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Monday, September 30, 2002

Bunfight at the UN Corral

Tim Blair savages the Syndey Morning Herald's Hugh Mackay for his parable of the lawmen and the outlaw, starring Sheriff W, Deputy John Howard [Aussie PM], and badman Saddam Hussein. Dunno where senior Deputy Tony Blair has gone.

Tim already takes care of the general fisking, although he doesn't seem to notice the "state of intense arousal" attributed to Bush and Howard (ewwww). Mackay's parable falls into an incoherent mess about a third of the way through, and ends with Saddam dead, but his "friends" taking it out on the junior cop (who is now Australia, rather than Howard).

Moral: trigger-happy cops reap what they sow, and so do trigger-happy politicians.

Extended metaphors seldom work. They're tempting because they offer a way to present a complex and unusual situation in terms of a more familiar and simple one. But they eventually unravel, and either you must abandon the metaphor, and look like a chump for attempting it, or you must slog grimly forward, and lose your way. Hugh, here, has done the latter.

But I won't beat Mackay up for his (lack of) rhetorical skills, because Tim's already done it.

(Although Mackay has left some things out. This being "an outer suburb of Sydney" there's bound to be a bat the size of a Cessna flitting about, emitting noises like a cat using a blackboard as a scratching post. What does this represent? A Predator drone armed with a Hellfire missile (represented by the guano)? And how about the half-container of greasy Indian takeway dumped on the sidewalk? Perhaps this stands for the money Saddam has spilled and wasted for weapons and palaces when it could have gone to feed his people. And what of this conversation, sure to be held down on the corner?:

"So I said to 'er, 'Look, you wanna have a fookin fook er what', y'know? Whatthe fook? And she said, 'Ya fookin fooker I wooden fook you if yewer the last fookin fooker on the fookin earth.' An nen I said, 'Whatta fook, yer fookin slut, there's plenny a sheila's that'd---whatta fook're ya doin? Yer fookin blowin allever muh fookin shoes, mate! Fook!"

This, of course, is a clear reference to the anti-war movement.)

But I've digressed. What I wanted to point out, though, is why Mackay's metaphor fails. Mackay's parable assumes that there is some authority above the sheriff. He is answerable to it, yes, but that's because there is a body of law that guides and supports him. Sheriff W. and his deputies do not have this; they are forced to rely on themselves.

In order to have law, you have to have someone to make the law (the legislature), someone to interpret the law (the courts), and someone to enforce the law (the cops). In some places, all these people are the same people (or person), but there are still three steps. The UN only has the first of these, sort of. Occasionally the Security Council or General Assembly will pass a resolution requiring to so-and-so and do such-and-such, and after that it relies upon communal pressure, of some sort, to obey.

But this system is in large part based upon the offending member's respect for the rule of law. It assumes he'll comply because he doesn't wish to be known as a lawbreaker, or because he doesn't want to be a pariah in the "international community". And if Strategic Frowning doesn't work on him, maybe economic sanctions will, and if they don't maybe military force will. But enacting a punishment will mean getting everyone to agree to it, working out what kind of punishment, and finding someone to enforce it.

So if the body cannot summon up the collective will to enforce its own dictates, then there is no penalty for breaking the "law". The only ones to obey the law will be those who are, by inclination, law-abiding. In a society where only the law-abiding are punishable, while real outlaws are left alone, the law is a joke and those who respect it are fools.

I think most of the UN member states know this all too well. I believe this is why they pass infinite anti-Israel resolutions while Syria is on the Security Council and the Human Rights Commission. The UN is free to criticize Israel, or pass any other kind of loopy resolutions, knowing that there's little chance they're going to have to back them up.

Maybe this is why they're dragging their feet on Iraq. They passed all these resolutions, figuring that they'd never be enforced, and now they're being asked to enforce them and they're soiling their britches.

(Now this may sound like a call for stiffening the UN, for giving it a real military and and real courts and real power. Sadly, no. The UN is a fine thing for mediating disputes between its members, as an attempt to prevent war. But it's a lousy world government, and shouldn't be allowed to continue to evolve into one.)

Sunday, September 29, 2002

Blogger's Block

Oh dear, oh dear. Here I am in the midst of a dry spell and Meryl Yourish links to me with words of praise that bring a blush to my weathered cheek. I really must pick up around the place and do some dusting if company is coming...

I'm not going through a dry spell, so much as a flood. It's not blogger's block, it's a blog jam, but I didn't want to steal Norah Vincent's schtick. I have about four posts on the burner---chain bookstores and why they are not evil, the granite indifference that Red Zone America has for European opinion, and why it is well deserved; why there is no such thing as international law, and unexpectedly rediscovering a pleasure of my childhood.

But I get down to the end of each and run out of steam. In the case of the political rants, I just get the feeling that I've said all this before, repeatedly, and there's no point in going further (that's because I'm always ranting to Niles beforehand---I told him that this blog would save him from that fate, but apparently I've lied). And if I haven't said it before, someone else has, and better.

The only topic I'm sure some better writer has not yet covered is my own anecdotes and memories, but it always seems very self-indulgent to write about those. But then again, is it self-indulgent to worry about being self-indulgent? Oh, there I go again, recursively worrying, creating my own little fractal pattern of insecurity.

I am, however, in good company in not being able to finish my posts. Dave Barry has the same problem.

Of course, in the time it took me to write this writhing little excuse, I could've written a real post.

Saturday, September 28, 2002

Slopping Lust

We went shopping today (O Rapture!). Here, I swear, is what was on our shopping list:

out squaws

And so forth. This is Niles's handwriting. (I do remember that "bras" turned out to be "bras"---for me, I hasten to add).

I have 4 cubic meters of stuff coming in from Sydney, although at this point if it disappeared into the aether I'm not sure I'd mind. I don't know where I'm going to put 4 c.m. of crap. How did I get 4 c.m. in the first place?? I went to Australia with one. Most of it's books. I hate books. I curse you, books! I have a whole storage unit filled with books I can't get to as it is, why do I need more books? I took books to Australia that I never read. Why did I buy more there? (I know the answer to that one: there was a book fair. That's how I got about 2000 of my books.)

Anyhow, the point is, Niles helped me label those boxes, so I can just imagine the joy when we have to schlep them around in the Texas heat, and choose which ones must be stuffed into the apartment, and which crammed into the storage unit.

Niles, do you know where the CD player has gone?
That would be in the box clearly marked "OO plogun".
This box is full of guilt.
That's your quilt.
Well, I don't expect we'll be needing either anytime soon. Will we need the "sweetparts" though?
Sweat. Pants. What do you think?
No. How about the box marked "darkwing flog"?
Don't you remember? That's your Darkwing Duck doll, and your flag.
Oh, right.

(Ha ha! I kid Niles. I know exactly where the Darkwing doll is.)

At least the books will be clear enough. If they're in a small box and are marked "looks" or "boolxs", they're books.

It took us a week longer to pack than we thought it would. The same thing happened when I left California three years ago. Much of this time was due to Niles's insistence that we carefully put similar things together, separate out things that would and would not be needed in Houston, and label every box with its contents.

Niles said that if it had been up to me, I'd have just thrown stuff randomly into boxes, every one of which would have been marked "crap". Yes, but we would have been done a lot faster.

After we sent the stuff on its merry way, it occurred to me that by carefully labelling the boxes we have invited thieves to select which ones are worth stealing. For example, there's a box marked (in part) "coins", which refers to my Australian coin collection. Since these are all coins I got in change, they're worth about AU$20, total (or US$10). The thief won't know that, though.

Come to think of it, this is where Niles's Sekrit C0d3 will come in handy. I'm sure that box will be labelled "worms".

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

And We've Got a Bridge For Sale, Too!

Seems that the UN might pull out of Australia. It's thinking of closing its Sydney headquarters as a cost-saving measure. I'm thinking this would be a golden opportunity for Sydney to immeasurably enhance its prestige, and for New York to get rid of a thorn in its side.

So all you New Yorkers run right over to that link and post something like, "Please, please Br'er Australia! Don't you be takin' my UN away from me! Please don't do it!" Heh heh heh heh! Suckers!

(On the other hand, judging from the letters from the Australians, the imminent pullout is not causing many tears. I was in despair for them until I read the letter from Beavis of Brisbane, who worries that the UN will no longer "provide the checks and balances to the current federal government." Thaaat's right, honey. Your fellow citizens don't know the first thing about democracy---that's why they elected that government. You need the unelected, unaccountable UN to show you all how to be.)

Sunday, September 22, 2002

Down on the Ranch

Jay Nordlinger of NRO says:

Mark Steyn mentioned John Howard, the prime minister of Australia. He did so in the following context: "Symbolism matters. . . . [The] privilege of kicking loose at the ranch ought to be reserved for real friends [not for terror-funding oil princes]. Yet Australia's . . . John Howard, whose boys fought alongside the U.S. in Afghanistan, didn't get an invite to Crawford."

Here's your Steyn column Jay, and remember, Google is your friend.

This is a really smashing idea. Howard would eat it up. The chatterers in Australia would shed contemptuous ink by the barrel, which makes them happy. Margo Kingston would probably succumb to a fit of the vapors. Ordinary Australians would harrumph a bit about the PM being off gallavantin' in furrin parts while there was work at home, but would be inwardly tickled pink.

But most of all, I want to see John Howard smile. I carry no torch for Howard. He's just the mousey guy who was PM of a country I used to live in. The press in his country is absolutely vicious to him. I used to see Sydney Morning Herald staffers in a circle down on Coogee Beach in the dark of the moon, grunting Zeeble bop fickle fackle howard! Howard!! HOWARD!!!" (with apologies to Juan Gato.) The cartoonist of the Australian keeps drawing him as a slope-browed knuckle-dragging caveman. John Howard as the root of all evil! John Howard the cold-hearted racist baby-throwing religious maniac! (Naturally there is a, which is only marginally more juvenile than the stuff the papers churn out: "It'll be just like Afghanistan: We'll be killing lots of foreigners. Which is good, 'cause it means we can get rid of the Asylum Seekers before they even get a chance to leave their country." Sure kid. Let me know when you get your brain out of hock.)

This is pretty funny, when you get a load of what the man really looks like. He looks like a tie salesman (here shown modelling the "Tiny Rotted Eggs, Burgundy" model). A not-particularly-successful tie salesman. A tie salesman who would much rather be out pottering in his garden. He always looks as if Prime Ministering disagrees with him and upsets his stomach. The only time I've ever seen Howard looking happy is the time in 2000 that his plane developed mechanical trouble on the way to Brunei for the APEC conference, so he was stranded in Darwin for a bit. He was shown walking through the Darwin airport with a relaxed and happy smile on his face, perhaps feeling lucky to be alive.

(This incident led to a most Australian type of minor scandal. The plane sent to fetch him back from Brunei had only coach-type seating on it. Apparently a certain amount of Prime Ministerial displeasure was expressed, which led the yapping wiener dogs of the press to berate him for his high-hat tastes. Why, if coach class is good enough for Ordinary Aussies (though probably not for the wiener dogs, or even the wiener dogs' wiener dogs), it ought to be good enough for the PM. I was aghast. To my mind, nothing says, "Our country is laughably unimportant" like sticking its leader in a crappy plane for several hours without decent work spaces or telecommunications equipment, forcing him to pass the time reading Tom Clancy novels like any ordinary shmoe. Maybe that's just my American arrogance; after all, Howard doesn't have The Button to lug around. But I've digressed.)

I couldn't find a picture of that incident, but this one shows him looking halfway relaxed (and wearing the "1968 Rumpus Room Upholstery, Cranberry") . There he sits with a needle in his arm, and he's smiling. Must be punchy from loss of blood. (And notice the shoes! They're wearing out. He must've walked back from Brunei in those.)

You know where John Howard was on 9/11/01? In Washington. The previous day he was at a White House ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the ANZUS treaty. He was scheduled to address Congress the next day, which apparently was quite a coup, as it had been a long while since an Australian PM had done this. But he didn't give the address then, of course. When the planes hit he was whisked off to a bunker beneath the Australian embassy (that's better: "Our country is important enough to have a bunker"), later to emerge to give an affecting press conference. The next day he sat in the gallery and when he was briefly recognized there was great applause and a smattering of "Woo Woo!". I wonder how often they "Woo Woo!" in the Senate.

Anyhow, the point is, Howard is perfect for the ranch. Maybe they're just waiting for the brutal Texas summer to be over. They'll ride around in the pickup truck. Maybe Bush will take Howard to hunt snipe and jackelopes, and Howard will tell Bush about riding the kangaroos.

Link via Tim Blair.

Word Up

Houghton Mifflin is plugging their new dictionary with a list of one hundred words high school graduates should know. Some of them are pretty standard. Some of them are just weird. Why quasar, yeoman, and ziggurat? Because they needed a word for each letter of the alphabet (though they already had quotidian).

One of their words is moiety. Meryl Yourish doesn't think much of the utility of moiety, or of the list in general. I have an anecdote about the word moiety.

I used to work with a group led by Terribly Distinguished Yet Really Fun Scientist. They are chemists, and in their work they use the word moiety. I didn't work closely enough with them to know what, exactly, they used it for. Propping up the table leg, for all I know. I think it referred to this here part of the molecule, rather than that there part. I hope that technical discussion was not over your heads.

Anyway, one day the group received email from Fresh Young British Scientist, who did not work in their field, exactly. She demanded to know whether moiety was a real word, or if it was just some poncy term they had made up. Confusion reigned, with Amusement as his consort. There was a bit of low dudgeon in the ranks over the tone that Fresh Young had taken with Terribly Distinguished, but TD himself seemed merely amused. More than that, though, no one was quite sure what poncy meant. Local Brit was applied to, and decreed that poncy was a way of saying fancy-schmancy (Local Brit had a couple of Shakespeare quotes ready to hand, which made us wonder if she weren't being a bit poncy herself).

As one who had been mildly irked by Fresh Young's tone, I am quite pleased to see that moiety, far from being a suspect exotic word, is one of the hundred words that high school graduates---let alone Bright Young British Things---should know. I guess educational standards in that fabled land are not what they are claimed to be. Perhaps we should take up a collection, so that Britain may have some of the new Houghton Mifflin dictionaries. "Dics for Brits", we'll call it. Won't you give generously?

(I, of course, knew exactly what moiety was. It was the name of the shadowy resistance group in the game Riven, the ones who kidnap you and take you to the giant puffball.)

"I have an anecdote about the word moiety." That, folks, is all you need to know about my personality. You may call me by my pseudonym, A. Crashing Bore. I strive at all times to be prolix, sesquipedalian, and obfuscatory.

Friday, September 20, 2002

I Have No Topic, and I Must Blog

I expect there's going to be a lot of that around here.

Today I wander over to Ken Layne's place, and his Amazon ad is showing all Raymond Chandler books. Now I'm scared. Did Layne suggest Chandler to Amazon? Do they have a sekrit sooper computer that seeks out proper literary genres to match to blog advertising? Or worse, a human who does that? Or is it just a big spooky coincidence?

Chandler's one of my favorite authors. He has the ability to teleport you to the scene. When Marlowe's prowling through some dame's closet to find what she has hidden, you feel the dresses and shoes and suitcases under your own hand. You smell the sun-heated dust and hear the drip from the water in the bathroom sink that the landlord is always promising to fix, but never does. I don't know how he does that.

But more to the point, occasionally Ken Layne will channel the shade of Chandler. Not often. I think he saves it for his books. Gotta get me one o' them rascals one day.

Assuming I am ever employed again, a likely place for me to wind up is Los Angeles. I have this fantasy of having Layne and Welch take me on a Chandler tour, showing me all the local sites [sic, yes] that ended up in Chandler's novels. (And yes, you pervs, that's all there is to the fantasy. After all, I've seen pictures of those guys.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Free Speech! Free Beer!


Here's a *wink* new *wink* blog, Silent Running.

I do hope that this doesn't mean it will explode in a nuclear fireball, taking Earth's last remaining forests with it.

Watery Worlds

Instapundit links to this Reuters article on water detected in extrasolar planets. Glenn's excited. Oops, not so fast there. They've detected water masers. Anyplace you find water masers is not going to be healthy for children and other living things (too hot).

Ahh, but here's the abstract of a paper reporting water masers detected from the impact of comet Shoemaker-Levy/9 on Jupiter! Now, of course, Jupiter is not thought to be suitable for terrestrial life, either, but a comet (made largely of ice, remember) impacting a terrestrial planet's atmosphere might get hot enough to provide molecules suitable for masing.

This one-page article is on line in the form of a PDF file. Click on "Full Printable Article". It explains the situation clearly: They've detected water masers from the cometary impact with Jupiter. The early solar system is thought to have been thick with comets, the Earth "showered" with them. Therefore in other solar systems we ought to be able to detect water masers from cometary impact with other planets.

Apparently that's what they've done (or think they've done), but I didn't see a mention of comets. The problem with this (from a "Let's go" standpoint) is that any kind of planet (like Jupiter) can have comets falling on it and producing these masers. It doesn't necessarily mean there are Earth-like planets. I can't get to the New Scientist website right now, so I can't say for sure if that's what they've done.

That second article makes it clear that they are intending to use this technique to actually search for extrasolar planets, rather than than to search for extrasolar Earth-like planets. So, it's not really as exciting as the Reuters article made it sound.

The abstract of the first article seems to have a line missing; it doesn't tell you the strength of their detection. There's nothing about that in the PDF article either. So I don't know whether it's really reasonable for them to think they have detected a comet/planet collision-induced water maser. Water masers are thick in dusty regions of the universe, where stars are born and where you're going to find young solar systems. So it might be hard to tell which masers are produced by planet-comet collisions, and which are produced by other means.

Still, this is a very clever idea, if it works.

Here's a little explanation of interstellar lasers/masers.

Does Cosmovici mean something like "cosmos conquerer"?

UPDATE: Here's the New Scientist article on this subject. It says pretty much what's in the Reuters article, except that it does caution that planets where water is detected are not necessarily going to be what we think of as habitable.

They don't say anything about comets, however, and I'm wondering whether you can get water masers in a planetary atmosphere without some sort of localized heat source. I'm not sure whether a planetary atmosphere can be that hot and remain an atmosphere very long. (I don't know much about planets. They're tiny and can get these biological infestations on them.)

By the way, when I talked about comets crashing into planets, above, I was thinking of planets with an atmosphere, not bare balls of rock.

The Cry of the Culture Vulture

In this Telegraph column, Janet Daley says, among other things, that she got a flood of mail about her previous week's column. That column, it appeared, was about being an American in Britain on September 11, and about her disgust at the constant cries of "You deserved it!". The mail she received was overwhelmingly positive, and writer after writer assured her that those people did not represent the real Britain. Excellent news.

But I wanted to read this column for myself, to discover exactly what she said that inspired so much mail. Google was no help at all, but by sheer cunning I hunted it down. It says, in part:

Let me make one thing clear. Almost every American who has chosen to live permanently outside the United States knows its weaknesses. There is little that can be said about the gaucheries and fatuities and selfishnesses of Americans that I cannot recite myself.

After all, I decided to leave - and living in cynical, wicked old Abroad has taught me even more about what it is possible to despise in America's childlike, sentimental culture.

Hey Janet? Roll that up tightly and insert in your ass, using a firm, upward motion, OK? Hope that was gauche, fatuous, and childlike enough for you. Not to mention despicable.

(It gets better from there, but then it would have to, wouldn't it?)

What is with these people? Why, Janet, why on that day of all days, in that column, did you feel it necessary to make that remark, devoting two whole paragraphs to it? Why is always culture that's these people's bugaboo? And not only that, it's a certain type of culture, namely whatever culture they don't like. They constantly compare the worst of the US with the best of Europe. (How, oh how, could we ever hope to produce the sorts of things that win the Turner Prize?)

But leave that alone: just what the hell does this have to do with anything? One might, plausibly, focus on American foreign policy in any calculation of "desert", but she dismisses that with vigor later on. So why this pre-emptive attack on the culture?

This is some sort of obsession, isn't it? I'm guessing---I don't know, obviously---that many of the people Janet spoke to cited American culture, rather than American actions, as the justification. There really are people who think that the very very worst thing about the US is its culture. The towers deserved to fall, not because of US support of Israel, or CIA coups in South America, but because of McDonalds. Britney Spears will be the first American tried for war crimes in the ICC. Some day, in downtown Los Angeles, there will be shrine to the victims of Pauly Shore, with a gallery of stills from his career, and a quiet, restful theater where the survivors can view Ingmar Bergman films in grateful reflection.

I've met a few such people, but I always thought they were confined to virtual existence on Usenet newsgroups.


Vision fading...sea of red...must...maintain...control...

Gaucheries. That makes me think of the times I've had Europeans smirk at the way I eat (one-handed, like most Americans) while across from me they are shoveling food into their mouths with both hands, using the backs of the shovels.

But enough of this. Stay in Britain, Janet. If you do not belong there, you belong nowhere.

I, on the other hand, shall carry on with my childish and sentimental celebration of all things American, like Wienermobiles and patriotic snack foods and escapist films and architectural vegetables and loud and colorful life.

Here's a question I keep asking Niles, and I'll ask it here:

Have I said, yet, how very good it is to be back home?

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

...Nor a Threat

There are those who have objected to lumping analysts, commentators, and pundits in with true journalists---that is, those who do the heavy reportorial lifting. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a catch-all phrase which includes the pundits and excludes the reporters, so I will continue to refer to them all as "journalists". Those who find this distasteful will please avert their eyes.

There are some Professional Journalists who have commenced blogging, and have found themselves the target of simply vicious attacks. Some of the Professional Journalists have hinted at (or predicted) legal action against the attackers. Unfortunately, I cannot judge for myself whether these Professional Journalists are (as they claim) the targets of attacks which seriously impugn their characters or which spread outright falsehoods about them, because the Professional Journalists refuse to name or link to them. So I am left to wonder whether they are outraged at simple name-calling, dismissive critiques of their work, or sarcastic remarks about their writing ability. If the latter, the Professional Journalists would do well to consider this incident, which led a court to declare, "One does not seriously attack the expertise of a scientist using the undefined phrase 'butt-head.'"

Our Professional Journalists have dismissed their critics as envious riff-raff who have no ideas of their own so must snipe at more competent writers who have real jobs. But they wouldn't want you to take that the wrong way. No. They wouldn't want you to think that they believe only Professional Journalists are entitled to opinions, immune to criticism from the unwashed. No, indeed! Riff-raff means only, well, the riff-raff, such as those whose low self-esteem led them to believe they were included in the term riff-raff.

The Professional Journalists in question seem to be particularly incensed that some puerile slimebags and small-minded sludge have resorted to name-calling, if you can imagine. They hasten to note that their readers should absolve them from any charge of hypocrisy, because they did not name the names of those whom they're calling names. This is not cowardice, mind you, but discretion (as in "the better part of valor," one supposes).

Discretion is my watchword, so in like spirit I will not name these professionals when speculating that they have hugely engorged, throbbing, turgid---yet extremely fragile---egos, coupled with a rather charmingly naive notion of how much respect a position at a national newspaper should buy you. They also seem to be somewhat paranoid, believing that they are being ridiculed because of jealousy, because they are "famous". It does not occur to them that the riff-raff have always been somewhat unimpressed with the skills of many newspaper pundits---especially those who spew long streams of overheated prose, filled with poorly-reasoned, short-sighted ideas supported mainly by indignation. Nowadays, however, the riff-raff get to say so, en masse.

You know, come to think of it, in these thin-skinned times, one wonders that Professional Journalists would dream of siccing the law on their detractors. Wouldn't that be, you know, intimidation? Which is a form of censorship? Gosh, and here, because of certain darkly hinted legal threats, I've been wondering whether I should even post this! Chilling atmosphere! McCarthyism! Crushing Dissent!

Monday, September 16, 2002

Frank Discussions

I can't believe I forgot to blog about this.

Last weekend (or the one before) Niles and I went to the Big Place to Buy Things. Up ahead of us were two vehicles that looked like rust-colored tanker trucks, but they were not...

Niles, those are Wienermobiles!
*snort* So they are.
Maybe we can follow them and score some hot dogs. Catch up to them, Niles!
I can't. They're going 65 miles an hour!
And your point is...?
Speed limit's only 55.
And your point is...?
I'm not going to get a ticket just to catch up to Wienermobiles. Look, they're heading off toward Austin, anyway.
Can we go to Austin, Niles?
It's only 150 miles.
They might not be going that far...You know, if we had a PDA with a cell modem, we could look up the Wienermobile web site and find out where they're going.
Maybe next year.

(You know, when I report these conversations with Niles, I always come across as really whiny. Huh.)

Oh, it makes me so proud to be an American, and so glad to be back home. That's the kind of thing that made this country great: giant mobile foodstuffs!

Our mythical PDA is going to have to have Flash/Shockwave/SomeOtherKindaBloatWare, because it seems you can't get in to the Wienermobile website without it. This page shows a nice picture without any Schlockwave. It's on the Carlin Mfg website "the worldwide leader in Custom Mobile Kitchens and Relocatable Modular Food Service". Don't miss their photo gallery, which includes the Bahrain Burger King and the SpamMobile. (Sadly, these are just truck-shaped.)

I love the web. The things you can find! According to this page, Wienermobiles have a theoretical top speed of 90 mph. This site reports an unfortunate accident between the Wienermobile and one of our valiant women in uniform (the Wienermobile sustained only light damage). The site says that the airbags are hot dog-shaped, but I don't think so. I think those dogs are part of the dash, as is clear from this interior shot from the Carlin site. The doohickey on the passenger side, which kind of does look like a deployed airbag, is probably just an inflatable Wienermobile.

I don't know how the Nabisco truck got on the roof. Did it teleport up there?

Niles, being British, is completely ignorant of the rich American hot dog culture. So I had to sing wiener songs to him.

That first link points out the politically incorrect nature of the Armour hot dog lyrics, which Niles also mentioned. "Sissy kids?" "Chicken pox??"The second link is part of a sermon which reveals the foul web connecting Oscar Meyer hot dogs, orgies, and Al Qaeda.

The last link is to some dubious lyrics for the "Wiener Man" song, which is frequently featured as a joke on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Apparently it was the kind of song kids sing at camp, but since I never went to camp, I never heard it. (There is a particularly beautiful version at the beginning of Episode 817, "Horror of Party Beach".) Never having heard the song in its entirety, I went Googling for it and did not find it, not in full, except for some MST references.

Web sites have now become the Dead Sea Scrolls preserving our ephemeral culture. It's a shame when something is so little referenced on the web that a Google search comes up dry. Therefore, let me display what I think are the more correct lyrics for this song:

I know a wiener man
He owns a hot dog stand
He gives me everything
From wieners on down.
Someday, I'll be his wife
And then we'll live the wiener life--
Hot dog! I love the wiener man!

Ah, glorious, glorious.

These are way cool, but apparently have been recalled for excess lead.

I want one of these for Christmas. It plays music!

And, look! I sleep much safer knowing that the Wienermobile will be ready to defend the nation at a moment's notice.

Soon after I got back, I pestered and nagged Niles (no doubt sounding whiny) to take me to Denny's and IHOP for real Amurrican food. Sounds like it's time to whine to be taken to James Coney Island or Sonic or (be still my heart) A&W.
(Nope, don't seem to be any in Houston, and they don't even have a real web site.)


UPDATE: Dang! Forgot another one! For completeness's sake we must have this ditty (harmonica version), which Oscar Meyer re-wrote as:

Hot diggity, dog diggity, boom!
What you do to me!
Oscar Meyer makes
Hot dogs diggity.

I think I've found my oeuvre: toilet brush reviews and songs about weenies.

UPDATE 2: Link rot took my Wienermobile-joins-the-Air-Force link. I hope it's fixed now.

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Polly Technique

I am not, by training, a writer. Anyone who reads this blog will have noticed that. Sometimes I look at what I've written and cringe, but after I've wracked my brains trying to come up with something better it's either publish a flawed post or none at all. Not that you, imaginary readers, will care, but it was a lot of work to type, and I hate for it to go to waste.

I blame my scientific training. When we write for publications, the passive voice is always to be used. See, I did that---changed from active to passive voice,right in the middle of sentence---completely without thinking. It came naturally to me. Precise words must also be used. Synonyms are frowned upon, so the writing starts to get repetitive. It also gets long, since shorthand phrases which would lead the reader quickly from A to M to Z cannot be used; we must carefully visit every step in between.

And then there are the stupid words. In my biz, "extincted" is a perfectly good word, although I cringe every time I write or say it. Why not "extinguished"? I've always been too embarrassed to ask. "Problematic" shows up a lot. "Extrapolation of the conditions attending the formation of $FOO to the formation of $BAR is problematic." That's the kind of thing a lot of people would write, satisfied that they had been properly passive yet authoritative. But I just can't read that kind of thing at speed. I would write, "It is not useful to compare the conditions under which $FOO is formed to those under which $BAR is formed, since they are very different." That's clumsy, and stilted, but clearer. Unfortunately, when I read clear scientific prose (e.g., mine), it sounds childish.

Now all this is leading up to why I hesitate to criticize writers for their writing, as opposed to their ideas. Unless they just go plumb overboard (as Norah Vincent did the other day), I can't help thinking that my writing could not stand the same scrutiny. But there are some things that are just so egregious you can't let them pass.

And so we come to Polly Toynbee, writing the other day in the Wanker. Misha the rottweiler has already chewed off her kneecaps for the ideas, but didn't really touch the writing.

The last emperor


There he stood, this unlikely emperor of the world, telling the UN's 190 nations how it is going to be. The assembled nations may not be quite the toothless Roman senate of imperial times...

There's nothing wrong with these lines per se. But I'm wondering if I can get a UN resolution passed that will declare a moratorium on comparisons of the US with the Roman Empire. Aside from the concentration of power, there are very few similarities; but a crisis seldom passes where this mangy old nag is not trotted out for the entertainment and edification of all.

Of course, the resolution would instantly be ignored, but at least I could claim the moral high ground because Pilger/Monbiot/Fisk/Kingsolver/Rall/Falwell/Chomsky/Robertson/Toynbee had violated a half-witted UN resolution. That's pretty much the purpose of UN resolutions, anyway.

He [Bush] pointed his silver-tongued gun with some delicacy...

"...unlike any man she had known before, sending her into paroxyms of ecstacy. She cried aloud, nameless words unuttered since Adam first took Eve..."

"silver-tongued gun" Bleah. This is porn for people who don't know what kind of sex they're having.

The skills of the best speech writer could not blot out the gulf between last year's rhetoric and the reality that followed.

The skills of the best speech writer probably would not have produced "blot out the gulf". "Bridge the gulf", "span the gulf", "fill the gulf"---cliches, maybe, but those are what you do with gulfs. If you really cannot stand cliche, you might "ride a rocket-powered motorcycle across the gulf". But to "blot out the gulf" makes me want to try to erase the Grand Canyon with my thumb.

So Bush's conjured images of a postwar Iraq, peaceful and democratic, sounded like empty phantasms.

Are phantasms ever full?

Even so, good words are still preferable to bad ones.

Nothing wrong here; she just might've thought of that while she was conjuring up "empty phantasms".

The only ones who hope the UN fumbles are the Rumsfeld/Cheney warriors who want no straitjacket, no option for Saddam to avoid the war now sharpening its knives on his borders.

Chock full 'o metaphors! "fumbles", "warriors", straitjacket"---she can't decide whether they're football players, soldiers, or mental patients. And then the payoff, the "war now sharpening its knives". Do wars own knives? Do wars own anything tangible? Is this a throwback to those romantic days of "war" personified, when Mars walked freely among men?

Fermenting terror, recruiting generations of terrorists to come, the cure looks worse than the disease.

Phew, I hate the smell of fermenting terror. That's when you really know it's time to take out the trash. I wonder if she thought she was saying "fomenting" here?

You'd think that if you were going to write for a newspaper that boasts an international reputation that you could at least cobble together some prose that doesn't have the effect of biting into an ice cold tinfoil sandwich.

She concludes with yet more Rome metaphor. Now here is where you're going to see that I lie like a dog. I said I was just going to go after her writing, but now I'm going to take a poke at her ideas as well.

In a shocking fit of logic, she dismisses any motives of ooooiiillll, since they would argue for appeasing Saddam, not antagonizing him. At a loss for another explanation for Bush's "obsession", she comes up with this:

No, it appears to spring from a new ideology, a neo-conservative dream which Charles Krauthammer, guru of the right, calls the US's "uniquely benign imperium". Hyperpower is not enough unless it is exerted so forcefully that no state ever again challenges benign US authority. One thing was made crystal clear yesterday - there is no other source of authority but America, and that means there is no other law but US law. What the US wants, the UN had better solemnise with a suitable resolution - very like the Roman senate and one of its lesser god-emperors. But this is not the real America. A small cultish sect is battling for the "imperium" within this bizarre administration, resisted by mainstream Republicans...

And this is why I want that Moratorium on Roman Analogies. It was bound to happen to someone, sooner or later. Her constant Rome comparisons have driven her into a sort of pundit's frenzy, where her metaphors do not model reality, they have become reality: America is like Rome...America is like Rome...America is Rome...yesterday, the Emperor of Rome stood before the United Nations...

It will come as no surprise to blog readers that there's an international (which means many of them are Americans) cadre of people who somehow believe that America's might should belong to the world. Certainly, it looks as if many European leaders believe the US military exists to implement European foreign policy. Toynbee seems to be one of these people, as in this even more over-written screed from 2000, in which she criticizes the US for not getting more involved in the world. A similar theme makes its way into this article from last December. Over a column filled with rejoicings at the positive outcomes of the Afghan campaign is this subhead: "Afghanistan is free and America remains engaged with the world"

(This article, by the way, is a good resource for looking up quotes about the brutal Afghan winter and the invincible Taliban.)

But, oops, if the US should "engage" with the world on its own terms, that's a Bad Thing: "If Iraq is the next target despite global opposition then the world will indeed have a maverick, rogue superpower on the loose." (Poor Polly! Last December she was still optimistic that this wasn't going to happen.) And apparently she believes this despite lacking any sympathy for Saddam Hussein. In September 13th's column she notes that he's oppressing his own people and is a general blight on the face of the globe. "None would mourn his passing."

But if the world cannot be convinced of this (say, because much of the world is "led" by men who would love to be Hussein but can't quite acquire the power), then the US must stand down. Better that nothing be done, even when the cause is just, than that the US do it alone. Otherwise it would be a "rogue superpower", toppling governments at will.

Never mind that the danger of the US bombing China over video piracy, or Canada over oil, or France just for the sheer hell of it, is pretty slim. Never mind that the US is the laziest, most disinterested "empire" that ever has been, or ever will be, known. The US is Rome, Rome was bad, therefore the US is bad.

She starts her reasoning as well as her article with a Roman metaphor, and, having travelled in circles, arrives at her own premise, mistaking it for her logically-derived conclusion.

(By the way, no vicious critique of someone's writing skills would be complete without an error of its own. Find it!)

Friday, September 13, 2002

Medical Men of Tomorrow

OK, so you're a young man of Middle Eastern descent, a US citizen, and you're on the way to med school with a couple of your buds, and you stop at a Shoney's in Georgia for some grub.

And some nitwit is giving you the Evil Eye, and man it's just become so tiresome, I mean, you never once get nervous over strange Middle Easterners, because, y'know, no one like you died on September 11. So it's not your problem, right? And these rednecks are such a damned pain in the ass.

So you decide you'll give them something to be alarmed about, and make stupid jokes the other people can hear, then you finish your dinner and merrily head down I-75. And when you get to Naples you decide, since you're all so really resoundingly stupid, to just blow the toll booth, screw it.

And when, to your surprise, you're stopped by the local law, you have to unship a big ol' cargo of attitude, because here it is September 13 and you sorta kinda look suspicious and you've just ignored a toll booth.

And you are really stupid. Really prize-winningly stupid. Really really gobsmackingly stupid.

Oh, and look, now you're all over CNN and gosh your belongings aren't in too good a shape and at the very very least you have this traffic ticket.

But cheer up, boys! It could've been worse. When you left that Shoney's you could have been overheard by a couple of guys without their full complement of teeth or wits who followed you out to the parking lot and took you at gunpoint to a nice quiet place where your fossils could've become the star attraction at some 581st century museum.

To quote Joel Hodgson, "They'll be doctors someday."

UPDATE: Naturally I am way behind on this story becaue I wrote this the other day and wanted to see if it really was a joke before posting it. Because, you see, the young dears in question said the stupid redneck woman was lying, an' they didn't do nothin' wrong and people are always pickin' on them. This newer article from the Miami Herald says that they were joking, after all.

Stupid redneck woman, on her part, has always said that she wasn't sure whether they were joking or not, and admitted that her son might have been right that they were "just messin' " with her. (Implicit in that statement is that "messin' ", while dumb and rude, is not really harmful.)

But, of course, the real thrill is reading the reactions from the families. Here, from Fox News, are some choice quotes from their families:

From an aunt:

"He is a very nice, warm person, a good Muslim who tries very hard to help others."

And if you ask Mr. Atta he says that Mohammed still calls him every week to say hi. Such a good boy, so kind to his papa. And we all know that a "good Muslim" could never be a terrorist.

From a father:

"This lady in the restaurant didn't like them or something, she thought they were Muslims...She thought they were talking suspicious things, fabricated the whole thing and called the FBI. It is unbelievable to me the FBI would chase, stop them, and harass them because an untrained woman that has probably never interacted with a Muslim or anyone that is not like her said so."

(My emphasis.)

Oh, it's a good thing we're not into stereotypes around here. For my part, one of the very few pleasures of my old age is going to be swatting down young snots who tell me how ignorant I am because I've never been out of the county.

From Hana Geith, a sister:

Questioning whether Stone indeed is even a "credible" witness, the family maintained that there is no way their loved one would have been playing a practical joke or laughing about what happened on Sept. 11.
"My brother doesn't joke about these matters..."

That's not what today's Miami Herald story says. What are you going to do if it turns out to be true? Will you apologize to anyone, or make little Bratley apologize? Bet not.

And now, from one of the little Albert Schweitzers himself, Hana's brother:

"I have one message, I think it's time for us as Americans to put down our big sticks and pick up our books and read about other people and read about what they believe before we jump to conclusions."

I have a message, too, son, and that's that you (that's a collective you) should start realizing that there are such things as Muslim terrorists. Look, you say, "pick up our books"; leaving aside the condescension, you mean that we should learn more about what Muslims believe. Some Muslims believe all non-Muslims, all Americans, should die. They've made that perfectly clear. Now granting that you're not one of them, surely you can see that the difference between them and you is not visible to the naked eye.

Think about what would have happened, instead of pulling some bullshit trick, you would've smiled at the lady giving you the hairy eyeball, and given her a friendly nod. Then, in addition to not having the police chase you down and have all your names and faces splattered all over the news and get a reputation as an asshole, you might've given some non-Muslim American the idea that Muslims are folk just like anyone else.

Oh, but I forgot. You're eye-bleedingly stupid.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Puncture This

First I must begin with some Full Disclosure: In my post yesterday I said that Niles and I talked on the phone for an hour, he in Hawaii and I in Sydney, watching CNN together. Some of that hour was spent making smart-ass wise cracks that can not bear scrutiny in the daylight. One of the less offensive jokes was that Gary Condit must be behind the attacks, in order to get Fox News ("All Chandra Levy, All the Time!") off his ass. But these were made in private to one another, and not repeated afterward to prove what shining wits we were. And, for me at least, they were a way to cope, blunt instruments with which to bat away the horror.

Damian Penny takes issue with's Forbidden Thoughts on 9/11, and prays for Salon's swift demise.

Salon editor Scott Rosenberg replies to this thusly

I do not know who Damian Penny is...

Translation: Who does Damian Penny think he is??

We were thinking precisely this: That an orthodoxy has coalesced around 9/11, and that one good role of journalism is to puncture orthodoxies. That the range of human response to 9/11 was a lot wider than that reflected in the media orgy of 9/11 retrospectives. And that it's probably a lot healthier to air such responses than to pretend that they don't exist.

" good role of journalism is to puncture orthodoxies..."

Leaving aside the issue of whether it is indeed a role of journalism, let alone a good role, to puncture orthodoxies, here we find another orthodoxy: that the puncturing of orthodoxies is a Good Thing. Dissent is valuable for its own sake, not for any actual points it might make, not for identifying potential flaws or threats, but of its own accord. The implication would be that there are no good orthodoxies. There is nothing, no sentiment so good and fine that it can't be mocked; in fact, the better and finer the sentiment (and therefore more widely subscribed), the more urgent mockery becomes.

Remember that the "orthodoxy" they're puncturing here is not an orthodoxy promoting war against Iraq or Al Qaeda or terrorism, it's an orthodoxy that says the mass murder of thousands is a terrible thing, and deserves to be mourned, and that mourning should be respected by those who cannot or will not join in.

In the piece I linked to below, Simon Schama talked about the "pious hush" the administration is using to "bestow on its adventurism the odour of sanctity." Breaking that hush seems to me to be valuable, even patriotic.

This leads me to believe that Rosenberg's own personal position is anti-war, which is a perfectly valid stance. Bush believes that the way to prevent further terrorist attacks like 9/11 is to go after terrorists and the regimes which support them. There are good arguments against this. Rosenberg, however, rather than refuting Bush's reasoning, is attempting to ridicule the "root cause" of the reasoning. Rosenberg is belittling the dead in order to denigrate the war.

I wouldn't have come to this conclusion after reading "Forbidden Thoughts"; I would have come to the conclusion that Salon was staffed (and read) by tasteless cretins. But Rosenberg's invocation of the "pious hush" reveals an agenda besides a simple juvenile game of gross-out. (And note Rosenberg's own sanctimony in ascribing his little gallery of crudity to the holy cause of dissent.)

But here's where Rosenberg really stamps his feet and manages to piss all over himself.

But before you wish that Salon goes bankrupt, may I ask how you pay your bills, and how you'd feel if someone wished the same on the source of your livelihood? When did political disagreement turn into a license to wish that your opponents lose their jobs, or worse (cf. Ann Coulter's comment, "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building")? Good night.

I would point out that Rosenberg has little room for indignation here, since he's the one who published an article that must have caused pain to those who lost someone in the attacks, but someone on the comments page has already done that. (Last time I looked there were 54 comments, running about 2 to 1 against Rosenberg.)

As for the threat to his livelihood, Rosenberg should grow a damned skin if he's going to be a Real! Journalist! It's not like anyone asked him to become a journalist; he could've taken an honest job like mob construction boss or used car salesman. I'm a scientist, and I can't tell you how many people have told me that it's criminal to fund all that stupid old science when there are starving baaaaaybeeees right here in our own country. Damian's a lawyer, and I'm sure he could tell you all the lawyer jokes there are, not all of them said jokingly.

Salon must be near the end, if Rosenberg is throwing a hissy fit over this.

But enough of him. Let's puncture some orthodoxies, since that is an intrinsically Good and Holy Act.

The first orthodoxy to go is the one that says you must actually know what you talk about before pontificating on it. I haven't read "Forbidden Thoughts". I only know the bit Damian quoted, plus a few quoted in the comments. This post isn't so much about the lack of taste displayed in soliciting and publishing the forbidden thoughts; it's about Rosenberg's blithering justification. But still, ordinarily I'd want to know what I was talking about. But no more! Down with the tyranny of informed discussion!

I would also mention the ridiculous orthodoxy that it takes some sort of smarts or talent to be a Real Journalist, something not just anybody can do. But, geez, that observation has been done to dea---wait a minute! What the hell! I puncture the orthodoxy of originality! Ha! I point out that anybody with half a brain can be a journalist, and that frequently it takes less than that. In fact, from the remarks of real good journalists I know of, brains and talent may actually be a hindrance, since those guys are unemployed.

Oh, and a body in motion will tend to come to a complete stop on alternate Thursdays. The entropy of a closed system cannot micturate. E=mc**hammer. Gravitational force is mediated through the exchange of tiny invisible pink unicorns. There. Punctured a bunch of 'em.

Finally, I repudiate the orthodoxy of manners. Therefore I will point out that Rosenberg is a festering pustule on the spotty ass of humanity, and that his mother dresses him funny.

Down with orthodoxies! Coming soon: Motherhood, eggs, and football.

Oh, and cheap straight women. Down with 'em all!

By the way, here's Damian's reply to Rosenberg.

UPDATE: And here's another one, where Damian says he doesn't want Salon to go bankrupt. Show some spine, man!

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

What This Blog Is For

I got a big pile of words below. Most of them are boring. If anyone reads them, and finds them so, remember: I'm doing this for me, and not for you. If you like it too, that's great. But it's all for me.

Some humor maybe later, or tomorrow.

That Day, Part I: Get Up, the World Is Crumbling

Diane E. tells me (tell us all) that we have nothing to say today. She says, If you think that [you do], you weren't here. Well, I wasn't there. I wasn't even here. I was Elsewhere. If I were her I'd be doing what she's doing, going out in the city somewhere to remember in public. But I can't do that, so I am here, remembering in private. In public.

On September 11, somewhere between 11pm and midnight, I was sitting in my apartment in Sydney, at the computer. I was playing Tetris, I think, and watching Star Trek ("Return of the Archons") out of the corner of my eye. I caught a crawl across the bottom of the screen ...terrorist attacks in the United States.... I hadn't had the cable very long, so I didn't know how often they announced news items with crawls (never, as it turns out), and so was prepared to be unimpressed.

Holy. Howling. Hell.

By the time I switched on CNN, both towers had been hit, but had not collapsed. When I saw the first tower collapse, I was mildly surprised. I thought surely it could withstand a plane impact. But mostly I was angry. I wasn't sad; in a way, it wasn't my place to be sad. But I was angry, and my very first thought was, We have to rebuild it. We must rebuild it. They must not win. I would have been more surprised when the second tower went, but by then I had been numbed.

A little after midnight the phone rang. I'm sure I answered it with, "I see it."

Do you see it? It was my mother.
I see it.

She told me some stuff I already knew from the TV, and I got off the phone as fast as I could. I didn't want to talk to my mother.

Now, in those first hours we didn't know what the hell was going on. We didn't know how many planes there would be, or whether hijackings would be the end of it, or if there were other things in store. Reports flew thick and fast. Things were reported, and then completely dropped. Other reports contradicted each other. Separate events sounded awfully similar. For a long while after Flight 93 went down, there were reports of a plane headed toward Washington. Was that the same plane that went down, or was there another one?

I got out of the computer chair and took to the couch. I put the covers around me, but didn't feel any safer. Somewhere between the first and second collapses, I started writing in my diary. It was the only thing I could think to do, that seemed remotely useful.

...The newsreader at the BBC says, "For those of you who are just joining us and think you're watching fiction---you're not."

...A reporter in the street stops a dusty businessman trudging numbly past, clutching his briefcase. At first the man acts as if he doesn't want to talk, but the reporter lures him. After asking the businessman what he's seen, the reporter asks him where he was. He was in the South Tower. The reporter tells him this tower has collapsed (The North Tower is still standing at this point). The man is slow to understand. "You're a lucky man," the reporter tells him. The businessman doesn't know what to say, so he says what you're supposed to say when someone congratulates you. "Thank you. Thank you very much," he says, patting the reporter on the arm. Then he shambles on.

...A man with a big round bald head comes into view. He's covered in dust, and has a head wound which has bled profusely, darkening half his face. A reporter catches him and he seems to swim up toward the camera, looking directly into it, his eyes wild. He's in a hurry to be gone, but as he stumbles away a paramedic takes him by the arm and leads him aside.

...A Fox News reporter is standing in the street, talking to three guys in hard hats in a pickup truck. The driver is telling what he saw. He is calm, confident, articulate. He seems almost excited to be talking to a reporter. Eventually the reporter asks him the dumb-ass reporter question: How do you feel? The man pauses. "What do you mean---how do I feel? I've seen bodies falling from the sky. You tell me how I feel. I don't know."

Niles, now, happened to be at a conference in Hawaii, which meant he was 4 hours ahead of us (more precisely 20 hours behind), so it was about 5am, his time. I hesitated before calling him. It seems weird, but I wasn't sure he would want to be awakened for this. But I wanted to talk to him.

I called his hotel. "Fancy Schmancy Hawaii Resort!" chirped the man at the desk. I figured he couldn't know. They probably don't watch TV there at the desk, at 5am. I briefly thought about telling him to turn on the TV. Instead I just asked for Niles.

Hi, honey, it's me. I don't know what time it is there. Sorry to disturb you, but you must turn on the TV. Turn on CNN.
Terrorists have hijacked some airliners. They've flown them into the World Trade Center...
...Both towers have collapsed.
Both towers have collapsed. Get up. The world is crumbling.

We talked for about an hour, then hung up. About four I tried to get some sleep. I was awakened every few minutes by the screams and explosions in my head.

That Day, Part II: The Lessons of History

The next morning we had our weekly department talk, so I went to work. I walked to work, as usual, and I began to notice something odd. But first I must ask a riddle:

Q: What is the difference between Sydney and a similar-sized American city?
A: The American city has fewer people wearing American flags.

I was always amused, walking to work, to see people wearing clothes with stars and stripes on them, or bearing the letters USA. The latter was particularly popular in the form of sweatshirts from Russell Athletics. I have no idea why. I had always heard that Canadians should be sure, when abroad, to sew Canadian flags on their backpacks, so as not to be mistaken for a nasty American. And I heard that many Americans did this also. Once I saw fellow with a Canadian flag on his backpack; he looked a bit miffed.

But on September 12, all those USA shirts had disappeared. Surely I should have seen one on the walk in? I was a little irritated at first. In normal times you're proud to wear us on your chest, but we get attacked and suddenly we're not cool to be seen with anymore. But then it occurred to me that this was just simple prudence. We still didn't know what might be coming.

Once at work, I went straight in to the room the talks are held in. I was radiating heavy GO AWAY vibes and was glad that most people didn't say anything. One guy, an Italian, was not receiving, and came straight over to offer condolences. I was annoyed at the time, but his was the kindest expression of sympathy I got from anyone, then or later.

There were two other Americans there: our Texan secretary, and another guy who thinks that nationality is an artificial political construct which is an artifact of a more primitive blah blah blah... I didn't say much to him about it, for fear I'd have to punch him.

My Japanese officemate, K, asked me if my parents were OK. Then he said he'd heard that the attacks were "another Pearl Harbor". This seemed to disturb him, and he wanted to know why. Plugging in my diplomacy module, I told him it was because it was a well-excuted surprise attack which in all likelihood propel us into a war. I forbore to say: And it will mean someone will get a well-deserved ass-kicking. The Other Italian in the department, a very pro-American fellow, is not so diplomatic. He gave K the "terrible resolution" quote from Tora! Tora! Tora!. K still did not understand, so the Italian spelled it out for him: "You got nuked for it." This, apparently, came as an utter surprise to K.

That Day, Part III: Trampled by Angels

On Sunday, September 16, I went up to the US consulate, to be consoled. There was supposed to be some sort of memorial there, spontaneously placed. I'd never had reason to go there before, and wasn't sure where it was, just that it was in Martin Place. So I went there, and couldn't find it! On a winter Sunday evening, Martin place looked grim---dark old buildings on a cobblestone plaza, with some faded flags flapping in the breeze. After a while, feeling very foolish, I turned to find the bus for home.

When I first approached Martin Place, I had noticed a very tall building, bristling with antennae and dishes. "Ha ha!" I joked to myself, "That's probably our consulate." As you might guess, it was. Now as I approached it on my way home I saw a knot of people, which was surprising for a Sunday evening in Sydney, where things close down at 5pm. Then I realized I'd reached my goal.

The entrance to the building is up an escalator (which meant, I realized, it can be easily defended). To either side of the escalator is a steep slick bank of stone. On this bank were laid heaps of flowers, signs, balloons, and flags. Some were from Americans. (One of these said "Revenge is slow to come but it is worth waiting for.") Some were from Australians who had loved ones missing. Some were from people from neither country, like the group of Chileans expressing sorrow for "what happened to our big cousins". There was a sign reading:

Ever so strong
As One

I don't think Americans put that up.

I am one of the last people on earth to go gushy over "the children", but the signs from children were particularly affecting. Children do not deal in the circumspection and ambiguity adults feel necessary: "Dear America, We're sorry the buildings fell down."

After a while it looked as if there was going to be some sort of ceremony. A woman passed out candles and the words to "Give Peace a Chance". After a bit, a man, an Australian, began to say a few brief, appropriate words. Then the candle woman, an American or Canadian, got up and yakked on and on until I was ready to tell her to shut up. Finally she did, and then I was nearly trampled by angels.

Yes. Several people, some of them looking distinctly uncomfortable, showed up, wearing white robes and beautiful angels' wings, made of real feathers. They stood near the two speakers and led the crowd in peace songs. I did not join in, but figured there was no harm in it until we were asked to sing "God Bless America", except substitue "the world" for "America". I turned on my heel and left, only able to stomach so much peace.

That Day, Part IV:Midnight Aircraft Maintenance

The American flags stayed off people's shirts for weeks, maybe months. The flag in the menswear store came down. On 9/15 I saw a flag from the Daily Telegraph hanging in the window of a store that sold hip clothes for women with no hips (i.e., not me). It said, "Support New York", and I went in to thank the manager, who was nice. I may have blubbered a bit. The next day it was gone.

I began to wonder if some of this was a strange form of delicacy: the US was a fashion accessory before 9/11, but it would be wrong, now, to wear it as such. I remember the first time I noticed someone wearing his Russell Athletics USA shirt again, a young Asian man. I tried to catch his eye, but couldn't.

In Sydney I always slept listening to the TV. In the weeks after September 11 I would wake up and grab the headphones, to make sure I wasn't missing anything. Sometimes I would find myself listening to one of Rumsfeld's press conferences. Once I was tuned to the BBC and heard a man with an American accent discussing the maintenance history of an engine. Never wake in the middle of the night to listen to people discuss aircraft maintenance. It's never good news. In this case it was about the crash of American Airlines Flt 587, in Queens.

I wanted to come home. I never felt so isolated in Australia. I had plenty of news, but no schmooze---no one to talk with, cry, wonder, grieve, scheme, worry, speculate, plot and rant with. I briefly considered using September as an "excuse" to come home (which I'd been wanting desperately to do). But it occurred to me that it would be shameful even to let anyone think I had run home afraid. (Also, I didn't have a job at home, like I don't now.)

At first I read newspapers online obsessively, spending gobs of money to stay connected for about eight hours a day. Some Usenet groups were also a comfort. But I wasn't really satisfied until I discovered the Wonderful World of Blogs. More immediate and less structured than newspaper columns, less full of corrosive drivel than Usenet groups, they offered big, muscular comfort.

So thanks, bloggers.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

The Who Telescope?

"Uh Oh."

That's what Niles said this morning when he checked his mail and found this (for a while you can go to NASA's main site for a nicely done web page with a few pictures).

The point of Niles's outburst is that the telescope-formerly-known-as-the-NGST (Next Generation Space Telescope) is going to be known as the James Webb Space Telescope, after James E. Webb, NASA's second administrator, who led during the Apollo program and the first interplanetary explorations. The first space telescope, you'll remember, was named for Edwin Hubble. Hubble was chosen because of his research on the expansion of the universe; HST was built in part to see deeper into the Universe (as in fact it has).

So we have one telescope named for one of the discoverers of the secrets of the universe, and one named for a...bureaucrat. I don't know anything of Webb except what I read on the web page. I'm sure he provided wonderful leadership that was vital to the triumphs of that legendary era. He no doubt deserves to be honored in a hundred ways. I just don't think naming a satellite after him, especially the successor to the Hubble, should be one of them.

The NGST is an infrared telescope, and it would be fitting to name it after a pioneer of infrared astronomy. Unfortunately, most of them aren't dead yet, the field having really taken off only about 40 years ago. Here's a beautiful page about infrared astronomy. Check out the history section; it names few names, but among the ones it really singles out the only dead ones are Herschel and Langley. However, Herschel already has a space telescope being named for him (in addition to this telescope), and Langley has other things named for him.

Quoth Niles: "[Current NASA administrator] Sean O'Keefe's just doing that so that one day we'll send up a bucket of bits and call it the Sean O'Keefe Tachyon Telescope." I fear he's right.

Let's see if either of us ever get invited to sit on NASA committees now.

News Not Fit to Print

Matt Welch takes on the monopolist snobs against USA Today, which the snobs compare to Fox News. Matt says, of USA Today,

That terrific "News Across the USA" page (or whatever it's called), where each state gets a one-paragraph nugget of news, of which 27% turn out to be bizarre and hilarious (we used to read that to each other drunk in Prague, and we'd laugh and laugh).

In mid-August last year I was finally able to get cable in Sydney, and it came with Fox News (because the cable company, Foxtel, is partly owned by Fox). I deny Fox's claim that it is "fair and balanced" ("and unafraid" --- bleah) but, damn, it was good to see a blatant, unembarrassed pro-American sentiment.

But better was their "Fox Watch Across America", a minute or so of little news snippets from across the country: A ceremony at the White House, a protest in New York, a flood in Florida, a standoff in Ohio, a tornado in Oklahoma, a police chase in Los Angeles, and to cap it off, here's a shot of cute baby duckies following their mother across the street.

I don't know if it was just my imagination (and viewing habits---I was never home for the evening news broadcasts), or if it's the Australian media, or if it's really true, but Australia seems like a place where nothing happens. The newspapers confined themselves to sour analysis and accounts of domestic political backbiting, balanced by chirpy lifestyles segments, and sports. Actual non-governmental events got skimpy coverage. The TV news that I was able to watch gave out little lumps of event---very often only international events---coverage and then went straight to sports.

In fact, the only thing in Australia that seemed to rate zealous reporting and intense analysis was the internal machinations of the various political parties, and sports.

Of course, the US has fourteen times the population of Australia, so I suppose statistically speaking the amount of stuff Americans get up to in a day takes Australians two weeks to pull off.

I had missed having things happen. I remember thinking, early last September, that I was so glad to get these newscasts, and that whatever else you could say about the US, there was never a dull moment, there was always something happening.

And then it was the eleventh.

Monday, September 09, 2002

Norah Thorn...

Muahahahaha! Several bloggers expressed great pleasure that Norah Vincent, Real Journalist, now had a blog. I was not so sanguine, because I remember this article of hers in the LA Times. In this web incarnation (no, I don't know why the web page title is screwed up), it's titled "Intimidation is a Form of Censorship".

Yeeehaaaa! This is exactly what many idiots were saying without saying all this past year, and the Blogosphere ripped them up one side and down the other for it.

In this article, Vincent argues that there's no free speech if you can be fired for saying something unpopular. She apparently has the government confused with private employers, a confusion made manifest in this paragraph:

Yanking advertisements from network television shows should also be unconstitutional. This happened recently to Bill Maher, host of the late-night talk show "Politically Incorrect," after he said a few politically incorrect things about the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attack.

She goes on to say that if Bill Maher's conduct annoyed his sponsors, they could have just sent him a written statement. (It'll probably work on Saddam, too.) She (apparently seriously) suggests we pass a law forcing advertisers to continue to support shows, no matter what their personal corporate feelings as to the show's contents. At least, once they sign up for a show, they should be forced to pay for it for a certain amount of time.

Almost as mind boggling as her idea is the fact that some editor at the LA Times let it slip past. Wouldn't that mean the Times is forced to pay Norah, no matter what kind of crap she spouts? No wonder she's in favor.

Matt Welch had his own take.

But that was just one article, written ten months ago, possibly in a huff. I haven't heard anything really stupid from her, until this:

But, I must say that the so-called blogosphere, liberating as it can be, is-as I have had the misfortune of discovering in recent days-also full of nasty riffraff and wannabe pundits who because they haven't an earnest, original idea in their heads, fill their empty existences sniping impotently at legitimate targets. By legitimate targets I mean people who have actually had some measure of success in their professional lives, people who get published regularly in the mainstream press because, yes, they have a certain degree of talent, but moreso because they have something more to say on a weekly basis than "boo hoo" or "look ma, no hands."

Oh, my God! Have we been mocking Real Journalists? Shame! Shame on us! Why, Real Journalists got where they are by being smarter than a locomotive! They are Real Journalists because they are better writers than a speeding bullet! They are Real Journalists because they can check facts faster than a tall building! The very gods on Olympus have reached down and imbued the Real Journalists with their Journalism superpowers. You, you Maureen Dowd---you Cal Thomas---you over there, Ted Rall! You're a Real Journalist too! You all have been selected into the Order of the Sacred Notebook by virtue of your keen intellects and wise pens, and not at all because you lucked out or attracted some other idiot with pull or were marginally more talented than all the no-talent hacks who managed to stay sober through Journalism School.

I, too, have been guilty of the sin (wait? is it venal or mortal? must check) of criticizing a Real Journalist. I must shrive myself immediately.

Sadly, as one friend of mine put it recently, the internet is something of an "echo chamber," and this means that even the flimsiest vitriol gets posted and reposted, annotated and updated ad nauseam until the accumulated pettifogging becomes a kind of beslobbered palimpsest that looks and reads like a snot rag.

Weeelllll, doggies. That must be summa that thar fancy rightin' yew kin dew when yer a Real Journalist. Hot damn, I shore wish I could right like 'at.

(Actually, I think she wants Usenet. Through the bathroom at the end of the hall, Norah! Move the giant spiderweb out of the way and crawl behind the toilet. That's right, the dank stairway. Be sure and take a flashlight! And a gun.)

All of this has made me regret one of my earliest posts on this site in which I took a hatchet to Maureen Dowd. I was wrong to do so. It was a perfect example of the kind of parasitic, attention-getting crap I'm talking about. The truth is that I, like every other opinion journalist on the planet, would kill to have her spot on the NYT page. I envy her. I also find her snarky attitude irksome, but that, my friends, is my problem, not hers. Nobody is forcing me to read her.

Now this is rich. So it's OK for Dowd to have a snarky attitude and maybe even be unfair and wrong and not write worth a damn because she writes for the New! York! Times! But an equally snarky takedown of Dowd, involving not only her snotty attitude but her actual facts or reasoning is just childish, eh?

Maybe it suddenly occurred to Vincent that people might be reading her little blog, and that it might behoove her to stay on good terms with Dowd. I have no idea; I don't know how them thar Real Journalists act toward one another.

Besides, there's nothing more loathsome than someone who blames her own career shortcomings or dashed ambitions on the successes of someone else. There's also nothing more toad-like than someone who uses another person's fame to raise her own profile, or uses righteous indignation as an excuse to pass off pure small-minded bitchiness and cheap sarcasm as real critique. Maureen Dowd may be taking up space, but she's not keeping anyone else down.

Gosh, I'm sorry, Norah! I see you weren't talking about me. I could never blame my career shortcomings on Maureen Dowd or even Robert Fisk. That's because I'm not any kind of journalist. I'm small-mindedly bitchy and cheaply sarcastic for the sheer malicious hell of it.

She is keeping someone else down, assuming you think that somewhere there's a better, smarter writer who could fill that space. Me, I'm doubtful. More, if Maureen Dowd is influencing the opinions of voters and varous government officials, then she cheapens the national debate.

There are plenty of constructive criticisms to be made of Dowd's opinions, and I will, no doubt, make them here from time to time. But I am determined to do so civilly and with the respect due anyone who labors under the heavy burden of producing two columns a week for the newspaper of record.

Genuflect! Genuflect all! Two colums a week for the Newspaper...of...Record! (Man, this post would've been a lot easier if HTML had SmokeNFlames tags, or SparklyDiscoBallFX.)

Yep, sounds like someone may have pointed out that Vincent should be nicey-nice to the Big Dogs if she aspires to so much as Chew Toy status. Let's see you fetch, baby...that's roll over...good girl.

Back to the Big Place

The other day, Niles took me to another Big Place to look at things. This time we went to the Big K Place.

This is the first time I've seen Martha Stewart's line at K-Mart. I must say it's hard to reject the suspicion that household-furnishings slut Martha has promiscuously spread her brand name on any item that would have her. Unlike Target's Michael Graves line, Martha's line doesn't look like the non-designer stuff I've been accumulating all these years. In fact, it seems as if all you need to be Martha is color. A towel's just a towel, but if it's a yellow towel with little birdies or fishies on it, it's Martha.

I was, of course, eager to check out Martha's idea of a toilet brush, after my encounter with the Michael Graves toilet brush the other day. Here I was pleasantly surprised. While the container housing Martha's brush was not quite as elegant as Michael's, hers was eminently more practical. It did not have a "lid" attached to the brush; here the lid was integral to the "vase", which had a large egress in the back for the brush to slip through. Turn the hole to the front to use, and to the back to hide from yourself the fact that your toilet ever becomes unclean. (Sadly, I found no image of this). Hers also came in colors other than white. Advantage: Martha.

Here's a page talking about the democritization of design, as I try flailingly tried to do in my last post. It smacks a bit of pandering to the snoot set, however, when it says that K-Mart has never been accused of having good-looking wares. I admit it's never been famous for that, but I've bought stuff there that was every bit as good-looking as their Martha Stewart stuff. It just didn't have Martha's name on it. I believe what they've done is just slap Martha's name on anything that wasn't outright ugly.

The passion for design seems to have bitten my boyfriend. I come back from three long years in furrin parts to find that he's color-coordinated the bathroom. Before, he just bought things that he thought were pretty or interesting, and just slapped them together. Now the white bathroom has all dark blue accessories. I had to compliment him:

I find the chill Manichean dualism relaxing.
Er, ahhhh....?
I like it.

Though to be sure, if it were entirely up to me, I'd have this instead.

I wonder if I can get paid to review toilet brushes...

UPDATE: September 10. Assuming there is a gig reviewing toilet brushes out there, I'd like to let it be known that Wal-Mart's toilet brushes---which have no pretenses to design---are indeed less sleek and beautiful than either Martha Stewart's or Michael Graves's.

These Three Things I Know Are True

Earth still revolves around the sun.

Elvis is still dead.

Australian newspapers still suck.

That link is to Professor Bunyip's lecture on the stupidity that is Janet McCalman, who is head of the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne. McCallum pontificates on the unmitigated evil of the United States in Melbourne's The Age.

(Here is Part II of Bunyip's post-mortem. There's more there about general suckiness of Australian media. Scroll around.)

I don't want to dissect McCalman like a fetal pig--well, OK, I do, but I won't because Bruce Hill, and Tim Blair have turned her into sausage.

But I do want to address one part. After gloating that September 11 has finally taught Americans that they are thoroughly and justly hated throughout the entire world, she has mercy on a few:

Of course, many Americans are wiser than this and are appalled at the losses of civil rights, press freedom and open debate that the war on terror has licensed....

[Yeah, yeah]

But there are a lot of other good folks who don't read quality newspapers or watch public broadcasting or travel overseas unprotected by tourist buses. These are the folks enveloped in the bubble of American insularity. These are the folks who know almost nothing about the outside world and far too little about their own.

I just spent three years in McCalman's country, and the thing that I have learned, reading their "quality" newspapers and watching their public broadcasting and riding on their non-tour buses is this: there is no bottom to the ignorance of foreigners, where the US is concerned.

Now, you take your stereotypical American redneck, with his baseball cap and his overalls, or even his big ol' Stetson and Cadillac with the longhorns mounted on the front. He don't know shit about other countries. He thinks Australia is cowboys from end to end, like Texas with funny accents and kangaroos. Maybe he thinks the cowboys ride the kangaroos. But if you tell him that this isn't true, that there are cities and skyscrapers and the Internet, he won't be offended that you've destroyed his most cherished notions about Australia. Because he didn't, frankly, care much about Australia. (Though he will be real disappointed about the kangaroos; he's always thought it'd be fun to ride a kangaroo.)

But you take your average foreigner, of any persuasion. There is nothing he doesn't know about the US. He knows, for example, that New York is exactly like it is on Seinfeld, and that Los Angeles is nothing but Baywatch babes rollerblading among the Latino gangsters. He knows that American TV can be fully characterized by Seinfeld at one end of the quality spectrum and Baywatch at the other. He knows that every small Southern town has a town picnic right after church, capped off by lynching a couple of "nigras". He knows that when poor people get sick they are sold as scrap and made into McDonald's hamburgers.

He knows that the law conferring US citizenship to those born on American soil does not apply to the children of poor dark-skinned people [I was actually told this]. He knows that Tim McVeigh's only beef was the poor Iraqi babies killed by the US [and this].

I'd go on, but I've forgotten half the foolishness I've been told.

Now that I think of it, though, it isn't your average foreigner who believes this. Other than the Australians, I've not met a whole lot of average foreigners. I've met a lot of educated foreigners, and it is they who revel in the pig-ignorance I have described above. Your average Australian knows more about the US than the average American knows about Australia, to be sure. The average Aussie finds it hard to get away from the US, what with the TV shows and the music and the hyperpower and all. But, like average Americans, they're more concerned with raising the kids and paying the rent and keeping the truck running than with whether they have understood all the latest nuances of the Kashmir conflict.

But your educated foreigners---especially Europeans---know what they know, and you can't tell 'em any different. Many of them have been in the US, but they didn't see anything they couldn't have seen from home, they didn't learn anything they didn't already know before they left home. It's from the educated ones that I have heard the most fanciful accounts of life in the US. Right before they tell me how ignorant and close-minded we are.

Which makes one shudder when you learn that Janet McCalman has taught American history. She teaches health history, so let's hope her classes have been confined to the evil imperialistic ways in which the Americans have forced good sanitation and medicine on other countries, preventing them from dying in agonized squalor as good Mother Nature intended.