Thursday, January 31, 2008

Announcing the end of the Blogosphere

Every technology brings with it benefit and bane.

Take blogging, for example:

Benefit: Anybody can start a blog, and broadcast to the world their opinions, insights, wisdom or foolishness.

Bane: Anybody can start a blog. Anybody.

At first, new technology is cool and shiny and interesting and fun.

Then the asstards show up, and things become a little duller, more mundane, grimy. Sigh.

Take this blog for example (note the 'About this Blog' in the upper right hand corner, and be sure to smile for the security cameras), complete with sycophantic suck-up employees and official Type-1, supercharged bullshit injector. Read the comments, as many as you can stand - it's an interesting cross section of teh batshit crazy and Attention Deficit Disorder.

Yeah, and you thought the chocolate chip pancake wrapped heart-attack on a stick caused bloating, gas, and cramps...

Possibly the best invention ever - or maybe not.

A pork sausage link, wrapped in a chocolate chip pancake - on a stick. Is this a great country, or what?

It's not quite perfect, you still need a cup of syrup with a whole stick of melted butter mixed in, to dunk it in, just saying.

There is no way the terrorists will win, no way - not with Jimmy Dean on our side - we'll probably all die of cholesterol induced heart attacks first. But, hell, it'll be worth it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Latest Project from the Lathe

I've got a client coming over this morning, so instead of making snarky comments about Edwards and Guiliani dropping out of the race (Yeah, like you didn't see that coming) I'll be out in the shop for a while.

In the meantime, you may ooh and ahh over this:

This is a bit different from my usual work. First, the bowl itself is turned from Sitka spruce and not green birch. This particular piece is turned from wood harvested from a beetle-killed tree that had been dead and standing for several years, and as such was extremely dry. Dry Sitka spruce is a pain to turn, it's a softwood that has very long, very tough fibers - perfect for building material, but not much fun to turn (though it smells great when you're making saw dust from it - kind've a clean, crisp pine scent). Because it's a pain, I don't usually work with it. However, this particular piece was done on commission and the client specified the material, shape, and design. Hey, if you're paying me, you can have it your way.

The client based her request on an older piece I had done for my wife a year or so ago, which graces her desk at work:

The fish are carved from birch and the bowl is finished in tung oil and an acrylic glaze. I like the tung oil finish as it gives the spruce a warm, yellow brown tone. Both of these bowls are turned with thicker walls and bases than if they had been made from birch. This keeps the bowl from deforming and provides strength, which is important in bowls intended for use rather than display.

Excuse Me?

Got a phone call this morning.

Question: "Good Morning. This is [didn't catch the name] from the Alaskan Democratic Party, we're conducting a survey. Who do you intend to vote for?"

Me: "Excuse me?"

Question: "Who do you intend to vote in the Alaskan presidential primary?"

Me: "None of your fucking business."

Response: "Pardon me?"

Me: "Would you like me to repeat it?"

Response: "Sir, we're just conducting a survey to determine the..."

Me: "Shut up. You didn't ask me if I'm a Democrat, Republican, or other. You didn't ask me who I favor, or who I think is the best candidate. You asked me who I intend to vote for - and that is none of your business."

Response: "Well, Mr. Wright..."

Me: "Stop talking. I have an unlisted phone number, I want to know how you got my name and number."

Response: "As a registered Democrat you are on our mailing list."

Me: "Negative, Shipmate. I'm not a registered Democrat. Try again."

Response: "Sir, I don't know. I'm just the person conducting the survey, they give me the list and I..."

Me: "Stop talking. Take my name, address, and phone number off your list now. Delete me from your computer. You have no business asking any American who they intend to vote for. You may conduct voluntary exit polls at the polling station, but you have no business calling my house prior to an election. Is that clear?"

Response: "Uh, then I am to assume you will be voting for the Republican candidate?"

Me: "Put your supervisor on the phone."

Response: "I work from home, Sir. Thank you for your time."



The Caller ID was blocked. Somehow I'm guessing this 'survey' was not sanctioned by the DNC - since I have gotten two automated calls from them showing an Alaska Democratic Party ID.

Seriously, this kind of bullshit pisses me off.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Big Dubya Awards!

I know that many of you are going into withdrawal because of the writer's strike, and I understand that there is widespread anxiety with regards to the possible cancellation of certain awards shows.

Don't fear, there is still entertainment to be had. And awards!

Announcing the The Stonekettle Station State of the Union Awards!

Henceforth fondly known as the Big Dubya!

The actual award is made of genuine weapons-grade Nigerian uranium and resembles a small wizened chimp with a curled upper lip. Unfortunately, at the moment, we are unable to locate it.

Anyhoo and without further ado, let's get to the awards!

The Big Dubya Best Use of Really Big Words in a Sentence:

If we fail to pass this agreement, we will embolden the purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere.

Let's give him a big hand folks, he must have practiced that line for months - and several of those words had three syllables!

The Big Dubya Best Cover Your Ass with Weasel Words Maneuver:

First, the window dressing:
This evening, I want to speak directly to our men and women on the front lines, soldiers and sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard and more. Our nation is grateful for your courage. We are proud of your accomplishments. (Not proud enough to remember the National Guard, however - they're kind of like the Professor and Mary Ann in the original Gilligan's Island theme song. Besides NG troops aren't really Soldiers, they're mostly just sons of rich families who are waiting for the war to end so they can go into politics - oh, wait, sorry, wrong war, my mistake, heh heh).

Then the Promise:
And tonight, in this hallowed chamber with the American people as our witness, we make you a solemn pledge: In the fight ahead, you will have all you need to protect our nation.

Then the triple back spin with a twist:
And I ask Congress to meet its responsibilities to these brave men and women by fully funding our troops. (Brilliant. Simply brilliant. Did you catch the 'brave men and women' perfect dismount? Even the East German judges gave that a perfect 10! Wonderful!)

And remember kids, if you don't got armor, equipment, or training - it's Congress' fault, not your Commander in Chief. Ahhh thank you, thank you very much, I'll be here until next January and don't forget to tip your waiters!

The Big Dubya Best Use of a Stock Catch Phrase Without Having A Clue As To What It Actually Means (Also know as the Yale Education Award):

we must trust in the ability of free peoples to make wise decisions and empower them to improve their lives for their futures

we must trust people with their own money and empower them to grow our economy

we must trust Americans with the responsibility of home ownership and empower them to weather turbulent times in the housing market.

we must trust students to learn ... and empower parents to demand results from our schools

we must trust patients and doctors to make medical decisions and empower them with better information and better options

we must trust American workers to compete with anyone in the world and empower them by opening up new markets overseas.

we must trust in the creative genius of American researchers and entrepreneurs and empower them to pioneer a new generation of clean energy technology

we must trust in the skill of our scientists and engineers and empower them to pursue the breakthroughs of tomorrow.

we must trust in the innovative spirit of medical researchers and empower them to discover new treatments while respecting moral boundaries

we must trust in the wisdom of our founders and empower judges who understand that the Constitution means what it says

we must trust in the good heart of the American people and empower them to serve their neighbors in need

And to make certain that we can trust those free and empowered Americans, we're gonna monitor their phone calls, data mine their emails, search their homes without a warrant, put them on secret no-fly lists, treat them like Jihadi suicide bombers in their airports, spirit them away to secret prisons in third world countries, torture them, hold secret tribunals, and piss on the Constitution. Trustworthy and Empowered people don't need no stinkin' Bill of Rights! Remember kids, if you don't got nuthin' to hide, you got nuthin' to fear - free people don't keep secrets from their Government!

The Big Dubya Best Narration of a Fictional Documentary:

We've seen jubilant Iraqis holding up ink-stained fingers and celebrating their freedom.

From the 'Mockumentary' They'll Cheer Us in the Streets of Baghdad! directed by Donald Rumsfeld and produced by the Bush Administration.

The Big Dubya Best Comedic One-Liner:

Others have said they would personally be happy to pay higher taxes. I welcome their enthusiasm. I am pleased to report that the IRS accepts both checks and money orders.

Who says George doesn't have a sense of humor? Tonight, America laughs with you, Mr. President. (This will be embossed in marble above the door of the new GWB Presidential Library and Shootin' Range.)

The Big Dubya Takin' Charge Award (also known as 'The Decider'):

Tomorrow I will issue an executive order that directs federal agencies to ignore any future earmark that is not voted on by Congress. If these items are truly worth funding, Congress should debate them in the open and hold a public vote.

Unless it's earmarks for the Texas oil industry. Yeehaw!

The Big Dubya Helpin' Out the Little Guy Award:

My administration brought together the Hope Now alliance, which is helping many struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. And Congress can help even more. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, modernize the Federal Housing Administration, and allow state housing agencies to issue tax-free bonds to help homeowners refinance their mortgages. It's been a difficult time for many American families and, by taking these steps, we can help more of them keep their homes.

In the mean time, I ask members of Congress to donate all the boxes from their kitchen appliance renovations to the newly homeless. With foreclosures up 75% over last year, refrigerator boxes from the Senate alone should just about cover it, leaving House boxes as a surplus reserve for next year!

The Big Dubya for Delusion in Edumacation:

Six years ago, we came together to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, and today no one can deny its results.

Indeed, indeed.
The Big Dubya Dim Bulb Award:

Let us increase the use of renewable power and emissions -(pause) - free nuclear power

As long as it's free! And you gotta love those renewable emissions!

(yeah, I know he meant to say 'emission-free nukely-ear power' but this is how it came out, which on the face of it is a whole lot funnier.)

The Big Dubya Scientificimucation Achievemnet Award:

Last year, Congress passed legislation supporting the American Competitiveness Initiative, but never followed through with the funding. This funding is essential to keeping our scientific edge. So I ask Congress to double federal support for critical basic research in the physical sciences and ensure America remains the most dynamic nation on earth.

Because, America can NOT afford to lose it's edge in the fields of faith-based Creation Science and herbal healing alternative medicine. If we don't edumacate our children now, who will man the Creation Museums of the future? God bless you, Mr President, only you are keeping the evil stem-cell powered clone armies at bay, only you, sir.

The Big Dubya Rio Grande Labor Award:

we also need to acknowledge that we will never fully secure our border until we create a lawful way for foreign workers to come here and support our economy.

...and clear brush on my ranch for 50 Genuine American Bucks a month, that's what? Like a bizillion pesos. Grassyass, Amigo!

The Big Dubya Freedom and Liberty Award:

In this war on terror, there is one thing we and our enemies agree on. In the long run, men and women who are free to determine their own destinies will reject terror and refuse to live in tyranny.

For example, Osama Bin Laden, he's free...

The Big Dubya Don't Bother With the Fine Print Award:

When we met last year our troop levels in Iraq were on the rise. Today, because of the progress just described, we are implementing a policy of return on success, and the surge forces we sent to Iraq are beginning to come home.

...which will give them a full extra month to prepare for their redeployment to Pakistan. And remember, kids, if you don't return, it's because you weren't successful, nobody likes a loser.

And last, The Big Dubya Bullshittin' My Skinny White Ass Off Award:

...we must trust in the wisdom of our founders and empower judges who understand that the Constitution means what it says.

Except for that part about separation of powers and that stupid Bill of Rights thing, what in the hell were the founders thinking with that nonsence, eh? They must have been smoking a little Mount Vernon hemp that day. Bunch of revolutionary hippies in power frock coats and wigs, like the Psychedelic Beatles meet Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Fear not, America, we've fixed it. Move along, nothing to see here - and that's an order.

Honorable Mention, The Big Dubya Riddin' Shotgun Award goes to Dick Cheney.
Honorable Mention, The Big Dubya Limp Dishrag Award goes to Nancy Pelosi.

What a great show, thanks for coming, folks. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here. Remember, use courier ten point fonts in your emails to streamline the NSA datamining and text parsing process, smile when Countrywide comes knocking because a positive attitude makes for a positive foreclose experience, and be sure to tip your TSA agent. God Bless America and good night.

Please Stand By

I've got some unexpected things going on today that I have to take care of.

So, today's post will be delayed for a while, maybe until tomorrow. So sorry, but I'm sure you'll all find something to do with yourselves.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hijack this, bitches

The First Annual International Hijack™ Day has arrived!

According to Nathan, this is International Hijack Day. According to Nathan the rules are as follows:

-Do not respond to me in my own thread. Go to one of the other participant's blogs and respond there.
-Do not respond to other participants in their own threads. Go to one of the other participant's blogs and respond there.
-If you're responding to a comment in a thread, do it somewhere else.
-If one of the participants has failed to put up a Hijack™ Day post, Hijack their most recent thread with your non-sequiter comments. Serves 'em right, I say.
-Post the rules so your readers know what the hell is going on. If you feel like operating by a different set of rules, fine. Just include them in your starting Post.
-You should either include all the links of participating blogs in your post or you can just link my post so that everyone knows who is playing.
- After posting all of this crap, make sure you include the "audience participation" part so that there's something to respond to. (Duh!)
- Creative flaming and name-calling are hereby deemed most welcome during the 24-hour playing period. I think being pissy out of context could be most excellent!
-Lastly, if I've included your blog and you didn't really mean to sign on, email me [Nathan, not Jim] and I'll remove you from the list.

What's the point of all this. Nothing whatsoever. As someone pointed out, its difficult to organize chaos. So, the hell with organization. Chaos for its own sake. I expect the resulting threads to look like a meeting of Bipolar Disorder meets Tourette's Syndrome suffers.

The players (in no particular order) are:

Who am I to say?

Random (but not really)
Smug Puppies
The Blog of Siram
Hot Chicks Dig Smart Men
Stonekettle Station
Anne's Public Storage Space
The Brain of Shawn
Snavely's Web Log
Polyboggimous - the guy who started this nonsense, really go here and hijack something
Audience Participation Portion:

Favorite porridge: Oatmeal, Grits, Cream-o-wheat, other. How do you like it fixed?

Me, I'm a grits kind of guy, with butter, salt, and pepper. Cheese, American.

Oatmeal weirds me out.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

"Because then the terrorists will win"

Let's look at a couple of simple paragraphs, shall we?

- The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. Amendment IV, US Constitution.

I gotta tell you, that seems pretty clear cut to me. American citizens have the right to be secure in their persons, their houses, their papers, and their effects against unreasonable search and seizure. I think any reasonable person would agree that their 'effects' include correspondence (both paper and electronic) and private phone conversations. With my background, I know for a fact that the Armed Forces Security Act of 1949, the National Security Act of 1952, and the Foreign Intelligence Act of 1978 were very clear about this - and in my previous profession the quickest way to go to Fort Leavenworth for an extended stay was to violate the 4th Amendment rights of an American citizen. Things have changed.

Now, does the 4th Amendment mean that Americans can violate the law freely, up to and including treason and there's nothing the Government can do to protect the people or the Nation? No, of course not, the founders were idealists, not idiots. It's right there in the 4th Amendment, if the Government can show 'probable cause' before a judge, then they can get a warrant and the search and seizure of persons, property, papers, and other effects are then no longer 'unreasonable.' If the government can't provide enough evidence to convince a sympathetic judge - well, that would be a pretty good indicator that either the government doesn't really have a case, is just being lazy, or that the suspect in question really isn't doing anything they shouldn't be doing.

But, Jim, doesn't this make intelligence work more difficult? And if intelligence gathering is more difficult, doesn't that make us more vulnerable to the TERRORISTS (queue hair raising music).


That's the price you pay for freedom and liberty. That's also why the first thing that goes in a tyranny is the right to privacy from the state; law enforcement is always easier in a dictatorship - there's a reason for that. The 4th Amendment is one of the fundamental rights of all Americans (yep, even Americans who wish to do the rest of us harm) and it makes it a hell of a lot harder for the government to act like a tyranny - which is why it's always the first right tyrants seek to destroy under the banner of patriotism. And it's always something, some terrifying threat used to justify the dismantling of the Constitution, fascist sauerkraut-smelling Nazies, Godless red commies, towelheaded Jihadi terrorists, Canadians, something.

- The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. Amendment X, US Constitution.

Again pretty straight forward, if it isn't in the Constitution or specifically agreed on by the states, then the Federal Government can't do it. Cannot. Powers not delegated to the United States are reserved for the states themselves - or to the people. This is clearly stated. And it's interesting, because nowhere in the US Constitution or it's Amendments can I find anything that gives the Executive Branch the power to violate the 4th Amendment. No. Where.

Which brings us to this: President Bush Seeks Broader Wiretapping Authority.

Look, I used to do this for a living. No, not monitor Americans - emphatically not Americans - but I spent much of my career in the electronic intelligence field, and while I may occasionally talk out of my ass about things outside my area of expertise - this is something I know a great deal about, including the legal and Constitutional aspect - these principles were pounded into our heads over and over and over.

The article above says, "U.S. intelligence agents currently monitor international phone calls between people in the United States and suspected terrorists under a law known as the Protect America Act." You probably haven't heard of it, but basically the PAA was passed last year and what it does is amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act so that instead of an actual warrant as specified in Amendment IV, an internal National Security Agency review process will determine the legality of each wiretapping and surveillance operation involving Americans. Read that again - an internal NSA review process, not a court, not Congress, not even the President. Lawful warrants are specifically not required.

That law expires next Friday, and Bush is quietly having a cow about it.

The article I linked to above uses the term 'intelligence agents,' but what they actually mean is the National Security Agency. Most Americans have little knowledge of this agency or it's mission and up until a couple of years ago even admitting that it existed was considered an act of disloyalty boarding on treason. When I worked there, we used to call it No Such Agency (or No Shit, Again?) Now, I have no intention of violating my oath, but I will say that NSA can be a damned scary place. It's big, bureaucratic to a degree that defies comprehension, complex beyond understanding, and compartmented like a nautilus shell. Some fairly strange folks do some fairly strange things there. Their business is secrets.
Everything at NSA is classified. they'd classify the lunch menu in the cafeteria if they thought they could get away with it. It's an easy place to hide things, and it's any easy place for things to get out of hand, very, very quickly. NSA employees (there is no such thing as an NSA agent, NSA people are analysts or paste eating geeks or peons or military folks) are specifically trained not to ask about projects and departments they're not involved in. Information is disseminated strictly on a need to know basis - and you can guess who decides who needs to know. It's a place where it has become increasingly easy to break the rules, ignore the Constitution, and violate the basic rights of Americans. NSA was once an organization of idealists, but that idealism has been perverted, corrupted, diverted in the guise of false patriotism.

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is an old, old platitude. It was true in the time of the Roman Emperors, and it's true now. The Protect America Act puts the fox in charge of the hen house. Not only does this violate the 4th Amendment directly, by bypassing the need for a Constitutionally required warrant, it violates the 10th Amendment because neither the states nor the people have formally given up their rights to the Executive Branch of the Federal Government as specifically required. More than that, the Protect America Act violates the very spirit of the principles of the Constitution, specifically separation of powers and the system of checks and balances. The PAA places power squarely in the hands of one person (something the Constitutional framers were adamantly opposed to, so much so that they fought the Revolutionary War to rid themselves of a King), it uses the military against America citizens (NSA is part and parcel of the DoD, and manned in many positions by military personal, especially at field sites), and it concentrates power behind an impenetrable veil of secrecy in the name of patriotism and national security.

This act is a mistake. It's renewal will be an even bigger mistake. Terrorism is the Red Scare of the 21st Century. Like I said above, it's always something. Commies, Nazis, Terrorists. The Patriot Act and the Protect America Act are the second coming of the same old calvary. Last time it was Joe McCarthy in the Senate and the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities, this time it's George W Bush and the Protect America Act.

Just as with ole Tail Gunner Joe and HCUA, the Protect America Act isn't about any external threat to America - it's about power, corrupt absolute power, in the hands of one man. And call it whatever you like, it's as unAmerican as it gets and it's contrary to everything our Founding Fathers stood for.

Here's what I know, the Constitution of the United States has stood for 220 years, and it has survived the Commies, the Fascists, Civil War, and every other threat that has been thrown at it. It'll survive the terrorists too.

Unless we, and our elected leaders, give it away.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Rocket Man

From Newsweek:

Virgin Galactic revealed the designs for its tourist spacecraft. A NASA expert critiques the effort.

Um, what?

A NASA expert critiquing Burt Rutan and Richard Branson?

A NASA expert? What's he going to say - "Um, Burt? Your spaceships don't blow up enough! And they don't cost enough! And they look funny! And um, well, they're all reusable! Madness! Madness!"

I'm reminded of that Far Side cartoon: the one where the cows are building a ramshackle rocket ship in the middle of their pasture and the farmer is leaning on the fence and shouting derisively, "Stupid Cows, you'll never get that thing to fly! What's it run on? Hay? Maybe you'll make it to the moooooooooon! Ha hahahahaha!"

Man, I miss The Far Side.

And really I'm snarking here, the NASA expert is actually none other than Homer Hickam, writer, veteran, and, yes, former NASA engineer. Author of Rocket Boys (the basis for the movie October Sky), and a major expert on manned spaceflight. So, yeah, I guess he's qualified to critique Virgin Galactic's efforts. And it's less a critique and more just observations on the project, most of which are quite favorable.

Also, there are no designs or drawing of Spaceship 2, White Knight 2, or anything else in the Newsweek article. And Hickam doesn't discuss Rutan's design.

So, seriously, poor choice of headline there, Newsweek.

Not that I actually consider Newsweek a source of actual news, but still you'd think somebody there would have done a bit better with the headline.


Anyway, I've got to go move 10 inches of snow out of my very large driveway. So that I can take my son, who has strep throat, to the doctor. So, you know, I'll be gone for a while. Cheers.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Entropy, explained

Regular commenter, John the Scientist, has an excellent post up here.

A better explanation of the Second of Law of Thermodynamics I have never seen.

Compare John's explanation to the stock Creationist explanation which is buried in this pile of blatherings. Amazing what a different there is between a professional, and a jumped up amateur, isn't there?

Al Gore kicked me in the privates, twice

So yesterday I mentioned how unseasonably warm it's been here in South Central Alaska for the last two weeks. Balmy 50's and rain, snow all gone.

Seriously, you've really got to wonder how far the global warming pendulum has swung towards the steamy swamps of the Jurassic when the weather is like that in Alaska - in January.

Today, it's -5F and I've got a foot of snow.

Yeah, that's Alaska for you.


And speaking of Al, the Internet is in and out this morning. It has already eaten the actual post I intended to put up and I don't have time to redo it. I've got to do some work out in the shop. There may be cool pictures, later.

In the mean time, check this out. The Navy just took delivery of the world's most powerful railgun. It's not an official death ray, yet, but still it's pretty damned cool.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Um, Weirdness afoot

Two weeks ago it was -10F outside.

I know, that seems cold to most of you southerners (and in this case, 'southerners' refers anybody not from Fairbanks or points further north - yeah, you too, Canadians), but the truth of the matter is that it should be closer to -30F out.

In fact, starting Sunday the temperature has been hovering around 50F. It rained, hard, Monday night and all the snow melted off. I worked all day Monday and Tuesday in the shop with the big outside doors open and the heat turned off - like I do in the summer.

Yeah, that's right: Palmer, Alaska in mid January and it's 50 and no snow. It should be 4 feet deep out there and -30F. Weird.

Then, last night the temperature dropped into the mid twenties and today we got 6 inches of fresh snow - and it's still coming down. Which means I've got to plow. Which does not thrill me, for a number of reasons, but mostly because I slipped on a patch of ice yesterday. That's right, the only damned patch of ice in the entire MatSu valley and I stepped square in the middle of it getting out of my truck.

And fell.

On my shoulder.

The bad shoulder.

Of course.

This seems to be an annual event for me, last year I spent three days on the couch moaning, doped up on morphine and percocet. And while that may sound spiffy to some of you, it wasn't. At all.

This time it is not nearly so bad. I hurt, but it didn't require a trip to the hospital. Just hot packs and Naproxin.

So, I get to plow.

Screw Al Gore, come on Global Warming.

Stupid snow.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Funny stuff, hoser

Any Corner Gas fans out there?

I love weird quirky humor. Who knew Canadians were that damned funny?

Not since Bob and Doug Mackenzie anyway.

Thirty-five years of Roe Vs Wade

Yep, it's the 35th anniversary of the Roe Vs Wade decision today.

I've got nothing to add to what I said here.

Everything I need to know about politics, I learned in sixth grade

When I was kid in sixth grade, Jeff Bestwick was running for student body president.

I don't know if, these days, sixth graders still elect a student body president - my son is in sixth grade and I haven't heard beans about it. But in my day, elementary school elections were supposed to introduce you to the American democratic process and teach you how our government worked. A lady from the local polling station came and gave us a lecture on voting machines. She brought a huge mechanical tabulator and we all got to flip the switches and pull the lever behind the curtain, like being the Wiz in the land of Oz. I remember thinking it was very exciting.

Now, Jeff, he was a slick kid, handsome and popular. His opposition was a girl, who's name long escapes me. I do remember that she was a bookishly practical girl, and that I didn't like her very much.

Even at that age, you could tell Jeff was destined for big things. He had perfect hair. He played sports. His parents had money. He was a straight A student. And there was little doubt that he would go on to a good college on some kind of scholarship and then on to a nice tidy life in law, or medicine, or politics. He was one of those kids that others gravitated to. I worked on his campaign, making posters. We all donated our lunch money to buy posterboard and markers and material to make campaign buttons. We stayed after school to work on the posters, and I often walked a couple of miles home instead of riding the bus because of it, but I was happy to be part of the process. Some of the mothers made cookies for us, and we had a lot of fun. Being from a poor family and none too popular, I was flattered to be one of the outer circle. Jeff even complimented me on my poster making abilities. He was a great guy.

And he was also a consummate bullshit artist.

The key plank in his election platform, pretty much the only plank, was a soda machine. Soda (pop, as everybody called it in Michigan) was a big deal to us kids. The only pop machine in the school was in the teacher's lounge, but us students didn't have access to it. Jeff promised us that if we voted for him he'd get us a pop machine. Cool. The opposition candidate, on the other had, was a real wet blanket. She said that a soda machine wasn't a good idea. She'd talked to the principle about it and her parents and she felt that it simply wasn't practical. She said there were more important thing we should be thinking about. I don't remember what those things were, but I do remember thinking she was just a Stupid Girl (I was eleven, sue me).

Jeff told us what we wanted to hear, in fact he made that soda machine sound like a done deal and you could practically taste those icy cold beverages when he spoke. Consequently he was swept into office on a wave of popular support. The Stupid Girl faded into the mists of history and the blurry depths of my increasingly fuzzy memory.

We never did see that soda machine though. Turns out that there were practical problems involving cost, regulations, nutrition, and President Bestwick just couldn't make good on his promises. He shrugged, smiled his winning smile composed of perfect orthodontic work, and said he'd done the best he could but it was out of his hands. And he never complimented me on my drawing abilities again, and he never thanked me for my support. In fact, he rarely ever spoke to me again, even though we rode the same bus daily until high school graduation and lived only a block or so apart.

You know, it's been forty years since Jeff Bestwick was Rosewood Elementary School's student body president, and his failure to live up to his campaign promises still chaps my ass. However, despite the fact that I spent my formative years without being able to enjoy a nice cool soft drink, I don't hold anything against Jeff because he did teach me some valuable lessons about politics and politicians. Things that have served me well over the last four decades:

1) Haircuts and hot air are directly proportional, i.e. the more money a politician spends on his haircut, the more full of shit he is. This is an infallible indicator of character. If he's got good hair, you're not getting the soda machine.

2) Politicians always tell you what you think you want to hear, always. With that in mind, you should probably figure out what it is that you really want. Are you sure that what you really want is a soda machine?

3) Popular kids don't give a crap about you, unless they need your vote. After they get your vote, they will go back to listening exclusively to their friends - until they need your vote again. They bring their own soda, and they don't share.

4) Rich kids don't give a crap about you, unless they need your lunch money. The more lunch money you have, the more they care about your concerns. If you've got enough lunch money, you can buy your own soda machine.

5) Politicians make promises on the campaign trail with their fingers crossed behind their backs. I.e. you're not getting the soda machine.

6) Don't expect to be remembered for your support or your sacrifice. I.e. the President's mom probably won't give you a lift home, even though you missed the bus working on her son's campaign. He'll wave as they go past, drinking a soda.

7) Sometimes there are cookies, but no soda. Cookies are cheap. Soda is expensive.

8) The teachers have the real power. I.e. you're not getting the soda machine.

9) Don't waste your vote on people you like or want to like you. Vote for those who can get the job done, even if you don't like them, even if they don't tell you what you want to hear, even if they don't have good hair, even if their mom doesn't make you cookies. I.e. you're not getting the soda machine, get used to it.

10) Always listen to the Stupid Girl, she's not nearly as stupid as you think she is. I.e. there's a reason why she didn't promise you a soda machine.

11) History doesn't remember the losers, even if they were right. Even if they bring soda.

12) You're not getting the soda machine.


John Edwards, "I am committed to getting all troops out of Iraq within the first year of my presidency..."

Rudy Gulliani, "It's playing out the way we thought it would..."

Hillary Clinton, "I call my plan, the American Health Choices plan. ... If you have private insurance you like, nothing changes..."

Barrack Obama, “...we would immediately put some additional dollars in the pockets of American families..."

John McCain, "I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned." AND "I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade..."

Mike Huckabee, "If you have the time and the luxury of going to Congress, that's always better ..."

There's more, a lot more, but I'll stop there.

Yeah, nice hair. Got any cookies? How about a soda?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Die, Symantec, Die!

I'm going to be off-line for a while this morning.

I'll be eradicating Norton Internet Security 2008 from both my big desktop system and the tablet and installing something else. How do I say it politely? Oh, yeah, that's right, it's me and I don't have to be polite. So I'll phrase it in a manner that will make it a distinctive hit for the search engines:

Norton Internet Security 2008 by Symantec is a complete and total piece of shit
. Under no circumstance should you install this bloated, hamstrung resource-sucking, poorly-coded, productivity-killing, over-priced, piece of shit on your computer.

I've mentioned elsewhere that I despise the NIS interface, everything from it's piss-yellow color to the fact that it does not comply with Windows standards for look and feel, and the fact that it is without doubt the least intuitive interface yet fielded by a mainstream software company.

But this isn't about that - this is about the fact the NIS 2008 is a giant sucking chest wound of a resource hog. Based on my own experience, I'd say Symantec has decided that the best way to protect your computer from the internet, is by preventing you from getting online in the first place. It's simple really, if you can't use your computer you can't get any bad internetty stuff in there.

I have broadband cable internet, both my main desktop system and my tablet are high end machines, with plenty of RAM and processing power and high speed connections to the network - and both are hopelessly bogged down by NIS 2008 no matter how I tweak the settings. I might as well be using dialup, NIS 2008 bogs down the systems so badly that internet surfing is painfully slow, page loads and refreshes take forever. The hard drive runs continuously. The system will sit idle for hours, but the minute you load a page in Fireforx, the drive light comes on and stays on. Both systems frequently lock-up or pause for 30-40 seconds while the drive runs continuously and NIS checks the pages. It's absolutely maddening. And it's definitely NIS 2008, both systems began displaying identical symptoms as soon as it was installed, and the processor scanner shows NIS and Symantec processes sucking up to 98% of the system resources almost continuously.

And then there's the rest of it - for some bizarre reason Symantec has seen fit to remove Ad-Block from NIS 2008, which in point of fact continues a trend. Each year, the Norton product line becomes just a little less feature rich - while the prices inch upward. It's bad enough that that the anti-spam, parental controls, and ad-blocking extensions were regulated to an 'add-on' download, instead of being included on the CD or in the online purchase, but Symantec as been slowly whittling down that add-on pack, with obvious intention of getting rid of it altogether - here's the funny part, I buy NIS primarily because of those integrated enhancements. If I'm not going to get them all in one package, well then I'm going to go somewhere else. Hell, I can get decent anti-virus and firewall protection for free - why the hell should I pay Symantec to hamstring my computer? Seriously, deletion of the ad-blocking software is the last straw for me.

Attention Symantec: You've lost a customer. I've bought Norton products since version 1 of Norton Utilities, but no more. Congratulations, you've finally managed to destroy the one of the best products on the market. You may not notice it in your bottom line for a while, as you coast along on Peter Norton's reputation, but sooner or later you'll be sitting in bankruptcy court whining about how Bill Gates put you out of business and it's just so unfair, wah wah wah! We'll call that the Word Perfect business model.

Seriously, Folks, don't buy this product. Don't install it if you have it. Don't upgrade from NIS 2006, or 2007. If you buy a new computer and NIS 2008 comes pre-installed, delete it.

There are plenty of alternatives, many free, use those.

Back in a couple of hours.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunshine - The Movie

Saw Sunshine tonight on DVD.

The special effects are passable - after that things go downhill pretty damned fast indeed.

The plot is hackneyed, contrived, and easily predictable. The basic premise of the movie is ridiculous. The science is idiotic. The portrayed technology is retarded. The characters are cardboard cutouts. The camera work is nausea inducing. Apparently in the future nobody owns a light bulb, either that or they forgot to take the lens cap off during filming.

And worst of all? It's boring.

It's a lot like the directors of two other piece of shit movies, Event Horizon and Solaris, got together and had a bastard love child who came up with this turkey.

Don't bother. Really.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Hoist on your own petard

Ain't irony funny?

Take the Mount Blanco Fossil Museum in Crosbyton, Texas - who's motto is "Digging up facts of God's Creation, one fossil at a time..."

Yeah, it's another Creation "museum." Not as slick or glossary as the far more infamous one in Kentucky, this once looks more like your standard Texas tourist trap, full of rubber tomahawks and overpriced kid-sized faux ten-gallon hats.

The webpage describes the place as "a science museum, showing facts and data about the actual fossils in the museum." And then goes on to say, "We believe that evolution is an old-fashioned theory not substantiated by facts, and that what the Bible says is more scientifically accurate" [emphasis mine].

Nothing particularly new going on at Mt Blanco, it's your basic brand of batshit crazy, booger eating Young Earth Creationism, complete with dinosaur skeletons and the same goofy rationalizations and deluded nonsense that has sprung up elsewhere. Creationist doctrine sounds like something a child would make up - or a mental patient. They've even got a bible waving, bearded nutjob, named Joe Taylor who fancies himself as some kind of scientist. You can call ahead and arrange to have Scientist Joe give a lecture to your church or homeschooler group, where he'll answer your questions about how the Earth is only six thousand years old, how man and dinosaurs lived shoulder to shoulder, and how old Noah even managed to squeeze a few of those big scaly beasts onto the Ark, two by two as they say. And for extra credit, go read James Taylor's (Joe's nephew and biomedical 'researcher,' no relation to the singer so far as I can tell) description of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which you can find under the 'Staff' section.

The crux of this crap is, of course, a rigid interpretation of the bible (I was going to say a literal explanation of biblical events, but that's not correct at all - if it were a literal interpretation, well, they wouldn't be adding dinosaurs to the Deluge mythology now would they?) By rigid interpretation, what I mean is that in an attempt to resolve the discrepancies that modern science is raising in ancient belief systems, the Creationists have developed a strict doctrinal world view and then gone looking in both the bible and in science for 'evidence' to support it. They have no more regard or understanding of traditional Christianity, than they do for science - and they'll bend both to fit their pre-defined paradigm. Their utter disregard for validated scientific dating methodologies such as carbon dating and the relatively recent inclusion of dinosaurs into the creationist fabric are both examples of this. It's a form of deliberate mass delusion, and the problem here, of course, is that it is not possible to resolve the discrepancies that saturate this kind of 'science.'

If you have real faith, then it's not necessary to whore-up your beliefs with pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo in order to rationalize away the discrepancies. In fact, doing so shows just how threatened you are by science in the first place, and just how little faith you actually have. If you have true faith, then you let it stand on it's own. But, if you have some major doubts, then it's important that you yell good and loud and do everything you can to distract from those discrepancies, so you don't feel stupid for believing what you yourself think is fairly goofy.

If you're doing real science, you welcome those discrepancies, because resolving disparities between information points is what leads to real advances and improved understanding of how the world actually works. That process continually forces you to update and adjust your worldview as more and more information becomes available, which is why we have things like antibiotics, airplanes, and big-screen HD plasma TV.

But if you're engaged in pseudo-science rationalization of your goofy belief system, like oh say Young Earth Creationists, then those discrepancies are a trap. You can't change your beliefs, because that would mean that you were wrong to begin with, which means you might be wrong now, which means it's only a matter of time before people realize they're being hoodwinked and stop dropping money into the donation plate. (Blimey! 'E's just making it up as 'e goes along!) So you're stuck, hoist on your own petard, and forced into a position where your only option is to pretend the discrepancies don't exist. For example, claim the whole world was flooded to a height above the highest mountain and every animal today is the direct descendant of one to three breeding pairs and eight Iron-age humans who rode out the end of the world in a wooden ship the size of an aircraft carrier that they themselves built in their backyard using common household appliances - and you start to have some serious problems. Not one single branch of mainstream science supports the creationist deluge statement, not one. Everything we know about the world must be wrong. Everything. And that's demonstratively just not the case, for example if the science behind carbon dating is wrong and the Earth really is no more than six thousand years old - then pretty much all of nuclear science is wrong, which means the computer chips you're reading this on right now don't actually work and you're not actually reading this. And that's only one discrepancy, there are literal millions more in every branch of science. See, that's the problem with real science, unlike religion you don't get to pick and chose what you believe in. The devil can only steal your soul if you believe in him, but gravity will kill you whether you believe in it or not. Which brings us back to the creationists, sooner or later you're bound to get trapped in your own bullshit.

Here's the thing - old Joe Taylor and his museum are up to their eyeballs in debt. And they're going to go out of business if they don't come up with some real money, real soon. So, they've decided to auction off the pride of their bone collection, a restored mastodon skull, in order to raise some much needed cash.

They're hoping to get $160,000 or more for it.

And in order to get the full $160,000 dollars at auction, they are listing the skull as at least 40,000 years old. Ah, caught the problem, did you? Yeah, in those lectures Scientist Joe Taylor likes to give, the world itself is only 6,000 years old. But, here's the problem: nobody will pay top dollar for a pachyderm skull that is merely 6000 years old, even if Adam himself was feeding it peanuts in the Garden.

Is it just me, or is there about 34,000 years of discrepancy there?

Funny, isn't it, when threatened with bankruptcy Joe and his band of fervent believers suddenly dumped their convictions? And if they get the money, they'll go right back to them without ever once smelling the stench of hypocrisy? Then again, it occurs to me that maybe they're just saying they think it's 40,000 years old in order to fleece us gullible non-believers. After all, most of us want to believe that the skull is 40,000 years old, they're just telling us what we want to hear. Funny, though, how they turned to real science, including carbon dating, in order to determine the best price for the fossil, isn't it?

Wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall when one of those homeshooled fundie kids asks that question during the next lecture:

"Excuse me, Scientist Joe, but how come you said the mastodon skull was 40,000 years old at that auction? But you just told us that the world is only 6,000 years old? Where were the mastodons before the Earth was created? Floating in space? What did they eat? Where did they go to the bathroom? I don't get it." (we're assuming a fundie kid would actually break programming long enough to have a stray thought of his own here).

"Well, that's a good questions, Tommy, and you'll have lot's of time to think about it while you burn in hell for all eternity!"

Oh well, either way, as long as you're bullshitting for Jesus, I guess it's OK.

If there really is a God, he's obviously got one hell of a sense of ironic humor.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Gone for a while (updated)

I've got to run into the VA in Anchorage this morning.

The VA needs yet another copy of my medical records, which I forgot to make last night and so am now fighting with the copier to get done in time. Also I've got to take a class at the port, harbor security or some such, so I can get a sticker on my driver's license. My wife works there, and it's a requirement for me so that I can visit her at work. The funny thing is that I probably know more about harbor security and marine force protection than the TSA instructor. I spent a considerable chunk of my life doing it. But every port has different requirements, and I'm now officially a civilian, which means I know exactly jackshit. So, yeah, class.

Anyway, I'm gone for most of my morning and early afternoon.


Update: OK I'm back.

Anybody want to take a guess as to why the VA could not find my military medical records at the Naval Medical Archives in New Orleans?

Did you guess Hurricane Katrina damage? Well, you're wrong.

The originals were still sitting in a box at the 3rd Medical Wing Records Office, on Elmendorf AFB in Alaska - because the people that run the place are a bunch of retards.

My last posting was as Executive Officer of the Navy IO Detachment here in Alaska. We were located on a couple of acres in the back of the base. We didn't answer to anybody on Elemendorf, our boss was somewhere else, rather we just leased some land from the AF. Want to talk bastard stepchildren? Yeah, nothing worse than being Navy on an Air Force installation.

The Air Force was spawned from the Army Air Corps way back in the late 40's and they are the youngest of the services. As such they've always had somewhat of an inferiority complex around the other services which translates into what could charitably be described as a piss poor attitude when it comes to having to take of anybody not wearing AF Blue. The AF provided support for us, if you want to call it that - often that support consisted primarily of studied indifference, except when it came to the base police, they provided tailored personal service - mostly by targeting my personnel with their radar guns and issuing as many traffic citations as possible.

Anyway, long story short. Instead of forwarding my voluminous medical record to it's proper final location in New Orleans, they kindly threw it into a box and stashed it behind a desk in their records department. Which has held up my VA compensation and pension processing for the last four months while everybody in New Orleans has rooted around trying to find it.

I stomped in there today, and demanded that they either find it or produce a record of it having been shipped. They found it. Oops.

Fucktard idiots. Thanks for the support boys. Stellar job, really.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Jerkoff of the week (no not that kind of jerkoff, sorry)

You know, every time I think I've seen it all, all the self denying, hate-mongering, ignorant, conservative stupidity that it's possible to see, just when I think outspoken conservatives have sunk as low as it's possible to go - they manage to open their jowly months and the most unbelievable crap just falls out.

Don't get me wrong, Liberals say stupid stuff too, but seriously can anybody top the just plain vitriolic, stupid-ass, hate-filled, demonstratively wrong, utter bullshit that conservative pundits spew like a broken New York sewer pipe?

Take the king of 'traditional' Conservative assholes, Bill O'Reilly, host of The O'Reilly Factor, and mouth piece for inbred, public-restroom cruising, bible waving, red-staters everywhere. According to the leading liberal font of blathering sheeplike hand-wringing, Daily Kos, in the process of bashing John Edwards, O'Reily claimed that there were no homeless veterans living on the streets of America.

Huh? Nobody is that stupid, says I to myself. Kos is full of crap, but I watched the video. This one:

And that did little to change my initial assessment. I don't like O'Reilly, loath would probably come closer to describing what I think of him, but according to the video he didn't actually say there were no homeless vets sleeping under bridges in America - what he actually said was that "the only thing sleeping under a bridge is that guy's [Edwards] brain... ." He was insulting Edwards, not denying the existence of homeless veterans. The guy is still a complete tool, a rabble rousing jerkoff who plays to the lowest common denominator and his own ego (which may be redundant), but he's not guilty of the accusation in this case.

Or so I thought, at first.

Which brings us to this video:

And, there it is. Kos had it right after all.

"If you know where there's a veteran sleeping under a bridge, you call me immediately," says O'Reilly with smug, squinty-eyed, superiority. "They may be out there, but there's not many of them," he opines.

Bill? Fuck you. Seriously, put a sock in it, you rich, well-fed asshole. Reliable data shows there are nearly 200 thousand homeless vets out there, and I know where to find a whole bunch of them. Next time I go down to the VA, you're welcome to tag along - no cameras, no grandstanding, just you, you pompous ill-informed windbag. Just you. I'll introduce you around the waiting room, and you can explain to those guys how they're not actually, you know, homeless. After that, let's visit a couple of places I know in Southern California - and yes, some of them are under bridges. In fact, with a little effort, you could have your limo driver cruise past a few places in your hometown of New York, of course you'll have to look up from counting your piles of money, and the prime rib you're wolfing down off a call-girl's stomach and actually look out the fucking window.

If this idiot can't get his facts correct when he's talking about something so easily verified - and even when he has had his nose rubbed in it, he continues to claim that he's correct despite all evidence to the contrary - then it's a pretty good bet that the rest of his opinions are complete and total crap too. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

So here's the part I don't get: Why, why, why would anybody give this guy the time of day? Seriously, think about it, the only thing dumber than Bill O'Reilly, is someone who watches The O'Reilly Factor and believes what he's seeing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Stonekettle Station achieved a milestone yesterday - 523 unique visitors, 12001 pageloads (in a 24-hour period). Which continues a steady upward trend.

Holy Crap.

If I'm to be honest though - 3 of those unique visitors were for (wait for it) Laura San Giacomo, nude - all from different locations, including one in Norway. And an even dozen were searches containing the word 'jerkoff' since I often use that term in the 'Jerkoff of the Week' posts (which, in hindsight was probably a poor choice of naming conventions, since people searching for gay porn don't seem all that interested in my site. Go figure. Strangely, I noticed that a significant number of folks that search for gay porn containing this phrase are from both the US Midwest and the Middle East, about half and half. Ohh, common ground between Fundie Christians and Muslims? I dunno).

However, 83% of the non-regular visitors stuck around for a minimum of 20+ minutes and read multiple pages, so apparently people are interested. Cool

The two biggest searches that seem to draw people in and keep them around for a while are searches involving woodwork (lathe work specifically, my bowl pictures are getting a rather large amount of unique views) and searches that hit on the post I made regarding the viral email containing a picture of John Wayne and the phrase "Now just why in HELL do I have to press '1' for English?" In fact, if you enter 'John Wayne' and 'Now just why in the hell do I have to press 1 for English' into google, Stonekettle Station is the number 5 out 80K results! Yeah, I find this fairly cool. Because every jackass neocon that goes looking for that topic finds me, and gets slapped up side the head with his bigoted bullshit.

So, thanks.

I've got to run some errands this morning, and I have to go to the mill in Wasilla. Back in a bit.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Yeah, I'm an idiot

Actual transcript of a conversation that occurred between my son and I:

Son: Can I make myself a cup of hot chocolate?
Me: Yes.
(minutes pass - noises come from the kitchen followed by sighing)
Me (entering the kitchen): What's wrong?
Son: Well, there's no clean cups. The kind of cups I like for my chocolate, I mean.
(he likes to use the plastic Campbell Soup cups)
Me (opening the cupboard): What are you talking about? There's two of them right there.
Son: Those are dirty.
Me: What?
Son: They're dirty. They've got crud in them. The dishwasher didn't get them clean.
Me: (picking up a cup, looking inside - is indeed dirty) Um, why is it still on the shelf?
Son: Because it's dirty.
Me: Yes, I understand. Why didn't you take them out of the cupboard?
Son: I'm not making chocolate in a dirty cup! (gives me a look that says clearly how disappointed he is to have an idiot for a father)
Me: Did you think that they would get magically clean in the cupboard?
Son: Nevermind. Now I don't want any. (He saunders off, leaving me with a vague feeling that I am somehow in the wrong.)

This conversation continues a long downward spiral for me. Apparently I've been getting dumber and dumber as the years go by. It all began when my son was four, prior to that I was fairly intelligent. I remember the exact day I began to get stupid, it went something like this:

Son: (coming home from pre-school, he has a large piece of tagboard covered in green and black blobs of tempera paint. He comes into my office and holds up the paper) Look at what I did in school today!
Me: Wow! That's great.
Son: Do you know what it is?
Me: (Caught completely unprepared for this parental Rorschach test) Well...
Son: (tapping foot impatiently. I take the paper in order to buy more time and study it more closely. No matter how I stare it, it just looks like a bunch of blobs)
Me: (he likes dinosaurs, if I squint my eyes it looks sort of like something from the Jurassic) Um, is it a Tyrannosaur maybe? That big black blob looks like a Tyrannosaur eating that green blob which looks like a .... uh, no?
Son: (puts hands on hips, adopts a disappointed look) Nooooo, it's just a bunch of blobs! I'm only four, I don't know how to paint! Duh! (and he walked off, leaving me feeling like a idiot)

See, I didn't start thinking my dad was an idiot until I was in my teens. My son is obviously way ahead of me, developmental wise. My wife is pretty sure this is a sign that he's gifted. Of course, she thinks I'm an idiot too, so her opinion is suspect.

If you need me, I'll be in the shop - probably doing something stupid.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Farewell, Whateveresque

You know, this thread epitomizes why I've pretty much lost interest in Scalzi's Whateveresque.

Normally this is the type of conversation and subject matter I'd be intensely interested in - but this is also the type of conversation that seems to attract self-absorbed asshats the way flies are attracted to the shit buffet. This conversation started out interesting - and then almost immediately attracted the attention of two resident dickheads who expend a tremendous amount of time bashing each other and engaging in ad hominem attacks. And when they do talk about the subject at hand, they engage in pompous pseudo-intellectual pronouncements - the kind people make when they're either trying to start a fight, or when they are more interested in showing how big their reproductive organs are, instead of actually having a conversation. Both of these pompous jerks consistently show a complete lack of respect for any opinion other than their own. It's like being trapped on a bus with a bunch of teenagers.

I despise such nonsense. I've got enough assholes in my life, I don't have to to go looking for them. And I'm tired of having to tell these two idiots to shut up so the adults can talk. Their grandstanding bullshit constantly drives away those that I'd really like to talk to. The forum host doesn't seem inclined to do much about it, and that's his choice of course. But frankly the whole thing just turns me off.

Bill Cosby used to tell this joke: "So I asked this guy, why do you do cocaine? And he said, because it intensifies my personality. Intensifies your personality? Yeah, but what if you're an asshole?"

That's how I often see online conversations. Like cocaine. It strips away the thin veneer of civilization and exposes what's underneath. If you're a relatively decent person, you're still a relatively decent person online. But, if underneath it all, you're an asshole - well then that becomes exceedingly clear online. If, in person, you're the kind of guy who craves the approval of others yet states loudly 'I don't care what other people think of me' or better yet, 'I didn't come here to be liked' then online you're going to be an insufferable asshole who has a pathological need to be right all of the time. If, in person, you're the kind of boorish oaf who always has to be the center of attention, then online you're going to be that irritating jerk who always has to have the last word, always. And just like cocaine, if you're addicted to it - then you've become a liability to those around you. People start crossing the street to avoid your loud, boorish, coked-up assholiness.

And sadly, that's how it is for me and the Whateveresque. The esque is like a club that's been around for too long - it used to be fun, and interesting, and cool things happened there. Then the assholes showed up and started snorting coke in the bathroom and fighting on the dance floor.

It was fun while it lasted and I may look in occasionally, but I'm not sticking around anymore.

In Service Day

What the hell is an "In-Service" day?

I swear, didn't every kid in America just have two weeks off from school? And today, in the the Matsu Valley, they're off again because of a teacher's in-service day. And then they're off next Monday for Martin Luther King day. Was there going to be some school this month, or what?

I can't work when the kid is home, I just can't. And it seems lately that he's been off more than he's been at school. I mean seriously, an in-service day? What the hell is that anyway? This is getting worse than Spain, where every kid is off at least four times a month for some Saint's birthday, or the US Air Force where everything just shuts down inexplicably two or three times a month for 'An Air Force Down Day.'

Supposedly an in-service day is so the teachers can get organized, review curriculum, and generally use the time to improve education. Bah. They've got all summer to do that stuff, they just had Christmas break - and now they need yet another day. At least I'm home, but what about all those folks who work and either have to take the day off or find child care? How much is this costing all of us in lost wages and babysitters?

Look, I like teachers, I always vote for improved salary and benefits, I think it's a tough job. But damn, seriously, how about a couple of full weeks in the school year. Is that too much to ask?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Mike McConnell: Jerkoff of the week

U.S. intelligence chief Mike McConnell said in a magazine interview that waterboarding would be torture if it was used against him personally, but stopped short of condemning the controversial interrogation technique.

"If I had water draining into my nose, oh God, I just can't imagine how painful!" McConnell said in the article. "Whether it's torture by anybody else's definition, for me it would be torture."

But he rejected a suggestion that he personally condemned the practice.

What an asshole. What a complete and total hypocrite.

When I trained as part of combat teams I was qualified to carry CA (Pepper) Spray. In order to qualify to use this non-leathal weapon, I was required to get sprayed in the face with it. It hurt, a lot. In fact, I've had to periodically re-qualify three times. It never got any better. It hurt every time. A lot. I don't want to do it again. Here's an idea, in order to wield waterboarding as an interrogation technique, every senior official, from the President on down to the interrogators themselves should have to go through exactly the same thing - no stripped down, easier 'training' process. The whole deal, exactly the way it's administered at Gitmo by the CIA. Just like a face full of mace.

Personally, after reading the interview, I'd love nothing better than to see Mike McConnell strapped to a table and have Lake Erie shoved up his nose.

Attention Presidential Candidates
: Here's how you get my vote - convince me that you will not suffer the service of fools, hypocrites, and evil men such as the current Director of Central Intelligence. Better yet, convince me that you will categorically put an end to America's use of torture forever. Hunt down those responsible for attacking Americans and our allies, try them before the world in a fair and open court, and if found guilty lock them away in a deep dark hole or put them against a wall - I don't care - but, convince me that we will do it honorably, and that our country will be led by honorable men and women. If you want my vote, shut up about your religion, shut up about the religion of your fellow candidates, shut up about conservative values, or liberal values, stop blathering on about irrelevant bullshit. Instead speak to me how you will restore America's honor and dignity as a free people. Start with how you'll hold both your self and your appointees responsible for their actions.

Book of Secrets

We went into Anchorage yesterday and didn't get back until late, by which time I was so damned tired I couldn't see straight and went to bed about 9:30PM, which is why you didn't see a post from me yesterday.

During the day we saw National Treasure, Book of Secrets at the Century 16 in Anchorage.

I liked it, so did my wife and son. It's not as tightly plotted as the first one, and there are a few more characters to keep track off, and the basic premise of the story is, um, well, highly improbable - but still it's a fun movie. If you liked the first one, you'll probably like this one. The dynamic between Jon Voight and Helen Mirren is worth the price of admission. However, If you disliked the first one, you'll hate this one. Just saying.

Friday, January 11, 2008

One is right, the other is wrong wrong wrong

Grilled Cheese: American Cheese or Cheddar?

On Writing

As most of you regulars know, my post naval retirement goal is to become a writer full time.

I've wanted to be a professional writer my whole life. Like many folks with that particular personality defect, I started scribbling stories down on paper in my teenage years. As a longtime lover of the science fiction genre, naturally I wrote tales of adventure set in the distant reaches of space. When other kids were writing about what they did on their summer vacations, I never wrote an English assignment set below Low Earth Orbit (in those days, we called it English not Language Arts, which to me sounds like paper mache sculpture made from chopped up dictionaries, but I digress). This did not endure me to my teachers, and even the ones that taught Creative Writing weren't much thrilled with science fiction submissions. And I'm pretty sure my parents were less than thrilled with my obvious mental aberration, and blamed each other for the defective genes that caused it.

I wrote a lot, and no matter what I wrote all those stories had something in common. They all sucked.

Remember that scene in Throw Momma From The Train where Billy Crystal is listening to one of his students recite her latest work? "The Captain said, 'Dive, Dave.' And Dave pulled the thing that makes the ship dive, and the ship dove..." or words to that effect. Yeah, a lot of it was like that. Shudder. If you want to tell a good story, then you should write what you know, the problem was I didn't know shit. This is not a condemnation, most teenagers don't know shit, that's part of being a teenager.

Now, it's thirty years later and I'm retired from a life in the Navy. I've got a college degree, and advanced training in a dozen or more arcane specialties. I've been around the world, literally, more than once. I've lived on three continents. I'm a father, and a husband, an artist, a woodworker, and a fair chef. I know shit.

So, I set out to discover if I actually could, you know, write.

This blog was part of that, along with a couple of other projects, such as Deep Thunder. And I think I can actually do it, and can do it well enough to make a living at it. My wife and I have agreed that I will take this year and make the attempt. Ultimately, only you people will determine whether or not I'm any good at it.

With that said, I promised you a sample of my current work, The Iyes of the Dead. As I've mentioned elsewhere, my formal writing voice is vastly different from Thunder and this blog, which you will see in the sample below the fold. Iyes is nominally a locked room murder mystery, told more or less in the traditional mode where you see the murder happen in great detail - and yet may not immediately grasp what happened exactly. Throughout the rest of the book you follow the investigation, traveling along with the investigator and his assistant. Nearly every paragraph contains clues, some obvious, many not. The astute reader will have enough information to solve the puzzle in the first five chapters, but will have to be careful not to venture down false pathways, of which there are many. There's an obvious suspect, a not so obvious suspect, and a cast of characters, some human and some not, with their own strange pasts who may be suspects themselves. All have reason to commit the crime and many things to hide in the fashion of Murder on the Orient Express. The 'locked room' is a colony far removed in space and time. The technology is both benefit and bane, and is a mixture of the old and the far edge of the possible. Eventually all the suspects will be gathered together and we'll find out if the butler did indeed do it in the drawing room with the candlestick.

The following is excerpted from the first Chapter. Motive is key to the story, and each character is driven by their own personal history. In fact, despite taking place in the 'present' of 2361, much of what has happened in the period between now and then plays an enormous role in the shaping of each person, and the society of the colony. Some of the characters come from civilizations vastly different from our present one, and they've been shaped by disaster, war, and desperate necessity. It was therefore necessary to tell some of that history, here and there, throughout the novel. I despise the contrived conversational asides (I.e. "Say, Bob, even though you and I have lived through these events, I'm still going to explain at great length things you and I both know..."). I've chosen instead to weave that background information throughout the events of the novel - similar in technique to the way George R.R. Martin wove the history of his Federal Empire into his Double War/Integrum stories, such as The Dying of the Light (Which if you haven't read, you really, really should). In essence, the novel is really three stories, the central murder mystery, exploration of a new world, and the disastrous war that led to the present situation and explains many of the things that happen in the story.

The following excerpt comprises the last quarter of the first chapter. It is a bit of background for one of the primary characters. The only setup you need going in is this:

Henry Stonekettle has been castaway for a very long time. Stranded alone on a distant world with only his wits to keep him alive. Anyone else would have given up long ago, but not Henry. Here's part of the reason why.

[Note: copying this in from MS Word has been a huge pain. The formating codes in word are playing merry hell with blogger's embedded HTML engine. Some words have been dropped, and paragraph formatting is acting strangely. I'm tired of screwing with it. Read it or not, and try to ignore the formating issues. I may fool with it later, depending on how much time I have, but at this point I've wasted too much of my morning already. - Jim]

[And again, okay the font is seriously pissing me off. Word Press looks better to me every day. If below the fold you see little, itty bitty, times new roman letters but can't actually make out what they're saying, well, you're not alone. I'm trying to fix it]


[Excerpted from Iyes of the Dead, by James L. Wright. All rights reserved. No portion of the following may be reposted, printed, or reproduced without the express written permission of the author.]

Henry Stonekettle had known for some time that he must be insane by normal standards. It troubled him greatly; his mind was all he had. He was suddenly afraid that the final slide into the abyss had begun, because as he stared stupidly at an impossible black silhouette on the white snow he realized that it was moving, lengthening rapidly and swinging around like the umbra on a sundial.

Comprehension bloomed. His heart was suddenly hammering and with badly shaking hands he rubbed at his eyes. When he opened them again, the moving shadow was still there, still creeping across the snow. Unbelieving, he pivoted slowly around on the heel of his good leg.

Without regard for the temperature, he pushed back the hood of his parka and lifted his eyes to the heavens.

His mouth fell open in shock.

“Son of a bitch,” he said at last, in the strangled voice of a man punched in the stomach. Then he said it again, each word spoken softly, unbelieving, separate and distinct. “Son. Of. A. Bitch!”

When Henry Stonekettle was a young man, full of wind, shit, and excitement, he had done a foolish thing.

He entered a race.

In the year 1925, dog sled mushers raced with desperate speed across what was then the Alaskan Territory, up a frozen coastal trail in relay to the small northern village of Nome. They carried cases of carefully packed serum for a town dying of diphtheria. They made it, barely in time, and saved the townsfolk from certain, grisly death. They became instant legends, those old mushers and their dogs, books were written about them and movies were made for years afterward. The event, like so many others of the Alaskan frontier, might have faded quietly into the oblivion of the past, except that Alaskans were funny about their history. Fifty years after the epidemic, a crusty old sourdour named Joe Redington resurrected the desperate crossing and turned the epic into what he called “the last great race.” He named it The Iditarod for an ancient abandoned ghost town, one of waystations along the historic trail. In February every year, at the height of the northern winter, mushers and their dogs raced nearly twelve hundred miles from Old Anchorage across the vast land to Nome. The event was run every year, without fail. Though in 2129 during the darkest years of the Long Runout, the year Old Alaska became Alyeska and the last bastion of high technology civilization on Earth, there were only two teams and neither finished. By the time Henry Stonekettle was twenty-three, a graduate student in Planetary Sciences at the University of Alyeska, Fairbanks and dreaming of the stars, the Iditarod race spanned three hundred years of unbroken tradition. Henry had been mushing dogs since he was a child growing up at Pump Station Five on the Gasline. He had mushed the ancient Yukon Quest twice, finishing in the top ten, and had placed second in the grueling Skinny City Run. He had just returned from a couple years of fieldwork in ravaged mainland Europe and compared to that, entering the Iditarod seemed like only mild adventure.

The Iditarod had long been a purist’s race; engineered dogs were not allowed, and mushers carried no radio, no beacon, and no satellite navigation receivers. Henry would make the dash to Nome with nothing more advanced than map, magnetic compass, and his wits.

The first eight days were magnificent. The snow cover was light that year, a consequence of Earth’s disastrously fluctuating climate, and so instead of the traditional start in downtown Old Anchorage they mushed out of Willow, thirty miles to the north. He occasionally ran behind the sled, but spent most of his time riding on the runners as they hissed through the snow and listened to the excited panting of his team. On the second day, he lost control of the sled on a down slope in the dark and shattered a runner, and he lost two hours replacing it, working bare handed in the subzero temperatures by the light of his headlamp. A day later he surprised a bull moose just outside of McGrath as he rounded a bend on the frozen Kuskokwim, and spent another hour untangling harnesses and traces after he’d managed to run the beast off. He had to stitch up two dogs, and leave one at the checkpoint in McGrath to be flown back to Anchorage by tilter. These were normal hazards of the trail and Henry spent little effort worrying about lost time. During rest breaks he slept exhausted beneath the Aurora Borealis, wrapped in a powered survival bag, the one bit of advanced technology allowed, on the cold ground beside his animals unlike most other mushers who slept in the checkpoint cabins. The other mushers called him ‘Stone Cold’ with some amusement. He was considered a bit odd, but then oddball characters weren’t uncommon on the trail and some were
much odder than Henry Stonekettle. Over the week he passed through tiny, ancient villages with such romantic names as Susitna Station, Finger Lake, Rainy Pass, Farewell Station, Cripple, Unalakleet, and White Mountain.

It was glorious.

The storm hit on what was to have been his last day on the trail. As he rode out of Safety Roadhouse, on the last leg to Nome, the sky was turning black with snow-laden clouds and the world was fading away into whiteout conditions. In the early years of the race officials might have turned the mushers back, made them wait it out at the roadhouse. But the First Tenet of the Alyeskan Constitution reads: “
Every adult human being, sane or not, is solely responsible for the consequences of his or her own actions.” And so they could not prevent him from leaving. The older, more cautious mushers called it a race; they boarded their dogs and hunkered down in the lodge to await a flight to Nome or back to Anchorage on the bush tilters.

They didn’t know it then, but that year would mark the beginning of what climatologists would come to call the Post Runout Global Minima. And it was to be brutally unpredictable. Henry Stonekettle and four other teams rode out into what would become the worst blizzard in seventy years.

For six endless days he huddled in a snowy dugout, thirty miles from Nome, while the tempest raged overhead. The survival bag power cell exhausted it’s hydrogen supply sometime during the third night. With little food, and only the dogs for warmth, he knew that he would most likely die. He had left Safety with thirteen dogs; when the storm broke, only seven remained.

Seven dogs and Henry Stonekettle.

A day later he staggered into Nome behind the empty sled. He lost another dog on the trail. He was the only finisher that year, and by default the winner, but there was no joy in it. Of the four other teams who had left the final waystation a week earlier, he was the only survivor. Three of those mushers had been long time friends. In all, he lost nine dogs, four toes, three fingers, parts of his ears, and a piece of his nose to the cold. In true Alyeskan fashion, the racing committee held him accountable for his actions and he was banned from racing for life. He was penalized not for risking his own safety, but rather that of his dogs. He spent a week in the hospital only to learn that they lacked full cosmetic regeneration facilities; he would have to return to Wasilla in order to grow back the missing body parts. And, just to add insult to injury, he missed the Trapper’s Ball and they had to mail him his trophy – though that was probably for the best, since the Ball was a fairly grim event that year.

Afterward, alone, swaddled in bandages and a little drunk, standing in the middle of Main Street at four o’clock in the frigid arctic morning, he had looked up at the hard, unblinking stars and felt unaccountable wonder.

“Son of a bitch,” he whispered to himself. “I’m alive. I made it. I made it. Son of a bitch!”

Ten decades and four light years later, Henry Stonekettle stood once again alone, crippled and freezing, beneath those self same stars and squinted unbelieving at a glowing line of diamond blue fire in the sky. It was a violet spear, tens of miles long and so bright that it cast shadows on the snow hundreds of miles below.

It was a blazing beacon in the heavens that could only be the plasma plume of a large fusion-powered spacecraft.

After twenty years castaway, salvation was at hand.

“I’m alive,” Henry Stonekettle shouted at the stars. “I made it. Son. Of. A.