Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Guilty Pleasures

I have to admit that I've become a fan (and from the sound of it, the only fan) of Martha Stewart's Apprentice. There's only one other reality show I even watch all that much, and The Biggest Loser, while probably one of the best and most useful concepts for a show, just isn't as compelling as some others.

But MSA is interesting to watch, and it usually comes on during my time on the treadmill. I even have a favorite; Jim. Jim is the only player who really seems to be playing any strategy. He's also, I think, purposely being a jerk to catch more camera time--and it works. He's invariably in each week's preview, usually with some voice-over that implies that next week he'll go too far. But he won't. He's too good.

See, Jim is very smart. He goofs off and makes his teammates nervous, but he works hard and he does good work. He's usually got a good sense of when his team is falling apart, and he just buries his head and turns out good, solid work so he avoids getting fired. And when his team listens to him they win.

He's also annoying as all get out, but it's hard to tell what is really him and what is just his act to keep people off guard. I don't completely like him, but I'm predicting him to win. Ryan might make it to the final, but he's not assertive enough. Marcela is going to crack eventually. She's a good team player, but if left to herself she will fail. Dawna is good, but she's no standout. Neither is Bethany. I think as long as he doesn't screw up, Jim's got it.

Interestingly enough, tonight he may have screwed up. His team's reward was a dinner with Charles and the CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, in which Jim revealed his strategy and his intention to do whatever it takes to win, even if it's ethically questionable. It might not have been the smartest move. But on the other hand, the CEO will never be involved in the decision-making, and Charles only has a say when eliminating the losers. If Jim never loses a challenge again, it won't matter what Charles thinks of him.

Ultimately, though, Jim is right. It is a game. If it were a straight job interview he'd probably be acting entirely different (and he'd probably lose). But it's not. It's a game with a predictable--and exploitable--format and rules.

At any rate, it should be interesting to see how it all shakes out. And whoever wins will be one of a kind, since they aren't renewing the show. Heaven knows I won't be tuning in to watch The Donald, so I guess I'll go back to The Biggest Loser next.

Brag Brag Brag

My daughter found out yesterday that she won a coloring contest sponsored by a local company. I'd forgotten all about it, as she had entered back in early October. I'm not surprised, as she's displayed a talent for art for some time. But I am proud.

And what does she think of it all? "I like it when I win!"

Now we just have to figure out what she will do with a gift certificate to a hand cream shop.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Don't Make Me Like You!

If I vote for a Democrat in the next election, it will be because Joe Lieberman is running. I probably don't agree with much of what he supports, but at least he stays consistent and isn't afraid to go against his own party:

Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who recently visited Iraq, said Tuesday, “I’d like the president tomorrow to restate our goals and begin to let the American people know we’ve got a plan. And as I found last week, I believe the plan is working,” he said.

Lieberman also warned against withdrawing U.S. forces too soon.

According to Instapundit, he's gone into more detail elsewhere:

I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in the past 17 months and can report real progress there. More work needs to be done, of course, but the Iraqi people are in reach of a watershed transformation from the primitive, killing tyranny of Saddam to modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood--unless the great American military that has given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn. . . .

Here is an ironic finding I brought back from Iraq. While U.S. public opinion polls show serious declines in support for the war and increasing pessimism about how it will end, polls conducted by Iraqis for Iraqi universities show increasing optimism. Two-thirds say they are better off than they were under Saddam, and a resounding 82% are confident their lives in Iraq will be better a year from now than they are today. What a colossal mistake it would be for America's bipartisan political leadership to choose this moment in history to lose its will and, in the famous phrase, to seize defeat from the jaws of the coming victory.

Monday, November 28, 2005

We're Off To Flee The Blizzard!

I took my two older kids and went to visit my folks for the weekend. While we were there it dumped about twelve inches of snow in twenty-four hours. The next day there were three-foot drifts around my car. The kids were excited, of course. I don't think they've ever seen that much snow.

The weather forced significant changes to our plans, but we had a good time. Since the last time I was home one niece had a baby and two others got married. I was able to meet all the newcomers to the family, at least. They seem like they fit right in.

Of course, as seems typical of these family gatherings, regardless of how long we spend, I didn't really get to talk to anyone for very long. But we put in an appearance, which I think meant a lot to my folks. Like I said, it's been awhile since we were on that side of the state.

It really hit me this weekend that the family is changing, and not all of it is good. If we're not careful we run the same risk as my parents' families. They feel connection to their brothers and sisters, but we kids, with few exceptions, failed to connect with our uncles, aunts, or cousins. If I were to go to a family reunion right now it would be more to make my parents happy than because I want to see anyone.

That's going to happen to our family. My parents aren't going to be around forever, and unless we kids put forth more effort to hold the family together the cousins are going to grow up with little concern for each other. It's not going to be easy, as is. The way things have worked out there is little overlap. My oldest sister got a good head start on the rest of us in having kids. My brother's group overlaps with several of her younger ones. My kids fit mostly into the gap between grandkids and great-grandkids. And as it is, I'm closer in age to my oldest neice than my two oldest sisters.

We've got our work cut out for us. My wife's family is a long distance away and not very large. My family is drifting apart. If I don't do something my kids will grow up with mostly each other. Perhaps that's not such a big deal, but I suspect the more the extended family breaks down, the more pressure there will be on the immediate family.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Enjoyable Day of Gratitude!

I have much to be thankful for. It's been a terrific year, even with all the challenges. I am amazingly blessed. I could write more about it, but I won't. I need to go remind myself that I'm thankful for Christmas lights.

Score One For Lowe's

It seems to be my lot in life to have a leaky kitchen faucet. Not long after we moved into this house our kitchen faucet began leaking. I finally got around to doing something about it this week by picking up a new valve cartidge from Home Depot.

I should probably preface this by stating that I despise plumbing, especially faucets. It's very difficult to get the right parts because a good portion of what you are hoping to fix is immovable. You can't take your entire sink in to see what part might fit. Okay, you can, but that involves leaving your entire household without the use of an essential faucet at best and no water in the entire house at worst. I invariably get the wrong part and often spend two or three trips before I get it right--and then the problem still exists. In the last house I ended up just replacing the entire faucet.

So it was with trepidation that I set out in search of a new valve cartridge. I bought one I thought would work and brought it home. It fit the valve seat just fine, but the spindle that attaches to the handle was too big. The handle wouldn't attach anymore.

So last night I went back (through dense fog) hoping to find a better one. There was no such critter, so I just to a refund and went to Lowe's hoping against hope. After much soul searching and agony of mind I decided to try a cartridge that looked pretty much identical to the one I'd already tried, only this was a dollar more expensive. I went home figuring I'd be making another trip back to Lowe's to get a refund and a new faucet.

Except it fit! It actually fit! Everything went together like a charm, and so far we can't see any sign of a leak! So while I still like Home Depot (or Hompee Deempoh, as my son calls it), I know where I'm going next time I need Price-Pfister replacement parts. The extra dollar is worth the reduced hassle.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Ex Post Facto

I guess I haven't posted in awhile. But then I've been a little busy. The writing bug hit recently, and I've been busy cranking out what is quickly looking to become a Warhammer novel. You can find it posted out on the Chateau Montreford site, with Part One here, and Part Two here. Or if you'd like the whole thing in MS Word, drop me a comment.

I'm also preparing to take what should prove to be an extremely interesting trip home. I'd say more, but it would contain too many of the personal details I generally try to avoid on this site. Besides, it would end up sounding too much like a screenplay synopsis--probably a melodrama.

Blogging will be light-to-non-existant for the next week, probably. Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Muppets By Mail

My wife bought some stamps yesterday and was excited to see they've released a set of Muppet Stamps!

The back side has "personal quotes" from the muppet featured on the front. I loved Statler and Waldorff's quote, something along the lines of "These muppet stamps are a wonderful idea!" "Why do you say that?" "Now we can get them cancelled any time we want!"

Another favorite, Rolf: "Dear Mr. Postman: On behalf of dogs everywhere I'd just like to say...sorry about that!"

They're almost too fun to actually send!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


He'll never mention it himself, so it falls to the rest of the family to talk him up.

Congratulations to my father-in-law, who was just awarded a Distinguished Service award by the Japanese Fluid Power Symposium! He is a frequent presenter and chairman at their yearly proceedings.

Onnea, Isä!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

How Do You Spell Relief?

In my case, R-E-F-U-N-D. We got the money from the phone company yesterday. They were finally able to over-deliver, getting the money to us a full week earlier than their last estimate. I feel a little Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good" coming on.

M.A.D. - Media-Assured Destruction

For some interesting analysis on the War on Terror, there is this post over at The Officers' Club. I have to admit that Newt Gingrich may be smarter than he lets on.

Monday, November 14, 2005


I am the very model of a very buff barbarian!
I spent the evening on Friday with some friends playing a video game, namely Champions of Norrath. I know, it's not like me, but I have to admit a guilty pleasure in mindless hack-n-slash now and then.

All the characters, be they elves, orcs, vampires, gnomes, etc., have English accents. It didn't really dawn on me until I was driving to work this morning. What would the game/movie industry do without England? Whatever else they may have done, England has given us English with scores of accents to choose from, thus providing an instant feeling of "exotic" while differentiating between character types/status. My character, for example, is a human barbarian with a Scottish brogue. The gnomes are all cockney. One of the other characters is a female elf with a British/Welsh accent.

I have to wonder if it's possible to do a fantasy game or movie and have it be taken seriously without the actors speaking with an accent. Is there any such thing as an American elf?

Random musings on Star Wars
For my commuting pleasure this morning I pulled out the Star Wars IV soundtrack. While listening to the music that goes with the C-3PO and R2D2 scenes I got to thinking about how the two droids came together in the "first" three movies, and decided there has to be some significance there, even if unintentional. R2D2 was a servant of Queen Amidala. C-3PO was built by young Anakin Skywalker. The former droid is strong-willed and fearless. The latter is a self-centered whiner. In short, they're a reflection of their original owners.

And though they have no memory of it, in the "last" three movies, it's these two that are catalysts for everything that transpires. Running from their former master, the droids first encounter Leia, the daughter of Padme and Anakin. Then, while acting as her couriers, they encounter Leia's brother and Obi-Wan Kenobi, the orchestrator of the entire situation they now find themselves in.

It is fortunate for the galaxy that Luke and Leia inherited more of their mother than their father. There's no doubt that Leia is just like her mother. But Luke manages to inherit a smaller portion of his father's rashness and whininess. He's got just enough of his father's rashness to get himself into the final confrontation with Vader and Palpatine, but also just enough mother's sense or courage and responsibility to resist the Dark Side long enough to free his father from Palpatine's thrall.

When I first saw "Revenge of the Sith," I was rather bothered about Padme's death. I mean really, she lost her will to live? Rather melodramatic, aren't we? But the more I think about it, it makes a fair amount of sense, even if it is melodramatic. And Star Wars is nothing if not melodrama writ large.

Even if Anakin isn't one to consider the big picture, Padme is. She realizes that she's been nothing more than Palpatine's pawn from beginning to end, and that she as much as or even more than Anakin is responsible for his rise to power and the destruction of the Jedi. To someone who felt quite heavily the weight of a governing a planet, she would undoubtedly grasp the significance of what she has helped saddle the galaxy with. And the weight of that would nearly crush her. Add childbirth (to twins, even) to that, and you've got one weak, dangerously depressed woman.

So why wouldn't Padme, who has always been reasonably responsible, want to live for her children? She probably feels, at that moment, completely incapable of raising her children. Her judgement has been shown to be seriously lacking, and she knows it. The only person who has been reasonably level-headed and wary in all this is Obi Wan. (Yes, there's Yoda, but as cool as he is, he's not one to take on kids: "When 900 years old you reach, change diapers you will not!) It's plausible that she feels the best hope for her children is someone with better judgement and the power to fight a dark jedi.

Furthermore, she had to realize that as long as she is alive, Anakin (or Darth Vader, at this point) would always be searching for her. Keeping the children with her would place them in greater danger than hiding them. But even then, if Vader did find her he would probably be able to find out about the twins, and then he'd be after them as well. Dying might have very well been the best way she could help them, sad to say.

Finally, of course, there is the heartbreak of watching the man she loved turn into a ruthless, soulless killing machine. By that point Anakin was already more machine than man, and just needed the hardware to physically complete the metaphore. She had to have felt that, however bad he might become, he would never be able to hurt her. But he was, and he did (and what he did probably didn't help her condition, either). And she helped make him that way.

So yes, I don't suppose it is all that implausible for Padme to implode, to take herself out of the picture by sheer, bitter resignation. And perhaps that act in itself sowed the seeds that would one day redeem her beloved Anakin. Her loss is the one lie that Palpatine cannot cover up. He promised Anakin to teach him the power of life itself so that he would be able to save Padme. That was the power that Anakin sells his soul for; all that really mattered to him.

And Palpatine didn't deliver. He gave him power, he fanned his rage, he kept him focused on the problem "out there," but he never gave Vader the power to save those who mattered to him. Then, many years later, along comes a son that he knew nothing about. A son, who is literally a part of his beloved Padme. A son who reveals that Vader also has a daughter--a daughter he has met and in whom he had to have seen something of her mother.

I think when Vader vows to turn Luke (and later Leia) to the dark side, he is doing it to try and save their lives. He knows that is the only way Palpatine would allow them to live. It is the only power he is truly able to wield on their behalf. And so he suggests this to Palpatine, and then works with him to bring it about.

Except he fails. Vader/Anakin is very good at failing when it matters most. His son not only proves to be stronger than him at resisting the dark side, but stronger than him in his use of the force. Anakin fails, and now Palpatine will kill his son. Perhaps in that last moment Anakins realizes it has been Palpatine taking everyone he loves away from him all along. Maybe he just wants to save his son at all costs. But Vader finally realizes he can resist, and that he can save those he loves from death, if only through his own.

In the end, that's what it boils down to. Anakin realizes that he can save Padme's memory, her literal flesh and blood, by letting go of himself. As much as he loved Padme, he loved himself more. Once he put someone else ahead of himself he could finally be free. He failed to save Padme, but learned the lesson in time to save her son and daughter. In that light, his final words "Tell your were right about me..." take on amazing significance. He was finally able to be for them what he was never quite able to be for Padme.

I really need to go back and watch the last three movies again now that the first three are through. I wonder how much more there is to be found now.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

That's Gratitude For You

The Kurds are not only actively courting business and tourism with this new website, they're also preparing to run television ads in America to say "thank you".

Say what you will about the reasons we went into Iraq. I don't think anyone can honestly accuse us of a blatant disregard for human life. Nor can anyone honestly say that the Iraqis don't want us there. At least not without appearing racist.

(via Instapudit)

Pop Culture

It's time for a few pet peeves. Feel free to ignore this rant.

I've been hearing the phrase "It is what it is" a lot lately. Just what does that mean? Mostly it seems to be a means of avoiding talking about something, an outright refusal to evaluate that situation, to make any judgment or take any responsibility. "Mr. Sullivan, you just killed three people in cold blood. Do you really think that's acceptable?" "It is what it is."

It's as if they're saying that the facts speak for themselves, so feel free to interpret them how you like--but you'll be wrong because you're not me and therefore not entitled to judge. It's taking advantage of the current state of society which, on the surface at least, insists that we not apply any particular moral viewpoint without knowing the full context. "You can't judge me without context, and I outright refuse to provide you with context by suggesting the context is self-evident, thus presenting you with an irresolvable dilemma.

Goody for me that I don't buy into society's amoral attitude. What "it is," just for the record, is wrong.

My other pet peeve (or perhaps just something to be dismissed with an eye roll) is the ads for the latest online dating service, True. They're a frequent advertiser over at User Friendly (just keep hitting refresh. It shouldn't take more than one or two times to see the ad). Their slogans read "Love is just a click away" or "dive into love" or "Find love now." But then what do the pictures show? Ample, barely clad bosoms.

I'd like to do a little more research on this. Their default home page looks fairly innocuous and reasonably romantic. It's like a totally different site. Click on the ad at User Friendly (a geek cartoon, and so most likely considered to be a male-frequented site), and you get this. I'm not sure where to find a women-frequented site to see what the female audience ads and sign-up page look like. I'll bet they're not showing bosoms.

I'll also bet the women would not be so comfortable knowing how they're dragging men to the site.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Managing Expectations

The latest in my "gross overpayment" saga:

When I convinced the company to refund my money they said it would take about 5-6 days. Evidently that was just to get things started. I called them last week and was told "a couple more days." Four days later there's still nothing. So I called them again today.

The latest word is that I'll be getting a check until sometime around Thanksgiving--over a month later. Had they told me this up front I wouldn't have been happy, true, but I would at least not have been sitting around fretting each day wondering why my money hasn't shown up in our account yet. Evidently the Spirit of Service hasn't told them about under-promising and over-delivering.

Oh, and evidently they're not capable of figuring out that while I did grossly overpay my bill, I did intend to pay it. They're sending the entire amount back. Meanwhile I'm overdue for last month and owing this month as well.

At any rate, where I was originally satisfied with the way they've been handling the situation, I've since moved from somewhat ambivalent to rather dissatisfied.

Friday, November 04, 2005


Perhaps I'm overly paranoid, or overly prudish, but this bothers me. Apple can argue all they want that this was an unintended consequence. I think they knew darn well what they were doing.

You'll remember that Apple launched iTunes nearly a year before they released the iPod, making sure the content would be there to drive sales of the device. In this case, they're releasing the device, and while there is some official content, it's a fairly meager (and arguably lame) offering. Critics are already debating the eagerness of the masses to watch mainstream entertainment in small scale, low resolution.

But it doesn't take a genius to realize that there is already a lot of content available out there that has already been quite successful in small scale: pornography. You don't need high resolution to get your jollies. And all the prurience purveyors are falling over themselves to bring their wares to market. Just dandy.

When I was a kid I only had to worry about kids sneaking their dad's dirty magazines and trying to show me in school. More recently we've had to deal with the constant bombardment of it on computers. Now it can go anywhere. By the time my kids go to school it'll probably be commonplace for kids to gather around their ViPods at recess and watch downloads from Hustler. The person in the next seat at the ball game could be watching his latest hot honeys, and my son could inadvertantly get an eyeful. Will public decency laws have any control over that sort of thing?

I'm scared. I thought I had perhaps until my kids were eight or nine before I'd have to prepare them for that sort of thing. Am I going to have to have "the talk" with my daughter before she goes to school next year? It's frightening, it's frustrating, and it's downright depressing. Can't my kids just be kids for a few years?

Just one more assault on the family and the safety of home.

Knock it off already!

Thursday, November 03, 2005


I listened to the radio on the way to work this morning. The hourly news had a report on a local survey that indicated that two-thirds of respondents felt that gas prices were making it difficult to go to work.

Now I don't want to sound unsympathetic to the poor, and perhaps there really are that many people out there who make so little that they can barely afford the gas money to get them to work each day.

Granted, if that's really how the survey was worded it's a stupid question. But as it stands, it sounds like two-thirds of the people in my region are considering giving up going to work. That's like saying that because I can't find an extra $100 a month in the budget I'm going to pass on the ability to make any money at all.

Like I said, there probably are people who are already at the edge of their means who really can't afford the higher gas prices. But I suspect most of those two-thirds could tighten their budgets another $100 if need be. I can, and I don't have a cable or high-speed internet, don't eat out, and don't raid the snack machine at work.

But then my priorities have always been rather different from the mainstream. When I called my phone company today to see why my money hasn't been refunded to my account yet I had to fend off an attempt to sell me DSL. It just seems inconceivable to some people that $30-40 more a month is not a justifiable expense to me for a little extra convenience.

I wouldn't be surprised to hear that two-thirds of people in my area have had to make adjustments to their lifestyles in order to afford the gas to go to work. But that's not what the survey asked, evidently.

It sounds just a bit bizarre to me.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Puttin' the "Yo" in Yoda

Odd it is! Bizarre it is! Take your eyes off it you cannot!

Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to...rap music!