Friday, March 31, 2006

Cats on Crack

I've heard about the power of catnip over cats before, but I never really experienced it until yesterday. One of our cats is a hairy beast that refuses to be brushed, but sheds continually. We bought one of those brush attachments you put on a corner at cat level so they can brush against it. It included catnip to add to little scent holders on the brushes to encourage the cats to rub against it.

Yikes! I wasn't there for it, but my wife reports that she hardly had the box it came in open before the cats pounced. Anything that had even a faint catnip smell became hotly contested property.

After I came home we mounted the brush on a corner downstairs. As expected, they were all over it. Or rather, Jynx was all over it. If Max came near Jynx would fight him off. Max, instead, had to find other sources for his fix. After I mounted the brushes I put the instruction sheet up on my bookshelf. Max somehow got up into the bookshelf, knocked down the paper, and proceeded to lick or chew holes in it where the smell was strongest with the frantic enthusiasm of a hyena trying to clean a carcass with a lion bearing down.

I was reminded of those PSA spots where a small choir sarcastically sings the praises of meth while a junkie frantically cleans the floor with a toothbrush, swats at imaginary creatures, and claws at her skin.

By bedtime Jynx still hadn't calmed down. He proceeded to do laps around our bedroom, moving from the sewing desk to the bed to my nightstand and back, pausing briefly in each place before leaping off to the next locale. He did this several times, round and round, until it about drove me nuts. I finally banished him from the room.

Last I heard he was rummaging through the utility room looking for goods to fence or propellants to huff.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

L'Enfante Terribles

There is a massive protest in France today by college students. The reason? Someone wants to pass a law making it easier to fire them if they don't work out in the first two years of employment. Up until now if they can get a job it becomes almost impossible to get fired. The big "if" is because as many as 23% can't find work, as no one wants to hire them and risk getting saddled with a turkey they can't fire.

Give me a moment, and I'll see if I can summon a tear or two for my French brothers and sisters....

Nope. Sorry. I'm all dried up. France, you deserve yourself.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Googling To The Oldies

I'm a child of the 80's. I admit it with pride. Lots of people love to mock the 80's, but they tend to be the people that admire the 70's, so what do they know. About the only reason I can get out of them for their denigration is that people in the 80's dressed... well... different.

And...your point is...?

So I throw this before the jury as evidence to either acquit or convict the 80's of being "uncool." It's a video for A-Ha's "Take On Me." It's a very strong specimen of the era, and I'm not ashamed to say I like it. (Okay, I will admit that the girl is cuter animated. Her hair and makeup are less extreme.)

As a side-note, I have to admit I probably missed some of the more iconic parts of mainstream 80's culture. We did not have cable, so I didn't grow up with MTV or VH-1. I knew who most of the groups were, though. And back then I could hit all the notes in Take On Me. Sans falsetto.

Do I miss it? No. High school was much like every other period of my life: better in retrospect. I didn't appreciate it when I was living it. I've never been one to keep my mind, to quote Yoda, "on where he was! What he was doing!" Back then I was eager to grow up, so convinced that it would be so cool to have an adult life.

Well, I was right. As tough as it gets some times, I still prefer what I've got now to what I had then. It's just easier to see now that what I had then wasn't so bad either. To quote the ornery guy with the newspaper in "It's A Wonderful Life," "Oh, youth is wasted on the wrong people!"

But I guess that's one of the hallmarks of the age. I'll probably try and convince my kids to slow down and enjoy life, and they'll look at me like I'm nuts and remain anxious to grow up. They probably won't realize that they hold lightening in their hands. They won't understand that they have more freedom at that moment than they'll likely see again. They won't grasp that it's both a blessing and curse--and which part is which.

To be young and foolish and free... or to be old and foolish and free. Chances are we never really have a choice. I'll probably be looking back in another twenty years and thinking the same things about now.

Funny thing, life. We'll probably never really understand it until we run out of it.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

And Now For Something Really Different

I a bit of a sci-fi fan, so I was pleased to come across Futurismic. It's a labor of love by several sci-fi fans hoping to promote near-future sci-fi. The stories can be somewhat bleak, often dystopian in nature, but considering that they're all mostly focused on the not-too-distant future, they make some very interesting statements on where the world is headed.

They also run a blog devoted to technology and futuristic news. Not a bad site, all in all. They even pay modestly for selected stories.

Check it out. Especially before your kids do, as there is some mature material.

You Know You're A Parent If...

Thomas The Tank Engine And Friends is big around our house. Walter loves them, and Emma enjoys them. They're good, sweet, largely innocent stories. The characters have faults and foibles, but they're all essentially good. There are good moral lessons. What else would you expect from a series originated by a minister?

Well, yesterday the kids came home from the library with a Thomas and Magic Railroad book. Suddenly we've got evil trains running rampant on the island, threatening the steam engines with destruction and trying to take over. Suddenly Thomas has gone from doing "trainly" duties of delivering passengers and freight to defeating evil diesel engines by luring them onto weak bridges.

I don't like it. This smells of a marketing. I can hear the conversation that went on behind this:

"Gentlemen, Thomas and Friends has too small a demographic, too narrow an age range. We're losing the older kids, the ones who have the ability to whine their parents into buying toys. What can we do?"

"The problem, sir, is that there's no real conflict on Sodor Island. It's a magical land where dreams come true, remember? That may hold the girls until, oh, about six or seven if we're lucky--and that's assuming they like trains, which is a pretty big assumption. The boys are worse. About the time they hit five they start noticing action figures. There simply isn't enough drama to Thomas to hold their interest anymore."

"So you think we should spice up Sodor island?"

"Well, let's face it, sir, it's a dull place. And there aren't any girl trains."

"There's Mavis and Emily."

"Yes, though Mavis looks like Rosie the Riveter. And they haven't held the girls' interest, have they."

"Well no."

"Girls love magic, sir, and boys love action. We need a fluffy, sparkly, magical girl train. We need some bad trains. We need an ongoing storyline with some real conflict. Battles that can be played and replayed."

"But these are trains. Cute, lovable, kind trains."

"Exactly! Give them someone bad to fight against! With magic--Hey! I've got it! They're all steam engines, right? Well, steam engines were pushed out by diesel engines, weren't they? Sounds like we have a built in enemy right there!"

"I don't know about this..."

"Think of it! The diesel engines try to take over! We'll launch the whole thing with a feature film; get some well-known actors--should be easy, since lots of kids love Thomas, and famous actors love to win over their kids by acting in movies about their favorite characters. I'll be we could even get Alec Baldwin! It'll be big!"

"~sigh~ Okay, put together a proposal, some concept images, and we'll take it to the boss and see what she says."

"Trust me on this, sir! It'll be a hit!"

Ugh. Leave Thomas alone, please? This is like unleashing Cruella De Ville on the Hundred Acre Wood. Reading the story left a bad taste in my mouth. I never thought I'd see the day when I'd be trying to save children's institutions from the corrosive sands of commerce, but there it is.

I am a parent.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

News You Can Use From Berkley

A recent study has suggested that our political leanings as adults could depend on our personalities as children. More specifically, insecure, whiny kids tend to grow up to be conservatives, while self-reliant children tend to be liberals. The article is generally panned by both Dr. Helen and Dr. Sanity.

ShrinkWrapped, whom both draw from, takes a more scientific--and cautionary--approach to the article:

First I would suggest we be careful about accepting a reporter's view of a research study that does not include a link to the original. This should be an absolute minimal expectation of any on-line article, and URLs should be included even in old media reports. The absence of a URL is instructive.

Even more significant is the possibility that the Social Scientist may well have gathered some evidence that anxious children grow up to be rigid, perhaps authoritarian, adults. That does not preclude the delicious possibility that Block, without any conscious awareness, has described a situation in which he unknowingly inverted the meaning of "liberal" and "conservative."

But even the article in question does cast some doubt on the findings it touts:

Jost welcomed the new study, saying it lends support to his conclusions. But Jeff Greenberg, a social psychologist at the University of Arizona who was critical of Jost's study, was less impressed.

"I found it to be biased, shoddy work, poor science at best," he said of the Block study. He thinks insecure, defensive, rigid people can as easily gravitate to left-wing ideologies as right-wing ones. He suspects that in Communist China, those kinds of people would likely become fervid party members.

The results do raise some obvious questions. Are nursery school teachers in the conservative heartland cursed with classes filled with little proto-conservative whiners?

Or does an insecure little boy raised in Idaho or Alberta surrounded by conservatives turn instead to liberalism?

Or do the whiny kids grow up conservative along with the majority of their more confident peers, while only the kids with poor impulse control turn liberal?

What's more, the article does call the statistical relevence the study itself into question:

Part of the answer is that personality is not the only factor that determines political leanings. For instance, there was a .27 correlation between being self-reliant in nursery school and being a liberal as an adult. Another way of saying it is that self-reliance predicts statistically about 7 per cent of the variance between kids who became liberal and those who became conservative. (If every self-reliant kid became a liberal and none became conservatives, it would predict 100 per cent of the variance). Seven per cent is fairly strong for social science, but it still leaves an awful lot of room for other influences, such as friends, family, education, personal experience and plain old intellect. (Emphasis added)

In other words, they're admitting that social science is a rather weak discipline.

I for one don't plan to get my boxers in a knot over this study. It is interesting to note, however, how much fun the writer (a freelancer) seems over the results before they settle down and look at the study more critically and responsibly. Oh well. One of the main tenets in the writing business is to know your audience. One of the main tenets of the PR industry is that all exposure is good exposure. No doubt this fellow is getting a fair amount of exposure just now.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

This Time It's Personal

Yesterday a hurricane (or cyclone, as they call them down there) hit Northeastern Australia, striking an area where I used to live. The most damage was done to a town 60 miles south, but the impact is much wider. I know quite a few people in that region, and several I still keep in continual touch with. They say there have been no deaths as yet, but I'm still concerned.

At least they no longer live in a tin hut on the beach like they used to.

All I can do right now is wait for word that they're okay.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Speed Kills

The wife and I watched "84 Charing Cross Road" over the weekend, which had come recommended by my brother. And since we were watching it on his dime...well, why not.

Interesting movie. To put it too succinctly and miss the mark, it's like "You've Got Mail" without the romance. Really, it's a true story about a relationship between people connected only by mail and a love of books. Less succinctly, a New York writer (Helene) writes to an English second-hand book store in search of out-of-print books and ends up striking up a long-distance friendship with one of the partners (Frank), not to mention several other employees. It's an understated movie, and it says things today it probably never intended when it was made (1987).

For one thing, the two protagonists would probably never meet today. Helene would likely have done all her ordering of books through an internet interface and never interacted with Frank at all. The relentless march toward self-service in every aspect of life is removing human interaction from the picture. This movie makes a very strong case for that being a bad thing.

The movie left me feeling empty, like something important was missing. It occurred to me that the world is simply moving too fast. Everything is driving toward higher speed and greater efficiency; toward cramming more of everything into every minute of the day. In the process, I think, we're forgetting how to live. It's not about doing more--or it shouldn't be, anyway.

I would be wrong to blame the advent of email for the decline of personal letters. I'm sure that art form began to die well before that--probably with the advent of ubiquitous long distance telephone. But it's ironic and a little sad that in the process of speeding up communication we've forgotten how to make it meaningful. That which becomes easy becomes trivial, perhaps?

I don't claim to be any great correspondent. Frankly, I'm not. With the exception of wooing my wife I don't think I've learned the art of self-expression in letters. I'm far too used to summarizing events rather than communicating feeling. Helene and Frank communicated feeling.

It's not a problem of a lack of passion. People are every bit as passionate about things as they ever were. It's a problem in learning how to express that passion in textual form. Today we are taught to write to communicate information, not to convey personality and emotion.

So I suppose, though I was affected by the death of Frank in the movie, my sense of loss was for an entire medium for human interaction more than anything else. While I would not go so far to say that the movie couldn't happen today, I sense that it would be the exception, not the rule.

Another aspect of the movie that touched me was how the characters refused to let their interactions be impersonal. It would have been quite easy to establish the relationship around business only, but they didn't. They both looked beyond that. Helene found out that the English were under a meat rationing and she took the time to figure out how to send them meat for special occasions. They, in turn, looked for ways to return the favor. They didn't stop to think "England is too far away, why bother" or "the expense is inconvenient."

Helene even had a relationship with her local grocery store owner. She wasn't afraid to assume a measure of familiarity. Part of that was her personality, of course. Not everyone would be quite so outgoing as she was. But in general people didn't seem so quick to hide behind walls of impersonality. It's as if they had a desire to connect with other human beings, no matter how trivial the interaction.

I'm not like that, and I wish I were. I think society in general is not like that anymore, for numerous reasons. Interaction was not without risk then, either, but the risks are much greater today. But to a certain extent risk has become an excuse, not a consideration. "I don't want to talk to the grocery cashier because she might be a nutcase who start stalking me and my family if I reveal too much," might be a valid consideration, but the more probably truth is "I don't want to talk to her because I might have to talk to her again next time, and that familiarity might make me uncomfortable. Not to mention requiring effort to maintain."

Perhaps I'm too broad in speaking for society in general, but I don't think so. People like my dad, who actually concerns himself with whether the clerk is smiling or not, are rare. People like him are more tolerated than welcomed. We are not a nation of social risk takers.

If true, that trend cannot be a positive thing. While we continue to become more and more guarded in public, in private we become more and more vocal. The Internet gives every one of us the platform to scream at the top of our lungs while nestled safe behind anonimity. It is becoming easier to denigrate a person in private than to make a connection in public. I can't be bothered getting to know the middle-eastern man who runs the convenience store, but I have no problem ranting about what I think he stands for.

Free speech, while invaluable, is part of the problem. We'd do better to keep our opinions to ourselves and make personal connections instead. What's the old line? "They won't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Or perhaps, why should they care if you don't? Perhaps the kid down the block would think twice about vandalizing your car if he knew who it belonged to.

I know, physician heal thyself.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Sensible Talk...From Nancy Pelosi?!

Who would have thought!

“I think that things are going well for the Democrats right now,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday, alluding to recent data showing that a plurality of poll respondents would prefer a Democratic-controlled House.

So why, she implied, should Democrats risk spoiling the mood?

She rebuffed the call by Sen. Russ Feingold, D- Wisc., to censure Bush for ordering National Security Agency surveillance of al Qaida contacts with persons in the United States without seeking warrants from a court.

“I have no idea why anybody would censure someone before they have an investigation,” she said.

Not that I support her party or most of the things they stand for, but they've been showing a penchant for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory lately. I could change my support from Bush if the Democrats could provide a credible alternative. But they can't. They scream, they whine, they attack, but they don't every provide "a better way."

Not only that, it appears that even if they win they don't plan on doing anything productive:

Once the Democrats win the House in November, she promised, they’d seek to enact a job creation program, universal health insurance, more funding for public education, “energy independence, and real security for our country.”

But House Democratic sources said that if Democrats win the majority in November, Democratic committee chairmen would use their oversight, investigative, and subpoena powers to gather evidence forming the foundation for a range of potential anti-Bush actions, including censure and impeachment.

Indeed, their overall strategy seems to be anything but coming up with a better idea:

Feingold insisted that censure is not a diversion from the Democrats’ message, which is essentially that Bush and his administration are incompetent. “What I think some of my colleagues are missing,” he contended, “is that this (censure) actually fits in perfectly with this (Democratic theme of Bush’s alleged incompetence).”

What can you say about a party who continually fails to take advantage of the "incompetence" of their opponents? If you cannot manage to look more competent than an incompetent, what does that tell you?

Of course it seems that the Democrats are in a tough spot. Their "base" have even worse tunnel vision than they do:

But one Democrat who e-mailed me this week about Feingold said some party loyalists will stay home on Election Day if the Democrats don’t get behind Feingold’s censure crusade.

“The Democratic base is getting sick and tired of the whining, wimpy Democratic leadership at the national level,” said Darla Wilshire of Altoona, Pa. “We are the voters who will stay home in November, not the Republicans. Why? Because the party can't stand up for its principles, like those demonstrated by Russ Feingold.”

So it appears that the loyal Democrats would rather give the Republicans a victory (and continued control of Congress) than drop a rather pointless attack on Bush. What would censure really mean, anyhow? Didn't they censure Clinton? Did it stop him in any way? If they impeach Bush and manage to remove him from office, doesn't that just turn the reins of government over to Dick "Halliburton Hitlerette Puppetmaster Quick-draw McGraw" Cheney? This would be an improvement for them?

Evidently so. So would trying up the leadership of the country in an ongoing battle that could cripple our ability to deal with real threats. Even some of the Democrats can see this:

[Democrat Rep. Jim] Marshall, whose district Bush carried with 56 percent of the vote, said Thursday, “Many people in my district are concerned about the NSA spying and I receive regularly letters suggesting that I call for the president’s impeachment. And I regularly respond that I know of nothing the administration has done that warrants impeachment proceedings."

He said calls for investigating this and investigating that "tend to undermine our resolve with regard to what I consider the principle issue we as a country have to deal with right now, and that’s Iraq.”

I consider myself conservative, but not a Republican. I could perhaps bring myself to be a conservative Democrat if people like Marshall were the rule rather than the exception. But such is not the case. On the other hand, if the Democrats did take power, chances are they'd keep doing all the same things Bush has been doing--but now it would be a good thing, because they're not incompetant, and we can trust them.

Uh huh.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

My Wife, The Decor Shark

My wife is passionate about decorating. What Home Depot does to me JoAnn's Fabrics, Hallmark, and Cherry's Consignment (a local antique and furniture shop) does to her. I can usually tell when she's been to one or more of these places during the day by the look she gets when she enters a room: Eyes darting about, then fixing on the latest decorating challenge that she hasn't quite tamed, lips pursed, wheels turning in her head. If she stands there long enough you can almost see smoke coming out of her ears.

Her anxiety over all these design pain-points builds and builds until it erupts in a huge frenzy of decorating activity. She hit such a trigger-point yesterday. We bought an armoire for our family room to better contain the kids' games and toys (from Cherry's, incidentally), and it was delivered yesterday morning. Kapow!

I came home from work expecting to see the new armoire. I even did a good job of noticing the new curtains (I've had some warning they were coming--she's been sewing on them for several weeks now). But as I continued through the house I began to notice other things: a birdhouse...a ceramic windchimes on the front porch...a new window treatment variation on the window next to the door...ditto the window in our bedroom...hey, was that end table with a patchwork tablecloth there before? cooking pans...

It was like Martha Stewart had launched a commando mission on our house while I was away. (Coincidentally or not, her latest issue of Martha's design magazine arrived yesterday).

Now let me clarify one thing right away before I find the doors all locked when I get home. My wife is excellent about staying within budget. She consults me on large purchases. She is not a spendthrift. Which makes such broad changes all the more amazing. She's managing all of this on a fairly limited budget!

But even after all the work she put in yesterday she was not satisfied. She was like a "decor shark" the rest of the day, moving slowly and purposely through the house, scanning for her next targets with "that look" on her face. And then comes that dreaded phrase: "Honey, what would you think if..."

Now I don't consider myself the average, clueless guy when it comes to decorating. I do not think "Dogs Playing Poker" is fine art. I do not consider anything involving beverage logos and/or neon as haut decor. I am aware (and agree) that there is more than one shade of white. I agree that such decisions as complimentary colors and fabric textures matter. As I recall, it was even my idea how to complete the window treatments in the living room.

However, my threshold of "looks good, leave it" is lower than hers. I'm aware that most of the time she will change her mind two or three more times after I've declared something acceptable. As a result, I've become somewhat used to giving throw-away opinions. I don't want to get too sold on something, as it will likely go away.

It's not that she's capricious. She's just more invested in the process than I am. She's painfully aware that even though those curtains looked fine last week, we just changed the wall decoration next to it and now it doesn't work. Me? I saw the curtains last week when she put them up, and they looked good. Now I notice the new wall decoration and decide it looks good. I don't re-evaluate the whole picture unless there is a serious clash.

The older I get the more wisdom I see in "The Karate Kid." You home decor do yes: Okay. You home decor do no: Okay. You home decor do so-so: Squish like grape. I care enough to have an opinion on some things, and even some ideas. But much of the time my head is engaged elsewhere and I'm not prepared to switch over to appraising decorating ideas.

Ultimately the problem is mine. I love my wife, and I love what she's doing with our home. It does look really good. I do appreciate that she wants to involve me in it. It's not even a Mars-Venus thing. I just need to stop obsessing over how the last measure in the piece I'm composing still doesn't work right and pay attention.

This isn't just something she's doing because she's got nothing better to do. It's a labor of love. If it wasn't important to her she would have been satisfied long ago. This is her Bablyon 5, her Great American Novel she's always wanted to write, her music studio she'd like to have someday. It wouldn't hurt me to validate that now and then.

This is why I blog. It allows me to uncover my personal deficiencies and engage in psychotherapy before a live audience. I get to drag you through a long, meandering sequence of thoughts in order to arrive at something you probably already knew:

I am a dork.

It could be worse. You could have to pay for this!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

More Humorous Headlines

The front page link to this story on read:

87 Executed In Iraq, What Can U.S. Do?

Uhm...I'm guessing not much at this point. They're dead. But that's just my opinion.

James Lileks Makes My Day...Twice!

I had a really hard time getting going this morning, and it only started looking worse when I got to work. But then James Lileks posted a short video about the snow they got in Minneapolis, complete with witty commentary (at least I find it witty). It made me laugh, and I needed to laugh. And so I determined to thank him by sending the following letter:

I just had to drop you a quick note just to say thanks. Your snow video today, with its accompanying commentary, made me laugh. I needed a laugh this morning. And that is the reason I keep coming back to your site. You remind us all to appreciate life and laugh at ourselves--a message made all the more legitimate by the fact that you admit needing reminding of it yourself.

Your site is a physical embodiment of that idea, really. There's the screedblog and occasional bleats about current events that show that you're living amid the same turmoil as the rest of us, but they're secondary to the real site, which is about life and fun and enjoying the moment and being aware of what is around you.

So thanks for what you do. Please keep doing it.

I didn't expect a response, let alone one so quickly. I guess he sorts his mail by "most recent first." Anyway, he said:

Why, thanks! That's very kind, Thom. You put your finger on the general objective of the site - it's not my intention to do one thing or other; I just make it up as I go along. But I'm glad it comes across like something *I'd* like to read. If you know what I mean.


Liles [sic]

Heehee! James Lileks wrote to me! Pardon me while I have a shameless fan-boy moment. Oh Cousin! Now we do the dance of joy!

You must understand. If I could write any website on the web it would be The Instapundit is cool (not as cool as his wife), but Lileks rocks. I've been reading for several years now, and it's to the point that I feel like I've got a friend up in Minnesota. Last time I flew through there I joked with my wife about calling Lileks while we were in town.

Anyway, I have a hard time believing he's not a genuinely nice guy (he loved playing Dark Tower, for crying out loud). His site is fun, and his "Diner" podcasts are a hoot. The man deserves his success, and I wish him more.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Home Depot Season

The wind was clutching at us with icy fingers, but we were determined. Spring can leap out and grab you if you're not careful, so we made sure we won't get surprised. The entire family went to Home Depot on Saturday morning. I tell you, the place is dangerous. It's like an opium den. Step inside and you start to hallucinate just from inhaling the air.

I've never felt a particular need to own walkie-talkies with a ten-mile range, but see a pair at Home Depot, and suddenly I start to see myself using them all the time. "Honey, where is yesterday's newspaper, over?" "It's right behind you, dear. And so am I, over."

I tried out one of their covered patio swings. I was instantly transported to a night in July, the humid coolness of evening, sitting on the back deck (okay, the deck--we only have one) swinging slightly, head back, enjoying the thought of being alive. As opposed to how I felt out in the garden center trying to locate bags of compost while the cold air made my nose hairs tingle (okay, it wasn't that cold, but it wasn't the warm day we'd been hoping for).

We walked past the lighting section and I saw a quaint English style street lamp.! Do I know where we'd put it? No. Do I know how much it costs? No. Do I know if it would require any special wiring? No. But dang, it looks cool! Slap me hard in the face before I reach my Discover card.

Thanks, I needed that.

I think my wife recognized that look in my eye. She's not immune to the wiles of Home Depot, but fortunately she has a stronger resistance. She insisted we go home, review the budget, and decided what our priorities were before we start buying anything else. We were there for seeds, compost, floor polish, and batteries. I'd managed to talk her into getting some spray bottles (cat training, if you must know) and window cleaner as well. I didn't push my luck.

Besides, the season is young. Home Depot is patient. It knows its prey will be back, and it will be even fatter next time. I erred and mentioned those two magic words: Tax refund. You could almost feel the store throb with anticipation.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Absorption? Or Inflitration?

I don't consider myself racist, and I try to let people think and feel and do what they like so long as it doesn't interfere with my right to the same. But when I read things like this, I can't help but think it should be okay to exclude immigrants from cultures such as this:

A friend of mine is a retired chief of police, who used to be in charge of the security of a major city in the south of France. He reported to me that his men had to face an average of 10 rapes a week, 80% made by Muslim young men. 30% being what we call, in French, a “ tournante “, meaning that the victim is being raped by an entire gang, one after the other, often during an entire night. My friend reports that, in many cases, he was able to locate and arrest the rapists, often very young ones, and, as part of the investigation, call the families. He was astonished that, in most cases, the parents not only would back up their rapist children, but also would not even understand why they would be arrested. There is an instant shift in the notion of good and evil as a major component of culture. The only evil those parents would see, genuinely, is the temptation that the male children had to face. Since in most cases the victims were not Muslims, the parents’ answer and rejection was even more genuine: how could their boys be guilty of anything, when normally answering to a provocation by occidental women, known for their unacceptable behavior?

I should probably state that "this" comes from a FrontPage Magazine symposium on the rise of rapes by Islamic men against non-Islamic women.

Rape, it seems, is very much a part of Islamic culture, justified by religion:

Female “provocation” in the Muslim society is usually a definition for the mildest behavior. Smiling, singing, talking, being alone for one minute in the same room as the rapist, having answered a question in an inappropriate way, wearing clothes which are not strictly in obedience with what is locally considered as the Muslim rules, all of these innocent behaviors are seen as a misconduct authorizing “revenge.”


In Muslim society the male is dominant and almighty since he is made after God, when women have been created as a necessary evil to tempt males. In other words, the female body is the closest thing to the Devil, something which has to be dominated as a proof a faith. We go back to the sacrifice of Eros to Thanatos, as one of the basic sacrifices of all monotheisms, where, since the origins of the Bible, first inspiration to the Koran, women have been the carriers of the original sin.

In such a pattern, a male will not only consider any suspect behavior, including the mildest one, as an evil temptation, but he might look forward to experiencing one, as a religious challenge. Whatever will happen then won’t be the result of his own will, but he believes in having received absolution in advance for an act that, he knows, is against his own religion. During these minutes of deception and absolute power, he is not abusing a woman but fighting the Devil inside.

This is such an alien concept to me. If you are tempted by something, the best way to resist it is to give in to it? So if I'm tempted to steal, rather than resist the temptation, I should show my dominance over the temptation by not just stealing the thing I want, but cleaning out the entire store, then burning it to the ground? (Or, perhaps more accurately, vandalizing and damaging the store until the owner has it burned to the ground to eliminate his shame.)

I know I should be tolerant of other cultures and other ideas, but I do not see why I should have to be tolerant of this. That my daughter could be gang raped by muslims for simply smiling at them is incomprehensible and completely unacceptable. If this is what these people believe--and are not willing to denounce such behavior at the border--then I don't want them living in my country.

We evidently have no problem excluding Mexican or asian immigrants, whose main downside is their poverty, but are hard-working and generally moral. Is it really such a stretch to exclude a people who overtly despise our culture, plot its downfall, and believe they have a god-given right (if not responsibility) to rape women who don't live down to their standards?

What is worse, however, is that many westerners actually defend this behavior:

As far as the Western feminists are concerned, they seem to be hovering in other dimensions, in absolute arrogance, learned from ethnologues like Claude Lévy-Strauss. For them, freedom is that each "culture" may it be as inhuman as can be, is entitled to prosper even on our soil. The next act in this surrealistic piece of stage play is the unlimited understanding that Norwegian Professor Ms. Unni Wikan, shows for Muslims raping Western women: Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes, as they are not dressing and behaving according to Muslim understanding. The Norwegian women, in her view, are to realize that they live in a multicultural society and adapt themselves to it, as Mark Steyn reported already in 2002.

If this is correct, am I to believe that the women who were burning their bras forty years ago are advocating full robes today?! It's okay to be dominated by men, so long as it's not American men? Did I oversleep and miss the Stupid Train?

The Muslim male immigrants hate it in the USA because they are not totally free to live according to the sharia.

I'm glad to see we're holding the line for the moment. But make no mistake: the line must continue to be held. As more and more muslims come to this country they will gain confidence in their ability to coerce, threaten, and dominate our culture to the point that no one will dare resist them, either from fear or from "moral superiority."

The Great American Melting Pot is a thing of the past. Celebrating diversity is the "in" thing these days. Except the muslims don't want to celebrate, nor do they want diversity. If they get their way it will be "Celebrate Sharia Or Die!"

I understand there are many, many muslims in America who are more than happy with American values, culture, and law. To them I extend my welcome, and express my hopes that they are helping the newer immigrants to adjust.

But to the immigrants coming here hoping to impress muslim culture on America I have but one thing to say: This is America, the land of scanty fashions and strong-willed women. Keep your pants on and go take a cold shower. Or stay home.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Blurring The Lines

the New York Times has written an article about how Wal-Mart is using bloggers to disseminate information in defense of its image, tarnished recently by legislation in Maryland aimed at making the corporate monolith pay more for employee health care.

The problem, evidently, is that many bloggers repeat the Wal-Mart message verbatim without appropriate citation. I agree, that would be the helpful and ethical thing to do. Anyone who takes their reputation seriously should do so.

But other than that, the media has little to complain about. If people are turning to blogs rather than mainstream media for news, it's because the mainstream media is:
a) not interested in the same things people are,
b) not fairly or accurately reporting the news,
c) pushing an agenda that is not shared by the public,
d) too expensive or inconvenient to access, or
e) any of the above.

It's not surprising that Wal-Mart is using this medium to get out its message. In an environment where traditional marketing is becoming less and less effective, it's only a matter of time before something as popular as blogs gets subverted into just another marketing channel. If you've read "Pattern Recognition" by William Gibson, you're aware of much more inventive (or perhaps devious) methods that aren't that much of a stretch. It's only a matter of time before some inventive soul moves us beyond Blogads and begins to blur the lines of traditional ethics.

Wal-Mart, at least, is encouraging bloggers to attribute correctly. Bloggers are under no legal requirement to do so. It's only a matter of time before targeted marketing starts to find its subtle way into blogging like vanilla insinuating its sublime, earthy warmth into the fizzy lusciousness of an ice cold, tongue-tingling Coca Cola.

Now where did that come from?!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Just Another Manic Monday

A co-worker approached me this morning and informed me I was accompanying him to Phoenix next week for business. This was news to me, and not welcome news at that. I have no desire to leave town right now, especially for a week. Fortunately I went to the project manager later to find out just what it is they want me to do in Phoenix. It turns out he had me confused with someone else. I'm not going anywhere.

Then I get a phone call about my father being in the hospital. This is the same father who was given a grim prognosis last fall, and then proceeded to stage a miraculous recovery. In lieu of details I assumed the old disease was back. It turns out it's something else altogether--something operable. Not that surgery at his age and condition is a great option, either, but it's better than the terminal inoperable condition he supposedly had last fall.

Then, of course, I had a person I needed information from for a top priority project stand me up twice. I finally was able to contact her this afternoon, however, and things are moving forward again. This week is not off to a great start.

On the other hand, I found that I do have some options for composition software. Finale, which is the package I learned on in college, has a free-ware version they offer as a lead in to get you to buy any of four upgrade-to-full versions. The freeware version doesn't seem to offer any sequencing functionality, but it handles notation well, and does offer limited playback so you can check to make sure it doesn't sound too awful. It's a 30 MB download, but it's pretty good for free. I may be able to arrange a piece for the choir after all.

The top-o-th'-line version looks pretty darn impressive as a sequencer and composition tool. But it's $500, requires WinXP, and up to 1 GB of memory for the more advanced features. I guess that will have to wait. But ooooooh...covet covet.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Didn't See THAT One Coming...

Today I was asked to be the permanent choir director for our church choir. I rather expected it. I would have had to have done a pretty lousy job last week for the Bishopric to NOT think "Hmmmm...why not just have him do it?"

I'm a little ambivalent about it. I did feel a tangible sense of relief last week when I thought I was done with it. On the other hand, I'm also sensing some eagerness about it, too. My mind is already trying to write a new arrangement of a hymn I'm thinking of doing. I wish I had the software to make composing--or at least notation--easier.

I do enjoy music, and I enjoy creating it. The choir seems fairly enthusiastic about me continuing. I can think of worse positions. I can easily remember HAVING worse positions. Not that long ago, too. It'll be fun.


Emma had an in-house meet yesterday at her gymnastics school. The kids don't compete against each other so much as against themselves. She performed in four different events; floor exercise, balance beam, vault, and bar. In each event they evaluate the kids against what they should be able to do, and then award you a white, red, or blue ribbon accordingly. Then they award bronze, silver, or gold medals for your performance overall.

Emma earned three blue ribbons and a red for a gold medal overall. We're quite proud of her. We thought the meet would last longer than it did, so we'd planned to trade off so that the boys wouldn't have to sit through it. As it was, when I arrived with the boys for the hand-off they were nearly done. I got to watch Emma's vault, at least, and she did do quite well compared to some of the other kids I saw.

Emma, of course, was bubbling over. "I like winning!" became her mantra for the evening. Preparing for the meet has certainly increased her enthusiasm for gymnastics lately. I think she finally realized that all these things they learn actually have a point to them. She's had a blast memorizing her routines.

At any rate, it was another of those moments when you get to see just how amazing your kids are. I have no idea how far she'll go--or want to go--with gymnastics, but for now she's really enjoying herself, and learning quite a few things that will help her throughout life. It's been money well spent. Yesterday's meet was definitely a "Mastercard Moment."

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Speak Lies To Weakness

There's a phrase that has been overused to the point of Inigo-ism ("You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means!"): Speaking truth to power. Just what does that mean, exactly? And how does one know it's the truth, anyhow? But because I want to be hip and part of the counter-culture, I'm going to send the following letter to my senator. I'm pretty sure this is the right direction, as usually that phase is used in context of dealing with the government. Anyway, I digress:

Dear Senator,

I want to be make a difference in the world. I want to speak truth to power. In that vein, I have the following to say to you, oh powerful one:

- I don't know even 10% of what is going on in Iraq.
- I haven't a clue about the intricacies of the UAE Ports deal, or how trustworthy anyone from the UAE is.
- I didn't vote in the last library bond election.
- I have a scar on my upper left arm.
- I have never had a piercing.
- I did, however, accidently stab myself in the throat with a pair of scissors once.
- The current administration are all a bunch of human beings who are neither as good or as evil as most people make them out to be.
- It is unknown how many planets are in our solar system currently, as there is considerable debate as to what constitutes a "planet."
- I do not own a dog.
- I just ate several peanut-butter chip chocolate cookies.
- They were good, or rather, I found them to be good.
- If I had more I would eat them too.
- Spying on Americans is wrong, except when it isn't.
- Spying on foreign citizens on US soil who may have connections to groups devoted to killing US Citizens is probably a good idea.
- Unless you are a foreign citizen on US soil who may have connections to groups devoted to killing US citizens.
- I actually can't verify the veracity of the previous two statements, but they sound like truth. I know. It's not the same thing. It also sounds true to me that I should be in charge of everything.
- I have a copy of "The Lord of the Rings" in Finnish.
- The whole "Cheney Shoot Friend" incident could have been handled better.
- Even if it had, the press would still have had a field day over it.
- The press are better at telling other people the right thing to do than they are at doing the right thing.
- Homer Simpson is a fictional character.
- I know less about foreign policy than I do about Bablyon 5.
- I still haven't filed my taxes.
- Speaking truth to power takes a long time, and I find it boring.
- It no longer requires an apple a day to keep the doctor away. They no longer make housecalls.

Thank you for listening,

Your constituent.