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Saturday, May 4, 2002

Scenes From a Restaurant

Wife: "Have you noticed that there are a lot of fat people here tonight?"

Me: "We're at a buffet. In Kansas. And it's steak night."


Me: (as I come back to the table) "Some really big fat guy just cut in front of me."

Wife: "You'll have to be more specific if you want me to get a look at him."

Me: "He got two big pieces of steak, and two sausages. He'll probably keel over before he's done with dinner."

Wife: "I'd say that's true of several people in here."

Me: "That's what I'm hoping. There's only a few pieces of cherry pie left."

(Still later. Note: my son is recently potty-trained, but still finds #2, if you will, to be distinctly unpleasant)

Me: "Do you need to go potty?"

Son: (as he stuffs macaroni into his mouth): "No."

Me: "You're tugging at your pants like you need to go potty. Do you need to go potty?"

Son: "Nope."

Me: "You know, you have to go poo-poo sooner or later."

Son: "Later."

(Still later. A woman stops about two feet from where I sit, looking in my direction)

Woman: "Hey, good-looking!"

Me: "Huh?"

Woman: "Oh, not you, him." (She points to some guy sitting near me.)

(I resume eating my black-eyed peas, in bitter silence)

Wife: "Hey, good-looking."

Me: "Thank you."

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Friday, May 3, 2002

The Meetings Fix

From today's Washington Post:

"The Bush administration has begun planning for an international peace conference on the Middle East early this summer to accelerate negotiations over a final political settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians..."

International peace conference. Who would we invite? The sneering Europeans, who still think of Arafat as some sort of aging rock star? The Arab dictatorships, who collectively have refused to condemn Palestinian suicide bombings? Perhaps the Chinese, who tsk-tsked American imperialism as the root cause of the 9/11 attacks, or our friends the Russians, who have supplanted the Germans as chief armory for Iran's nuclear weapons program.

The surest way to ensure a lack of peace is to make it the focus of an international conference, or a stinking conference, for that matter. But that's not what cheeses me most about this story. Check out this language: "a final political settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians..."

News flash: if there ever is a final settlement, it won't be political. Either Muslim brutes in the surrounding monarchies will muster the courage to set about what they make no secret of desiring, which is to cut the throat of every Jew in Israel, or Israelis will resort with one mind to the ruthlessness required to cripple their mortal enemies. And after the blood has soaked into the ground -- no matter whose blood it is -- the politicians will swoop in, with their grand pronouncements and self-serving speeches, and announce "Peace at last."

I suspect most of the people behind the perpetual international hand-wringing over Israel know this. The purpose of such a meeting isn't to bring peace to the Israelis and Palestinians, it is two-fold: to bring peace to the consciousness of Westerners who want not to feel bad about desiring their own selfish peace with oil-rich thugs; and to provide legitimacy to the cancerous hatred that has permeated nearly every corner of those regimes. Contrast the latter reality with this observation of a Bush Administration official:

"A Palestinian state must be based on the principles that are critical to freedom and prosperity: democracy and open markets, the rule of law, transparent and accountable administration, and respect for individual liberties and civil society."

The problem is that such a state would no longer be Palestinian, or even fundamentally Muslim, for that matter. How are we going to politic and conference our way to that?

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Thursday, May 2, 2002

Be Careful Where You Look

Ananova reports that the U.S. National Research Council, acting on a fear of extraterrestrial contamination, is urging NASA not to search for life when it eventually sends men to Mars. I can imagine the discussion inside the future Mars landing craft now:

Joe: "Here we are, the first humans on Mars. Isn't it incredible?"

Sue: "Yeah, it's ... hey, is that a little man over there?"

Joe: (nervously) "Heh heh, of course not Sue. Come help me with this map."

Sue: "No, I'm serious, that's a little man! He's waving at us."

Joe: "There's no man out there. Get away from that window."

Sue: "He's cute. (waving) Hi, sweetie!"

Joe: "Cut that out, and that's an order! You do not see a little man. Even if you see a little man, you do not see a little man. Catch my drift?"

Sue: "Look, we weren't supposed to look for life, and we didn't, okay? He found us (waves again)."

Joe: "You are so going to be in trouble when we get back."

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Emily for Princess

Emily Jones notes that Londoners have been warned not to appear too capitalistic on May Day, lest they fall prey to roving bands of "frothing-at-the-mouth protesters with nothing better to do than irritate the responsible population by attending the annual May Day rally." She then provides the warning that would appear in papers today if she were Princess.

This site would be worth visiting even if it only contained the admonition at the top: "Give War A Chance." Check it out.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Computer Vandals: The Case for Execution

I'm learning more than I want to know about how to resurrect a computer after it's been assaulted by a virus. There are patches to be downloaded, reboot disks to be prayed over and gingerly inserted, triage decisions to be made about which wounded files will be saved, which abandoned to their fate. The particular virus on my computer is a strain of Klez (Broomeman can point you to some helpful links for fixing this), which apparently will attempt to overwrite all of my files with zeros in the next few days if I don't get it removed.

Dealing with this has naturally led me to think about what kind of people deliberately create these things. There are number of explanations, and I suppose they have some validity: crackers (if this term is unfamiliar, see the note at the bottom of this post) are creative, rebellious types who seek the challenge of developing code that can overcome intricate electronic defenses; some are keyboard thrillseekers who enjoy seeing their pets gain international notoriety. The image emerges of brooding, intelligent wizards, brimming over with endearing personality quirks and limitless passion for their work.

But then I think about their victims. People who will lose email from love ones who have since passed away. Or perhaps a poem they wrote for their children. Or a love letter. Or a novel they've been working on for years, in the brief spaces between raising their children and working and supporting their church and living meaningful lives. Sure, computers are used to store reams of mundane junk, but they are also the place where millions of us store our most intimate possessions -- our thoughts, the creations of our minds. And all the while, these pale, asexual freaks are toiling away at their computers, rubbing their cold spindly hands together like Gollum, developing programs to destroy what we create.

Yes, we should all have up-to-date virus protection. And women shouldn't walk alone at night. And small children shouldn't be left to themselves in public places. It should be clearer than perhaps we've made it, the sort of company a cracker keeps.

These techno-thugs even have their own conventions, where they converge to share stories of creation destroyed, and delude themselves about their own creativity. They aren't any more creative than the vandal who figures out how to break into a house with an alarm system. Yes, this takes skill, and knowledge. So do many things that at their core are destructive and hateful. And for all their self-obsession about their creativity, the truth is that whenever one of these nits succumbs to illness or injury, the world becomes a better place. What a terrible thing to have true of oneself.

Note: Someone much more knowledgeable about this sort of thing pointed out that the Hacker community consists of people like the inventor of Linux, i.e., entrepreneurs who push the boundaries of programming and creativity in ways that make people better off. Crackers, on the other hand, are the less intelligent, despicable alter egos of these good people. Journalists, and people like me who have little understanding of these things, tend to confuse the two. So in the interest of being accurate, I edited a previous draft of this post in order to apply the proper term. I assure my readers that I have nothing against Ritz, Triscuits, or any other baked, wheat-based snack.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Tuesday, April 30, 2002


The delightful Alice gently takes me to task for dissing the local weather man. You should check out what she says, but here's a taste:

"Yep, it's annoying, until you're the one whose house is getting pounded. Then you'll want your local station to hype its mega-Doppler and all their bag of tricks. . . weather IS important in every market; that's why you see shivering reporters doing the 11pm news in front of the sand truck station when a foot of snow is forecast. Yes, it's a gratuitous liveshot; but weather affects EVERYONE, and I'd rather see that than the latest sweeps piece on Bras That Give You Cancer."

Talk about bad timing; I posted a rant on useless weather coverage the day after a terrible tornado devastated several states. It reminds me of that company in the early 1980's that chose to name its diet supplement "AIDS."

Alice is right -- weather is important (although let's not give cancer-causing bras short shrift). The problem, as I see it, is two-fold: first, news stations spend a lot of time telling us about thunderstorms and threats thereof, which are almost uniformly unhelpful except to that small contingent of people who may be watching television and trying to decide whether to take a drive.

Second, when there is severe weather, the stations don't simply keep us informed, they turn it into an event. Viewers don't need repetitive analyses of how the little countercyclical spinning thingy on the edge of the big red radar blob is an indication that this may be a twister, any more than we need the airline pilot to tell us that we're passing through 25,000 feet. Just tell us where the storm is every once in a while, color code it (blue for thunderstorm, red for tornado, etc.), and keep those graphics off of my starlets. Time is cruel enough to them as it is.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Monday, April 29, 2002

Word of the Day

kakistocracy \kak-uh-STAH-kruh-see\

Originated from combining the Greek word "kakistos," which is the superlative of "kakos," which means "bad," with the suffix "cracy," which means "form of government."

Kakistocracy: government by the worst people.

You can see how this word would appeal to me.

What's disturbing is that I spent thousands of dollars on university political science education, and didn't learn this beautiful word until I subscribed to the Merriam-Webster "Word a Day" list.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Weather Obsession

Reading Ken Goldstein's comments on the central place still played in our lives by weather reminds me of something I want to get off my chest. I live in Kansas, so perhaps this is a local phenomenon, but it seems to me that in their insane quest to differentiate themselves by acquiring increasingly sophisticated weather equipment, the local news stations have collectively gone off the deep end. I was watching one of my favorite television shows the other night, one of those programs where the female characters all have the names of sorority girls and wear shirts that terminate two inches above their pants lines, and I realized how much less enjoyable the show is when I can't see the exposed midriffs that are clearly integral to plot development.

I came about this realization because plastered over fully one-fifth of my screen was a large county map of the state of Kansas, with a big red dot 600 miles to the northwest tracking -- I am not making this up -- a thunderstorm warning. Across the bottom ran this continual ticker tape parade of information about this apparently vicious but elusive thunderstorm, which was reputedly on the verge of giving any number of milo farms on the Colorado border a good soaking.

What's worse, whenever there's real weather, even if it's in Nebraska, the breathless weather announcer will break into my program every three minutes to remind me that his crack team, with their new High-Performance, Double-Infrared, Super-Duper Quadruple Doppler Tracker, is on the case. I live in Kansas, for crying out loud. You can see the weather coming ten miles away. I certainly don't need to know about a tornado that may or may not materialize. It's not like I have horses to set loose, or a barn to batten down, such that I really need some advance preparation time. And the people who do have those responsibilities, I'm quite sure, are not watching "Friends." What's more, there's a tornado alarm every thirty feet in Kansas. I know, because they test the things every clear Monday afternoon during tornado season; the sound is something akin to what I imagine the second coming will be like. Which reminds me: we should probably all thank the good Lord that churches don't have their own tracking systems to keep us up to date on all the Jesus and Mary sightings they receive.

And the only reason we are afflicted with this barrage of Weather Updates, Weather Warnings, Weather Rumors, and various and sundry other Weather Analyses, is because local stations, after a frenzy of mutually-assured financial destruction, woke up from their spending binge to discover that they have weather equipment that puts NASA to shame, which means they must -- come hell, high water, or just a mild sprinkle in Brazil, use it for God's sake. They certainly have to give those fat, overly happy weathermen something to do, otherwise they just hang around the break room all day, eating doughnuts and hitting on the interns. Which reminds me: no matter where you live, your local weatherman is much like our latest ex-President -- you don't really trust him, but you find yourself listening to him anyway.

The solution, of course, is for local stations to donate all of this equipment to those Third World villages we are reading about every week, which are always getting hit by a monsoon or something and losing 70% of their inhabitants, all because there's only one working television in the place, and it's tuned to "Baywatch." Surely there's some tax write-off for the stations that do so; they'd be doing the world some good, and, be honest, how often is that true of local news stations anymore?

Most important, I'd be able to see the bottom half of my screen again. For most actors, this really is their better half.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Viruses: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Given the company I keep, I probably shouldn't be surprised that three bloggers independently sent me a virus this weekend. There's always a danger of that, I suppose, when one is playing in the blogosphere, which is full of sharp edges and unwashed opinions. They say that the best marketing is viral, so perhaps this is all a good thing, except for the fact that the little bug invaded my home email account and promptly impregnated the computers of everyone who has ever received an email from me.

Given that approximately 90% of the email I send is in the form of nasty yet impotent threats to large faceless organizations that have aggrieved me in some real or imagined fashion, I'm actually cool with this. My apologies, however, to any innocents I've unwittingly infected.

If you think about it, that apology has lots of applications.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)