Friday, May 30, 2008

Michelle Malkin: the conspiracy is deeper than you think!

I've been following the news of Michelle Malkin's recent outrage over a Dunkin' Donuts ad in which teevee chef Rachel Ray wears a white paisley scarf. Malkin wisely connected that the scarf bore a vague resemblance to a common piece of Middle-Eastern headwear, remembered that deceased Palestinian Yasser Arafat often wore such a piece of clothing, and concluded that the chef and the donut maker were involved in a conspiracy to show veiled (heh!) support for the Palestinian cause, specifically the terrorist wing of the Palestinian leadership. One can't argue with this stunning chain of logic. The threat of a boycott prompted Dunkin' Donuts to pull the ad and issue a we-meant-no-harm apology.

I applaud Michelle Malkin's commitment to the truth, and for her efforts to reveal this anti-American conspiracy of paisley scarves. But I think she falls short of revealing the awful truth. Surely she has seen further examples of anti-Americanism, expressed through public figures' sartorial similarity with deceased anti-American leaders. To wit:
  • In a recent Cadillac ad ("when you turn your car on, does it return the favor?"), we see a flash of the shoe of the attractive model driving the car, quickly enough that it might almost count as subliminal. I think we all remember that Eva Braun often wore shoes remarkably similar to this during the years she was Adolf Hitler's mistress.
  • It can't be a coincidence that the character of George McFly in the Back to the Future movies wore glasses like those worn by former Cambodian dictator Pol Pot.
  • Former President George H.W. Bush was recently seen in a suit that bears a remarkable similarity to one seen on nearly-deceased Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
  • James Conway, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, is often seen in a hat almost identical to one often worn by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
I'm astonished that a mind as sharp as Malkin's hasn't noticed these, and surely other, fashion conspiracies against the American people. Or possibly she has, and has been threatened into silence. Speak out, Michelle! Don't let those liberal terrorist-comforters keep you quiet!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Paul Graham: what your city tells you

Paul Graham's got a new essay posted. It's worth reading, if you haven't already. He says that cities tend to send a message to their inhabitants. Or, several signals, but one tends to dominate. Just living in a city, you pick up a vibe on lots of levels that tells you what's important in a particular place, and it's easier or harder living in a place, based on how well your values match the things a city values. The message of New York City: you could be richer. The message of Cambridge, Mass: you could be smarter. Silicon Valley: you could be more influential. Los Angeles: you could be more popular.

It's making me wonder, what message does Indy whisper in our ears? I'll start listening, and I'll let you know if I come up with anything interesting....

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Funky music

Laura and I are XM Radio fans. We like having the enormous variety of 150 channels from which to choose our music (and news and comedy). I've noticed that our musical taste goes through phases. We initially listened to the '80s alternative station (Fred, on XM44) before we shifted to to the two adult rock stations (XM Cafe and The Sounds of Starbucks, now merged to a single channel on 45). It was originally a little appalling to realize that our musical tastes centered around oldies (Fred is the oldies station for people our age) and music that's genrefied as "adult contemporary". We've been shifting to the techno/ambient electronica station (Chill, on 84); it makes great background music for almost anything, and it's actually pretty sexy.

When I'm trying to write, one of my faves is the French-language pop/folk station (Sur la Route, 102). It's not distracting, since I don't know what any of the words mean, and it's good music. Their metal station (Liquid Metal, 42) is extremely metal, but the musical quality is erratic; some of it's good, some of it's just loud. They've also got a nice classical station on 110, and the modern hard-ish rock station (Squizz, on 48) is fun listening. And, if you're in the mood for it, they've got a movie-score channel (Cinemagic, 27) that plays chunks of dialogue along with the music. Given all the cool stations they have, I'm a bit surprised that they don't have a channel for Celtic music. XM Harp, anyone?

When we decided we wanted to try satellite radio, we debated between XM and Sirius Radio. The decision eventually came down to two competing factors. First, Sirius broadcasts all the NFL games live, so Laura could hear the Redskins even if she wasn't home. On the other hand, Sirius also airs Howard Stern, and Laura is deeply appalled by the man. It's not that she was worried that she'd accidentally hear some Howard -- she just refused to patronize any service that thought hiring Howard Stern was a good idea. She hates Howard Stern more than she likes the Redskins. If you know exactly how much she likes the 'Skins, you'll understand the power of that statement....

I should mention that while I'm writing this I'm listening to the disco channel (Chrome, on 83). It's definitely disco, but I'm amazed at how little of this music seems familiar. This is another advantage of XM: it exposes you to a lot of new music that you'll probably like. I don't buy much music these days, but both albums I've bought since Thanksgiving were by artists I discovered on XM.
Closing comments on this post. A bit tired of the vulgar, offensive (yet somehow monotonous) comments from all the Howard Stern fans....

Also, temporarily enabling comment moderation on the rest of the blog to keep the screechy poo-flinging monkeys quiet.

Monday, May 26, 2008

At The Track

Would you believe I've lived in Indianapolis for my entire life, and yesterday was the first time I've been to the Indy 500? First, many thanks to Jason and Cathy for the tickets -- you guys rock! Laura and I are glad we went; it's definitely something you need to experience.

That said, I doubt I'll go again. It combines lots of my least favorite things in one place: crowds, drunks, and extremely loud noise. If there were some way to add cleaning out drain lines to the experience, it'd be my worst imaginable time. And I was pretty amused by the fact that we watched all the really interesting parts on television. The Jumbotron showed us the interesting parts happening on other parts of the track, and it also showed us the instant replays of the parts happening right in front of us. Other than the teevee parts, the real thrill consisted of watching a bunch of cars drive past us going really fast, over and over and over and over and over again. I think for the real race fans, the real wild part was that sometimes, the cars would pass us in slightly diffferent order than they did the time before. Can you imagine the excitement?

Statistics interest me, and auto races generate an enormous number of statistics. You can pretty easily find out the percentage of races won by the guy who was leading on lap 50, the average number of laps a winner led the race, the number of races a rookie driver can expect to drive before he finishes in the top three. But I can't find any of the statistics that I'm really curious about: what's the total volume of beer consumed by spectators in the stands? What's the total length of time that people stand in line for the bathrooms? How many spectators leave the track in an ambulance every year? What percentage of race fans wear earplugs to the race? Nobody seems to know the answers to the truly obscure questions....

Breaking the funk

I'm currently enduring a hateful slab of writer's block. It's bad. Not only have I not written anything -- even a blog entry -- for two weeks, I haven't even been able to bring myself to read anything for the last two weeks. My list of things I read online is down to just the Whatever. I've been doing what I usually do when avoiding something: working a lot. Actual work, and cleaning the house, and weeding the garden, and keeping busy with all kinds of things that in no way involve words or keyboards. I'm trying to get over it; see me here, typing? But it's frustrating.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I Has A Sad.

Our newest batch of kittens -- all four of them -- were killed by dogs this morning. In our backyard. They were only a month old, and they were very cute, somewhat social, and highly cuddly. They were the first kittens we've actually watched being born. And dogs hopped our fence and killed them all, on our back patio. Tommy, the momma cat, watched me collect the kittens, dig the hole, lay the bodies in, and bury them. When I had finished filling in the hole, she sat on top of the mound of dirt and yowled for a few minutes; it made me cry. But the sadness is slowly being replaced by anger. We do our best to take care of our outside cats; we provide them shelter, food and water, we give them treats, we even take them to the vet when they're sick. It'd be nice if we had a little help protecting them, in the form of either the city taking care of the feral pack in Brookside park, or our neighbors not letting their dogs run free.

I'm seriously considering getting a crossbow to deal with the dog problem. Silent, effective, un-subtle. Our current dog-control system involves yelling at them and chasing them out of the yard; it's not very effective, given that we have to be home and watching to shoo the dogs away. With the crossbow, I'd only have to catch them in the yard the first time. I'm not sure what potential legal issues there might be with this, but at this point I'm really not caring too much. I'm tired of picking up the corpses of our pets....

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Movie time

I'm working a lot while Laura's in Ireland, so I haven't had time to do many of the home projects on my to-do list. On the other hand, I've had lots of time to watch movies, so the lack of housework might be due to my priority list. Since Laura's been gone, I've seen Iron Man on the big screen, and Sunshine, Phantoms, and Next on DVD. In brief: Iron Man was much better than I expected (better than it should be, really), a genuinely entertaining comic-book movie. Don't spend any time letting realism intrude, and you'll enjoy. I've gotta say, Robert Downey Jr. is as good in the role as Michael Keaton was as Batman, and just as surprising.

I didn't realize until about halfway through Phantoms that I had already seen it. It's a mediocre movie based on a pretty good book, but it does scary in lots of interesting, effective ways. If you watch it, pay attention to what's actually happening during the scary parts. In some of the most tense parts of the movie, what's actually happening on screen isn't that scary; it's scary by tone, not by action. Next is Nicholas Cage's newest on video; the gimmick is that his character can see about two minutes into the future. It's fun to watch, mostly due to a few scenes wherein our hero knows exactly what's going to happen next, but they're really inconsistent with his use of his power. Nick Cage was probably not the right actor for this role, either. And the whole premise of the movie is a huge, gaping plot hole: the FBI wants him to predict where a nuclear bomb will detonate, so they strap him down in front of a television so he can see the blast on the news and give them warning about where it's going to detonate. This is so blatantly stupid, it drags the entire movie down; two minutes is barely enough time for a phone call, much less anything that'll actually let them stop the bomb. Two minutes' warning is plenty of time to survive a gun battle, though.

Sunshine is interesting. The film is set on a spaceship heading into the dying sun; the crew intends to restart the sun with an impressively large bomb. [There's no way to talk about the movie without spoilers, so I put them in white text. Select the text with your mouse to read it.] The entire cast consists of eight people, the crew of the spacecraft. We get to know the characters pretty well, and we like all of them. Their mission hits a complication, and the complication multiplies. It's excellent storytelling, really. The characters make good decisions with unforeseen conequences, which further put them and the mission in danger. The characters make more good decisions, and more unforeseen consequences continue to plague them, increasing the tension further. Then, about 25 minutes from the end, the movie changes genre to horror-thriller and turns into a sloppy clone of Event Horizon, complete with the creepy Sam-Neill-like survivor of their sister ship stalking the crew with pointy objects. We knew early on that none of the crew would survive; still, when we see them die it's a little painful (especially Michelle Yeoh). And, really: when Cillian Murphy learns from the computer that they've got an extra person on board, it's part "oooh, creepy!" and part "oh, gimme a break!". The genre flip seems like cheating, and somewhat derails the whole movie. I'm still glad I saw it, but it ended up not being the movie I expected.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

RIP: Jack Gilfoy (1939-2008)

Indy lost another jazz great last weekend: drummer Jack Gilfoy died unexpectedly in his sleep Saturday night. His CV is impressive; he played with Elvis, Henry Mancini, Doc Severinson, Johnny Mathis, and Sonny and Cher, among others. Until I read his obituary, I didn't know about any of these but Mancini. But he was an impressive drummer and a nice guy, and always good to work with. The music scene in Indy is slightly less cool without Jack in it.

He performed at the Artsgarden a lot; he was here twice in April. He tended to travel with a small kit, usually something like kick-tom-hat-snare-ride, and he played it well. He never needed a drum carpet; "I never hit anything hard enough that it'll move."And he was a whole seething pile of little quirks. For one thing, he preferred the term drummist, rather than the standard drummer. And he was deeply offended if I called his bass drum a kick drum. "I'm not kicking anything," he'd tell me every single time I called it a kick drum. He thought kicking was a violent metaphor and didn't apply to people who played drums with finesse and style. He had funny stories, and lots of them, from years of performing with just about everyone, just about everywhere, and he was always happy to share them. I'll miss him, a little. We weren't friends, but pleasant acquaintances, and we saw each other a lot. I'll miss seeing him around, and I'll miss his extremely laid-back style.

He's the latest in a long chain of deceased jazz musicians I've worked with. In the last few years, Indy's lost Russell Taylor (drums); Pookie Johnson (sax); Russell Webster (sax); and Aletra and Virtue Hampton (bass, piano, and vocals), just off the top of my head, and there are more I'm forgetting. They were all good people and good performers, and I'm glad I got to work with them and get to know them a bit.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Underwear and socks (warning: may contain Sharing Too Much)

I rarely go clothes shopping. It's not a leisure activity; it's something I do when so many of my clothes are worn out that I don't have anything to wear to work. But last week, I was in desperate need of socks and underwear; I had hit the point where I was spending valuable morning getting-dressed time deciding on the maximum number of holes I could tolerate in my underwear (should I go by number of holes? Total hole area? Hole location?). So while we were shopping for Laura's trip at Kohl's, I picked up some new socks and underwear. I bought some nice padded socks that go well with my hiking boots (which have turned into my everyday footwear), some generic black socks, and underwear.

Recommendation: if you wear boxer briefs, you might like Hanes Go Mesh. I bought them on a whim, and I like them a lot. They're extremely comfortable, they breathe well, and Laura thinks they're cute. The Sonoma (Kohl's house brand) boxer briefs are less comfy; they're very high-waisted and oddly clingy. Maybe they're designed for wear by guys who wear their pants too low. But at least they're logo-free. For some reason, Hanes has started putting their brand name in large, high-contrast letters on the waistband of all of their undies. Apparently they don't realize that boxer briefs are as close as most guys get to owning lingerie, and their big, bright branding isn't what we're looking for. Picture it: a nice dinner, some candlelight, two people enjoying each other's company. The evening progresses to A Certain Point. Soft music, tender kisses. She reaches down, unbuckles his belt, buttons pop. She starts slowly sliding his pants to the floor, and suddenly HANES HANES HANES HANES. It can break the mood.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Voting today

I voted in the democratic primary today, and I thought I'd share my decision-making process. In terms of issues the two are almost indistinguishable, so I spent a lot of time looking at other factors. I was originally supporting Hillary; democrats have spent years showing worse than they should, because they just aren't as good as politics as the republicans. Republicans are better at creating memorable sound bites, herding single-issue voters, and swaying public opinion. And I think Hillary can play that game, the game of getting oneself into office at any cost, better than Obama. Her attack machine is Rove-worthy, and she's not afraid of getting messy.

Then it occurred to me: am I actually supporting a candidate because they're the best politician? The important functions of a president -- appointing judges, staffing leadership positions at federal agencies, diplomacy -- will be done equally well by any democrat. The last six years have cost America dearly, in a moral sense. We're no longer the good guys, we're the 800-pound gorilla. And I think Obama will be easier for Americans to unite behind. He's inspirational, where Hillary's polarizing. He seems like a statesman, where Hillary is a politician. And his campaign is addressing making changes in the system, rather than making the system work for you. He's not the candidate Hillary is, but I think he'll be the president America needs.

Oddness: ever notice that Hillary is the only candidate who's almost always referenced by first name, rather than surname? The original serious contenders were McCain, Romney, Huckabee, Edwards, Obama, and Hillary. I heard this mentioned as a sign of sexism, that the use of a first name is less formal and a sign that you're not taking someone seriously. I think there's a simpler explanation: we've already got a Clinton who's still casting a looming shadow over American politics. The first name is the easy way to denote which Clinton you're talking about. The husband isn't "Clinton" either at this point; he's "Bill".

Monday, May 05, 2008

Toy shopping

I finally got to the bike shop to look at parts for repairing my bike. The parts only cost $45; the tools to do the repair cost another $50, so I'm going to cheat and have them do the repair in the shop, for about $20. Yeah, I know -- I'm passing up a chance to buy tools. But they're tools you can't use for anything other than removing the rear cassette on a pretty specific range of bicycles. Plus, funds are a bit tight, and anywhere I can save a few bucks is a good thing.

While I was there, I (of course) had to look at all of the cool new bikes. It seems like hybrid bikes have changed a lot in the last five years. While mine and Laura's are a few modifications away from mountain bikes, the new lines are much closer to road bikes. They're geared for speed, rather than hills; they've got road tires; they've got road brakes; the seats are road seats. I like my Navigator, but I also like some of the features on the newer bikes. I'd like a bike with a slightly larger frame. And I'd like a bike that could give me a bit more speed. Everything else I'd like to change is a modification I could make to my existing bike: fenders, lights, maybe a rack on the back. I bought my bike after years away from cycling, so I wasn't really aware of which features I'd like and which features I'd eventually find irritating. I haven't been particularly happy with the spring-mounted seat post, for one thing. It's comfortable, but it's also noisy, and no amount of lubrication and adjustment has solved the problem. I'm also not happy with my grip shifters. They seemed like a cool, clever idea, and one which I'd quickly get used to. Five years later, I still find myself shifting on accident occasionally, and it's always at inopportune times. But I really like my dual-axis brake levers. Shimano doesn't make them anymore, so I suspect I'll transfer them when I eventually get a new bike.

So, bikes I really want: the Cannondale Road Warrior 4; the Trek 1.2 road cycle; the Trek FX 7.5 (in candy apple red!) or 7.3; and the Giant FCR3. If I actually had money to spend on a new bike, I'd have to do some serious thinking about which of these I'd end up with. They've all got advantages. And, they've all got road tires and gears.

Also, while I was at the Bicycle Garage I ran into two people I know. One's an avid cyclist, the kind of guy you'd expect to see in a bike shop; the other was quite a surprise, someone I used to work out with and haven't seen for probably seven years. This happens to me on a regular basis. It might be one of the advantages of living in the same town (even one with a million people in it) for your entire life. It's nice, and makes me feel like less of an antisocial introvert than I sometimes suspect I am.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Obama and the gas tax

It's a close race for the Democratic nomination; Obama's still got a good lead, but a few things have hurt him recently. His former pastor decided to do whatever he could to torpedo Obama's campaign, as long as he got a few more headlines out of it. And he's been getting hammered for not joining McCain and Clinton in pushing to temporarily repeal the federal gas tax. It's an easy thing to turn into an issues in a ten-second sound bite, which is a shame, because Obama's actually right. Suspending the gas tax won't make any functional difference in gas prices; eighteen cents per gallon is less than the amount by which prices vary from one gas station to the next (and we're still paying less for gas than anyone in Europe). It's all political grandstanding.

I would vote for any candidate from either party who's willing to say in public that we're running out of oil; everyone agrees it's a finite resource, and that we will eventually run out (defined as, when it's no longer economically feasible to produce). The only question is the timetable, and even the most generous estimates put peak oil production within 30 years. The most cynical say peak production has already passed, and that from this point forward we're going to be producing less oil every year. The question is, why isn't any politician pushing for action now, to minimize the trauma when the oil runs out?

The thing that surprises me is that higher gas prices haven't motivated anyone to make a lifestyle change. I haven't seen a noticeable increase in cycle commuters, and the buses are still populated with the usual riders. I wonder how expensive gas will have to get before I actually see a significant number of cyclists....

Side note: Orson Scott Card has some thoughts on gas and energy that should be required reading. I don't often side with Card on many things political, but I'm in 95% agreement with him on this entire essay.