Sunday, October 31, 2004

Happy Halloween!

Halloween Wishes from Another Monkey Posted by Hello

Carve your own pumpkin here! Thanks to Jen for showing the way.

Blue Sundaze

I went to see a new band last night. Blue Sundaze is made up of the drummer and one of the guitarists from 3 Brix Shy, the guitarist's father on bass, and another guitarist who has a connection to the local band Black Dog (borne out by the fact that he was wearing their T-shirt.)

This was the first time in a long time that I've gone out to see a band, and it was fun. Blue Sundaze plays a mix of early rock, rockabilly, and classic rock, with a few more modern songs thrown in for good measure - songs that were also played by 3 Brix Shy, and which showcase the two alumni of that band.

I reprised my old role as band photographer - I had brought my cheap little APS camera, and the bassist had brought along a funky huge digital camera with a long zoom lens. One tip for aspiring band photographers: shooting the stage from a distance and over the heads of, say, three fans can easily create the illusion of a huge crowd in attendance.

I tend not to enjoy "oldies" rock as much as some, but I enjoyed the Blue Sundaze show. I generally think of "oldies" as stuff that's been on the radio since I was born, so I was surprised to hear them play a few "classic" songs that were only, say, 15 or so years old. Nothing that came out since I graduated from college can possibly be considered classic rock! It's modern stuff! Recent! Not old! Never old!

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Double fake-out

I got faked out twice today.

The first time was just after noon, when I finally got done rewriting the previous post (the first version got eaten by the computer during a spell-check). I opened the front door to check for the mail, and lo and behold, my front lawn was carpeted with a mix of Oak and Japanese Red Maple leaves. Both trees are still holding onto most of their leaves, but enough were on the ground to justify a raking, with everything that entails.

Since I spent nearly twice as much time blogging this morning as I had originally budgeted, and since I had already assumed I would be getting off the leaf-raking hook, the rest of my Saturday schedule was thrown into disarray. After bagging the leaves I put away my tools, took a quick shower, and headed off for an oil change. I raced from the oil change to Saturday afternoon Mass, strolling in only a minute or so late instead of my usual 5 minutes late. And that's where I got my second fake-out.

No fire-and-brimstone sermon on the evils of voting for John Kerry. (Not that my priest is much up to that, unless the topic is money and how to get it out of parishioners' pockets.) No guest lecturer on the topic of the election. No attempts at moral suasion. Not even mass leafletting in the parking lot (my car did get a pamphlet jammed in the door, probably due to the Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker prominently displayed in my rear window, but it didn't look like many other cars were similarly targeted.) I was pleasantly surprised.

Looks like tonight's Blue Sundaze show will go off as planned. I've got my fingers crossed. Hopefully I won't have a triple fake-out!

"Why should I vote for Kerry instead of Bush?"

Welcome, undecided voters. Some of you may find your way to this post, and this site, in these last few days before the election. While this particular post may contain the information you are looking for, please feel free to browse through past postings, and please come back in the future.

I am drained of eloquence and the ability to construct a cohesive argument at the end of yet another 50+ hour workweek. I have followed the campaign long enough and observed the performance and behavior of the incumbent long enough to see the reasons for voting for Kerry as being self-evident - much as many "conservatives" see the reasons for voting for Bush as self-evident.

But others have taken the time to make the case for Kerry. Courtesy of the blogsite My Distractions in this Modern Age, I bring you these two examples: This is an impassioned plea from Andrew Greeley for why we need to get Bush out of the White House. And here is a reprint of a Harold Myerson article explaining why Democrats and "liberals" are the good guys in this election showdown.

Here is's website. Please read what they have to say.

Here is John Kerry's website, where you can get the arguments straight from the horse's mouth - or at least, straight from the Kerry staffers who maintain the website.

Finally, if after reading all of these things you are still undecided, please vote for John Kerry on November 2nd. Do it as a favor to me.

If you don't know where your polling place is, go here. And thanks for stopping by!

Friday, October 29, 2004

On the decomposition of organic photosynthetic bodies

It is the end of another long and trying week of work and ground-level politics. Next week is bound to be more of the same, punctuated by the Election Day festivities and what may be just the start of a prolonged and arduous process of counts, recounts, suits, and counter-suits that will possibly determine the outcome of the Presidential race sometime before the scheduled Inauguration.

Tomorrow I had planned to rake the leaves from the Oak tree in my front yard, maybe take my car for an oil change, go to afternoon Mass, and then grab a quick nap before heading out to a bar/restaurant at 10:00 to see a friend of mine play. Unfortunately, the plan has hit a major snag: my Oak tree is selfishly holding on to something like 95% of its leaves. I could rake up the two or three dozen that have spiraled to the ground below, but it hardly seems worth the effort.

I'm an Organic gardener. I probably don't rake leaves the way most people do. I start off in the usual way, raking them into fairly high piles or long windrows (which is more convenient for my purposes). Then I pull out an electric bagging lawn mower and, wielding it like an oversized weedwhacker, begin to shred and bag the pile of leaves. I then dump the shredded leaves from the lawn mower bag into large black lawn and leaf bags. I take these bags 'round back to behind my ComposTumbler and my Toro Composter. I shovel a bit of soil or finished compost into the bag, move it to a fairly inconspicuous spot, spray in a generous amount of water from my garden hose, and then use a pitchfork to punch drainage holes through the bag. I then ignore the bag for, say, three to five years, at the end of which I have a fractionally filled bag of what is called Oak Leaf Mold. About a million of these bags will be sufficient to provide enough Oak Leaf Mold for an entire garden. But every little bit helps in the garden, and I'm keeping these leaves out of a landfill where they won't ever do anyone any good.

However, this entire process starts with the Oak tree releasing its supply of leaves, which it hasn't done yet. It's probably waiting for me to make some major travel plans. Just as I'm about to head off on a 200-mile trip, all of the leaves will fall with a mighty thud. Maybe I should keep a rake in the car, just in case.

"Where do I vote?"

Another form of vote suppression is by playing a shell game with polling places. Here's an article about one example from Scranton, Pennsylvania. If people can't find the polling place, they can't vote. People who work will generally have just a little time to get to the polls in the morning or the evening (note to foreign readers: in the U.S., Election Day is not a holiday - and it's held on a Tuesday), and if they don't find the polling place where they expect it to be on the first try, they may not be willing or able to begin to play Election Day detective. (This is one instance where the unemployed have a huge advantage, since they have more time to look around.)

Here's a handy website for finding out where your polling place is: Big thanks to - yes, I'm a member - for this information.

Actually, this whole message from MoveOn was so useful, I think I'll just reprint the whole thing here. I don't think they'll mind.

Dear MoveOn member,

They're doing it again. In Nevada, a Republican contractor has allegedly ripped up thousands of Democratic registration forms.(1) In Florida, Jeb Bush has purged tens of thousands of legitimate voters -- mostly black, mostly Democratic -- from the rolls because their names are similar to a felon's.(2) In Ohio, the Republican Secretary of State has been so uncooperative that a federal judge said that he "apparently seeks to accomplish the same result in Ohio in 2004 that occurred in Florida in 2000."(3)

But there's one big difference between the election of 2000 and the election of 2004: this time, a number of powerful, well-staffed groups will be aggressively responding to each and every instance of voter intimidation, suppression, and fraud. Messing with our right to vote is a felony, and with your help we'll make sure that anyone who does is prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

We've put together a wallet-sized card that has all the numbers and information you need if someone tries to stop you from exercising your right to vote. You can download it now at:

In a great majority of polling places, of course, voting will be very efficient -- even fun. Poll workers will guide you through the process. They're non-partisan, and they are there to help. But it's likely that some precincts will be targeted for vote suppression, and that's what we have to be on the look-out for. Since one key suppression tactic is slowing down the voting process, we have to be careful not to fall into that trap. Don't obstruct: just demand that whoever is giving you trouble step aside with you and let the voting continue.

But before we get into what you should do if things go wrong, here are a few pointers to help make sure your voting experience is a good one:

Find your polling place ahead of time. Having this information ahead of time will help
make sure that you can zip to the polls and back during that half-hour lunch
break. You can locate your local polling place using your zip code at In most cases, the site will tell you what kind of voting machines to expect and how they work. (By the way, if conflicts with information you've received from your county or state election officials, use the official information.)

When in doubt, ASK. Poll workers are there to help you. They'll show you how to work the machines, and if you're at the wrong polling place, they should tell you how to get to the right one. Every polling place should also have a posted list of your voting rights, and instructions for filing a complaint if your rights have been violated.

Know your rights. If you're an eligible voter, you have the following rights:

If your name is not on the official voter list but you believe you are eligible to vote in that precinct, even if an election official challenges your vote, you have the right to cast a "provisional ballot."

If you're in line when the polls close, you should stay in line because you're entitled to vote. In many states, your employer must allow you time to vote at some point during the day. You can't be fired for being late due to long polling lines.

You have the right to vote without being intimidated by anyone.

For your rights in your own state, check out this website: Bring photo ID, preferably government-issued ID or a utility bill, phone bill, or paycheck with your name and current street address. If you're a new registrant, it may be required.

Vote in the morning. In a great majority of polling places, everything will go smoothly, but by going early you can help prevent lines later in the day.

A regular ballot is better than a provisional ballot. If your eligibility to vote is questioned, ask if you can cast a regular ballot by providing additional ID or by going to another polling place. Only cast a provisional ballot if there's no alternative available.

So, what if something does go wrong?

First, document it. If there are specific individuals involved who are challenging your right to vote, intimidating voters, or interfering with the process, try to get their names. Write down exactly what happened, including the time of day, descriptions of the people involved, and any other details you can remember.

Then, report it. There are lots of organizations that will be working to respond quickly to complaints of voter intimidation, suppression, and fraud. Here's who to call:

The Democratic Party: Call 1-800-PA-VOTE9 (728-6839) in Pennsylvania. In each swing state, the Democratic Party has set up a special hotline you can call if you're concerned that your vote won't count. Just call 1-800-PA-VOTE9 (728-6839). This should be your first call if you run into a problem.

MoveOn PAC: Go to On election day, our website will host a form where you can post your problem and get help.

Common Cause: Call 1-866-MYVOTE1. Common Cause has set up a hotline that you can call to report any problems you have voting. They'll document where problems are occurring, watch for wide-spread voter suppression, and provide real-time legal help to the hot spots.

1-866-OUR-VOTE. This hotline has been set up by a coalition of nonpartisan groups to deal with the most serious problems on election day. They have hundreds of lawyers standing by to immediately respond to the most egregious problems. 1-866-OUR-VOTE is the "911" of voter suppression hotlines. Please don't call unless your problem is serious enough that you have to talk to a lawyer immediately.

Again, to download a wallet-sized card with all of this information that you can bring with you to the polls, go to:

As Bill Clinton said at a rally with John Kerry on Monday, "They're trying to scare the voters away from the polls. It worked so well in Florida, they seem to be trying it elsewhere." We're not going to let them get away with it. And with your help, we'll make sure that anyone who tries to stop people from exercising their right to vote ends up behind bars.

Thanks for everything,--Adam, Eli, Hannah, James, Laura, and the whole MoveOn PAC Team October 27th, 2004

P.S.: If you have any questions, you can find your Secretary of State's office online at: Or try reaching their office by phone, at:717-787-5280

Together, we can make sure that what happened in 2000 doesn't happen again. We've put together a wallet-sized card with all the numbers you need to know if someone interferes with your right to vote. Download your election protection card now by clicking here.
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2. Greg Palast, Harper's Magazine, October 2004.

Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The latest trends in vote suppression

Yesterday Matt Drudge's Drudge Report carried a story about how ABC (the American Broadcasting Company, not the one from Australia) was sitting on a story: an al-Qaida terrorist with an American accent had submitted a videotape threatening to make the streets of America run red with American blood - on Election Day. ABC, instead of running the story, had turned the tape over to the CIA. Drudge seemed to be implying that this was an irresponsible act on ABC's though the more responsible course of action would be to create a panic with an unverified piece of information. Has he forgotten Dan Rather's embarrassing lack of typographical skepticism so soon? Does he not trust the CIA?

Many right-wing commentators have picked up on this and twisted it around to state that terrorists support the Presidential incumbent's opponent. (Sorry for the skewed syntax, but I don't want to create another Google hit for that particular phrase.) I first saw this sentiment expressed in graffiti on the support pillar of an overpass on the way in to work this morning - and then heard it echoed by two co-workers who start their day with right-wing radio shows.* It's odd, though, to associate terrorist political support with the other guy. After all, if Bush does win a second term, he will owe the victory in a large part to the likes of Usama** bin Laden, Musab al-Zarqawi, this new videotape guy, and of course the nineteen September 11th hijackers, who created a theme for Bush's campaign.

And creating fear about the safety of Election Day does not benefit Kerry. Low voter turnout tends to benefit the incumbent, and the Democrats and non-Democrat anti-Bush forces have been putting an enormous effort into registering new voters and encouraging people to get out and vote. If people stay home on Election Day, out of fear or for any other reason, Bush will benefit. It's almost enough to make you wonder if this is a legitimate terrorist threat at all. Almost.

Vote suppression is taking many forms in this campaign. From priests railing against Kerry supporters in Sunday sermons to Republican operatives threatening to cause delays and disruptions in the line for the voting booth, from vanishing ballots in Florida to destroyed voter registration applications in Nevada, it seems that there is a unified effort to prevent people who have decided to vote for John Kerry from actually getting the chance to do so. This latest threat - real or hoax - fits the pattern quite well. Will it succeed? Not if I can help it.

Vote for John Kerry on November 2nd. It's important.

*These radio shows are very effective in passing on information that people embrace intimately and repeat endlessly. If they were to just squeeze in a tidbit of actual, true, nonpolitical information every once in a while - like, "the square of the hypotenuse of any right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides" - they would do wonders for education in the U.S.

**The Department of Defense's preferred spelling. Don't ask me why.

Amazing Grace

I've added another blog to my Blog Links: Lisa's Amazing Grace. Check it out!

I missed the eclipse last night. Well, not really. The fact that I couldn't see any light of the full moon through mostly-cloudy skies was in effect evidence of the eclipse. But this morning, the just-past-full moon was shining brightly through a clear sky as Haley and I walked the streets of Nanticoke.

Let's hope the Red Sox aren't the only big winners from Massachusetts in the coming days!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Fareed Zakaria on Partisanship

I'm pretty burnt from work today, so I don't think I can muster the energy for even my usual semi-coherent thoughts. Instead, I offer this link to Fareed Zakaria's current column in Newsweek. It starts off from the story of John Stewart's recent appearance on Crossfire and goes from there.

Cloud cover is keeping me from seeing the eclipse. Good thing lunar eclipses last for hours.

Total lunar eclipse tonight

There will be a total lunar eclipse tonight, Wednesday October 27, fully visible to viewers in North and South America. Details are here. If you live in Europe or Western Africa, get up early Thursday morning to see the moon enter into the Earth's shadow in the west.

Try not to miss this one. Viewers in North America won't get another total lunar eclipse until March 2007!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Catholic fear

Guilt, I have often said, is something that Catholics would have invented if the Jews hadn't beaten us to it. We thrive on guilt. It is a central tenet of our faith. Unlike many Protestant denominations, we believe that we must continuously seek forgiveness for our sins - and that absolution can only come from the duly authorized representatives of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

Catholics are an odd lot. We trace the founding of our church not to some guy who wanted a divorce, or some guy who nailed a list of complaints to a door, but to this Jesus fellow who founded the church with a pun: "Peter, you are the Rock, and upon this Rock I shall build my church." (You see, "Peter" is from the same root as the Latin - or is it Greek? - for "rock", found in words like petrify, petroleum,, petrochemistry, and not much else.) Once you accept that statement as true, pretty much everything else about the Catholic Church follows. You get a succession (more or less) of Earthly representatives of Christ in the Papacy, and the power is spread in a feudal sort of way across the whole hierarchy of the Catholic Church. And a lot of it is built on the statement that followed the pun, loosely quoted as "Whoever's sins you forgive on Earth are forgiven in Heaven; whoever's sins you decide not to forgive on Earth are not forgiven in Heaven."

Pretty heavy stuff to lay on the shoulders of mere mortals, which is probably why you got to corruption and selling of indulgences and all that other reform-worthy stuff in fairly short order, which led to a bevy of followers of Christ who decided that they could pretty much disregard his specific instructions and go off and make up their own churches.

John F. Kennedy's opponents fanned the flames of anti-Catholic fear by suggesting that, if elected, a Catholic president would answer to the Vatican first, and would do the bidding of the Pope, not the American people. Kennedy told the people who were saying these things that they were full of crap, and went on to get elected and serve for nearly 3 years before someone put a bullet through his brain.

Catholic fear is another tool of the Republicans in their fight to keep John Kerry out of the White House. They are taking a two-pronged approach:

1. In non-Catholic voters, instill the fear that a Catholic President will strictly obey the declarations of the Catholic Church in all things, regardless of the will of the American people

2. In Catholic voters, instill the fear that because Kerry is not obedient to the declarations of the Catholic Church in all things, voting for him is a sin and may result in exclusion from Communion, the celebration of the Eucharist that is central to the Catholic Mass - and possibly excommunication from the Church itself

The second prong is particularly insidious because U.S. Catholic bishops are echoing these statements and becoming, knowingly or unwittingly, the tools of the Republican political machine. Some Catholic Republicans have embraced this concept and are declaring that anyone who supports Kerry is not really a Catholic.

It is difficult to stand up to the church hierarchy and tell them that they are being used as pawns in a game being played by Republican strategists, especially when anyone with the temerity to actually criticize a bishop stands a fairly good chance of being cast out of the Holy Roman Catholic Church and having his sins bound for all time. I suppose the same sort of thing goes on in countries ruled by warlords (like Afghanistan) that try to hold democratic elections. You're free to vote for any candidate you like, but if your whole village votes against the local warlord or his candidate...well, they might just strike you (and your village) off their Christmas Card list. Permanently.

I hope that Catholics and non-Catholics see the Catholic Fear ploy for what it is. Voting for Kerry is not a sin. And real Catholics can vote for Kerry. I am a Catholic, I am voting for John Kerry, and I do it with a clear conscience.

One week to go

Next Tuesday is Election Day. (The Republican Block The Vote movement will probably try to tell people that Election Day is some other day, as they have in previous elections, but don't believe them. ELECTION DAY IS TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 2nd.) I can hardly wait - partly because I'll be so happy when this is all over, but mostly because I will be very happy when America finally lets George Bush & Co. know that they've been fired.

Elizabeth Dole was here yesterday, and John Edwards is here tonight. I'm trying to get less annoyed and amused with the nonstop visits by major political visits to this small and generally unregarded corner of Pennsylvania and try to take them for what they're worth. If the candidates see us as being that important to the outcome of this election, then by gum, maybe we are.

If that's the case, then I suppose it's more critically important for me to try to influence my neighbors to vote for John Kerry - and to get them to get out of the house on Election Day and vote for him. Still, that doesn't mean I'm gonna ignore the people from all over the country that stop by this site. If you love America, if you want a better future than George W. Bush and his band of thieves can provide for ourselves, our children, our parents, our neighbors, and even for the rest of the world - vote for Kerry. Encourage your friends, too. It's important.

God, I can't wait 'til this is over.

Monday, October 25, 2004


One of the reasons people get passionate about their Presidential candidate (or passionately oppose the other guy) is the possibility that the next president may appoint one or more justices to the Supreme Court. Not that this is always a sure way of furthering a political party's ambitions. Supreme Court Justices tend to make decisions based on their own sense of jurisprudence, without much regard for the political whims of the people who appointed them.

It seems that we may not need to wait for the next President to appoint a new justice. This may be something that gets done sometime before the next inauguration - possibly by a lame-duck President. Today it was reported that Chief Justice William Rehnquist is undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer. So it is possible that we will see two appointments made in the near future: one for a new Chief Justice, and one for a new Justice to take the spot on the bench left empty by whoever gets promoted.

I don't have any great love for Rehnquist, nor am I particularly afraid of whoever the next nominee for the Supreme Court may be. I guess that what upsets me most about this situation is that I remember when Rehnquist was elevated to the position of Chief Justice in 1986, I thought wow, he's only 62, that's really young, isn't it? Now 18 years have passed, and he's 80 - and that must mean that somewhere along the line I too have become 18 years older. Sheesh. And don't get me started on that young, strapping, energetic, Polish Pope that just got elected a few years back. When did he get so old?

Arrgh. I've gotta get "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler On The Roof out of my head. Maybe we'll try Bob Geldof's "Thinking Voyager 2 Type Things" from The Vegetarians Of Love:

I'm thinkin' about mortality
I'm thinkin' it's a cheap price that we pay for existence...

OK, that's better. Thanks, Mr. Geldof!

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Adding even more links

I've added several* more blog links to my sidebar. All of these sites have two things in common: I had never visited them before I started blogging, and I now visit most of them fairly frequently. So I don't really know these sites as well as I know Camilla's, Sammie's, or Bill's, all of which I've been visiting for quite a while, but I still find all of them fun and/or informative. Also, because I am very lazy, these links will make my blog-surfing a lot easier, since I can just visit directly from my own site.

*I'm using the vague term "several" instead of an actual number because I don't want to have to re-edit this entry every time I remember someone I forgot to add.

A house divided

Whoever is determined to be the winner of the U.S. Presidential election on November 2nd (or December 31st, or whenever the determination is made), he should realize what a tough crowd he's going to face. Whether it's Bush or Kerry, nearly as many people who cast ballots for the winner will have cast their ballots for the other guy. (And if it's a repeat of 2000, there will actually be more people who cast their votes for the other guy.)

In the second Presidential debate, George W. Bush was asked to name three mistakes he had made as President. He hemmed and hawed and offered a vague, nonspecific answer about certain appointments that turned out to be mistakes. But in the eyes of most Americans, he didn't answer this question. Maybe this is because he really doesn't see himself as having made any mistakes. Maybe he's too dumb to recognize them, or too proud to admit them. Or maybe he sees acknowledging mistakes to be a sign of weakness. But that's OK, there are plenty of patriotic Americans out here who will help the President-appointee with this question.

One of Bush's major mistakes has been to govern as if he were the bearer of the mandate of the American people. Rarely if ever did he act as if he had anything but unanimous support for his decisions. Never did he adopt a conciliatory tone, or attempt to build coalitions with the opposition. Perhaps having a Congress that has mainly served a reciprocal role as bearer of the rubber stamp has helped to reinforce the delusion that he was doing not only God's will, but the will of the American people. To many, it seemed that the first Presidential debate was the first time he had directly experienced dissenting opinion expressed in a manner he could not simply disregard.

A Bush victory, by count of the ballots cast or (once again) by Supreme Court decree, will only reinforce this delusion of unanimity. On the other hand, should Kerry be declared the victor, he must be careful not to behave in a manner that is too conciliatory, lest he be painted as a weakling by the opposition - who will certainly begin plotting his ouster, by fair means or foul, almost immediately. I shudder to think about what sort of runaway government we will see in a second Bush administration. And I shudder to think of the likes of Karl Rove and Grover Norquist turning their energies toward the destruction of the American President. Let's hope that whoever wins, the American people can put aside their differences and unite to provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, ensure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity, and all that other wacky stuff that's in the good ol' Constitution.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Republicans plan to Block The Vote

In a race as close as the one for the U.S. Presidency every vote counts, especially in very tight swing states like Pennsylvania - or Ohio.

The New York Times (free subscription may be required) is reporting that Republicans in Ohio plan to post recruits at polling places to challenge the qualifications of voters. They claim that this is an attempt to avoid any potential voting fraud, but according to the Times, "Some officials said they worried that the challenges could discourage or even frighten others waiting to vote."

Every time the Republicans use this maneuver they will wrap themselves in the cloak of fighting against voter fraud. Ask any Republican partisan about what went on in Florida on Election Day in 2000 and they will tell you about how the Democrats fraudulently tried to steal the election. Mention to these partisans specific incidents in which voters were prevented from getting to their polling places or other incidents of Republican attempts to block the vote, and watch their eyes light up and their masks of rationality slip away. For specific incidents, see this article from the St. Petersburg Times from November 9, 2000, or this section of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report on Voting Irregularities in Florida During the 2000 Presidential Election.

This is another of those fairly obvious and heavy-handed political ploys that can appear above-board to those who haven't seen it before. Like the Sinclair Maneuver, this is nothing new. Read here for a primer on how this works, as well as an extensive bibliography of references.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Biological practical jokes

I have read that there are two known ways of significantly extending life expectancy: one applies to the individual, the other to an entire species.

In the individual, the one known method of life extension is to restrict caloric intake to a level just above that of starvation and malnutrition. That's it. Eat less, live longer. But a lot less. Well below the level at which you would say your diet is ridiculously restrictive. So individuals on the brink of starvation enjoy the benefit of having longer lives during which they can probably look forward to continuing to live on the brink of starvation.

The one known way of increasing the general life expectancy of a larger population, or a species, is to restrict reproduction to those individuals of advanced age who are capable of reproducing. The idea behind this is that fatal diseases that manifest themselves in the earlier parts of an individual's life will tend to remove the individuals who carry them or are susceptible to them before they have a chance to pass on their susceptibilities to their offspring. (This is not, of course, true of all diseases. Huntington's disease tends to manifest itself in adults in their 30's and beyond, according to this Wikipedia entry.) After many generations, so the theory goes, more and more early-onset diseases will be removed, and children will inherit their parents' ability to reproduce at a more advanced age. (Apparently, this has been successfully demonstrated with fruit flies, where restricting reproduction is simply a matter of destroying the first few batches of eggs that are laid. With humans, even more unpleasant solutions would probably be required.)

But there's a rub. Several studies - including a recent study by a team of British and Swedish researchers reported in New Scientist - have indicated a relationship between the age of a child's father and the likelihood that those children will develop schizophrenia later in life. The older the father, the greater the chances. So we are faced with the prospect of populations spawning legions of long-lived but dangerously insane individuals.

Fortunately it's difficult to regulate reproduction in a free and open society. Teenage pregnancies may very well be a major factor in offsetting any ill effects of the current trend toward couples postponing having children until they are sufficiently established and comfortable with their careers. Having a saner but shorter-lived population is probably preferable to having a population with a greater number of schizophrenics with an overall longer life expectancy.

And as for near-starvation...well, you can keep that, too. I'd rather see people be happy and well-fed than living prolonged lives of misery. Some things come with too high a price.

Happy Birthday, Sammie!

Sammie's birthday is October 23rd - but since she's in Australia, that's just a few hours from now! So please stop by her site and join me in wishing her a HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Bush, yet again

For what is - God willing - the last time, President George Bush will be campaigning in this area. I think I'm going to have to take an alternate route to work today.

I wonder: how much is all this campaigning costing the U.S. taxpayers? I mean, I doubt Bush's election fund is covering the cost of Air Force One and everything involved with it. And who the hell's in the captain's chair (metaphorically speaking) when he's so busy traveling?

Please, can we just get to the part where we kick this sneering moron and his band of thieves out of the White House?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Sinclair Maneuver

Whenever I play chess it is usually against players who are far more skilled and more knowledgeable of the history of the game than I am. Chess is among the many things about which I know very little. I can start by moving my horsie-thing or the third pawn from the left, and the other player will say "Oh, that's the classic Reverse Polish Opening," or something like that. I do know that I was once able to execute a perfect Fool's Mate, which involves getting a checkmate within the first three moves. It's apparently not an easy thing to do, and my friend was pretty astonished that I was able to work out exactly which three moves I needed to make to get myself checkmated so quickly.

I don't know the technical details of chess because I've never studied them. Spassky and Fischer and Karpov and Kasparov are very nearly just names to me. I can play the game and enjoy it without knowing these things, but knowing them might help me to enjoy the game on a deeper level.

For some time now it has been extensively reported that the Sinclair Broadcasting Company was going to require its affiliates to preempt prime-time programming to run an anti-John Kerry diatribe called Stolen Honor. The anti-Kerry forces were smugly rejoicing, the Kerry supporters were complaining in advance to the FCC about what they viewed as a plan to violate the rules of political advertising (and were turned away on the grounds that while preemption may be a fine reason for bombing a country and killing thousands of its citizens because it might be thinking of maybe someday developing a plan that could possibly allow it to eventually aspire to being a threat, it is not a valid reason for stopping a television program before it has a chance to violate FCC rules), and at least one employee of Sinclair Broadcasting lost his job because of his criticism of the planned broadcast.

Suddenly, as reported in this article by Dana Stevens in Slate, things have changed. Sinclair maintains that it is not planning to broadcast the Stolen Honor program, that it never planned to broadcast it, and any reports to the contrary are simply inaccurate.

Instead, what they will do is broadcast a "news special" which "will focus in part on the use of documentaries and other media to influence voting, which emerged during the 2004 political campaigns, as well as on the content of certain of these documentaries." In other words, rather than running the controversial documentary/political attack ad, now it will run a story about the controversial documentary/political attack ad and the controversy surrounding it. As the saying goes, the story has become the story.

This is an classic example of a variety of political demagoguery: create a controversy, let the controversy and criticism of the controversy build, then suddenly declare yourself to be an innocent victim of the controversy, and turn your critics' criticisms back on themselves. On the Internet, this sort of thing is known as trolling.* To someone who has not been observing how these political games are played, it may appear to be a series of completely spontaneous and unrehearsed events. But to someone who has been studying these sorts of political shenanigans, the machinations are as obvious as the French Defense is to a knowledgeable chess player.

It's nothing new. Banana Republicans discusses how this sort of thing is practiced by acolytes of the conservative media on college campuses. On pages 76-80 the authors cite three examples of articles written to incite racial or gender-issue controversy, for the purpose of drawing attention to the controversy and casting the creators of the controversy as its hapless victims. One example of this is the Jason Mattera/Judy Shepard incident. Links to the relevant articles can be found in the bibliography on this page - articles on the controversy link and open easily, but the article that started the controversy, "Judy Shepard Indoctrinates RWU", is a 4 MB .pdf file that will not open on my computer, at least not in a reasonable timeframe

Until now, Sinclair had only been in the national spotlight for its forbidding of affiliates to air an episode of Nightline in which the names of every U.S. soldier who had (up to that point) died in Iraq were read aloud. This time around it has engaged in a manipulation of the national media in order to turn the spotlight on itself to further the advancement of its political views. Let's hope that enough people have developed enough political savvy to recognize this ploy for what it is - and dismiss the Sinclair Maneuver as unworthy of their attention.

*"Trolling" is a word that has various definitions, depending on who is using the term. I have always viewed it as a sort of passive-aggressive way of creating controversy, reflecting the fishing-related derivation of the word in which a baited line is dragged behind a moving boat to see what might take the bait. (In this sense a blogger who makes outrageous and provocative statements in the hope of eliciting a heated response would be considered a troll. Such trolls will, in many cases, deny that they were trying to elicit any response at all, and will denounce any heated responses as being the work of trolls.) Other people view it as a more active behavior of direct attack, sometimes from a position of concealment. I disagree with this latter use of the term, regarding direct attacks as being an action unto themselves. I refer to anonymous attacks as "sniping."

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

How to tell you live in a hotly contested area

With so many visits by the candidates to Northeastern Pennsylvania that I think the Secret Service probably has code names for every pothole on the highway, the fact that one of the Vice-Presidential candidates is not coming back in the last two weeks of the campaign is actually considered a news story.

From the WNEP website:
Cheney Not Making Campaign Stop Here

One candidate who's not dropping by the area this week is Vice President Dick Cheney. Newswatch 16 was told last week by Scranton officials the vice president would campaign in Lackawanna County this week.

We are now told by the Bush/Cheney campaign there are no plans for an area visit by the vice president.

Oh, well. His loss. The trees are finally at the peak of Autumn color. Their beauty might have warmed his cold, hard heart.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Political and non-political humor

John Kerry was in Wilkes-Barre today. George Bush will be there later this week. Gosh, it's good to be loved. I can't wait until Election Day so we can be done with all this campaigning and get down to the lawsuits that will determine who will be our next President.

Kerry tried to tell a joke in Florida yesterday but he flubbed it. Here is what he meant to say. This is offered to his campaign free of charge.

"The Bush Administration's response to the flu vaccine crisis has been to adopt a faith-based health care approach: Pray that you don't get sick."

...which could then lead into the one about fighting a faith-based war, one based on belief in the existence of weapons of mass destruction rather than on evidence of their existence.

I spawned a new joke by myself yesterday. Well, I was fed the setup line, but the response was entirely mine. It was supposed to be an example of the sort of joke told at a party attended primarily by college professors:

How many college professors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
None. That's what graduate students are for.

I'm sure someone's come up with that before, but it's nice to imagine that it's an entirely new joke. Maybe my friend (the one who fed me the setup) will get to try it out at his college professor friend's upcoming party.

Making this worth my while

Every morning I log on to my Sitemeter to see how many hits I got overnight. Sitemeter is a pretty nifty thing, because it tells me how many people have been visiting, what part of the world they're from, and how they got here.

So far today I have one hit. Based on the domain name and time zone I believe it was from Australia, possibly the central portion. The hit was from a Google search for "richard lewis" mauritius birds. Google's #1 result for this search string!

This is great! Obviously this person wasn't searching for information about actor/comedian Richard Lewis. I'm afraid my site doesn't provide any real information on the Richard Lewis who was involved with the Captive Breeding Center in Mauritius, but I hope that this visitor found his or her way to Gareth's Another Chance To See site and continued the investigation from there. Good luck!

Sunday, October 17, 2004

K is for Kakapo

I'm working on an illustrated A-B-C for a young relative of mine. I decided to let the letter "K" be for "Kakapo", the critically endangered flightless giant parrot of New Zealand written about by Douglas Adams in the book Last Chance To See.

Kakapo, October 17, 2004 Posted by Hello

(This isn't the most accurate picture of a Kakapo you'll find. The legs aren't fuzzy all the way down, and the feet in this illustration lack the sense of awesome gripping power you'll see in the real thing. But on the other hand, I only spent about 5 minutes creating it in Corel Painter Classic with my WACOM Graphite tablet. I may revise it later.)

I'm on a bit of a Douglas Adams jag right now. I'm simultaneously rereading Life, The Universe, and Everything and listening to the Hitchhiker's Guide Tertiary Phase radio series. I watched the first two episodes of the Hitchhiker's Guide TV series on DVD earlier today, and I am once again listening to my home-made audiobook of Douglas Adams reading Last Chance To See.*

If you know who Douglas Adams is, it's probably because of the Hitchhiker's Guide series. (And if you don't know what that is, you probably will next summer, when the long-delayed movie is expected to be released.)

But Last Chance To See is my favorite work by Douglas Adams, and is quite possibly his best. It tells the story of his travels with zoologist Mark Carwardine and others, as they attempted to see and document some of the most endangered animals on Earth. It is also the story of the mind-numbing hassles of international travel, even back in the ancient days of 1985 and 1988.

After listening to my audiobook a few years ago I went into a bit of a Google frenzy, searching for anything I could remember being mentioned in Last Chance To See: Kakapos. Bottle Palms. Pink Pigeons. The Northern White Rhinoceros. Baiji Dolphins. Baiji Beer. Carl Jones. Richard Lewis. The Mauritius Captive Breeding Center.

I accumulated a group of links and watched sadly as some of them became dead ends. I wondered if anyone would ever attempt a follow-up to the original 1988 journeys.

A few weeks ago I was doing some Douglas Adams digging and I came across Gareth's remarkable blogsite Another Chance To See. Here was someone who had picked up the torch and was running with it. In blog entries made daily or even more often, Gareth is relaying up-to-date information on many of the animals and topics covered in Last Chance To See. And his site is extremely link-heavy, so that it can function as a jumping-off point for anyone wishing to do their own online research on Kakapos, Northern White Rhinoceroses ("Rhinoceri", I suppose, but let's not quibble while they're being slaughtered), and many other endangered species.

This weekend I gathered together all of my functioning Last Chance To See-related links links and submitted them to Gareth. I hope he finds them useful, and I hope through his efforts more people become aware of not just the wholly remarkable work that Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine did 16 years ago, but also of the plight of endangered species throughout the world. Go there and see for yourself!

*I made this by pulling out all the .wav files from my CD-ROM of the disc, purchased from Voyageur in early 2001 just before they went under, converting them to .mp3 files, and then recording them to a CD-R.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Fine For Littering, $200

Sometimes I think people misinterpret signs like this. They say, "Yes, this place is fine for littering. I think I will. Now, where's my $200?"

From my trips to Ireland I was aware that that country, like England, requires a license for televisions (and possibly for radios as well.) This amounts to an annual fee to be paid for the privilege of receiving those radio waves which the government broadcasting system beams through your house and your person. Woe betide the viewer who does not pay this fee if the license inspectors should catch him watching an unlicensed TV. I imagine the scene would look like something from Brazil. I don't think too many Americans, who gladly pay over $50 a month for access to a plethora of channels which carry dozens of different varieties of crap, would be willing to stand for such government intrusion in their in-home entertainment. Besides, we don't have a government-run broadcasting system, which is what the licensing fee is intended to support.

Anna Quindlen's column in this week's Newsweek made me aware of the fact that in Australia, you will be levied a fine if you don't vote on Election Day, at least if you don't have a good reason.

This is so remarkable I couldn't believe it. So I turned to the source of all knowledge and information, the Internet, and Googled the words australia fine voting. And sure enough, there was an Australian Electoral Commission page on How Elections Work that detailed "Electoral Offenses". On this page is the following information:

Voting at federal elections has been compulsory since 1924 for all citizens on the Commonwealth Electoral Roll. Anyone who is unable to provide a valid and sufficient reason to the Divisional Returning Officer for failure to vote at a federal election may be required to pay an administrative penalty of $20 (section 245).

If an elector who has failed to vote refuses to pay the $20 administrative penalty, then the matter may be referred to a Magistrates Court, where a fine of $50 plus costs may be ordered on conviction. Anyone who chooses not to pay the court-ordered fine will be dealt with by the Court accordingly, and this may involve community service orders, seizure of goods, or one or two days in jail. The penalty in such circumstances will be a decision for the local
Magistrates Court and not the Australian Electoral Commission.

For reasons that Anna Quindlen details in her column, this also would never fly in the U.S. It will be interesting to see if the record voter registration that has preceded this too-close-to-imagine-calling election results in a record turnout on Election Day. As Quindlen points out, the U.S. has not had a voter turnout better than 60% since 1968.

In a future post I might propose an alternative Electoral voting method - and then tear it down again, unless I can think of a way around my argument's gaping flaws between now and then.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Going all squishy

Halfway to your car when it is parked in the farthest possible row in the lot during a heavy downpour at the end of a long and trying workday at the end of a long and trying workweek is just one of many equally bad points in time and space for you to discover that your right shoe is a bit more worn than you realized and is, in fact, letting in water.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Divided by a common language

One of the great things about Sammie's blog is the way the conversations can spiral off in bizarre and unexpected directions. An entry on Sammie's father's TV-watching setup for a major race this past weekend sent me into a spin over the use of the word "lollies". What the hell was that? Even after Sammie explained, I decided to try to find an online dictionary of Australian slang. Here's one from "Trough Lolly" would be a good name for a band. And the joke-which-has-become-a-best-selling-book, "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves", has a first cousin in the Australian slang term "Wombat", which "eats, roots, and leaves" - but you need to know what "root" means. Let's just say that Australians might look at Americans funny when they sing the line in "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" that goes "So let's root, root root for the home team..."

While doing this little bit of research, I decided to investigate something that's been bugging me for years. There's a scene in the movie Trainspotting (a film about a bunch of wacky fun-loving Scottish heroin addicts, full of great music, great writing, great acting, dead babies crawling across the ceiling, and a scene that inspired me to start hanging out in clubs) where Mark Renton is being forced to go off heroin cold turkey by his parents. "At least get us some jellies!" he pleads with his mother. "No," she responds. "You're worse coming off that than you are with heroin!"

Now, from growing up with the Tom Baker incarnation of Doctor Who, I knew that "jelly babies" were the little gummy candies he was always offering to people and aliens from a small paper sack. I assumed (as did some of my friends) that "jellies" were just gummy candies. Why would Renton want those during his withdrawal agonies? And why would his mother refuse them?

I found an online Trainspotting Glossary that explains what jellies are, and a lot of other stuff too. Needless to say, in Scottish drug slang "jellies" are something quite different than the treats being offered by Doctor Who. (Or maybe not. Feeding tranquilizers to potentially hostile people and aliens might not be a bad idea.)

Another sharp turn on Sammie's blog comments forced me to recall a trip to The World Of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia, where my friends and I sampled Coca-Cola products from around the world and subsequently became very, very ill. Sometimes, cultural enlightenment comes at a price.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Dark sun rising

I left work at sunset today. This is something of a rarity for me lately, and I was fortunate that the sky was relatively clear - but not too clear.

I am easily turned around, and have a hard time determining north-south-east-west orientation without checking the position of the sun with respect to the time of day (or checking the constellations at night, the more obvious of which tend to cluster in the north and the south, at least as seen from my latitude.) It has taken me much of the past two years of working in my current location to determine what direction I am facing when I am coming in and when I am going out.

As I walked out of our plant's rear entrance this evening I looked at the setting sun reflecting off the cars in the parking lot, the ragged clouds scattered across the sky, and the rays of darkness seeming to emanate from a dark sun rising in the East.

Crepuscular rays, I thought. Shadows of clouds that have interrupted the light of the rising or setting sun. We often see sunbeams shining into the sky, or down toward the ground, but under very special circumstances - a critical density of clouds above the observer - these rays will manage to stretch clear across the observer's sky, appearing to diverge from where the clouds interrupt the sunlight and appearing to converge at a point directly opposite the sun.

The first time I saw this phenomenon was early in the two years I spent in Newark, Delaware, possibly during the single semester that I was enrolled in graduate school. I was riding my bicycle to the laundromat, a week's worth of dirty clothing strapped to my back in an Army surplus backpack*. I was riding north-by-northwest along a bicycle path and looked out at the setting sun, and saw the dark rays that seemed to extend from it. My eyes followed these rays across the sky to the opposite horizon, which is quite a trick when you're riding a bike downhill with a week's unwashed laundry on your back. And then I noticed...

The striped sky was full of birds. Literally full of birds, reaching out to the visible horizon in every direction. All sorts and sizes of birds. I had gotten used to the daily migrations of what I was told were Grackles, which flew in ribbon-like flocks that often stretched seemingly from horizon to horizon, but were only about a dozen birds thick. This was something different. The birds were not all of the same size or species, and based on my limited knowledge of ornithology, it looked like predator and prey birds were flying nearly side-by-side, although every bird seemed to maintain a healthy distance from its neighbors. The birds were spread out to the extent that if you briefly looked at a small part of the sky you might not notice anything unusual; you might, at first glance, think that you were just looking at a dozen or so birds flying from southeast to northwest across the sky. It was only if you swept your eyes across the sky, as I had when following the dark rays from the sun to the opposite horizon, that you could take in the whole spectacle.

I watched for a minute or so, thinking What the hell is this? After a while I realized I was not about to figure out what was going on, I was not going to see a fierce raptor swoop down on a little tiny insectivore, and I was not going to get my laundry done by staring at birds in the sky.

I moved on. The birds passed, the sun set, my laundry got done.

I never again saw anything like the vast convocation of birds that I saw that day. I still wonder about what brought it on.

Nothing quite so dramatic accompanied today's spectacle. Some people might see a dark sun rising as a bad omen, particularly one viewed three hours prior to the final Presidential debate. But it was a beautiful and remarkable thing, and I was glad that the events of today conspired in such a way that I was there to see it.

*I believe this memory is faulty, that I didn't have that particular backpack until I had been in Delaware for about six months. But I don't remember what I used prior to the Army backpack to lug laundry and groceries. Let's just pretend it was the Army backpack and move on.

Third Presidential debate: First thoughts

Tonight's debate seemed a lot more fast-paced. Maybe it was better moderated than the previous debates.

Bush seemed to be falling back a lot on mockery and derision. Hardly becoming of "the leader of the free world." He also occasionally ignored the question that he was asked and instead responded to one of his own devising.

My favorite moment was the Bush line about how, in America, people are "free to worship, whether they want to or not." Yes, I know what he meant. But what he said seems to more accurately reflect his demonstrated position.

No airport-style screenings, as far as I know - I missed the first few minutes, but I'll check the tape. And no nudity. Maybe they'll listen to me next time.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Presidential Debate #3: New Ground Rules

In politics it is often more important to avoid the appearance of impropriety than to avoid impropriety itself. Improprieties may go unnoticed, but the appearance of impropriety by definition does not.

I did not hear about the story of "the bulge" until a friend of mine mentioned it to me on this very site. There is an entire website dedicated to the question of whether or not Bush was wearing a radio device during his much-improved performance in the second Presidential debate. The Bush camp has immediately responded to these suggestions by belittling and ridiculing anyone who might possibly consider entertaining the speculation that such a thing might have been done, thereby lending a certain credibility to the speculation.

Personally I don't think Bush was wired, because I imagine that it would be fairly easy to conceal such a device in a way that won't create a visible bulge under your suit jacket. (So technically I suppose I am not discounting the possibility that Bush was using a radio receiver, just the likelihood that the thing on his back was a radio receiver.) The presidential tailor has expressed the opinion that this bulge is actually just a chance pucker in the fabric of Bush's jacket, and I don't find this too unbelievable. I also think that it is possible that, given the public nature of the debates, the President may have been wearing body armor, something that the Secret Service would probably want to keep quiet. (Some observers* have noted that Bush looked really well-muscled during the debate, suggesting that his suit may have been padded to give him a less wimpish appearance.)

To be fair, it should also be noted that Bush's supporters have suggested that Kerry could be seen to be pulling a rules-violating crib sheet from his jacket pocket as he approached the podium. (There were podiums at the second debate? There are some things you can't tell over the radio. I really need to watch my videotape.) The Kerry camp maintains that this was just a pen, allowed by the rules.

But in the interest of avoiding the appearance of impropriety, I would like to propose the following changes to the debate rules**:

1. Immediately prior to the debate, each candidate will be publicly patted down, wanded, and forced to remove his jacket, shoes, and all metal objects by a crack team of airport security screeners. The screeners will perform this job with the highest possible level of thoroughness.

2. If either candidate should make any utterance of complaint regarding the intrusiveness of the search, the surliness of the screeners, or the general sense of contempt for his person and property, he shall be immediately whisked off to another, more isolated room and subjected to a full body-cavity search and an item-by-item dissection of all objects on his person or in his possession. This inspection shall last no less than an hour, during which time the debate shall proceed without him.

3. If during this second-level search the candidate should again utter any suggestion of disapproval for the treatment to which he is being subjected, he shall immediately be removed to an undisclosed location for detention for a period of no less than three weeks, during which time he shall be ineligible to run for, or be elected to, any public office.

The alternative to this is for both candidates to simply debate in the nude, making their own shortcomings*** far more apparent.

* My mom.
**I previously suggested these new rules here, but I think they're worth a full blog entry.
**Not an original thought on my part at all. This comment was so funny it's stuck with me for 30 years, and I didn't even know what it meant the first time I heard it. If you haven't clicked on the link yet, do it now.

Monday, October 11, 2004

October 12, 2002

For many Americans the first, last, and only date that comes to mind when thinking of terrorism is September 11, 2001. But this was not the first occasion of terrorism in human history, nor was it the last. A year, a month and a day after the events that changed the way Americans think about terrorism, our Australian friends paid the price for being our friends. A terrorist bombing in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia directed against Western tourists killed 202 people at an Irish pub. 88 of these people were Australians, 38 were Indonesian, 23 were British, and the remaining 51 were from 19 different nations, including 7 Americans.

On that day, a friend of mine from work was getting married, and since the reception was near where I live but far from where most of our other work friends live, my house became a sort of pre-reception staging area. We had a great time at the pre-party, a great time at the reception, and a great time at the post-reception party at my house. I don't think it was until the next morning that I heard of the news of the attack, and not until a few days later that I saw the image that most sticks in my mind: a young partier, badly burned but very much alive, standing amidst the wreckage, looking for his friends. Before the magazine that bore his picture went to press, he would die of his injuries, in time for his death to be reported in the caption of the photo.

As I write this, October 12 is nearly half over in Sydney and Brisbane. Memorial ceremonies are being held throughout Australia and in Bali to commemorate the people killed in this act of terrorism. On September 11, America remembers the day terrorists struck at us on our home soil. On October 12, we should also remember the day terrorists struck at our Australian friends.

There are several ways I could wrap this up, but none of them seem appropriate.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Let me say that again...

What good does it do to create a little bit of cleverness and then bury it at the bottom of a long and reflective entry that most casual blog-surfers wont read all the way through? So here are the two bumper stickers I made that are lurking at the bottom of the previous entry. Permission is hereby granted for free use of these two images, click on the thumbnails for larger images, etc.

Trumping the Incumbent Posted by Hello

A call to action Posted by Hello

Waving high my partisan banner

I have been a registered Independent all my life (or at least since I was old enough to register to vote.) This is a conscious statement: I am not beholden to any political party. Unfortunately, this also means that I don't get to vote in Primary elections in Pennsylvania (the ones that determine which candidates will get to run for office), because this state is one that restricts these elections to members of each potential candidate's party.

I find discussing politics distasteful, something like discussing religion or sex. In a controlled environment, or in a theoretical sense, or with people whose positions are already well-known, it's fine to discuss any of these topics. But in mixed company such conversations can easily spiral off into heated arguments that deeply offend the sensibilities of some or all involved.

Up until a year ago I had taken a live-and-let-live approach to politics. I had my opinions, other people had theirs, and everybody was entitled to them without having to worry about criticism or coercion. But as I saw that some of my friends held fairly strong political views that were antithetical to mine, I realized that smiling and nodding was no longer an acceptable strategy. I would have to get ready to engage in rhetorical combat, and I would have to get myself armed. And I would have to be willing to put up my dukes when necessary.

A few weeks ago I suggested on a conservative friend's website that the statement "Bush is not a liar" is not a completely accurate one. The counter-example I provided was weak (the old "There are no plans on my desk to invade Iraq" lie, told a few months before the invasion of Iraq), but I was pounced upon by the conservative commentors at the site. One of them questioned if I were "stupid, rabidly partisan, or just kidding" - and then proceeded to provide a practical demonstration of just what "rabidly partisan" means.

I realized then the futility of sparring with Bush partisans. They are, for the most part, beyond reason and immune to persuasion through logical disputation. No number of examples or citations of fact can convince them to change their minds. There is a possibility that by engaging in combat with them I might persuade some of the non-commenting lurkers who frequent my friend's site, but I decided that this would be an improper use of my friend's comments function - if his readers were interested in what I had to say, they could always follow the links from my comments to my site.

I did a bit of reflection. Am I a partisan? According to my Webster's New World Dictionary, a partisan is "a strong supporter of a faction, party, etc.". By that definition I don't think I am. My activism is more in opposition to Bush and his administration than it is support for Kerry. I believe that Kerry is the better candidate by far, but my support for him is not because I am enthralled with him or any particular promise he has made. I want to see Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, and the rest of the gang sent packing. Kerry is the one who can do it.

This is a tight election, both on a national and a state level. Pennsylvania has a lot of electoral votes, and it can easily make the difference between who wins and who loses. In Pennsylvania the vote is also very tight, so it is important to try to do all you can to sway voters toward your candidate. In my case that means Kerry. If I can convince enough people locally to vote for Kerry instead of Bush, I may help tip the balance in this state.

To this end I offer two original creations. These are intended as bumper stickers, and were originally made 8 inches wide by 3 inches high. Permission is hereby granted for free use of these two images. As always, click on the images to get the larger-sized versions.

Trumping the Incumbent Posted by Hello

A call to action Posted by Hello

(These aren't my first pieces of political art - I previously did a modification of the public-domain Rosie the Riveter picture. But these are both original creations, if not original sentiments.)

Friday, October 08, 2004

Presidential Debate #2

Tonight's debate is a little more lively than last week's Presidential debate, or even this week's Vice Presidential debate. Once again I'm listening on the radio, so I'm not being influenced by appearances, just the words and the way they're being delivered.

Bush sounds less pathetic than last Thursday. He's been caught short a few times tonight, but so has Kerry. Bush's anger has again nearly gotten the better of him a few times, and I'm wondering how well he's controlling his body language this time. It also sounds like he's been heavily coached, although that may be just because he's not drawing quite as many blanks.

One theme Bush seems to be coming back to again and again is the fact that Kerry and Edwards are missing Senate votes while they're campaigning. I wonder, who's being President while Bush is jetting around from campaign stop to campaign stop? This is a ridiculous point to be making, unless you're implying that members of Congress should not be allowed to run for president. But Bush has noticeably crawled away from the tired old theme of "He's a FLIP-FLOPPER!"

I hate politics. I hate fighting with people of good will who hold radically different points of view. I hate focusing on the question of who will get to be the President of the United States for the next four years when there are so many things going on in the world.

But this is important. I believe that it is important to get Bush out of office just as fervently as some of my friends believe it is important to keep him there. And I think we are all slowly coming to the realization that all of our arguments, our jokes, our mocking impressions of both candidates, none of this will persuade the others to change their minds. We can only hope that we can influence other voters who have not yet made up their minds to come around to our way of thinking, and hope that whatever the outcome of this election, it is for the best.

By the way: How many people can name the country that is holding a very important election tomorrow - Saturday, October 9? Here's a hint: it starts with an "A". No, it's not Afghanistan.* It's Australia! And tomorrow is already half over in Australia! Best wishes to everybody down under on the outcome of their election.

*CLARIFICATION (10/9/2004): Of course, I realized that Afghanistan was having elections today, too. No way did I think they were October 30th. No, no, no. OK, yes. And it looks like we've managed to hold American-style elections there. Well, at least Florida-style.

Manic Homicidal Xenophobes

Just a quick note. I always thought it would be interesting if, in the movie version of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, all of the aliens were played by Americans, and British actors were specifically cast as the humans. This would preserve the integrity of the story while allowing the all-important (in the movie world) American audience to latch onto something familiar. The aliens would have an inherent other-ness that I suppose most of the rest of the world experiences when dealing with Americans. As a bonus, the evil and bureaucratic Vogons' "high, piggy foreheads" could bear a resemblance to cowboy hats, and they could come equipped with Texan accents.

The Tertiary Phase radio series has done something like this. The gentle but completely isolated people of Krikkit, who turn into manic homicidal xenophobes overnight upon discovering that there is a whole rest of the Universe out there and that they are not the sole inhabitants of it, all have American accents.

Is this the way the rest of the world sees us? I suppose if they get their view of America from the psychotic right-wing voices that dominate the airwaves of America's "liberal media", they probably do. If that's the case, let me state for the record: WE ARE NOT ALL LIKE THAT. NOT EVEN MOST OF US. THESE XENOPHOBIC NUTJOBS ARE A SMALL BUT VOCAL MINORITY AND DO NOT SPEAK FOR AMERICA.

There. Just wanted to get that out. Of course, there are quite a few xenophobic nutjobs who will tell you I am full of crap. But, hey, they're nuts.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Lost and found dogs

This morning Haley and I ran into a free-roaming dog on the other side of town. This isn't too unusual, and generally such dogs will stroll by and go along their way. This dog saw us coming and crossed the street, but then seemed to change his mind and circled around behind us and proceeded to do a standard canine identification check on Haley. I didn't exactly shoo him away, but I turned and pulled Haley closer and he backed off and decided to walk the other way down the street. I felt a little bad about this - he wasn't particularly threatening, and we wouldn't have minded the company - so I called after him, but he kept on going.

In the morning paper an ad caught my eye. It was about two inches across and three inches high with a picture of a dog on it above the words "I'M LOST", followed by a description of a dog who got lost not too many miles from here and who could have been our early-morning visitor. I'm terrible with facial recognition on people, and am probably worse with animals, but it might have been the same dog. Maybe.

Tomorrow morning we will set off armed with a spare leash and the name of that lost dog. If we should happen to run into that same stray dog and if he responds to that name and is wearing a collar, I will attempt to leash him, walk him home, and try to reunite him with his owners. It's the sort of thing I would greatly appreciate somebody else doing if Haley ever wandered off. Odds are he's miles away by now, but I'll give it a shot, just in case.

UPDATE: The lost dog's name is Ruby, and he's a she, and we didn't run into her (or any other stray dogs) today. Oh well. Hope things work out.

Bush Revisiting

George W. is coming back to the area today, this time to Wilkes-Barre for a by-invitation-only presentation. Last time the traffic situation worked to my advantage: I was able to get on Interstate 81, but many of the exits between Nanticoke and the place where I work were closed to traffic entering and exiting the highway. The net result was that I had the road mostly to myself; there were a few other cars but - and this is the important part - absolutely no tractor-trailers.

Wilkes-Barre is a lot closer to me than the place where Bush last spoke. I wouldn't be surprised if I can't get onto the highway today. Since most of the alternate routes I know involve going through Wilkes-Barre, we'll see how screwed I am.

There's a hell of a lot of security for Bush, far more than there ever was during Clinton's visit in the aftermath of the 1996 floods. Maybe it's because people hate Bush a lot more than they ever hated Clinton. During Bush's last visit, a comment was made about the relative differences between security for John Edwards' visit a week or so earlier and Bush's visit: all the candidates get some security measures, but the President gets "everything". (Interestingly, this same article referred to Bush by the meaningless honorific "the leader of the free world." Do the people of the free world get to pick their own leader? If not, how free are they? If so, when did they decide that Bush was it?)

Here's what Mike McGlynn has to say about today's visit.

UPDATE: No traffic problems. A lot of state and local police on every exit and overpass between Wilkes-Barre and the airport. There were three unmarked white vans pulled off on the side of the road together, and they wouldn't have attracted my attention if it hadn't been for the red-and-blue flashers surreptitiously mounted behind their grills and not-so-surreptitiously strobing like mad.

One other odd thing: as I approached the airport a plane was coming in for a landing, and I slowed a bit, hoping to see Air Force One. (Yes, even I get a little star-struck.) But it wasn't. It was a small jet, a Lear Jet I think, angling its way down towards the airport. Now, I can't imagine there were any private or commercial aircraft allowed in that airspace at that time. So was this some sort of lead plane?

Now what?

Something else weird is happening to my blog. It's like 90% of it won't display - just the last three posts and part of "Fool in the Rain" (up to the words "But filled wth w".) What the heck?

UPDATE (60 seconds later): Posting that seemed to fix it. Hmmm... Maybe something was stuck and I knocked it loose?

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Winner: Cheney?

Cheney sounded better than Edwards. He sounded a hell of a lot better than Bush. He packed more data into his first statement than Bush was able to get out in 90 minutes. Cheney has a stronger, more self-assured voice; Edwards sounds whiny by comparison.

Once again I didn't pay too much attention to the content. I was chatting with someone on the other side of the planet and someone else 35 miles away. Still, this clearly wasn't the blowout we heard last Thursday. I'm glad I've got the VCR running. I wonder what John Stewart will have to say tonight?

Pre-debate connectivity problems

I just spent about 15 minutes trying to log on to the Internet. Yes, I know it's partly my fault: I'm still using an old-fashioned dialup modem instead of something sexier and more expensive like DSL; I'm still using AOL as my service provider; I'm still using a 1999 Compaq Presario. Yes, yes, and yes. But I haven't had a problem like this in a long time.

Maybe a lot of people are clamoring to get online so they can be the first to blog about tonight's Vice-Presidential debate, which has yet to start from when I'm writing this. Blogs certainly played a significant role in the post-game analysis of last week's debate. But a part of me is wondering if there's something sinister afoot.

Banana Republicans reports extensively on GOP efforts at voter suppression in Chapter 6: Block the Vote, including successful efforts to jam get-out-the-vote phone lines in New Hampshire in 2002. I wouldn't put it past their Dirty Tricks squads to try to block bloggers by tying up access lines for dialup connections. There are a lot more sophisticated ways of going about this, though. I wonder if some major Blog hosts will experience difficulties tonight?

Twelve minutes to the debate. There should really be a warm-up act...

Monday, October 04, 2004

On the Eve of the Vice-Presidential Debate

I do solemnly swear that I will make damned sure that I have not accidentally switched off the VCR mere seconds after starting to record the debate. Again.

Early thoughts were that Cheney's best strategy would be to have a heart attack during the debate and earn some sympathy points. An alternative scenario would be if he were to become, shall we say, kaput, and thereby enable his running mate to choose a slightly more charismatic partner late in the game.

Another alternative would be for Cheney to simply not show up, losing the debate by default but not allowing Edwards to score any face-to-face points. Maybe he could seek a deferment similar to the ones that kept him safe from the draft during the Vietnam War.

It is important not to underestimate Cheney, especially with the shadow cast by Bush's I'm-dumber-than-you-think performance in last week's debate. Cheney can be a formidable opponent. On the other hand, if he performs too well, it's going to look like he's showing up the boss. Which, let's face it, is difficult to avoid doing in the Bush administration.

I think I will try to take the same approach as last week: videotape the televised debate (for real this time) while listening to it on the radio as I surf the net. I'd rather not be subjected to Cheney's facial contortions. Let's hope that he remembers to take his medication beforehand.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Fool in the Rain

There are quite a few things I've meant to write about here but never got around to. How the smell-picture of Stone Harbor has changed in the last 10 years. The traffic weirdness the day George W. Bush was in the area. (I may have an opening for that one soon, since Dubya is coming back to town this week. Let's hope he remembers to take his medication. He looked like he missed a dose before the debate last week.)

This is something that happened last Thursday.

Up until now I have only missed dogwalks three times on account of weather: one morning each for the remnants of hurricanes Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. Other than that mornings have been clear and dry. Until this past Thursday.

As Jeanne was forced to our south on Tuesday, a confluence of weather fronts caused a sort of inland cyclone to materialize over the Great Lakes and spin its way eastward. This system passed over us on Thursday, beginning early in the morning.

I knew from the radar that there was a possibility of rain, but I misjudged the speed and intensity of what was coming. We had barely gotten out of the house when the drizzle began. Within half a mile it was a proper downpour, and after another quarter-mile I informed Haley that we would need to turn around.

We were halfway home when the rain stopped. We were both thoroughly soaked, and had only been on the road for about half an hour, so I decided we may as well continue our walk and see if we couldn't dry ourselves off as we did. I decided to hang a right at the next intersection and head west at least as far as my grandmother's old house and then turn around.

We walked along for a few blocks and I heard noises. People talking. Shouting. Arguing. Bickering. As we walked along I heard a man's voice shout "You don't need your goddamn T.V. set! Get the hell outta my house!" There was a smell of donuts and pastries and baked goods in the air.

Oh, no, I thought, as I looked up at the street sign. It was them. The bickering couple I had escorted to the police station more than two months ago. We immediately picked up our pace and began a series of evasive maneuvers known as jinking, turning corners and trying to put as many blocks of houses between us and them as possible. We approached my grandmother's house in a staircase pattern, and I would swear I could hear them for several blocks.

Needless to say, we were not quite to our predetermined turnaround point when it began to pour again.

The rain again lasted just a few minutes, but was intense enough to thoroughly soak us once again. The rest of the walk was relatively uneventful, except that I managed to lead Haley directly into a six-inch deep puddle. Normally this is a very obvious pothole that we walk around, not entirely unusual in size for potholes in Nanticoke, especially ones in back alleys like the one we were walking through. But filled with water from two brief but intense downpours it was fairly invisible, particularly in the darkness before dawn with extremely thick cloud cover. So I spent a good deal of time toweling her off that morning.

Tomorrow is another dogwalk. We'll see what adventures the morning brings...

Saturday, October 02, 2004

How to apply for an Absentee Ballot

I've gotten a couple of search hits over the last few days for information on how to apply for an Absentee Ballot. Unfortunately, the blog entries that are getting hit don't have this particular information spelled out. As a public service, this entry will point people to other sites that have that information.

These sites are Pennsylvania-specific. For other states, try typing this string into Google: absentee ballot (state) , where (state) is the name of your state.

Pennsylvania Department of State: When and How to Apply for an Official Absentee Ballot

The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania Voting FAQ's

The deadline to register to vote in the November 2, 2004 presidential election in Pennsylvania is Monday, October 4 2004. If you haven't registered to vote yet, your time runs out then!