasteless and odorless, but if you form it into a turkey-shaped lump, season it well, add gravy and bake for two hours in a shallow pan at 350 degrees, you can also use it for minor driveway repairs.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Funny or disturbing?

The Littlest Prisoner at Abu Ghraib
Your child will be the hit of the neighborhood costume parade in this recreation of the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal's most indelible image. As an added bonus this easy-to-make costume will remind everyone on your child's trick-or-treat route of our national shame! Simply roll a cone from a sheet of 24"x38" black cardstock, making sure to cut out a hole for the face. Drape with two yards of black felt, and add leftover wires from your last lamp-rewiring project. Voilà! So easy, so quick, and so terrifying!
Total cost: Under $20.
Total time: Under two hours.

And how do you explain the costume to inquisitive little Johnny? "Oh, that's our national shame!" Care to go into any more detail?

Don't these people realize that if they don't teach their kids idealism before cynicism, the kids will grow up thinking nothing is worth defending?

Another costume, made of garbage bags and milk jugs, was "Jenna Bush's liver." Part of the instructions: "Rifle through the help's recycling bin for an empty Bud can and bottoms up!" The help? Who's got help? John and Teresa? They're teaching you how to make Halloween costumes for, in this case, under $5, and they think you've got "help."

But what made it worth blogging was this: I was looking around the site to find out if it is satire, and found an editorial proving that the editors of the site have discovered federalism. You've got to read past the bile to the ideas. The piece advocates letting the Red States stew in their own juice. They want abortion illegal? Let them have it and die! They want less restrictive gun laws? Let them have them and die! They want to pay fewer taxes, change clean air and water laws, and so forth and so on . . . ?, well, you get the idea. (Never mind the fact that people supporting those ideas don't believe they would have those outcomes.)

The Blue-Staters have been using the courts to push their agenda onto the Red States for at least 30 years. Now that the situation looks like it might turn, the editors of theStranger.com have discovered the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. At this rate, they may be Republicans by 2008.

h/t to Seraphim, who came down on the side of "disturbing."

Bus people 7

The gaggle of women stand at the bus stop downtown, one of them yelling, her tone echoing down the canyon of the street, but her words lost in the roar of traffic. When the No. 19 arrives, my bus, they get on it.

There are five of them, finished with a Twelve Step meeting, and the one who had been shouting goes to the back of the bus, but the others stay up front. One is a mountain of a woman with a face like Jabba the Hut. Another is a rotund woman with wide-set eyes, holding a boy about a year old. The third never quite makes an impression on me, because the fourth is a woman in her thirties, whom a Jane Austen heroine might have called "lively." She's pretty in a way, though her skin shows the effects of tobacco.

She sits in one seat, then flings herself into another, then into yet another. She pulls from her pocket a lighter that someone gave her, with the word "love" on it. The others reply that the same man gave them things, too, but she keeps saying it's got the word "love" on the front, until the Jabba woman gets the point and says, "Oo, looovvve."

Then she flings herself into the seat in front of me and sings the old Tom Jones tune, "L-O-V-E," loudly and self-consciously with big gestures. She begins playing peek-a-boo with the baby, her loud "Peek!" echoing through the bus, her long dark hair flying.

The other women tell her how boring it was when she wasn't there.

She answers a question with the words "I don't like women," and continues to repeat, "I no like women," in some generic foreign accent until the bus comes to their stop, stopping only once to clarify, "I like men."

Monday, November 15, 2004

A woman not to be messed with

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will be nominated to replace Colin Powell as secretary of state.

Do you think we'll get to see her whup Kofi Annan? If anybody can do it, she's the one.

I guess the NFL will have to wait.

UPDATE: Lileks says he wants to see her go to Saudi Arabia, where the first words out of her mouth will be, "I'll drive." Yeah. Like that.

Is this a conflict of interest or what?

Pardon me for beating this dead horse, but I can't resist it.

In the midst of a long piece on what went wrong with the Kerry campaign (short answer, John and Teresa) Howard Kurtz about how the mainstream networks actually work:
In early September, CNN commentator James Carville said in a meeting with campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill and the newly hired Lockhart that if Cahill didn't give Lockhart effective control of the operation, the ragin' Cajun would go on "Meet the Press" the next day "and tell the truth about how bad it is."
OK, he's a commentator, not a reporter, and a Clintonista, and everybody who watches him will know where he butters his bread, BUT he's using his position in the media to direct the Kerry campaign.

Do the networks even realize how weird and out of touch they are?

The campaign is over, but CNN is still broadcasting, and the Democrats are planning for '08. We need to file this stuff in some accessible place in our memory, because it's going to be important again and again and again.

Speaking of post-modernism

Chomsky's got a brand new bag.

h/t: Karl

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Thanks for clarifying that

New to my blogroll is Grace at Orthodox & Heterodox. In a brilliant post titled "Red state, blue state, me state, you state," she offers a contract from the blue staters expressing what they expect from red staters:
We, the bold, free-spirited peoples of the Diverse Lands of Blue America, hereby contract with you, the safe, ordinary drabs of the Nearly-contiguous Lands of Red America to exist peaceably and amicably in the manner to which we've become accustomed.

Read the whole thing. It's as funny as it is inspired.
h/t: The Coughing Centurion.

Post-modernism

A professor came to our parish to discuss post-modernism in the 21st-century church. It's hard to get a handle on what we learned, and maybe I'll collect my thoughts for another post.

As an introduction, our priest ran a couple of clips from the movie (or should I say "film"?) Derrida, a biography of the French deconstructionist philosopher who recently found out whether there's any reality outside himself. The presentation was happening in our unfinished parish hall, which has abysmal acoustics, and it was played on a 14-inch TV, which used to be OK in our former space, but is too small to be seen at any distance. It was emblematic of post-modernism all by itself: talking heads speaking mostly in French (or English with a thick French accent), inaudible in the echoing chamber, with subtitles so small as to be unreadable.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Bloggers inherit the Paine legacy

Times Online compares the blogging revolution with the rise of the pamphleteers in the early 18th century.
Like their paper predecessors, blogs are also often catastrophically wrong, a magnet for cranks, conspiracists, partisans and propagandists. Many, if not most bloggers, churn out pure pap; for every latter-day Jonathan Swift writing in cyberspace, there are thousands of teenage girls mewling inconsequentially about their boyfriends, acne and pop music. Ordinary people writing unpaid about things that matter to them may mark a crucial change in the information landscape; it can also be skull-crushingly dull.

But the best blogs are also the most widely read, precisely because other bloggers spot them and link to them; by a process of natural selection, the fittest blogs survive. The same was true of pamphlets in their heyday: Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was the most widely-distributed pamphlet of the American War of Independence, a truly revolutionary tract not only for its content, but also because it was copied and pirated on a massive scale. Within weeks of publication in 1776, seven editions of Common Sense appeared in Philadelphia alone, while other cities produced their own rival editions and imitators; this was the 18th-century version of the über-blog with countless hyperlinks.

Worth a read.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The bitter truth about the Mordor War

Aragorn was selected, not elected. No blood for oil. Can you prove a connection between Saruman and Sauron? How do you know the orcs are bad, that it's not just a misunderstanding? How would you like your son to be the last man to die for a mistake? Where was Aragorn during the Battle of Helm's Deep? Why doesn't Aragorn's son get drafted along with the simple peasants and shit-scoopers? Who's listening to that fundamentalist wizard Gandalf the Gray?

Fellowship 9/11 rips the lid off the war for Middle Earth domination. See it now, and your view of the attack on the Sauron regime will change.

h/t: Neb

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Blogroll please! Arma Virumque

The name sounds like a centurion clearing his throat, and reading it always makes me wish I lived closer to New York. Where, other than the New Criterion's weblog, will you read a letter from a mad mullah explaining why his faith requires him to be agnostic on the lunar landing. The rest of that nonsense, about the earth revolving around the sun, the sheikh was not prepared to countenance. The Coughing Centurion plans to send him some books by Copernicus and Gallileo.

But don't just read the articles. The blogroll is where I found StephenEsque, who started the a Blog train I posted a song about a couple of days ago (good thing I'm not audioblogging; I'd have had to come up with a tune).

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Another thank you, this time sincere

To John Ashcroft, for putting up with four years of being caricatured and demonized, by sharing with Bush the distinction of being the living person most frequently compared to Hitler, for putting forward a surprisingly restrained Patriot Act, given the situation we're in and past responses to dangers at home and abroad.

I don't know if I'd have the courage or generosity to stay in such a thankless job when I could go home to Missouri and sit on the porch.

Difficult pronunciations explained

News.com from Australia helpfully informs us that in the future "Arafat to be pronounced 'dead.'"

No word on whether the spelling will change.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Bus people 6

He's dressed in black, with a black ponytail, and he smells of cigarettes. He's looking at his cell phone as he boards the bus and finds a seat in the front, side-facing seats. I'm in the front front-facing seat (my favorite, because of the good laptop space).

It's Election Day, and after a word about the failed candidacy of John Edwards, he tells me that he works in biometrics. The retina scan makes for good movies, he says, but there's a danger of long-term eye damage.

On the other hand, there are seven points of the human face that don't change, no matter how fat or how thin or how old we grow, and that can be used for surer identification than a fingerprint.

He said there's a plan out there for identification using a combination of a fingerprint and a card with a 10-digit passwords. You go to the bank and touch a finger to the screen, then put in the password that appears on this key-chain sized card. Bingo. You're in. The passwords are distributed by satellite and new ones are randomly generated every minute. Once you use it, that password is no good anymore. If someone threatens you, stomp on the card. Now your fingerprint is of no use, and you can buy a new password card later for about three bucks.

Fingerprints aren't as good for identification as faces, he says, because the number of data points you use to get a unique match is too many for our current level of computing power. Most law enforcement offices use 18 data points. Some are moving to 33. To be really accurate would take more than 300, but then a speck of dirt between two ridges could throw the whole thing off.

He tells me he created the TransitTracker software that Tri-Met uses to post to the web progress of its buses and trains. The idea came to him one icy evening when he waited an hour and a half downtown for a bus only to find out that the last bus left two hours before. He went home and knocked out a little program over the weekend, worked out the glitches and gave it to Tri-Met. Now he can track the bus's exact location on his cell phone and decide if he wants a brisk or leisurely walk to catch the bus.

His teacher told him when he was a little kid that everything you see could be summarized by mathematics. At the time, he didn't believe it. Now he knows it's true.

Days later, I see him on the bus again. A young man greets him and reports that his software will be distributed in beta version next week. He congratulates him, shakes his hand. He reports that he's invented the fastest hard drive west of the Pecos. They drift into techie jargon, and I drift into my screenplay, but when I look up to collect my stuff, there's a college-age girl with bright, impassioned eyes sitting across the way and listening.

He might be a genius; he might be a lunatic (I can never quite tell on the bus, and it doesn't really matter), but whoever he is, his enthusiasm is infectious, and even my screenplay seems to hold more promise because he's so excited about his projects.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Just for the record

I wasn't link-fishing (or linke-fishinge) when I added The Misspent Life and Blimpish to my blogroll. I put blogs on my blogroll because I like to read them myself.

I found both of them by way of Outer Life, which I found by way of Stephenesque, which I found by way of Armavirumque, which is coincidentally up next in my "Blogroll, please!" series.

Which puts me in mind of a song that somebody ought to write:
Blog train comin', comin' your way.
Blog train comin'. Read it every day.
Got no time for workin'; got no time to play
'Cause the blog train's comin'. Read it every day.


Refrain: Everybody get on the blog train!
Woo Woo! Get on the blog train!
Or not.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

The future of the Republican coalition

Michele at a small victory is asking a variation on a question I've been wondering the past few weeks: what happens to the Republican party after the election?
"I've already seen the fallout starting, with people questioning my (and others) dedication to the Republican party because I'm not swallowing the pill whole. Politics is not an all or nothing proposition. I'm a some from column A, some from column B kind of person. The fact that I'm an atheist with socially liberal tendencies is clearly giving some people pause for concern, as if I am going to now become a detriment to the party. They got what they wanted from me - in my vote - and now they can discard me because I won't follow the fold all the way down the line.
As are Pejmanesque and Roger L. Simon. Hugh Hewitt touches on it in relation to the Sen. Specter question. Terry Mattingly refers to the 10 Commandments voters.

We won an important election with a coalition of pro-lifers, traditional marriage advocates, 9/11 Democrats and social liberals who support the war on terror. How can we keep our victory from destroying us?

Here's my vision, speaking as a social conservative, pro-lifer, Orthodox Christian, who doesn't want to live under Shari'a.
  • On religion. We don't have to agree. Let's talk. All I want from government is for it to stop pretending that religion has no place in people's public lives. If I don't want to pray at a football game, I don't have to make everybody else stop. If someone feels that his religious freedoms are being curtailed, then let the courts hear the case--but as interpreters of laws that the people have approved, not as black-robed kings.

  • On life issues. Believing that the unborn are human beings, pro-lifers have no choice but to try to save them from being murdered. Some of the most effective methods shouldn't cause any but the abortion industrialists offense--crisis pregnancy centers, homes for unwed mothers, abstinence education. I'd like to see a Human Life Amendment--not imposed by judicial fiat (we see how badly Roe v. Wade has performed in the public square)--but by the long and tedious process of persuasion. In the meantime, if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the result would not be the end of legal abortion in America, but the return of the question to the individual states. Oregon legalized abortion in 1969, and undoubtedly it will be among the last to make it illegal. Other states had abortion forced on them, and given the opportunity, they will quickly make it illegal again. Allowing the states to choose for themselves will provide more information for both sides to use in future persuasion; it will give a safety valve in both directions until we work out the issue. For our coalition members who disagree on this issue but are willing to work with us, to hear our arguments and give us theirs, I hope we pro-lifers keep looking for common ground.

  • On marriage. OK, I don't believe you can change the definition of "marriage" to be a relationship between two men or two women any more than you can change the definition of "yellow" to "red." If you want to talk about civil unions, about some means of simplifying the legal aspects of property and power of attorney and so forth, then let's open the discussion. I don't know what the ramifications would be. But don't have it imposed from some black-robed god (or in the case of Multnomah County, Oregon, by a couple of county commissioners reinterpreting the Oregon Constitution in a secret meeting that not even all the commissioners are invited to). I don't have much patience with the idea that the job of the state is to affirm people's love, nor with people who need the state to do that for them.

  • On social liberals in the Republican Party. In 1992, Gov. Robert Casey, a pro-lifer with impeccable Democratic economic credentials, was not permitted to speak at the Democratic convention, revealing how completely the Democrats had fallen into the ditch. Now Gov. Schwarzenegger has helped us win the White House, even though he supported the embryonic stem cell research measure in Gollyfornia. What to do? A little gratitude doesn't violate our principles. And considering who's likely to advance long-term gains in the core agenda is important.
What the Republicans offer at this point, to social liberals and social conservatives alike, is an emphasis on freedom, pushing the authority downward as much as possible to states, cities, neighborhoods, families, private persons. We'll argue over who those persons are and how to balance the needs of the community aaginst the individual. Those are fair questions. But as long as we respect each other and work through our disagreements honestly and civilly, there's no need to shrink the tent.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Greeks sue Macedonians for trademark infringement

Bear International News Service

SKOPJE (BINS exclusive) -- In a case destined to make world litigation history, Greece has hired the Microsoft team of lawyers to sue Macedonia for trademark infringement.

Until recently, Macedonia was called the Former Republic of Yugoslavia That Thinks It Can Get Away with Being Called Macedonia (or FRYTTICGAWBCM), and it made the case that "Macedonia" was only 7 percent of its name, so the Greeks didn't pursue litigation.

Now, in the aftermath of the U.S. election, and with a renewed mandate for "simplisme," re-elected President George W. Bush has directed his administration to start calling the small Eastern European country "Macedonia."

"I'm a simple man," the president said, "and it takes longer to say 'FRYTTICGAWBCM' than it took Macedonia to get its troops into the field in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Greece objects to the name because it has a province called "Macedonia," and because Alexander the Great was from Macedonia. "Our control of the trademark 'Macedonia,'" said a spokesman for the legal effort, "is a keystone to Greece's claim on domination of world culture. We are counting economic damages in the billions, plus loss of world reputation and self-esteem."

The World Court in The Hague, Belgium, agreed to docket the case as soon as the Milosevic trial is over.

American trial attorney John Edwards, currently unemployed, has been approached to lead the litigation effort. No word yet on whether he will take on the case.

Political junkies: one last fix

The UK Times tells a story that might have saved Republicans a lot of anguish. Do you know how close we came to presidential chaos?
JOHN KERRY constantly squabbled with his difficult and hypochondriac wife, ran a campaign team riven by internal feuding, and repeatedly begged the Republican senator John McCain to become his running-mate, according to a riveting inside account of his doomed presidential bid.
It seems to be a summary of a Newsweek article, which I don't find online.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Bus people 5

They're cute, they're young, they're high-school students. The blonde tells her friend that she's giving up coffee, because she only makes $400 a month, and she spends $100 a month on coffee and another $100 on junk food. She's only got $200 in the bank, she says, and she owes her parents $260.

She peppers her sentences with "like" and "you know?" and ends every sentence with the inflection of a question.

She wants to volunteer for a domestic violence project.

The red-haired girl is a good listener.

The head begins to clear

Outer Life is advocating a return to normal perspectives after the election. Good advice, whether we're disconsolate or not.

I half expected a friend at work to be on suicide watch. It was funny in a way, until I remembered how upset I'd be if it had gone the other way. Now it's over, and Kerry was more gracious than I've ever seen him, and we move on.

I'll have to think of something else to write about.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Big thanks, Larry!

And in a last-minute bit of campaigning for the president, Larry Flynt promised to leave the country if Bush is re-elected.

Thanks, Larry, and don't let the big door hit you on the way out.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

What's up with me

I got home tonight after my 6 p.m.–10 p.m. class to find that Bush was leading in the popular vote and on the verge of being declared the winner in Ohio, which would put him up to 269 in the electoral college, with New Mexico apparently close in queue. Now I need to practice my gracious smile to use around the Kerry supporters who have been annoying me over the past few months. Dare I hope for a subdued quiet?

About that class: I'm going back to school to become a court reporter (my boss says, "You're enough of an introvert and enough of a voyeur that that might be just the thing for you"), so I'm looking at a minimum of two years of classes three nights a week.

I don't see how my 4 a.m.–10:30 p.m. days can fail to affect the blogging, but with the election over, and the bus people still riding the bus, and the undeniable fact that I actually like to blog, I'll still post--and aim to post every day--but whether I'll succeed is something I'll have a better idea about in a couple of weeks.

To my readers who are Bush supporters: Yee-haw!

To my readers who are Kerry supporters: Um. Well. Hmm. Uh. Yeah. Uh. How about those Red Sox?

Monday, November 01, 2004

Bus people 4

A guy in his 20s sits in the back of the bus exchanging crime stories with two white-haired women, twins and identically dressed. Sitting toward the front of the bus, I hear his voice spinning yarns about his brothers' and sisters' run-ins with the criminal element, and the women respond with stories they've read in the newspapers and their opinions: On hearing that the jail was too full, one said, "They ought to stack them like cord wood."