29 Feb 2004

Dean redux

The Washington Post has a very interesting article on what went on in the Dean campaign over the last few months.

In other news, Dean for America is planning to announce on 18 March what its plans for the future are. I can't wait!

"Advocating civil unions for all... is instead undercutting the homophobe's diversionary tactics and forcing the debate to focus on the issues. In other words, the debate comes to whether the legal benefits of marriage can be denied to homosexual partners, instead of blathering about whether someone's sanctity is all up in a bunch." --Eric Blau

Posted by blahedo at 2:25pm | Comments (1)

28 Feb 2004

Laundry lists

It's a balmy 55° out there, and I have my windows open. Magnificent! Of course, it's not supposed to get above 50 again for another week... ah well. Monday's supposed to be really stormy, so perhaps that means that the end of March will be more mild.

I was just reading something that said Dr Seuss wrote most of one of his books on the back of a laundry list in one afternoon. What struck me here was the notion of a concrete, physical "laundry list". This set me to wondering about the idiomatic expression---as in, "He's got a whole laundry list of stuff for us to do", meaning a big long list of possibly not-very-related items. But what would that be, non-idiomatically? Did people at some point itemise their laundry somehow? I know that even when I was doing laundry at a laundromat, this involved piling it all into a big wheeled hamper and divvying it up into four to six loads, which weren't much more itemised than "white load #1" or "blue load #2". Or was a "laundry list" just some sort of "to-do" list, of which "do laundry" was but a single item?

"The weakening of marriage has been heterosexuals' doing, not gays', for it is their infidelity, divorce rates and single-parent families that have wrought social damage." --The Economist

Posted by blahedo at 4:31pm | Comments (2)


I finished the hat! I took pictures, and I'll post them eventually. In the meantime you can look at the pattern.

I also finished listening to The Altman Code, a spy thriller of the sort that makes excellent books-on-tape. ;)

"Like broccoli pizza, gay marriage isn't for everyone, but that's no reason to keep it off the menu." --Steve Chapman

Posted by blahedo at 2:31am | Comments (0)

25 Feb 2004

The Passion of the Christ

The Knox Newman Club organised a group to go to the 6:45 showing tonight of The Passion of the Christ. A lot of people have been saying it's a major faith-building experience. It didn't affect my faith much either way; mostly it just made me angry.

Angry because I know that humanity is still just like that. There are a lot of people in power who will do anything at all to maintain the existing power structures, and destroy anyone or anything that threatens their influence. There are always people that enjoy participating in the suffering of others. It remains easy to incite a mob of otherwise indifferent people to do all sorts of bad stuff.

If Jesus existed today, he wouldn't be treated any different. And you can be damn sure it wouldn't be the Jews, or the pagans, or the atheists that would do it---it'd be the Christians. A certain sort of Christian, the sort that persecutes and spreads a message of hatred and exclusion, all in the name of Jesus Christ. Cheers, folks.

The real heroes of the movie are not who you might expect. Jesus is the centrepiece, but we know his story. No, the real heroes are people like Simon, and Veronica, and Claudia---not disciples, not even particularly believers, but people who are just decent human beings that see suffering and do something to alleviate it, even just a little. They may be pressed into it or do it of their own accord, but in the end, these are the blessed ones.

Mary is also a major player here, as you might expect. No Protestant could have made this movie. Throughout, Mary is presented as a source of constant strength and support to Jesus, and at times almost seems a co-redemptrix. The real emotional moments of this movie are not the blood and gore (of which there is plenty, as billed), but the personal moments---again with Veronica, and Claudia, and with Mary Magdalene, and with Mary the Mother of God.

One of the things that hit me over and over again, though, was the reminder that Jesus' message focussed so little on dogma and fine-grained theology. How stupid is it that we get into this perpetual debate over trans- vs. con-substantiation? I'm not saying I don't believe in the transsubstantiation, but the actual debate is incredibly subtle---more subtle than you probably realise---and yet we split churches based on it. Some Protestant churches are pretty far off from the Roman Catholic Church, but a lot of them are so close it's not even clear what they're "protesting" anymore. I don't think it's unreasonable to mark a few things as "theologically debatable", and work on the ecumenism. Is Christ actually comprising the host, or is he merely in, on, and around every particle of the host? That's an issue for the theologians to debate in comfy chairs by the fire over a good bottle of wine, not something to maintain division among people over.

Anyway, the movie's good. Go see it. (But don't bring your kids, seriously.)

"How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Twenty, if they're doing a foxtrot. Goes down considerably for polkas." --Michael Feltes

Posted by blahedo at 11:06pm | Comments (1)

23 Feb 2004

Ambiguous antecedents

I was just reading the farm supplement in the Register-Mail, just for the heck of it, and I hit upon the following article, quoted in full. Note the last sentence.

Crystal Steck of Knoxville was recognized for raising one of the highest quality beef animals exhibited at this year's National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colo. Her home-raised heifer, Cherri, was named Grand Champion Female among competition in both the junior and open Shorthorn Shows. The heifer, born in January 2002, beat 173 other animals to covet the title of National Champion Shorthorn Female. Steck is a member of the American Junior Shorthorn Association and has had success in show rings all over the country. The Steck family raised this female, which was the offspring of one of their own cows. She is the daughter of Dean and Janice Steck of Knoxville.
I'm just sitting here giggling. That "she" really really wants to attach itself to the cow, or perhaps to the heifer. I had to look a couple times, but the antecedent ("Steck") was indeed most recently listed two full sentences previous. Congratulations to Ms. Steck, of course. Tee hee.

"As a sailboat owning Orienteer, I can assure you contour following doesn't work well on the water and reentrants are really hard to see." --Gerard Weatherby

Posted by blahedo at 10:00pm | Comments (0)

The story drags on

Did George W. Bush actually serve his time in Alabama? Of all the hundreds of people stationed at the base, not one has come forward to say definitively that they remember GWB reporting in for drills (except for one who claimed to have seen him during periods he definitely wasn't actually there, so he's of questionable credibility).

Well, Gary Trudeau is sick of it, and offering a $10,000 reward for anyone who will come forward with proof that Bush was actually there then. (The reward money will not go to the claimant, but as a donation to the USO in the claimant's name, but still.) Trudeau is putting it up from his own money. As he puts it, "Thanks to Bush's massive tax cuts for people who don't need them, GBT is flush."

What gets me is, whether he was AWOL or not, he was somewhere during that time, and he must have interacted with someone wherever he was. Where are all those people? This is so bizarre.

"It is said that to speak Italian correctly, one must sing it. In my experience, to speak Italian correctly, one must whine it, preferably to one's mother." --Michael Kimmitt

Posted by blahedo at 3:48pm | Comments (0)

22 Feb 2004

Knit webpage update

I finally got around to updating my page of knitting projects. It's not done per se, it'll never be done, but there's a lot more up there.

I also put together a derived blog, that'll just include the entries related to various knitting projects, on the off chance that someone who doesn't know me might want to filter out the other stuff. No special name, just the knitting edition of this one. ;)

"The belief that humanity gets more depraved with each succeeding generation is a source of comfort to parents and children alike, but neither history nor literature supports it." --Miss Manners

Posted by blahedo at 11:54pm | Comments (0)

Product watch

In today's paper, I read articles on two new products that got me excited. Two new types of product, really.

The first was a little handheld Wheel of Fortune game. No great shakes, right? What makes it awesome is that if you turn it on during a WoF broadcast, subtle variations in the brightness signal transmit information to the handheld unit, and let you play along. This toy is at the vanguard of a whole bunch of new units that will receive information from the TV to control their behaviour. Most of the others listed were children's show tie-ins of various sorts. Let me know when they have one for Jeopardy (not that I watch it that often anyway...). Of course, why I should get so excited over a handheld device that offers less than a website can, I don't know, but it's still cool.

The second major type of product is more of a style of marketing that's on the rise. A lot of smaller, family-owned farms, trying to compete with Big Agribusiness, are starting to market direct to consumers and to independent supermarkets. If I buy Tolley Farms Pork (soon Beef too), I know that it was raised on a farm just east of Galesburg; if I'm curious I can talk to the farmers and visit to see the conditions. If you buy Illinois Crown Beef at various small supermarkets in the Chicago area, you'll know that that animal was raised at one of eight farms here in western Illinois. It's really a neat way to do business and eat meat responsibly. Depending on the specific arrangement, it can even be cheaper than the meat you buy now, that's gone through several middlemen (and how long did that take...?) before getting to your freezer.

"Each person is responsible for carrying his or her own shielding and mopping device. It is called a handkerchief. (Miss Manners has heard tell that there is an ersatz version of this in paper, which she reluctantly supposes would also accomplish the job.)" --Miss Manners

Posted by blahedo at 2:01pm | Comments (0)

An endless sea of grading

It's my own fault, of course. It's because I kept putting it off. But as generally bad it is to hold onto stuff for a while, it would be really irresponsible of me to keep holding on to this stuff, because the drop deadline is next Friday and the students need to be able to make informed decisions. Not that I think anyone will be dropping necessarily, but different people have different priorities. (I've seen people drop classes who I thought were doing just fine; but then they might not have gotten an A. So sad.)

Once I get going on it, I'm generally fine. Although, it's interesting grading some of them, because I'll see from their answer to one problem that there's no way they got the next one right, so I feel physical dread as I turn the page. Such an exciting life I've chosen for myself. ;)

"Accustomed as Miss Manners is to denouncing snoops, she is much too atwitter with curiosity to manage doing it here. What on earth are you people reading? "Swinging With Dick and Jane"? "Recognizing the Rodents in Your Kitchen"? And, if so, why don't you tuck them behind "Stephen Hawking: Quest for a Theory of Everything," where no one will ever find them?" --Miss Manners

Posted by blahedo at 1:17am | Comments (0)

21 Feb 2004

Jean Brodie

Last night, I saw a local production of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie". I had never heard of it before, so I didn't know what to expect. (This really does seem to be the best way to see shows, I think.) Although the first act dragged a bit, with some flubbed lines and uninspiring dialogue, it got a lot better, and Act III was really a rollercoaster. Kim Bullis in particular, who played Miss Jean Brodie herself, did a great job of building the audience's sympathies and then pulling us along and twisting us around.

Apparently this was a fairly well-known book that was made into a movie in the sixties; so I was told at intermission by a few of the people I knew there. "Huh," I said. Just now, I looked it up at the IMDB, and now I simply must see it, because the title role is played by Maggie Smith, who is awesome. Evidently, most of the other actors in the movie version haven't been in anything else in the last thirty years, and only a couple have been in anything for the last fifteen. Maggie Smith is enough to make me want to see this, though. :)

"The idea that one should marry the boy or girl next door was not just a bit of homely romanticism; it was a logistically brilliant wedding plan." --Miss Manners

Posted by blahedo at 8:48pm | Comments (0)

20 Feb 2004

Netherlands, Canada, ... Cambodia?

You know, Cambodia is definitely not the first country I think of when I think of "progressive liberal thought". But King Sihanouk has just taken a stand in favour of marriage rights. Yay Cambodia!

"Since children consider that their entire childhoods are, by definition, embarrassing, it requires some delicate negotiation on the part of parents to convince them that certain stories do not reflect upon them adversely. The word "cute" should be omitted from such an argument." --Miss Manners

Posted by blahedo at 10:12am | Comments (0)

19 Feb 2004

About time

I'm now officially a card-carrying member of the ACLU. Woo!

"The teacher coaxes people towards ideas instead of saying them outright because lots of liberal arts knowledge is only approximately effable." --Jonathan Prykop

Posted by blahedo at 9:38pm | Comments (0)

First breath of spring

It's 50° outside, and the snow is melting, and it smells like spring! It won't last long, but it's nice and encouraging.

"Because one cannot whip out a small tray, load on the salt and pepper, and pass that to the person, the next best thing is to set it down within that person's reach. Also, manners require passing both the salt and pepper together, even when only one is requested. They get lonely if separated." --Miss Manners

Posted by blahedo at 3:42pm | Comments (0)

18 Feb 2004

Moving right along

Dean has "dropped out" of the race.

But what does that mean? First of all, it doesn't mean we can't vote for him in the primaries. If you were a Dean supporter and don't have a preference between Kerry and Edwards, it certainly can't hurt to give your votes to Dean. If Kerry doesn't take >50% of the vote in primaries, the convention will be brokered and a sizable Dean bloc will be able to wield power and gain concessions before lending their support to one or the other of the frontrunners.

In the more long term, we look to what the next phase of the presidential campaign will bring. GWB for the Republicans, I guess Kerry or Edwards from the Democrats, and a raft of third-party candidates. Those of you voting against Bush have an easy choice. Those of you who believe in voting for people may have a harder time of it, and I don't have much to say. At this time, I guess I'll vote for whoever wins the Dem nomination, but I can't guarantee it and I certainly don't favour them enough to campaign for them.

But they have plenty of advocates. Apparently. Fortunately, there's another important thing to work on: getting liberals and progressives elected to the House and Senate, and to state legislatures. After all, the President can't accomplish much if he's battling a hostile legislature. For the U.S. Senate, Illinois has a huge field of competitors (an argument for voting reform if ever there was one), and the race will be an interesting one. Blair Hull is the current frontrunner, but his campaign seems to be "I have lots of money, so you should vote for me!" He seems like sort of a flake. Barack Obama looks promising, though; he's been in the IL Senate for a while, and has sponsored and voted for a lot of really good stuff. Check him out! This is the sort of guy we need in the Senate.

"w/r/t self-determination: I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The rules changed in 1918. Period. Historical examples before then are not analogous to examples after then." --Michael Kimmitt

Posted by blahedo at 11:57pm | Comments (2)

15 Feb 2004

Kenya believe it?

Weebls has done it again. If after seeing Badgers for the first time you couldn't get it out of your head, if even now your brain is chanting at you "IT'S A badger badger badger badger badger..."

Then don't, under any circumstances, view Kenya.

That's all.

"It's said that virgin birth becomes more frequent in turkeys if the female is exposed to semen having a low sperm count---second-rate goods, in other words, which may incline the female to think she'd be better off seeing what she could whip up on her own." --Cecil Adams

Posted by blahedo at 11:47pm | Comments (0)

Project grading

Oh, how I loathe grading projects. Actually, once I really get going with them I'm ok; if I let myself do just a little bit at a time, it's no good, though. I procrastinate them worse than almost anything else. But now, finally, I've finished grading 141's project 1. (One of you 141 lurkers that read this blog should remind me to hand them back on Monday.)

Now I just need to grade exams for both classes and projects 1 and 2 for 395. Hopefully they'll go better.

"If the company that invents a cure for AIDS is expected to make their money back in 17 years, why can't we ask the same of the company that markets big-titted lip-syncing chicks and goddamn cartoon mice?" --Tackhead

Posted by blahedo at 1:28am | Comments (0)

14 Feb 2004

Setbacks in Iran

Iran is leading up to its elections next Friday, and more than 500 candidates have backed out in protest---the "Guardian Council" has blocked more than five times that many from running, mostly because they were too liberal.

It's sad that these people would back out voluntarily, especially with all the others forced out, although I don't know the situation on the ground; but in any case this is going to mark more uphill battle for reformist voices in Iran. I've been following the situation in Iran a little more closely than most, because I think that they provide the best hope for true democracy in the Middle East right now. They're not there yet, obviously, but if they don't backslide, they could be just a decade or two away from it.

If you don't read that article, at least look at the information on this page. You may be surprised. Two-thirds of the country's population are under 30. Really! And of that number, the largest number is in the 10-19 age range---i.e. not voting yet, but they will in the next decade. The literacy rate is decent for the adult population, but essentially first-world for the late teens. Women vote, and they have since the 60s. There is much sentiment in favour of reform, and although President Khatami has achieved some reform, the youth of the country is disillusioned from the slow pace of it. I only hope that when they finally force their hand and take the Guardian Council out of power, that it is done peacefully; but when that happens, we'll see a much more democratic Iran within a year or two. (Which is not to say they'll be allied to the US. Let's not make the mistake of assuming that any true democracy would ally with us....)

Anyway, we're rooting for you, Iran. Good luck.

"There are few things as entertaining as watching Jonathan mow the lawn. I've never seen anyone amble/mosey/lollygag behind a mower before." --Kim Kinsella

Posted by blahedo at 2:12pm | Comments (0)

13 Feb 2004

Web work

I think all the web work I've ever done in my life has been while putting off some other thing. Anyway, I finally got around to moving my main homepage to the blahedo.org site, which I've been meaning to do for months and months now. There's still a little bit of content hanging out on cs.brown.edu, but it's mostly here now and the rest will come over soon. In honour of the event, I've changed the pages' colour to green (the last major page redesign in spring term 2002 was accompanied by a colour change as well, from the original blue to red).

I can't decide if I like it though. It's certainly different. I may just change it back in a few days if the weirdness doesn't seem to be fading.

"The only thing worse than a religious hypocrite is an irreligious hypocrite." --Fr Henry Bodah

Posted by blahedo at 8:12pm | Comments (2)

12 Feb 2004

By popular demand...

I've been meaning to post these for a while. Those of you following my knitting career may wish to see pictures of my knitting. Not a complete gallery, but the sweater's there at least.

"Miss Manners believes that young ladies should appear modest and deferential to adults. It sets them a good example." --Miss Manners

Posted by blahedo at 9:51pm | Comments (3)

Let's hear it for long memories

I wasn't born yet in 1971, and so it's difficult for me to know the sorts of things people said back then. Thank goodness for social commentators who keep track---two different ones, both of whom submit their commentary long in advance, both managed to remember and call our attention to a comment made by Senator Kerry 33 years ago. In today's Doonesbury and today's Molly Ivins column, we read that he hit the national stage as a Vietnam protestor, saying, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"


Continuing on the subject of Senator Kerry: Today's Drudge Report, that bastion of unbiased reporting, broke a story that Kerry had a recent affair with some woman. Is it true? I don't really care. I feel bad for Mrs. Kerry, I guess, but I don't think it reflects on his abilities as a politician. (I diss his abilities as a politician on their own merits, thanks.) However, it reminds me of a wish bordering on a prayer that I have about this election: I devoutly hope that any stuff like this, if it's going to come out anytime before the second of Novermber, will come out right fucking now. About Kerry, Dean, Edwards, or anybody else. The very last thing that anyone needs is a controversy about the Democratic nominee. If we have to go through this, at least let us ride it out now....

"They all eventually get old and rattley. Everything eventually gets old and rattley, even real live sex partners, so why be so judgemental about some battery operated plastic?" --Leigh Anne Wilson

Posted by blahedo at 8:39pm | Comments (0)

11 Feb 2004

Weekend notes

I should really type this in before I forget. Last weekend I went up to Ames to attend the Cyclone Ballroom Classic, a dance competition run by the folks at Iowa State. It was lots of fun!

I drove in Friday evening through a driving, blowing snowstorm. Honestly, the driving wasn't that bad, since the wind kept the snow from sticking (much), but the sides of the road were like a car graveyard; there must have been sixty or so just between Des Moines and Ames. Nonetheless, I got there without event and met up with Kathy to practice and find out who-all I was dancing with. I got partnered with a few different girls from UIUC for the dances I wasn't doing with Kathy, and was able to dance one or two dances with them, at least for some of the dances. Then I went back to the room my parents were staying in at the Union---conveniently upstairs from the comp itself---where we'd brought in a cot. Kathy actually brought over a sleeping bag to sleep on the floor of the room so that she'd be able to just cruise downstairs in the morning. Sleeping was slightly complicated by a really uncomfortable bed, a really loud elevator right next door, and some amazingly loud snoring on the part of... well, I won't incriminate the snorer. Suffice to say, I got to sleep eventually.

In the morning, I got up about 7 so as to get to the comp at 7:30. This in itself was so bizarre as to be nearly disorienting; I'm used to having to get up fully three hours before the comp, to account for getting up, getting to the Arch, waiting for people, and then driving to Boston (or, save us, New Haven). Sleeping upstairs from the venue... y'all should try it sometime. ;)

I got downstairs to find the, hands-down, best competition venue I've ever been in. Seriously. The main room had a full-sized wooden dance floor that was neither slippery nor sticky, surrounded on two sides by ample seating (with room for more as the comp grows in future years) and on a third side by a large stage big enough to actually hold the MC, scrutineer, judges, and so on. Behind the seating on the long side was another smaller ballroom, with wood floor, set aside as practice space. And behind that was a third ballroom, the "Sun Room", curtained off, subdivided, and being used as a (huge) changing area. The main ballroom was big, with a high ceiling with decorated rafters and big windows (which were, alas, curtained). On two of the sides without windows was a long balcony that could easily be used for taping. The comp only had about sixty or seventy competitors, but the venue will be workable at least until the comp passes 250 or 300, I think.

The comp itself started at 8:30 and was broadly similar to most I've been to; but with so few competitors, there were only a few events that ran semi-finals, and all of those also ran "second-round" or "B-level" finals for those that didn't make the cut to the A-level finals. So, everyone gets ribbons, which is always nice. Another artifact of the smallness of the thing was that smooth and standard were collapsed into a single section, where either international or american-style waltz was allowed, and likewise for foxtrot, tango, and V-waltz. (Quickstep was also competed, international of course. ;) I did American for everything, just because it's a lot easier to lead with an unfamiliar follower. And I did quite well; in the advanced level, with five couples in, I got second or third in all five events, dancing little more than the basic. Woo!

The morning competition ended early, around 10:30, and so we broke for a two-hour lunch and changing break. Which was another slightly disorienting experience, given the rushed, crammed-in nature of most of the comps I've been to. We returned for the first afternoon section at 12:30: rhythm/latin. Here the sections were combined but the events were (by and large) not; there was only one cha-cha, for instance, but separate events for american and international rumba, and for swing and jive. Rounding it out were bolero and samba. This made things interesting, because Iowa State is a primarily American-style school and UIUC an International-style, so the separated events had significantly lower participation. My American rhumba was almost danced as an exhibition, until we cajoled ISU's Bryan and Jill to dance it too; my Jive was danced as an exhibition, because neither school really works on it. (It was a little embarrassing, but I got a few compliments, so hey.) No bolero (nobody to dance with!) but in the other events I did... okay. Not generally last place. But I felt a little bit stuck---good enough that I probably shouldn't dance intermediate, but not choreographed enough to dance advanced. :P

After a short changing break, we danced the third section: street. This was quite the novelty for me, as these dances simply are not competed in the New England comps, except maybe as an occasional fun dance. The events were Merengue, Salsa, Hustle, West Coast Swing, Lindy, and Nightclub 2-step. Of which I competed the middle three, to decidedly mixed results---I'm a little too ballroom-y to really pull them off. It was fun, though!

After the awards, my mom and I caught the Saturday Mass at St Thomas Aquinas, which I still think is architecturally one of the coolest churches I've ever been to---the "front" of the church is in the middle, and the lectern and choir are there, but the congregation sits to either side of this, so when the priest faces the front of the church during the Eucharistic Prayer he's sideways to the congregants. Really nicely set up. But that's another story altogether. After Mass, my family went out to a pretty good restaurant whose name I continue to not-quite-remember: a mental block keeps me calling it "Okechobee", but that's wrong. The service was good, but the food took a long time (my fault, I ordered the salmon, I wasn't thinking), so we missed the 8:00 salsa rueda lesson. (Kathy ran in to catch the second half, but I didn't bother.) I did show up at 9 for the social dance, however, where I was able to really network with the ISU and UIUC teams. The U of I folks in particular were really excited about the prospect of a club starting here at Knox---we're only two hours apart, practically neighbours, and can easily come to each others' dances. At the fun dance competition, I took 5th in Jack-and-Jill swing with a newcomer named Wendy from the ISU team (out of a field of 30 or more couples, with a deep-cut tap-out round to narrow it to the final 7!). Heady with that victory, I asked Jill, the most senior girl on the ISU team, to lead me in the reverse-role cha cha, where in a tap-out from 25 or so couples, we made the final cut and placed 4th. Which, I guess, means that I'm better at leading and following than I am at performing, but that's not really news to anyone. After the fun dances, the social dance continued until midnight, including a couple of polkas and a re-learning of the Electric Slide. Maybe I'll actually be able to keep it in my brain this time around.

The next morning the judges ran workshops. First, Chris Martin did a "debriefing" where he took all the various judges' comments and relayed them to the group. This was an incredibly useful thing that I wish were available at some of the New England comps.... After that, I took a smooth/standard workshop from Ed Simon that I found useful and a rhythm/latin workshop from Nathan Daniels that did an excellent job at laying out the similarities and differences between the two styles. (He also confirmed something I've suspected for a while---the word "hoo-ha" is actually a gender-neutral term for "genitalia", which he very consciously uses in sentences like, "When we say 'inside edge of the foot' we actually mean the inside edge of the foot, calf, and thigh, all the way up to your hoo-ha." Which is still a little disturbing because an alternate meaning for the slang term is just "big fuss, brouhaha", which is rather different. But I digress again.) Finally, Ed Simon gave a hustle workshop where he explicitly said something about the back rock that I've long observed---the best dancers don't dance it as a back rock, but as a together step from which to push forward on the next step. Great workshop, as usual.

Incidentally, Ed Simon did remember me, although he was having a really hard time placing me---which is reasonable, since he'd previously seen me at New York events and in Florida. For his part, one of the reasons he was willing to come out to judge this comp is he'd like to see ballroom become bigger in Iowa---his home state. Yup, that's right, he's from Cedar Rapids (and in fact his studio, Dance New York, has a satellite studio there).

After the last workshop, Kathy and three other people were taking a private Lindy Hop lesson from Chris Martin, so I killed time by reading the Iowa State Daily---pretty good paper, really---and then Kathy and I grabbed a late lunch at Quizno's (crappy ads, awesome shop) and I napped in her room for three hours before heading home, arriving around 11:00. Whew. Talk about your event-filled weekends.

Oh, and by the way, a new item in the Recommended reading: One Good Thing, a blog by a woman named Leigh Ann Wilson who writes about her young children and the sex toy shop she and her husband own in Lakeview. Really a great read.

"I am sure, absolutely sure that Dante fully intended to include Retail Hell into one of the circles. Maybe I just overlooked it when I had to read it in college. It's possible. I was drunk a lot back then." --Leigh Ann Wilson

Posted by blahedo at 7:10pm | Comments (0)

9 Feb 2004

Political comments

I'm getting ever so tired of the media treatment of the Dean campaign. He continues to do considerably better than the Edwards and Clark campaigns, and yet he gets virtually no mention. Headlines roar: "Kerry wins again!" They fail to note when Dean takes a third of the delegates. Currently Dean has almost half as many delegates won as Kerry---and more than twice as many as the next closest competitor, John Edwards. Putting that in perspective, Kerry still has less than a fifth of the delegates he'd need for a majority.

The only candidate with a significant nationwide campaign so far has been Dean, and to a lesser extent, Kerry. The rest have been always just focussed on the next couple states to hold a primary or caucus. This would be a big advantage for Dean if the media didn't keep acting as if (and occasionally saying that) he was already out of the race.

When I go to the CNN results for, say, Washington state, why does the "status" column unequivocally put a checkmark next to Kerry's name? This isn't the final election, and the states are not winner-take-all---if you let yourself look closer at the table, you'll see that Dean got almost 40% of the delegates from Washington! Yet the media chalks it up as a loss, ignores the rest of the story, and talks some more about Janet Jackson's boob.

In other news, the Bush is a deadbeat story seems to have resurfaced; let's see if it can take off this time.

"Abstinence-only sex ed may be stupid and may not work, but it is the only possible option for a lot of folks who have a certain set of beliefs. To fundies, nothing matters more than sex. Once you understand this, you will understand the insanity surrounding homosexuality, abortion, movie ratings, and sex ed. It's all about the sex. It's always about the sex." --Michael Kimmitt

Posted by blahedo at 6:13pm | Comments (4)

5 Feb 2004

A curious overlap

Thinking about politics lately, as I am wont to do on occasion, I was struck by a certain overlap between two groups of people.

There are a number of people out there who profess to believe that it does not matter who gets the Democratic nomination, as they will vote for that person whoever he is. A large number of these people seem to support Kerry. (This is fully distinct from the idea that it does matter who wins the nomination but that they will vote for whoever wins anyway---a view held by people in all the camps.)

There are also a number of people who profess to believe that it does not matter who is actually best, but that we should try to nominate the "most electable" candidate---thus not voting on one's own opinion of the candidates, nor even on another's opinion of the candidates, but on one's guess at another's opinion of the candidates. A large number of these people seem to support Kerry as well.

The fact that the Kerry camp would be home to both beliefs is not in itself shocking. What should give you pause, though, is that there is a huge amount of overlap between the two groups, and that the Kerry camp is dominated by this overlap (and none of the other camps are).

The logical conclusion is that these people are delusional, lying, or just haven't really thought it through (my money's on that last one). If the Kerry camp will by and large vote for whoever wins the nomination, then he's no more "electable" than the other candidates. There are probably a lot of people in the Dean camp that won't vote for Kerry; I expect there are some in the Clark and Edwards camps as well. Heck, there are probably a whole bunch of Kucinich people that necessarily vote for the Dem nominee. This is not really an argument for Dean, or Clark, or Edwards, or Kucinich; but it's certainly not an argument for Kerry.

Aside from those folks, the open question is, who can bring in people who won't just vote for whatever Dem is nominated. That will require some measure of charisma, of passion, of leadership; three qualities that Kerry is singularly lacking in. I do find it rather baffling to hear people say things like, "I know that Kerry doesn't have very much charisma or leadership, or any ability to rouse passion in people, but I think he'll bring more people in to vote for him." Do they even hear what they're saying?

"A host who does not use large plates and huge napkins for a buffet meal deserves what he eventually finds on the rug." --Miss Manners

Posted by blahedo at 11:56pm | Comments (0)

4 Feb 2004


It is the year 2104, and you are looking up a word in the dictionary---not to find out what it means, because everyone knows that---but to find its etymology. You look it up and find

1ham n [ME hamme, fr. OE hamm...] ...

No, that's not the one you want. You skim down past the various senses of this word to its homograph:

2ham n a message or transmission with non-commercial purpose ...

Ah, that's the one! Now, what exactly is its etymology?

  • From spam, meaning "an unsolicited (and undesired) message or transmission, usu. with commercial purpose", by analogy between the first homograph of ham and an earlier, mostly obsolete definition of spam
  • ...from the title of a comedic sketch and song by British comedy troupe Monty Python, "Spam, spam, spam"
  • ...from the brand name of a processed meat food product, Spam
  • ...from a contraction of the words "spiced ham".

Are etymologies normally allowed to trace back around to themselves?

And lest you think this is some obscure bit of techno-jargon, this article on the BBC uses the word ham without so much as a definition. Awesome.

"The buffet table is properly set so that it would form an attractive pattern if viewed by a guest hanging from the chandelier." --Miss Manners

Posted by blahedo at 4:16pm | Comments (0)

2 Feb 2004

Biking weather

Now this is biking weather. Twenty degrees, two inches of snow on the ground and at least half an inch on most streets, with it still coming down. Everybody is bundled up in their houses and the snow muffles sound anyway, so it's dead silent. Awesome.

In other news, my sweater is totally done now. I washed it and blocked it (which helped immensely on the fit, unsurprisingly), and tried it on again. Like I said, boy howdy is it ever warm. I'm suddenly getting insight into how people could possibly live without modern heating and insulation---duh, they wore wool sweaters. Anyway, I took it off when I caught myself petting it (I have to assume that all knitters do that on at least their first sweater---the cabling in particular is irresistible). And now it sits on my shelf. I'll have to wear it later this week.

"All daytime events were properly referred to as "morning" ones, regardless of the time; morning calls, for example, always took place in the afternoon. "Morning" simply meant any time before evening; any party that wasn't a "soirée" was a "matinée". The word, from the French for morning, survives in America to designate an afternoon theatrical performance. Don't ever say that Miss Manners never taught you anything." --Miss Manners

Posted by blahedo at 9:48pm | Comments (0)

Sea change in the middle east

A while ago Sharon said he was considering pulling back a few of the West Bank settlements, which was promising. Now he's announced that all Gaza settlements will be evacuated. If he's serious, this is the biggest news in the Middle East in decades. Yes, even including the various American wars over there. It doesn't completely solve the problem, but actually ceding Gaza to the Palestinians is such an awesome act of good faith that we might actually see real progress in the West Bank negotiations, too. Wow.

"Common names are bad. Unlisted numbers are tricky. States where you need to prove you're related to obtain official records are a challenge. People with no affiliations with organizations, too. Not knowing a state or city---annoying. Those who never get arrested or do anything noteworthy in their communities---frustrating.

The uberchallenge, though, is trying to find someone who never existed in the first place." --Gel Thelen

Posted by blahedo at 12:54pm | Comments (0)

1 Feb 2004

Our national holiday

I think New England just likes suspenseful endings. Whew.

Anyway, as the thing went on, I took notes on the commercials. Overall, this was a fairly lame year for ads. Only a couple made me laugh out loud, and I really wasn't as... impressed as I'm used to being by the usual batch of Superbowl ads.

Best commercial:
Cadillac's breaking-the-sound-barrier commercial. Really gets your attention with the dead silence for the first fifteen seconds; and then both talks about the brand and puts it up on the screen, so you actually remember what the ad was for.
Mastercard's Homer Simpson ad. I can't point to one part of it that struck me, but I laughed harder at this one than at any other. (Not that that's saying much.)
Best effect:
Cadillac commercials (two of them) with the liquid-air effects. I mean, sure we've had the effect for years, it looks like something that could've been produced in 1994, but hey, it's still the best effect of the day. (And it did look cool.)
Most irritating:
Boy, was this ever tough. I ended up going with the Pepsi/iTunes commercial, since it was irritating on its own merits. Runners-up included the drug ads that advocated for drugs without telling you what they did, and the four advocacy ads that CBS aired despite claiming that they only aired ads that sold things (and using this as a basis to reject paid-for ads from PETA and MoveOn).
Least effective:
Towards the end was one with a bar fight in rewind, with Jet Li---it's for a video game. The ad was so badly branded that I don't even know what game it was for....

Ok, and now for the individual notes on the commercials...

Tostito's: New bride catches male half of bridal party in back room watching football game; joins them. Cute.

Orange juice is healthy for you: Sure, fine. Enh.

McDonald's: guy puts a burger wrapper in dryer instead of dryer sheet. Cute.

Cialis: "Have you asked your doctor if Cialis is right for you?" No indication whatsoever of what it even does. Implicit message: "Got problems of an unspecified nature? Drugs might be the answer. Think about taking drugs to solve your problems." Great, guys.

NFL: Please honour our fallen soldiers, who have died for our country. I weep at the futility of their sacrifice. Why have we let 500 of our own people die in the name of petty personal vindictiveness and corporate empire?

Bud Light: meh. A beer bottle with ice and water splashing up against it. Gee, we've never seen that before. Feh.

Pizza Hut: Muppets! Oh, and what's-her-name. You go, Miss Piggy. Commercial does a spectacular job of distracting from the product, which actually seems pretty nice---four individual (square) pizzas packed into one pizza box, for the can't-find-a-compromise pizza orderers.

Ford GT: a car that doesn't look particularly memorable or unique being driven around a test course and switching gears. Nothing to get you excited like pounding music or anything. What an incredibly uninspiring commercial.

Bud Light: One dog is trained to fetch beer from cooler. The other is trained to bite first guy's balls to get his beer. Can't decide if it's offensive or funny.

FedEx: Alien studying humans, keeps saying "why don't we use fedex" so the manager doesn't suspect. Enh.

Dodge Magnum: Guy has monkey on his back: finding a family car that's cool. Cute.

Pepsi: Bears invade cabin, open fridge, find empty cooler; use burly "bear" guy's ID to cash a check and buy pepsi. Cute.

Schick razor: Enh.

AOL 9.0: Top-speed is for the *internet*, not for motorcycles jumping over cars. Production values make it look like it was made for central IL cable station. Bleh.

Van Helsing: "My curse is to vanquish evil." Battles Frankenstein('s monster), the Wolfman, Dracula, etc. Hey, that's Hugh Jackman. Looks like it could be a pretty awesome movie.

Bud Light: Goes to massage parlour, finds a bud light, accidentally goes to wrong room and gets bikini wax instead. Ouch. Funny I guess.

Survivor: on tonight after the Superbowl. The less said the better, really. Commercial itself is unmemorable.

Troy: Brad Pitt looks good, Orlando Bloom looks like a dork. Movie looks good, though!

H&R Block: Willie Nelson advice doll! Hilarious! "Bring it oooon!" Nice.

Chevy Aveo: "the mighty mouse of cars". Apparently part of a major new campaign by Chevy to make twenty new car lines in ten months. Seems ambitious. This one seems to be going for the Mini Cooper/VW Beetle niche. Four tall basketball players get in, and are CGed to look dwarfed by the seats. Eh.

50 First Dates: Freaking Adam Sandler. And the premise has been done before in Memento. Meh.

Bud: Ref is ignoring the coach's abuse---he's trained by having a verbally abusive wife. Message? Ummm... something about domestic abuse, maybe. (Augh.)

Monster: Young guy, old guy do similar things to get ready for their work day. Er, no, for a job interview. Ah, a Monster ad. Ok, that was cute. Not enough name placement, I think.

Everybody loves Raymond: I think it was supposed to make me want to watch the show. Ah well.

Sierra Mist: Bagpipers lined up for a parade. Where's Wallace? Getting steam blown up his kilt. Apparently, Sierra Mist is "like that". (Little boy says "Daddy, that's just wrong." I'm inclined to agree.)

Miracle: some movie about hockey.

Levitra: Mike Ditka liking football and dissing on baseball. Apparently baseball could use Levitra. More use-drugs-to-solve-random-problems.

CSI: TV's most watched show. Ok, fine. Commercial's ok but not really a superbowl commercial.

Budweiser: Donkey wishes he were a Clydesdale. Hair extensions on his lower legs. Passes his interview and gets to lead the team like Rudolph or something. Ok, this was cute.

Alamo: "Do you really believe this war is over? It has not even begun." Ooh, looks good.

Without a Trace: Haven't there been an awful lot of CBS show ads? Did they undersell the real ads?

Pepsi/iTunes: I have not the words. "I fought the law and the law won"? Also (as has been pointed out elsewhere), has the RIAA actually _prosecuted_ any of these? I thought they all settled. On another note, though, when she gives her little speech "...and there's nothing anyone can do about it", I know that this is because it's given to her legally, but it still has a bit of a subversive screw-the-RIAA ring to it. Intentional on Apple's part?

Levitra: The Levitra challenge. Call your doctor and ask for a free trial. AAAAUUUGHH. "The first one's free, kid!" Still no mention of what it does.

Mitsubishi: Catchy commercial with the cars racing in parallel and the trucks opening their backs in parallel and the cars hitting each other symmetrically.

Bud Light: Romantic sleigh ride with candle and bud light interrupted by horse farting past the candle and zorching girl's hair. Ok, funny.

Anti-smoking: Kids counting off; every fifth kid stands up, 1 in 5 kids try cigarettes before 13. Talk to your kids. Kids, don't smoke. Ok, so much for "no advocacy, no ads that don't sell anything". Dickheads.

Charmin: Illegal use of hands! Guy has Charmin instead of towel hanging from his waistband. QB is fondling the Charmin. Charmin "for your end zone". This one was hilarious.

Starsky & Hutch: Oh god, not Ben Stiller. Owen Wilson too, that's promising. Snoop Dogg? Well, it might be interesting. Mostly "enh", though.

Pepsi: My girlfriend Aisha, she left me. Here, drink some Pepsi. I get undertones of "fat waitress wouldn't have been attractive otherwise", but there exists an interpretation that omits this, so it's not as bad as it might be.

IBM: Mohammad Ali in 60s "I shook up the world". Him now saying "Hey, shake up the world." It's a Linux commercial! D00000d. The commercial itself is a little weak, which is too bad. Still cool, though.

Visa: Beach volleyball in bikinis in the snow. Mmmm, frostbite. Can't wait for the Olympics? Something something something VISA.

Secret window: Johnny Depp! Some sort of horror movie about a writer whose stories come to life? Ok, looks vaguely interesting, except I'm not into horror. Not an exceptionally gripping ad.

Chevy?: Bunch of kids with soap in their mouths. Nifty hardtop convertible---roof segments separate and fold up into trunk. Kid says "Holy shit!" and gets more soap. Cute. Wait, who was this for again? I'm guessing Chevy because of the aforementioned twenty-new-cars plan, but the commercial wasn't well-branded.

Lays: Bunch of old people tripping each other to get the Lays someone dropped---one of them got it but the other got his dentures, ha ha! And then the guy that dropped the Lays comes back to get it. Overall, cute commercial.

March Madness: French Lick, Indiana---what's there exactly? "Even in French Lick, winners play on". Watch basketball, I guess. I didn't really understand this one.

AOL 9.0: use AOL's top speed technology on something slow---a motorised wheelchair. Guy zooms away. More central-IL production values. Enh.

CBS: We won lots of awards. Watch us. (Wait, when did CBS become the most-watched network? I thought it was in third place after ABC and NBC?)

NFL: Football players saying the spectators inspire them, and they inspire other people. Rather preaching to the choir, no?

Survivor All-stars; Cold Case; King of Queens; Century City: CBS ads.

Lujack Chevy; iwireless; Trinity hospital in Bettendorf: local ads.

CBS: We won lots of awards. Same commercial as before. They definitely undersold real ads.

Grammys: Some surprise will happen that night, apparently. Aside from announcing the winners, presumably.

Everyone loves Raymond; Navy NCIS: CBS show ads. Enh.

NFL Network: Former football players sing "Tomorrow". Great ad.

Joan of Arcadia: See why everyone's watching it.

March Madness: Samuel Jackson talks about favourite HS teachers (his was a 12th grade guidance counselor). Another one I fail to understand.

Ford Focus: a Focus is sitting in a grocery store, "going for 199, can't keep em in stock". The shopper gets one and tells the checkout lady she'll just drive it home. Commercial: Decent. Not offensive, but not particularly inspiring either.

McD's: "I'm loving it." I think this one is not Superbowl-specific, just part of the generic campaign.

Qwest DSL: family makes a big reception for the Qwest DSL guy. Ok.

Local lawyer ad.

Microsoft: Fiona "explores a new world"---her school. It's overdrawn with theatrical curtains, dinosaurs, etc. MS helps make it happen. Good ad, actually.

Sierra Mist: Guy jumps off fifth floor balcony to land *in* a pitcher of ice water. Sierra Mist is "like that" apparently. Eh.

Expedia: Do they have "Magique"? (Daydream of going to cirque-esque show where he gets pulled on stage, his shirt stripped, and his belly drawn on.) "Errrr... no." Slightly cute.

CBS Sports: anchors practicing tongue twisters. Ok, slightly cute.

Bud Light: Frank the chimp hits on his owners girlfriend. "So, how do you feel about back hair?" Classic.

Staples: Bribing the supply guy with food for office supplies. Other guy discovers Staples, and extorts him for a cream puff, with aid of mafioso bruiser. Awesome.

Cialis: Aha! This time they admit that it's for erectile disfunction. Along with the usual run of side effects. (I still always expect these to include "...and death".) Best line: "Erections lasting more than four hours, though rare, require *immediate* medical help." Ok ad, now that they're actually saying what the drug is *for*. (Still sort of enh, though.)

Monster: Bunch of people exercising and/or getting dressed... getting ready for work... "Get ready for a job you'll love." Good, upbeat music. Good ad.

Hidalgo: Essentially the same trailer as before RotK. Looks decent.

Gillette: B&W ad with images of success in business, in sports, and in romance, along with image of guy shaving. "Never want to lose that feeling"---another image of Mohammad Ali, oddly enough. Decent ad.

Century City; CBS Sports.

Ford Freestar: folding up seats with one-hand. Actually, that does look pretty well-engineered. Good work, Ford! Decent ad.

Lennox: Looks like a burglar; actually breaking into a wall safe to adjust the thermostat. Cute!

Hyundai: Totally generic car commercial.

Cadillac: Car drives through the desert with sweet liquid-effect CG. Three other cars zoom in to meet it. Hardtop convertible folds back. Cool!

Budweiser: Boyfriend zooms through the desert to return a lipstick to his girlfriend who's flown to LA... but it's not hers. Oops! Cute.

Budweiser: Crowd keeps cheering for various celebrities... and then for the guy that's the DD. Drink responsibly.

Honda: The raised-by-wolves SUV commercial.

Mastercard: Homer Simpson gets his errands done for various named prices, with assorted fourth-wall breaking by Homer. "Getting your errands done quicker to go spend time with your family: priceless." Homer sits in the bar. "I *said*: getting..." "Yeah, I heard you the first time." Homer stomps off. First ad I laughed out loud for.

AOL9.0: turns car into a turbo machine that poofs off. Then it comes back---guy was in renaissance. Continuing the Chopper Whatever style. Best of the bunch, actually.

Nextel: Earnhart drives on the football field: walkie-talkies are great. Nextel. (Huh?)

Budweiser: Kids do makeup in the car and are clearly going out, only to be thwarted by the convenience store carding them before they buy beer. Eh.

The-truth: Shards-o-glass freeze pops. Heh. "What if all companies sold products like tobacco". Good commercial, but again putting the lie to CBS's claim that it was only airing ads that sold things.

7-up: 7-up truck with basketball hoop drives around---make a slam dunk and you get stuff. People miss and crash into things as the truck stops and starts. Enh.

Two and a half men: TV's most watched new show. Haven't they been advertising an awful lot of "TV's most watched X"? Different categories, I suppose.

Anti-pot: "Life doesn't rewind." Commercial rewinds from girl passed out back through the party she was at and eventually to her house; where her mom, who has found her pot stash, decides that this time around she'll talk to her. Another advocacy ad.

Cadillac: Total, utter, did-they-fuck-up silence as a car drives around, spins out, guy mouths "wow": then the sound catches up with him. Another LOL. Nice.

Survivor; JAG.

Cadillac: breaking-sound-barrier commercial again. Still great.

The Ladykillers: Tom Hanks? Indeed, done up with this weird 19th-century moustache + goatee combo. Some sort of heist movie with a landlady who's a grandmotherly black lady who's actually a badass. Sounds... ok.

AOL 9.0: The first motorcycle one again.

Pepsi: Old-fashioned Coke & Pepsi machines; little black kid picks Pepsi and is inspired by the guitar shop it's in front of. It's a young Jimi Hendrix. The Coke machine had been in front of an accordion shop---close call. Cute!

AIG: Retirement planning. "This game's almost over, but your life isn't." Ha, little do they know---this game's going on into overtime. Well, probably. Ok commercial.

Subway: No, it's ok to *eat* bad, not *be* bad. "Sorry Wang Chung, no reunion tour." Awesome.

Night & Day lenses: way too technical to be a cool superbowl commercial. Ah well.

Survivor all-stars premiere.

Lexus: "Baby it's cold outside" plays as a Lexus SUV crosses the tundra.

Ford Freestar: Converts without removing head restraints. What to do with the head restraints in that other car? "Why'd we buy a honda? *smack* why'd we buy a honda? *smack*" Ok.

Cadillac: Another cool-liquid-effects commercial.

ONDCP: Kid's drowning in a lake; girl turns around and walks away. If your friend was in trouble, you'd help wouldn't you? More advocacy.

Cadillac: We won an award! Enh.

Another rewind commercial, through a barfight involving Jet Li; this is for a video game whose name I missed. Nice branding, guys.

H&R Block: We guarantee a maximum refund, even if you're a dick and just bring in shoeboxes of receipts. Typical commercial (seen it before).

Survivor; CSI.

Cadillac SUV: Like a roadster, that seats seven. You know, all of the various Cadillacs seem to have this weird slightly-angular look to them. Anyway, the commercial is enh.

Bud Light: Paintball game, winner gets a case of Bud Light. Players are dufuses that start shooting at him as soon as he mentions the prize. Actually a pretty entertaining commercial.

Advil relief: Enh

Centrum: Enh


Union ad.

Hyundai: Standard car commercial.

Posted by blahedo at 10:44pm | Comments (5)

My sweater

Wa-hoo! I just bound off, wove in, and otherwise finished up the sweater I've been working on, on and off, for over two months now. It fits (snug but comfortable), and boy howdy is it ever warm. I'll wash it in the tub tomorrow and I should be able to wear it by the middle of next week. Wooooo!

"Christian symbol? I thought this was the Celtic death god of the wood!" --Terry Landry

Posted by blahedo at 2:02am | Comments (0)