Wednesday, March 28, 2007

How to win the war on terror.

I've made it a goal in life to avoid Las Vegas. This only convinces me that my goal is a wise one.

Michael Jackson is in discussions about creating a 50-foot robotic replica of himself to roam the Las Vegas desert, according to reports.

Let's pause right there and let that sink in.

Fifty. Foot. Michael Jackson Robot.

Think about it.

Fear it.

The pop legend is currently understood to be living in the city, as he considers making a comeback after 2004's turbulent child sex case.

It has now been claimed that his plans include an elaborate show in Vegas, which would feature the giant Jacko striding around the desert, firing laser beams.

Firing laser beams.

While I'm absolutely terrified by the idea, I also want to see it happen, because if we could develop an army of fifty foot Michael Jackson Robots firing laser beams, every rogue nation on the planet would cower before us. And most of our allies, too.

We need this.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Blogging may resume . . .

Where have you been, you blogging sluggard?

Promises, promises. I told you all I'd be a good little blogger and stick at it for more than a month, didn't I? Well, the fates had another plan.

At the beginning of February I was contacted by a former employer, asking if I'd temporarily fill in for awhile. One of the editors was leaving, and then wanted to take about a month to find his replacement. They also asked if I would interview for the position. Given that it was a different (and more structured) position than the last one I had over there (and one more to my liking), I agreed. I also figured it would be no problem getting the permanent position since 1. I knew the business, 2. I knew the procedures, 3. I knew the special software they used to run everything, 4. I already knew most of my co-workers. Maybe that last one was the sticking point?

Anyway, I agreed, and spent all of February and a bit of March working hard like a good employee, putting on a happy face, pretending that I LOVED LOVED LOVED this job. I also had figured out that the key to surviving was to be part of the "inner circle," I would become the boss's best buddy. I would even talk about golf if it helped (because that seemed to be topic #1 among the inner circle). I might even (gasp!) play golf!

Unfortunately, I don't think I ever really got much of a chance to schmooze. And the only other person they interviewed for the position--my position--they hired.

And then I had to train that person in.

Lucky for them I'm a good sport about such things. (And lucky for me I never burn bridges behind me even while several people pour gasoline all over the bridges in front of me.)

Meanwhile, all of my own projects began piling up on my desk at home, so after my time of testing was over, I had to dig out from under the pile.

I'm still digging, but I'm breathing air again. So it goes.

Welcome back, me.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

NFL sourpusses demand you watch the S____ B___ on smaller TVs

If you have plans to watch the S---- B--- on your new 58-inch flat-screen plasma television, better change 'em now. The meanies at the NFL have declared it illegal.

The NFL has nixed a church's plans to use a wall projector to show the Colts-Bears Super Bowl game, saying it would violate copyright laws.

NFL officials spotted a promotion of Fall Creek Baptist Church's "Super Bowl Bash" on the church Web site last week and overnighted a letter to the pastor demanding the party be canceled, the church said.

Initially, the league objected to the church's plan to charge a fee to attend and that the church used the license-protected words "Super Bowl" in its promotions.

Pastor John D. Newland said he told the NFL his church would not charge anyone and that it would drop the use of the forbidden words.

But the NFL objected to the church's plans to use a projector to show the game, saying the law limits it to one TV no bigger than 55 inches.

It's a shame, but I understand. That one church could really cut into the NFL's proceeds.

Why didn't somebody tell me about this thing?

This is such a great idea. You find a book you want to read, subscribe to it, and will e-mail you a portion of the book each day. They seem to be all public-domain works (that is, the "classics") and there's no charge at all.

Forgive me if everyone's known about this and I'm late to the party. I just thought it was a fantastic idea and a great use for e-mail.

That's just a bit of dust in my eye.

In an otherwise dull set of American Idol auditions last night, this one stood out. Have a box of tissues handy.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Night of the Lepus

Holy crap! That's a big bunny! And it's not a Photoshop job either. Check it out.

A German pensioner who won a prize and worldwide fame for breeding his country’s largest rabbit — Robert, a 10.5kg (23lb) bruiser the size of a dog — has been offered an unusual opportunity to exploit his talents overseas.

Karl Szmolinsky has been given a contract by North Korea to supply giant rabbits to help to boost meat production in the reclusive Communist country, which is suffering severe food shortages.

More about these giant bunnies at the link above, plus a bonus recipe for Korean Spicy Rabbit and Potatoes! (Just make sure that your main course's larger relatives don't find out.)


Still a lot of clean-up around here due to being AFB (away from blog) for 18 months. I think I've weeded out all the dead blogs from the blogroll, leaving a few "mostly dead" in the hopes that they'll resurrect at some point. At some point I'll probably weed out more and add new ones.

As I try to reconnect with the blogosphere I'm finding that a lot of the blogs I used to enjoy are now slow to load, (probably because they're) cluttered with ads, (and as a result are) poorly laid out, and have a high noise-to-signal ratio (due to ads and other crap) making them very difficult to read.

Folks: Less is more.

Are you really making anything off those ads you have cluttering up your site? Or do you put them up there in the vain hope that someday, someday your blog will be a cash cow?

I think many formerly excellent blogs are coasting on reputation now. The standard for excellence seems to be dropping. (Not that I'm helping any.)

Also, folks: sans serif for screen; serif for print. That's the standard rule. Break it at your own peril.

(Man, what got into me all of a sudden?)

When the wind is southerly, I know a sink from a urinal.

In a story tangentially-related to the one below, here's an indication that Western cultures do make accomodations when they can.

No stoning please, we're Canadian

Immigrants wishing to move to the town of Herouxville, Quebec have been warned: the town council has created an ordinance against the stoning, burning, or circumcising of women. Furthermore . . .

We consider that men and women are of the same value. Having said this, we consider that a woman can; drive a car, vote, sign checks, dance, decide for herself, speak her peace, dress as she sees fit respecting of course the democratic decency, walk alone in public places, study, have a job, have her own belongings and anything else that a man can do. These are our standards and our way of life.

However, we consider that killing women in public beatings, or burning them alive are not part of our standards of life.

Other sections of the new "Standards" document inform immigrants that in Herouxville, there are no laws preventing female medical professionals from treating men, or male medical professionals from treating women. Likewise, members of emergency services, such as police officers or firefighters may also help members of both genders.

You wouldn't think such a statement would be considered controversial, would you? But apparently it is.

[T]he president of the Muslim Council of Montreal, Salam Elmenyawi, condemned the council, saying it had set back race relations decades.

He told Reuters news agency: "I was shocked and insulted to see these kinds of false stereotypes and ignorance about Islam and our religion."

The new community standards say nothing about Muslims or Islam at all. It mentions religion in two sections: one on education where it states that schools do not have places set aside for prayer or incantation, and another on "fesitivities," which reads in part:

We listen to music, we drink alcoholic beverages in public or private places, we dance and at the end of every year we decorate a tree with balls and tinsel and some lights. This is normally called “Christmas Decorations” or also “Christmas Tree” letting us rejoice in the notion of our national heritage and not necessarily a religious holiday. These festivities are authorized in public, schools, and institutions and also in private.

The Standards document closes by informing prospective immigrants that the document is intended to help them decide whether or not they wish to make the decision to move there, while making it clear that if anyone does wish to modify their habits and customs, there is a referendum process.

So what is Elmenyawi's concern? The document makes no specific reference to Islam or any ethnic or religious group, and covers much more territory than just the treatment of women. So if it's true that Islam does not mistreat women, then Elmenyawi should feel right at home in Herouxville.

Perhaps if there was not already concern about Canadian Muslims attempting to establish Shari'a courts in Canada, community regulations like the ones in Herouxville might never have had to be written.

Download a copy of Herouxville's "controversial" document here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tracking the Urban Amish

Hey, remember Troy Benham? That guy from Sarona, Wisconsin who auditioned for American Idol in Minneapolis, referring to himself as "Urban Amish"? (Those of you who know where Sarona is -- or was before the DOT paved it over with Highway 53 -- you know there's nothing "urban" about it.) The Spooner Advocate has a story on him. Turns out he's not Amish after all. (No kidding?) He's Mennonite. But whatever, the story is an interesting look into how the audition process works as well as a nice profile of someone who seems like a nice guy.

Oh, say can you sing?

Ladies and gentlemen . . . your next American Idol!

Monday, January 29, 2007

(Bleep) save the Queen!

You might think it was the work of an insidious anti-God censor in the entertainment industry. But it's not as bad as it sounds. An inexperienced employee at a company that censors films for in-flight showings mistakenly bleeped out every single utterance of the word "God" in the Oscar-nominated film The Queen.

The censor was told to edit out all profanities -- including any blasphemy -- for the version of the movie distributed to Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, Air New Zealand, and other carriers.

So the new censor mistakenly bleeped out each time a character said "God," instead of just when it was used as part of a profanity, said Jeff Klein, president of Jaguar Distribution, the company that distributed the movie to airlines this month.

"A reference to God is not taboo in any culture that I know of," Klein said. "We excise foul language, excessive violence and nudity."

In-flight viewers of the film at one point heard "(Bleep) bless you, ma'am," as one character spoke to the queen. In all, the word "God" is bleeped seven times in the version.

Hat tip: Muzzy at Blogizdat

So who's the focus of worship here anyway?

With approval by the Church of England, a congregation in central England will stage a "U2-charist" -- a communion service featuring songs by the group U2 instead of the usual hymns.

"Rock music can be a vehicle of immense spirituality," said Bishop of Grantham Timothy Ellis, announcing plans for the unique service in the central English town of Lincoln in May.

A live band is to play U2 classics like "Beautiful Day" and "Mysterious Ways" with special singalong lyrics displayed on a giant screen. Seating for the 500-strong congregation is to be re-arranged so everyone can dance and wave their hands.

As crazy as it might sound to some, it's really not at all unusual. Many Protestant churches in America have replaced the hymnbook with simple worship songs projected on a screen. It would not even surprise me to learn that some church somewhere in America has U2's "40" among their worship music repertoire.

American Evangelicals also have their own "supergroups" from which they freely borrow worship music, and worship leaders have become "rock stars" in their own right.

It's this last bit that I find somewhat troubling. I appreciate it when worship leaders can effectively lead the congregation in corporate worship, but there seems to be a fine line between "worship" and "musical performance" and for a few months I attended a church where it was often unclear if I was at a church service or a concert.

Having a cover band doing U2 songs before a group of dancing and swaying U2 fans seems to step over that invisible line.

Battling Bush Fatigue

Back during Clinton's second term when the 2000 elections were in full swing, there was much talk about Clinton fatigue.

WASHINGTON (May 27, 1999) -- From bimbo eruptions to draft dodging to pot smoking to Whitewater to the Lincoln Bedroom to Monica Lewinsky, Clinton's personal life has drained the country.

Sure, Clinton's agenda remains popular. Most people continue to think President Clinton is doing a good job, although the war in Kosovo is beginning to create some doubts. But the president's personal behavior? Americans have long since tired of that soap opera.

The message is, enough already and it's showing up politically in the form of Clinton fatigue. Ask the public, 'What if Clinton actively supports Al Gore and campaigns for him -- would that make you more or less likely to vote for Gore?' Most voters say Clinton hurts Gore and only 29 percent say Clinton helps him. If voting for Gore seems like giving Clinton a third term, people really don't want to do that, even though times are good -- enough of Clinton already.

Right now the Republicans are probably feeling the effect of Bush fatigue. And if Clinton fatigue was a problem for Al Gore back then, Bush fatigue is going to be an even bigger problem for any Republican candidate in 2008, given that President Bush hasn't got (and never really had) the bedrock popularity, charisma, and "celebrity" of President Clinton.

Following the President's State of the Union Address, Newsweek reports a new poll that indicates the country is just plain tired of President Bush.

President George W. Bush concluded his annual State of the Union address this week with the words “the State of our Union is strong . . . our cause in the world is right . . . and tonight that cause goes on.” Maybe so, but the state of the Bush administration is at its worst yet, according to the latest NEWSWEEK Poll. The president’s approval ratings are at their lowest point in the poll’s history—30 percent—and more than half the country (58 percent) say they wish the Bush presidency were simply over, a sentiment that is almost unanimous among Democrats (86 percent), and is shared by a clear majority (59 percent) of independents and even one in five (21 percent) Republicans. Half (49 percent) of all registered voters would rather see a Democrat elected president in 2008, compared to just 28 percent who’d prefer the GOP to remain in the White House.

Fifty-eight percent is quite a vote of no confidence, although this poll is hardly official. But if the public sees another Republican administration as simply a continuation of the Bush presidency and its policies, then the going just got even rougher for the Republican candidates. We will surely see a scramble by likely candidates to distance themselves from the President (which shouldn't be too hard for John McCain, having already had much practice at it). Republicans will have to assure voters that they differ from both the President and any Democratic candidates.

Political triangulation was Clinton's specialty. Can Republicans adopt it as a winning strategy?

By the way, only four Presidents have gone lower than Bush's 30% approval rating since Gallup began doing these polls when FDR was president: George Bush, Sr. at 29% in a poll taken in August, 1992; Carter at 28% in July of 79; Nixon at 23% in a poll taken the first week of 1974; and Truman at 22% in a poll taken in February of 1952. Does anyone know what accounted for Truman's low approval in 1952?

The Newsweek poll also had good news for Republicans.

[T]he new poll, which examined the preferences of registered Democrats for their party’s presidential nomination in 2008, shows that Sen. Hillary Clinton, an initial supporter of the war, has a 20-point lead over junior Sen. Barack Obama (55 percent to 35 percent) and a 34-point lead over former Sen. John Edwards (63 percent to 29 percent).

If Hillary got the nomination, Republicans could rest a bit. After all, there is still a whiff of Clinton fatigue in the air.

More poll results here.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Dental PTSD

I don't like going to the dentist. Never have, and I can't imagine that I ever will.

My wife, on the other hand, loves it.


"Don't you just love how it makes your teeth feel?" she gushes.

She says it's like going to the spa or having a manicure, and she feels all pampered and pretty when she comes out. I, on the other hand, feel all poked and prodded and in pain.

I brush my teeth. I even floss. But I don't like having someone with Very Sharp Torture Instruments digging around inside my oral cavity.

Part of this stems from a horrible dentist I had as a child. An "old school" dentist, his solution was to drill-n-fill at the first sign of decay. I received a mouthful of silver fillings from that man, and I have a suspicion that few of them were necessary. But the worst part about it was that he never offered Novacaine or any other sort of anesthetic. He'd just pin you down and get that drill a-spinnin' while your legs would be kicking futilely in the air and your screams were scaring the other children sitting in the waiting room.

I once remarked to my mother that it was really painful to go to the dentist, and devout Catholic that she was, she said "Yes, but then I remember that Jesus endured a much more painful agony on the cross, and if he could endure that, then the least I could do was put up with the drilling."

Well, how can you answer that without sounding like a pansy? By telling her that Jesus' agony ended in death?

Dr. Evil Dentist also once cemented a strange block-like device onto my front teeth in order to correct the angle of an upper incisor. If you thought braces were bad, imagine a huge metal blob protruding from your mouth. (And remember, this was before the days that people began regularly adoring their faces and mouths with bits of metal. Today this would be consider "alternative" and cool. But back then . . . ) Take a middle-school kid with thick glasses who already has a low self-esteem and then uglify him with a huge and hideous dental device, one that also causes a slight speech impediment, . . . and then watch the fun.

For what it's worth, the device didn't work, but not a single dentist since has ever mentioned this supposed "problem" that Evil Dentist, DDS was trying to correct. I suspect ED, DDS had payments on a yacht or something.

Anyway, the trauma of my childhood dentist means that I cannot fully embrace the cheery abandon which marks my wife's regular dental check-ups. But my wife makes appointments for me anyway with joyful gusto. Thanks, honey.

Last week I went in for my regular check-up, and the dental hygienist expressed "concern" over an area between two of my upper molars where a larger than usual gap meant that more food was able to get down below the gumline, become trapped, and cause some problems. I knew this was a problem area; the problem was created by another former dentist who got sloppy with a filling that ended up irritating the gum for years. And then yet another former dentist attempted to fix that problem, but apparently didn't fix it well enough. And now my wife's dentist (I cannot call her my dentist for I refuse to claim any) is having a go at it.

So today I had to go back in so the hygienist (who, we must admit, is the one who wields the Very Sharp Torture Instruments) could really scrap and poke and prod up in there and try to get it all healthy again. At least I got Novacaine.

I was a bit surprised to discover that they've now started taking blood pressure at the dentist with each visit. When mine was taken, the hygienist expressed "concern" at how high it was. "I'm at the dentist!" I told her. "What were you expecting!?"

One thing I don't like about dental hygienists are the lectures. "Are you flossing?" she asked. I said yes. "How often" "Hourly, I deadpanned." "Show me how you do it," she instructed. So I had to perform the floss maneuver for her. Then I had to show her my brushing technique so she could judge my worthiness some more. She wasn't particularly pleased.

She gave me some dye to put in my mouth. Remember those little red tablets they made you chew in elementary school? They were supposed to show you where the plaque was. The red coloring would stick to the plaque, and the school nurse would then determine whether you were a good brusher or not. Gold stars for the good ones.

The dye the hygienist gave me was sort of like that, but no gold stars. After swishing it around my mouth for a bit, the hygienist handed me a mirror.

Oh. My. Lord.

My lips, my tongue, my gums, . . . everything was livid purple. I looked like I'd just snacked on Barney the Dinosaur for breakfast, his purple blood still dripping from my mouth. (In fact, I secretly hoped the dye would last until I got home so I could tell my kids exactly that.)

After the Novacaine kicked in, the hygienist got down to business of scraping and poking while the overhead speaker played annoying hits of the 70s. As if going to the dentist wasn't suffering enough, I had to listen to "Hotel California," "Piano Man," and "Benny and the Jets."

When did they stop letting patients spit in the little sink? Instead, the dentist sprays water in your mouth, and then invites you to suck it all out with a powerful vacuum tube. The hygienist kept making fun of me because I could not operate the suction tube properly. "Little kids know how to do it," she snarked. But I couldn't get the hang of it, and it would either suck air directly out of my lungs, causing me to gulp like a fish, or it threatened to pull my esophagus inside out.

Just let me sip from a cup and spit in the sink, already! Even Dr. Evil Dentist let me do that!

When it was over, my mouth still numb, and she was done haranguing me about oral hygiene, she started talking about all the follow-up visits. Excuse me? There's going to be follow-up? Several visits?

And the sad part is, my wife is envious of me.