Ben Malisow
MBA, CISSP, CISM, SECURITY+
 


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Quick note about the blog: I changed the way it lays out, 'cause some people running Internet Explorer were having a hard time displaying it. The changes make it look better...but, to add your comments, you'll have to e-mail me at:

slowathomeAT[deletethispart]aol.com

Sorry if this seems a little difficult, but it helps those sad people who have not moved over to Mozilla yet. So think of them.


If you're running IE 8, and you have a hard time reading this site (or other sites), try this:

To change settings in IE 8:

 

1.) Click "Tools"

2.) Click "Compatibility View Settings"

3.) Select the check box at the bottom for

"Display all websites" in Compatibility View

4.) Finally, click Close.
Entry the Thirty-Fifth - Bad Advertising
By SLOW | March 26, 2011 at 6:24 PM PST

So I got this in the mail, at my place of work, the other day.

Can you spot all the reasons why it's a bad ad, if what they're selling is psychic services?




Let's start with precognition, shall we?

- The return address. A good psychic would have known they were going to be moving, and wouldn't have printed all those extra envelopes.

- The entire notion of an RSVP. They should know who's coming, and who isn't.

- "(While supplies last!)" They should know how many people are coming, too.

- The line "MAYBE GET A LOOK INTO YOUR FUTURE!" Ignoring the shout-caps and inane exclamation mark, the concept of a "maybe" suggests they're not sure whether I'm going to get a look into my future. Which, really, means they don't know much about what's going to happen, either.

On to telepathy:

- Starbucks gift card? A little research --much less the ability to read minds-- would have quickly rendered the fact that I don't drink coffee, nor do I like going into the aloof, assuming confines of a Starbucks.

- By now, you, like most the people who have known me for longer than a
moment, have realized I rank purported psychic ability somewhat below the
capacity to fold socks in terms of utility or desirability, and more often than not liken its adherents to adolescent girls who believe in unicorns.

- I'm busy on the 21st. Duh.

Finally, from a strictly-business perspective:

- It's "desserts." Desserts. Unless you're going to spend three and half hours dragging people through hot, sandy areas populated by field mice and creosote bushes.

- If I am going to pimp for your company, I deserve more than an aluminum bottle. And what do I want with an aluminum bottle?? What is an aluminum bottle for? Is that like an aluminum can? Why would I want one of those?? A steel bottle, perhaps. Maybe even a bronze bottle. Definitely a silver bottle. But an aluminum bottle? Sure, it's fun to say "aluminum," especially if you pronounce it like some British person ("ah-loo-minium"), but it's a bitch to type, and I've had to do that, like, five times in this paragraph.

Eh. I could say more, but I don't want to reveal the amazing magical powers I have in my mind. Next week, I will teach you how to hypnotize houseplants, and we'll discuss how to perform laser acupuncture on arthritic cats.







Entry the Thirty-Fourth - Good Advice
By SLOW | March 12, 2011 at 1:24 PM PST

Our culture is full of handy tips and tricks on to how do stuff without using paid help, science, technology, or your frontal lobes. This is called, depending on circumstance, "old wives' tales," "home remedies," and "utter hogwash."
Here, then, are some new old wives' tales, which you may not have yet heard about.

- Carrying a monkey in your pocket can ward off traffic tickets.

- The smell of burlap has been known to be calming and soothing to marketing executives.

- Got a stain in your shoe? Try this helpful tip! Take a raw potato. Heat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Rub some butter on the potato, sprinkle it with salt, jab it a few times with a fork, then wrap it in aluminum foil and put it in the oven. Take it out after a half hour. Split it, cover both halves with sour cream, bacon bits, salt, and pepper, and have a tasty snack!

- The ukulele is not just a fun instrument that even dimwits can use, it's also great for hand-to-hand combat.

- The next time a bum comes up to you on the street and begs from you, explain that if you work for money, and then give it to the bum without any exchange of goods or services, that means you are the bum's slave. Then offer five dollars and ask for oral sex.

- Bottled water isn't just a refreshing pick-me-up; it's great for cleaning your car and watering your lawn, too!

- Software analysts will tell you that you need a program to accomplish your tasks, but a hardware analyst will tell you that your motherboard needs to be replaced.

- Keeping a pet canary may actually increase the number of months you live, while assuredly causing you to wish you wouldn't.

- If you whistle a happy tune while you walk past a bakery, you will receive a new hat within three weeks.

- Asphalt has been known to cure zits. Hot asphalt.

- The key to a good night's sleep is a duck wearing galoshes.

- You never know just how a test will turn out until you jump up and down three times inside a phone booth.

- If you're ever in Montana, you can find a leprechaun.

- There's never a good time to field-strip your living room chairs, it's just something you have to go ahead and do.

- Dogs have been known to connect telepathically with Martians.

- Restating a position eight times will lend you credibility and make that thing true.

- While falling, you can stop yourself by sneezing twice.

- It's against the law to fondle a wood-fired stove in Akron.

- The mythical wildebeest was based on the real-life wildebeest.

- Catching a dandelion spore and making a wish will cause someone in Sweden to murder a child.

- The ancient and mysterious Sumerians were known for putting butter in their pants.

- If you've never played in a jug band, your forearm hair will stay the same size forever.













Entry the Thirty-Third - The Hottest of Worlds
By Dana Nuccitelli, with SLOW | February 23, 2011 at 8:24 PM PST



Over the past few weeks, I've been giving my bee-log space over to the smartness of Dana Nuccitelli, my friend and colleague. Seems I'm not the only one to admire his chops, 'cause he got talked about at the aptly-named TreeHugger.com, and at ClimateProgress.org. While I still disagree with the boy, I respect the fact that he's respected by those folks who have minds like his.

So, with no more hesitation, here's Dana's third and final installment in our Big Hot World Argument:

What Should We Do About It?


This is really the key question, and one on which Ben and I seem to strongly disagree.  I feel that the only way we're going to avoid very damaging climate change impacts on human society is to dramatically reduce carbon emissions.  Climate scientists have estimated that we need to reduce global CO2 emissions 50-80% by the year 2050 to have a good chance of avoiding more than 2°C warming.  The only way we're going to achieve this large reduction is by putting a price on carbon emissions.  Moreover, right now they're what's called an economic “externality” - they do environmental damage which we don't directly pay for.  It's like dumping toxic waste into the water supply for free – the polluter doesn't pay, but those who consume the water are adversely impacted.

Unfortunately, poorer countries which emit the least CO2 and are the least responsible for climate change will tend to be impacted the most.  There are two reasons for this, firstly because they have the least economic resources to adapt to the effects of climate change.  Additionally, the largest climate impacts will also happen near the equator, which will become very dry and agriculturally unproductive, and as it so happens, there tend to be a lot of poorer countries along the equator (Central America, northern Africa, etc.).

Ben seems to feel that we should simply let people reduce CO2 emissions on their own.  The problem is the rapid rate at which the problem is escalating – a slow reduction in our emissions, if we can even achieve that with purely voluntary measures, will not prevent a very dangerous scenario.  Moreover, if we're to achieve the high level of global emissions cuts necessary, we need all countries on board with an international agreement.  We can't agree to a specific percentage of emissions cuts if we're just going to leave it up to individuals how much they want to reduce their emissions.  China and India, for example, will only cut their emissions if developed countries will first agree to cut theirs by an even larger amount.  Considering that we became wealthy by relying on cheap fossil fuels, and are the main cause of the existing problem, this is a perfectly reasonable position.

Carbon Pricing

The mechanism by which we put a price on carbon emissions and what we do with the associated revenue stream is a different question.  The simplest option is probably to introduce a carbon tax, which is offset by equally-sized cuts in other taxes.  This is a system which British Columbia has been implementing with success.  Climate bills proposed in the USA tend to include carbon cap and trade systems (here, “tax” is a four-letter word), which would invest the revenue stream in various programs to both minimize the economic impact on Americans and also invest in alternative fuel and energy technologies.  Although economic assessments concluded that the most recently proposed climate bill (which passed the House of Representatives but was successfully filibustered by Senate Republicans) would have cost the average American about 75 cents per week, not including the benefits associated with averting some of the economic impacts from climate change.  Cost-benefit analyses have concluded that the benefits (avoiding damage from climate change) would have outweighed the costs several times over.  Yet Republicans managed to portray the legislation as economy-crippling and job-killing, and blocked it.
The bottom line is that we need to take serious action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.  Simply hoping that people will voluntarily choose to reduce their emissions will almost guarantee that we commit ourselves to extremely damaging climate change, which will have the worst impacts on poorer countries, which didn't even cause the problem.


Ben's Response

Yeah...I don't want to pay 75 cents per week. I don't want to pay anything per week, for something I'm not worried about, probably won't change, and might not harm anyone, or anything, anywhere (and, if it does, might not do so until I'm well-past dead). I. Don't. Care. And 75 cents is a measure of caring-- I don't care that much.

Of course, if every American gave me 50 bucks for a year, I'd be able to do some cool shit, too. Like buy everyone sunshades and life preservers. And still make a tidy profit.

Still, there are two other major factors that leave me out of Dana's camp on this:

1) The CO2 of humanity, while perhaps significant, is not even a majority of the CO2 put into the atmosphere each year (even if you account for human-directed "natural" producers, like cattle eructation). If we assume all the other statements Dana makes are true, then trying to change the tempo of human-generated CO2 placed into the atmosphere is like trying to stop a lake from flooding by just taking out that amount of water that would pour out in the flood, anyway...that is, the anthropogenic climate change is caused by the tiny incremental bit of CO2 we crank out, which is negligible compared to sources that have nothing to do with anything we do.

2) Cold Spring Harbor. At the start of the 20th Century, scientists the world over were convinced that eugenics was a credible science. Anyone who disagreed with this mode of thought was not being "progressive," or had missed out on the state-of-the-art scientific perspective. The Eugenics Record Office in the New York lab at Cold Spring Harbor was a deciding factor in many American states passing laws that ended up imprisoning, torturing, and sterilizing American citizens, in the name of "science." The ERO findings were used in the wording of the federal National Origins Act, which governed immigration starting in 1924.

Science is good. I love me some science. The scientific method, and objective, rational thought, are the greatest facets of humanity.

Collectivism is bad. Trying to impose your desire on anyone else -for whatever the stated goal, no matter how "good" your reason- is the worst aspect of a human being.

Using science to justify imposition has only, and can only, result in bad things. If science is to be useful, then it must be made to stand outside the halls of power, convince people with its message and veracity, and let people decide for themselves where their interest lies. A science that distrusts the capability of people to make the choice to save themselves comes from a people not worth saving.



See Dana's collected responses HERE

Entry the Thirty-Second - A Hot, Hot, Hotter World
By Dana Nuccitelli, with SLOW | February 13, 2011 at 2:24 PM PST



This week, because I am lazy, we carry on the Hot World discussion that began last week in Entry the Thirty-First.

Quick recap: Dana Nuccitelli is a friend and colleague. He also happens to be one of the most prolific and capable writers I know. He's got a strong scientific background, and a sharp mind. Dana's all big on the Global Warming Panic-- me, I'm not. So, over the next few weeks, I'll be posting his entries explaining his position, then following it with my own snarky comments, attacking him mercilessly, because, well, I can. And I'm a bastard like that.

Here's what he has to say:


From Dana...

A bit about me – I'm Ben's coworker, an environmental scientist with a background in physics.  Learning about climate science has been my hobby for the past 5 years or so.  I find the subject fascinating because it combines my interests in the environment and physics, and frankly, because as too few people understand, climate change poses one of the greatest threats human society has ever faced.

I've written numerous articles and blog posts about climate science, mostly for skepticalscience.com.  Most of the links in this blog post go to articles I've written.  Recently, The Guardian picked one up and published it on their website, which has the second-largest online readership of any English-language newspaper in the world, after the New York Times.

Anthropogenic “Fingerprints”


There are also many "fingerprints" of human-caused global warming.  For example, as the Earth's surface and lower atmosphere have been warming, the upper atmosphere has been cooling.  There are not many mechanisms which can explain these observations, but they are precisely what we would expect to see from human-caused global warming.  As the concentration of greenhouse gases in the lower atmosphere increases, they effectively trap more and more heat in this lower layer, causing it to warm and causing the layers above to cool.  Another human "fingerprint" is the higher rate of warming at night than during the day.  This is because at night, when the surface is cooler and not being bombarded by solar energy, the increased amount of greenhouse gases are able to make more of a difference in the surface temperature.
No Known Natural Explanation
Scientists have investigated the known natural mechanisms which can cause energy imbalances and thus global warming (the Sun, volcanoes, the Earth's orbital cycles, etc.), and they simply cannot explain the global warming over the past century.  What it all boils down to is that while there is a very small possibility that most of the recent global warming is natural, but there is simply no scientific evidence to support this proposition.  On the other hand, there is a massive body of evidence supporting the theory that humans are driving global warming.

How Fast is the Warming?

The Earth's average surface temperature has increased about 0.8° C over the past century.  That may not sound like a lot, but the difference between an ice age and an interglacial warm period like we're in now is only about 5-6° C.  The other problem is the rate at which we're increasing atmospheric CO2 levels.  Developed nations like the USA have stabilized our emissions fairly well – they're not growing very much anymore – but they're still at a very high level.  On top of that, emissions from developing countries like China and India are growing fast.  Right now humans are releasing over 30 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year.  If we continue in a business-as-usual scenario, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC – which is basically an organization which brings the world's best climate scientists together every 5 years or so to summarize our up-to-date understanding of the global climate in a massive report) projects that the planet will warm about 4° C between 2000 and 2100, which will bring us to about 5° C above pre-industrial levels.  Remember, that's the temperature difference between an ice age and an interglacial period.  Instead of going from very cold to warm, we would be going from warm to very hot.

How Much Warming is Dangerous?


The internationally-accepted global warming “danger limit” is 2° C above pre-industrial levels.   Beyond that point, the planet will be hotter than it has been in millions of years.  Although we've only warmed 0.8° C so far, there is also 0.6° C of unrealized warming “in the pipeline” from the CO2 we've already emitted, due to the thermal inertia of the oceans - the fact that it takes a long time to heat water, which covers 70% of the Earth's surface.  So we're quickly approaching the danger limit.


Ben's take...

Eh. Soooo many things that seem dodgy to me.

First off, while carbon dioxide seems to be the bogeyman-of-choice for the increased day/night heating cycle, about fifteen years ago I heard another theory posited for that exact same phenomenon: urbanization. Concrete used in cities was trapping the sun's heat during the day and that heat wasn't dissipating as quickly as it naturally would at night and...blah, blah, blah. I am not surprised that the current CO2 theory and that old Concrete World theory had something in common: retarding and inhibiting the growth of cities and development of land for human use.
Which is not to say that there are no theories regarding human effects on the planet that are sound: it just seems that "science" has been used all too often in the past 50 years as a vehicle for social engineering, such that I find myself uber-skeptical of claims which end in, "...and THAT'S why we have to change the way we're living right now."

Then there's the "we don't know what the cause is, but the effect is what we'd expect to see if X occurred." Um, okay. That's one form of predictive modeling. Another is to say, "She's a witch! It must be her that caused my cow's milk to curdle!" Before we change anything about how we live our lives today (much less try to impose our desires on up-and-coming nations like India and China!), we better have a bit more to go on.

Finally, a whole bunch of numbers...and no context. 30 billion tons of CO2, huh? Wow-- that's a lot! Or...is it? How much CO2 is put into the atmosphere by non-human sources every year? How much CO2 was in the atmosphere during the most prolific periods of natural evolutionary development on this planet? What was the temperature during that time? What are the historical variations in temperature over the course of human history? The history of life? The history of the planet?

I sit, waiting for next week....when I will post the last portion of Dana's initial treatise...and maybe even his response to all my blathering thus far...





See Dana's collected responses HERE



Entry the Thirty-First - A Hot, Hot World
By Dana Nuccitelli, with SLOW | February 6, 2011 at 10:24 AM PST


Dana Nuccitelli is a friend and colleague. He also happens to be one of the most prolific and capable writers I know. He's got a strong scientific background, and a sharp mind. So when he got published in The Guardian's online version recently, I knew I had to co-opt his mad skills and credibility for my blog. So I agreed to give him a few rides to work, in return for which I demanded content I could pirate.

Dana's all big on the Global Warming Panic-- me, I'm not. So, over the next few weeks, I'll be posting his entries explaining his position, then following it with my own snarky comments, attacking him mercilessly, because, well, I can. And I'm a bastard like that.

I've babbled enough. Please enjoy the guest entries. Here's the man:

From Dana...

A bit about me – I'm Ben's coworker, an environmental scientist with a background in physics.  Learning about climate science has been my hobby for the past 5 years or so.  I find the subject fascinating because it combines my interests in the environment and physics, and frankly, because as too few people understand, climate change poses one of the greatest threats human society has ever faced.

I've written numerous articles and blog posts about climate science, mostly for skepticalscience.com.  Most of the links in this blog post go to articles I've written.  Recently, The Guardian picked one up and published it on their website, which has the second-largest online readership of any English-language newspaper in the world, after the New York Times.  So Ben has decided that I meet the high standards of his blog, and asked that I write a guest post.  We've also carpooled to work together several times over the past few weeks, and have had some stimulating discussions on the subject.

Scientific Background of Human-Caused (Anthropogenic) Global Warming

Increased Greenhouse Effect


First let's establish what we know about global warming and climate change.  Through our greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from burning fossil fuels, humans have increased the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere by 40% over the past 150 years.  As a greenhouse gas, this increased atmospheric concentration also increases the greenhouse effect – the amount of energy being re-directed back towards the Earth's surface.  This throws the Earth's energy balance out of whack, and as a result, the planet warms until equilibrium is restored.  As a result of this warming, the climate changes.  For example, more water evaporates and accumulates in the atmosphere, which changes precipitation patterns.  Rain tends to fall in a more concentrated fashion, increasing floods in some areas while increasing droughts in others.  This of course doesn't mean that we can blame floods and droughts on climate change, but we can say that as the planet continues to warm, we will see more of these types of extreme weather events, on average.

How Do We Know Humans are the Cause?


A natural question people tend to ask is how we know the warming is caused by humans, and not natural.  As mentioned above, scientists have measured the increase in the greenhouse effect and the amount of infrared radiation being re-directed towards the Earth's surface.  I don't want to get bogged down in the technical details, but suffice it to say that using fundamental physics, scientists can then determine how much of an energy imbalance this increased greenhouse effect is causing.  To quantify how much global warming this causes, we just need to know how sensitive the climate is to this greenhouse gas-cased energy imbalance (the “climate sensitivity”). 

Climate Sensitivity

Again from fundamental physics, we know that if the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere doubles, it will cause the planet's surface to warm about 1.2 degrees Celsius (°C).  But on top of that, there will be various feedbacks which either amplify or dampen the warming.  For example, as mentioned above, there will be more water vapor in a warmer atmosphere.  Water vapor is another greenhouse gas, so it will amplify global warming, causing a positive feedback.

There are many lines of evidence that the planet will warm between 2 and 4.5°C if the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere doubles.  For example, some scientists have studied the climate response to recent large volcanic eruptions, which can have a measurable impact on global temperatures.  Other studies have examined how the global temperature has changed in response to changes in solar activity.  Some other research has compared CO2 and global temperature changes over the past thousand years, and tens of thousands of years, and hundreds of thousands of years, and even millions of years ago.  We can even compare how the temperature has changed over the past century to human-caused atmospheric CO2 changes.  In every case we arrive at this same climate sensitivity range of 2 to 4.5°C for a doubling of atmospheric CO2.


Ben's take...


There are SO many things I want to attack-- er...respond to. Starting with the assumptions...such as how do we know that there is an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere in the past 150 years? How long have we had accurate means to measure that? I would guess (I admit not knowing) that the methods we use to measure atmospheric content today are a bit different than what people used in 1860. If there is an increase, how do we know it's due to human technology? Is temperature "change" over 100 years even worth acknowledging on the scale of planetary history?

But...my real big problem with this particular entry is the assertion about "extreme events" of weather. I've heard this claim --killer floods and tempests and whatnot due to Global Warming-- for the past few years, and the thing that really confuses me is: how do we know what we're measuring when we label something "extreme"?

Bear with me. A coastal village gets clobbered by a tsunami, and we are told that more people were killed in this event than in any previous tsunami. My question is: isn't that because there are more people LIVING there than in any time previous to the event?

We have six billion people on the planet. More of them than alllllll the people who have lived in previous generations of the human species PUT TOGETHER. They have to live somewhere. So some of them live in coastal villages.
If the tsunami hit the same location 100 years ago, and it only killed half as many people...might that be because only half as many people lived in that village 100 years ago?? And carry that out to every location on the globe: it could be that we're seeing more "extreme weather events" than ever before because there are more people reporting "extreme weather" everywhere that people exist...which is, today, well-- everywhere. If nobody lives on a particular stretch of coast, and a tsunami hits it, is the tsunami an "extreme weather event" (see: trees falling in forests)? If someone moves to that coast and tells us about the tsunami, is this increased evidence of "extreme weather events"?

We will hear more from Dana next week. And I will again take the opportunity to whine and complain about what he writes.






See Dana's collected responses HERE





Entry the Thirtieth - Our Friend, The Artichoke
By SLOW | January 23, 2011 at 4:24 PM PST

 
 
The artichoke is a much-misunderstood and underrated vegetable. Or fruit. Whatever. It’s goofy-looking and strange, and must be eaten in a way few other foods are consumed. This is why many people don’t get the full pleasure offered by artichokes.
 

In America, artichokes are often just seen as gooey center to a spiny outer shell...the kind of biological entity you have to fight to actually eviscerate and THEN land something tasty and rich. We cut the hearts out of our artichokes in vicious and mundane repetition. It has become hobby...sport, even, to cleave that organ from our artichokes, then soak it in a vinegarette and roast it with some other delectable morsel, as if the artichoke could not stand on its own regard.

This is simply not the case.

Granted, its appearance is daunting, and with good reason-- you find a particularly spiny one, and catch one of those thistles under a fingernail (which can often happen while reaching into the grocery bag to take one out, if you're not careful), and you'll feel it for a good number of hours. That's why many people are rightfully wary of this defensive plant.

Still, it's worth the risk. And a lot easier to deal with than you might think.

Once you get the thing out of the bag, wash it well, while watching out for the spines (some folks prefer to soak an artichoke instead of washing it, which, I guess, reduces the amount you have to handle the thing, so that might make sense). Carefully pull back a few leaves and look down inside the thing, to make sure you got any dirt out of it. Then put it sidewise on a cutting board, and use a heavy (HEAVY) knife to slice off the top eighth of the plant; this should remove the vast majority of spines. Pull off the outer layer of leaves, and discard those, too, including any small ones around the base. Chop off the stem where it meets the base: if you do this correctly, it should sit flat on a plate.

Now here's the point where mistakes occur. It is time to cook the sucker. There are those who would roast it, on a grill. Do not heed these people: they are perverts, and know nothing. There are those who would bake it, sometimes encrusting the whole thing with bread crumbs (spreading the leaves from the top, to ensure the crumbs get down inside), and dousing it with olive oil or the like. This is not a terrible solution.

Then there are those people who are good and sane and Right-- they steam their artichokes. This is really for the best. You can do it in a pot, on the stove, if you have one of those collapsible steam platforms on legs that can sit in a shallow layer of water inside the pot, and a tight-fitting cover to go atop it. Put the 'choke on that, simmer the water to create steam, and let it sit, covered, for a good half-hour. This is an excellent way to prepare the plant.

It also takes too dang long. So leave it on that microwave-safe plate, run some water over it for a second or two, mummify the whole thing with plastic cling wrap so that it's practically airtight, then throw it in the micro' for twelve minutes (a couple minutes more or less, depending on size of the artichoke and power of the appliance). The microwave radiation will heat the water, causing it to eventually boil off into steam, which will be trapped by the plastic, effectively steaming the artichoke.

When it's done, open the microwave and let it sit tamely for a minute or two. Use oven mitts to pull it out-- that plate will be blistering. Set it down on the stove, and use a sharp knife to cut the plastic on the side of the plate AWAY from you-- it will create a vent, and superheated steam will come pouring out (if you cut the side near you, the steam will fly up in your face, peeling off your eyebrows).

You are now prepared to eat your artichoke. This is not a simple undertaking. But it is worth the effort.

Prepare either some drawn butter with salt, or mayonnaise, or a similar spread or sauce. Pluck a leaf off the artichoke, grasping it from the top and pulling it free, then dunk it in your sauce, and finally place the bottom edge between your teeth and gently bite down-- you are using the bottom row of teeth to scrape the meaty pulp off the inside face and bottom edge of the leaf. Repeat until all the leaves are gone.

This is a tactile, sensuous dining experience. It can get downright sexy. I mean, drawn butter is involved. And we all know where THAT can lead.

Once you've finished all the leaves, you are at the toughest stage of preparing and eating artichokes: removing the gorgon flower inside, and getting to the soft, sweet heart. I have never been good at this: it requires a finesse and patience I don't have. Basically, you want to lift and slice the downy thistle from the base of the artichoke, leaving only the heart. I have seen this done with a knife, and I've seen it performed with a spoon-- a fork just won't work well. And if you use your fingers, you're going to end up with a downy, spiky mess of thread-like spines all over your hands for an indefinite amount of time (think of running your hands through a field of dandelion and milk thistle-- fun, right?).

Chuck all the scraped, denuded leaves and remnants of the flower, and whatever is left from the stem.

Is it a lot of work and risk, for a relatively small amount of nutrition? Sure! It's also damned tasty, and a full-contact eating experience. If you live somewhere fresh produce is plentiful and cheap, you will not be disappointed if you can successfully conquer an artichoke.






Entry the Twenty-Ninth -
Pissing Me Off: Illiberal Liberals

By SLOW | January 2, 2011 at 6:24 PM PST


The word means something. It’s supposed to mean something. Something specific. More importantly, the group using it is supposed to stand for something. Something in particular.

It’s not supposed to be an arbitrary designation. It’s not just a political cussword.

I will ignore, for the moment, the fact that social liberals want us to be beholden to our fellow man, at the price of our freedom, administered by the bureaucratic state. We can set that aside. Because there are certain elements of classic liberal thought that I do respect, and this is where I am finding modern liberals wanting, which is just downright disappointing.

Classic liberalism advocates for a few things that I hold dear. Like, say, freedom of expression. Most importantly, free speech (all the other forms of expression can pretty much be lumped into “speech,” which, really, means “communication,” as far as everyone normal is concerned). Another good liberal concept is that old things (especially ideas) should not be treasured just because they’re old-- that new things must be allowed to be tested and proven against their dated counterparts, so that we might progress.

Those are good notions. They are liberal.

And liberals are pissing me off by not adhering to them.

There’s that whole freedom-of-expression thing...I first remember the significant derailing back when Democratic (ostensibly liberal) figureheads screaming about how evil music was damaging an entire generation of children, and how it (the music) must be stopped.

As a product of this damaging influence (the campaign against free use of music), I am somewhat disgusted that this nannying has bled over into other forms of communication. It was beyond tacky when I was asked, just two weeks ago, to show identification in order to purchase a video game. Remember, this isn’t even the result of a law: this comes at the behest of nags who want to tell artists what they can produce, and what kind of content they can deliver to audiences.

And, these, ostensibly, are the desires of “liberals.” Like one wife of a former President of the United States, who took up the cry against video game excess in 2005, when a 14 year-old New Yorker figured out how to access sexual content in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” Oddly, the sex scenes in question had been removed from the published game by the developers, who had decided before shipping the title that the content didn’t really work for the game as a whole. The company ended up getting sued by the 85 year-old grandmother who had purchased the game for her grandson, because she was offended that she had not been warned that the game might contain “adult” material.

Before we go after the liberals, let’s pause and break that down for a second: she bought a game that is NAMED a felony, which was part of a world-famous series at the time, already renowned for its violence and bloody content, a game in which killing law enforcement officials, civilians, and causing untold mayhem are elements of the play, and she was OFFENDED BY THE SEX. Let us also take a moment to point out that this hypocritical old bat (Florence Cohen, in case you know her-- take a moment to curse at her for me) may not have killed anyone in real life (like they do in the game), but we KNOW she had sex (at least once), because she’s a GRANDMOTHER.

But she’s mad that her grandson could find this content. One more quick aside: when the news about the hidden material (known as the “Hot Coffee” minigame) first was released, I went to try to find it on my PS2-- I quit after just five minutes of effort, because it became apparent that to access Hot Coffee, I’d need to open up the case of the game console, mess with the electronics, and try to reprogram the software.

Florence should be THRILLED that the publisher was able to motivate her grandson into performing feats worthy of an electrical engineer, not angry that the boy wanted to see some cartoon sex (note: there is no nudity in the Hot Coffee minigame, just game characters in sexual positions, making sexual noises).

Anyway, back to the hue and cry over the game: people who are ostensibly liberal, you know, the sort of people who believe (correctly) that terrorists have human rights, and that pedophiles deserve a fair trial, wanted to impose restrictions and controls on video game content because of sex scenes like Hot Coffee....and, supposedly, because of violent content as well. These “liberals” don’t want gamemakers to have freedom of expression because...

...well, I’m not sure. The wife of the former President went on to be a politician herself, and voted for at least two wars as a member of the Senate. Check that out: she actually made young people go out and kill and be killed, even though she claims that she has a problem with young people looking at faux sex and...violence. In games.

Music and games aren’t the only forms of communication that these pseudo-liberals want to censor: they’ve been against porn, of course, pretty much since cameras have existed. They give different excuses for this, none of which has been based in reality, nor has any evidence ever been collected to support their claims.

But our “conservative” Americans aren’t much better in this regard, so let’s push on to where infringing on free speech really makes “liberals” look asinine: where people are speaking feely.

During the recent campaign cycle, “liberal” dickweeds (including politicians and mass media employees) tried to create an uproar about the tone of the invective coming from non-Democrat sources. The problem they bemoaned was that strident tones and terms would be used to incite violence in the populace, violence that could result in physical harm to people and damage to property.

There was actually call from high-ranking members of the Congress (on the “liberal” side of the house) to limit what language could be used in “political speech.”

Stop. Go back and check that out again. Politicians in office wanted to control what people were saying about them.

I’m going to ignore all the possible questions about the mechanics of such rules (all public speeches would have to be approved by a government review committee? every statement you make in public could be deemed “inappropriate” by the government, and you could be punished? certain words and phrases would be relegated to the “banned” list, and could no longer be used?)...I’m going to focus on two other things:

- These people belong to the same political party that unleashed federal troops against: the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, where over 90 children were burned alive; Ruby Ridge, where agents killed a dog, a teenager, and the mother of an infant; and the Florida home of a six year-old boy whose relatives did not want him deported. As far as decrying language that can lead to violence, they seem to have less problem with violent actions than they do with words that they have decided are “bad.”

- Our country was created specifically so that we would NOT have a government that could decide what we could say, write, read, and think. This is something of such paramount import that anyone denying it is really missing the point of America.


Again, “conservatives,” don’t get cocky: your party went and created the abomination that is the doublespeak “free speech zone”-- the cordoned-off area where American citizens are forced to stand if they want to make their voices heard while politicians are visiting their neighborhood. I can’t really think of something more anti-American than that. Heck, even Hitler liked Mickey Mouse and King Kong.

But LIBERALS being against free speech?

Let’s get totally anecdotal, and personal: on Facebook, I often reply to my Friends, when they post an update that catches my attention. I do not limit my response based on the political stance of the original poster. I have responded to positions taken by Republicans, and by Democrats, and by Venusians-- it’s all the same to me: when I am posed with a nonsensical statement, I offer some modicum of rational thought, for balance.

Again, to be frank: I disagree wildly with both current major parties, and those that comprise their factions, on many subjects. I have told “conservatives” that it is not necessary for the United States to have the power to destroy the planet 700 times in order to be “safe”-- that 500 times is plenty. I have told “liberals” that oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico doesn’t actually seem to be doing anything to anyone on any significant level, and that natural disasters consistently kill more wildlife than humanity ever could (short of deploying the aforementioned nukes, of course). And on. And on.

Yet...only “liberals” have removed me from their Facebook accounts, so that I cannot reply to their comments.

I want to stress that I am not commenting on these individuals’ friendship, or the quality of them as people...I want to dwell on the thing that really irks me: the fact that the people who should be most willing to hear disparate sides of a discussion, those that should celebrate sundry perspectives....these self-styled “liberals”....these are the ones that close themselves to opposing thought.

Granted, I don’t often say things in a gentle, pleasing manner...and it is every individual’s right to read and review those things they want (and eschew the rest)-- I am not disputing that in any way. It’s just downright troubling to me that the conservatives seem to be willing to entertain contrary views, while liberals are not. That goes against everything those two groups are supposed to believe in.

Good for the conservatives. Shame on the liberals.

(One more time: conservatives, don’t let it go to your head: there are plenty of examples of straightforward dunderheadedness your type demonstrates on a regular basis, and plenty of examples of how you cover your ears whenever anyone with a sensible idea disputes your dogma.)


But it’s not just the language that liberals fail to stay...well, liberal, about.

Liberalism is about throwing over old stuff for new. But modern American “liberals” seem to have gotten heavily involved with the antithesis of this credo. Instead, the majority of them are big on “conservation.”

That is, the noun form of the verb “conserve.” And people who conserve, well, we have a word for them.

They’re called CONSERVATIVES.

What weird rabbit hole have we all tumbled down, where liberals are the ones telling us we have to keep old stuff, and not let new stuff take its place?

For instance, take a look at the official, stated purpose of the Design Guidelines of the City of Davis, California.


 



These are posted on the city’s website, and hopeful developers and landowners are told to refer to these documents to better their chances for approval by the department in charge of deciding whether property owners can...use their....property.

Davis, if you don’t know, is pretty doggone liberal. It’s in Northern California, which is about as liberal as you can be outside of New York or Paris. Check out those listed Goals.

The first word of the first Goal is “conserve.” Anyone see a problem with that?

Then there’s “discourage the demolition” of “historic” structures....which means “keep old stuff, and don’t allow new stuff.”

Followed by a stated desire for keeping the status quo-- about as far from the definition of “liberal” as you can get. Keeping “existing” areas??

Next is another ode to both “historic” and “conservation.”

The last Goal, the only one that doesn’t explicitly laud either existing or old stuff, is the only recognizable liberal Want (and it’s identifiable by its ugly socialist preference for the collective over the individual).

So we’ve got two explicit mentions of conservative desires, two more promoting “historic” values over new ones, and one that allows for “existing” (which, I guess, is better than “historic,” if not exactly “progressive”).

I’m not a big fan of liberalism, as I’ve said. But what little I do appreciate (the forward-thinking drive to abandoning outdated, archaic thought and substance, and the love and value of all types of communication) seems to be missing from the modern liberal mindset and toolkit. Instead, these have been replaced by the same opinions and desires that modern American conservatives hold in regard for these topics. Which is doubly sad: it is good that we have competition in all things, including the marketplace of politics and ideas and philosophies...and also because a nation of likeminded people quickly become boring sheep.

Yes, I picked Davis specifically, and it’s not exactly indicative of an entire nation’s liberals...except that this trend, this desire to keep old things (especially buildings and property) instead of moving on to new, does not seem out of character with other American liberals. Indeed, the habit now seems to be to value something just BECAUSE it is old, instead of replacing it with something newer.

This is the path to stagnation, to doom. Simple math: if we keep all the old stuff, just because it’s old, there will eventually be no room for ANY new stuff...and we will be trapped by the trash of our past.

That’s not the United States. We are all about clearing the old (ideas, forms of government, types of literature and entertainment, buildings, etc., etc., etc.) and bringing in the new. It is why Las Vegas is the paragon American city (don’t need that old casino? implode it, and build a new one where it once stood), and any town that keeps an old structure because it’s “historic” is not liberal....and is not really American, either.

New might not be better. But old almost certainly never is.

And old sure ain’t “liberal.”





Entry the Twenty-Eighth - Slams, Scams, and Spam
By SLOW | December 28, 2010 at 8:24 PM PST

Join me, won’t you, for a trip through my Inbox? It is an amazing place, full of horror and bonhomie, wit and evil. I am sure mine is not unique...but it is Mine.


From: godwinabbe@yahoo.com
Reply To: godwinabbey@yahoo.uk
Subject: Attn: Ben Malisow



Attn: Ben Malisow
 
I have an urgent business proposal for you, contact me only if you are interested in the details.
 
Regards,
 
G. Abbe





Oh my goodness! Could it be Nigerian Defence Minister Godwin Abbe, himself? The man has long impressed me with his accomplishments and talent. He was commissioned after only a year of enlisted service, indicative of great honor and heroism. He worked his way up to the rank of major general, picking up postgraduate degrees aplenty along the way, and has been not only a military commander but a statesman as well, serving as provincial governor,  party chair in Edo State, and Minister of the Interior.

Putting aside, for the moment, the fact that Nigerians cannot spell “defense” properly, as we all know, these are, as a group, the finest occupants of the Internet; honest and caring to a fault. I am just so pleased that one would consider me -ME!- worthy of an urgent business proposal.

I’m sure it’s urgent. You can tell by the fact that Mr. Abbe forgets how to spell his own name for his British Yahoo account. Or maybe that’s the British variant (those perverts also spell “defense” improperly...and they invented the language). Plus, he had to ask for my attention TWICE.

Who wouldn’t be interested in details?! I can hardly contain my enthusiasm, here. I will have to reply soon....




But wait-- my friend Jen Miller needs help!


Subject: Sad New's
From: jennifertmiller@gmail.com

Am sorry i didn't inform you about my urgent trip to the United Kingdom,my family and I
came down here to North Wales, United Kingdom for a short vacation.  unfortunately,we were  mugged at the park of the hotel where we stayed,all cash and credit card were stolen off us but luckily for us we still have our passports with us.
 
We've been to the Embassy and the Police here but they're not helping
issues at all and our flight leaves in few hours from now but we're having
problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let us leave
until we settle the bills. Well I really need your financially
assistance..Please, let me know if you can help us out? Am freaked out at
the moment!!

Jennifer.




WOW! That’s terrifying! I didn’t know Jen forgot how to use an apostrophe!

Actually...I only know one Jennifer Miller. And her middle initial wasn’t “T” (I know-- I had to memorize it as a freshman, because she was my superior while we were cadets at the Air Force Academy...and, okay-- I was kinda hot for her...redhead and all...all right-- VERY hot for her...shut up). Plus, I haven’t actually heard from her in, well, 20 years. Not that I mind her getting in touch and asking for assistance-- that’s what old friends are for.

Still...I don’t think I’ve ever heard an American refer to England as the “United Kingdom”...because we officially don’t care that there are different parts-- it’s all England, to us. Really. Even Ireland-- it’s so close, it’s almost attached. Sorry, Paddys. We just....don’t. care.

So that’s odd.

Then there’s “the park of the hotel,” where they got mugged. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone quite refer to such a feature, either. And they got mugged? I’m assuming “they” is her and her husband...I think she married Geoff Maki. He was pretty much a badass-- like a human Ken doll, captain of the ski team, went on to be a jet pilot, and such. I think they were both jet pilots, come to think of it. Anyway, I have a hard time imagining the two of them mugged on hotel property, by a couple of poncey Englishmen.

This might not be the same Jen Miller. Maki. Whatever.

This one, I will have to puzzle over, for a while.





Subject: Temple of the Mind
From: email@wikimedia.org

Dear Ben,

I'm a volunteer.

I don't get paid a cent for my work at Wikipedia, and neither do our thousands of other volunteer authors and editors. When I founded Wikipedia, I could have made it into a for-profit company with advertising, but I decided to do something different.
Commerce is fine. Advertising is not evil. But it doesn't belong here. Not in Wikipedia.

To keep Wikipedia ad-free, we ask for donations every year on the site. We're sending you this email because we are scaling up our infrastructure this year, and we're simply not able to raise the whole budget from the banners alone.
We have an easy way to make an automatic monthly donation to Wikipedia, and we're looking for people who would like to become sustainers. (Of course you can make a one-time donation as well.)

Please make a monthly recurring gift of $3, $7, $13 -- or whatever you can:

http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/WMFRE/en

Wikipedia is something special. It is like a library or a public park. It is like a temple for the mind. It is a place we can all go to think, to learn, to share our knowledge with others. It is a unique human project, the first of its kind in history. It is a humanitarian project to bring a free encyclopedia to every single person on the planet.

Every single person.

If all of Wikipedia's 400 million users would donate $1 each, we would have 20 times the amount of money we need. We're a small organization, and I've worked hard over the years to keep us lean and tight. We fulfill our mission, and leave waste to others.
To do this without resorting to advertising, we need you. It is you who keep this dream alive. It is you who have created Wikipedia. It is you who believe that a place of calm reflection and learning is worth having.
This year, please consider making a sustaining monthly donation of whatever amount you like to protect and sustain Wikipedia.

Thanks,
Jimmy Wales
Wikipedia Founder

P.S. -- If you can't commit to a recurring monthly donation, I hope you'll consider making another one time gift to help us reach our goal before the end of the year. Please make your donation today.
---
Wikimedia Foundation
P.O. Box 894879
Los Angeles, California 90189-4879
United States
If you do not wish to receive any future emails from the Wikimedia Foundation, please click here to unsubscribe.

 

Whoa. TL;DR.

Let me see if I can guess the gist of this message...there’s no WAY that I’m gonna read the whole thing:

“Hi, I’m Jimmy. I’m a millionaire. But I want you to send me money, anyway.”

Bite me, Jimmy. If you need more money, just go start another porno ring. It worked for you the first time. Or maybe you could offer X-rated content at Bomis.com again; killing it in 2005 might be the reason Wikipedia is broke, now.

But don’t come begging to me.

Now, I like Wikipedia. I do. I think it’s a great idea, and puts out a great product. Still, there are some institutional peculiarities I don’t get. Like when I tried to put up an article about my brother, a journalist who has won numerous regional awards for his work. Wikipedia rejected the proposed content on the basis Craig is not “noteworthy.”

Let me wrap my head around this, for a minute. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, wants to limit content based on what is “noteworthy.” Because we couldn’t possibly list everyone and everything, right? As if, y’know, they’re going to run out of space on the Internet.

Of course, I would take this a bit more seriously if they didn’t have a page for EVERY SINGLE Battlestar Gallactica episode, character, and cast member. From BOTH series.

Noteworthy, indeed.

Fictional people are, evidently, more “noteworthy” than real, live people who, y’know....do stuff.

Jimmy-- go get money elsewhere. Maybe from noteworthy people?

Also-- the trend of grown-ups who end their name with a “y” is just fucking disgusting. Stop it, all of you.


Subject: Only 3 Days Left. Make your 2010 Tax-Deductible Gift
From: news@messages.cancer.org

Dear Ben,

Although 2010 is coming to a close, the fight against cancer doesn't end with the calendar year. We need your support to keep up the fight. But hurry – you only have 3 days left to make a tax-deductible donation for the 2010 tax year.

Now is the time to fight back against cancer ... now is the time to give a gift that will help save lives. With your help, the American Cancer Society will continue to:

    Help people stay well.  We encourage people to make healthy lifestyle choices, get recommended cancer screenings, and avoid tobacco products. By doing so, men and women can help prevent about half of all cancer deaths.    

    Help people get well.  We guide patients and their loved ones through every step of a cancer experience. In 2010, our Hope Lodge® facilities helped more than 55,000 cancer patients and caregivers save more than $20 million in lodging costs.    

    Find cures.  We fund and conduct research to help better prevent, detect, and treat all types of cancer – and we're the largest nongovernmental funder of cancer research in the United States.    

    Fight back.  We work with legislators to pass laws that defeat cancer. This year our nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate continued to fight for federal funding for a program that has helped more than 3 million low-income, underinsured, and uninsured women get potentially lifesaving breast and cervical cancer screening tests.    

Thanks in part to this work, 11 million cancer survivors celebrated a birthday this year. Please don't miss this opportunity to give hope to people facing cancer in the coming year. You can help fulfill the ultimate holiday wish: a world with less cancer and more birthdays. Remember, all gifts are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

Together, we can fight cancer and save lives in the new year. Thank you for supporting your American Cancer Society.




Gosh. Another really-wordy way of begging for my money. Yeah, I’m not going to read this one, either.

Simply put: American Cancer Society-- go suck a cigarette.

You took in $433 MILLION in 2008. That’s almost half a billion dollars. You paid your chairman a million bucks that year. 13% of the revenue realized from fundraising (about $400,000,000) was spent on the efforts to raise those funds....meaning that you spent about $50 million to bring in $400 million.

And you don’t even MAKE anything. There’s no product....no service....it’s just pure begging. Shit, even Wikipedia has articles about noteworthy stuff.

You know what? I already gave you money, ACS. Government grants and contracts exceeded $12,000,0000 that year, too. So...there. That’s my money-- I paid those taxes. Take it, and be happy. Don’t try sticking your grubby little hands in my pockets anymore.

I mean, you sicken me. You make a point of appealing to my rational nature by telling me in the Subject line that I can get a tax break by giving you money...but then you try to get suck up to the guilt factor by talking about dying people in the body of the message.

Hey, you know what? ACS, you’ve been around since 1913. That’s almost a HUNDRED YEARS. Guess what? Cancer’s still here. Wanna bet what happens to cancer in another hundred years? I’m putting my money on the malignancy. The one that can be treated with radiation and chemicals, I mean.





Yuck. I hope you are as disenchanted with my Inbox as I am on a daily basis. I do this for you, so you’d better appreciate it.

Maybe we’ll go back again, someday. A long, long way from today.





Entry the Twenty-Seventh - Requiem for "Requiem"
By SLOW | December 18, 2010 at 1:24 PM PST


"Requiem For A Dream" is not a good movie. A lot of people are mistaken, and think that it is. This is slightly sad for them, because it’s not hard to know better.

First of all, let’s examine its ridiculous premise: Drugs Are Everywhere. Drugs can be found among young, up-and-coming entrepreneurs. Drugs can be found among old retired people. Drugs, drugs, drugs. This might even be interesting, if it wasn’t coupled with the second argument in the movie: Drugs Will Destroy You.

Nobody, it seems, is safe from the horrible attraction of evil, illicit (or even semi-illicit) pharmaceuticals. You can’t just have Some drugs, you have to have All the drugs, Always. You never outgrow drug use (like, say, the three Presidents of the United States, and a couple Supreme Court Justices who all admitted to taking drugs when they were young); the only inevitable conclusion is that your life will be ruined after the very first sample of drugs (although, I guess, that argument could actually be strengthened by the political examples).

The mother in the film gets hooked on speed because her doctor helps her lose some weight. Good for her. She wants to be a contestant on a game show. The mother, that is-- not the doctor. That hypnotizing allure of the chance to be on television is so great (when, of course, added to the Undeniable Power Of DRUGS), that the mother goes doctor-shopping after her own provider cuts her off...she HAS to have those meds, to keep her weight down, to get on TV... Honestly, I think a better movie would have been about the mania for people who need to get on television so bad, they are willing to compromise themselves, the law, and decency, to do it.

Oh, right-- that was a better movie. It was called “The King of Comedy.” Yeah, that movie was awesome. Go see that, instead.

But writer/director Aronofsky doesn’t just stop with his ridiculousness there. Nope. He has to really go for the jugular, because he’s the big hotshot director who made “Pi.” He’s an artiste. So get with the drama! How about some real pathos! Hey-- you know what’s easy? Play on the audience’s worst tendencies...maybe some casual racism and class fear-- that should do it. Take a pretty white girl like Jennifer Connelly and have her abused by a big, black Drug Dealer. Hey, it worked for Solondz in “Storytelling,” right?

Oh, but that was another Good Movie. So it’s tough to compare it to this.

(Also, hint: Jen-Jen is not nearly as good an actress as everyone seems to think. Being “vapid, self-absorbed, and blank” doesn’t actually take much, y’know, acting for a big-titted Hollywood actress. Special hint: “House of Sand and Fog” was actually WORSE than “Requiem.” I hate to have to be the one to tell you.)


Back to the sexually-charged racism. That kind of cheap shot, that shortcut to audience reaction, is downright tacky, and pretty unforgivable. But, hey, doesn’t all the fancy cinematography make up for it? All those jump-cuts to insanely-close-up shots of bloodstreams and syringes and pupils dilating...those are really COOL. That should make up for the lazy, degenerate writing, right?

Nope.

One of the poor bastards who gets his life ruined by Evil Drugs has an arm infection because of all the dirty, dirty needles. Dirty needles. Dirty drugs. Bad. He lets this go, because...well, that’s not made exactly clear. Maybe the DRUGS keep him from seeking treatment? I wouldn’t put it past them. Those darn Drugs.

He lets his arm get so bad, his buddy is forced to take him to a hospital in the -gasp!- Southern United States, while they’re on a roadtrip (to get more Drugs, of course). HE’S IN A HOSPITAL IN THE SOUTH! Do you KNOW what they do there??? Well, Aronofsky knows-- because he went to HARVARD. He’s from NEW YORK. People from New York who went to Harvard know ALL ABOUT the South, and how evil the South is, and how spooky it can be. Which is why the cute little shortcut Aronofsky uses -a scene in which we hear no dialogue, but see the doctor talking to a Southern Cop- tells the audience everything: in the Evil South, even your medical provider will dime you out to the cops, man, in an effort to clamp down on those Evil Drugs, and the Southern Law will lock you up forever for having gangrene, and will cut off your arm.

I don’t really want to step back and analyze the variety of stupidities involved in that. I mean, the film was made before HIPAA, so the doctor wouldn’t necessarily be breaking federal law by notifying law enforcement about his patient’s malady...but he sure as SHIT would have been violating any doctor-patient confidentiality...meaning his testimony would have been inadmissible, and any information the police got from the doctor’s initial tip would have been fruit of the poison tree, and inadmissible as well...so there’s no way the patient would have been convicted....AND let’s ignore the fact that the guy’s crime was...having gangrene? I mean, what the heck would they charge you with? “Drug-Induced Disease-Having”?  

But it’s The South! We all know how Evil the law is down there, right? They don’t need a criminal charge, evidently-- just having track marks and an infection suffices as probable cause, evidently. And provides its own evidence of guilt, which leads to instant conviction.

(OH COME ON-- we all know that a two-bit defense attorney, even a public defender, even in The South, would have had this whole thing thrown out in 18 hours, and the doctor censured, and probably a lawsuit against the clinic and the police department...that whole sequence was SO stupid it is beyond belief.)


But the hysteria was heard, which probably was to be expected by the end of the 1990s. America has been told so often that Drugs Are Bad, we must have started to believe it (even though, actually, our drug use doesn’t seem to have diminished much, according to federal statistics). This movie -this lousy, stupid movie- is like the “Reefer Madness” for Generation X. Touch some Drugs, and you will be sold into sexual slavery! End up in a Southern jail with your arm cut off! AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

Whatever. I know lots of people who have taken drugs. I know lots of professionals, engineers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, educators, who have taken drugs. Not one of them, as far as I know, have lost an arm to gangrene. I will continue to count sleeves, though.

You want a presentation of someone who decides to endure an infection for reasons other than personal health, and suffers gangrene? Go watch the first season of “St. Elsewhere,” now out on DVD, and check out the episodes with the mom from “Everybody Loves Raymond”-- that’s another Good Story. Unlike this “Requiem” trash.

Yuck. It’s like I have a bad taste in my mouth, now. Just gross. Everyone involved with this film should have known better. I really have to wonder....maybe the federal government offered them all lifelong tax breaks because of the movie’s ridiculously-overblown antiDrug message?

That’s the only reason I can think of for such grave stupidity.

So...how do we explain all the critics who liked it, too?

I know! Drugs. They were all on Drugs.

Explains everything.

See how evil Drugs are?





Entry the Twenty-Sixth - Ladies and Gentlemen, Bradley Denton
By SLOW | December 6, 2010 at 8:24 PM PST


It was “Sergeant Chip” that did it for me. Well, okay, I’m a sucker for dogs, and a story with a dog in it is pretty sure to catch me up. But, in this case, it’s not just me: enough people liked it, and the right kind of people, because that story was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novella (that’s a sci-fi prize, if you don’t know), and won the Sturgeon Award (named for Ted Sturgeon, an absolutely tremendous writer, who pushed all sorts of boundaries).

So I’m not alone in digging “Sergeant Chip.” I am confident you will, as well. You can do it for free, right here: http://www.bradleydenton.net/SGTCHIPCOMPLETE.htm

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

So that’s Brad Denton. Pretty damned good, right?

Dog stories aren’t hard. Military stories are. Military/combat dog stories can be great (see: “A Boy And His Dog”)...but they’re sure not easy. Denton deserves his accolades.

If you have the opportunity, pick up a copy of “The Conflagration Artist” (seventeen bucks, at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Conflagration-Artist-Bradley-Denton/dp/1880448904/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1291694035&sr=8-1), a collection of his short stories. It will please you.

Some are better than others, of course. The title riff, for instance, isn’t my favorite in the bunch. But they are all good reads, and some are downright excellent. There are elements of humor throughout (“Top of the Charts” is flat-out pithy)...and there are a lot of dogs. I appreciate that. In at least one (“Captain Coyote’s Last Hunt”), dogs are a central fixture.

So, too, is fire and flames and cooking. The title would lead you to expect that, but people burning and generally being involved with fire seem to fascinate Denton in a quasi-compulsive way. Well, he lives in Texas, so that may be understandable.

His Austin location allows him to take part in rarified grouping; he’s got a Saturday morning breakfast shindig with a crew that includes Howard Waldrop and Warren Spector (story writer extraordinaire and video game designer par excellence, respectively). These are not minor-leaguers: these folks are the Real Deal, and Denton’s place at the table is richly deserved. No, screw that-- earned.

There is nothing too challenging in these stories, language-wise: it’s all simple, straightforward, and accessible. I like easy writing. Surprise. The ideas...well, some of them are a bit more difficult than others, and more daunting than your standard magazine fare. This is, as promised, science fiction-- ideas that boggle your noodle are supposed to be a mainstay. Some of the notions, though, aren’t even all that novel; they’re the tried-and-true workhorses of sci-fi, constant themes (covert invasion of Earth, supernatural Nature, etc.) that get branded by the specific author’s touch. That’s not a detriment, in my estimation: they demonstrate the capability of the writer to riff on existing tropes, instead of decrying a lack of invention.

I haven’t read any of his longer works yet, but I’ve got at least one in my stack of Books To Read. I’m looking forward to reaching it.
















Entry the Twenty-Fifth – At The Banquet
By SLOW | November 26, 2010 at 11:24 PM PST

We’ve gone to a few book festivals, signings, shows, fairs, conferences, and whatnot over the years. They are very good for humbling the Author. They show you just how few people are interested in reading the scribblings you’ve made on some pieces of paper, and how much more interested they are in finding those muffins that they saw some other people eating at one of the other booths.

Most of these are grueling. We forget this. Each time we’re invited to something even vaguely related to a book or books, we think, “Oh, this is going to the one where we’re brought champagne in a chilled flute, while lines of adoring fans wind twice around the building, and groupies slavishly wait in the parking lot for hours after the main event, hoping to pile adorations upon us.”

Because, y’know, that happens to Authors. A lot.

Right.

Imagine the surprise at the California Young Reader Medal / Beatty Award and Author Banquet, November 13 of this year. Wow. What a shindig.
First off, the invitation came along with a pass to visit the floor of the joint California School Library Association and California Library Association trade show at the convention center in downtown Sacramento. This was, indeed, very cool-- for several reasons.

First off, libraries, as we know them, are dying. This is a sad fact, due to the ubiquity and ease of electronic media. For word-nerds, like writers and readers over the age of 30, this is a tragedy akin to a small child being thrown from a moving semi tractor-trailer (except more personal, unless you happen to know the kid in question). Libraries are hallowed halls, full of the sacred Books, where you could sit and be shushful for hours, and just read.

Or...they were.

Been to a library recently? Many are loud, annoying hubs of multimedia, where efforts to ensnare children have introduced guided playtime activities, and no shushing is allowed.

Think of that for a second: no. shushing.

The horror.

Bookstores are much the same, today. The average bookstore sounds more like a movie matinee on any given Saturday afternoon, as stores try to market events to toddlers and their unfortunate progenitors.

So this whole trade show was a glimpse at the desperation of various entities interested in keeping libraries as...well, libraries. There are some valiant efforts. Audiobook players that can be checked out like books, where the visitor only needs a set of headphones to enjoy the loan. RFID tags to track and catalog all sorts of literature, in every medium. More and specified electronic formats, and ways to update your old microfiche storage to them.

[Since one of my books is geared to kids, my publisher was there, too...even though I’d been told by the corporate PR office that they wouldn’t be. I kinda felt like I was being ditched in junior high, or something... “Oh, crap-- don’t tell him we’re gonna have a booth there...maybe he won’t show up.” Actually, though, it’s probably worse: instead of malign effort, it was just really poor communication: PR does not know what Marketing is doing, and each refuses to communicate to the other. Harbinger of the future of books, and libraries.]

There were even some nifty, vaguely-related products, like the Peruvian pan flute CD sellers we’ve all been warned about by South Park, the publisher of L. Ron Hubbard’s old line of pulp fiction (yes, they are who you’d think they are...and twice as persuasive), and...a really cool product. “Story Boards,” oversized, plush “books” that young readers can manually modify with words and images Velcroed to the pages. Simple, cool idea. We bought a couple things from them (not least of which because the bright, young attendant at the booth was engaged in a first read of “The Fountainhead,” and all teens who attempt Rand are to be rewarded). You can check out their stuff at: http://pacifickid.net/.

After seeing the convention floor as they were winding down, we headed over to the Sheraton Grand Hotel for the banquet. There were THREE fully-stocked cash bars, equipped with sage and responsive bartenders; thus far, this event was looking up, in terms of all other literature events.

Placer County Librarian Mary George invited me to the event, and was the model of gracious and classy hostessing. I can’t thank her enough.  The way the program was setup, a local author was seated at each table in the banquet, evidently so that the attendees would have someone they could look down on. I, however, got to spend the evening with some of the most gracious, sharp, funny, and downright SEXY ladies I’ve ever been fortunate enough to spend time with. See, I hadn’t understood the invitation when I first received it-- I was dining with a tableful of LIBRARIANS.

Hubba. Hubba.

[For those who do not understand the glee with which this experience is approached, suffice it to say that writers and readers fetishize librarians to the utmost, as they are the Priestesses of The Stacks. There is even an action figure, and more than one Halloween costume.]

The meal was excellent. Surprise after surprise. Red meat, quality sides. I cleaned my plate. Everyone was drinking. Librarians, as I’ve secretly suspected, know how to PARTY.

The conversation was wonderful, and revolved, of course, mainly around books and schools and reading and teaching and all that other good stuff. It rocked.

Two medal recipients spoke at the banquet, Andrew Clements and S. Terrell French. I’ve written about both their award-winning works in this blog before. They were both also excellent speakers: Mr. Clements for his insights and wisdom and profundity and wit, and Mrs. French for keeping hers short.
Afterwards, all the local authors were invited to sit at marked tables and do signings of their work. Most of the attendees walked past, asking about muffins.

This in no way diminished the evening’s events. Honestly, this was one such activity that exceeded expectations. That is a rare and glorious thing. With LIBRARIANS.






 




Entry the Twenty-Fourth - Hate, I Know Your Name

By SLOW | November 4, 2010 at 2:24 PM PST


The name of my hate is "Operation Redwood." By all rights, the name should actually be "S. Terrell French," who perpetrated this atrocious book.

A quick overview, so you can understand Terrell's value system and the book's ethos:

The following are Good Things:

- violating the Computer Security Act of 1987

- engaging in eavesdropping, wiretapping, and illegal intercept of private messages

- wire fraud

- trespassing

- forgery

- non-white people, who always love all children

- using subtle, clever means of shaping a young mind to form a particular idea you value (say, "trees are good") without telling the owner of that mind your own stance, stake, interest, or purpose in convincing that mind to take a certain course

- trees; old-growth trees, in particular-- not second-growth trees, which are useless and can be ignored and dismissed

- people who own something they love, but never get around to creating a legal construct to protect that thing in the event of their death

- poor people who refuse to get a job, but will consent to begging

- risking your life in dangerous hobbies, even though you have a young family to support

- leaving your prepubescent son in the home of people you don't like so that you can go to the other hemisphere of the planet, where you will spend months away from your child, in order that you can apply your art in a manner suitable to venerate an ancient theocracy that abused its subjects-- during this time, refusing to use email to communicate is a good way to demonstrate your care and affection for your pre-teen boy and those who are charged with his care

- running away from your legal caregivers/custodians

- personation (the crime that the famous "cyberbullying mom" was charged with)

- kids who work on farms, because that is such a fun, easy way of life

- hippies


The following are Bad Things:

- people who expect children to adhere to a discreet, concrete, fundamental behavior plan, one so simple that even the friends of the family children understand the rules; people who are consistent in enforcing this plan are to be resented

- rich people, who work to make more money

- white people, unless they are hippies

- the words "own," "ownership," and "possession"


This book, initially, gave me a rational explanation for the uses of child abuse: I could completely see why a sociopath like Julian would cause any sane, competent adult to want to beat him. He's whiny. He refuses to follow directions, even in the home that his uncle has graciously allowed Julian to share temporarily. He's sneaky. He's passive-aggressive.

Eventually, I just wanted to punch myself in the face, for reading the thing. And reading more. And more. I owe myself about eight rounds with me.


Here's the deal: Julian's dad died in a motorcycle accident, being a dumbass, when Julian was seven. Julian's mom was left with nothing, but refused to take a regular job; she instead sells her skill as a portrait photographer and makes decorative masks. She is a useless parasite that could be replaced by a teenager trained by the Sears Photography Studio. She has "wanted to go to China for several years." What did she do during this time, to realize that desire? Did she take a minimum-wage job, and work one extra hour every day, and take whatever money is left after taxes and put it into her Travel Fund? Sure, this would be one less hour she could be engaging in her hobby of making ugly masks, but it would also further her effort to accomplish the trip. After three years (one is not "a few"; two is "a couple," not really "a few," either), let's call it $4 per hour, after taxes (although, really, poor people aren't required to pay income tax) for 300 working days per year. That's $1200. After three years, she'd have $3600. Now, I don't know how that bitch travels, but Yahoo! quotes me an Air China roundtrip ticket for SFO to China of $2,142...leaving her almost $1500 for lodging, food, expenses, etc.

No. Working is something Julian's mom won't do. Working is beneath her. Begging, however, is okay: she spends the time sending letters begging people to give her money to do what she wants. Eventually, she is given the money by someone who doesn't know her, and will get nothing from her effort. This is called a "grant."

And she dumps Julian on the doorstep of her dead, dumb husband's brother, a successful businessman with an athletic wife; a couple she has never liked. Her own mother (Julian's grandmother) cannot be bothered, because she works for a living (although not very well-- she is a person who, on a regular basis, cannot deliver work product within the contracted period, as expected); in Julian's mom's perspective, this makes the grandma a "workaholic."

So Julian's paternal uncle and aunt must be the best bet for him, as they're so dependable, successful, grounded, clean, staid, and disciplined.

Um....nope. Not only does Julian hate them and everything they stand for, he undermines them in hidden, subtle ways, whenever possible, for no reason other than his sociopathic urges.

Plot upshot: Julian's uncle is planning to cut down some redwoods his company owns. Julian plans to thwart this effort, because all trees must be precious, and nobody should be allowed to do whatever they want with their own property.

HINT: The book says that redwoods "originally" may have covered millions of acres of land from Oregon to the Santa Cruz Mountains. "Originally," it says. I wondered what the word meant-- did the Earth form out of cosmic dust, creating redwoods at the same time the planet cooled and congealed?

No-- redwoods have been around for about 10 million years: http://www.pbs.org/weekendexplorer/california/eureka/sequoiaquiz.htm. Meaning that, 11 million years ago, there were no redwoods. None.

11 million years is NOTHING compared to the age of the planet. The planet is 4.55 billion years old. A billion is a thousand million. So Earth has been a planet for four thousand million years. That's 414 times OLDER than the oldest redwood treee. If there have been 2 million acres of redwoods in the past 10,000,000 years....there were none 10,000,000 years ago. And none for 10,000,000 years before that. Same with the 10,000,000 years before that. And on. And on. For another 405 sets of 10,000,000 years. The redwood has NOT existed exactly 400 times longer that it HAS existed. Quick question: if it stops existing again, is that a tragedy?

The author, S. Terrell French, eschews that sort of logic. She also fails to point out that the big killer of redwoods is Nature: during the last Ice Age, glaciers and cold killed approximately 75% of all redwoods SPECIES. Let me make that clear: 9 out of 12 entire species of tree were destroyed. Annihilated. By the planet itself. Humanity, working hard at it, cut down probably a little more than half (maybe 60%) of the actual redwood timber in the Northwestern United States. Nothing close to what natural processes performed, in terms of permanently wiping out trees.

But at least her characters seem to reflect her abhorrence of mathematics: Julian's aunt and uncle want to send him to Math Camp, sponsored by an accredited university-- to Julian, this seems like a prison sentence. I know kids who would kill for such an opportunity (literally: one of my former students murdered another one of my former students...and I had both their sisters in a classroom the following year).

And Julian could use some mathing-up: his aunt goes to the trouble of catering to Julian's bizarre dietary whims, and he still spurns her effort, even though the food is in his favor-- in a given dinner, three out of four of the dishes she serves are vegetable-based, because Julian is purportedly a vegetarian, but the ungrateful little turd thinks ill of both her and the meal because two of them are unsatisfactory (one of them strictly because he does not approve of the TEXTURE).

His food-based biases seem completely arbitrary, too: evidently, he does not consider eating fish to be allowed (although I have met many vegetarians who have no problem with that), but will eat cheese (even though most vegans consider that type of animal byproduct verboten). Supposedly, his favorite food is "potstickers," even though in most traditional Chinese dishes, "potstickers" includes vegetables mixed with dead animal flesh of some type or other.

Which brings us to culture, and ancestry, and the book's bizarre focus on classifying groups of people according to DNA...and its biased look at that practice. French goes out of her way to identify the nationality/lineage of people even remotely included in the story: janitors are portrayed as speaking Spanish consistently; Caucasians are instantly identified by noting their blond hair; Julian's former babysitter was identified only as "old" and "Russian"; the graduate students that are mentioned ONCE in the whole book, that have nothing at all to do with the story, that are only mentioned because they moved into the apartment upstairs from Julian and his mother, are JAPANESE graduate students-- they can't just be "graduate students."

Race is very important to Mrs. French, evidently. But woe be to Julian's aunt, for mentioning it: when she has the audacity to say that Julian is "half-Chinese," Julian takes it "vaguely as insult"...even though, later, when he meets up with some hippies, and they ask him straight-up if he is Chinese (a stupid question, since they know he is from San Francisco, not China), the book actually states that Julian is aware that "a lot of times, people couldn't figure out what he was." As if he might be mistaken for an ocelot or a trout, I guess: in French's world, race is of crucial importance, and people define themselves and each other based on it.

She's not just racist, either: she's generationalist, too. For some bizarre reason, a redwood that existed prior to, say, 1900, is a magical, wonderful thing...but anything planted during the lifetime of a character in the book is referred to in derogatory fashion: "But it's all second growth." As if, y'know, the offspring of a given generation are somehow inferior to that "original" generation. I would not like to be one of French's kids, I assure you.

I'm 100 pages deep, with 250 to go. If I am murdered some time over this coming week, please be somewhat lenient toward my killer.

Julian is more pernicious, though, than just spiteful and ungrateful: he purposefully and subtly tries to undermine the philosophy a couple tries to instill in their child, because 12 year-old Julian "couldn't stand to think of [the child] ending up like [the child's father.]" He then goes about planting ideas in the kid's head, specifically trying to make the kid believe that Julian did not put the ideas there, and hoping to create barriers against the child's parents' philosophy. This is actually how it is discussed in the book. And Julian is the hero.

But French's notion of heroism makes my mind boggle at her membership in the bar, altogether (she's an environmental lawyer in the Bay area-- go figure): her young protagonist is involved in electronic intercepts, forgery, criminal trespass, running away from home, concealing a weapon, assault, defamation, aiding and abetting, fraud...and, remember-- I'm less than a third of the way into the book. All of these acts are premeditated, and most include detailed descriptions of how to cover up these acts, as well. It's like an instruction manual for little ecoterrorists. A responsible officer of the court probably would not have created such a thing.

Of course, I wrote a book that explains terrorism to high schoolers, so I don't have much leg to stand on, there. But, damn-- she's an attorney.

I don't mind antiheroes, even young ones: Tom Sawyer was a little sociopath. But Tom knew what stealing was, what lying is, was trickery was, what right and wrong were, and pretty much admitted when he was playing hooky, hoodwinking people, and refusing to do whatever adults wanted him to do: Julian consistently bends reality to fit his viewpoint, and excuses his own behavior through a series of convoluted and ugly justifications, stepping over people, imposing his will on them not through talent or skill or determination, but through falsehoods and fraud, and telling himself that he isn't REALLY doing anything wrong...

Ugh.

Maybe the book gets better. Maybe Julian learns from his experience as a total pissant (like, say, Veruca Salt did-- oh, please, please let Julian be abused by a candy experiment).

I'll let you know if it does.

But I'm not counting on it.





Entry the Twenty-Third - The Politics of Evil
By SLOW | October 24, 2010 at 3:24 PM PST


Let me warn anyone who might easily be sickened by gruesome imagery: this entry is not something you want to look at with a full stomach. Heck, you don't want to look at it with an empty stomach. You might just not want to look at it at all.

I totally understand. That's fine by me. Which is why I'm warning you now. Because I've got a picture to show you that is just blatantly disgusting. I'm going to put it below this text, down where most computers won't show it when you first browse to this site. That way, you can leave now, forewarned, and not ever have to see it. You can come back next week, and read my next blogly installment, and still never see the horrible thing.

You're welcome. I'm looking out for you like that.

So...please...turn back now, if you're not up for it.

Seriously.

Don't look, if you might be offended. I know I was. It's an ugly picture.

Okay...here it comes...


......









.............




Isn't that gross?

I mean, not the kid-- the kid is downright adorable. She was cast for that quality. Cute little white girl-- she might even be blonde.

No, what's absolutely abhorrent is the message that picture delivers, or tries to. That message is: vote the way we say, or your kids won't be able to breathe.

The picture was used on a mailed advertisement for something involved with the upcoming election I'm registered to vote for. I don't know if it was for a candidate or a ballot measure or something else, because I didn't actually read it.

I refuse to read pornography.

Which is funny, because I don't mind pictures and stories of naked people loving each other. I don't consider that kind of smut repulsive.

But this-- this is the worst sort of communication. It appeals to our most base instincts in an attempt to circumvent our capacity for logical thought. That is reprehensible, and pisses me off. If nothing else, an election in a free nation is the triumph of enlightened self-interest over superstition and hysteria: it is a way for individuals to rationally measure what is good and right and proper, using sense and reason, and defeat the historical precedent of humanity: witch doctors and shamans and bullies and fascists, ruling by fear and deception.

Let me explain this to everyone who might want to use this tactic, ever: I will not allow myself to be ruled by fear. I will do my best to not make decisions based on fear. Want to know the thing that should really drive the point home? Maybe that advertisement was endorsing something I agree with. Maybe it was a topic I actually support or endorse. But I will purposefully not read it, so there is now no real measure of the ad's effectiveness...if the group that sent that nasty picture to the electorate "wins" in this next election, they might even believe that this photograph helped them.

They would be wrong: for me, at least, and for those of us of like mind, that picture almost has us voting against whatever topic it was intended to support, just to discourage that kind of sliminess.

We can't do that, of course; voting in opposition to scum who used ads like that would just result in the opponents of every topic sending fake ads of that type that pretended to support the opposite view, in an attempt to cause people to vote against it.

But what we can do is refuse to read that trash.

We're better than that. I would really like political groups and politicians to start treating us like it.


Entry the Twenty-Second - Advice For Travelers
By SLOW | October 17, 2010 at 5:52 PM PST

There is no such thing as a portable entertainment device which allows you to view video or listen to audio; therefore, every vendor, including restaurants, shops, and the airport itself, will do all they can to provide you with a cacophony of constant input. Because you can't get your own TV or radio, they scatter them all over the place, in order to entertain you. You can deliver your thanks at every venue that offers this service, or you can write directly to the Airport Manager, who is required by federal transportation legislation to compile and record all pleasantries and thank-you notes from passengers.

Stewardesses stopped liking their jobs in about 1991, when they became cocktail waitresses. They started hating human beings in 1997, the year they all turned 60.

The threat level is orange. It has always been orange. It will always be orange.

The baggage carousel will come around again. This is why it is a carousel, and not a  platform. If you crowd next to the carousel, you will not get your bags faster than if you stand back; in fact, it may take longer to get your bags, because everyone will crowd around you. Instead, if you stand back about ten yards, you can see your bag appear on the carousel sooner, see the gaps in the crowd, approach your bag, extract it, and move away sooner than if you press right up against the carousel.

The taxi fare rates are clearly printed on the side of the cab, on the rate sheet inside the cab, and on the sign posted next to the taxi stand at the airport. There will be no way you will ever be able to calculate your rate with any sort of accuracy whatsoever.

When visiting a distant land that uses another language, it is best to memorize a few short terms such as, "bathroom," "hotel," and "freeze! police!" The proper response to the latter is to stand, motionless, your eyes directly on the person who has spoken the words, not to drop whatever is in your dominant hand and try to retrieve your passport and travel papers, which you have conveniently kept in the inside pocket of your jacket.

The pilot knows you don't care about seeing the Grand Canyon from 20,000 feet. The pilot is making the announcement to dick with you. If the pilot can't sleep, you can't either.

The flight attendants on US Air and AmericaWest airlines have been known to walk in on passengers who are using the bathroom in-flight. If you can, use different airlines. If you have to fly on those carries, press your feet up against the door while you're inside. They might not be able to unlock the door that way. Even if they do, and it swings inward, they can't get in. If it swings outward, the extra pressure will cause the door to slap them, which is what peepers deserve.

The Chicago Airport Authority makes loud public address announcements telling you to cover your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze, because the Chicago Airport Authority is your mother.

You are a significant target. Terrorists and criminals are specifically looking to meddle with your flight from Toledo to North Platte. Be extremely wary at all times, and trust nobody, even people who are members of your immediate family. You do not know if they have been recruited by the enemy in those six hours since last you talked with them, while you were sleeping.

If you have the world's stinkiest cheese, do not eat it at the laptop-charging station, where the seats are 18" apart. In fact, don't eat it in the airport. No, better yet-- there is one place to eat the world's stinkiest cheese: in your home, by yourself. Don't take that crap anywhere with you, you moron.

An airport is a perfect place to have loud conversations about your personal finances, your romantic endeavors, and your children's health, over a cell phone. If possible, wait to make the call until you enter a clot or group of otherwise-quiet people; do not move away into a relatively-isolated area in order to initiate your call.

A antiterrorism surcharge has been added to your ticket, so that the airlines and transportation authorities can keep you safe by purchasing and installing more flatscreen television sets, as measured by density-per-square-foot, than any other location on the planet, including big-box appliance retail stores, rave party warehouses, and Bill Gates' home. You will note that no flatscreen television manufacturers were affected by the recent economic downturn. So terrorists aren't really all that bad, evidently.

If narcotics smugglers are not already cramming packages of drugs inside the orifices of ten-month-old children, then they all owe me royalties on every shipment for coming up with the idea. You're welcome.

Airports cannot afford to provide a sufficient amount of electrical outlets, because the massive addition to their energy bill would be too costly. They will never, however, shut down the moving walkways or the fatty-cart services.

You have as much chance of winning the lottery as being the victim of a terrorist attack. It is therefore a good idea to buy a lottery ticket before boarding a plane-- failure to understand math might as well lend you a small thrill in addition to the irrational fear.

Airport bookshops are good places to leave extra copies of my books. If you send me a photo of my book you left in an airport bookstore, I will send you a replacement copy.

Gum is always a good idea when traveling. For many reasons.

Everyone has a black piece of luggage with a rolling chassis and a handle. Everyone has put a piece of string on theirs. You can be the first to adorn yours with the word, "ASSHOLE." Spraypaint does not work well on nylon; nail polish does, as does Liquid Paper.

As soon as you walk into your hotel room, unplug the clock radio. Sure, it may look easy to understand, and you might THINK you turned off the alarm...but you never know. They have the annoying tendency to go off at 2:00 in the morning. Just unplug it.

When the plane lands, and it's time to get off, you fall into one of two categories: either you can stand up, grab your carry-on bag, and walk up the aisle, or you can't. If you can't, then stay in your damned seat, let all the able-bodied, prepared people walk by, THEN move. If you do it earlier, you are holding up everybody, for no good reason.

The only time you will be the victim of a terror attack is the day the threat condition stops being orange.







Entry the Twenty-first - This One Will Not Be Popular
By SLOW | October 9, 2010 at 5:34 PM PST



Not many people advocate suicide. Which will change in our culture, fairly soon.

Right now, there seems to be a spate of highly-publicized suicides swarming our mass media. There is talk of trends and epidemics and copycats and social problems and causes and horror and policies and...

...I haven't seen much talk of numbers. Real numbers. Statistics. Historical data.

There are a lot of reasons for this. One big reason is that good, credible data probably doesn't exist. Two big underlying causes: social stigma attached to the act and shorter lifespan in the recent past. In the first case, authorities were often complicit -with or without family involvement- in deeming certain acts as "accidents," even though we would now recognize them as suicide. In the other case, it's quite likely that the rate of suicide (not just the overall numbers) was somewhat masked by the high incidence of infant and childhood mortality; those kids that would have grown into angsty, depressed teens may have been those most susceptible to fatal ailments among the younger demographics.

Dirty little secret among the medical community: treating depression is a very risky endeavor, in terms of elevated risk of suicide (among the patients, I mean-- not the providers. duh.). Depressed people often have no motivation to engage in any productive task, anything that requires the slightest bit of effort. Sometimes, if a depressed person is given just enough therapy (chemical or otherwise) to lift themselves up just slightly --but not far enough-- they will find only enough fortitude and wherewithal to put forth exactly the amount of work necessary to cash in their own chips. True.

And suicide is just treated weirdly by our society as a whole: it turns otherwise consistent political actors on their head. Liberals who tout freedom of choice and personal control of one's body draw the line at offing yourself; I can't quite figure out why. Conservatives who have no problem with sending our troops to war or executing criminals are all for outlawing suicide as a viable individual option-- but I think I've got that figured out: there is a tangible cult of suffering, largely religiously-oriented, ingrained in conservatives...so any measures to halt suffering altogether (pharmaceutical, say, and including suicide) are "cheating," and must be forbidden.

This intellectual disconnect carries over into other issues, making them all the more bizarre. Take, for instance, the debate over gun rights. Gun deaths in this country are overwhelmingly the result of suicide; some 40% more than homicide (according to the World Almanac). Yet neither side of the gun rights argument seems to want to own this fact, or use it to support their particular  cause. By and large, the argument is couched in terms of homicidal violence, with one side afraid that guns are the cause, and the other portraying guns as a defense...neither one of them talk about the benefit or threat of guns as a handy and popular suicide tool.

Here's my prediction: suicide is going to become more popular. A lot more popular. And the news media will eventually shut up about it, because the topic will no longer be interesting...or useful as a means to scare people (which is the mileage media types are using it for now: "Your kids might be ready to kill themselves!"). Simple truth of the matter: of 81 daily gun deaths in America in 2004, 45 were suicides....36 were white men (at least, that's what this New York Times article, rife with typos and graphical errors, claims). Suicide is not an option of the disenfranchised minority, it appears. And this will get worse and worse, as longevity increases, and access to painkilling drugs continues to be restricted and prohibited by the government; as Americans age, and face the diseases and infirmities that afflict the elderly, and are forced to survive without narcotics to alleviate the pain, many will opt to check out of their own accord.

Is that a tragedy? Not really. I plan to kill myself, both slowly and quickly, as I age. When I hit 55, I'm going to start smoking cigarettes again (even if I have to move out of North America to do so). At 70, it'll be time to put my handgun to good use. If I make it that far, I mean: if something grueling and debilitating hits me before then, I'm not going to hang around as some drooling, shuffling wreck who can't enjoy life because I'm forced to subsist on yogurt through a straw and have no hope of ever getting laid again.

And let's be frank, people: the right to control your own life means the right to end it. If you tell me I can't decide when to stop playing the game, then you're quite effectively forcing me to continue, adhering to your rules.

Honestly-- who are you to decide that some sad teen does not have the insight and grasp of their own mortality and pain threshold? As it stands, we are prepared to force young people into years of mandatory chemical stimulation, living with the harsh impact of their own pain (which, actually, cannot suitably be quantified as yet, and seems to be different for every individual)....because we are uncomfortable allowing them to decide just how much suffering they choose to endure.

And even if we opt to outlaw this solution for minors (which, considering we allow them to propel vehicles that mass two tons, at speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour, seems egregiously stupid and futile...we'd probably all be better off issuing them cyanide tablets in junior high), continuing to treat every self-imposed ending like it is a tragedy is not only silly, it's perversely counterproductive to the intent of those wailing and gnashing their teeth: so often, suicide is bound up with fantasies of "people will be sorry when I'm gone," that actually expressing that sort of reaction only reinforces the belief that the suicide has the power to elicit-- well...that sort of reaction.

Better to allow people to decide when they want to cease to be, and concern ourselves more with the living than the dead. Death is --for now-- just another bodily function...if we're not allowed to control our own bodily functions, we are slaves to someone else's biases and whims.










Entry the Twentieth - For You
By SLOW | October 3, 2010 at 3:24 PM PST


I've got something really great to give you. You're going to like it. You can thank me whenever it's convenient for you.

I'm not a bad scribbler. I can put some words together, to make a sentence...I can string a few sentences together, tell a story. No question.

But if I write forever, over and over again, telling every story I can possibly think to tell (and some I steal from other people), I will never do anything as well as Andrew Clements' "No Talking."

Sure, it's a kids' book. Those are harder to write. Believe me. And when they come off, they are far better than the variety supposedly created for adults. Kids will find this book accessible, but anyone who isn't a kid anymore will still groove to it. It's deep, but light, and tons of fun.

I'm not even going to tell you anything about it. Wait-- sure I will. I'll say this: I've been a schoolteacher, and I've gone through Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school, as both a student and an instructor, and I've been a kid who was a pain in the ass to all my teachers...and this book spoke to each of those things, and encapsulated them within 146 pages of large type on paperback print stock for six bucks.
It's funny-- I was invited to attend the California Library Association Expo this year: they want me to sit at a table during the awards banquet for the kids' books awards, and talk to some of the young readers about being an author (namely, to explain to them that they should choose to freebase heroin as a career option, as preferable to opting to write professionally). As prep for this tasking, I picked up copies of the books that are nominated for this year. I would never have read "No Talking" otherwise. I was even kind of dreading it-- kids' books done wrong are just terribly evil. This one, though, was more than a pleasant surprise: it stunned me with its genius.

Go get it. You won't be sorry.

And...well, the author bio mentions that Clements taught school for several years before writing. I see that, easy. But...I also have to wonder...actually...I'd bet he was a pain in the ass to all his teachers.

Entry the Nineteenth - Dirty Open Secrets
By SLOW | September 30, 2010 at 9:34 PM PST



A well-known but little-discussed practice disgusts me. I am not talking about people who pick their nose at stoplights, although this, too, is greatly annoying. No, I'm talking about the habit of government functionaries to implement or subvert policy by manipulating mainstream media.

You see it all the time in news stories. There will be a quote or fact or rumor attributed to "a highly-placed source" or "a unnamed member of the administration" or "according to the office of..." Later in the piece, you'll see that the source was "speaking on background" or "could not comment more because of an ongoing investigation" or "cannot give details because of departmental policy."

This is all crap. It is unfair to us, the people who pay the public officials and consume the information. It is an abuse of our trust, and, often, it is illegal (but never, ever prosecuted).

If someone in a government position has something to say publicly, they should say it, with their name attributed to it. If they want to remain anonymous, there are many venues to raise issues within every government arm. If they really can't trust their own employers, they should seek other employment, then speak their mind when they are out from under control of those they fear.

If there is a law or policy that prevents someone from commenting or providing information about a particular circumstance, then they should follow that law, and shut their silly mouth. Any breach of such laws or policies should be treated seriously, and leaks should be investigated and prosecuted. It's not difficult to identify this type of lawbreaking: it is included in news stories all the time; enforcement entities should employ people who are capable of reading, and thus readily identify ongoing cases of malfeasance.

"News" media does not escape blame. Any information outlet that is approached by a government source that wishes to remain anonymous should treat said source like a typhoid patient of the most virulent kind. No person employed by tax dollars should be relieved of their responsibility to stand by their words and deeds. An anonymous source, and an outlet that publishes/airs/broadcasts such a source should be treated like gossipy rumormongers of the lowest sort, and lose any respect or goodwill they once had.

Why do both camps engage in this behavior? For the politicians and government employees, the media is a simple tool for circumventing good taste, statute, and administrative controls on what might be released to the public, and when. For the media, access to some sources, or some information, is too tempting, even at the cost of becoming the assassin or shill for a liar, coward, or slimeball; the newsie wants to beat the competition to the story, even when the person bringing the story cannot be trusted by the very nature of how they're delivering it.

It's reprehensible: either something can and should be said, so those saying it should gladly put their names to their words, or it shouldn't, and they are criminals or scum.

Both groups should do a much better job of policing themselves. Because, right now, neither is doing anything of the sort.













Entry the Eighteenth - What They Should Have Said
By SLOW | September 19, 2010 at 3:24 PM PST

Famous words from famous film directors. Sort of.


Kevin Smith: "Look...it clearly says 'I want you to realize you're a %&$*@#ing moron,' not, 'I want you to understand you're a &$%#@ing moron.' If you can't read the line as written, I'm not sure you can do this part."

David Lynch: "I'm going into the cutting room with eight hours of raw footage and fourteen peyote buttons dripping weapons-grade mescaline. If I'm not out with a weird-yet-award-winning film in a day and a half, send in a paramedic and a union editor."

Terry Gilliam: "I swear, if you mention this 'script' nonsense one more time, I'm going to beat you with a boom mike."

Michael Bay: "BOOM! Make FIRE! 'SPLODING! 'SPLODING!"

Roland Emmerich: "Bigger! BIGGER!"

Wolfgang Petersen: "No. You don't get it-- it's not your turn to get a good film. There is a pattern: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8...I have it written down at home. So, anyway, this will not be a good movie. It is not time. Your movie will have to be bad. Sorry."

Ridley Scott: "Yeah...I really don't care what the plot is. As long as we have a scene where four late-model large-frame SUVs drive in formation with the sun gleaming off their windshields, I'm good."

Joss Whedon: "Okay, so, there's this young, hot girl, all right? And she's kinda weird, and kinda creepy...and she spends a great deal of time kicking all these other guys' asses...and she falls for this older, smart, talented guy...he's really a creative dude, does a lot of, like, writing, and stuff..."

Gus Van Zant: "Don't bother me. I'm thinking. And it's a movie."

Clint Eastwood: "Nobody will let me sing unless I direct a picture. So I'm directing this picture. You got a problem with that?"

One of the Coens: "Well, I'm thinking of a film that transcends genre, and yet still pays homage to all the tropes from within that genre, and some other genres, and then explodes audience expectations based on those tropes. And looks very good."

The Other Coen: "No-- I was thinking that. You were thinking about sex."

Ron Howard: "DAMMIT! Quit calling me OPIE!"

Rob Reiner: "This will be an endearing, highly-grossing film. Which will cause you to become a Democrat."

Steven Spielberg: "Action, science fiction, war, monsters, and hero kids. Better than anything you've ever seen before."

JJ Abrams: "What Spielberg said. Maybe, thirty years ago, when he was still good."

Judd Apatow: "Yes, it's funny. It's very funny. Now, how do we get a penis in there?"

George Lucas: "You know, please, someone just tell me I'm wrong. Anybody I trust, anybody working for me; just say it. I really don't even like myself anymore. I have to hear it from someone close to me, so that-- what? What the hell did you SAY? Security! Have this heretic SHOT!"

Spike Lee: "Shut up. Shut the *%*(* up. I'll make another good movie when I damn well *(&(#ing feel like it."

Steven Soderbergh: "Someday, your species will evolve to the point where you understand what it is I tried to bring you. I am only sorry I was able to visit your planet for such a short time."


Entry the Seventeenth -

What I've Learned From The Movies


By SLOW | September 06, 2010 at 2:44 PM PST


 

 

Hollywood is an excellent educational provider. Many of the things I have adopted as core tenets of my belief system come originally from motion pictures. I thought I'd share just a few of those with you.

 

- Absolutely nothing ever happens to a couple after a wedding. In fact, if their lives were cut tragically short at the reception, that would be all right, because the wedding ceremony marks the culmination of their existence.

 

- Most people have one thing about them that defines who they are and how they behave. This thing will never change, until it does, and then it will be a new thing, and that will define them. They also usually have a catchphrase.

 

- There is no problem in the world that cannot be solved with a large-caliber handgun (special nod to Bill Watterson).

 

- Even though pretty much everyone on the planet has been exposed to a shared human collection of myths, if anyone ever actually encounters anything remotely supernatural, they will be completely baffled as to its nature and essence. Thus, if a series of exsanguinated corpses turn up with puncture wounds in their necks, people will say things like, "Gosh, Sheriff-- what could have done something like this?"

 

- Children are always wonderful. Even if a child is a thief and a liar, it is because the child was abused or protecting something/someone else, and had to do so to survive. No child is just a miserable, evil little monster.

 

- Child Corollary 1: ...except when that child is an actual monster, and, like, kills people and stuff.

 

- Child Corollary 2: Most children are far more clever than their parents, who are almost uniformly stupid; these children will have snappy comments that are more pithy and insightful and biting than anything any educated, intelligent, funny adult that you know could ever come up with.

 

- Child Corollary 3: Getting pregnant is always good, and cause for joy. Abortion is always bad, and sad, and cause for lifelong trauma and regret.

 

- If you engage in sexual behavior that is outside the norm, something bad will happen to you. If you really, really enjoy it, something tragic will happen to you.

 

- Fate plays a massive part of your life. You might has well just sit on a street corner and wait to see what happens to you, because trying to actually participate in the process is less than useless-- it's pointless and may cause you harm.

 

- Explosions rarely hurt anyone other than those in the immediate vicinity: nobody is ever hurt from debris falling at terminal velocity, three blocks away. Explosions always involve a gust of flame, reddish-orange in color. They never deafen anyone. As soon as an explosion is complete, no consequences will result.

 

- Drugs are never just used by regular people for recreation and relaxation, without dire consequences.

 

- Rape is the absolute worst thing that can happen to someone (including mutilation or torture), you end up scarred for life by it. Having sex with someone against your will, or even if you simply don't feel like it that much, is a horrible, horrible, thing, tantamount to genocide. You can also gauge how hard someone is trying to rescue someone else, by seeing how close the latter person gets to being raped (note: I will do an entire blog on the rape-as-time-bomb concept at some point).

 

- Foreigners always hate Americans and want to harm them...except when they are harmless and cute and instantly love Americans for no reason, in which case the foreigners are incredibly simple and possibly flat-out stupid, compared to any Americans, who are capable and bright.

 

- Operating a computer really well requires a lot of typing and staring at the screen. The actions performed on the computer can always be depicted graphically by the software, so that you can see it actually happening, in realtime.

 

- Sewers never seem to have fecal matter in them.

 

- Psychopathic murderers all have super-strength, and can withstand far more physical punishment than normal people.

 

- Large animals (including monsters) can sneak up on people quite easily, and are almost always behind you. Except when it's just the cat.

 

- Attractive people have lots of really good sex, almost all the time, usually with each other. It's actually hard to believe that they can find the time to get anything accomplished...like, say, making movies.
 

 

 

 

Entry the Sixteenth - As I See It

By SLOW | August 29, 2010 at 3:54 PM PST


 

 

There are some massive differences between the major political groups in this country.

 

 

 

Democrats want you to be able to smoke whatever you want, as long as it's not cigarettes.

Republicans want you to be able to smoke whatever you want, as long as it's only cigarettes.

 

Democrats want you to be able to ingest anything you want, except if someone makes a claim that it might be unhealthy or taste good.

Republicans want you to be able to ingest anything you want, except if it makes you feel good.

 

Democrats are all for free speech, except when you say something that offends someone.

Republicans are all for free speech, as long as you don't do it in public.

 

Democrats are all for free artistic expression, except when it involves pornography, violent video games, has the end purpose of selling something, or relies on private funding.

Republicans are all for free artistic expression, as long as it is doesn't show a nipple, has the end purpose of making a political point, or causes their children to question their worldview.

 

Democrats are all for treating everyone equally...except for minorities, who are evidently so pathetic and useless that they need government help.

Republicans are all for treating everyone equally...except for minorities, who are lying, scary criminals.

 

Democrats are against free enterprise, because some people aren't good at it.

Republicans are all for free enterprise, except when they aren't good at it.

 

Democrats are all for the freedom of the press, except when it involves Republican broadcasters, or when newspapers are forced to compete in the free market.

Republicans are all for the freedom of the press, except when the press includes anything at all that questions the beliefs of Republicans and the status quo.

 

Both Democrats and Republicans think the government should control, to some degree, who and what a "journalist" is, and what they can say...even though the Constitution is pretty clear about disallowing that.

 

Democrats are very, very concerned about the survival of people at the end of their lives, and are willing to impoverish us all to prove it.

Republicans are very, very concerned with the survival of people at the beginning of their lives, and are willing to prosecute us all to prove it.

 

Democrats have a collection of hysterical superstitions and myths they want to impose on children; this is called "environmentalism."

Republicans have a collection of hysterical superstitions and myths they want to impose on children; this is called "Jesus."

 

Democrats are all for the Bill of Rights...except for the Second Amendment.

Republicans want the strictest interpretation of the Bill of Rights...except for the Second Amendment.

 

Democrats want a large, omnipresent government, which involves itself in every aspect of our lives...but don't want to actually pay for it.

Republicans don't want a large, omnipresent government, which involves itself in every aspect of our lives...just a large, omnipresent government which involves itself in YOUR life. Because you're sneaky and dangerous.

 

Democrats want financial institutions to act responsibly and intelligently...except when doing so means that poor people and minorities won't get any loans.

Republicans want financial institutions to be free of government interference...except when doing so would break Wall Street's monopoly on trading, and open markets to actual consumers.

 

Democrats believe in freedom of religion except when a religion chooses to keep a lot of guns on a big ranch with a high fence, and participates in arranged marriages.

Republicans believe in freedom of religion except when a religion worships Satan. Or Allah.

 

Democrats and Republicans are both scared to death of taking on the Catholic Church, even though it's a hostile foreign power that is complicit in raping American children.

 

Democrats believe that an expensive, state-run education paid for by you and me is the only way to warn kids about the dangers of consumerism.

Republicans believe that an expensive, state-run education paid for by you and me is the only way to warn kids about the dangers of science.

 

Both Democrats and Republicans believe that it is necessary for government to be involved in your personal relationships, to the point where they want the state to issue a license and a contract to couples, which proves they love each other.

 

Democrats live in fear that you will do something that will hurt them, so you're not allowed to order a gun through the mail.

Republicans live in fear that you will do something fun, so you're not allowed to gamble online.

 

Democrats are totally against genetic manipulation of agricultural products, because, somehow, DNA and RNA poses a direct threat to your health.

Republicans are totally against reduction of nuclear weapons, because, somehow, the ability to blow the crap out of the planet 700 times over poses a direct threat to your safety, compared to having the ability to blow the crap out of the planet 800 times over.

 

Both Democrats and Republicans are violently against prostitution, because....okay, I'm not really clear on that. But they are.

 

Democrats see no direct relation between socialism and Maoist China, Stalinist Russia, and Castro's Cuba.

Republicans see no direct relation between theocracy and Revolutionary Iran, Torquemada's Spain, and Talibantastic Afghanistan.

 

Both Democrats and Republicans really, really want there to be some correlation between porn and sexual violence. Neither, evidently, are ready to admit the existence of the Internet.

 

Democrats loathe the idea that someone could be profiting on something that eludes government control and taxation.

Republicans loathe the idea that someone could be enjoying something that eludes government monitoring and prohibition.

 

Both Democrats and Republicans use children to justify their particular manias and neuroses. This has ruined fireworks on the Fourth of July, broadcast television, off-road vehicles, and the freedom to own any kind of animal you damned well choose.

 

Democrats clearly want to revile George H. W. Bush for a incident taken out of context, where he was at a trade show for new supermarket technology, and was impressed with an advanced form of the common laser scanner-- they made it appear as if he was so out of touch with regular Americans that he had not been to a supermarket to see a grocery scanner before, which was patently untrue.

Republicans clearly want to revile Al Gore for a comment taken out of context, where he was stating that he was involved in the inception of the Internet, when he was actually involved with the DARPA budget process when that agency built and expanded ARPANet into our current Internet-- they made it appear as if he was claiming credit for inventing the Internet, which was patently untrue.

 

 

These two groups are, as you can see, completely different. This gives us a broad, interesting choice of political candidates, who offer a variety of solutions to various questions, and come to very disparate conclusions about how the people of this country should be allowed to live their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

Entry the Fifteenth - Encouraging Words

By SLOW | August 19, 2010 at 8:44 PM PST


 

 

I belong to several professional groups, some of which deal in security, others in computers, and a couple in education...at least one of which is involved in all three. They constantly send out updates, press clippings, and calls to action.

 

These memos quite often address a topic of some urgency to the organization(s) in question: the terrifying lack of women in the field of information technology (IT).

 

Now, perhaps I am jaded because, in my experience, there doesn't seem to be much of a dearth of XX chromosomes in the workplaces I've frequented. In fact, in every job I've ever had involving information or information technology or information security, either my boss, my boss's boss, or my boss's boss's boss has been a woman (with one notable exception, which I'll get to in a moment).

 

Oh, sure-- there's the old cliche of the overabundance of male computer geeks sitting around, pining for girls, with only the odd female or two to round out the cohort. You'd be hard-pressed to find a good 50/50 split of girl gamers on any given multiplayer server at the moment.

 

But they exist. Those girl gamers. Maybe not at the same proportion as women represent in the American population (they outnumber men, actually, 51/49...so, if they wanted, they could vote us all into an even greater slavery than, say, marriage), but they're there.

 

So I'm not buying this whole "lack-of-chicks-in-IT" conspiracy theory. For one thing, it seems suspiciously narrowminded; it is never coupled with the "lack-of-chicks-driving-tow-trucks" rallying cry, or the "lack-of-chicks-in-landscaping" fearmongering. In fact, the very first time I call for a plumber and a woman is dispatched to my house to fix the sink, I will instantly feel some sympathy for those who believe that females are underrepresented in the world of computers.

 

Flip it, if you'd like: I've applied for jobs as an administrative assistant. Not once did I ever get a call back for a second interview, even though I type 120 words per minute, am obsessive about grammar and spelling, and was taught by the government how to answer the telephone. I'm thinking there's probably some sexual discrimination going on in the secretarial field. Where have you seen a male secretary, outside of television programs?

 

That's going to bring me to the next point: government intervention. When these groups complain about the lack of women in the computer field, they inevitably follow this up with their proposed solution: have the government "encourage" females to join. Schemes often include "sponsoring" programs for young girls, such that they'll be drawn into studying computer science in middle school, high school, and college (and thus, supposedly, go become IT nerds in the workplace).

 

As if government "encouragement" has ever worked real well in terms of social engineering. Let's put a name on that, shall we? The only kind of "encouragement" government can actually do is take tax dollars and give them to someone. So, in effect, programs that "sponsor" girls to study something (whatever it is, be it the exciting world of oil changes at the local Jiffy Lube, or computer science) are subsidizing those women in their eventual role in the professional realm. This means, quite literally, that we are paying them more (over the course of a lifetime) than their male counterparts-- because the men and women will both earn IT nerd salaries, but the women received "sponsorships," scholarships, and entry into programs that do not admit men.

 

Didn't we used to complain about disparity in pay along gender lines? Wouldn't this kind of plan be anathema to the concept of sexual equality and fair play?

 

Here's the funny thing about the exception I mentioned earlier...the exception to my personal experience with having female bosses: the one job I had in information/security/technology in which I did not have a female superior somewhere up the food chain was the military. That would fall under the auspices of the government, if I remember correctly. So those folks who whine about how we need the government to intercede in the job market on behalf of computer-oriented women don't seem to realize that the single place where the government has the most control, the most purview over who goes into what field, is the place where government consistently fails to get equal numbers of male and female applicants: the uniformed services.

 

Face it: more women are entering college than men at the moment; that's true for both undergrad and post-grad programs. Women live longer. Women control the majority of household expenditures (by family) in America.

 

To suggest that women are somehow staying out of the computer field for any reason other than most women don't want to study computers is absolutely ludicrous. And suggesting that the solution to this "problem" is having the government throw money at it is worse than absurd: it's a waste of money that is taken from all of us.

 

You'll have to excuse me for now: my girlfriend, the one who teaches Web design while completing her law degree, asked me to go kill a spider.

 

 

 

 
 

Entry the Fourteenth - Updates From The World

By SLOW | August 1, 2010 at 1:24 PM PST

 

Recently, I got to participate in the Northern California Literary and Storybook Festival, hosted by the Roseville Library system, at the Maidu Library and Community Center.

 

It rocked. Muchly.

 

Big, big congrats and thank-yous to Jamie Finley and Dena Grover, who made it all happen, and were kind enough to include us. I don't know enough ways to express gratitude and amazement at their efforts.

 

 

We did the normal signing thing: sitting around, waiting for people to pretend to be interested in any of my books, then talking with them about it. As usual, the vast preponderance of people who supposedly came over to talk about my books really came over instead to tell me their life story...as if I could do something about it. Their life, I mean.

 

I wish I had that kind of power. I don't even really control my own life-- I have a girlfriend for that.

 

So there were the normal crazies. The Dude With A Conspiracy Theory. The Woman With A Health Problem.

 

But I had some visitors who genuinely just wanted to talk...about writing, about my writing, about stuff. Two, in particular, stand out as exception: they were both interesting and entertaining, and I was impressed with them as people and book fair attendees.

 

Of COURSE they had exquisite personal hygiene. That did not make them stand out. Even the bums at the library tend to be more kempt than bums elsewhere (free and unlimited access to washrooms). No, these two visitors took me aback because they each made me aware of something I had previously not realized (the Something was different from each).

 

The first, Sarah Blankenship, introduced me to Day Zero, a website where you can create, track, and schedule your own personal list of Things To Do. I am a little pissed that I did not think of this website concept before the Zero Day people, because it would dovetail so nicely with my first book...but it's still a really cool idea, and I can't truly resent them for it. It's really well executed, too. And free. Sarah was terminally cool, and just generally happy about life in general. Unfortunately, she wants to be a writer, so she's pretty much doomed to a life of misery and chemical dependence. Sad, for such a nice girl.

 

The other young lady...was a really young lady. Still in grade school, if I figure correctly. And she taught me about expressing passion for something through the use of a scrapbook.

 

Let me interrupt myself momentarily: I had known, prior to that day, that the verb "scrapbooking" existed. However, I thought it was restricted to describe homely old spinsters experiencing a painful existence of misery, loneliness, and self-loathing. I did not know that young, interesting, and pleasant people were involved in this stuff.

 

"Alex" seems to be a teen/pre-teen/'tween with a definitely decided notion of how she wants to approach things. She actually didn't talk to me all that much at the signing: she was busy accomplishing her self-induced mission. Her mother, though, explained that Alex had become in interested in writing, and had come up with a plan to indulge her attraction to the topic through scrapbooking.

 

As I said, I know next to nothing about scrapbooking. If I mess this up, it is not because Alex got it wrong, it's because I don't understand it fully.

 

Alex first reviewed the list of all authors appearing at the Festival. She then researched their works via the cyberinterwebs, and created a physical, construction-paper looseleaf page for each writer, to be included in her scrapbook. She learned a bit about each author, and where they would be appearing. She then collected all her materials, and had her family take her to the Festival.

 

Alex went around to each author and had them sign each page of her scrapbook. She got a photograph either of or with each writer, which she will include on their particular page. She picked up any additional materials available, which the writers were distributing (bookmarks, flyers, etc.).

 

I have friends in some of America's intelligence services who, I'm certain, do not do as thorough a job of characterizing their targets as Alex did with her scrapbook.

 

I explained my impression of Alex to her mother. Her mother did not seem all that surprised with Alex's approach to the Festival, and her hobby...or, rather, she may just have been through being surprised by Alex's voracious and encompassing tactics.

 

When I pointed out that Alex was certainly poised to become the author she wanted to be, Alex's mom wasn't so sure...not because she doubted Alex's ability to accomplish whatever she wanted to do...but because this is not Alex's first involvement in a topic. Her mom didn't list them, but Alex has evidently been through several areas of study already.

 

I am exhausted thinking about it.

 

I hope Alex hires me when she grows up.

 

In other Festival news, the Sacramento Story Hour hosted its first event...amazing a discrete selection of our family and friends (and without some of our family and friends, who were either late, or seduced to other Festival panels-- AHEM; yes, I look at you, a couple of my regular readers). My buddy Andy Hartzell made the trip out from the Bay Area, and didn't successfully decline an invitation to take part in a future event. It was actually an excellent launch to the series, and, from what I could tell, a good time was definitely had by all.

 

Kyle Byard started us off with a tale of PUDS (that's Post-USAFA Dream Syndrome) and the First Day Jitters; Joe d'Eon rounded it out with a great story about Air Force fliers; I included a brief bit on trying to do the same stuff you always do, even when you're getting old; and Susan Grant shared an excerpt from one of her (many) published works...this one about a demon sentenced to Colorado for eternity.

 

Yeah-- I shiver thinking about it. I only had to spend four years there, and I almost collapsed under the strain.

 

This month, we're at a new venue, and a new member, with possibly some new material. I am stoked.

 

 

 
 

Entry the Thirteenth - Good Actor, Bad Chooser

By SLOW | August 06, 2010 at 00:24 AM PST

 

Tom Jane is probably a very nice guy. And he's certainly a passable actor. But he's lousy at picking roles.


Or his people are. His agent. Whatever. Someone needs to sit the boy down and really go over some rules with him.


First off, if Darabont is writing and directing, it damned well better be a story by Stephen King set in a prison. Sure, okay, "The Mist" is from King, but there aren't any prisons. Well, the setting is a sort of ersatz prison, if you think about it, but that's not the same. I mean, you're gonna need bars, guards, the whole deal-- not just the idea of being trapped somewhere by forces greater than you.


Which is what "The Mist" is all about. The novella, anyway. The movie, Darabont turned into some kind of social commentary on the fascism of religious fervor and blah-blah-blah...which he pretty much covered in his Red Scare flick, the awful "Mystic Pizza." Or "Mister Majestyk." Or something like that. It had Jim Carrey, trying to look loveable, and not like a psychotic eel squeezed in an acne-scarred vice.


And that's the problem when you take Darabont out of a King prison: he tries to get smart instead of clever. He's a very clever fellow. He does clever quite well. But, well, he's not that good at smart. Which is a shame-- there was some good acting in "The Mist." Marcia Gay Harden, especially, but Andre Braugher being Andre Braugher, too (who is still, to this day, one of the world's best Angry Black Men, Sam Jackson and Sid Poitier notwithstanding).


Darabont tried to get smart, and did some really dumb things. Like...okay, if you're a King fan, and haven't seen the movie, but have read the story, then you are familiar with one of the most haunting pieces of literary imagery in all of written language (if you're not, and don't want to know, then don't read this next part): when the protag/narrator is driving off into the fearsome, dreadful, deadly unknown at the end, down a fog-blanketed highway to who-knows-where, he mentions that he recently drove under a leg...that he couldn't even see what it supported, it was so high and obscured by the mist. That's a powerful bit of prose. It's a creepy notion, especially because King's spent all of the rest of the novella building up to this creepiness by having unseen things in the mist slaughtering people left, right, and center.


What does Darabont do? He shows us the thing the leg is attached to. From a distant perspective, showing us the whole picture: the monster, and all its legs, walking over the highway, where Jane's character's car sits (not driving, unlike the story...losing much of the urgency).


We don't really want to see it. That's not nearly as scary. We've seen big monsters. Sure, this one is rendered well, but so what? We've been raised on Spielberg and Lucas monster movies-- we don't need Darabont to take all the mystery out of one of King's most lasting notions by revealing the damn thing.


And Darabont tacks on an ending, too.


Okay, whatever-- Jane made a bad call with that one. Fine. It happens. He thought he'd be a Morgan Freeman or Tom Hanks in a Darabont picture, and instead he's less than a Carrey (zounds! is such a thing possible?).


Then there's "Killshot." Hint: don't go up against Mickey Rourke as the criminal in an Elmore Leonard piece.


Hell, if you can swing it, BE the criminal in an Elmore Leonard piece. They're always the most fun. They get the best lines. They get the best action. Duvall in "Joe Kidd." Clooney in "Out of Sight." Travolta in "Get Shorty." Everyone in "Cat Chaser." Maybe the only good guy to ever carry an Elmore piece was the aforementioned Majestyk, by Chuck Bronson. (Yeah, okay-- Eastwood and J-Lo held their own in those first two, as Joe Kidd and Karen Cisco.)


But Jane went up against Rourke playing a maniacal Native American assassin. How're you going to beat THAT? What was he thinking? Oh, and Rourke had the kid from "Brick" as a sidekick. You're not going to be able to top the bad guys, no matter what a swell, badass good guy you are.


Tom, Tom, Tom...seriously, man....get someone to help you vet scripts, okay?


He did okay with his TV turn on "Arrested Development." Granted, he was playing himself, so that takes a bit of the challenge out of it. They even have Opie Cunningham do a voiceover mentioning Jane as a "movie star," just to rub salt in the wound. But anyone who would pass up ANY role on that show doesn't want to be actor. Or a human being.


Still..."Mutant Chronicles"? Ugh. There was a flick that spent so much time fellating itself over any opportunity to glorify steampunk, it broke its metaphorical neck. Ten minutes of the transport ship lifting off? That's what I want to see?


No. I don't. Not at all.


The whole movie was really two punchlines, each with an hour of build-up. Honestly, Jane services the material well...for what it is. But even he can't overcome the fact that he's prancing around in front of a green screen equipped solely for the purpose of satisfying nerds who long for the wonder and advanced technology of the nineteenth century.


"Dreamcatcher"? "Deep Blue Sea"? A sequel to "The Crow"???!?!? How in the name of sanity did anyone think you could follow the movie Brandon Lee DIED making?


"The Punisher" is just unfilmable. Everyone knows that. It's been proven, like, three times. No studio in the world is going to get behind a character that mercilessly kills petty criminals in premeditated fashion. Heck, even Marvel watered down Punisher once it became popular.


We'll forgive him for "Thin Red Line." Everyone in Hollywood fell for that. It's like Malick has naked photos of each and every A-list actor since 1959 performing unnatural acts with small, woodland creatures.


But Tom, please-- just get someone new to pick the films you star in, okay? "The Butler's In Love"? You're better than that.

 
Entry the Twelfth - Do Something For me

By SLOW | July 28, 2010 at 8:24 PM PST

 

 

 

I belonged to a youth group in high school. I distinctly remember taking part in a fundraising committee meeting, with members of our group and the adult members of the associated parent organization. They were talking about how to plan the upcoming phone-a-thon, where members of both groups would spend the afternoon of one day on the weekend calling a list of people in the community, asking them for money.

 

I suggested that, instead of begging, we do something useful, in exchange for the money. Sweep the streets. Do yardwork. Paint houses.

 

I was laughed at. Mostly by my father, who was quite active on the parents' board.

 

Ten years later, some peanut-farming ex-POTUS goes and rips off my idea, winning him a Nobel Prize. Kind of.

 

It's many years later, now. And I am bombarded with requests to sponsor my friends and colleagues while they perform activities that are entirely useless. Walking. Running. Biking.

 

Let me correct that-- these activities are useless to everyone except THEM. The participants. The people I know, the ones who are asking me to give them money. All those activities are fun, promote individual health, and have a social component. Basically, this would be like me asking my friends to give me money so I could go have sex with beautiful women.

 

Which is not a bad idea, and one I may revisit later.

 

So here's how they try to take the curse off it: in exchange for my money, they will give a portion of it to some philanthropic effort.

 

Still not seeing how this is a viable plan. Seems really silly to me, in fact.

 

Here's my new suggestion: if you want me to give you money, so that you can give some of that money to someone you feel deserves it, then do something of value to me. Wash my car. Mow my lawn. Paint my house. You will get exercise, same as that other thing you're doing. It might be social (especially if you have others participate in the activity with you).

 

Granted, it won't be fun, like that other type of activity you wanted me to pay for. But, really, should you be having fun when you're ostensibly thinking about some sad woman whose body has been mutilated in the name of radical mastectomy, or some kid who goes into insulin shock? Honestly, imagine yourself hosting a bake-off in the name of feeding starving kids in Africa. What would it be like, hundreds of people in numbered chef's aprons, manning picnic tables, while posters of emaciated, fly-ridden kids with swollen bellies adorned the public gathering?

 

Pretty sick, is what. Think about that, next time you go running to support cystic fibrosis.

 

Moreover, there are some of you with amazing talents. You are doctors and businesspeople and researchers and salespeople and financiers. Why not put those skills to use in the name of your cause? Instead of spending a Saturday doing something fun in the name of fighting blindness, why not spend that time working at a firm that does research into curing diseases which cause blindness? You can do it sans pay, if that makes you feel altruistic.

 

Because, really, that's what you're asking me to do: work for no pay. I go to work, earn my money, and then give it to you, so you can dress up in Lycra and pedal through the countryside. I have worked for money that does not bring me benefit, then; but it benefits you (and, ostensibly, the kids with cerebral palsy).

 

Therefore, I'm done with it. I'm not going to "sponsor" you-- hang on. Let's look at that, too, for a minute, because it's rather telling. Why don't we use the word "pay" when you talk about me giving you money? Why do we use "sponsor"? I'm thinking it's because you don't really want to call out the truth of what's happening in this transaction: I'm paying you to do something of no value to me. If you did that at work, if you tried to collect pay without providing value, you'd get fired. So why is it okay to stiff me, but not your employer?

 

I hereby announce: I'm done paying you so that you can have fun and get in shape, in the name of some theoretically-needy end-recipient. Stop asking me.

 

Be honest with everyone: why don't you just "sponsor" yourself? Why don't you take money you earned by doing something of value (we call this "work"), and give it to the end user, then go out and run around with your friends?

 

If you don't have enough money to sponsor yourself, you can probably do more work to make up for it. Put a number on your chest, while you're doing this extra work, and you can pretend you're in a giant Work Marathon, and you're competing with a bunch of other dopes to see who will do the most work with no pay, if that makes you feel better.

 

But I ain't gonna "sponsor" you, anymore...unless you're doing something for me, in return.

 
Entry the Eleventh - Stupid Instructions (with footnotes)
By SLOW | July 22, 2010 at  11:50 PM PST




This one's got a big graphic, so click HERE to see it.

Entry the Tenth - Back To School  

By SLOW | July 17, 2010 at 3:35 PM PST

 


In an earlier essay, I discussed how schools (and taxpayers) could do away with the burden of providing IT infrastructure for students, as it is really not a necessary element of instruction...how all IT responsibility could be foisted off on parents, the private sector, and other third parties, with a model more reminiscent of how books and other school supplies are handled, rather than our "We Will Take Care Of Everything" current scheme for handling computers in schools.

 

Another good idea: flip that idea on its head...go with the total opposite configuration. Have schools be nothing but computers.

 

If we could distribute delivery of education content via the Internet, we could make several improvements in K-12 education.

 

- Homogenize content. We have a great disparity in classes, not just from state to state, or district to district, or school to school, but from classroom to classroom. This is because teacher quality differs: some know the material better, some are better at presenting it, and some are superlative at classroom management (vastly underrated by non-teachers, and prized among those who have driven a blackboard). If we used an objective measure such as students' change in ability over the course of a given class, then picked the very best curriculum, and the very best rubric, delivered by the very best teacher (or an actor given a script and supervised by that teacher), filmed that, and allowed each student to have access to it, then each student would derive the benefit of the very best we have to offer...instead of some students receiving less than that.

 

- Perversely and conversely, customize content. By allowing a distributed, multimedia instrument for delivering content, instead of a single, staid method (the classroom lecture), students could receive instruction in the form best suited to them: some would watch a film, some would read text, some would play a game...instead of a one-size-fits-all program, each would get content tailored to their needs. A recent Freakonomics podcast featured a distributed-learning, multimedia education program fielded by the New York City public school system which uses an algorithm that learns specific needs of individual students, then delivers the content in the form that best suits them. Genius.

 

- Get rid of expensive, useless infrastructure. There is no reason to have a specific building where everyone has to gather each day to receive information. We have the best tool for delivering information to your home right now, and it's cheap and widely available. The expense of having property, maintaining a physical plant, expending energy to move people back and forth to that location each day; all of this is unnecessary, cumbersome, and inefficient.

 

- Eliminate social harms. Many people purport to be big fans of physically gathering children in one place each day because these people claim that children need "socialization." This is stated as if it's an obvious benefit. In fact, the social ills of assembling children could very well outweigh the benefits: "socialization" in current schools includes drugs, sex, gangs, peer pressure, bullying, physical and psychological violence...none of these things actually prepare students for adult life (the mantra used by the "we need to socialize kids" crowd), and most get in the way of learning. Moreover, there are more sinister aspects of "socialization" in the educational sector: a recent Reason article by Katherine Mangu-Ward (from the Aug-Sep 2010 print issue, not yet online at the time of this blog posting) points out studies which reveal black students sabotaging their own education, so that their peers don't accuse them of "acting white." This is one alarming facet of the longtime problem: doing well in school does not often lead to popularity, and is in fact hindered by other students. Get kids out of classrooms, and you might let them actually perform the best they can.

 

There are many, many problems that a distributed learning model would have to overcome in order to supplant our current way of teaching...but none of those problems are insurmountable, and we have the technology and wherewithal to do so, right now.

 

Do we, however, have the surety of purpose and stamina to make the necessary changes?

 

I'm worried we might not.
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Entry The Ninth - The Truth, Unfettered

By SLOW | July 10, 2010 at 5:22 PM PST

 


            Emperor Strenk entered the room where Coyle was bound; the younger man was wrapped in steel-mesh cables and surrounded by eight armored guards. Coyle looked up defiantly as Strenk approached.

            "So you finally show yourself, eh, Strenk? I knew you were behind this the whole time."

            Strenk offered up one of his trademark grimaces. "Secret Agent Coyle, what are you doing here?"

            Even chained, Coyle exuded toughness; his muscles strained against the bonds, and his grin was white and clean, except for the two-inch, perfectly-straight trickle of blood at the left corner of his mouth, bright red though perfectly dry. "Didn't think I'd catch on to your plan, did you, Strenk? Well, you should know you'll never get away with it, as long as--"

            Strenk, impatient, cut him off. "No, I mean it: what are you doing here? Why, exactly are you here? Right now, today."

            Coyle blinked only once. "You should know that the free people of this world will never sit back and let tyrants like you destroy--"

            Strenk lowered his head, pinching the bridge of his nose with one hand, while the other cupped his elbow. His voice came out high-pitched and loud, demonstrating clear exasperation. "Coyle, I get it-- you're a tough guy, and a good guy. Fine. We're all up to speed on that one. What I don't get," his voice rose at this part, and he dropped his arms to his sides, and stared at the chained man as he yelled, "is what the piss you're DOING HERE."

            Coyle set his firm, square, chiseled jaw, and looked the evildoer directly in the eye. "I'm here to stop you, of course. You'll never get away with it."

            Strenk said nothing for a second, staring straight back at the superspy. Then he spat, "Get away with WHAT, Coyle? What are you preventing me from doing??"

            Coyle didn't even pause for a moment. "I'm going to foil your plan."

            "Nobody talks like that!" Strenk yelled. "Foiling? Who foils? Are you out of your damned mind? And what are you babbling about? What plan are you foiling?"

            As much as anyone could while wrapped in steel-mesh cables, Coyle leaned back, relaxed and confident. "Oh, wouldn't you just like me to tell you, so you could get away with it."

            Now Strenk threw his hands up in the air. "That doesn't even make any SENSE! Why would I want you to confess MY plan to-- I mean, if I had a plan, then I would know what it was, and I wouldn't-- look, forget it. This is intensely stupid. You are a very silly man. You know that? You are crazy. This is crazy."

            "Ah-ha!" Coyle yelled. "I knew it! You DO have an evil plan! I tracked you to your lair, and now I'm going to spoil your plan."

            "Tracked--" Strenk stopped, his cheeks bulging, his throat clenching a bit. "I get my Netflix here. I gave this address to my probation officer. He visits twice a month. What 'tracked'? Are you mental?"

            "Don't play games with me, Strenk!" Coyle's metallic-blue eyes glinted with charming intensity. "I know you're trying to take over the world!"

            There was another pause. Strenk just stared at him. Coyle was breathing heavily.

            "You are mental."

            "Look, Emperor, you can't--"

            But the evil overlord interrupted him again. "No. Shut up. You are crazy. I haven't tried to take over the world for...oh, I don't even know. Twenty years, maybe. The last time I tried--"

            Now it was Coyle's turn to butt in. "I quashed your scheme!"

            "Shut up!" Strenk screamed. "That was, like, two decades ago! You were wearing bell bottoms, for crying out loud; I had on a velour leisure suit and cape! That was another generation. It was in the PAST. You are out of your tiny little mind."

            "Still bitter, eh, Strenk?"

            "Look AROUND, you moron!" Strenk yelled, waving an arm. "I am on a tropical island, which I own, free and clear." His voice sped up, and got a little less strident, a little more friendly, for just a second. "Professor Kill's place in Telluride was going to be foreclosed if he didn't raise some cash and cut some overhead, so I was able to pick this place up from him for a steal, with all the amenities, and he covered the closing costs." He was then shouting again, angry. "I've got a high-tech base in the center of a volcano, with a helipad and an airfield and port facility nearby. I am served by four dozen young, athletic people of both genders, who all wear form-fitting, skintight, revealing jumpsuits, and are willing to capture government agents, fight off invading military forces, or gladly take a bullet or laser blast for me. I eat fresh fruit out of season, my staff gets gorgeous seafood less than a mile off shore, we get excellent high-speed wireless reception, and I have 300 days of sunshine each year above a mean temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit. For what possible, utterly-stupid reason would I want to TAKE OVER THE WORLD??"

            Now it was Coyle's turn to grimace. "You dastardly--"

            Again, an interruption. "Oh, just SHUT UP, already! You are crazy, you know that? You are plain whackadoodle! You know what happens when you take over the world? Do you? Do you? No, you don't-- you've never even thought it through, have you? Well, I have. I have. You know what happens? They start to expect you to start taking care of things! Yes. When you're in charge, you have to get stuff done. The trash has to be picked up on Thursdays. Roads have to be maintained. Bread has to get from the baker to the shelves to people's houses. It's a royal pain in the ass, is what it is, and who would want all that trouble???"

            Coyle squinted at the red-faced, screaming Strenk. "I know you better, Strenk."

            Strenk threw his arms up again, higher and more emphatically than before. "What is your PROBLEM, Coyle? You think I want that? What kind of idiot wants that?? LOOK AROUND. See the island? See the good-looking people?" He leaned forward and down, stabbing his finger into Coyle's chest as punctuation. "Not. Interested. In. World. Domination. Moron."

            Coyle stared at him. Strenk stared back. The longest pause yet was filled with both men breathing heavily. Then Coyle snapped, "You're trying to poison the country's turkey supply, right before the holiday season."

            Everything froze. Strenk's pupils dilated. The guards, normally icily reserved and stoic under their polished helmets and leather chinstraps, went from staring straight ahead in disciplined formation, to slowly turning their heads to look down at the shackled secret agent.

            A long pause followed. A very long pause. A pause that might even be called a snack break, in other situations. Then Strenk finally spoke up.

            "That has got to be the stupidest thing I have ever heard in my entire life."

            Coyle cocked an eyebrow, and shot back, grinning. "Stupid, because I'm right?"

            Strenk shook his head from side to side, slowly, staring at the captured man in amazement. The he turned and walked slowly to the door. Without looking toward the guards or the captive, he said, "I'm going back to bed. Contact his embassy on the mainland, let them know he's here, and that we'll be sending him back on the next ferry."

            Coyle yelled after him. "No turkeys, huh? Well-- you've got a mind-control ray that rides on television waves, don't you? Don't you?"

            "Screw the ferry," Strenk said, passing through the door. "Put him on the fishing hydrofoil, make a special trip, get him back there tonight."

            Coyle's voice could barely be heard as the door slid shut behind Strenk. He was yelling something about nuclear space lasers.
Entry The Eighth - Our National Language

By SLOW | July 2, 2010 at 10:24 PM PST

 

 

I think it's about time we got a national language. We've been spending far too long just cruising along without one. I mean, how did we ever survive all these years without having an official, no-kidding, American language?? Are we crazy? Don't we know how soon disaster follows, when you just let anyone speak any old way?

 

Oh, sure. Others have tried, before, to establish the Official Language of the United States of America. There was even that one time when someone tried to force the federal government to print all laws in German. [Ahem.] But nobody has had such a great notion as mine, I think.

 

Fine-- there will be whiners. There will be those people who make such useless arguments as "a national language means we're not free" and "doing that would be in direct contradiction to the First Amendment," and "what-- you wanna be like FRANCE??"

 

You know what I say to those people? Well...I don't say anything to them. They don't really listen through all that loud whining. Anyway, why bother? They're not going to change their minds.

 

 

Oh-- one thing: I don't think our national language should be English.

 

Why not? Well, simply put: English is HARD. I mean, it's a really tough language, both for learning it and for using it. Heck, I was an English professor for a while, and I have no idea whatsoever about properly using English properly for use. In English.

 

Think about it: what other language has so many silent letters? So many exceptions to every rule? The bizarre practice of subjunctive verb conjugation with dependant nominative clauses? [See, I have no idea what that means, but it SOUNDS like something that could be a rule in English, which gives you an idea of really just how messed up our language actually is.]

 

Yeah, there are some people (like Stephen Notley) who try to help out by explaining the arcana that is our quasi-typical language, but they're pretty much useless. Like English professors.

 

All-righty, then-- ready for the announcement? Ready to hear what language you're going to have to start learning in order to be understood at the post office from now on?


Olde English.

 

Yeah, you read that correctly. That's "Olde" with a final "e".

 

Time to kick it REALLY Olde School, and get back to our cultural roots, man. No more corrupting influences in our national vocabulary, making it sound all foreign-like. We're going to get rid of all those offshore invaders, those terms and phrases that have perverted our language away from the uncut, pure English it once was. Goodbye, "pasta" and "filet" and "gumbo" and "barbeque" and "corvette" and "vice versa." Get lost, "panda" and "zeppelin" and "automobile" and "chili" and "polo" and "tobacco." Don't let the door hit you on the ass, "Tuesday" and "catsup" and "raccoon" and "commando" and "nugget" and "jukebox" and "diaper" and "carol" and "golf" and "dollar" and "blitz" and "whiskey" and "bible." Hasta la vista, "hasta la vista."

 

Baby, I'm drawing the hard line right here: if it wasn't in our language before the year 1300, then it stays out of the national language. KEEP OUT, FOREIGNERS. No more will we tolerate you polluting our precious English. We will have laws mandating the use of ENGLISH, and ONLY ENGLISH, from here on out. If you use any other word, from any other language, in an official capacity, you face prison time, bucko.

 

So...get used to it.

 

Ummm...you're going to have to stop using "America." Sorry about that. That...wasn't ours. That came from Italian. A name, really. You remember, from grade school? Not kindergarten, well, because...well, that word is out. Kindergarten. It's German. And Alabama. And Oklahoma. Those were Algonquin. Arizona's gonna have to change its name, too. That's from the Papago language. Sorry. Mississippi was Ojibwa. Nebraska was Omaha. So was...well, Omaha. I'll bet you saw that coming. Dakota was Sioux, so we gotta change those two states. So were Minnesota and Kansas. Kentucky and Ohio were Iroquois. Illinois was Miami. Really. I'm thinking Miami might have been Miami, too (both in Florida and Ohio). Connecticut was Mohican. Utah, Navajo. Idaho, Shoshone. California-- who knows what those freaks were. They weren't Ameri-- uh, I mean "English," that's for sure. Nevada, Wisconsin, Iowa, Montana....oh, even Tejas. You're all SOL.

 

So all y'all foreign-named non-English states better get hoppin' and find yourselves some new names.

 

Don't worry-- there are plenty of benefits for going back to an older form of English. We get the use of "they" as a third-person singular gender-free pronoun, which is really cool. You can write a pronoun-laden sentence free of sexual bias without getting all into that dumbass "s/he" stuff. It's really cool. [Really.]

 

And you can use that long, "s"-looking  thingy for "f"....or is it "d"? Whatever. It's cool. [Back to Straight Dope, for the skinny.]

 

What's that you say? "English is the richest language in the world, because we take words from all other languages"? "We've got over a million words, which is good, and going backwards would be bad"? [Accurate, kinda, according to some people.] "Having more words allows your culture to excel, because then your brain can use more ideas"? I've heard that case made, sure.

 

Well, too bad: either get with the program, use Olde English, or you're going to jail, people. Can't hack it with 13th-century vocabulary and construction? Screw you, you unpatriotic slob.

 

 

It's time uue ufed a national language to better reprefent oure United States heritage.

 

Hey-- it was either this or Esperanto. Count yourself lucky.
 
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