Friday, October 29, 2004

Close My Eyes, She's Somehow Closer Now

This upcoming weekend, I plan on writing what feels like my 90th post regarding the upcoming election. I hope to cover two items: [1] I plan on endorsing a presidential candidate (guess who?) and [2] I’m going to engage in a little armchair prognostication, discussing what the world will be like if Kerry is elected, and vice versa.

But for today, more light-hearted fare:

On a run last night, I was lucky enough to hear Ed Ward’s review of Brian Wilson’s 37-years-in-the-making album, SMiLE. (The review’s audio link is the bottom one on the linked HTML page)

Ed’s review is wonderful, and I’m happy that Wilson has finally completed this work. After the review, KQED played a great big chunk of Good Vibrations, the central track of SMiLE (of course, Good Vibrations was released in 1966, shortly after it was recorded; however, it was released as a single, not as a track in a larger album).

Running to Good Vibrations (iTunes link) felt, well… good. This song profoundly influenced rock music, challenging McCartney and Lennon to produce Sgt. Pepper and the White Album.

But a seminal place in rock history wasn’t why Good Vibrations soothed me. Good Vibrations does something else for me, something important. It manages to incorporate conflict, contradiction, and confusion into a central theme while retaining a hang-in-there inspirational quality.

For so many people, these days feel shifting and dangerous, important and decisive. Good Vibrations reminds me that uncertainty isn’t necessarily negative. Uncertainty can be neutral, even positive. When Wilson penned this song, the times – they were a-changin’. Same as now.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Triumph in a John Stewart mood

If you liked a fired-up John Stewart on Crossfire last week, you'll love Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog in the spinroom after the third presidential debate.

(Patience on the movie download. It takes a looooooong time.)

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Plausible Deniability is the New Black

Look good as you move humanity ever closer to Ragnarok. They are Banana Republicans.

The New, New Scarcity: Personal Wikipedia Entries

The web creates amusing scarcities of language.

During the e-heyday, the race to lease a short, business-worthy domain name resulted in companies with names that seemed like (a) random adjective/noun combinations or (b) little more than short strings of Latin characters. Bluedog. Beenz. For Pete's sake, someone even bothered to lease

Around the same time, a perceived scarcity of email handles appeared. Suddenly, we weren't just or, we were or With the semi-launch of Gmail this year, Yetties had another land-grab on their hands. Will you be, or the lesser

I know that this background information is old news, but here's the real deal: From a cultural zeitgeist perspective, Wikipedia 2004 is Google 1999. Wikipedia grows more popular and more useful everyday. With the growth of Wikipedia, a new type of online scarcity will appear.

You can learn a lot about famous people on Wikipedia, Grover Cleveland, for example.

You can also learn about Donald Hoffman, but he's not famous. Don plays trombone in Sinister Dexter, a band in which we are both members.

I defined Donald Hoffman about 30 minutes ago. I got dibs. Normal people are going to start getting Wikipedia entries, and you may wake up to find out that your name is defined as someone else.

Other Donald Hoffmans could appear on the scene, but Wikipedia already has a definition for Donald Hoffman. They'll have to be Donald L. Hoffman or Donnie Hoffman... that is, unless I define those, too.

Sure, people could change the definition of these words to resemble the life story of a different Donald Hoffman, but (a) that would take a lot of damn gall and (b) I think the primacy of my posting on the topic would tip the revert-war balance my way in the eyes of the Wikipedia masters.

Even people with unique or multi-cultural names, like, say, Garth Patil are not safe from other Garth Patils preempting the moniker's definition. Generally speaking, however, the degree to which your name resembles the names of other internet users will correlate closely to the time it takes for its definition to get swooped up.

Go get defined.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Jon Stewart Hacks Crossfire

This weekend, set aside 10 minutes and read the transcript from today's Crossfire program. You don't need to really start reading until the guest for the evening, Jon Stewart, joins the program.

Stewart's appearance was supposed to be simply a book talk, a tour stop to pitch The Daily Show's new book. Instead, Stewart took the opportunity to browbeat the Crossfire hosts and critic the negative role that partisan media plays in today's political climate.

It takes a lot of gall to say the things that Stewart said, and a world of smarts to say them at the breakneck pace that they came out. Way to go, Jon.

Watching Bush Supporters Turn On One Of Their Own

To the extent that words like Conservative or Liberal retain any meaning in American society, Andrew Sullivan has long been one of the most well-known Conservative bloggers (on par with InstaPundit).

Andrew Sullivan also happens to be gay. He took no offense at Kerry's comment during the final Presidential debate -- the somewhat strange shout-out to Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter. You know, the one that made Mrs. Cheney go insane.

How are Sullivan's readers greeting his candor on the topic? With anger, apparently.

He doesn't have commenting on his blog, so you'll have to speculate on what people are emailing him.

His defensiveness since the final debate speaks volumes about the attacks he must be enduring from the Far Right.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Google Desktop Search

If you're a Windows user who uses Microsoft Office programs, consider trying out Google's new Desktop Search. As you'd expect from the name, it searches through all the text in your local files, displaying results in a Googlish way.

Holy cow. I've been playing with it for about an hour, and it appears to be way more useful than the standard document search that comes with Windows.

Here's what the Slashdot crowd is saying about it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Icelandic Birds Do It, Vietnamese Bees Do It...

Cole Porter may have known that all kinds of creatures fall in love, but he never conducted a comprehensive survey on global attitudes about sex.

Each year, condom manufacturer Durex surveys people the world over, asking a wide range of questions about bedroom behavior. This year they made 350,000 people blush with questions ranging from sexual concerns to who should teach sex education to who has the most sex (Yes, it's the French).

A host of fascinating statistics emerge from the survey, most of which are far too ribald for a family blog.

One stat that (sadly) caught my eye: More than one in 10 Indians (11%) surveyed had not heard of the common STDs mentioned in the "sexual concerns" portion of the survey. That's almost three times the global average (4%).

An Intersection Too Far

I think I may have a double standard when it comes to fuzz-busting car technology.

Unlike the Canadian police, I don't automatically think that the people who buy radar detectors are wanton law breakers.

American society has a touch-and-go relationship with speed limits. Whether it's on a 25 miles-per-hour residential avenue or the 65 miles-per-hour freeway, many otherwise law-abiding citizens find themselves speeding. Although the section of the populace that buys radar detectors may more aggressively speed, I still consider their sale appropriate.

On the other hand, I consider people who buy PhotoBlocker to be wanton law breakers.

People who decide to run red lights are in a completely different category than casual or accidental speeders. You don't buy this product unless you're planning on running red lights. I'm surprised that marketing something like this is legal.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Here's to Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida, one of the most influential philosophers of our time, died on Friday at 74.

Highlighting the messianic and religious tones of professional philosophy, The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (a book that rarely left my side during my undergraduate and masters degrees in Religious Studies) refuses to grant a personal entry for any philosopher who is still living. I guess now it's time for Jacques' entry, and for his intellectual history to join a history of ideas that he profoundly influenced.

My favorite philosopher, Richard Rorty, once said, "Of all the philosophers of our time (Derrida) has been the most effective at doing what Socrates hoped philosophers would do: breaking the crust of convention, questioning assumptions never before doubted, raising issues never before discussed."

Here's to you, Jacques.

Who's the Black Sheep?

Larry Lessig points out a video remix of the first Presidential debate which will delight Kerry supporters.

p/s For you music fans out there, the audio is Black Sheep's "The Choice is Yours" (iTunes link)

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Frankly, My Dear, You're a Distraction From Our Work in Afghanistan

We need to work on President Bush's pronunciation.

When he says terrorists, I hear a marriage of tourists and terse.

Also, it's clear that the last 3+ years have constituted a War on Tara.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Good Grades For Incomplete Work

Add Grade Inflator to the list of names you could call Robert Novak.

Novak (to me, he'll always be White House Waterboy Extraordanaire) is convinced that Bush won tonight's debate, giving Bush's performance a A-/B+ average (B on content, A on delivery). Although he provided no online commentary after the first debate, Novak claims that Bush seemed a "ninny" back in Florida... a debate in which Novak gave Bush a B/B- (B on Content, B- on Delivery).

As you can see, in Novak's world the line between winner and ninny is a fairly narrow one; however, what I find odd is that Bush's ninny grade is still higher than his Yale GPA.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Wal-Mart: Its Own Private Bentonville

Congratulations, Wal-Mart.

In your relentless quest to homogenize the earth, you've just won permission from the Mexican government to build a discount store less than one mile away from the ancient and awe-inspiring pyramids of Teotihuacan. From the sound of it, most locals didn't like the idea, but those locals lost.

Sometimes I wonder why Wal-Mart insists on expanding into areas where they meet a lot of local resistance. Are they simply oblivious to the concept that a megastore might negatively impact a certain community?

I wonder this, then I search for "bentonville arkansas," the rural Arkansas town that is (quite incredibly) Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters. Wal-Mart is a very centralized organization. Big decisions, like deciding to build a discount store near ancient pyramids or to get Wal-Mart involved in local LA politics in an effort to build a superstore, are made in Bentonville.

Having grown up in rural America, I'm hesitant to culturally character-assassinate a place simply by virtue of it being located in a rural area, but look at Bentonville. Look again. Roughly 20,000 souls live in Bentonville.

Wanna visit Bentonville? Here are the closest major cities:
Little Rock, Arkansas is 214 miles away.
Kansas City, Missouri is 213 miles away.
Tulsa, Oklahoma is close. It's only 115 miles away.

I haven't visited Bentonville, but my experience is that the size of a community in the United States is a significant factor in determining the level of cultural diversity in that community. The other factor is distance from a major metropolitan area. People that live and work in small communities near big US cities encounter cultural diversity on a level akin to those who live and work in the city proper. On both these metrics, Bentonville looks quite rural.

My experience is that cultural diversity is the best teacher of cultural sensitivity. Here's what I'm wondering: If Wal-Mart's headquarters were located in a larger or more cosmopolitan community, would the organization itself be more culturally sensitive?

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Sometimes Dick Cheney Lies When the Truth Will Do

In his comedy act, Steve Harvey famously (and hilariously) noted a distinct quality of all men:

Every man in here... (long pause)


Lie, lie, lie, lie, lie!

OH GOD, we love to lie!

We will lie when the truth will do!

...we'll tell a lie anyway.
Our sitting Vice President is generally a master of the untruth, lying convincingly about matters of state both large and small.

Sometimes, however, Mr. Cheney is just off his game -- as when he told the all-but-pointless lie last night about never having met Senator Edwards. It turns out he's met Edwards on several occasions. (Of course, maybe Cheney's standard of "meeting" someone is just very high... I dunno, maybe it's like "knowing" someone in the Bible.)

It's a sad fact concerning this administration that a large portion of the populace just expects that they're lying when they talk. Jon Stewart knows this. Watch him catch the Vice President with his pants on fire (Quicktime link). (via mmeiser)

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Faster, Cheaper, Built Ford Tough

Garth was on hand to take pictures of SpaceShipOne for Wired Magazine. That's super-duper cool.

I'd just like to point out that Burt Rutan's equivalent of the giant shuttle transport pad appears to be a Ford F-150 with a topper. This is one transport platform that I'm willing to bet somebody sleeps in.

Hey, hey. Ho, ho. We coeds want these dudes to go.

I've been on a name-calling kick since last Wednesday. Can't get our little social characterizations out of my mind.

A couple questions:

  • Isn't it astonishing that it is still appropriate (in many circles) to refer to a collegiate woman as a coed? Of all the epithets born in the last century, that's on the short list of those I'm surprised to see in use. It seems to be a newspaper word, one you're more likely to see in print than hear casually spoken.

  • Does anybody else out there think that the term dude has suddenly been stripped of its exclusively masculine charater? A woman who is one of my wife's best friends uses this term as a universal descriptor: Men are dudes. Women are dudes. I'm not sure, but I think pets might be dudes, too. Is this becoming the norm?