Friday, March 31, 2006

Guns don't kill people; people do

I'm not a big 2nd amendment guy. I don't own a guy, and I don't think I've ever pulled the trigger on anything but a pellet gun at scout camp. But I do think this is hilarious.


UPDATE: Although it is true that I do not own a GUY, my original intention in the post was to declare that I do not own a GUN. Since I am too stupid to spell a three letter word correctly, it is probably for the best that I do not own either.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Cyber-flirtation alert

The debut of a dating service which teaches me that even economists and robots have feelings. Especially the women economists and robots.


UPDATE 2006.04.01 : Going on a date during General Conference seems like it would be weird. Going on a date on April Fools Day seems like it would be weird. But going on a date to General Conference on April Fools Day turns out to be pretty normal. Good, even. Maybe it's one of those double negative thingies...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Defining terrorism

[Editor's note: Cross-posted at Times & Seasons.]

By request, this morning I am going to talk about defining terrorism. The first important thing you need to realize is that there is no single widely accepted definition, either in academia or in the policy world. Everyone uses their own. So we're going to talk about how you can build your own definition of terrorism.

The second important thing to realize is that any definition of terrorism is going to make some people happy and some people unhappy. Your definition does not need to please everyone, but you should be able to defend it. To do this, you have to realize what it is you like about your definition. What quality (or qualities) about your newly built definition satisfy you? This is your standard, the yardstick with which you are measuring the goodness of any definition of terrorism.

Be explicit. If you like yours because it's very broad and inclusive, say so. If you like yours because it's narrow and exclusive, say so. And try to think about why you like that particular standard-- what's good about broadness, or narrowness, or whatever? Given your definition's virtues (and deficiencies), what is it good for? What makes it useful? What questions will it help you to answer? What are its limitations?

Your definition will also be judged by what it includes and what it excludes. It may exclude groups or acts which some people consider terrorism, and so they will judge your definition to be defective. It may include groups or acts which some people do not consider terrorism, with the same result. Again, remember that you cannot please everyone. All definitions are arbitrary to some degree. Pick a definition you like, and which you can defend.

So, let us begin.

We're going to be constructing your definition in a modular fashion. We're going to consider five individual elements of the definition separately. I am going to lay out some of the questions which must be answered by any definition of terrorism. Your answers to these five questions will guide you in the construction of your own definition.

1. How much action is required? Most people consider terrorism to be some variety of violent action. But definitions do not agree on the amount of violence which is required. Is a threat enough, or must there be a physical act? Must the action be successful, or is an attempt enough? If actual violence is required, does the violence need to involve injury to human beings, or is property damage enough? If property damage is sufficient, then how much property damage is required for you to consider an action to be terrorism? (What about graffiti? Is there a dollar amount of damage required? Or do you want to lean on established legal definitions and say that it must be a certain class of misdemeanor, or a felony?) If human injury is required, what level of injury do you require? (Hospitalization? Crippling? Death?)

2. How much organization is required? Can a single individual acting on his own be a terrorist? (Ted Kaczynski, for instance.) What about a single individual, who feels sympathy for a larger movement, and who acts to advance the goals of that movement, but is not a member of a larger organization? (Examples which might fit here include Timothy McVeigh and John Allen Muhammed.) Or does terrorism require multiple people working together, as part of a formal organization?

3. Can actions by the state be considered terrorism? Although the word "terrorism" was coined to describe actions carried out by the revolutionary French state, most contemporary definitions of terrorism explicitly exclude state action. One notable exception is prominent leftist activist Noam Chomsky, whose writings on terrorism focus almost exclusively on the actions of states-- the United States and Israel in particular. Most other scholars and policymakers define terrorism as an action by non-state actors.

There is still a gray area here, though, since several states sponsor violent extremist groups whose actions they do not completely control. How closely affiliated with a state can a group be without having their actions be considered a state action? For instance, the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigades are considered to be a wing of the Fatah political party, which was in power when the Brigades were formed in the Second Intidada. (The Sinn Fein likewise has an armed wing-- the Provisional IRA-- but as Sinn Fein has become persuaded that they have a chance at governing, they have disavowed violent action. In 2005, the Provisional IRA itself renounced violence.) The Columbian state has also given official support at times to right-wing paramilitary groups using terrorist tactics, in order to fight against left-wing terrorists and guerillas. Again, the question is, how much support can a state offer and still deny responsibility?

4. Are certain intentions or goals required? Most definitions state that terrorism is an action which is intended to cause a psychological response-- fear. Many definitions also require terrorists to have political goals. This is especially important if you believe that a single individual, with no membership in any larger organization, can be a terrorist. Is a serial killer a terrorist? A mugger or bank robber? What about an extortionist? If not, what distinguishes such a criminal from a terrorist? What about an organization whose goals are so out-of-this-world that they can hardly be called political? Agents of the quasi-religious movement Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas on a Tokyo subway for reasons that are murky, but arguably include the desire to bring about the end of the world. Is this a political goal? If not, then what about Islamist terrorists who want to bring about the return of the Caliphate, or the Mahdi, or a unified global Islamic state? These goals are also religious, and no more likely to occur. Is this other-worldliness offset by other, more limited goals such as the overthrow of specific governments in the middle east, or the end of US financial and military support for Israel?

5. What targets are acceptable? Many scholars consider terrorism to be a phenomenon aimed at non-combatants. Military personnel are fair game, in this formulation, because they have chosen this profession and in so doing accepted the inherent risks. Violence directed toward military personnel is defined instead as a kind of unconventional warfare. On the other hand, what about attacking military personnel when they are sleeping in their barracks? What about attacking military personnel when they are out of uniform and off duty in a disco? Or why make the distinction at all? On September 11th, were the soldiers in the Pentagon less the victims of a terrorist attack than the civilians in the twin towers?


So, those are the five questions I have to ask. Other scholars might ask additional components, but I think that any serious definition of terror must include answers to at least these five questions. Use your answers to build your definition. Feel free to post yours in the comments, and to explain why you chose as you did.


UPDATE Craig S. posts a thought-provoking response over at Splendid Sun.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


I'm updating the ol' blogroll this morning. Here are the blogs of five women I know from Boston. I'm not sure why it is that I know several women and zero men from my ward who have blogs, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that we men are losers.

Anyway, LINKS!

A Day in an Often Overwhelming Life is written by Kelly, who used to live just the other side of Davis Square from me, but who now has gone to seek her fortune. Good luck, Kelly!

Sylvia has a "methinks," not a blog, called FishieFishies. Bill Gates has conspired to prevent me from commenting on her site, but some day I shall figure out how to do it. (Until then, no one will find out the connection I see between J. Golden Kimball, Teancum, and secret superpowers.)

I don't bump into Cathy as often as I used to, but now that I know she has a blog, I can bump into her here in virtual reality. Her blog is called The Indomitable Optimist, and I'm glad I found it!

I have been on a double date with Mary, and I am forced to admit that I spent the whole time arguing with her about Kentucky Fried Chicken and the genetics of poultry. (And now you all know why I am still single.) Check out Mary + Her Mental Health for easter egg memories and other fun stuff.

Stacer's Journal is the creation of Stacey, from whom I bought the DVD of Ocean's 11 for seven dollars. Best purchase I ever made. Stacey does the kind of writing that I wish I could do-- and gets paid for it! I'm envious, but hopeful that I can crib some secret tips from her blog.

I'm sure I have other friends out there in the ether, whose blogs I will stumble upon some day. But if any of you, my imaginary readers, can help me in my quest, I would be much obliged.



One more friend! Maria, at whose house I once won a game of Trivial Pursuit, has also departed Boston, but is not forgotten. Her blog is called Miss Hass's Happenings. Since Maria recently became an aunt, her blog is a great place to go for pictures of babies And everybody likes that.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Welcome, T&S readers!

Howdy there! I am proud to be guest-blogging over at Times & Seasons, which has long been my favoritest Mormon group blog. Hooray!

And now, T&S readers, permit me to introduce you to my own humble blog. House of Payne International is a phony group blog. The posts all have different names at the bottom, but they're all me. I just like psuedonyms.

I mostly write about politics, especially US foreign policy and international relations, but I also have plenty of posts on comic books, science fiction, and other nerd stuff. Here is a list of some of my favorite posts:

1. I figure out that Mormons are probably all literal descendents of Israel
2. A review of the greatest book in the history of the English language (and the second greatest)
3. Considering the self-organizing properties of the right-wing blogosphere
4. I link to my cartoon website
5. Preparing for the electoral apocalypse
6. Two rare instances of Bush-criticism
7. Thoughts on immigration, legal and illegal
8. This is still how I feel about the Iraq War
9. George Clooney wants me to know that he doesn't like me, either
10. An earlier greatest-hits list

You may notice as you peruse the archives that I took most of 2005 off. Consider it a sabbatical. After the 2004 presidential election, I found that I just didn't have much to say. But now I'm back, and ready to once more shout my opinions into an uncaring void. Hooray!


Sunday, March 26, 2006

If the mountain will not come to Mohammed,

Mohammed will go tell it on the mountain

Earlier this afternoon one of my roommates and I watched a show on the History Channel about the history of Islam. They dedicated at least a half hour to telling us what jihad means (hint: it doesn't mean killing infidels) and discussing the correctness of Osama Bin Laden's interpretations of Koranic verse (hint: he's wrong).

That's all well and good, but whenever I see something like this on TV or read it in the papers, I must admit there's a part of me that gets a little irked. Why? Well, let me explain.

A bunch of guys somewhere over in the middle east agree that Islam means submission and the Koran teaches that it's imperative to kill or conquer people who think differently than they do. Then they start acting on this idea and blowing people and things (and themselves) to kingdom come. As a reaction to this, other guys get on the TV and the radio, and in the newspaper, saying that Islam means peace and the Koran teaches us tolerance and not killing. Fine. Good. All right.

But why is it that they are always saying this to the victims? We're not the ones that need to hear this. Tell it to the folks back in the middle east who disagree with this non-violent interpretation. Convince them. They're the ones who need to be persuaded that Islam means peace and jihad means an inner struggle against the desire to sin. Not me. I'm not the one blowing people up.

Some people of a different political persuasion would disagree with me on this point. American soldiers are over in the middle east killing people, including some very innocent people. Americans do need to be convinced that Islam means peace, they would argue, because if they are not, they will keep fighting wars with Muslims.

Well, I would of course take issue with the implicit moral equivalency between terrorists and soldiers. But there is nothing new in this comparison, and nothing to be gained from my taking issue, so let us move on.

Let us presume, for the sake of argument, that the reason the United States has fought two wars with Muslim states in recent years is that Americans believe Islam is violent and threatening, and that convincing them of Islam's pacific nature would prevent further wars. Let us then ask why Americans believe this. Is it because their leaders teach them this? Well, George W. Bush makes a point of saying "Islam means peace" whenever the subject comes up.

So why do Americans believe that Muslims are commanded to conquer and subdue the infidels? Because some (indeterminate but non-trivial) number of Muslims believe this, and some (smaller but still significant) number act on this belief. Actions speak louder than words. If Americans think of Islam as a threat, it is because some Muslims act threatening.

As long as there are people shouting "Allahu akbar!" as they detonate themselves on public transportation, some Americans will persist in believing that Islam is not a religion of peace. No number of talking heads saying otherwise will be sufficient. On the other hand, in a world where terrorists do not claim that they are fulfilling Allah's will by killing infidels, I think it would take very little effort to persuade Americans that Muslims are peaceful, which would mean we wouldn't be doing all this regime-changing.

So, again, we come to the same conclusion. The guys on TV who are telling me about the true meaning of Islam and the correct interpretation of the Koran are preaching to the wrong guy.

Go tell it to Osama.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

This post deliberately left blank

Site problems. Fnord. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

Noam Chomsky's secret shame

I will be the first to admit that I have feelings which are not entirely positive about my school. At this point, though, school and I have pretty much learned to live with each other.

There is one thing, though, that never fails to bring up the bile. And that is when someone, upon learning where I go to school, says, "Oh, you must know Professor Chomsky!" At this point, I must carefully control my facial muscles, to prevent them from assuming a snarling rictus of fury. Then I politely inform the person that Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics, and not political science. So I have no contact with the man.

So it was with unspeakable delight that I read a story this morning about Chomsky's hypocrisy. (h/t: Dean.) It seems that the anti-capitalist hero of pot-smoking America-haters everywhere is a capitalist. Imagine that.

One of the most persistent themes in Noam Chomsky's work has been class warfare. The iconic MIT linguist and left-wing activist frequently has lashed out against the "massive use of tax havens to shift the burden to the general population and away from the rich," and criticized the concentration of wealth in "trusts" by the wealthiest 1%. He says the U.S. tax code is rigged with "complicated devices for ensuring that the poor -- like 80% of the population -- pay off the rich."

But trusts can't be all bad. After all, Chomsky, with a net worth north of US$2-million, decided to create one for himself. ...

Chomsky favours massive income redistribution -- just not the redistribution of his income. No reason to let radical politics get in the way of sound estate planning.

There's plenty more, and it's damning, but not surprising. The man clearly has few scruples. In the fall of 2001, I attended one of Mr. Chomsky's talks. He said that the American invasion of Afghanistan would cause the deaths of millions of Afghans by starvation, and further that this was the purpose of the invasion.

(I should not need to add that he was very wrong on both counts. Americans labored very hard to save the lives of people who would have died of starvation that winter had the Afghan civil war continued without our intervention. The warlords there are not so tender-hearted as we are.)

At this moment I knew two things. First, Noam Chomsky is not a serious thinker or writer about international politics. Second, Noam Chomsky is not a friend of America. And so it is with great pleasure that I find him being exposed as a hypocrite: the dedicated Marxist who is just as dedicated to acquiring capital, and preventing the government from taking it away through taxes.

Now that he's been outed, maybe he can finally admit what so many of us have long suspected: His capitalism-o-phobia was only a ruse to cover his own secret capitalist yearnings. Come on out of that closet, Noam. Being a capitalist is nothing to be ashamed of. It's beautiful, it's natural.

It will be difficult for some of your followers to accept your money-philia, but who are they to tell you who or what to love? And could it be that some of those anti-business hippies are suffering from the same secret shame?

Maybe it's time for a tearful confession, perhaps on Oprah. It might sound something like this:

"Good afternoon. Throughout my life, I have grappled with my own identity, who I am. As a young child, I often felt ambivalent about myself, in fact, confused.

...from my early days in school until the present day, I acknowledged some feelings, a certain sense separated me from others. But because of my resolve and also thinking that I was doing the right thing, I forced what I though was an acceptable reality onto myself, a reality which is layered and layered with all the, quote, good things and all the, quote, right things of typical adolescent and adult behavior.


At a point in every person's life, one has to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul and decide one's unique truth in the world, not as we may want to see it or hope to see it, but as it is.

And so my truth is that I am a capitalist American, and I am blessed to live in the greatest nation, with a tradition of civil liberties, the greatest tradition of civil liberties in the world, in a country which provides so much to its people."

There, now. That's not so bad, is it?


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Geoffrey Chaucer hath a blog

Best parody blog ever. Not that there's a lot of competition, actually. Sort of a puzzle, isn't it? I guess it's hard to keep up the act for long. The obvious exception, of course, is the redoubtable Ayn Clouter, but she is a synthesis of Ayn Rand and Ann Coulter, which is really a new character entirely.


(h/t: Ace.)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Words of wisdom

If sarcasm could kill, Congress would be introducing a bill to ban this post. Wow. (h/t: Dean.)


Friday, March 17, 2006

Speaking of places which no longer have over-population problems

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Good for something

Experts are predicting that China will soon be experiencing a population problem. An under-population problem.

Recent reports from researchers at Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs suggest that China's workforce may begin to shrink sooner than we thought. According to Deutsche Bank's analysis, the percentage of working-age Chinese in the population (those aged 15 to 64) will peak around 2010 at 72.2 percent. Over the next 40 years, that number will fall steadily to just 60.7 percent, according to U.N. forecasts. The steep drop is due in large part to China's one-child policy, first implemented in 1979. Also, many Chinese retire before they are 64; China's current retirement age is 50 for most women and 60 for most men.

There are two reasons this shift will put considerable strain on China's economic performance. First, the country's explosive economic growth over the last several years is due mostly to its plentiful supply of cheap labor. When the working-age population begins to drop five years from now, China's appeal to international investors may begin to fall as well.

Second, by 2050, every 10 Chinese workers will support seven Chinese who are too young or too old to work, according to Goldman Sachs. Even that projection is based on the optimistic assumption that the central government will soon persuade its citizens to work until they are 64. The Deutsche Bank study includes a warning from the International Monetary Fund that the transition from the current pension system to a more sustainable one could cost developing China $100 billion, not including the financial burden on local governments.

Funny that the countries which were supposed to have too many people are now predicted to have too few. But it should come as no great surprise: Malthus was wrong. God created an abundant earth, and there is still "enough and to spare" -- especially if we use our ingenuity.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and as human beings have needed to get more productivity out of limited resources, we have continued to find new ways to live, thrive, and survive. People consume resources, it's true, but they can also be resource multipliers, through innovation and hard work.

Dean Esmay is right: People are good for something.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Pick on someone your own size

My friend Scott often asks me what the future me would say to the present me if we could communicate. Now I think I know. He would say, "I'm suing myself."


Wednesday, March 15, 2006


There is an interesting article on Slate today about genealogy and ancestry. Since the farther back you go in time, the more ancestors you had, virtually everyone alive today is descended from virtually everyone in the ancient world.

Say you go back 120 generations, to about the year 1000 B.C. According to the results presented in our Nature paper, your ancestors then included everyone in the world who has descendants living today. And if you compared a list of your ancestors with a list of anyone else's ancestors, the names on the two lists would be identical.

You may have heard of people who can trace their ancestry back to Charlemagne. Well, if you had better records, you probably could, too. And the farther back you go, the more likely you are to be related. I am almost certainly descended from the Roman caesars, and even more certainly descended from King Solomon.

Keep these observations in mind the next time you read about people being linked to famous ancestors. Newsweek recently gushed that "one in five males in northwest Ireland may be a descendant of a legendary fifth-century warlord." In fact, virtually everyone with any European ancestry is descended from that man. One-fifth of Irish males may be descended from him in a direct male line—that is, through their father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and so on. That's what genetic tests can measure. But almost everyone else in Europe, and many people living elsewhere in the world, is descended from him through genealogical lines that include women. And of course, we're just as much descended from our mother's parents and from our father's mother as from our father's father.

Mormons (myself included) believe that they are in some way the descendents of the Israelites. (To be specific, most Mormons believe they are of the tribe of Ephraim.) Some of the more skeptical Mormons contend that we are spiritual, not literal, descendents of Israel: adopted into that lineage through covenant. However, if the theories discussed above are correct, it is likely that almost every Mormon is a literal descendent of not just one Israelite, but almost every Israelite.

Cool, huh?


Monday, March 13, 2006

Good riddance

Thuggish Balkan dictator Slobodan Milosevic is dead. Good roundup of the news coverage at Slate. Personally, I'm glad he's dead, although it would have been nice to see him convicted.

I wonder how Bill Clinton is feeling these days. Of his greatest enemies, Saddam is on trial in a democratizing Iraq, Slobo just died in prison. Only Kim Jong-il is still at large and acting crazy. Well, him and Ken Starr.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Mitt watch

This weekend, the Southern Republican Leadership Conference met in Memphis, Tennessee. There were lots of speeches and whatnot, but most interesting to me were the results of the straw poll.

The session culminated with a straw poll of delegates, organized by The Hotline, a political newsletter. The results were clouded by a request by Mr. McCain that his supporters cast write-in votes for President Bush, as a show of support for the president.

Mr. Frist won 37 percent of the 1,427 ballots cast, an unsurprising result in his home state: 82 percent of his votes came from Tennessee.

Mr. Romney came in second with 14 percent of the vote.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Allen tied at 10 percent, while Mr. McCain drew 5 percent, Mr. Huckabee 4 percent and Mr. Brownback 1.5 percent.

Very interesting. Should Mitt Romney be encouraged that he managed a second place finish? (And Tennessee is solidly in the Bible Belt, full of the kind of good Christian folk that hate and fear Mormons for a variety of real and imaginary reasons.) Or should he be discouraged because he got only 14% of the vote? I think a case can be made either way.

There were also other things going on here, such as McCain telling "his supporters cast write-in votes for President Bush" as a show of solidarity and support. But even adding the McCain and Bush vote together, you get 15%, which is about what Mitt got. That makes Mitt's showing even more impressive to me.

It was also interesting to see Romney trying out his stump speeches. From what I read of it, he seems to be running as a traditional anti-government, pro-defense Republican:

Mr. Romney's criticism of spending in the past four years drew a wave of applause and captured what has been a subject of increasing unhappiness by this White House. But Mr. Romney tempered that implicit criticism by praising Mr. Bush's record on terrorism. "Thank heavens we have a president who recognizes the extent of this threat," he said. "Thank heavens the president recognizes the greatest ally peace has on this planet is a strong United States."

He has also moved rightwards on social issues like abortion, which means he may not be trying to run as a centrist at all. It's a surprising stance for a guy who is governor of Massachusetts, but Mitt's first problem is getting through the primaries. I still think he hasn't got a chance at the nomination, but perhaps he's got a shot at a cabinet spot or even a VP nod.

Time will tell.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Sick presidents

Via Geek Press, an interesting list of every American president, and the health problems each suffered. Fascinating stuff, although I had to look up a lot of medical terms.

Because I am a huge nerd, I went through and compiled a list of the most common ailments:

(9) Pneumonia
(8) Depression
(8) Stroke
(7) Gunshot wound
(7) Heart failure
(7) Malaria
(6) Cold
(6) Dysentery
(6) Heart attack
(5) Alcoholism
(5) Arthritis
(5) Hypertension
(4) Atherosclerosis
(4) Gout
(4) Headache
(4) Hearing loss
(4) Indigestion
(4) Obesity
(4) Tuberculosis
(3) Angina
(3) Asthma
(3) Boils
(3) Cerebral hemorrhage
(3) Diptheria
(3) Gall bladder disease
(3) Hair loss
(3) Heart disease
(3) Hemorrhoids
(3) Myopia
(3) Presbyopia
(3) Scarlet fever
(3) Sebaceous cyst
(3) Smallpox
(3) Typhoid fever

I'm not a doctor, so some of these things I was not sure how to count. There are lots of different cancers and 'nomas and whatnot, for instance, and I have no idea how to group those. So I didn't. Which means you probably ought to check out the link yourself.

But anyway, pretty cool, huh?


Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Let me just say as a man who as actually eaten capybara, that it is not tasty. I do not know why someone would be looking for a recipe, even if they are permissible for Catholics during Lent.

The carpincho, as it is known in Paraguay, is a river-dwelling hamster-like creature the size of a pig. Some people say they resemble Rodents Of Unusual Size from Princess Bride. That's not true. They don't look alike.

But they do TASTE alike. Blecch.

Cartoon jihad still not finished

The worldwide campaign to avenge the dreaded cartoons of blasphemy continues. It's pretty depressing, actually. It's hard to believe that people are still so angry about this.

Maybe fluffy baby bunnies would help quell their rage. The only way to know for sure is to get DARPA to develop some kind of cluster bomb capable of delivering this adorable ordnance.


Monday, March 06, 2006

Lawnmower Man

Read an interesting news story yesterday, and I'm still not sure what I think of it.

Arapahoe County is threatening to fire a veteran Public Works employee for promoting the fact that he is an English speaking American.

. . .

The problems began last spring. Gray, 50, owns a lawn service business on the side. He was routinely driving to work in his pickup truck towing a trailer that he uses to carry lawn mowing equipment for his business. On the side of his trailer, the married father of two affixed a sign that reads "Lawn Services Done With Pride!! By An English Speaking American."

The sign also gives Gray's phone number and the lettering is over a background of an American flag.

"There are a lot of people in the lawn service that are non-English speaking," Gray said. "Customers and different people were telling me that they have a hard time trying to communicate with them about the work they want done on their yards. I just want to let people know they at least can communicate with me when I do work on their property."

To this point, my sympathies are all with Mr. Gray. I have to say when I visit my parents in Texas, all the lawn crews I see are composed mostly of men who speak Spanish. People like my parents, customers like my parents, sometimes have a hard time communicating with them.

I don't think there's anything wrong with advertising the fact that English is your native language. And I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to do business with someone who speaks your language and can communicate with you. I wish I had the option to choose English-speaking Americans for technical support for my laptop.

Unfortunately, in the next paragraph, we get to something more problematic:

Gray also wore a hat to work that says "U.S. Border Patrol," which he says was a gift from his son.

Arapahoe County officials told Gray the sign and hat must go or else. In a Nov. 10, 2005, letter, his supervisor Monty Sedlak wrote the following:

"Some of your conduct ... is reprehensible and discriminatory to our non-English speaking and/or Hispanic workforce. You are in violation of ... guidelines which ensure a workplace free from harassment and sensitive to the diversity of employees."

. . .

Gray said he believes his First Amendment rights are at stake, and he said he is "not about to surrender."

"I got a new supervisor," said Gray. "He's a politically correct, bleeding heart liberal. I believe in what I'm doing. I got to stand up for what I believe in and I don't think I'm doing a thing wrong. Of course I don't want to lose my job, but I can't back down from something I believe in. Like I say, they're just chipping away at our rights and freedoms."

All-righty then. Let me give you a little tip, Mr. Gray. If you want people to believe that you are not an anti-immigrant bigot, that you're the innocent victim of a "politically correct, bleeding heart liberal" witch hunt, you probably should not wear a hat that says "Border Patrol."

Good grief.

Good night, and screw you.

Last night I watched the Oscars with a group of friends, pretty much all of whom were more excited about the whole business than I am. A bunch of girls (and one dude) who just love everything about celebrities. I don't know what you call that. Glamourphiles, maybe. They all tuned in two hours before the awards started, to watch the pre-game show on E, and talk about everyone's clothes. I tell you all this, my imaginary readers, so you can know that this was a very friendly audience.

The first big award was for best supporting actor, which went to George Clooney for Syriana. In one of the few politically-tinged moments of the evening, Clooney ended his acceptance speech with this comment:

"And finally, I would say that, you know, we are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood every once in a while. I think it's probably a good thing. We're the ones who talk about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn't really popular. And we, you know, we bring up subjects. This Academy, this group of people, gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters. I'm proud to be a part of this Academy, proud to be part of this community, and proud to be out of touch."

Clooney's speech was a reaction to an earlier monologue bit from Jon Stewart:

"I'm from New York and I've been here a week and a half. A lot of people say this town is too liberal. Out of touch with mainstream America. A modern day beachfront Sodom and Gomorrah. A black hole where innocence is obliterated. An endless orgy of sexual gratification and greed.

"I don't really have a joke here...and I just thought you should know a lot of people are saying that."

Clooney turned Stewart's jab into a compliment for the Hollywood community, gathered there in the audience. But there was a much larger audience gathered in living rooms around the nation, and Clooney's remark certainly did not compliment them. 'I'm proud to be out of touch with the people watching this show at home, the people who buy the tickets to my movies and pay my salary. Because I'm better than them.' Wow.

Like the guys at Powerline, I'm not sure whether Clooney is right about the movie business being the progressive vanguard, showing America the way. I am sure they like to think of themselves that way. But the first big Hollywood movie about AIDS was Philadelphia, which came out in 1993. Were Americans were still 'whispering' about AIDS then? Maybe there's more truth to the claim about civil rights, although I suspect that Clooney is wearing rose-colored glasses when he sees this, too. (Sidney Poitier got an Oscar in 1964, the first ever for an African-American actor. The second was not awarded until 2002.)

Even if he was right, I am sure that his statement bothered a lot of people in the room where I was watching. And these are not political people. These are girls in their twenties who love Hollywood celebrities. And they were clearly a little upset to see George Clooney tell them that he is glad to not be like them. It was jarring.

But, I think it certainly showed that Clooney was right about one thing. He is out of touch.


Saturday, March 04, 2006

Fatwa against Dell

Ace has a post up about the hell that is Dell Computer's customer support. All I can say is Amen. I bought a Dell laptop a couple of years ago, and I paid half as much for the customer support plan as for the computer itself. I know that extended warranties are supposed to be free money for the company, but I had just come off some pretty serious problems with a previous laptop which happened as soon as the one-year warranty expired. So I paid a lot of money to get the warranty extended for four years.

I can't decide whether or not that decision was a mistake. On the one hand, there have been numerous problems with the computer. I have had to replace the motherboard twice, which costs as much as a brand-new computer, much less the warranty extension. On the other hand, every time I call their customer service, I suffer. They've already got my money, so the best thing that can happen for them at this point is that they keep my money without spending any of that money to, you know, fix my computer when there are problems.

So every time I call them, they make the experience as painful as possible. I almost always speak to someone in India. And pretty much no matter what number I call, they tell me that I called the wrong department. They they give me a new number to call (usually one which I already have, and often the number that I just called) and promise to transfer me. Then my call either gets disconnected or gets transferred to a totally random Dell person who also says I called the wrong department. I never, never never, never get any help until I have talked with at least four wrong people and been disconnected at least once.

When I finally get someone who claims to be a technician who can help me, of course, that person is usually a complete idiot who knows as much about computers as my mom and is just reading off some script. No matter what problem I have with my computer, their solution is to reformat my hard drive. Why? Well, because it's an extremely unpleasant process that takes time and effort on my part, and makes me very nervous. If the cure they offer always sounds worse than the disease, then they don't have to actually cure me. And that's the best outcome for them. They already have my money, right?

I hate to admit that they have trained me, just like Pavlov's dog. I now accept several small problems that make my everyday computer experience crappy, because I can't take the thought of dealing with Dell "customer care." It's somewhere between Kafka and Dante's Inferno. So I just sit here with a broken computer, and they keep my money.

I hate them. I wish I had bought the super-duper-ultra-warranty that forces them to replace the computer even if you break it on purpose-- because if I had, I would smash this laptop with a sledge hammer at least once a month, just to make them lose money replacing my computer over and over again. Ugh. I'm choking on my own rage, here.

So, uh... Don't buy a Dell computer. They suck. That's all.


Friday, March 03, 2006

One game to rule them all

Wow. Dean pointed out this video of Will Wright demonstrating his latest computer game. The game is called SPORE. The video is 35 minutes long, but you have got to watch it. When I finished I just wanted to watch more. Failing that, I watched it again. It's unbelievable. It's the game I have been waiting my whole life to play. I can't wait to give this man my money.

I'm such a nerd.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Trouble in Munuvia?

For the last week or two, I have been having a lot of trouble getting my browser to access Ace of Spades HQ, the Llama Butchers, and other MuNu blogs. I switch browsers and still the same trouble. On the other hand, about one time in ten I get through with no problem, and see no complaints about their server or whatever. Is anyone else having this difficulty, or is it just me?


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Great works

Everybody's doing it. Why not me? (This is a list of great works that somebody put together. The ones I have read are in bold.)


Achebe, Chinua — Things Fall Apart
Agee, James — A Death in the Family
Austen, Jane — Pride and Prejudice
Baldwin, James — Go Tell It on the Mountain
Beckett, Samuel — Waiting for Godot
Bellow, Saul — The Adventures of Augie March
Brontë, Charlotte — Jane Eyre
Brontë, Emily — Wuthering Heights
Camus, Albert — The Stranger
Cather, Willa — Death Comes for the Archbishop
Chaucer, Geoffrey — The Canterbury Tales
Chekhov, Anton — The Cherry Orchard
Chopin, Kate — The Awakening
Conrad, Joseph — Heart of Darkness
Cooper, James Fenimore — The Last of the Mohicans
Crane, Stephen — The Red Badge of Courage
Dante — Inferno
de Cervantes, Miguel — Don Quixote
Defoe, Daniel — Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles — A Tale of Two Cities
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor — Crime and Punishment
Douglass, Frederick — Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Dreiser, Theodore — An American Tragedy
Dumas, Alexandre — The Three Musketeers
Eliot, George — The Mill on the Floss
Ellison, Ralph — Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo — Selected Essays
Faulkner, William — As I Lay Dying
Faulkner, William — The Sound and the Fury
Fielding, Henry — Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott — The Great Gatsby
Flaubert, Gustave — Madame Bovary
Ford, Ford Madox — The Good Soldier
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von — Faust
Golding, William — Lord of the Flies
Hardy, Thomas — Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel — The Scarlet Letter
Heller, Joseph — Catch 22
Hemingway, Ernest — A Farewell to Arms
Homer — The Iliad
Homer — The Odyssey
Hugo, Victor — The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hurston, Zora Neale — Their Eyes Were Watching God
Huxley, Aldous — Brave New World
Ibsen, Henrik — A Doll's House
James, Henry — The Portrait of a Lady
James, Henry — The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James — A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Kafka, Franz — The Metamorphosis
Kingston, Maxine Hong — The Woman Warrior
Lee, Harper — To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, Sinclair — Babbitt
London, Jack — The Call of the Wild
Mann, Thomas — The Magic Mountain
Marquez, Gabriel García — One Hundred Years of Solitude
Melville, Herman — Bartleby the Scrivener
Melville, Herman — Moby Dick
Miller, Arthur — The Crucible
Morrison, Toni — Beloved
O'Connor, Flannery — A Good Man is Hard to Find
O'Neill, Eugene — Long Day's Journey into Night
Orwell, George — Animal Farm
Pasternak, Boris — Doctor Zhivago
Plath, Sylvia — The Bell Jar
Poe, Edgar Allan — Selected Tales
Proust, Marcel — Swann's Way
Pynchon, Thomas — The Crying of Lot 49
Remarque, Erich Maria — All Quiet on the Western Front
Rostand, Edmond — Cyrano de Bergerac
Roth, Henry — Call It Sleep
Salinger, J.D. — The Catcher in the Rye
Shakespeare, William — Hamlet
Shakespeare, William — Macbeth
Shakespeare, William — A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shakespeare, William — Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard — Pygmalion
Shelley, Mary — Frankenstein
Silko, Leslie Marmon — Ceremony
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander — One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Sophocles — Antigone
Sophocles — Oedipus Rex
Steinbeck, John — The Grapes of Wrath
Stevenson, Robert Louis — Treasure Island
Stowe, Harriet Beecher — Uncle Tom's Cabin
Swift, Jonathan — Gulliver's Travels
Thackeray, William — Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David — Walden
Tolstoy, Leo — War and Peace
Turgenev, Ivan — Fathers and Sons
Twain, Mark — The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Voltaire — Candide
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. — Slaughterhouse–Five
Walker, Alice — The Color Purple
Wharton, Edith — The House of Mirth
Welty, Eudora — Collected Stories
Whitman, Walt — Leaves of Grass
Wilde, Oscar — The Picture of Dorian Gray
Williams, Tennessee — The Glass Menagerie
Woolf, Virginia — To the Lighthouse
Wright, Richard — Native Son