Tuesday, February 28, 2006

[random] [politics] Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

I don't remember exactly when I was introduced to V for Vendetta; in high school, I was good friends with an avid comic collector who spent a fair amount of time in the UK. As a result, I was treated to some tidbits of pop culture before they were available in the US - for instance, he introduced me to Clive Barker's Books of Blood before they were published here, and, I believe, may have possessed the original V series in Warrior magazine. We sort of stayed in touch through college, during which time I know I read DC Comics' serialization of V, but I have the distinct impression of having been introduced to the story during high school. Eh... Regardless, by the time I finished college, I was pretty well hooked on graphic novels: The Watchmen, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Elektra: Assassin, the Sandman series... good stuff, all. But the story that probably had the longest-lasting impact was V for Vendetta. At the time, the story reflected some of the free-floating angst of the era: the potential for nuclear war with the Soviet Union, the increased influence of the right wing in politics, general fear and unease over a society that seemed in some ways as though it was tempted to turn it's collective back upon many of the freedoms enshrined in such milestone documents as the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta... In the ensuing years, much of that fear and angst seemed quite overblown - the USSR collapsed, the Velvet Revolutions spread across Eastern Europe. Prominent intellectuals proclaimed that the 'end of history' was at hand: from now on, we'd all be one big, happy, globalized society. Okay, so a decade or so later, some of that didn't seem quite so rosy, but by and large, things were still pretty much on an even keel. And then things... ...shifted. Suddenly, a lot of people were saying things that made the world of V seem much, much more possible. I got the trade paper version of V a couple of years ago, and while some of it screams 'early 80s!', most of it seemed a lot less... improbable. Clearly, I wasn't the only one who felt this way:
It's no good blaming the drop in work standards on bad management either, though to be sure the management is very bad. In fact let's not mince words: The management is terrible. We've had a string of embezzlers, frauds, liars, and lunatics making a string of catastrophic decisions. This is a plain fact. But who elected them? It was you. You who appointed these people. You who gave them the power to make your decisions for you. While I'll admit that anyone can make a mistake once, to go on making the same lethal errors century after century seems to me nothing short of deliberate. You have encouraged these malicious incompetents who have made your working life a shambles. You have accepted without question their senseless orders. You could have stopped them. All you had to say was "No".
So it was a pleasant surprise to learn that after years of rumors, V is finally coming to the big screen (thanks, Karen!). I was even more pleased to read some initial positive buzz:
...V for Vendetta is fun, dangerous fun, percussive with brutality and laced with ironic ambiguity and satirical slapstick (a Benny Hill homage, no less!). But gives the movie its rebel power is the moral seriousnessthat [sic] drives the action, emotion, and allegory. That’s what I didn’t expect from the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix), this angry, summoning Tom Paine moral dispatch that puts our pundits, politicians, and cable news hosts to shame. V for Vendetta instills force into the very essence of four-letter words like hate, love, and (especially) fear, and releases that force like a fist. Off come the masks, and the faces are revealed.
You could do worse than Tom Paine comparisons... I am so there, opening day.

1 Comments:

Anonymous karen m said...

You're welcome!

I've heard that once again, Alan Moore still isn't happy with the adaptation - I think this is his third work to be made into a movie - but I'm not certain if he's even seen the finished product. It's really nice to see a good review. Thanks for that!

3/01/2006 07:42:00 AM  

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Monday, February 27, 2006

[politics] Chilling

In this photo taken three years before I was born, Alabama State Troopers wait for the Selma Freedom Marchers. (Clicking on the photo will bring you to a story about recently uncovered photos from the Civil Rights era - photos that the Birmingham (AL) News opted to not publish lest they 'embarass' the community.)

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[politics] Funny, I don't remember that being there...

image of the Magna Carta Then:
No Freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any otherwise destroyed; nor will we pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful Judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right. -- article 29, "A translation of Magna Carta as confirmed by Edward I with his seal in 1297"
Then:
...here is a law which is above the King and which even he must not break. This reaffirmation of a supreme law and its expression in a general charter is the great work of Magna Carta; and this alone justifies the respect in which men have held it. --Winston Churchill, 1956
Now:
The boring title of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill hides an astonishing proposal. It gives ministers power to alter any law passed by Parliament. The only limitations are that new crimes cannot be created if the penalty is greater than two years in prison and that it cannot increase taxation. But any other law can be changed, no matter how important. All ministers will have to do is propose an order, wait a few weeks and, voilà, the law is changed. For ministers the advantages are obvious: no more tedious debates in which they have to answer awkward questions.
Got that? No more awkward questions... [via LENIN'S TOMB]

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[geek][random] Octavia Butler - a voice in the wilderness

Noted writer Octavia Butler is dead at 58. I've got a longer piece up over at Mystery of the Haunted Vampire.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

[random] Initial results - Unexplored region, indeed; part 2

original map photo, iStockPhoto - Copyright: nick belton [The 2nd installment of aforementioned long multi-part parenting-related post with boring self-absorbtion and introspection.
  • Part 1
  • Part 3
  • You have been warned.]
    So, in an attempt to pin down the possible causes of The Boy's problems in school, we scheduled an evaluation with an outside psychologist. We also signed him up for the Seattle school district's Advanced Learning Program evaluation, figuring that it might also shed some light on things. Well, we started that ball rolling back in November (scheduling the psychologist for an initial four sessions) and December (the ALP testing). Right before our first session with the psychologist, we got the ALP results back and some bells began to go off. Even before we got the official results back, we knew The Boy did well. You see, the school district's Advanced Learning Program uses a 2-tier model (for full-time academic programs): Spectrum & APP. Spectrum is an accelerated math and reading program hosted by certain schools - they don't typically go too much beyond grade level, and it's a much narrower bell-curve of kids that the teachers have to deal with: bright kids who're interested in and place value upon academics. Hey, even if the kids aren't interested, it's a sure bet that their parents are - the testing is entirely volunary. Spectrum is a 'pull out' program - the kids stay together as a cohort within grades at the school - and we figured that'd provide a more rigorous environment for The Boy. Then he got invited to participate in the 2nd round of ALP testing. This means that he qualified for the Spectrum program; the 2nd round would determine if he was qualified for the APP program. At each level of pedagogy, the APP is housed in a separate school, one each for grade school, middle school & high school - and every subject for each grade is accellerated by 2 grade levels. We had some mixed feelings about this - yeah, the academics'd be great, but we were worried about the stress, and, honestly, the 'otherness' of APP. These schools are kind of like Dr X's mansion, sheltering mutants from a world that doesn't understand or feels threatened by them. No one wants to raise a mutant, right? Therefore, it was with some (mixed) relief when we got the school district's results. As surmised, he'd easily qualified for Spectrum, but there was a pretty substantial gap between his reading score (good, but low enough to disqualify him from APP - and lower than we'd expected) and his math score (which was well within APP limits). Armed with the ALP results, we went to the psychologist, pretty sure what we'd find. At this point, we were mostly hoping to find strategies we could use to manage The Boy, and help him to moderate his own behavior in the classroom. We went ahead and scheduled a meeting with The Boy's teacher for the same day we were to get had the psychologist's results. The testing (we hoped) would provide us with a framework within which we could plan our next steps with his teacher - his teacher readily agreed to this. In the meantime, we would check out the 2 Spectrum schools where we'd qualify for transportation, and see which one would provide a better fit. We could appeal the ALP's decision and try and get him qualified for APP, but didn't really see the need: The Boy was bright (which we knew) and probably just needed a little extra challenge. Spectrum should provide that, we thought. Over the next couple of weeks, I checked out the 2 Spectrum schools and decided that while both had their own strengths and weaknesses, one seemed quite stronger than the other. This decision made, we began filling out the paperwork for the open-enrollment period. Then we got the psychologist's results. I'm glad we didn't mail in the paperwork - according to her tests, he was well within APP limits. Well within. She had some concerns as well. [Too be continued]

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    [geek] 30-second science blogging - "...the ultimate goal is to make life multi-planetary."

    "I said I wanted to take a large fortune and make it a small one, so I started a rocket business." So said Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, during a speech at his alma mater, Virginia Tech in which he discussed his new venture, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX); the quote in the title also comes from this speech. While his current goal is to take on the space monolith that is Lockheed Martin and Boeing, his long term goal is making it easier for humanity to spread out and ultimately colonize space. I find it interesting that a number of wealthy techies have decided to put their money into space travel - along with Musk's SpaceX, Amazon's Jeff Bezos has his Blue Origin and John Carmack of id Software (Doom, Quake) fame has Armadillo Aerospace... I don't know off the top of my head if there are any others, but it wouldn't surprise me if there were. And while I wouldn't count Richard Branson as a techie, his love of technology is quite apparent in his launch of Virgin Galactic. This 'Silicon Valley'-style approach to space makes this commentary by Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard from a month ago quite ironic. Bemoaning the state of the US space program, it starts:
    Where would the U.S. space program be today if run not by NASA bureaucrats but by Silicon Valley geeks and financiers--by crazy entrepreneurs?
    ..and not once does he even appear to be aware that these alternate programs are already up and running. Dude, these guys are already there - doing an end run around NASA. [via /.]

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    Friday, February 24, 2006

    [geek][politics] More patent stupidity

    Oy...
    A patent for the design and creation of rich media services over the Internet, potentially covering Flash, Flex, Java, Ajax and XAML has been granted to America's Balthaser. Balthaser, a US company, has been awarded a patent which it claims covers the design and creation of rich media applications on the Internet. Balthaser announced on Tuesday that it has been granted US patent 7,000,180 by the United States Patent & Trademark Office.
    Okay, there's something really, really wrong with the state of US Patents, at least as far as software patents go... Surely someone had created web-based tools to create and publish rich content over the internet by the date these guys filed in 2001, right? You know, that whole 'prior art' thing? Particularly since 2001 is after the whole .com bubble... Geez.

    2 Comments:

    Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

    Just wait until we patent aerobraking and EVERY vehicle designed for re-entry must pay a royalty ...

    No, I'm kidding. But someone will, mark my words.

    2/24/2006 03:07:00 PM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    Why not? Can you figure out how to make money doing it? Because then you could patent it as a business process, and it'd probably be awarded.

    Hmmm... Those royalties'd certainly pay for The Boy's college...

    2/24/2006 08:14:00 PM  

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    Thursday, February 23, 2006

    [random][politics] Now I know how Joan of Arc felt

    Now there's a double bill I never thought I'd see: Henry Rollins and Morrissey!
    Singer MORRISSEY was quizzed by the FBI and British intelligence after speaking out against the American and British governments. The Brit is a famous critic of the US-led war in Iraq and has dubbed President GEORGE W BUSH a "terrorist" - but he was baffled to be hauled in by authorities. Morrissey explains, "The FBI and the Special Branch have investigated me and I've been interviewed and taped and so forth.
    [via Shakespeare's Sister]

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    Wednesday, February 22, 2006

    [politics] What else is there to say

    but what Steve Gilliard said this morning - 'holy shit' is right... Sectarian tension boils over in Iraq after blast
    The [Iraqi] Interior Ministry said four men, one wearing a military uniform and three clad in black, entered the [Ali al-Hadi] mosque and detonated two bombs, one of which collapsed the dome into a crumbly mess and damaged part of the shrine’s northern wall. [...] An aerial photograph released by the U.S. military showed the 66-foot wide dome reduced to a shell of brown masonry and twisted iron, with nearby buildings also wrecked.
    One of the more interesting (as the value of 'interesting' approaches 'really fucking scary') pieces of the article is this:
    Tradition says the Askariya shrine, which draws Shiite pilgrims from throughout the Islamic world, is near the place where the last of the 12 Shiite imams, Mohammed al-Mahdi, disappeared. Al-Mahdi, known as the “hidden imam,” was the son and grandson of the two imams buried in the Askariya shrine. Shiites believe he is still alive and will return to restore justice to humanity. An attack at such an important religious shrine would constitute a grave assault on Shiite Islam at a time of rising sectarian tensions in Iraq.
    Go ahead and Google 'Mahdi'; better yet, Google 'Mahdi Khartoum Gordon', and let me know what you find, m'kay? Back? See any relevant parallels? I thought you might. [Update, 25 Feb 06 4:40PM PST: Unbeknownst to me, Professor Juan Cole was having similar thoughts:
    The Twelfh Imam or Mahdi is believed by Shiites to have disappeared into a supernatural realm (just as Christians believe in the ascension of Christ) from which he will someday return. Some Shiites think his second coming is imminent. Muqtada all-Sadr and his followers are among them. They are livid about this attack on the shrine of the Mahdi's father. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also a firm believer in the imminent coming of the Mahdi. I worry that Iranian anger will boil over as a result of this bombing of a Shiite millenarian symbol.
    An Iranian-backed Mahdist insurrection could really screw the pooch for us in Iraq. Really, really screw the pooch.]

    6 Comments:

    Blogger Kristina said...

    I feel like crawling under my bed and covering my eyes til it's all over. Not that it will ever be over.

    2/23/2006 10:15:00 AM  
    Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

    Gen. Chas. Gordon'? Seige of Khaortaum?

    I see a simularity but .. not much of one.

    Or the control of Egypt by Britain to control Suez? Maybe something there if you equate petrol with the Suez and lifeblood of the Empire and so on.

    There is a diff - you could not build another Suez for love or money or Queen Vickie's crown jewels. We don't need petrol, just the high energy civ it allows. We know _how_ to get along without foreign petrol it just hasn't become painful enough to do so.

    Now look what you made me do - I started calling 'oil' 'petrol' and all that eh wot?

    2/23/2006 11:13:00 AM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    I wasn't thinking explicitly about maintaining control over Suez, but yeah - that's in the ballpark. And much like the original Great Game, I get the impression that a lot of what we're doing in the Gulf right now is ultimately only incidental to Middle Eastern/Persian Gulf politics.

    Following the Soviet Union's collapse, I thought Fukayama's 'End of History' was nonsense. I predicted then that the world would return to a variation on the Concert of Europe scheme that dominated world affairs from 1815-1914, and I haven't seen anything so far to really disabuse me of that notion. This time 'round, we're taking on the role of Britain; the rest of the cast plays out as follows: the EU (and Russia combined) are playing Russia's role, India plays Japan, and China plays the role of France. Maybe the EU can play Russia and Russia can play Germany - that's still a little murky.

    Every analogy has its weaknesses, but I don't think this one pushes things too much... I forsee several decades of jockeying for power, multilateral wars-by-proxy, quasi-colonial adventures and maneuvers to make the Flashman's head spin, culminating in a catastrophic clash that, in retrospect, will seem almost ludicrously avoidable.

    So keep an eye out for any nationalists buying pistols in Sarajevo, okay? ;-)

    2/23/2006 11:44:00 AM  
    Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

    Time to leave. Oh wait we knew that already ..

    The moon isn't far enough in your scenario. It's too handy to lob things from. Mars might be okay. Maybe someone can pull a Dan'l Boone and blaze a Cumbeland Trail to the Oort Cloud.

    Pull right out of the 21st century with our early 20th century values intact. Devil take the hindmost - we're heading to Pluto.

    2/24/2006 03:11:00 PM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    "The moon isn't far enough in your scenario. It's too handy to lob things from. Mars might be okay. Maybe someone can pull a Dan'l Boone and blaze a Cumbeland Trail to the Oort Cloud."

    I dunno - as long as you're the one doing the lobbing, both Luna and Mars have some strengths: clear fields of fire covering all approaches, and you've got that great, big gravity well just waiting, nay, begging to pull things into itself. Pluto - too cold.

    What would the equivilant be for salt licks in the Oort Cloud?

    But no - it isn't a rosy geopolitical scenario...

    2/24/2006 08:24:00 PM  
    Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

    both Luna and Mars have some strengths: clear fields of fire covering all approaches, and you've got that great, big gravity well just waiting, nay, begging to pull things into itself.

    I'm really not hip on living on a target, no matter how well defended. It only takes one lucky shot to ruin your entire day.

    2/24/2006 10:25:00 PM  

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    Tuesday, February 21, 2006

    [random] Those whom the gods would destroy

    *Not* what I made ...they first convince to cook Indian food. Now don't get me wrong - I love Indian cooking, and I'm usually not half bad at it. We've got a number of very good cookbooks, and relatively easy access to Indian groceries, and I'd recently had some success making a coconut-fish curry with unripe mango, so I was feeling pretty confident. I decided to make dosa. For the uninitiated, dosa is essentially an Indian crepe. Very popular in South India, this tasty treat is often made from a mildly-fermented rice and mung bean batter. Think sourdough pancakes, only made with rice. And served with potato curry. And coconut chutney. And sambar. Okay, forget sourdough pancakes. But trust me - they're delicious. Done properly, they should look something like the picture at the top of the article. What I made... well... Let's just say that it looked nothing like the picture. I should have known I was cursed from the get-go. When shopping for my ingredients, I couldn't find split, hulled mung beans. Now, I've seen recipes for dosa that simply called for urad dal (mung beans) without specifying that it must be hulled - but almost all the recipes call for it to be split. Undeterred (and not wanting to schlep over Lake Washington to the far reaches of the Eastside where there are larger Indian markets to be found), I opted to press on. Now, making dosa (at least making rice-and-mung-bean dosa) isn't exactly a spur-of-the-moment sort of decision... You need to rinse the mung beans, then soak them with the rice (and a pinch of fenugreek seeds) until they soften - about four hours. Okay, not a big deal - rinsed and soaked, and at the end of four hours or so, both the rice and beans were soft to the touch. Not squishy, more like al dente, but still definitely soft. You then need to puree the soaked rice and beans. Woo-hoo! Can you say 'immersion blender' boys and girls? I knew you could! I probably taxed our cheapo blender by using it for this task, but it held up, and I had myself some rice batter ready for fermenting. This is when I overlooked warning sign #2. The color. You see, dosa batter should be the color of your typical, boring, beige-box PC case. Think ecru or lighter - not white, but white with some degree of brown tint. Mine was the color of the snow on a slushy asphalt parking lot. Kinda white, with a light charcoal tint to it, and flecks of black mung bean hull floating in it. I had the texture right (runny pancake batter, with flecks of rice and bean that feel like granulated sugar), but that color? Wrong. Just. Plain. Wrong. M'kay. The beginnings of trepidation flicker across the back of my mind. Once again, I pushed these feelings aside. I've never made this before, I reasoned; spread this batter across a hot skillet, and it should brown up nicely. Who would ever notice the color then? As per my instructions, I covered it loosely with plastic wrap and popped it into the (cold) oven and turned on the oven light. I'd tested the oven light earlier, and it was a perfect 90°F. Fermentation away! As with most sourdoughs, the longer you can leave it, the better it is. 18 hours later, I pulled it out of the oven. It looked promising - the charcoal color was less pronounced, and it had doubled in volume. Time to thin it with a little water and heat up the griddle, right? Too bad it didn't smell promising. There was a whiff of what can only be described as the most physical kind of corruption about the oven. I stood back as I removed the plastic wrap, and a ghastly cheesy vomit smell filled the kitchen. Dumping! Into the sink! Fast! EPA be damned! Once the toxic sludge was safely out of the sink and on its way down the pipes, I followed it with a stiff chaser from the gallon of white vinegar we keep in the laundry room. In a mercifully brief moment of stench-induced delerium, I had the brilliant insight that if baking soda was a good deodorizer and vinegar was a good deodorizer, then putting both down the drain would be an excellent idea! The image of elementary school science fair volcanoes spewing lahars of thick soupy rice cheese quickly dispelled that thought. So, my moment of culinary hubris has passed... I'm definitely up for giving dosa another try (I've had the finished product before, and it's delicious - this isn't Steve, don't eat it!, after all), but next time I'm going to go out of my way to find the split, hulled dal. I don't know for sure that's what caused my mishap (it could have been airborne molds on the stainless steel bowl, for instance), but at the very least it'll fix that revolting color. That way when I throw it away next time, it'll at least be visually appealing.

    7 Comments:

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    :-)
    Beginners start with instant dosa mix.

    2/22/2006 12:30:00 AM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    "A mix!?", he shrieked in horror. His voice rose in volume and pitch. "A mix!? A MIX!? Get out! Get out of my kitchen!"

    The stranger, taken aback by the sudden outburst, backed away slowly.


    *sigh* You're absolutely right, but I think you've identified the crux of the issue: varying values of 'beginner'... Beginner to Indian cooking: no. Beginner to dosa: yes. I like the challenge - I'll try it the hard way again.

    And besides, the mix doesn't taste as good ;-)

    2/22/2006 07:11:00 AM  
    Blogger shayera said...

    There there. I've been trying to make kulfi for about a year and a half without great degrees of sucess.
    And technically, dosas don't get fried, they get steamed. At least that's what my Mom says.

    2/23/2006 03:14:00 PM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    Thanks for the sympathy; I find that reassuring... ;-)

    I've always found Indian desserts too sweet for my taste, so that's an entire category of stuff I've never tried. And with all due respect to your Mum (I've watched Indian matriarchs in the kitchen - they Must. Be. Obeyed.) they're so much like crepes or pancakes that I can't see how they could be steamed...

    2/23/2006 03:27:00 PM  
    Blogger shayera said...

    See, according to Mom, first you heat the skillet with a teeeeny bit of ghee and then you wipe the skillet clean with a damp cheesecloth, and then you put the dosa batter down, which steams it.
    Yeah, I don't get it either.

    2/23/2006 04:15:00 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I've tried the dosa mix w/out success--I think it requires lots of practice and the right kind of pan. I hate to say it, but a tradtional crepe batter works pretty well as a substitute--though a true gormand might object.

    2/24/2006 07:31:00 AM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    When it comes to cooking, I've always been the "if you're going to go to the trouble of doing it, do it right" school of thought, so that's why I decided to skip the mix... And that taste - the texture of crepe batter would be right, but I can't imagine how the taste would compare.

    I've been going back and forth on this - right now I'm leaning towards buying some of the mix just so I can practice the cooking technique. Then I can move on to trouble-shooting the homemade batter.

    2/24/2006 07:58:00 AM  

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    [random] Unexplored region, indeed

    original map photo, iStockPhoto - Copyright: nick belton [Warning - long multi-part parenting-related post with boring self-absorbtion and introspection ahead.
  • Part 2
  • Part 3
  • You have been warned.]
    So, the last few weeks have been... interesting. There is, as there must be with a lead-in like that, a back story here. When The Boy finished preschool last spring (a Montessori-lite environment), he had glowing reviews from his teachers, even from the lead teacher, whom he had sorely vexed on many an occasion. You see, The Boy ain't quite right - mostly in good ways, but some that are, shall we say, less than adaptive. He's really smart, and quite good at figuring out what your buttons are, and he's not above pressing them for yucks. He's also not afraid of adults in the slightest, and expects to not be talked down to. That will piss him off mightily - and then the aforementioned button pushing comes in. But by and large, his teachers thought the world of him and had nothing but praise and great expectations for him upon entering kindergarten. Are you sensing impending doom here? If not, adjust the volume on your set, perhaps you're missing the soundtrack here, creepy strings forshadowing doom, doom, DOOM, DOOOOOM! And doom it was. Not big, hairy, major doom like pillars of fire from the sky or anything like that. No, this was more of a subtle, creeping doom: a lot of aggression and acting out, regressive behavior, and generally being (it seemed) willfully ignorant of the social mores of his peer group. If The Boy wanted to wear his balaclava pulled down so that he could play superhero (despite temperatures in the low 60s), then dammit! he was going to. The after-school program at his new school didn't work out at all; he was in a lot of conflict with both the director and some of the older kids, and was being pretty aggressive to boot. None of this squared with his behavior at home, so where the hell do you intervene? There's only so much one can do with delayed consequences... so we found some after-school alternatives, juggled our schedules, and pulled him from the program. Things got somewhat better, but he was still getting into a lot of trouble. He was disruptive in the classroom, and he was drawn to a small cadre of boys who were USDA Prime Grade A shit-stirrers. Oy. One other parent remarked to me in passing that The Boy seemed 'to have a bit of the class clown in him'; one of his classmates made a comment about him not having many friends. Since we spend time in the classroom on a weekly basis and can actually see what he's doing, you'd think that he'd moderate his behavior in our presence, wouldn't you? You'd be wrong. We began to suspect that he was bored more than anything else, so we signed him up to be tested for the Advanced Learning Program, and started the ball rolling to have him evaluated by an outside psychologist, just in case. I suppose 'suspect' isn't quite the right word - 'hope' is probably a better one. I mean, we already knew that he was really smart, so acting out out of boredom certainly seemed to be within the realm of possibilities. 'Hope' is also accurate in this regard: the alternatives (ADHD, some kind of conduct disorder, etc.) weren't pretty. That was a month ago... The results, as they say, are now in. [To be continued...]

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    Sunday, February 19, 2006

    [random][politics] Raise the black flag...

    Seems that a couple of weeks ago, someone reported post-punk singer/writer Henry Rollins to the Australian government as a security threat. Why? Because while he was flying from Auckland to Brisbane, some moron saw him reading Ahmed Rashid's book Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam In Central Asia. Way to go, dumbass... Glad to see that keeping informed constitues threatening behavior. Henry's account of his interaction with a very apologetic person from Australia's anti-terrorism office may be found here. The letter he recieved said, in part:
    The person who sat next to you on the flight from New Zealand does not agree with your politics or choice of reading and so nominated you as a possible threat. As they were too cowardly or stupid to leave their details I can’t call them to discuss their idiocy with them.
    His response?
    Please tell your government and everyone in your office to go fuck themselves. Tell them twice. If your boss is looking for something to do, you can tell him I suggest he go fuck himself. Baghdad's safer than my hometown and your PM is a sissy. You have a nice night.
    That's certainly, um, succinct. Somehow the exchange seemed so indicative of the peculiar anti-Islamic idiocy that seems to have infected much of the so-called "coalition of the willing". How much more of this goes on that doesn't come to light because one of the parties involved happens to be famous? [via]

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    Friday, February 17, 2006

    [geek] 30-second science blogging - The future is already here...

    ...it's just not evenly distributed.* Spaceports are to be constructed in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore (read Space Adventure, Ltd's press release here) and New Mexico has agreed to commit funds for their proposed spaceport. Toss in the most recent successful tests of the components of LiftPort's space elevator, and I'm starting to feel like I'm living in a William S. Gibson novel... [*]quote widely attributed to Gibson.

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    [politics] So which is it...

    Sgt. Cortez Powell in Samarra - Copyright Tom Lasseter/KRT ...Thomas E. Ricks' glowing report in the Washington Post about the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tall Afar:
    When the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment moved into northwest Iraq last May, it faced a mess. Just as Fallujah had become a major staging point for attacks into Baghdad, Tall Afar was being used as a base to send suicide bombers and other attackers 40 miles east into Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq. Instead of staging a major raid into the city for suspects and then moving back to operating bases, McMaster said he took a sharply different tack, spending months making preparatory moves before attacking the entrenched insurgents in Tall Afar. That indirect approach demonstrated tactical patience, a key to effectively battling an insurgency and a skill that doesn't come easily to the U.S. military.
    ...or Tom Lasseter's substantially bleaker report from Knight Ridder's Washington Bureau about the 101st Airborne in Samarra:
    Fifteen months earlier, when the 1st Infantry Division sent some 5,000 Iraqi and U.S. soldiers to retake Samarra from Sunni Muslim insurgents, it was a test of the American occupation's ability not only to pacify but also to rebuild a part of Iraq dominated by the country's minority Sunnis. More than a year later, American troops still are battling insurgents in Samarra. Bloodshed is destroying the city and driving a wedge between the Iraqis who live there and the U.S. troops who are trying to keep order. Violence, police corruption and the blurry lines of guerrilla warfare are clouding any hopes of victory. "It's apocalyptic out there. Life has definitely gotten worse for" Iraqis, said Maj. Curtis Strange, 36, of Mobile, Ala., who works with Iraqi troops in Samarra. "You see Samarra and you almost want to build a new city and move all these people there."
    The articles make for an interesting (and depressing) contrast - same tactics, different environments, wildly divergent results. I fear that overall things throughout Iraq are much more like Samarra than Tall Afar... To my way of thinking, KR's Washington Bureau has a much more credible track record on reporting the situation in Iraq than the WaPo - since the beginning, they've been one of the only openly skeptical news organizations in DC, asking the questions that no one else was willing to.

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    Thursday, February 16, 2006

    [politics] Better to light a candle...

    iStockPhoto - Copyright: fred goldstein ...than curse the darkness. Some good candle-lighting by the folks at EPIC:
    WASHINGTON - A federal judge Thursday ordered the Justice Department to respond within 20 days to requests by a civil liberties group for documents about President Bush’s domestic eavesdropping program. The ruling was a victory for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which sued the department under the Freedom of Information Act in seeking the release of the documents. U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy ruled that the department must finish processing the group’s requests and produce or identify all records within 20 days.

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    [politics] Good money after bad

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    Wednesday, February 15, 2006

    [politics] Guess I'm an idiot, too.

    How do I know? Scalia told me so.
    Scalia criticized those who believe in what he called the "living Constitution." "That's the argument of flexibility and it goes something like this: The Constitution is over 200 years old and societies change. It has to change with society, like a living organism, or it will become brittle and break." "But you would have to be an idiot to believe that," Scalia said. "The Constitution is not a living organism, it is a legal document. It says something and doesn't say other things."
    He goes on to say that "[p]roponents of the living constitution want matters to be decided 'not by the people, but by the justices of the Supreme Court.'" Let's see. How'd that work out the last time? Incidents of the war. A harvest of death, Gettysburg, July, 1863 - O'Sullivan, Timothy H., 1840-1882 Oh, yeah. Not so great, eh? [via Shakespeare's Sister]

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    Tuesday, February 14, 2006

    [politics] Now there's something you don't see every day

    I missed this entirely: this past Sunday, there was demonstration of neo-Nazis pig-fuckers in Fremont, a neighborhood next to ours. These scumbags have been getting bolder in this area of late - they've been much more open and active, holding demonstrations in Olympia, Seattle & (I believe) Portland, OR. They're planning additional actions in Olympia this spring and summer. sigh Just something else to keep an eye on, I guess...

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    [politics] From the "Who thought this was a good idea?" department

    iStockPhoto - Copyright: Cole Vineyard Jeebus... Anyone else remember when these jokers were promising to be 'the grownups' of foreign policy?
    The United States and Israel are considering a campaign to starve the Palestinian Authority of cash so Palestinians would grow disillusioned with their incoming militant Hamas rulers and return ousted Fatah moderates to power, The New York Times reported on Tuesday. The newspaper, which quoted unidentified U.S. and Israeli sources, said this approach was being discussed at the highest levels of the U.S. State Department and the Israeli government.
    So, now that our sole remaining rationale for invading Iraq is 'spreading democracy', what do we do? We go out and try to undermine a democratically elected government with which we disagree. Don't get me wrong: Hamas isn't who I would have picked, but given the choice between the completely corrupt Fatah party and Hamas, I can certainly see the appeal for the typical Palestinian. They want power? Fine - let them have to deal with picking up the garbage and providing police services. I think they'll find it a lot harder than issuing anti-Israeli polemics and firing rockets at Israeli settlements. I'm okay with a carrot and stick approach to dealing with Hamas, but this policy under discussion looks like a fig leaf to me - we're talking carrots, but we're only planning on impementing sticks. Hamas should stand or fail on their own. Otherwise, our talk about democracy in the Middle East is just that: talk.

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    Friday, February 10, 2006

    [geek] Vindication

    From Gamasutra:
    Video game pioneer Ralph Baer, whose work was the basis for Pong, will finally receive the 2004 National Medal of Technology along with six other recipients in a White House ceremony on February 14th, following the previous announcement of the honor back in November.
    That is all...

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    Thursday, February 09, 2006

    [politics] Now that's an interesting wrinkle...

    iStockPhoto - Copyright: Laszlo Nemes From Salon, via Steve Gilliard:
    [...] The paper wanted to instigate trouble, just not the kind of trouble it got. And in this mission it acted in concert with the Danish government. "We have gone to war against the multicultural ideology that says that everything is equally valid," boasted the minister of cultural affairs, Brian Mikkelsen, in a speech at his party's annual meeting the week before Rose's cartoon editorial last fall. Mikkelsen is a 39-year-old political science graduate known for his hankering for the "culture war." He continued, "The Culture War has now been raging for some years. And I think we can conclude that the first round has been won." The next front, he said, is the war against the acceptance of Muslims norms and ways of thought. The Danish cultural heritage is a source of strength in an age of globalization and immigration. Cultural restoration, he argued, is the best antidote.
    (emphasis mine) As always, context is, well, pretty friggin' much everything. Some restoration, eh? See, the problem with seeking out a war is that you're pretty much screwed if you aren't prepared to actually go to war and prosecute a war. Hmmm... Where have I seen that kind of hubris before... It was so recently, too...

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    [politics][random] Sexual harassment in the classroom

    One student harassing another - okay, I can imagine it happening. Hell, I've seen it happen. Having a sexual harassment policy on the record is, I think, a Good Idea for schools. But how about applying that policy to a 6 year old? In reading the linked article, two things leap out at me (without knowing all the facts, obviously): one, the school overreacted; two, the child's mother is a farkin' idiot. First, the situation:
    The first-grader was suspended for three days for sexual harassment after he put two fingers inside a classmate’s waistband, school officials told his mother, Berthena Dorinvil. The boy told her he only touched the girl’s shirt after the girl touched him.
    Okay, now the mom:
    The boy’s mother called the Jan. 30 suspension from Downey Elementary School outrageous. She said she can’t even explain to her son what he did wrong because he’s too young to understand.
    Ahhh!!! The Stupid! It burns!!! It burns us, it does!!! Again, assuming that the story is true as reported (and we're gonna do that because I'm not about to get all Rashômon here), as a parent of an almost-6-year-old, I'm not sure who I'm the most pissed off at here. The school sounds like it fucked up: the kid is 6 after all. If this is his first exposure to full-day school, then he may need help with socialization. Stop listening solely to your lawyers and maybe start asking questions to child development experts, m'kay? Because if your policies can't differentiate between a child that's 6 and a child that's, oh, 12 or 13, then they're just plain fucked up. To the mom: no one is asking you to explain sexual harassment to your child - they're asking you to tell him under what circumstances he may or may not touch people. It's called parenting. Do it. It's your fucking job.

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    Wednesday, February 08, 2006

    [politics] Shorter Kate O'Beirne:

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    Sunday, February 05, 2006

    [politics] Why are we even asking this question?

    From Newsweek: "Can the President Order a Killing on U.S. Soil?". If the answer isn't "Hell, no!", then we've devolved even further than I feared... From the article:
    Current and former government officials said they could think of several scenarios in which a president might consider ordering the killing of a terror suspect inside the United States. One former official noted that before Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, top administration officials weighed shooting down the aircraft if it got too close to Washington, D.C. What if the president had strong evidence that a Qaeda suspect was holed up with a dirty bomb and was about to attack? University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein says the post-9/11 congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force against Al Qaeda empowered the president to kill 9/11 perpetrators, or people who assisted their plot, whether they were overseas or inside the United States. On the other hand, Sunstein says, the president would be on less solid legal ground were he to order the killing of a terror suspect in the United States who was not actively preparing an attack.
    What is meant by 'actively preparing an attack'? See, there's a huge difference between shooting down an airplane that is on an attack vector and not responding to the planes that've been sent to escort it down and assassinating someone who is organizing an attack. Okay, so you've got a suspect 'holed up with a dirty bomb' - are they about to detonate it? Are they assembling it? Are they plotting how to deliver it on target? Is the bomb live or armed? Are the conspirators armed? Honestly, I don't see any circumstances under which a 'clean shoot' of a terrorist would be questioned. Are they about to detonate a bomb? Then I have no problem with a cop delivering a double-tap to them. But what about deploying a sniper or other assassin in order to take out someone who we know is planning an operation but who isn't an immediate threat? We wouldn't call it a clean shoot if a cop did it under those circumstances - do we cede the President that much leeway? It seems to me that, as with the ongoing illegal eavesdropping, we already have mechanisms in place to deal with these threats. Are we so afraid of the boogeymen of terrorism that we're willing to relenquish this much authority to the President (and by extension, the Federal Government)? If the answer is 'yes' (as I fear it is), then we're truly fucked.

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