Thursday, December 17, 2009

Twelve Days of Christmas

This is a re-post of something I put up over at our new online store's blog:

THURSDAY, DEC. 17, 2009
Twelve Days of Christmas

Someone has chosen our family for a modern "Twelve Days of Christmas" this year. We're not sure who it is, but every night for the last four nights someone has left something on our doorstep, along with a little poem.

Day One: "On the first day of Christmas we're dropping Christmas hints - And a candy cane treat bag full of chocolate mints! The 12 days of Christmas is a tradition we adore - So sit back and enjoy the gift, there'll be a eleven more!" This came with a bag of chocolate-covered mints.

Day Two: "On the second day of Christmas on your doorstep we did drop - two liters of our favorite soda pop." This was attached to a bottle of 7-Up Pomegranate.

Day Three: "On the third day of Christmas on your doorstep we did drop - three packages of popcorn to be popped." This came with three packs of microwave popcorn.

Day Four: "On the fourth day of Christmas to your doorstep we did lug - four quarts of apple cider in a great big jug." A gallon jug of real apple cider (not concentrate).

This is quite a lot of fun for us, as you can imagine. The kids are all excited to see what we get each night. We're also pretty impressed by how well they are able to get to our doorstep undetected every night. Granted, we're not actively trying to catch them (why ruin a good thing), but the way our house is laid out doesn't make it easy. All it would take is for one of us to be sitting on our couch looking out the window and they would have no way to get unseen to our door.

I certainly hope this is as fun for them to give as it is for us to receive. Probably more, as they get the thrill of the Mission: Impossible-style deliveries. The gifts are not extravagent--and don't need to be. Normal food, when given with love, become special--so special, in fact that we haven't been able to bring outselves to eat any of it yet! And family expriences around that food builds lasting memories. I know we'll never forget this. I should hope they--whoever they are--don't either.

Merry Christmas, and thank you...whoever you are!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Hey, Mutant!

Posting has been pretty light lately, for which I apologize. Trying to get something going that will someday put food on the table has been pretty demanding lately. Which brings me to the not-unrelated topic of "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium", a movie we watched last night.

I've had my eye on it at the video store for awhile, wondering if it was any good. It was (perhaps mis-)placed in the comedy section, so I figured it had to be pretty light stuff. And there is some, to be sure. But the movie is really a very compact, heavy little light drama.

It speaks volumes about the value of wonder and fun. But it also speaks volumes about believing in yourself. The main character, Mahoney, is the assistant manager of a magic toy shop run by the slightly-less-magical Mr. Magorium. Mahoney has spent so long as part of the shop that she has gotten used to the magic--and gotten used to the notion that Mr. Magorium provides all of it. She never stops to think that perhaps she contributes in her own way.

Mr. Magorium knows this, and that is why he leaves the shop to her when he dies. But her own lack of faith her herself sends the shop into hibernation until, of all people, the stuffy, real-world-ly accountant manages to show her that that magic is in her, too.

I found myself getting choked up at the ending, though it took me awhile to realize why. I think over the last few weeks--perhaps the last several months--I've become Mahoney, thinking there's nothing magical about me. I've lost my belief in myself somewhere along the way, and it's been making me miserable. I'm not entirely sure how to find it again, but I suppose knowing it's missing is half the battle.

I know one thing that would help. I need to try on one of Eric's hats. Mr. Magorium was quite right about that. Eric has fabulous hats.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Concerning American Girl

American Girl is the name of a product line put out by a company of the same name. They began with a series of books (with corresponding dolls) and have expanded from there. We discovered them when my daughter borrowed some of the books from the library. We started reading them as a family and soon we were hooked. Even the boys like to listen, and don't mind too much that it's "girl stuff".

The books are quite good. They mix a little history, a little bildungsroman, a little morality play, and a little "Stuff Girls Like", like dogs, cats, horses, clothes, etc. They teach good values, such as the importance of family, being a true friend, and being aware of and involved in the world around you. And, of course, believing in yourself.

The heroines are good and decent girls. They don't always have their priorities straight or their perspectives properly aligned, but they invariably undergo appropriate adjustment before the end. Things don't always go their way, but things do always turn out as well as they can.

In short, if I had to pick one fiction series for my daughter to take to heart, it would be these books. The girls in these books are just the sort of girls I'd like my daughter to become--and for my boys to associate with.

That's not to say they don't market the concept to death. They do. Every year they come out with a new Girl, with the corresponding product line. But their success is not undeserved, by any means, and if someone has to get my money I'd prefer it be American Girl over, say, Bratz, Star Wars, or My Little Pony. Bratz seems to be designed to produce shallow, image-obsessed girls. Star Wars is all about excitement, shallow story lines, vague morality, and pushing product. My Little Pony is all about cramming little girls' heads with cotton-candy inanities.

American Girl is about substance. It's about producing smart, confident, considerate, modest girls. It's about letting girls be girls--focused, grounded, well-rounded girls.

Tonight drove that point home pretty well. It was our family night, and it was my daughter's turn to come up with refreshments. We had a little mini-parfait made of brownie chunks, chocolate pudding, whipped topping, and candy-cane pieces. It was quite good, kinda different, and elegant-yet-simple. It turns out it was a recipe from the American Girl magazine.

I picked up the magazine for a quick glance while we were eating. The cover touted an article about throwing a "Party with a Purpose", so I flipped through the magazine to check it out. There was an article on how to throw a party for your friends centered around making hand-crafted items to take to local animal or homeless shelters. Included was a list of thoughtful questions for the girls to discuss while they worked.

I was somewhat taken back by what I saw. I belong to a church that places a great deal of emphasis on developing young women of depth, substance, and spirituality. American Girl covers the first two quite well, and goes as far as they can with the third without getting religious. I would be pleased as punch if my daughter were to come to embody all the American Girl values, quite frankly.

So I don't say this lightly: American Girl is a company on the side of parents. They're an excellent resource. Quite frankly, I wish there was an American Boy, as well. Yes, they're out to get their share of your money, but unlike most companies out there tapping into the kid and "tween" markets, they deserve it.

Bravo, American Girl. Keep up the good work. You and your products are welcome in our home and in the lives of my children.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


There's a fair amount of buzz lately about the scientists in the UK that a hacker exposed fudging data, withholding information, and stifling dissenting opinion. Of course you'll only find that buzz on the Internet, as the mainstream media is staying so far away from the story they're almost on their way back toward it.

Defenders of course claim that this is an isolated incident. We're expected to believe that this hacker just happened to pick on the one bad apple in the Global Warming community. The trouble is, if the GW community were really acting like the scientists they're supposed to be, they would have exposed these frauds themselves.

It would be quite impossible for four scientists to cover themselves so thoroughly for so long if the rest of the GW community were approaching their work with anything even remotely resembling healthy scientific skepticism. But no, the fact that these "bad apples" were not exposed by other scientists is a strong indicator that they are by no means the only ones involved in the suppression of GW dissent and skepticism.

It's not just one bad apple--that much is certain. Chances are it's the whole tree.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thank a veteran--and run!

Today being Veterans Day I thought I would try thanking the veterans I know. At work I had a chance to thank the new guy who I overheard was in the military recently. He seemed genuinely surprised and pleased, and said I was the first person to remember today.

After work my wife told me she had made a cake to take to someone. She had gone to our kids' school for their Veterans Day program, and the principal had given her the idea to find a veteran to show thanks to. Our older son has a friend whose dad served recently in Iraq and has now retired into the National Guard and local law enforcement. We decided to take the cake to him as a family.

He wasn't home when we showed up at his house, but his wife was very grateful. She called him at work and told him about it, and he called our house and left a message on our answering machine before we could even get home. He seemed very astonished and grateful that someone would do that for him and his family.

So I've come to the conclusion that it's hard to thank a vet and not come away feeling like you got more gratitude back than you gave. Next year I may have to try random, drive-by thankings. Take that!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Scozzafava reveals what pols fear

The NY23 house race is over, in which a Republican, a Democrat, and a Conservative all ran for the same seat. The Republican dropped out. In the end the Democrat won in an area largely leaning Republican in the past. Why?

Because the Republican threw her support behind the Democrat. Criticized by many for being a Republican In Name Only (RINO), she decided to prove it.

What this shows is that there is one thing that our two main parties hate more than each other: the idea of a third viable party. Oh sure, there have been a few independents reach office here and there, but those often are people who started out with one party or another and became Independent-in-name-only (uh...IINO?) after their party abandoned them.

No, this was a case where a candidate from an actual third party ran and nearly won. Even though there are more ramifications for the struggling GOP, the message is clear to both parties: you are both losing your grip on the electorate. If Americans get the idea that "none of the above" is a viable alternative to the classic Rep vs. Dem dichotomy both parties stand to lose power.

And in the end that's what this is all about. Both parties crave power. They're not so much interested in helping the country as keeping their power. To do that they have to keep the American people firmly divided into two camps; Us against Them. They would rather see one of the approved opposition win than someone supposedly closer to their own values who is outside the artificial two-part structure.

Congratulations to you, Doug Hoffman. You nearly started something. You may still have. But it's obvious that this race mattered, because reports of the outcome are buried in the news. barely even acknowledges it, even though it provides counterpoint to their lead story of several key GOP victories. Since it doesn't fit the GOP vs. Dems narrative it's just not important, I suppose.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Smart does not equal leadership

Going after Fox News wasn't enough. Now the Administration is going after....automotive website

Perhaps Sting is right and Obama is super-smart. But he sure hires some stupid people, and seems to be unable to lead them away from doing stupid things. If that's the case, being super-smart just isn't going to cut it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sting drinks the Obama kool-aid

Sting is going down on record as an Obama devotee:
"In many ways, he's sent from God," he said in an interview, "because the world's a mess."

Huh? The world is a mess, and Obama is elected in the middle of it, so that means Obama is sent from God? By that rationale, Putin's sent from God, Chavez is sent from God, Sarkozy is sent from God, and on and on. Why exactly is it Obama's job to fix the world? At what point does the World become responsible for itself.

At any rate, I'm not likely to take Sting's word (he's agnostic at best) on who is or isn't sent from God. I'm a fan of his music, and this won't change that. And, unlike many famous people with political opinions, Sting has actually done something to try to improve the world. But reading his biography is enough to convince me I don't want to take his word on what is right or wrong without question.

At any rate, he's obviously not open minded when it comes to those of us opposed to Obama:
The British singer, who released the seasonal album "On A Winter's Night" this week, said he's fascinated by American politics, Obama, and also by Obama's opponents on the right.

"It's aggressive and violent and full of fear," he said of the backlash against Obama. "They don't want change, they want things to feel the same because they feel safe there."

If the opposition is aggressive it's because the left taught us that's what protesters need to be before anyone will pay attention to them. As for the violence, I wish he's cite an example. If he's referring to the Tea Party protests this year then he's way off base. By and large, the only violence at those protests came from the counter-protesters.

As for the "full of fear" part, that's pretty rich coming from someone who is seldom exposed to the fears most of the rest of us have. It's not likely any change in government policy is going to put him out of his many homes. I suspect he's not concerned about extended periods of not working.

Perhaps we are full of fear, Mr. Sumner, but that's because we live in the real world, not the jet-setting world of the hyper-rich-and-famous. And unlike you, no journalists are asking us for our political opinions. If we were to call the Iranian government to request the release of political prisoners I wouldn't even get through, though I'd probably be taken no more seriously if I did.

You see, the rest of us--who you are usually quick to dismiss as "medieval", fearful, and unwilling to talk about real issues--actually have to worry about such mundane matters as food and clothes. We have enough trouble paying for one house, let alone several mansions. We're tired of rich well-to-dos telling us WE are the problem and that we should just shut up and let the smart people fix us.

So thank you for your lovely opinion, but no thanks. I'm not convinced that I, in my opposition of Obama, am making the world a worse place than are the Sudanese government or Al Qaeda. Perhaps super-smart Obama and you might want to focus some attention on those problems instead of how to silence Fox News or how to cram yet another bad idea bill down the American throat.

Or how about dealing with AIDS and other diseases in Africa? Oh wait, that was Bush who did that. And we don't like to talk about him. He wasn't sent from God to clean up the mess, and so everything he DID do to help clean it up should be ignored. It's much better to back a president who gets awards for the mere potential to solve problems.

Sting, you are more deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize than Obama, and I don't say that lightly. I know at least some of what you've done to try and make the world better. Perhaps in four years Obama will deserve it. But for now, his getting the award just makes light of the real efforts you and thousands of others have made since before Obama was out of high school.

Obama should be singing your praises, not the other way around. But then you've got a new album to promote, so I guess whatever it takes to grab a headline, right?

Teen-age angst-ridden vampires and the girls who love them

It's Halloween Week at the video store where I work, and so we're showing Halloween-related videos on the screens around the store all week. Yesterday was "Twilight" day. I'll admit up front I know very little about Twilight--and I don't care to be enlightened. I find the idea of vampires not being able to go out in sunlight because they "sparkle" to be silly. What the author seems to have done is show laziness by wanting to create tragic immortal beings who were not really vampires without going through the effort of establishing something else.

Anyway, the movie's tag-line keeps bothering me: "If you live forever, what do you live for?", or something like that. It occurred to me that nowhere have I ever seen vampires try to do anything useful with their immortality. At best they create art or something, but most of the time they sit in Gothic mansions and brood, plotting and scheming against their own kind.

Why is it we never seen a vampire given to scientific pursuits? Imagine what an immortal researcher could accomplish? They have all the time they need to ground themselves in the history and theory of their field, all the time in the world to patiently test each hypothesis. They don't need to worry about achieving some great, life-defining work before they die, because they don't.

I'm not so naive as to think vampires might do this to benefit humanity. But imagine the things they could do to benefit themselves, at least. But they never do that. Vampires are wasting their immortality. So why do all these vampire fans want to believe that vampires are somehow superior to mere mortals? They waste all the positive aspects of their existence.

It's no wonder vampires are so popular with goths and certain other crowds. Many of these people do with their own mortality what vampires do with their immortality. They waste it on brooding.

I'll settle for half that in cash

The big news story on the front page of my paper today was that the 30,000 jobs created or saved by the Stimulus Bill may have been over-stated.

I'm not so concerned about the numbers being wrong by 5-6,000. I'm concerned that some considered that number to be good news at all. Our economy continues to lose more jobs in a week (some months, in a day) and we're somehow supposed to be convinced that this is a sign that the Stimulus is working?

According to my calculations, that means each one of those jobs cost taxpayers $26,233,333. Give me that money. For what they spent to save just one job I'll create at least 1,000 jobs with that. Deal?

Sunday, October 25, 2009


We rented the movie Chocolat this weekend. Yes, we're behind the times. Nearly everyone of the female gender and many of the male gender have already seen that movie and declared it the best movie ever.

It's a good movie, but we're not breaking into best ever territory. But it is a good movie nonetheless. It does much to continue my enjoyment of Alfred Molina and Judi Dench. But I figured early on that this was going to be yet another one of those movies that vilifies religion as the enemy of all things fun. In fact I suspect that this one aspect is the primary reason why this movie is the favorite of some.

This idea is only buried in the last few minutes of the film, but well enough that I believe it was not the intention of the script to make religion the villain yet again. After all, the real trouble was not the Church or its pastor. After all, Pere Henri was a secret Elvis fan, and was just as cowed by Comte de Reynard as everyone else. And once freed of the the Comte's domination he uttered the sermon that supposedly changed everything.

So it could be argued that the enemy was really The State, and the intrusion of The State upon religion. But that also would be too easy, really. Both the State and the Church were but levers of power by which the Comte tried to control everyone and everything. Ultimately the movie had nothing to say about religion--or chocolate, for that matter.

No, the movie was about life and the little dead-end alleys we get ourselves into and lack the drive, the courage, or the moral fiber to get ourselves out of. In this Vianne, the purveyor of chocolate who turns the town upside down, was just as stuck as everyone else. She could see others' problems quite clearly and was able to help them, but she was completely blind to her own. The opposition mounted by the Comte de Reynard only provided her with the excuse to continue as she always had; picking up her daughter and her life and moving off to the next town to solve more problems and continue ignoring her own.

There is much to be found in the movie. It is a tight, well-told story. It it story-telling done right. It is not anti-church or anti-religion or anti-sin or anti-anything, except anti-"stuck". It's just that the plethora of Hollywood dreck that takes the lazy road of vilifying religion makes it all to easy to view this movie as being just one more of the same.

This is a movie about people, and what lies in their hearts; what makes them people. It is about the ability of people to examine their lives and makes something different of them. It is about the ability of people to reach out to one another and help them to take that first step in remaking themselves. The truth in this movie comes from the fact that every single character suffers from the very same problem, even their would-be savior, and that every single person needs someone else.

Not a single character ends the movie the same as they began it, and with only a single exception all are better off for their interactions along the way. It's a lot like life, only better. And that's what good stories are all about.

Friday, October 23, 2009

More on Obama v. Fox News

From Jennifer Rubin at Commentary Magazine:
It’s a cringe-inducing moment, both for those who oppose the White House on policy grounds and those who cheer its every move. As surely as Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton allowed their personal flaws to erode the office of the presidency, Obama seems bent on allowing his own flaws (thin-skinnedness, hubris) to do potentially grave damage to the office as well. And over what? Not some grand policy matter or some key personnel matter, but over the desire to exclude a news network that has criticized him.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Obama, the war is in Afghanistan

The White House continues to escalate its war on...Fox News.

Last week, White House communications director Anita Dunn said Fox News operates "almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party."

Jay Nordlinger at NRO makes the necessary comparison between Fox News and another news outlet who, evidently is not the research/communications arm of the Republican Party.

Evidently Fox News' sin is not being a hack for a political party, but being a hack for the wrong party. Heaven knows that if there is any vehement glee on the part of Fox news when they break a story that makes Democrats or the Democrat's friends look bad, there is just as much vehement glee by the other networks as they try hard NOT to cover it.

In any case, Karl Rove makes a good point:
Karl Rove, a Fox News contributor and former White House adviser to President George W. Bush, said the Obama administration is trying to demonize Fox News for asking questions officials do not like. He compared Obama's approach to that of President Richard Nixon, who included journalists on an "enemies list."

"This is a White House engaging in its own version of the media enemies list," Rove said. "And it's unhelpful for the country and undignified for the president of the United States to so do."

While the Bush White House did complain about news coverage, I don't recall them ever singling out a network for attack. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Had they done so there would have been a furor, I'm sure. But now we have a White House doing the very the last administration was only accused of, and there is dead silence.

Until the White House also calls out other news networks for their biased defense of the administration they really have no credibility in their claims. It is quite obvious they don't like Fox News only because they are critical of their administration.

In continuing this war all they are really doing is calling more attention to the fact that Fox News is the only source of news that doesn't support Obama's agenda. They can't buy better advertising than that. You'd think that seeing Fox News' market share continue to rise would warn the White House to try a different strategy to silence dissent.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Education in America

The newspaper reported today that Obama wants to extend the school day to help students become more competitive with students in Asia. As the parent of a first grader who already feels he spends too much time in school I don't like the sound of that.

For one thing, this is apparently all based off of standardized test scores. If we want American children to be competitive we don't accomplish that by teaching them to pass rote tests. That accomplishes nothing. We don't produce the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Donald Trump by making sure they all know the same facts and skills as every other kid in the world.

If we're trying to produce a generation of regurgitative drones we've already lost the game. India and China can out-produce us there any day. What America needs to stay on top is innovative creators. I'm afraid Obama's vision for American education is little more than a more PC version of the ads--you know, the ones where kids relate dreams such as "I want to claw my way to middle management," or "I want to have my redundant skills outsourced to India", or other stuff like that.

We don't need kids who can pass tests. We need kids who can dream up the future and then go get it. You don't accomplish that with milquetoast visions of homogeneous classrooms where everyone is made to feel good about themselves whether they actually deliver the goods or not, or where the brighter students are forced to slow down to accommodate the slower learners so they won't feel bad.

No, we need schools that teach kids that you achieve through hard work, perseverance, and by taking risks, and that if Johnny feels bad because he didn't do as well you should see if you can't help him do better next time, but ultimately it's his own responsibility.

The students need to learn that, mind you, not the teachers. The teachers should be just as concerned about Johnny as they are about Jenny the bold, outgoing, future entrepreneur. We should give teachers the tools, support, and respect to teach every kid at their own level. But they should not feel obligated to knock Jenny down a few notches by teaching her that getting ahead is somehow wrong.

Heaven knows Jenny will get a hard enough time from the other kids who are not as motivated. I saw that again and again growing up. The average kids would single out and pick on the high achievers and try to embarrass them into coming down to their level rather than just studying harder themselves. Kids can be mean that way. We don't need the teachers doing that too.

No, if other countries are starting to beat America it's not because their students can pass standardized tests better. It's because somewhere along the line they're instilling their children with confidence, creativity, and drive. Those matter more than whether a child can quote from memory the Pythagorean Theorem. Someone with confidence, creativity and drive will soon be able to hire someone else to remember that for them.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

If Europe wants him, they can have him

Joel Kotkin poses an interesting explanation of Obama's popularity in Europe:
Barack Obama's seemingly inexplicable winning of the Nobel Peace Prize says less about him than about the current mentality of Europe's leadership class. Lacking any strong, compelling voices of their own, the Europeans are now trying to hijack our president as their spokesman.

I can't quite agree with him that Europe's health care system is better than ours without some clarification of criteria, but his overall premise is sound.

White House declares war on Fox News

From the New York Times:
Attacking the news media is a time-honored White House tactic but to an unusual degree, the Obama administration has narrowed its sights to one specific organization, the Fox News Channel, calling it, in essence, part of the political opposition.

“We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent,” said Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, in a telephone interview on Sunday. “As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.”

Of course all it takes to undertake a "war against Barack Obama" is to actually report the news, as opposed to all the "legitimate" news organizations out there who cover up stories, spin everything White-House-ward, provide Obama with free infomercial time, and get tingles up their legs every time their darling boy speaks.

In America, we don't need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave, either. Perhaps Fox news will go easier on the White House when the rest of the "legitimate news organizations" start doing their jobs again.

It's no wonder that news organizations across the country are failing--and that the government is so eager to bail them out.

News you can abuse

Found this on this morning

...because they plan to conspire with Iran to circumvent any sanctions anyway.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Don't tell me the Internet hasn't changed the world

Yesterday my wife and youngest son went to several yard sales and came home with, among other things, a model of the Shuttle Tydirium (a space ship from Star Wars). I knew I'd be the one putting it together, and that I just had my evening planned for me.

I came home from work later in the day to find all three kids clustered around the box, excited for Dad to start work on it. So excited were they that they had removed all the pieces from their sprues. No problem, so long as the instructions were clear enough. Except there were no instructions. I tried to put a adventurous face on it, hoping we could figure out how things went together if we thought really hard.

Then I got the idea to check online. People put all sorts of odd things online these days. Sure enough, there is a gentleman who posts an amazing amount of information about his various modeling projects. I was saved.

I know it's been said many times many ways, but the Internet makes an enormous amount of information available that would have been impossible even ten years ago. And while it may not be that big of deal in the grand scheme of things, it salvaged the day for my kids and prolonged the myth that Dad can fix anything for just a little while longer.

Friday, October 09, 2009

And it's just in time for Oscar season...

President Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize?

I'd say they had better do something about their flatulent moose up there in Norway. It's obviously effecting the prize committee's ability to think clearly.

I predict an Oscar win for Obama at the next Academy Awards, even though he's not been in any movies...or was he shown somewhere in Michael Moore's latest dorkumentary?

Well, the world has never really listened to a US president. Perhaps they'll listen to the Nobel committee.

UPDATE: A couple thoughts about what Obama should do about this award:

1 - Decline it, as others have already suggested. He can announce that while he's flattered by the award, and appreciates the vote of confidence, he represents America, where results--not ambitions--define who we are. He can then decline the award, asking that they judge him at the end of his tenure based on his actual accomplishments.

2 - Accept the award on behalf of everyone in the world who hopes and works for peace, even if they have yet to achieve their dreams. Paint himself as no more deserving than the Iraqi shop-owner who has reopened his shop in spite of continued violence, or the Peace Corps volunteer helping immunize children in Africa. Something that both honors others who have done more in a less visible way, while politely showing the committee that he thinks they're full of it.

If he accepts the award as is he'll do himself no favors. Sarkozy's recent criticisms will be validated. Rogue-state leaders will look down their noses at him even more and do everything in their power to undermine his new status as a peacemaker. The Muslim world will laud him publicly and oppose him every step of the way.

This award is the last thing Obama needs if he is to be at all effective in the world.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Had to laugh...

funny pictures of dogs with captions
see more dog and puppy pictures


My wife was out walking the dog tonight and found one of our neighbors had put a chair out on the sidewalk, along with a note saying it was free to anyone who wanted it. There was a rip in the fabric in the back, but otherwise a clean, attractive chair. We decided to give it a home.

Our daughter has a chair in her room that we picked up over ten years ago from a thrift store. It's served us well for many years. All three of our kids were nursed in that chair. It never was in all that great shape, but a quilt over it hid most of the problems. It's time it retired, however. Or, since it is in no worse shape than it was when we got it, we may take it back to the thrift store.

This new find will likely take its place in our daughter's room. It would look very cute there, and the best spot for it would also hide the rip.

Thank you, neighbor!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Am I missing something?

The CBO has announced that the current Health Care Reform bill will cost $829 billion over ten years, while reducing the deficit $81 billion over ten years.

Something this is a good thing. We spend ten times what we save. Go try again, and come back with a plan that will cost $81 billion and save $829 billion. Then we'll talk.

All I know is that if I were to take a plan to any of my former bosses that called for spending more than you save by any amount I'd get fired. And rightly so.

Who keeps electing these fools?

Bill Whittle on Game Theory and Obama's foreign policy

Whether you love or hate Obama's foreign policy (I think he's doing us irreparable harm), this video by Bill Whittle is an excellent look into human behavior and how game theory predicts it.

I just wish he could have told us how to punish late mergers at off-ramps. That's always been a bit of a sore spot with me.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Knowing when the quit

Orson Scott Card is for unions, but against union leadership that fails to realize that they're pushing to far, and the inevitable backlash will not be pretty:
Workers need the rights that unions have won for them, including the right to organize when they want to. Won't it be a shame if, by attacking the rights of workers, the union leadership class causes the whole union movement to be perceived as just another conspiracy against working people?

Sad but true

An observation made on the webcomic Darths and Droids today:
We're not sure exactly when vampires stopped being horrific and became vehicles for adolescent angst, but we suspect roleplayers might have to own up to some of the blame.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Politics and anger

Max Boot has commentary over at Pajamas Media. He defends political anger, so long as it doesn't turn into violence. He also takes a look at where political violence is more likely to come from:
At the G-20 summit held in Steel Town, Time reported, leftist protesters who refused to apply for an assembly permit pushed dumpsters into the street, pelted police with rocks and macadam, and smashed windows of banks and even a Boston Market and a Mini car dealership. (These guys even hate cute little fuel-efficient Euro-cars? Sheesh.) Dozens of arrests were made. Meanwhile the number of projectiles hurled at law enforcement figures by banned-in-the-UK radio talker Michael Savage remained stuck at zero. The 9/12 protests that drew tens of thousands of marchers to D.C. were consistently painted as threatening because of signs that said things like, “Joe Wilson was right.” But if there were any arrests for violent acts, they weren’t mentioned in the Washington Post’s coverage.

And this is a telling point...
The MSM aren’t too curious about protesters like the ones in Pittsburgh (Do they watch Rachel Maddow? Do they read Paul Krugman?) because they believe radical leftists kinda have a point. Bankers get huge bonuses. Shouldn’t we all lob rocks at police to express our outrage?

And a particularly sharp closing point:
The thing they’re nervous about is not being assassinated but being tossed out of office. They should be nervous about us. Because we are their bosses and we can fire them.

More on Roman Polanski

...and the morons who apologize for him.

Reading through the Wikipedia entry on Roman Polanski and the reaction to his recent arrest, I came across the following:

French minister of Culture and Communication, Frédéric Mitterrand, was especially vehement in his support, all the while announcing his "very deep emotion" after the questioning of the director, "a French citizen" and "a film-maker of international dimension ": "the sight of him thrown to the lions for an old story which doesn't make much sense, imprisoned while traveling to an event that was intending to honor him: caught, in short, in a trap, is absolutely dreadful". Polanski, Mitterrand continued, "had a difficult life" but had "always said how much he loves France, and he is a wonderful man". There is, he added, "a generous America that we love, and a certain America that frightens us. It's that America that has just shown its face."

Such naivete is incredible. We should not arrest known criminals if they are on their way to collect awards? I can just imagine the example that would set for other criminals:

Officer: Sir, you are under arrest for murder. Please step out of the car.
Suspect: But officer, I'm just on my way to accept an award!
Officer: What award is that?
Suspect: Serial Killer of the Year.
Officer: Oh. I had no idea. Please, proceed. We'll pick you up afterward.
Suspect: (Under his breath) Not if I can help it...

Remember, this is Roman Polanski. He's fled justice before. You think he wouldn't have tried to do so again? In spite of what the celebrity left would have us think, police are not stupid.

But wait, there's more. We should forgive Roman Polanski because he "loves France" and is a "wonderful man." Well of course he loves France, you dolt! That's the country that has helped him avoid consequences for his crimes for so many years! And if Polanski is such a wonderful man, why did he drug and rape that girl? Lots of criminals are wonderful people when they're not committing their crimes. So what?

Mitterrand also seems to find an America that believes in law enforcement frightening. That terrible America! They lock up rapists! They extradite criminals! Oh, the shame! Where will it end?! I'm sure Mr. Mitterrand has no trouble with law enforcement and extradition when it goes the other way. Or perhaps he does oppose hauling French citizens back to France to face justice for their crimes. From what I've heard of French prisons, I don't think they have much ground to call America frightening.

Of course Mitterrand is no more a fool than the group or artists who wrote a manifesto calling for his release. Also from Wikipedia, the manifesto concludes as follows: "Roman Polanski is a French citizen, an artist of international reputation, now threatened to be extradited. This extradition, if brought into effect, would carry a heavy load of consequences as well as deprive the film-maker of his freedom".

Uh...yes, I believe that is the point of criminal punishments. They are intended to bring consequences to bear; the heavier the crime, the heavier the load. And yes, that usually involves depriving people of their freedom, film-makers or not. It's called a disincentive. It's called the law.

Luc Besson, on the other hand, seems to get it: "I do not know the history of the process. (...) I feel a lot of affection for [Polanski], he's a man I really like and I know him a bit, our daughters are very good friends but there is a justice, [and] it is the same for everyone".

So does Jewel: "Polanski-admitted raping a 13 yr old-whys every1 in the arts upset hes facing jail? cause hes a gifted director? what am i missing?" asked bewildered singer-songwriter Jewel via Twitter.

UPDATE: Ran across a few more reports of celebrities rushing to defend him with such platitudes as "it was consensual" or "that was so long ago" or "the victim has asked for the case to be dismissed". According to the court transcript it was NOT consensual. She was thirteen! She was drunk and on drugs, and she was still saying no. Under the law, consent has nothing to do with it. He knew that, or should have known it. In what universe is a forty-four year old having sex with a thirteen year old girl okay?

As for the length of time since the incident, that's Roman Polanski's fault, not the justice system's. He didn't have to run. He didn't have to stay away so long. He could have put this behind him long, long ago. He chose to continue avoiding responsibility. It's his fault, and no one else's.

Let me put it another way. I have a son who does not take well to punishment. When he does something wrong he gets time out. Often he will throw a tantrum and refuse to go into time out. He has not only done something wrong, but he is refusing to accept the punishment. So when he finally does calm down and accept punishment he still has to have his time out.

It would do neither of us any good to say "Well, your tantrum was longer than the time out would have been. Since you weren't having any fun during that time I'll count that as your time out. Go play now." He would only learn to keep throwing tantrums. He and his siblings would learn that I don't mean it when I threaten him with time out.

Roman Polanski is pretty much like my four-year-old, sorry to say. To let him off now, especially when his life has been by no means bad for those 32 years, would send him and society the wrong message. Punishment is punishment. He didn't even stick around to see what his would have been. It would serve him right if his punishment now is much longer than it might have been had he just accepted responsibility and served whatever time was coming to him.

He had the ability to put this to rest long ago. Instead he threw a 32-year tantrum.

Liberals, morality, and Roman Polanski

Liberals like to believe they are the elite, morally and intellectually. Hollywood liberals (no, that is not entirely redundant) make normal liberals look humble by comparison. And yet the only ones they are fooling are themselves. Nothing exposes the moral bankruptcy of the left like their inability to apply morality uniformly.

This is because morality is useful in placating moderates and bludgeoning conservatives. But, truth be told, if it weren't for those pesky moderates and conservatives they would prefer there be no morality at all. Liberals seem to think that abject hedonism and intellectual enlightenment can exist in the same being.

Witness for the prosecution: Roman Polanski. This "gentleman" drugged a thirteen year old girl, raped her, then fled the country to avoid imprisonment. After thirty-two years in exile, he has been arrested in Switzerland and is awaiting extradition hearings. A large number of artists in America and in Europe have rushed to Polanski's defense, claiming he's suffered enough already and that such a great talent should not be shut up in prison.

In other words, if you are talented you should a) be allowed to have sex with anyone or anything, regardless of legality or the wishes of the victim, b) should not be subject to the rule of law, and c) should be shielded from their own stupidity. So what they seem to be telling us is that Timothy McVeigh's only real crime was not being talented enough.

Of course this attitude should not be surprising. Artists and actors have been told by everyone and themselves for years that they are special, that they are delicate souls, and that their role is to push the boundaries and break the rules. More than once in my own musical training did I hear the maxim "You have to learn the rules before you can break them." So many artists have "handlers" to shield them from the realities of life.

But to shield artists, no matter how talented, from the consequences of illegal activities is to undermine the very society that makes it possible for them to develop and display their talents. It is spitting in the face of everyone who has lived by the rules. It cannot be allowed to stand.

Roman Polanski is a criminal. He broke the law. Criminals must be punished, or the system breaks down. He did not just break one law, either. He raped the girl, and he fled the country to avoid justice. That is two laws. Even if there is any reason to overlook the first--and there is not--there is no reason to overlook the second. On the contrary, overlooking the second does more harm to society than the first.

I do not believe those who claim he has suffered enough for his crime already. In what way has he suffered? He has still been able to work all of this time. He has had his freedom. True, there are certain countries he has been unable to visit, but he seems to have done well enough in spite of that. Such are the inconveniences of fleeing justice. Is being unable to go to other countries to accept honors for your work a small price to pay for being free to continue your work?

It is not the fault of American justice that Roman Polanski, for all his supposed genius, was stupid and remains stupid. If there is any constant in America it is our willingness to forgive and forget, especially our celebrity types. What else can explain how Bill Clinton can commit adultery with no consequence while GOP senators continually have to step down for less?

Had Roman Polanski gone to jail like he was supposed to he may have given up a year or two of his life. Considering the kid-glove treatment he was receiving that allowed him to flee in the first place, he probably would not have served even a year. Once he got out he would have been embraced by Hollywood again, and perhaps even lauded all the more for his having experienced the darker side of American justice and come through unscathed, or some clap-trap nonsense like that. Critics would have been falling over themselves to point out the new-found depth and passion in his work that could only have come from having experienced the horror of incarceration and a loss of freedom for a time.

And he would have been free to collect his awards anywhere he liked.

No, I do not feel sorry for Roman Polanski. Every step of the way he has received special treatment. He has foreign diplomats and celebrity elites falling over themselves to come to his defense. The man made some very serious mistakes, but he has largely avoided the consequences.

If Roman Polanski gets off I will feel outrage on behalf of a friend of mine who committed statutory rape. He also plead guilty. He went to prison for several years, voluntarily accepting harsher conditions than was required. I believe he learned his lesson and was reformed. Yet, as a registered sex offender, he will never have the same degree of freedom Roman Polanski has enjoyed for thirty-two years.

Where are the celebrities rushing to his defense? Where are the awards? Is his only crime, then, not being famous enough?

The liberal elites think they are so intelligent, yet they cannot see the harm their attitudes toward morality and rule of law are doing. My friend accepted responsibility for his actions and learned from the experience. He's a much smarter man than Roman Polanski.

Roman Polanski should serve time for his rape. He should serve even more time for evading justice. If he dies in prison, so be it. We, as the "unfamous, untalented" of America, deserve nothing less. The liberal and Hollywood elite deserve nothing less. It is high time someone sent them the message that they are not above the law, that "genius" and creativity and celebrity are no excuse for anti-social behavior. The question is whether or not they are smart enough to learn the lesson when we try to teach it.

UPDATE: In all fairness, I should point out that while the Huffington Post has fired an extensive volley in support of Roman Polanski, not all on the left see it the same way. Many see the situation for what it is: a crime exacerbated by evasion of justice.

It is mainly the Hollywood Elite who are rushing to Polanski's defense. And why not? If justice can be enforced on him, could be enforced on them too! We must push back the hands of legal progress!

Alan Grayson vs. Joe Wilson

What's the difference between Alan Grayson's charge that the GOP just wants people to die and Joe Wilson calling Obama a liar?

Well, for one, House leadership are not insisting he apologize even once, let alone twice. For another, there is substantial evidence that Joe Wilson was correct, whereas there is very little to back up Grayson's claim. But other than that, the incidents were pretty much the same.

Good behavior for thee, but not for me.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I think your computer would do it better

Actual tweet from someone who just started following me:

Im not Actually typing this my computer is!!! LOL, email me to learn how to automate your business

This person really needs his computer to start typing his tweets for him. Computers at least know basic rules of grammar. He doesn't do much to convince me I should trust him anywhere near my business. I don't need to look like an uneducated hick...automatically.

I am not going to be nice and follow this person back.

I realize that Twitter forces one to be brief, and perhaps he has decided to trade punctuation for brevity. But just drop "LOL, " from that tweet and you've bought yourself enough punctuation to look intelligent.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Social media is all fine and good, but it is only as smart as the user. Broadcasting a poor image to a million people instead of a few thousand just drives your business into the ground that much faster. The rules of business still apply. The Internet is merely an equalizer, not a miracle-maker. If you are clueless, it can't help you.

The more technology encourages people to communicate without proper grammar and spelling, the easier it will become to differentiate oneself by merely writing to an acceptable standard. There are already too many people out there who think that grammar is the person married to grampar.


Socialism and the assault on the middle-class

This weekend I had a lengthy conversation with a gentleman from Ecuador. He spoke about conditions in his own country and how things are headed that way here. He explained that down there the socialists have gained power by taking from the middle-class and giving it to the poor. Not from the rich, but the middle class.

They don't take from the rich because they want to become rich themselves. They don't want a middle class, because the middle class can threaten them. The poor, however, can be easily diverted in their hatred of the rich to take it out on the middle class. They can be placated by handouts from the government.

Eventually they eliminate the middle class, leaving only the rich-and-in-power, and the poor who depend on the government for everything. As the old song goes, the rich get richer and the poor get children.

We need to be more observant here. Sure, the Cap-and-Trade bill will impact companies and the wealthy. But the main impact will be on the middle-class. Energy costs are nothing to the rich, but they're a significant budget item for the middle-class. Universal Health Care means nothing to the rich. They'll go wherever they need to to get the best care. But saddle the middle-class with their own health care costs (from keeping their private plans) and subsidizing health care for the poor, and suddenly they don't have much left to go around. Hit them with both and the middle-class start resembling the poor--only they're not eligible for the handouts.

People are not stupid. Provide them enough disincentive and they'll get the message. They'll give up and join the poor. It's easier than trying to get ahead and become rich. It's easier than trying to hold the line and remain middle-class.

Socialism doesn't lift everyone to higher levels. It drags everyone else down to the lowest common denominator. After so many decades of fighting against socialism around the globe you think we'd have learned that by now and know better than to bring it here.

Racist is as racist does

Sonja Schmidt over at PJTV has a video installment on racism and the Democratic Party. It's an interesting video, but most disturbing is the segment showing Sen. Barbara Boxer trying to counter testimony from the head of a national chamber of commerce organization (who is black) on what seems to be a science-related issue by citing that the NAACP takes a different stance.

She seems to be implying that the NAACP's position should be the standard position for all blacks, and that this gentleman should just shut up and accept it. When he rightly takes offense at her intimation of not toeing the black party line she continues to talk to him in an increasingly demeaning way.

To his credit he doesn't back down and calls her out on it. The liberals stance that any black who does not agree with their policies is a sell-out, self-loathing Uncle Tom is much more racist and nasty than any of the protest statements the left are currently denouncing as racist. It's time more people called them on it.

The idea that one should always think and feel (and vote) a certain way because of one's race is despicable. It is wrong. To attack any member of a particular ethnic group because they disagree with that "party line" is vile, underhanded, and racism at its worst. The left have no business lecturing the rest of us on racism until they clean up their own act first.

From the "Too Much Free Time" files

I give you...Monty Python's "Camelot" as performed by the Star Trek Players:

A cautionary tale

How to catch a wild pig.

Enough with the free corn.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Greetings to space

For the last four nights the International Space Station has been visible orbiting above our city at least once per night. For some inexplicable reason I've felt compelled to go out and watch every night. Tuesday night it made its earliest pass of the week, and I took the kids outside to watch.

It's little more than a bright light, a little brighter than Venus perhaps, traveling across the sky, fading in out of the sunset and fading out toward the east. I watched it with binoculars the first night, but it's simply too high for my birdwatching binoculars to help much.

But each night I've been out there watching that little bright point of light pass overhead. I've always been excited about space, I suppose, from the time my brother woke me up early one morning to watch the first space shuttle launch on TV. There is something inherently exciting about the idea of traveling out there in the void where distances quickly become mind-staggeringly meaningless, where there is barely anything at all, and where one slight misstep is not just dangerous, but fatal.

To the men and women who have served on the ISS, I salute you. And, given the chance, I keep a quiet vigil from my backyard. You'll never know it, but there is at least one pair of eyes in Idaho noting your passage in the night sky. God bless, and good night.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Things that concern me

Starting off, the FCC chairman has decided the Internet needs his regulation.
Now, whenever a telecom company wants to implement a new service or product that works by manipulating traffic flow on the Web, it will have to worry about whether or not its innovation might set off Genochowski's sense of... well, whatever it is that he and the rest of the regulators at the FCC don't like.

Harry Reid doesn't want to investigate ACORN.
Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday that he would not ask the Senate committee chairmen or Congress “to do anything that would distract from efforts to address” health care, climate change, an overhaul of the nation’s financial regulatory system and oversight of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Investigating baseball steroids use is important, but not what some questionable political group does with taxpayer funds. Harry, your moralectomy was a complete success. Heck, even Barney Frank is starting to question ACORN.

The Washington Post is coming to the defense of Congress by saying that requiring them to read every bill they vote on would bring government to a standstill. As Glenn Reynolds says, "That's not a bug, it's a feature..."

Meanwhile, our Secretary of Energy thinks Americans are children who need to be taught how to act.
This week, prepping for the upcoming Copenhagen climate change talks, Dr. Steven Chu, our erstwhile Energy secretary, crystallized the administration's underlying thinking by claiming that the "American public . . . just like your teenage kids, aren't acting in a way that they should act. The American public has to really understand in their core how important this issue is."

This concerns me, and I'd like to see a reference for this claim:
Chu will deploy bureaucrats to more than 6,000 public schools to, um, teach children about "climate change" and efficiency. They probably won't mention that the Energy Department was found to have wasted millions on inefficient use of energy by an independent auditor this year. (Listen, even our parents aren't perfect.)

We don't need bureaucrats for that. It's already in the lesson plans for every school out there. My children get it in school regularly. I get frequent lectures from my kids based on stuff they heard in school. Of course they still can't manage to turn out the bathroom light when they're done, but hey, they're only supposed to pass on the message, not heed it themselves.

And what's this? Is the government really helping out the drug companies in exchange for pro-reform advertising? In light of the recent NEA scandal, it's not hard to imagine.

Meanwhile, Democrats have rejected a GOP bill that would have required putting the text of the health-care bill online 72 hours before an vote.

Remember when posting the text of bills online before a vote was a plank of Obama's platform? He doesn't.

Of course he's too busy apologizing for America, stiffing our friends and loving our enemies:
But on foreign policy as his record emerges -- as he reverses himself on missile defense and perhaps on Afghanistan -- his motivating principle seems rooted in an analysis, common in his formative university years, that America has too often been on the side of the bad guys. The response has been to disrespect those who have been our friends and to bow to our enemies.

Evidently if we want moral leadership we need to look to Canada, of all places:
“President Ahmadinejad’s repeated denial of the Holocaust and his anti-Israel comments run counter to the values of the UN General Assembly, and they’re shameful,” said one Canadian official.

“He uses his public appearances to provoke the international community, and that is why Canada’s seats will be empty.”

And finally, what better way to wrap up than a jab at our dear friend Charlie Rangel, who can write tax law blindfolded. That way he can honestly claim to never have seen it when he fails to follow it himself later on.

It's not whether you are loved, but who loves you

The Telegraph, a British paper, offers the following analysis of Barak Obama on the international stage:
Simply put, Barack Obama is loved at the UN because he largely fails to advance real American leadership. This is a dangerous strategy of decline that will weaken US power and make her far more vulnerable to attack.

As we saw last week with his shameful surrender to Moscow over missile defence, the president is perfectly happy to undermine America’s allies and gut its strategic defences while currying favour with enemies and strategic competitors. The missile defence debacle is rightly viewed as a betrayal by the Poles and the Czechs, and Washington has clearly give the impression that it cares little about those who have bravely stood shoulder to shoulder with their US allies in Iraq, Afghanistan and the wider war on terror.

The Obama administration is now overseeing and implementing the biggest decline in American global power since Jimmy Carter. Unfortunately it may well take another generation for the United States to recover.

I feel safer already.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Saturn in all its glory

I am not kidding. This picture, (Hat Tip Bad Astronomy) is simply incredible. Or, if you're really up for a show, try this larger version (picture is large. Scroll down and right for the main show).

It's stuff like this that adds a little perspective to one's day. Political sniping loses importance in the face of such reminders of the wonders just outside our own world. Or in our world, for that matter.

Why don't I like Glenn Beck?

Several friends of mine are avid listeners of Glenn Beck, but I can't bring myself to become one myself. I've listened to a little bit, and while I find him at times amusing and at times correct, I still can't warm to him. Ron Radosh over at Pajamas Media comes close encapsulating my viewpoint, I think, by encapsulating David Horowitz:
And let me give the last word to David Horowitz, who reasonably accepts part of what David Frum has said, when he makes the following point. Beck, he says in one of his blogs, has done good things and must be given credit for this and not be read out of the conservative movement. Yet, he agrees that Beck must be “reined in” and corrected when he goes too far. If those in the conservative ranks who support Beck do just that, Beck’s excesses can be tempered, and those who do not like him will listen to him more carefully when he is right.

I admit some of my dislike of Glenn Beck is a gut reaction. My father was an early and avid "Ditto-head" when Rush Limbaugh first impacted on the scene. The more avid he became the more I avoided Rush. Beck reminds me of Rush, and so triggers my habitual wariness.

Yet, on the recommendation of some persons whose opinions I respect, I read Beck's "Common Sense" recently and found it convincing. If that was the Beck who showed up on the radio every day I might be more inclined to listen, had I the time. But therein, too, lies the problem. I'm not willing to give very many people a full hour of my time. If they can't make their point in a few minutes it's time I was moving on.

But ultimately I think my main reason for disliking Glenn Beck is because of his incite-ful style. He is a merchant of anger, and I find that distasteful and counterproductive. Anger doesn't get the job done, not when the job is something that requires long-term focus and commitment. And Anger is too easily subverted for other purposes.

There's a popular bumper sticker that says "If you're not outraged, then you're not paying attention." The trouble is, the opposite is also true: If you're outraged you're not paying attention to anything else. I can't live a life of continual outrage. I don't need to be outraged to act, and I fear those who do. Outrage far too often leaves one unable to think clearly, and therefore prone to having others do their thinking for them.

I'll take a platoon of calm, cool, rationally concerned people motivated to action over an army of the outraged any day.

Granted, that can be hard to come by.

Monday, September 21, 2009

In defense of Ewoks.

This weekend I completed the indoctrination of my children by showing them Return of the Jedi. I know, there are three other movies still to go, but I'm still ambivalent about the "newer older" movies. Perhaps in time I'll watch them again to see if they're any better than I remember. I mostly just remember being overwhelmed with special effects and underwhelmed with actual plot and acting.

But to get back to my children, Return of the Jedi for many Star Wars fans is the worst of the three, for one main reason: Ewoks. There are very few ambivalent fans where Ewoks are concerned. You either hate them or love them. Most hate them.

I'm one of the ambivalent ones. I thought they were fun the first few times. I don't dislike them now. I have no problem with a bunch of overgrown teddy-bears defeating an entire legion of the Emperor's best troops. With the Empire, that's not saying much. The Empire military doctrine always seemed to be "either build massive, intimidating weapon systems or throw more troops at them". They deserved to get beat by a band of teddy bears with teeth.

I have more of a problem with either the speed at which the Ewoks were able to prepare all their traps, or the fact that the Imperial troops basically ignored those traps for so long, depending on which premise you believe. I think the Ewoks had too easy of a time with it, but that was more a fault in the story-telling than anything else. Lucas dwelt more on the Ewoks beating up stormtroopers than on stormtroopers beating up Ewoks, yet also portray's Chewbacca's liberation of a scout walker as the turning point in the battle. I don't think it was meant to look like such a cake-walk for the Ewoks, yet that's how the battle came across.

But there was one aspect of the entire situation I hadn't considered until my kids showed me. Kids love Ewoks. At least mine do, and I now can see why. They'd sat through three movies of scary stuff. Scary bad people. Scary alien monsters (Jabba's Palace wins the competition for my six-year-old son's least-favorite part). Big people fighting big, uncertain fights. It's the sort of thing that caused great amounts of anxiety in even my bravest kid.

Then along come the Ewoks. They're cute, they're small, they're non-threatening. They obviously have to be good. And then the cute, small, non-threatening "silly-bears", as my kids call them, proceed to kick the scary people's butts in cute, amusing ways (unless you're the Imperial walker crew caught between those two logs). It's not just a triumph for the Rebellion. It's not just a triumph for the Ewoks. It's a triumph for small, repressed things everywhere, which includes children who have sat through three movies of scariness and never seen it completely defeated, merely escaped. Until the Ewoks do it.

In short, I think George Lucas, consciously or not, was tapping into the adolescent psyche. He'd been providing the coolness and wonder for three movies already, but he still needed to provide that empowering image that children could connect with. The Ewoks provided that. They are the one thing in the trilogy that kids can connect with whole-heartedly. They're the comic relief of the movies, and they save the day.

I think Jar Jar Binks and the Gungans played that role in the next three movies, though primarily in the first. I think Jar Jar was not there for the adults, but for the kids. But the adults hated him--much like many adults at least now hate the Ewoks.

Young Anakin was, I believe, intended for a similar function. He was a kid played for kids. Yes, to adults lines like "Let's try spinning, that's a good trick" sound corny and...well, childish. But I've heard similar things come from my own children's lips.

I don't think the adults were ready for a young Darth Vader that acted like a kid. I think we were expecting something more like the little girl from Poltergeist or something; creepy and vaguely menacing. Instead we got...Anakin. And many of the adults never forgave Lucas for that. Especially for that, coupled with Jar Jar.

Time and nostalgia tends to make all of us take things from our childhood more seriously than we should. The original Star Wars trilogy, for all its excitement and dark aspects, was meant to be fun. Let's face it, parts of Episode IV are just plain silly. Like the trash monster. Like the Jawas. Like the cantina band. Like C-3PO. We're not supposed to think too much, just enjoy.

Time ages us, however, and we somehow get the idea that our beloved Star Wars we remember from our youth was somehow better and more serious than it was. So when a new set of movies came out, we went expecting something more like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or some of the other darker, more "adult" sci-fi we had been subsisting on in the mean time.

Lucas went the other direction. He made Episode I to out-Star Wars the originally Trilogy. He emphasized what he thought were the key ingredients in making it fun--and had we still been the children we had been when was first saw it, he would have been right. We told him on no uncertain terms that he'd gotten it wrong. We hated Anakin and Jar Jar.

He wasn't stupid. He made a quick attitude correction hoping that he'd done enough to bring in the kids in the Phantom Menace that they'd stick with him through the darker, more angst-filled remaining two films. It was the adults he had to convince now, and I'm not sure he really knew how. The result was two more films that, in my opinion, lacked the fun of the original trilogy while not ever quite figuring out what else to be instead.

I'm not so sure that Revenge of the Sith couldn't have been made better with a dash of Ewoks. My kids are clamoring for me to show them the next three, but I'm hesitant. After Phantom Menace there will be precious little pay-off for them. I'm not sure I want them getting the message that not all movies end well just yet. I'm pretty sure I don't want them getting that message from a set of movies that basically tell you "life sucks and then it gets worse, and there aren't even Ewoks to make you laugh along the way."

Because no matter what you may think, real life is not that way. Even if it sucks and just gets worse, there will always be Ewoks if you know where to look.

And I thought it was the cats I had to keep an eye on...

funny pictures of cats with captions
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Double standards on criminal behavior

This weekend in our city a female schoolteacher was arrested for having sex with a thirteen year old student. Today I overheard some colleagues discussing it. Their consensus was that this woman's husband must not be much of a man if his wife needed to go have sex with teenagers.

Can you imagine anyone saying that if the situation were reversed? Did anyone suggest of Elliot Spitzer's wife that she was an inadequate lover? Does anyone ever think to place the blame on anyone but the rapist when the rapist is male? Not that I excuse male rapists in any way, but that's the point. Why do female rapists get a pass? Why do people look for external causes to explain their behavior?

It would be unthinkable to blame the wife for a husband's sexual crimes, but it's entirely too common to blame the husband when the wife messes up. This teacher did not do what she did because of her husband. She did it because she has some deep, serious problems. She made some very bad choices, and she alone is responsible for them.

Or have we merely progressed for far on eliminating sexism against females that we over-compensated and are now sexist against men?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The detritus of our lives

My den has become home to a family of four kittens being fattened up for adoption. Our local shelter can't adopt them out until they're big enough to be neutered, which isn't until they're around ten weeks old. In the mean time they need the cages space for all the cats that can be adopted, so they've asked foster families to take on kittens for awhile.

Kittens are frisky. Kittens have sharp claws. And they can't be allowed out into the rest of the house, so my den door is always closed. I am somewhat allergic to cats, and my den gets stuffy without proper ventilation. In short, I have been unable to use my den much.

This weekend we came up with a solution. The den is becoming my wife's sewing room, and I'm moving my desk and stuff up to our bedroom where her sewing stuff was. It should be an easy swap, right?

Except my desk won't fit in our bedroom. It's a corner desk, and won't fit in any corner of the house except the one it was in. So out it goes, and in the mean time I've built a new desk from an old closet door, a bookcase, and a filing cabinet. It's actually quite nice. I have more desk space than I've ever had before.

The trouble is finding places for all the stuff that used to go in the old desk and bookcase. I never realized just how much stuff had built up there in the four years since we moved in. All of that stuff no longer has a place, but dearly needs one.

Much of it is not simple-to-place stuff. We're talking about old keys I'm not sure what they go to. Or old cassette tapes that I'm not sure what is on them. Or that container of change from the yard sale. Two undeveloped rolls of film. Where do they go?

To find out could require a significant amount of time. I'd have to try every lock in the house to figure out what to do with the keys. I'd have to find one of the few working cassette players to try the tape on. I'd have to find my wife and have a non-trivial discussion on where the change can goes. Okay, the Chuck E. Cheese token can go in the trash. There, one piece of clutter gone.

It's like a bomb went off in a thrift store, and I'm sifting through the rubble trying to reconstruct both the bomb and the store. We accumulate so many things in our lives that have significance only in where they came from. I have dozens of little knickknacks given to me by my children or by flummoxed family. I love them, because I love the people who gave them to me.

And I can never get rid of them, especially anything given to me by my kids. Every single crayon scribble on paper must remain a cherished keepsake until at least a few years have passed to where even they don't remember it anymore. Then you quietly slip it into the trash and hope this is not the day they decided to go through Daddy's garbage can.

The bulk of my writing has ground to a halt this week. The task of sorting, sifting, and placing has gone on much longer than expected. Not all of it has been drudgery. I came across several manila envelopes full of old pictures my mom sent me. There are numerous mementos of ten years of marriage; paperwork for cars long dead, loans paid off, or education completed. It's a fossil record marking the passage of life and the evolution of souls.

Some of it gets thrown away at long last, though you can almost hear the grief-stricken wail of the abandoned artifact, unable to comprehend why it, and not the receipt for the microwave, is being tossed aside. Such is the burden of a sentimental person. Everything has meaning. Everything represents a lifetime of memories, and to dispose of the object somehow diminishes the memory. Isn't my daughter's first gymnastics lesson just as important as the last car payment? They both left behind receipts. Where do you draw the line?

It seems easier just to hoard and hoard every little artifact until desperation forces your hand. You simply have to reclaim more space, so this time it's the manual for the old refrigerator that gets it, along with the receipt for when you got your wedding rings re-sized. Another memory dies, gasping its final death rattle.

It's not good to live too much in the past, but it's still good to visit now and then. It's good to measure growth, to reconnect with things now taken for granted.

My in-laws are in the process of moving to a smaller place from the townhouse where they lived for over thirty years. I do not envy them the task of deciding which bits of memory are worth saving. A lot of memories will be taking their last breaths.

Where do you draw the line?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fighting racism with prejudice

Someone in my Facebook friends list (I don't recall how she came to get there) was ranting about "teabaggers" and how they are all racist and ignorant because she saw a few signs at a rally that could be taken in a racist manner.

Obviously the irony of her own statements were lost on her. Certainly the implications for liberal protests were. I'm sure there were some liberals who were uncomfortable with some of the signs that showed up to some of their protests, too, and would take exception with someone assuming that they agreed with those signs just because they were at the same rally.

I'll tell you right now, I did NOT agree with the "Birther" at the Tea Party rally here in Boise last week. And I thought quite a few signs were too angry for my tastes. But they have a right to say what they want to say, whether I like it or not.

I still don't get how liberals can call themselves "intellectuals" and simultaneously hold the belief that anyone who disagrees with the current administration is racist. Especially since I'm pretty sure a large number of liberals disagree with the current administration on a number of issues, such as Obama's move today to renew three key points of the Patriot Act, or our escalating commitment in Afghanistan. By their own definition, they are now officially racist.

I disagree with the current administration on a number of issues. I also agree with many of the actions Obama has taken since taking office. So which is it, people? Am I racist or not? Please spell it out for me. How many issues must I agree with the president on before I am not a racist?

And where does criticism of Pelosi and Reid enter on the spectrum? Since a good portion of the details of "Obama's" policies actually come from them, am I racist for disagreeing with Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid? Can a white person be racist against a white person?

Of course this entire train of thinking is idiotic. It's merely justification by the left for not listening to any criticism of their hero. If they can find a way to dismiss another's arguments before even hearing them they never have to risk being uncomfortable or questioning their own moral superiority. Crying racism is a cop-out, and in the long run it will do more damage to their cause than they realize. Soon everything will be "racism" to the point that real racism will become irrelevant.

I "unfriended" this person. I'm probably a racist for doing so, even though she's white. But, having reviewed her own words (which is more than she has done for me before painting me as an ignorant racist), I find I have no desire to associate or, by accepting her as a friend, imply any approval of her prejudice and intellectual dishonesty. She is, quite simply, everything she is supposedly against, but refuses to see it. She is no friend of mine.

Fifteen minutes of fame

Last night I was just checking Instapundit one more time before heading to bed when something caught my eye--my own name. I'd nearly forgotten about it, but I'd sent Glenn Reynolds a brief email about the Boise Tea Party after I got home on Saturday. He posted it. Fortunately someone else had sent a picture. I had intended to, but forgot the camera in the hustle to get the kids ready.

Anyway, I was like a giddy fanboy to see my name on Instapundit. What can I say?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My First Tea Party: Why I joined in

I've never been to a demonstration/protest/rally before. It's not my..."thing". While my involvement in politics has increased dramatically since I became old enough to have something to lose, I've never really felt passionate enough about something to go demonstrate.

Perhaps that is because in my lifetime protesting has largely been the tool of choice of the Left. The right, as a general rule, are not protesters. And the moderates...well, we think both sides are nuts and tend not to get too close to either lest something undesirable rub off.

Besides which, I've never felt that protests work. In my rather short political history there's been little evidence that it does. How many anti-war and anti-Bush protests were there? What did they accomplish? They couldn't even sway enough democrats to their side.

Plus, I felt that their rabid, frothing anti-Bush hatred undermined their entire argument. I mean if these people were reasonable, thinking human beings they would surely realize that there is another side to the issue and be willing to acknowledge it, right? They would be more convincing if they acted reasonable. At least in my book.

Well, times they are a-changing. Over the last year or so I've grown increasingly dissatisfied with both parties. The Left are too busy trying to spend all our money, sock it to the rich, and get as many special interests hooked on government funding as they can. The Right are too busy trying to spend all our money, sock it to everyone but the rich, and annoy as many special interest groups as they can.

And then Obama took office. Though I didn't vote for him (my vote for McCain was not an enthusiastic one), I at least had hope that he would be who he campaigned as. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. For awhile, at least on national security, it appeared he might be okay.

But as a team, Obama, Pelosi, and Reid have been atrocious. Obama has largely sat it out on domestic matters. He has offered no leadership on any of his "pet projects". He's simply told Congress "Send me a bill, and I'll sign it". So the democratic congress has served up the biggest slabs of partisan legislation they could find, laden with pork, and stuffed with little "gotchas". And they've tried to run them through before anyone had enough time to read them, a sure sign that they've had something to hide.

But the Republicans haven't had anything better to offer. Granted, the Democrats have largely cut them out of the process. But they've been unable to get any message out at all, let alone one that resonated with the public enough to sway them to their side. The GOP has become the party of zombies. They've done precious little to earn any trust. The only good thing they have done is keep saying no. But my own democrat congressman does that, too.

Then there's the corruption. The Republicans can't keep their pants on and the Democrats can't seem to file an honest tax return to save their lives. Nancy "I'm going to drain this swamp" Pelosi has done nothing to try to restore ethics wot Congress--unless a Republican does something wrong.

So I'm sick of all of them. No one represents me in Washington anymore, except perhaps for the Blue Dog Democrats, and then only on fiscal matters. The left has done their absolute best to shut down any dissent, including trying to frame any criticism of the sitting president as motivated by racism. That's a bunch of hooey, and they know it. But they also know that if they keep hurling the same epithets at reasonable people long enough they get scared off and go away.

Well here's a news flash for you. I do not trust Obama. I do not like his policies. I think his plans are dangerous. And I am not racist. I defy you to prove that I am. If Bill Cosby were to run for office I'd vote for him in a heartbeat. If Colin Powell or Condoleeza Rice were to run for office I'd seriously consider them after a good look at their policies. I judge people by the content of their character, their words, and their actions. Skin color matters about as much to me as the color of their car. If you've got any evidence to the contrary I urge you to bring it forward.

But to get back on topic, I'm extremely dissatisfied with our government--all of it. However, except for elections, which happen far too infrequently to avoid the pending disaster that is a Obama supported by Pelosi and Reid inadequately opposed by the GOP-light, there is nothing we can do except protest. And I've felt protest to be an ineffective tool of the politically demented.

The Tea Party protests have given me some hope. And the Town Halls of August helped, though the level of anger coming out has made me wary of associating myself with any of it. The 9-12 group has some good ideas, but I've associated it too much with Glenn Beck. Mind you, I don't mind Glenn Beck. I read his "Common Sense" and found it to be very good. He's got some good ideas. But he is an entertainer, and he takes his discourse to levels I do not wish to go.

So when I heard about our local September 12th Rally sponsored by the 9-12 group I wasn't interested. But the night before I talked with a friend who is more politically impassioned than I am. He asked me if I was going, and I said I wasn't. We discussed my reasons, and I posed the question of what good it would do.

He explained, first of all, that beyond saying it's a good idea, Glenn Beck is not involved in the 9-12 group. He encourages people to look into it, but that's it. And to answer my question of what good it would do, he simply reminded me that the more people who show up the more likely the politicians will take notice, and those who show up help determine what it is the politicians hear.

I replied that it was all well and good, but the only chance we really have to make a difference is for Americans to stay angry until the 2010 elections, and I doubt Americans will do that. He countered that the movement doesn't need angry people, it needs concerned people who are willing to stand up.

We ended up moving on to other topics, but the discussion stuck with me. Saturday morning in the shower I replayed the conversation in my head and realized that my excuses were just that--excuses. What chance does the Tea Party movement have of sustaining its efforts into 2010 if it sputters and dies now? If people aren't willing to stand up now while it's still fresh, who is going to stand up in a year from now when the powers that be are pulling every trick in their playbook to help us forget all about this year?

There is another reason to protest, and I had been the one to think of it during our conversation. There are people out there considering running for office. The way our election cycle works they have to be making their decisions soon if they are to get things started soon enough. By protesting now, these people may get a chance to see what issues are really important. It may help them shape their platform, and it may get good people who feel similarly to run, taking the protests of a sign that the support may be there for them next year.

But it basically boiled down to the fact that for me to feel as strongly about the situation as I do and then to not try every avenue to get my voice heard would be a useless waste of energy at best, and downright hypocrisy at worst. I really started to think hard about going.

I looked up the information online and saw that it was not just the 9-12 group sponsoring the rally, but also the Tea Party organization. That further nudged me toward going--while the Tea Parties are painted and dismissed by the left as just right-wing extremism, they are really about as centrist an organization as you're likely to find in America right now. I would not be presenting myself as one of "Glenn Beck's Evil Minions."

But there was the matter of my kids. My wife does volunteer work on Saturday mornings, and I watch the kids. They're 8, 6, and 4 years old, so taking them would not be the easiest thing to do. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this would be a good opportunity to teach them about citizenship and government. I want my kids to grow up with a different example than I had.

My dad was passionate about politics, but I don't recall him ever doing much more than yelling at the television during the party conventions and arguing with friends. I'm beginning to see now that I was wrong, but at the time it just turned me off. I don't like extreme emotion, or extreme devotion to a cause (Dad was a Ditto-head), and from my dad's example, I learned to dislike politics intensely.

I want to be different for my kids. I want to show a calmer, more rational view of politics. I want them to know that I keep informed and form opinions, but that I can discuss it rationally with anyone who is willing. I also want to show them that there are times when talking is not enough and that people of conscience must act--act rationally and within the law, but act nonetheless.

From what I've heard of the Tea Party protests so far, I figured this would be about as safe a rally as I'm ever likely to find. Taking my kids would pose no problems beyond their ability to keep up with the march. There was little chance of seeing something that I would have to explain before they're ready to understand it. In hindsight that was not entirely an accurate assessment, but we got lucky.

So I ended up loading the kids in the car, driving downtown, parking near the rally zone, and walking with my kids up the hill to meet the rally as they marched downhill from their starting point. I was able to spot my friend and some of his kids, and we joined in. He was surprised to see us, and flattered when I explained it was largely his doing.

The paper today indicates there were about 1500 people involved. That's pretty good for Idaho, especially for a moderate-to-conservative cause. It was calm, rational, and pleasant. My kids had fun being in the "parade", as they called it. They would have liked it more if I'd thought ahead better and given them some signs to wave, but all things considered, it went well. We left early, as they were getting hungry and started getting bored once the speakers started, but we were there long enough to count, I think.

Later in the day I checked the news and found out about the 2 million protesters at the Tea Party in Washington D.C. That's a staggering number. If the politicians fail to take notice of that then they're too stupid to serve.

Frankly, I wouldn't have thought a turnout like that was possible. That alone is enough to make me glad I went. I think I would have been embarrassed had I not gone and then found out that so many others did--enough to possibly make a difference. Instead I can take some satisfaction that, in a small way, I was a part of something much, much bigger than just me.

Obviously my story is not unique. There are a lot of people going through much a similar thought process right now. A lot of people who thought their individual participation probably wouldn't matter, but took a chance anyway. One by one, person by person, we individually added up to a very big something.

And that sent a message louder than anything we might have shouted, or anything we might have written on a sign. I was there, and so were my children. There is hope that we can change the world after all--or at least our country.