Friday, December 31, 2004


I finally finished reading The System of the World (Volume 3 of the Baroque Cycle) by Neal Stephenson, and I have to say that it was an amazing series to read. It's not a trilogy (per Mr. Stephenson, although he's resigned himself to people calling it that anyway), but rather 8 books published in 3 volumes. Neal Stephenson has an incredible gift for blending historical fact with his own fiction, and interweaving the two until not only is the majority of his story possible, you begin to think that it is quite plausable...almost a rewrite of history. The first two volumes Quicksilver & The Confusion provide the setup of the story, and introduce a multitude of characters in early America, and across England, France, Germany and Russia. The tales of each character twist and turn and interweave with the other characters, as they cross paths again and again. The System of the World brings the story to a climax (and then its anti-climax, rather than conclusion), and all of the characters come together in one way or another to a final resolution.
Neal Stephenson first (as far as I know) started using this writing style in Cryptonomicon, where he blended fictional characters into modern times as well as events surrounding World War II, codebreaking, and lost Nazi gold. The Baroque Cycle utilizes the ancestors of characters introduced in Cryptonomicon, as well as utilizing some of the same fictional places as well.
All in all, the Baroque Cycle was an excellent read.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

I Love Rainy Days...

when they occur in the summer...where they belong. Today my frozen wasteland became (temporarily) a very icy it is a soggy (and thawing) wasteland. Anyone who missed the concept of global warming in school, on the news, etc...need only take a look at the weather here in Wisconsin over the past was, and I'm not kidding about this, 60 degrees colder a week ago. Today it is 42 degrees, and last week it was -18 degrees. That's just not right. Don't get me wrong, I like the fact that we're in a tropical heatwave, I really do. But I prefer warm weather to occur in long stretches, not just a day or two at a mother nature teasing and taunting us. This recent spate of weather brings to mind a favorite passage from Lewis Black's The White Album:
"And then, the weather is completely nonsense.'s never.... You don't even have a proper fall coat, nothing you wear is right. You wake up, it's sunny out, you put a coat on, you go out, sweat like a pig, you take it off, then it's's bullshit. Sun's out, you're sweating, but there's a breeze, so you're freezing.... It's not weather, it's malaria!

Weather's 90, then it's 30, it's 80, it's 20, and my balls can't take it. Big, and then small, big, small, big.... Now I can't have kids, 'cuz my sperm is gagging. Weather in this country's completely nuts, and nobody gives a shit."

UPDATE: Rain has stopped, which is good...but rain + snow + no wind + 40 degree weather = FOG...I'd take a picture out the window, but between the snow and the fog, it would be completely and totally white. Not sure if Seattle or London would be the better comparison, since I've never been to either...but its foggy...really.

Earth to Dino Rossi...come in Dino...

This is very simple...but let me explain anyway. The person with the most votes wins. The people of Washington State voted. The people of Washington State counted their votes (twice by machine, with a known error rate of between 1% & 2%) and then by hand (much lower error rate...hopefully like zero based on the chosen counting method). The result...Dino Rossi's 40 vote (machine counted) lead evaporated, and now he's a sore loser wanting a revote. The Seattle Times (via Daily Kos) reports:

The night before Washington's secretary of state was scheduled to certify Democrat Christine Gregoire as the governor-elect, her Republican rival Dino Rossi called for a complete re-do of the longest, closest governor's race in state history.

"The uncertainty surrounding this election process isn't just bad for you and me -- it is bad for the entire state. People need to know for sure that the next governor actually won the election," Rossi said Wednesday evening, reading from a letter he sent to Gregoire.

Gregoire's spokesman Morton Brilliant said she would not be joining Rossi's call. "It's irresponsible to spend $4 million in taxpayer money on a new election just because you don't' like losing this one," Brilliant said.

Sounds a little like the kid back in elementary school threatening to take his football and go home unless he got to do a play over. Dino, suck it one likes a sore loser.

In lighter news...

The power of eBay to track what Americans desire (or want to get rid of) can never be underestimated as their top search terms of 2004 have been announced. The trends for the year seem to be electronics, recreational vehicles and anything pink. (Hmmm...wonder if anyone went searching for pink RVs with satellite television and GPS?) From (via USA Today):

If you think of eBay as a mirror of our times, then the year 2004 was one in which consumers displayed their love for gas-guzzling cars, high-tech gizmos, everything "pink" and plenty of "weird" stuff.
Why use the eBay (Research) indicator? Because more than 125 million people use the Web site and $1,060 worth of products flow through it every second, the paper said.
But perhaps the most disconcerting conclusion drawn from eBay's statistics, the report said, was that people appear to be getting weirder.

For example, in 2003, the oddest item sold on eBay was a tissue used by Paul McCartney. In 2004, there was a plethora of strange and often bizarre items on both the seller and the buyer side.

Among them, a 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich marked by scorches that seem to look like the Virgin Mary, or someone who listed her father's cane along with her father's ghost, the paper said.


Well...the death toll took another staggering leap and is now over 120,000 and most sources on the ground are saying the final toll won't be known for weeks to come. Other than pandemics, this event seems to be heading towards the worst in terms of lives lost...ever.
Millions of people on Indian Ocean shores scrambled for food and clean water as disease, thirst, hunger and panic threatened survivors of the world's most lethal natural disaster since a cyclone in Bangladesh killed 138,000 people in 1991.

Beyond the loss of life, an estimated 5 million people have been left without basic necessities (food, clean water, shelter, basic medical care). Relief efforts are well underway, but once again, U.S. leadership seems to be a day late and a dollar short, and other than CNN (via Reuters), the U.S. media is still basically ignoring the landmines story in Sri Lanka.
Nestled near a border dividing the north between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels, the area around the small fishing village of Point Pedro -- devasted by giant tsunami waves on Sunday -- is now littered with plastic landmines uprooted by floodwaters.

"There are land mines spread all over. Many of them have moved, hundreds are floating," said Sinnathurai Kathiravelpillai, a district medical officer working near Point Pedro.

Mine disposal units estimate there are around one million mines scattered mostly around northern Sri Lanka, a legacy of a bloody two-decade civil war that killed 64,000 people until a ceasefire three years ago.

For the first 2 days after the disaster, the only major public figure from the U.S. to be seen speaking, offering condolences, or just indicating that we care at all about the rest of the world was Bill Clinton (from the Washington Post, via Daily Kos).
In Britain, the predominant U.S. voice speaking about the disaster was not Bush but former president Bill Clinton, who in an interview with the BBC said the suffering was like something in a "horror movie," and urged a coordinated international response.
Some foreign policy specialists said Bush's actions and words both communicated a lack of urgency about an event that will loom as large in the collective memories of several countries as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks do in the United States. "When that many human beings die -- at the hands of terrorists or nature -- you've got to show that this matters to you, that you care," said Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.

There was an international outpouring of support after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and even some administration officials familiar with relief efforts said they were surprised that Bush had not appeared personally to comment on the tsunami tragedy. "It's kind of freaky," a senior career official said.
Gelb said what appears to be a grudging increase in effort sends the wrong message, at a time when dollar totals matter less than a clear statement about U.S. intentions. Noting that the disaster occurred at a time when large numbers of people in many nations -- especially Muslim ones such as Indonesia -- object to U.S. policies in Iraq, he said Bush was missing an opportunity to demonstrate American benevolence.

"People do watch and see what we do," he said. "Here's an opportunity to remind people of the good we do, and he [Bush] can do it without changing his policy on Iraq or terrorism."
Among the world's two dozen wealthiest countries, the United States often is among the lowest in donors per capita for official development assistance worldwide, even though the totals are larger. According to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development of 30 wealthy nations, the United States gives the least -- at 0.14 percent of its gross national product, compared with Norway, which gives the most at 0.92 percent.

President Bush has once again hidden himself away at his ranch for yet another vacation, where apparently brush clearing (how much brush is there to clear, really...he's gonna have that ranch clearcut by the time he's done) and bicycling take priority over...hmmm...being the leader of the free world. (Wish I could take time off like he does)

Juan Cole (Professor of History at U.Mich) (also via Daily Kos) notes on his blog:
As John F. Harris and Robin Wright of the Washington Post cannily note, US President George W. Bush has missed an important opportunity to reach out to the Muslims of Indonesia. The Bush administration at first pledged a paltry $15 million, a mysteriously chintzy response to what was obviously an enormous calamity. Bush himself remained on vacation, and now has reluctantly agreed to a meeting of the National Security Council by video conference. If Bush were a statesman, he would have flown to Jakarta and announced his solidarity with the Muslims of Indonesia (which has suffered at least 40,000 dead and rising).

Indeed, the worst-hit area of Indonesia is Aceh, the center of a Muslim separatist movement, and a gesture to Aceh from the US at this moment might have meant a lot in US-Muslim public relations. Bin Laden and Zawahiri sniffed around Aceh in hopes of recruiting operatives there, being experts in fishing in troubled waters. Doesn't the US want to outflank al-Qaeda? As it is, the president of the United States is invisible and on vacation (unlike several European heads of state), and could think of nothing better to do than announce a paltry pledge. As Harris and Wright rightly say, the rest of the world treated the US much better than this after September 11.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Lennie, you will be missed

Jerry Orbach (better known to most of us as Lennie Briscoe of Law & Order) died last night of prostate cancer. I guess I'm a bit late posting on this, as the story has been making the round of the blogs already, like here & here. What inspired me to this post is that NBC dedicated tonight's rerun of Law & Order to his memory, and, whether planned or not, aired an episode in which he starred. USA Today has an excellent story about him, and include some excellent details about his life and career before Law & Order:
So convincing was Orbach as Briscoe that it surprises some viewers to hear he was once one of the most sought-after leading men of American musical theater.

He made his mark with his first major role, introducing the song Try to Remember in the off-Broadway smash The Fantasticks. He scored his biggest personal triumph in Promises, Promises, for which he won his only Tony Award.

Orbach had another signature role in Chicago, as the slick lawyer Billy Flynn. His last great Broadway success was in 42nd Street, urging a theater neophyte to listen to the Lullaby of Broadway.

Other notable credits include The Threepenny Opera, Carnival! and a 1960s revival of Guys and Dolls.

Orbach appeared in numerous films, including Dirty Dancing and Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors. He was the voice of Lumière the candlestick in Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

Born Jerome Bernard Orbach, he was the only child of a vaudeville actor and radio singer.

Tsunami continued...

Not much to update since my last post other than the death toll (now over 60,000 and still rising), but apparently the US media is still ignoring the risk these landmines pose. The Independent (UK) is reporting that UNICEF has apparently stepped in to educate residents of Sri Lanka of the potential dangers of (and how to identify) displaced landmines:

Children are among the worst affected victims of the tsunami, the aid agencies said. Up to one third of the estimated 10,200 dead in Sri Lanka are thought to be children, according to Unicef. A spokeswoman for Unicef said: "Most of the people who live along the affected coastal areas are families, and their children live and play and help their parents on the beaches in the area. An added problem is that the disaster has displaced many landmines, so we are starting immediate awareness campaigns in an effort to prevent further deaths and injuries from them."

Albeit rather tongue-in-cheek, Jeremy Blachman (aka "Anonymous Lawyer") has a the "op-ed piece we're not going to see this week".

If there's one lesson to be learned from the tragedy in Southeast Asia this past weekend, it's that the people in Florida are wimps. At least 25,000 dead from the disaster, as opposed to what in Florida? Maybe 100? And yet all we saw on the news this fall was Florida this, Florida that. "Oooh, it's craaazy down in Florida. We've got floods and, oooh, my car is underwater, and, oooh, my house just fell apart, and, oooh, everything I own in the world is floating away and so is my baby daughter." Give it a rest, Florida. You were just looking for sympathy. Well, you're not gonna get it from me. Take your $42 billion in property damage and go cry to someone else. Letting a hurricane upset you. Weak. Weak, Florida. First you screw up an election, and then you complain about a little rain. Newsflash: it isn't all about you. And that's the big lesson from this week's events: Florida, we just don't care anymore.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


There really is nothing like Jimmy Buffett music to help pass a work day when the world outside is covered in about 8 inches of snow. Currently on the iPod is Jimmy's Meet Me In Margaritaville, which is really helping the snow seem farther away. What inspired this post?

We Are The People Our Parents Warned Us About
By: Jimmy Buffett

I was supposed to have been a jesuit priest or a naval academy grad
That was the way that my parents perceived me
Those were the plans that they had
But I couldn’t fit the part too dumb or too smart
Ain’t it funny how we all turned out
I guess we are the people our parents warned us about

You know I coulda worked the rigs when the money was big
Or hopped a freighter south to Trinidad
And when they tried to draft me I earned a college degree
Buyin’ time ’til things were not so bad
But then I got a guitar found a job in a bar
Playin’ acid rock ’til I was numb
Tell me where are the flashbacks they all warned us would come

We are the people, they couldn’t figure out
We are the people our parents warned us about

Hey hey, Gardner McKay
Take us on the Leaky Tiki with you
Clear skies bound for Shanghai
Sailing cross the ocean blue
So blue

Now I got quarters in my loafers tryin’ to fight inflation
When it only used to take a cent
Sometimes I wish I was back in my crashpad days
’fore I knew what cash flow meant

Seems everybody’s joggin’ or heavy into health shit
Don’t tell me that I ought to get rolfed
’cause I love cajun martinis and playin’ afternoon golf

We are the people there isn’t any doubt
We are the people they still can’t figure out
We are the people who love to sing twist and shout
Shake it up baby

We are the people our parents warned us about
Id’n’ any doubt
Hey hey hey
Gardner McKay

I wanna sail away today
Isn’t any doubt
They warned us about
Hey hey hey
C’mon now Gardner McKay
I wanna sail away today


I was just going to update my previous post titled "Perspective", but I think a tragedy of this scale warrants as many posts here and elsewhere as necessary. The loss of life is catastrophic. The death toll has risen above 40,000 44,000 55,000 and is estimated to keep climbing well past 60,000 sharply as more remote places are finally reached. The ultimate toll may never be known, but the greater tragedy may still be to come as lack of proper medical care, basic sanitation, clean water, and a means to handle the volume of the dead (both human and animal) starts to spread diseases. This disaster may yet be declared the worst in modern has already been declared the most costly.

Ann Althouse posts eloquently on this subject (as she so frequently does in her blog) as she discusses today's New York Times coverage.

Beyond the loss of life, we must not forget that millions (perhaps even tens of millions) more across the devastated region are without a home. The fortunate have found shelter, but looting has already begun as people begin to starve.

Sri Lanka faces even graver dangers as a result of the tsunami. Thirty years of civil war has left the country filled with landmines and minefields, which the flooding brought by the tsunami has made even more hazardous than before. The Hindustan Times reports:
Landmines left from years of civil war will likely endanger survivors and rescuers after a devastating tsunami hit Sri Lanka and other Asian states, UNICEF said.

"Mines were floated by the floods and washed out of known mine fields, so now we don't know where they are, and the warning signs on mined areas have been swept away or destroyed," UNICEF's Ted Chaiban said in a statement released at UN headquarters in New York.

"The greatest danger to civilians will come, when they begin to return to their homes, not knowing where the mines are," Chaiban added.

In the time I took writing this post, the death toll rose 11,000 from online sources.

Monday, December 27, 2004

I'm Dreaming of a...

Well...not these Christmas decorations. I'm sure any dream involving this many plastic lawn creatures celebrating Chrismas would have to be a fact, until I drove past this collection, I would have assumed it was a nightmare. Regrettably, this picture only captures half of the collection at this nearby house.

I Hate My Cable Company I don't really hate the "will remain nameless" cable company which provides me television and high speed internet...but I do have to award them the "Worse Customer Service Than a Bank" award for 2004. Let's start with what industry a cable tv company is in: service provider. A "Service Provider" is in the business of being available to their customers to whom they provide goods or services, usually when the customer isn't at work. So, therein lies my reasoning for this award. Last Friday (Dec. 24th), a day in which I, the customer, didn't have to work decided to return my digital cable box, since the only thing I used it for was the menu grid, and I stopped using it for that once I got my ReplayTV. Well, that and I liked the idea of saving $25 a month on my bill...but I digress. So, I figured that the cable company's local office would be open at least until noon on the 24th. I figured wrong on that one. Not only were they closed on the 24th, but they are also going to be closed on the 31st (the other day that I have off), and their office hours are from 8 to 5, changing to 9 to 5 as of January 3...not very convenient to serving (or, as George Carlin might say, "servicing") the customer.

So, leaving rather irritated by this, I decided to head to my bank...the place that should be closed all day on the 24th. They, on the other hand, were open until noon.
Final Score:
Bank: 1
Cable Co.: 0

Perspective according to the news two major events happened yesterday...and if I rank them by the amount of press coverage I've witnessed regarding each of them, here's their order of importance.
1) Reggie White died
2) 9.0 magnitude earthquake & resultant tsunami kills upwards of 23,700 people

Why, might you ask, do I post on such a matter? Well, as the title indicates...perspective. The death of one great individual vs. the death of countless thousands "third-world" residents. Out of deference to the sheer volume of lives lost, I'd hope that the media would realize that the earthquake and tsunami represent a more important story, but not around here. Maybe its simply the fact I'm deep in the heart of Packer country, and Reggie White was the turning point to the futures of the franchise when he arrived in 1993. Also, I will not dispute that he was a great man and leader on and off the field of play...blah blah blah...but come on...must we lead every newscast with the death of one, when what is described as "the worst natural disaster in recent history" by UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland strikes killing over 21,000 (and the count keeps rising)?

UPDATE: Death toll keeps rising and earthquake magnitude raised to 9.0 from the earlier 8.9

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Why, Oh Why?

As if the regular "Pepto-Bismol" gastrointestinal discomfort dance commercials weren't bad enough, their "creative geniuses" have decided that since people love Christmas elves, they should make a commerical with a group of elves doing the gastointestinal discomfort dance...but really...did anyone out there actually want to see this commercial?

Quite Possibly the Definition of Bat-Sh*t Crazy

So, last week Thursday (Dec. 23rd) while I was at work, I headed out to find some lunch, and walked past what could quite possibly be the definition of 'bat-shit crazy'. Considering that it is Christmas time, the local shopping mall decided to have a jazz combo performing during lunch time. Now, I realize that there is absolutely nothing crazy about that...until you factor in where the mall had them set up. They were not inside the mall...they were outside the front entrance. Why, might you ask, was this so crazy...well, when I got back to the office (after walking past this combo, including a trumpet and a trombone player) I checked the was 4 degrees above zero (that's about 16 below for those that prefer Celsius). As we all learned from A Christmas Story , touching any part of your mouth to anything metal while outside in freezing temperatures is a really really bad idea. But yet, here they were...playing brass instruments. I only wish I had had my digital camera with me.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas

Okay. This is merely a test post to see if I've got this thing working. I'm sure I'll be back with much more in the near future, but hey, we've all got to start somewhere.