Sunday, October 31, 2010

Keep Waiting

As everyone familiar with Peanuts is aware, every year, Linus waits in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin, who flies overhead and delivers toys for all of the children. But this year, cartoonist Bob Gorrell has a slightly more political take on young Mister Van Pelt's annual vigil...

And so I still wait here for the Great Pumpkin, who will bring me a candidate who puts what's good for the country ahead of his own re-election...
One of the things about political cartooning that I've never been able to work out for myself is which is better - clarity or ambiguity? I find this particular cartoon to be somewhat ambiguous, because I don't know how sympathetic the character of Linus, in his representation of the general public, is supposed to be. In Peanuts, Linus is well-intentioned, but deluded. He doesn't understand that there is no such thing as the Great Pumpkin.

But here, the fact that the Great Pumpkin is a figment of the imagination isn't the problem - Linus' wish is, on a certain level, directly antithetical to Democracy. (I also find it to be a bit elitist, which leads me to believe that Gorrell, an avowed conservative, might be referring to the more liberal side of the electorate, rather than the citizenry as a whole.) The sort of "political courage" that Gorrell's Linus is wishing for is the Holy Grail of minority politics - a politician who is more invested "in doing the right thing," than in representing the wishes of the majority of their constituents. And, of course, it's only considered political courage by such a grateful minority - to the majority that's going to squash the politician's hopes of re-election, it's "ignoring the will of the people," or some other such sin against populism. (The Obama administration's health care initiative, which Mr. Gorrell is clearly opposed to, seems to be a pretty obvious example to call upon here.)

But even if we take Linus at his word - that he wants a politician to whom doing right by the nation is more important that winning re-election - if a politician has to choose between acting in the best interests of the public and acting in accordance with the public's wishes, there's a problem there - and it's not with the politician. Were any manager or supervisor to fire an employee specifically for doing what they had been hired to do, rather than making the manager or supervisor happy, the general consensus would be that the corporate culture was unbelievably broken, and that the company was surely headed for trouble. But we don't seem to perceive that same problem in ourselves.

It's worth keeping in mind two facts. One: The majority of the public always believes that whatever it wants is, more or less by definition, what is good for the country. Two: Legislation that is vigorously enough opposed by the public will be repealed, ignored or otherwise invalidated. Taking these two things together leads to (in my not particularly humble opinion) the following conclusion: Any political movement based on doing what is good for the country in the face of a majority opinion to the contrary is doomed to fail.

So I suspect that Gorrell is using Linus to stand in for the sort of electoral wishful thinking that most people understand to be fatuous, at best, and deliberately disingenuous (if not dishonest) at worst. In which case, Linus (whether you regard him as a stand-in for liberalism or the entire American electorate) is going to be in that pumpkin patch a very long time.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I Got a Rock

Am I the only person who was perpetually confused of just what it was that Charlie Brown had done to earn the enmity of all of the adults in his neighborhood? The kids would go out trick-or-treating and poor Charlie Brown would come home with a bag full of stones, even while the other children with him got some pretty good loot.

"I got a popcorn ball!"
"I got a steak dinner!"
"I got 25 shares of Google stock!"
"I got a Gold Eagle!"
"I got a rock..."
Although Charlie Brown's travails did lead one artist to remix his voice saying "I got a rock" over a techno beat. It was pretty cool. But I never got the artists name or the title of the song, and have been searching for it for some time now. So I've had to console myself with repeated viewings of "Bring Me the Head of Charlie Brown."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dreams on Wings

So... if Boeing uses a modified 747 to transport large sections of the 787 Dreamliner - what do they use to transport large sections of 747s?

Friday, October 22, 2010


But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.
Juan Williams

Certain minority groups [are] disproportionally represented in prison because they have a crime problem.
Washington State Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders
I wonder if there is a growing hostility - an "us versus them" mentality that is coming out in the way that we speak about one another. Despite Juan Williams telling Bill O'Reilly that we shouldn't think of all Muslims as terrorists, the statement that cost him his NPR job seems to imply that fear of anyone who identifies as Muslim is warranted. Justice Sanders says that certain minorities are, in effect, unable to follow the law - seemingly because they are minorities.

Both of these statements could have been better phrased. And you would expect the people who made them to have understood that they would be widely quoted. So why didn't they stop for a moment, and express themselves in a way that wouldn't garner such controversy? Williams could have expressed a fear of terrorism without appearing to paint all Muslims as plane bombers. Justice Sanders could have pointed out the factors that land members of some groups in prison at a higher rate, rather than appear to blame simple group membership. I understand the idea that feelings are authentic, and we should always be able to be authentic, but the real world doesn't work that way, and we all know it doesn't. So why do we continue to allow our emotions, especially negative ones, guide our public discourse?


Just enough fog to make the sunshine visible...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Beaches Are For Lovers

Two pairs of lovers, out enjoying what may be the last nice day of the year. I wish I could have had them dominate the picture a little better, but this was the best angle that I could get where the camera could focus on everyone at once.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Me? Wrong? Never Happen

With the Cameron Todd Willingham case being the subject of tonight's Frontline, I decided to poke around and see if anything new had come up recently. One of the things that I found is this recent entry in the Dallas Morning News' Death Penalty Blog. Outside of a certain disingenuousness in the idea that just because arson hasn't been ruled out, that Willingham must have been guilty, I find the adversarial stance taken in the article to be indicative of the problem with the Death Penalty. While it's accurate to say that anti-Death Penalty activists have an agenda, it's also worth noting that they seem to be the only people who think that it's worth getting to the bottom of people's factual guilt or innocence.

To a degree, Death Penalty supporters have bought into the same reasoning as critics - that a finding that an innocent person has ever been executed would render capital punishment completely inappropriate and wrong, for ever and ever. Thus, they seem to become invested in the guilt of the people that have been executed.

This strikes me as misguided. If you're going to accept that any given form of punishment exists, you also have to accept that it's going to be applied to the wrong people at least once in a blue moon. Innocent people have died in prison before - no reasonable person has called for the abolition of incarceration on that basis.

Sunday, October 17, 2010



Looks like in the meantime, the large campaign signs were replaced - and vandalized again. I don't know what it is about campaign season that brings out the childish in people, but I'll be glad when this is all said and done.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Well, it's Election Season again (ballots came in the mail yesterday), and that means that there will be signs everywhere you look for the next couple of weeks, and a pretty good period of time beyond that, more than likely. Some signs will last longer than others, or course.

Now, I must confess to not really understanding the point of vandalizing the other side's signs. (It's not like I'm going to forget the Dino Rossi is running for Senate.) Here, the Democrats appear to be the culprits, but I've come across enough Jay Inslee signs tossed into the bushes over the past couple of days to have no illusions over the fact that wrecking each other's signs is an integral part of both camp's ground games.

Children, children...

Off-Target Demographic

Sorry... I've been slacking recently. Anyway, on with the show.

If you spend enough time on TVTropes, you'll know that there are certain tropes which get the Troper community up in arms, especially when they are used in Real Life. Hollywood Pudgy and Hollywood Homely can be especially egregious.

While reading through the outraged reactions of Troperville denizens to some particularly over-the-top instances of women being Hollywood Pudgy, a thought came to me. "There are an awful lot of people who don't think that a woman needs to be a size 4 in order to be attractive enough to be in movies. So why aren't people making movies for them?" One thing that I've noticed about the entertainment media industry is that it appears to have only a single target demographic - if you fall outside of it, no one cares that you exist, even though you're likely in the company of millions of other people - at least some of whom must have disposable income that Hollywood and/or Madison Avenue would love to get their hands on. But you see this in other areas - news outlets all tend to act the same, despite the fact that Fox News has demonstrated that there is a market for political reporting in other stripes, you're either Fox News, or you aren't - there doesn't appear to be much of an attempt to reach people who don't find the constant sniping between the two camps worthwhile. By the same token, the 24-hour news cycle has created a certain sort of cable news model that people constantly complain about - and the major players always explain that this is what "the market" wants - seemingly oblivious to the fact that the volume of complaints about it that they get must hint at a different market that isn't being catered to - and therefore is waiting to be tapped.

But no-one ever seems to want to make the decision to go after that other market. Maybe they don't see it as large or wealthy enough to be profitable, or they don't want to be seen as abandoning the mainstream for a "fringe." Or maybe we simply need to be louder about our tastes?

Monday, October 11, 2010

On Second Thought

For starters, I feel that I should apologize. I am, after all, part of the target demographic for negative campaign advertising - the voter who really isn't fired up for either candidate, but might be considered vaguely hostile towards one camp. Since the candidate towards whom I have some hostility does not feel it worth the time to court my vote, the best that he can hope for is that I "stay home" on election day. (Metaphorically speaking, since here in Washington most, of not all, counties now vote entirely by mail.) Hence, the signs.

For some reason, I have only seen these signs in my immediate neighborhood. Although the 1st Congressional District IS pretty large - maybe the bulk of the signs are posted out farther away from Seattle, in Snohomish and Kitsap counties up north. As far as I'm concerned, the message is pretty clear - don't vote for Representative Inslee. Okay. I can live with that. But who should we vote for? Well, there the signs don't help you, as is often the case with negative campaigns. But this goes back to the target demographic - people who aren't fired up about Representative Inslee or the Democrats, but aren't really all that enthusiastic about James Watkins and/or the Republicans either. And that, honestly, would be me.

You know what? Just stay home Election Day.
I never paid much attention to yard signs when I lived in Illinois. Since moving to Washington, I've really only noticed "attack signs" like this directed at Democrats - Patty Murray and Ron Sims being the other targets. But then again, when you live in a Democratic stronghold, one doesn't expect to see the Democrats working to suppress voter turnout.

But even though I understand the political motivation for putting out the signs, I don't like them. I don't know if I've ranted about this on the weblog before, but there's something unbecoming about trying to suppress voter turnout through attempting to stoke voter apathy. The idea behind a representative democracy is to get as many people involved as possible, even if that involvement is only tangential. Undermining voter turnout because a candidate isn't confident that they can motivate enough people to come out and vote for them seems to be needlessly destructive. True - I live in a Democratic stronghold. And true, most Republicans seem to rub me the wrong way - mainly because I'm neither socially conservative or a defense hawk. But still, this Watkins guy has to have something going for him. If "Citizens for Watkins" has the money to put up anti-Inslee signs, they could have better spent it on pro-Watkins signs, that highlighted what their candidate stands for, or wants to do, to go along with their regular signs. (I also find it interesting that the anti-Inslee signs are among the few Republican signs that are red. The actual James Watkins signs are blue.)

But I am now officially irritated, and have decided that I'm going to vote to re-elect Representative Inslee. (At least until Representative Inslee's campaign does something to hack me off.) Yes, I understand that it's pretty flimsy reasoning, and I'm really doing something that I don't like to do - voting against someone, rather than voting for someone. But I regard voter turnout as important, and I actively dislike campaigning styles that are designed to suppress it. Even more so, I suspect, when it's my vote that's targeted for suppression.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots? Totally. Yoga is demonic. If you just sign up for a little yoga class, you're signing up for a little demon class.
Mark Driscoll, Pastor, Mars Hill Church, Seattle
I'm going to leave aside for the time being the atrocities that have been committed due to the idea that any religion other than the one true faith is the product of supernatural evil attempting to lead people astray, and the common idea that any attractive thing that hasn't been pre-approved for your consumption is a trap.

What caught my attention was the headline: "Yoga 'demonic'? Critics call ministers' warning a stretch." It had made number 1 on the most read and most e-mailed stories lists this afternoon. It was a distant second for most commented, but the top spot for that was held by an open thread on the UW-ASU football game. It was unsurprising that people gravitated towards the story. Here in the Seattle area, Evangelical religion lives, just like it does everywhere else, but a lot of people are somewhere between mildly skeptical and openly scornful. Given this, it's pretty easy to generate pageviews with a sensational enough headline - adding in a pun doesn't hurt, either. And people have started to catch on. As one commenter put it.
How is this news!?!? Whenever some moron of a preacher comes up with something stupid to say just to "spark" a debate, you fools in the media jump right up and give him a platform!

When Pastor Driscoll calls for the next Crusade against the Flexible Infidel, Mars Hill parishioners start crucifying Yoga instructors or the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary declares that the killing of practitioners isn't a sin, then that's something to write about.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

But It Wasn't Me

Here is an article on the emergence of companies that seek to make their next buck by promising to tell employers which employees will do something wrong -- so that they can be fired prior to actually doing something wrong -- so as to avoid the legal liability of having someone on staff who does something wrong. (Except for those people high enough up the corporate food chain that they wouldn't be subjected to this. Does anyone actually think a system like this would have been allowed to nab Dennis Kozlowski or Andrew Fastow? Although given the trajectory of Fastow's career, it might have been a benefit for him.)

But all of the Big Brother hysteria (and personal cynicism) aside, there is a simple question: How does the software know who you are, exactly? Lets say that your name is James or Mary Smith. Congratulations! You have the most popular first and last names in the nation! (As of the 2000 census, if I remember correctly.) There's likely at least one other person with your name in whatever city you live in, if it's of any size. And now the HR department of your company has been warned that you've been displaying "Poor Judgment" online, and your supervising manager has been notified. If the purpose of these software packages is the "protection of the company from future behavior" you could be out on the street without knowing what hit you, for something that not only you haven't even done, but something that it was decided that you were going to do because of something that someone else did. (Whew!)

When (not if, most likely) systems like this come on-line, it's going to be hard for a lot of people, and not just the ones who staged their own "college kids gone wild" party that winds up with their faces (and other parts of them) plastered all over Facebook and elsewhere and then blows up in their faces five years later. The harder any given online individual is to distinguish from any other, the greater the likelihood that they'll be nabbed for something they didn't do. About the only real way to be "safe" would be to have a highly visible, unique and scrupulously clean online life. But since this is all about protecting the companies, that might not help much, either. It's going to take something that we have a tendency to shy away from - holding Corporate America accountable for its actions, and not just those that damage the stock price directly.


Well, the LaRouchies are in town with their hyper-conspiratorial take on life, the universe and everything. And they brought their "Obama as Hitler" posters with them.

When left of center people talk about "the Loony Left," this is who they're referring to. Although it's somewhat difficult to actually describe where on the political spectrum they fall - since you sort of have to be on the same planet as any political spectrum that you're trying to be a part of.

And if you're wondering just how the impeachment of President Obama (who's being framed for poor taste in facial hair, apparently) would make it possible to reinstate Glass-Steagall, I have no Earthly clue. I listened to the LaRouche supporters for as long as they would talk, and after the third (or fourth) time they directly contradicted something they'd just said thirty seconds earlier, I could no longer make heads or tails of what their point was.

Monday, October 4, 2010

How's That Go?

Not having an accessible e-mail address on a site has advantages. It keeps random yahoos from spamming you with advertisements for Viagra or knockoff designer goods. But it also prevents the public from easily notifying you that you've misspelled something. But they'll figure out sooner or later. Although I would have thought that these guys would have access to the best spell-checkers in the business...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Lo, These Many Years...

Sometimes, I think the real driving force behind nostalgia is that "back in the day," we didn't take things as seriously. They were just... there. Someone had an idea that they thought was good, and they ran with it. It wasn't of economic importance; it wasn't going to put 6,000 people out of work if it turned out to be a flash in the pan... it was what it was, and you could take it for that, and it didn't need to be anything else.

I think this game was more fun 30 years ago...Still nerdy, after all these years...
Back when I started playing Dungeons and Dragons, it wasn't an industry, it was just a fun way to waste some time, playing what's really just a remarkably involved game of "pretend." Cross Lord of the Rings with Cops and Robbers and add in a dash of the Game of Life, and pretty much there you are. But in the three decades that have come and gone, the game has gone from being some little booklets put out by a small outfit that only die-hard wargamers had ever heard of to a massive production by one of the largest toy companies on Earth.

The old versions are long gone now, unless you're a collector. But a new group of game companies has sprung up with the express intent of recreating the feel (and in some cases, the look) of the originals. And even though it strikes me as bizarre, I think I know where they're coming from. The current game just isn't the same. Part of it is simple evolution. It's much more sophisticated than the original. But part of it is just plain baggage - the accumulated weight of decades of expectations that people expect to have filled, and of changes, some big and some small, designed to keep something that people have become familiar with fresh and new.

Of course, there's always the element of wanting to turn back the clock. Not that I want to be 11 again, but there was something really fun in barely having any Earthly clue as to what I was doing or attempting to accomplish, and when you're not quite a teenager yet, a lot of your world can be enjoyably confusing in a way that the Adult world can never quite manage.

But then again, this is the nice thing about book nostalgia, isn't it? They keep better than vintage cars, and you don't have to worry about someone releasing them on DVD. As long as they stay on the shelf, you can always go back to them. And while they'll always be familiar, give them long enough, and you have to discover their contents all over again.