January 31, 2009

Colbert recognizes Republican courage

All hail, those who dared vote against the stimulus package...

January 30, 2009

Fun with Streetview

There are parts of South Dakota we suggest you not try to invade...

Super Bowl Prediction

I had developed a pretty comprehensive framework for this using linear weights and a Bayesian probability tree, but I wrote the whole thing in Forth and for some reason I can't get it to run the floating point stuff correctly on my Mac. Apple customer support was unhelpful.

So here is Craig Ferguson's prediction, which is based on the team logos.

Obama to Blackwater: You're Fired

Story here.

January 29, 2009

"Owns His Own Computer"

Not to be outdone, The Counselor, the guy with the hotline to the guy with the place near the place not too far from the White House, and an awesome guitar, forwards us the wonders of some kind of futuristic connected computer system.

Isengard.Gov: Blazing New Link Trails

A forward from the President in Exile- you know the guy with the science book prize from some left wing media cabal- links both Fox News and Entertainment Weekly.

You know I love weird band names. “Hornets Attack Victor Mature” is still my favorite. So I enjoyed this short post and the related Fox News interview, which is heavily bleeped.


Fucked Up are quickly becoming the most popular "fuck" band, at least of the current crop of "fuck" bands: Fuck Buttons, the Fucking Wrath, Holy Fuck!, Total Fucking Destruction, Starfucker, Jackie-O Motherfucker, Fuck The Facts, the Fucking Champs (do they count as "current"?), etc. Why? The Chemistry of Common Life is a really good album -- one of '08s best -- but the Torontonians have also embraced the old-fashioned publicity stunt and/or album tie-in. Can't blame them, life is rough in the lightbulb factory, especially in this economy. As far as crossover, take a look at Pink Eyes/Damian Abraham's recent appearance on Fox News' Red Eye. Greg Gutfeld loves the band (and their antics). In fact, he says of Abraham, "If musical genius were a satellite dish, I'd screw him on my roof."

Also, the following is a funny interview. I know you don’t usually link to Entertainment Weekly, but it really is:

One of your new songs, ''Not Fair,'' is about a boyfriend who isn't very good in bed. Are you saying some men are not just naturally great at sex?
That's what I'm saying. I've witnessed it.


If I may add, I am disappointed that my latest addition to the language, the interjection "Fuckbeans!" has not been picked up as a band name.

Remote Republican Fairy Lands

Gallup's latest U.S. map, by declared party.

There are precious few places in America where a strong plurality of the people are Republicans.

My crack:

"Abe Lincoln would be proud. "

What is it with these magical fairylands where people choose to be Republicans? Here's my proposed statistical state characteristic checklist for wunderkind Nate Silverman at fivethirtyeight:

1. Rich in Wal Marts? y/n

2. Thick with religious cults? y/n

3. Not especially upset by incest? y/n

4. Percent of AM only radios above 25? y/n

5. Soft on Nazi enclaves? y/n

6. Teaching hair-trigger readiness to shoot intruders to ward off their constant schemes of intruding? y/n

7. Served in the military but never saw war? y/n

8. Scared of girls? y/n

9. Think the word "Scientist" means "God-Hater?" y/n

10. Irritated when dreams of wealth and fame constantly interrupted by drive train falling off of van? y/n

January 28, 2009

But there's no time!

Willie Hensley has a book, looks like it's good, if the Times review is to be trusted. Unrelated, undated, but interesting interview here.

A Republican against fiscal stimulus is like...

...a Christian Scientist with appendicitis. (link)

(Apologies to Tom Lehrer.)

America in the 21st Century, Part Deux

You see a Poison Control Center for kids, the State of Washington sees a chance to cut the deficit.

Goodbye Mr. Updike

Apart from an (unfortunate) attempt at reading The Centaur I didn't get far with his fiction. But his prose, and especially his essays in the New York Review of Books, struck me as uniformly excellent.

I never quite understood why he got so much sympathetic attention while he was alive, as compared with other white middle class prose technicians (Fowles, Cheever, Burgess). He had pride of place in the establishment publications - the earnestly middle-brow New York Times Book Review couldn't get enough of him. He was a Harvard man (went there on a full scholarship, edited the Lampoon, graduated summa cum laude) and they loved the guy. All the more reason to be skeptical of his big reputation.

Anyway, you never get the whole story until the body is cold. I hadn't known until today that some prominent critics derided him as light, that he'd dumped family #1, the degree to which his Bech character tweaked his Jewish literary rivals (esp. Salinger), or that he had roomed with the (increasingly relevant and Proto-DrXian) Lasch.

And I, superficial snot that I am, took his prolific output as evidence of (at best) diluted genius. Joyce Carol Oates puts me in my place on that score:
Someone said that John Updike publishes books as often as John O'Hara did, but thankfully his books weren't as long as O'Hara's... This is an attitude I can't understand. Any book by Updike is a happy event. The more the better.
She's right. I've read a lot of his work now, always thinking to myself this fellow is not quite at the summit. Yet I've never seen a misplaced or mis-chosen word, a sentence that wasn't handmade and polished, a paragraph that didn't serve the larger aim. He was a restrained and skilled prose stylist, and I was wrong to not respect that.

The LA Times obituary (literary obituaries are like book reviews, they just cover more material and have better insults) offers up Harold Bloom's best shot. Bloom called him "a minor novelist with a major style." It's a zinger, but so what? If you have a major style you are a major novelist. It's like saying Joe Montana was a good quarterback but not a good passer. Noel Coward wasn't great because he wasn't concerned with deep thoughts? Surely it is too much to ask even of a great novelist that they be deft with heft. Of all novelists perhaps only Joyce could fill that particular order. And it is not a black mark on a man's reputation that he wasn't quite as good as James Joyce.

The one thing that will probably stick is that Updike never seemed willing to risk it all. The title of his 1983 book of essays, Hugging the Shore, could well be his artistic motto. It's not as if he wasn't ambitious - rather, I suspect that he correctly saw that excessive ambition was a persistent vice of American literature.

He also seemed to understand that the relationship between a creative artist and critic is unlikely to be fruitful unless it is accompanied by intimate understanding and a certain degree of sympathy on the part of the critic. "It is almost impossible to avoid, in writing a review, the tone of being 'wonderfully right,' " he warned. His own critical work exhibited none of the arrogance you find in critical commentaries (like this one, for example). Pick up an Updike article from any of the last four decades, and you'll find beautifully crafted prose that gently argues but also educates (here's a recent one). Scarce in any time, supplies exhausted at the present hour.

Here's a trivia question - before men of letters became extinct, who was America's greatest man of letters?

Goodbye Mr. Updike, I don't think we'll see your like again.

January 27, 2009

Chess Mastery With Marcel Duchamp

Grandpappy Contemporary Artist Marcel Duchamp and Eve Babbit, 1963. A gambit that would I think easily defeat Kasparov.


January 26, 2009

Welcome to America, 2009

Remind me not to live to 90.

January 24, 2009

Now is the time to buy a nice watch

Really, the pricing is more attractive during a global depression. Ashford has some interesting items on sale, but this Hamilton everyday caught my eye - looks like a better value even than my old Broadarrow PRS-10.

If you ever felt a trace of guilt over an interest in horology, you may now set it aside. The Dalai Lama is a big fan. He is believed, and this is no joke, to be the only the only non-specialist known to be able to repair his own Patek Philippe watch. Details here.

Well take some then

"The president pleaded for urgent action..."

Meanwhile, here's an article on the ten inaugural balls he attended, with notes on how hot his wife looked and a picture of Mariah Carey singing her heart out.

Look you clowns, it's either Pearl Harbor or it's not. If it's not, stop scaring the crap out of everyone. If it is, maybe you should go to your fucking office and do some work.

I say we take up a collection, and buy this goalie a beer

"McIntosh might just be seeing pucks coming at him in his sleep tonight after making an incredible 95 saves."

I remember Chugiak back in the late 70s had a couple very young kids on defense and their goalie, a good player named Brad Lepper, would get 40-50 saves a night. Got so bad the Daily News ran a feature on him. I learned a lot about hockey from watching that team - they lost most of the time, but they always played the right way, and never quit on themselves or each other.

This got me thinking...Lepper was very quick and athletic, but not a particularly big guy. It made me wonder what is the body type of the ideal hockey goalie. This is apparently not a commonplace thought: Google "ideal hockey goalie" --> zero hits.

I went and looked at the Hall of Game goalies. Here are the dimensions of some of them:
- Patrick Roy, 6-0, 175-192
- Grant Fuhr, 5-9, 190
- Billy Smith, 5-10, 185
- Vladislav Tretiak, 6-1, 200
- Ken Dryden, 6-4, 210
- Bernie Parent, 5-10, 180-185

Some of these guys could play tight end in the NFL, while others...absolutely could not. It seems pretty obvious that a pretty broad range of body types can be successful.

So what is the key to success? Canadian scientists have found the answer.

January 23, 2009

Bush accomplishments circa 2004

This is pretty hilarious.

Some favourites:
  • Turned around an inherited economy that was in recession, and deeply shocked as a result of the 9/11 attacks.
  • Is seeking legislation to amend the Constitution to give the president line-item veto authority
  • Successfully executed two wars in the aftermath of 9/11/01: Afghanistan and Iraq
  • Initiated discussion on privatizing Social Security and individual investment accounts
  • Has reintroduced the mention of God and faith into public discourse
  • Signed the No Child Left Behind Act
  • best of all: Changed the tone in the White House, restoring HONOR and DIGNITY to the presidency
KO had a different take:

Labels: ,

January 22, 2009

Leaving well

So, Mr. Bush, you exit with honor?!

Larry King: Were you surprised the outgoing president issued no pardons.

Pelosi: I spoke to him about that yesterday at breakfast before we came to the Capitol and he was very proud of that. He said people who have gotten pardons are usually people who have influence or know friends in high places --is not available to ordinary people. So he was very proud of that. It was interesting. He thought that there was more access for some than others and he was not going to do any.

So, no pardon for Scooter. You know who's really mad about that? Cheney.

What to Do With All The Free Time

An unsubtle piece:

Waking up this morning with President Obama getting down to business and closing Gitmo, ending the worst excesses of CIA torture and hanging on to his Blackberry, I noticed several curious new sensations. For the first time in eight years, I found myself not immediately assuming that the actions of the President of the United States were motivated by personal arrogance, fascistic consolidation of power or the kleptocratic urge to benefit his wealthy personal associaties.

It was as if the President of the United States shares many -maybe even most - of my beliefs and intends to act in the best interests of the nation by gathering the most capable people that can be found to advise him on public policy, in conformity with the laws of the country and the ideals and requirements of the Constitution.

Suddenly, I am not being news-punched in the face every morning by the privileged Texas drunk who thought he was King Decider and his cynical or foolish followers. I realize that I am not going to be heart-sickened by an American smorgasboard of malfeaseance every god-damn morning. A lot of my brain schedule previously taken up by righteous outrage opens into a curiously large sinkhole of attention. I can only wonder what will rush in.

Which is Obama's call to service is interesting. The Laird noted a few weeks ago that Obama is suddenly every little kid's best friend. Obama is teaching the national ideals of America again to Americans, and far beyond mere policy to emotionally palpable democratic values and international good will, that very particular skill set of real inspiration, the kids are soaking it up. It bodes well for the future.

I have little doubt the President will disappoint me a hundred ways starting next Tuesday, although so far, I have trouble imagining a better early performance. But already the political mind finds room to imagine what is truly necessary and what is truly possible. This is the accomplishment of an amazing 48 hours in American history.

January 21, 2009

Whatever became of Pinback?

He got involved in some other movies after Dark Star...article here, interview here.

Eisengeiste According to wordle.net

For those who need a brief intermission:

Wordle: Isengard.gov

A good sign

Caroline Kennedy gives up. TPM with an amusing take.

What Executive Orders Did President Obama Definitely Not Issue This Morning?

Executive Order #22: Inexactly Worded Hummer Surcharge

Executive Order #13: Emergency Order Substituting George Clinton for Secretary of State

Executive Order #84: Removing Burdensome Regulations on Human Meat Alternatives

Executive Order #25: National Day of Cheney Slapping

Executive Order #43: Bans most bass solos, except in cases of rape, incest or to protect the health of the bass player.

Executive Order #37: Ordering Ginormous Fleet of Old Mach 5 SR-71s Blackbird Spyplanes To Restore U.S. Military's Coolness.

Executive Order #39: Allowing Impoverished Farmers to Homestead on Gated Communities

Executive Order #13: Ordering Conservative Columnists to Suck on This

Executive Order #53: Making This Saturday "Free Shit from Best Buy" Day.

Executive Order #97: Banning "Gay" Marriage. Also, defines registered Republicans as "Gay."

Executive Order #113: Declaring March 19 "National Community College Cafeteria Depression Awareness" Day.

Executive Order #20: Mandating Daily Flossing on Penalty of Death

Executive Order #73: Investment Banker Subway Sandwich Artist Retraining Initiative

Executive Order #93: Ordering Mother-in-Law to Please Zip It During Cabinet Meetings*

Note: With world problems so dire, and with the hopes of the world invested in the capabilities and competence of the new President, and with so few comic angles on a serious, inspirational and intelligent man , expect a full force return of the Mother-in-Law joke.

January 20, 2009

The Super Bowl Won't Be the Same Without Tom Brady

Here are a few things The Front thinks The Front thinks:
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota. Ass-freezing weather, the economy is basically Kansas 1933, and it seems like it's always dark. I get in a taxi and the radio's tuned to NPR, the Ethiopian driver can't talk about anything except how great it is to be in America and see Obama sworn in. Wherever I go - Minneapolis, Denver, El Paso - every cab driver is an Obama guy.
  • I was thinking about Latouche the other day, trying to remember how this character got in my head. And re-reading Delirious New York this weekend reminded me...it was all a reaction to Rem Koolhaas. I used to think Koolhaas was just a stupid poser. He'd write weird stuff about "eating small geometric food and voting over the phone" (no, really). But I noticed...he was starting to score points off of people and institutions that really deserved to be scored on (MOMA Inc., indeed). And I wondered, what if he's right...about everything? And, what would a totally uncritical follower of Rem Koolhaas look like? Anyway, that's what that was all about. (If Latouche were a D&D character we'd need a new alignment: Chaotic Incompetent.)
  • Here is a fun piece on the CCTV project Koolhaas completed in 2006. The west tower is for his ego, ba-dum-dum.
  • First Sea Lord puts his finger on the central problem with Modernism (apart from everything being a cube). It is destructive. It does not play well with others. Other styles may coexist reasonably well with one another - but Modernism blends with nothing. So if you are a Modernist, you are all-in baby, because there is no compromise. That's why this is the most overrated piece of shit ever foisted on a gullible public. Look! You can have pate with chocolate sauce! You can even pretend to like it, and that people who don't like it are boors. It still sucks.
  • Oh yeah, I got into the Pepys again. I know, if it's not Wodehouse it's Pepys. There ought to be a 12-step program for this. But not the Diary this time, not giving up three months of my life for that, nossiree... I'm about a third of the way into Richard Ollard's very worthy biography (written in 1974, updated in 1983 right after they finished the Diary index). I'm just pausing at the point here where...let's see...Pepys gets drunk with the royal chaplain and gets introduced to Charles II right before the Restoration. This is the sort of thing that happened to Pepys pretty regularly.
  • He was The Man. He was the architect of the Royal Navy. Survived the plague of 1665 and the London Fire of 1666. Hobnobbed with royalty. Went to jail...three times. Not some lame-ass debtors prison, either, they sent him up to The Tower, where he could sit in a room a watch guys with black hoods and axes walk by. Never convicted him of nothing. Ollard comments that Pepys' motto could have been: "Much suspected by me / nothing proved can be"
  • He lived to be 70. When he was 69 he "received the thanks" of Cambridge University. His blog is here.
  • There's a role-playing game in there somewhere.
  • The pleasant surprise is how much we know about Pepys outside the Diary period. Late in his life someone at The Admiralty commented unflatteringly on Pepys's motto, which appeared as a frontispiece to his Memoires: "Fight the good fight; and always call to mind that it is not you who are mortal, but this body of ours. For your true being is not discerned by perceiving your physical appearance. But 'what a man's mind is, that is what he is', not that individual human shape that we identify through our senses." He delighted in pointed out to correspondents that the author was not he, but Cicero.
  • Think about that for a minute, because this is where civilization stands or falls, right on this spot. At that moment, there were people in the power structure of England who got it - they thought less of the clowns at The Admiralty because they were weak on Cicero. Can we get some of that for America? A little bit of shame over ignorance people? A little respect for the classics? Let's all read some Cicero! You first.
  • I saw Steamboat Bill Jr. last night (free from Comcast On-Demand, via TCM). Keaton's last independent film, and a masterpiece. The cyclone scene gets all the ink (that's a real house, no camera tricks), but the scene where his dad takes him to the hat shop is a minor masterpiece. I don't care who you like in comedy, Pryor, Cosby, Jack Benny - this guy is right there with them. He gets my Hall of Fame vote.
  • One thought about football. This Super Bowl pits a recognized veteran Super Bowl winner with declining skills...against Kurt Warner. I'm serious - Roethlisberger came out of the gate a premier NFL quarterback (passer ratings of 98.1 and 98.6 in '04 and '05). Then he cracked his head in a motorcycle accident (75.4 in '06). He rehabbed, got some time to recover, and reached new highs (104.1 in '07). Then he cracks his head in a bunch of football games, and it's back to concussion-ball (80.1 in '08). He was a fine player, and he's just 26, but he's already in the Aikman-Young zone. I don't believe he'll be playing when he's 30, and I hope he's not having someone feed him with a spoon at that point. Much as I admire them, the Steelers have a history here, and they owe it to this guy to draw the curtain early.
  • Tom Brady, come back, all is forgiven!

Outgoing Vice-President Dick Cheney, Wheelchair-Bound Due to an Injury Moving Boxes, Leaves Washington D.C. By Helicopter

For the full effect of the report, start the video at 3:27.


Barack Obama has been sworn in as the 44th US president. Here is his inauguration speech in full.

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and co-operation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we, the people, have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labour, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and travelled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and ploughed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - that a nation cannot prosper long when it favours only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defence, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the spectre of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defence, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honour them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have travelled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

January 19, 2009

Superbowl: Brief Note

Cardinals vs. Steelers? A Superbowl perfectly designed to depress Seahawks fans.

This Land is Your Land

Presuming that some last minute nonsense will not derail the country in the next 20 hours, I have removed the Standard Paragraph, and on behalf of everyone here, I bid President George W. Bush a fond "Fuck You. "

I was thinking about Pete Seeger singing This Land is Your Land, a song that speaks to the real experience of being an American in a way that God Bless America's bombastic blather made necessary.

Pete of course knew Woody Gutherie, who wrote that song once so common and now shunted to the side in the right-wing era. It was perfect for Springsteen to be there, who rescued its politicized, activist lyrics- almost single-handedly keeping them alive- the ones that reminded you that the land of the American nation is our birthright, not property.

I am deeply pleased Pete made it to this moment through all the tools' attempts to alienate him. He never gave up his good cheer and righteous heart. I am thrilled that Obama's people featured him onstage. This Land is Your Land is rightly an iconic song, one for everyone left by the side of the road in the drive to the American Dream.

January 18, 2009

Don't tear up

I dare you:

What Was the Bush Adminstration Like?

How we will try to explain it, pithily, to future generations:

- The Bush Administration was like a kidney stone with spikes on it.

- The Bush Administration was like waking up everyday and someone slapping you in the face.

- The Bush Administration was like your teenage son describing what happened to the car when he calls from the police station to explain the impending lawsuit.

- The Bush Administration was like dating the most beautiful woman in the world and then losing her to a slimy, lying rapist coke dealer who still somehow manages to lose money.

- The Bush Administration was like someone telling the following joke:

Knock knock. Who's there? Banana. Banana who?
Knock knock. Who's there? Banana. Banana who?
Knock knock. Who's there? Banana. Banana who?
Knock knock. Who's there? Orange. Orange who? Orange you glad I didn't say banana?

Every day, for eight years, as told by your boss, who expects you to laugh at it.

- The Bush Administration was like getting mugged with a sockful of puppy shit the mugger kept calling "America."

- The Bush Administration was like researching your family tree, only to reconnect with Grandpa Himmler.

-It was like a chinchilla milkshake.

- It was like they let the arrogant frat boy suck-up in the college comedy movie run the country. (Excuse me, that was really more descriptive than analogous. )

- It was like a waiting in line at the DMV -for a living.

- It was an endless dirigible-born bullshit bombing.

- It was like being trapped in an endless negotiation for a Buick that you didn't want with a greasy salesman who wouldn't shut up.

- It was like having to turn off Windows features before you could get a deadline grant proposal printed.


It was like having an idiot for a boss who insisted the lyrics were "This land is my land, this land is my land..."

It was like invasion of of the body snatchers, only instead of turning into pod people, huge swaths of the country turned into strange beings incapable of critical thought.

It was handing a great deal of trust and responsibility to someone and have them act like a teenager who just been handed hard liquor and the keys to a Ferrari instead.

New York

Great photo album of New York architecture, with some candids and arch commentary thrown in, here (scroll down for color).

If you think this is interesting at all you might enjoy Rem Koolhaas's Delirious New York.

Drag racer 1971

I recently stumbled across a web site of photography from my favorite sport back when I was a wee lad.

Even at the tender age of eight, I was drawn to the siren song of internal combustion.

Watching on our old black and white console TV, there was something about the idea of strapping yourself into a flimsy, grossly overpowered (and dangerous) vehicle. And flinging yourself down a quarter mile at speeds of nearly 300 miles an hour.

What's most impressive is how low-tech the whole operation seems now. There's a certain "battle wagon" feel to the cars, and a homemade feel to the primitive fire suits of the day.

And given how often these engines simply exploded in their faces, a real admiration for how insane these guys truly were.

Although modern engines also tend to detonate, at least now they have the good sense to put them behind the driver, or require Nomex firewalls between the driver and engine.

While they persist in keeping to the old ways: No traction control, no automatic gear changers, modern drag racing has far too much professionalism and money involved to hold my attention anymore.

Still, maybe an outing to the next drag race at Sears Point (I refuse to call it Infineon) is in order for this summer.

Any takers?

And now I leave you a slice of pure cheese. A brief clip from Drag Racer 1971

January 16, 2009

Raise a Glass Of Pomeroy's Chateau Thames Embankment to Rumpole

Speaking of British obituaries, a sad one today for me: John Mortimer, creator of the irascible literary heart of constitutional freedom, Horace Rumpole, dies.

Rumpole's books and TV series never fail to put me in an excellent, cheerful frame of mind- this was indeed the mood one needs to right injustices. In a world where the American and Enlgish legal systems essentially failed over the last years in a frothy, weak panic over terrorism, Rumpole was a true lawyer, acidic, hilarious, committed to the dirty work of justice in a democratic society. And Mortimer himself was a real barrister:

His time as a barrister saw him representing many divorce clients and murderers, with his famous court appearances including the radical magazine Oz's censorship trial, the Linda Lovelace so-called Deep Throat case and numerous others involving alleged pornography. "I found criminal clients easy and matrimonial clients hard," he said. "Matrimonial clients hate each other so much and use their children to hurt each other in beastly ways. Murderers have usually killed the one person in the world that was bugging them and they're usually quite peaceful and agreeable."

His friend, the novelist Margaret Drabble, said today: "He was a great fighter, a great figure, and his record in defending literature and attacking censorship was absolutely brilliant. And he did it with such good humour - it was very hard to get cross with John. He was so unpompous about his defence of literature."

January 15, 2009

For a nation in search of heroes

...here's one.

"As to just what this ineffable quality was … well, it obviously involved bravery. But it was not bravery in the simple sense of being willing to risk your life.… Any fool could do that.… No, the idea … seemed to be that a man should have the ability to go up in a hurtling piece of machinery and put his hide on the line and then have the moxie, the reflexes, the experience, the coolness, to pull back in the last yawning moment—and then to go up again the next day, and the next day, and every next day.… There was … a seemingly infinite series of tests.… A dizzy progression of steps and ledges, a ziggurat, a pyramid extraordinarily high and steep; and the idea was to prove at every foot of the way up that pyramid that you were one of the elected and anointed ones who had the right stuff and could move higher and higher and even—ultimately, God willing, one day—that you might be able to join that special few at the very top, that elite who had the capacity to bring tears to men's eyes, the very Brotherhood of the Right Stuff itself."

- Tom Wolfe

Two images of my main guy

Vrogdish Holleck, half-orc fighter, on a casual outing with some friends, and in a relaxed, candid portrait.

By the numbers

Here is Harper's Index for the Bush years.

As he goes out the door I find myself wondering: who are we going to blame, now that he's gone?

Then I remember: Bush.

January 14, 2009

Another life ruined...

...by Ubuntu. Fark thread here. Picard facepalm here.

Nature might stand up and say to all the world, "This was a man!"

British obituaries are marvelous, but there is a certain type I've grown a little tired of. These are the last of the stiff upper lip men, the last soldiers, guardians, and outriders of the British Empire. There were so damn many of them, and they were so perfect. They all have the same rhythm and structure.

"Born in _(some Godawful place)_, he was educated at ___ and Oxford before joining the _(Special Air Service / RAF / Commandos)_ at the age of 20. He once held off 600 _(Germans / Italian / Japanese)_ with a butter knife, an action many believe prevented a complete military disaster at (_Dunkirk / Tobruk / Malaya_)..."

But what's it all in aid of? What about the rest of the story? When are we going to hear about the bounders, the wastrels, the scoundrels, the playboys?

Ah, your wait is over. Here is what the next 20 years of British obituaries will look like. It is so full of win I can barely stand it. I can't even pick out a favorite quote. I guess I'll settle for:
In 1980 he married Vanessa Hubbard, the convent-educated niece of the Duke of Norfolk. Signalling his determination to go on as if nothing much had happened, he reportedly rolled up at the wedding, reached out of the car and handed a near-empty bottle of champagne to a group of gawping youths.

January 12, 2009

Modern times

The Wikipedia article on liquidity traps is about 1,000 words long.

The article on Dance Dance Revolution is about 4,000 words long.

I suggest you read the one about liquidity traps. It is...topical.

January 10, 2009

Watch out for them ants

On my trip to Texas I heard tell of a new kind of ant, runs around crazy and destroys electronics. I thought it was a tall tale, but, no, it's real. All too real. They're at the Johnson Space Center right now, trying to figure out how to get in. More here.

UPDATE: all ants outweigh all humans, and ants account for about 20% of all animal biomass. And then there's the squids...

FSL, your camera is now available

The Diana, cheap and "known for producing soft and dreamy images due to light leakage," makes its proud return. Flicker Diana group is here.

A memo from an old acquaintance

Sorry, I moved, I don't know how he got my contact information. Anyway:

"Dear Front,

"How is Doctor X? I never hear from him any more. I am fine.

"In this economic disaster, everyone is asking the same question: what will become of Modernism? It is a matter of destiny and intentions, an indicator of whether America is going to die in silence, or as a whale injured jumping from the ocean and do something far beyond its inevitable spiral into oblivion.

"Maybe I did not say, I live in Los Angeles now, a city so magical, I can not begin to describe it. Yes, I am leaving from from San Mateo. All cases must end, and after a few differences in the accounting data services company where I was head of office, I decided that 'The Peninsula' was middle-brow, too lack of ambition and heroism, than I could tolerate.

"And this Los Angeles - it is so vacant, so beautiful in its desolation. Even the home of Case Study #22 is a little worn down and neglect of rafters, almost even now the wabi-sabi of the Modernism.

"And in this beautiful doomed placed of the capitalism, Modernism is very well. Here is the portfolio of a wonderful restoration of an Eichler house in Granada Hills that cost only $50,000, by designer Cindy Epping (story here).

"This is what beauty is. This is all people should be concerned with.

"JC Latouche"

We're fucked: discuss

In 1976 and again in 1992, the American people, tired of corrupt and authoritarian Republican rule, elected Democratic leadership in both Congress and the executive branch. And, in 1976 and 1992, the Democratic Party proceeded to self-destruct. In both cases, the ensuing orgy of incompetence and self-dealing brought about a counter-revolution led by the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

It is about to happen again, as every two-bit warlord in Congress is flexing and posturing. A few recent choice quotes:
  • Harry Reid is not going to be pushed around: "I do not work for Barack Obama. I work with him." - Harry Reid
  • The hell with Paul Krugman and Lawrence Summers and their talk of fiscal stimulus, Nancy Pelosi thinks it's time to raise taxes: "The opportunity calls for us in this country to invest in our children and their health and their education, and all of the -- to reduce the deficit, to reduce the deficit if we had those resources." - Nancy Pelosi
  • Charles Rangel wants political cover: “We did make it clear that where [Summers] thought that the part of the proposals made a lot of economic sense, he was going to have to help us in some kind of way to think of ways to interpret this for political reasons, because we are the salespeople for the president and this package,” Rangel said.
Krugman thinks we're screwed even if they pass the package being proposed, because the tax cuts water it down and it's already not big enough. A lot of smart people agree.

The Democrats are this close to fumbling the kickoff. Hold your breath, pray, smoke 'em if you got 'em. This could really, really suck.

January 09, 2009

Aesthetic Politics: Hawaii Defeats Alaska

Compare and Contrast. Obama's Hawaiian diverse cool. Palin's Alaskanesque neo-redneck bluster.

One of the things that happened in the 2008 election was the victory of Hawaiian ease, community and calm over a Alaskan egotism, know-nothing-ism and self-aggrandizement that became, sadly, very common. It's the oil disease again, the one that wrecks every third-world country cursed with resource riches. It poisons everything, twists self-reliance into unchecked egotism, twists communities into compounds, twists enterprise into corporate obescience. And one of the diagnostic lesions of this disease is creatures like Palin.

So it's Hawaii's moment to shine.

P.S. I was looking for an appropriate Hawaiian phrase to close this, when I stumbled on an excellent global economic summary:

Kûpihipihi loa kâhi koena `hi.

The remaining limpets have dwindled in size.

-Said when the finances have dwindled considerably.

If I may suggest, perhaps Dr. X will find this phrase professionally useful.

Never Let Your Child Turn His Back to This Man

Mark Begich in Washington. Congrats, Mark!

But frankly, this image is disturbing on several levels.

Clearly A New Era

January 08, 2009

More friendly advice for our friendly Republican friends

Steve Mirsky, writing in Scientific American, ruminates on a party that has (one would hope) found the limits of anti-intellectualism (link):
Science and technology are probably going to be the driving forces that lift us out of the economic hole we’re in. The Obama campaign had an entire science advisory team that included two Nobel laureates, Harold Varmus and Peter Agre. The McCain campaign did not have a dedicated science adviser. Future Republican presidential candidates: come to the clean energy–powered, low-wattage, high-lumen light. It beats cursing the darkness.

January 07, 2009

Note from a friend

Dr. X posts this from George Bush Airport:

"I've been through El Paso a few times now. If you're interested in America at all, it's worth a visit, from its desolate-but-beautiful downtown, to its underground music scene, to the manic energy (and occasional live round) that comes over from Mexico.

"I've thought of one particular place, The Percolator, as my little secret, a tiny island of hip and good in a sea of clueless and mediocre.

"Apparently Beck likes the place, too. He played an unannounced show there in September, lovingly detailed here."

January 05, 2009

Twitter this

I am blogging this over The Internet from The Alamo!

January 04, 2009

The art of introducing a band

Exemplified here by James Lipton.

January 03, 2009

It's not like anything else important is going on

I couldn't help myself, went to the RNC website. Oh my God it's weak. Their key points:

- They have a Facebook group!
- You can get a calendar!
- You can donate money!
- Updates on vote fraud
- Actions: "Call talk radio - get the word out by calling local radio shows & promote the GOP"

(But only do that last one if you're really a Republican, ok guys?)

It only looks dangerous

But this blog is perfectly safe.

January 02, 2009

Constitutional conservatism: a friendly critique

In case you missed it, there is a thoughtful opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal by Stanford's Peter Berkowitz. The title grabbed me right away: "Conservatives Can Unite Around the Constitution".

Now, let me warn you up front, I am not here to kick the Republican party when they're down. The First Sea Lord can do that (I suspect the Viceroy will pipe him along), but a whopping one-party victory is, for me, a bad outcome. It breeds arrogance and a sense of entitlement. Our nation does best, I believe, when different schools of thought contend, and legitimate points of view from both sides of the aisle receive a fair hearing.

We will not reach that ideal because one side of the aisle screwed up unbelievably. Losing the election is a well-deserved punishment for a party that mismanaged the country, led us into imprudent foreign entanglements, betrayed its espoused ideal of small and efficient government, failed miserably in responding to predictable crises, and flouted the Constitution seemingly at every opportunity. So fuck 'em.

By the way, the last of those sins is surely the least forgivable, and so the idea of uniting conservatives around a fresh commitment to the Constitution makes a lot of sense. Americans pride themselves on their open-mindedness, and I certainly like to have a second option on the ballot when I'm pissed at a Democrat (or the Democrats in general). But I'm not so goddam stupid that I'll vote for a political organization that doesn't respect the basic legal foundations of this country. All this fancy talk about there being no right to privacy, or this new doctrine of unitary executive whatever - I have two words in response: bull and shit. Here's a hint: if the founding fathers wanted an intrusive executive dictatorship, they wouldn't have fought a fucking war of independence based on the principle of individual liberty.

So yeah, let's start by rallying around the Constitution. The real one, not the weird copy down at the Federalist Society gift shop. Works for me.

Here are Berkowitz's specific ideas for a conservative renewal:
  • "An economic program, health-care reform, energy policy and protection for the environment grounded in market-based solutions." Didn't we just try that? Ok, take your best shot, but you've got to convince a lot of registered voters that it won't be Kleptonomics, Part Deux.
  • "A foreign policy that recognizes America's vital national security interest in advancing liberty abroad but realistically calibrates undertakings to the nation's limited knowledge and restricted resources." Hear hear, couldn't say it better myself.
  • "A commitment to homeland security that is as passionate about security as it is about law, and which is prepared to responsibly fashion the inevitable, painful trade-offs." Yeah, you see, that's why I'm never going to vote for a Republican again. If you think there's a big grey area around obeying laws, I am not ticking the box by your name. EVER. Most secure country ever: Stalin's Russia. Republicans used to think America shouldn't be run that way.
  • "A focus on reducing the number of abortions and increasing the number of adoptions." OK, this could work. No one likes abortions, and constructive solutions would be welcome to most mainstream Americans. I look forward to the Republicans giving up their most lucrative fundraising tool by finding a useful compromise on this painful and divisive issue.
  • "Efforts to keep the question of same-sex marriage out of the federal courts and subject to consideration by each state's democratic process." I could live with that. I think people of good will can disagree on this issue. It means all the smart gay people will move to gay-friendly states and help them become rich, but...oh that already happened. You're good!
  • "Measures to combat illegal immigration that are emphatically pro-border security and pro-immigrant." I'm on board. Current immigration policy is a travesty. The concept of citizenship needs to mean something. And if you're not looking forward to 9/11 Reloaded you should care about this.
  • "A case for school choice as an option that enhances individual freedom while giving low-income, inner-city parents opportunities to place their children in classrooms where they can obtain a decent education." Totally agree. The Democrats are vulnerable here. They talk the talk, but Californiacrat schools are a disgrace. Furthermore, most Americans believe in equal opportunity, and most aren't getting it.
  • "A demand that public universities abolish speech codes and vigorously protect liberty of thought and discussion on campus." Sorry, I don't think the problem of the past eight years was that conservative academics were not influential enough. That's just not how I diagnose it.
  • "The appointment of judges who understand that their function is to interpret the Constitution and not make policy, and, therefore, where the Constitution is most vague, recognize the strongest obligation to defer to the results of the democratic process." Weird. I disagree with the premise (how do you "interpret" without "making policy"?), but agree with the conclusion. The judiciary should not be in the business of subverting the will of the elected representatives of the people.
I have one other big problem with this piece. It repeats (probably through the indiscretion of a WSJ editor) the lamentable mistake of trying to "make Reagan happen again."

Guys, listen to me: Reagan was a bad model. Since Reagan you've picked these execu-tards who "connect" and "have vision" and all that bullshit. You know what's really scary about Palin? She's smarter than Quayle. You cannot keep running fools up there. You're supposed to be the party of grown-ups.

Everything you learned from Reagan is WRONG:
  • Substance matters.
  • Deficits matter.
  • Reality matters.
  • Vision is not enough.
  • Unilaterism is stupid.
If you want to be a credible force again, you should go back and look at the real deal, a guy who earned the enduring love of millions of Americans. A man of substance, and integrity. An accomplished executive motivated by a deep and profound love of his country. A man who governed from the center, respected the Constitution, and had no time for rigid ideologues. After all, he'd just won a war against them.

Forget Reagan, you need to find another Ike.

In Which We Once Again Discover that Dressing in a Nazi Uniform and Brandishing a Rifle is A Very Bad Idea.

A UW history senior is shot while firing blanks with a WWII german rifle and uniform.

January 01, 2009

We're paid like peasants!

John Roberts not happy with SCOTUS pay scale.

Hey John, here's an idea: resign!

Sorry Viggo, better luck in '09

Defamer: "Four months ago we suggested that Viggo Mortensen had three chances in 2008 to repeat as an Oscar nominee. As the last of those chances expires today, all we can say is, "Maybe next year?" (link)