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Archive for April, 2009

Oh, sure. I put up a politics-related post, and some misfit senator has to go and make a party switch. Way to go, Arlen Specter. Thanks for ensuring that you’re the only political thing anyone wants to read about on a day when I posted about something entirely else.

Aw, who am I kidding? It’s pretty sweet. The Senate has another Democrat. Admittedly, it’s a guy who was the Dems’ easiest target when they needed to win a vote from across the aisle, but it serves to send the message that the Republican Party is increasingly becoming a minority party simply due to their incessant attempts to play to the hysterical far-right base.

This switch doesn’t mean that much in terms of the actual votes. Sure, the Republicans don’t really have the option to threaten a filibuster any more (especially if/when Coleman runs out of options and Franken finally gets seated), but Specter and the other more moderate Senators on both sides will still be voting their consciences rather than sticking to the party line. Otherwise, nobody would actually give a flying fuck about Senator Nelson other than his Nebraska constituents.

What this means, perhaps crucially, is that in 2010, when Specter is up for re-election, he will probably get the Democratic party nomination and beat Pat Toomey handily. Had he stayed Republican, Toomey would probably have beaten him out in the primary and the Senate would have lost a longtime voice of reason. (NB: by ‘reason’, I mean an intelligent, level-headed moderate. I don’t always agree with Specter, but I don’t hold with extreme ideologues on either side.)

Despite the general inclination to vote his conscience, though… in order to consolidate his position as a Democrat, Specter may throw his backing behind some of the more crucial reforms of the Obama agenda which he otherwise might not have; this would make it all the more likely that he gets the nod in ’10.

So welcome to the party of Yes, Arlen Specter. Good to have you.

Now if we could just get Norm Coleman to FREAKING QUIT ALREADY. YOU LOST. GET OVER IT.

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Everyone remembers Client #9. The news story was almost as widespread as that “Love Potion #9” song, though there appears to be no connection.

Eliot Spitzer was governor of New York. Elected in 2006 by a comfortable margin, he came in promising reform and decency, then resigned in disgrace after a hooker blew his job. Partial credit there, Eliot.

In more detail, Spitzer failed at decency when he was caught out in a sting operation as a client of a highly paid call girl with eyes so close together that her nose had to get in the way as a referee.

The ensuing scandal brought Spitzer low, as many will remember.

BUT.

He is hardly the first public official to have – and indeed admit to – such indiscretions. The vast majority of these have kept their jobs and indeed continue to serve, sometimes admirably. The sexual peccadilloes of the governing elite are not indicative of their ability to do their jobs, after all.

So what made Eliot special?

As attorney general, Spitzer had done a great deal of good, going after big corporations with practices that hurt the little guy.

Poor phrasing there, I apologize.

As attorney general, Spitzer had done a great deal of good, going after big corporations with practices that hurt their customers and smaller competitors.

On February 14 2008, the Washington Post ran an Spitzer editorial titled, “Predatory Lenders’ Partner in Crime: How the Bush Administration Stopped the States From Stepping In to Help Consumers”. In this article, he detailed the federal derailment of his own investigations into the crisis back in 2003.

About two weeks later, he Spitzer proposed legislation which would have imposed penalties for mortgage fraud and predatory lending practices.

Needless to say, he was making himself few friends in the White House or on Wall Street. In a curious parallel (and by curious I mean blatant) his case was dealt with in DC instead of being referred to state authorities, and the first voices howling for impeachment belonged to downstate Republican members of the state legislature.

Had Spitzer been allowed to continue on his path, either in 2003 or 2008, the economic situation might have been significantly different.

Regrettably, his blanketeering gave opponents just the opening they needed in order to bring him down.

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(This is a guest post from francoBeans, one of my favorite bloggers.)

Hey.  How you doin?  Nice to meet you.

I’m a little nervous.  Can you tell?  This is my first time, so be gentle with me.

Actually, who am I kidding?  Feel free to ravage me like the band aids did Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous.

almostfamous7-600c397800-pixels

Now, why am I here?  I’m here to bring some very pressing information to your attention.  No, I’m not talking about pig flu.  There’s a much more significant threat to the public welfare.  As reported by Variety, even reality [TV] producers say they’re out of ideas.

I’ll wait for your hearts to be still.

Even though at first glance I may seem like the reality-TV-hater prototype, I’m actually pretty far from it.  If you ever saw Finding Forrester, there’s a scene where Forrester answers a challenge to his reading of The National Enquirer by claiming it was “dessert.”  And what’s one of the best parts of being an adult?  Dessert, whenever you want.  And so, sometimes, I get a hankering that nothing other than TV that keeps it real can cure.

So to hear that reality TV is out of ideas?  Insert *heartbreak*.  They’re even bringing “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” out of syndication.  I just won’t have it, kids.  I just won’t sit on my couch for it.  Regis Philbin is a broadcast disaster.  I don’t like his face or the fact that he breathes, for that matter.

With a toad-like vocal timbre, Tom Brokaw often interrupts purposeful, interesting broadcasts to reminisce about the Greatest Generation — a generation of men and women who survived two of the biggest challenges this nation has ever faced.  Well, this is our moment.  This is our time.

And this is my offering: The Real World – DC.

2008_0228_realworldNow now, we’re not going to be funded by MTV.  We’re also not going to do it anything like Bunim-Murray Productions does it.  We’re going to do this like The Cosby Show did that episode where they tried to show Theo what the real world would be like.

Remember it?  It was called “Theo’s Holiday.”  They turned the house into the reality a grown-up would face, complete with Rudy as Mrs. Griswold, a banker.  Because what “real world” experience allows you to become a celebrity just because you lived in an awesome house you didn’t pay rent for and you got into a bar fight, and then constantly invites you to do stupid human tricks every summer in exotic locations?  None, that’s what.

In case you’re wondering, this will be a no-budget production scrapped together with whatever equipment and personnel we can find amongst ourselves and our friends and scattered across the streets of DC.

Since I’m not a huge fan of being in front of the camera, I will not be one of the seven strangers.  This is where you come in.  Do you want to be one of these strangers?  Do you have a camera with flash (the iPhone does not).  A camcorder, maybe?  How about an empty house (the safety of the neighborhood is not determinative — fear of senseless crime and screaming, confrontational locals is real, and that’s how I keep it).  Oh, and we need someone to be in charge of snacks, like crackers and stuff for late nights in the edit room (read: my kitchen).

This is my heart, bleeding before you.  This is me down on my knees. Will you join me?  Will you help me keep reality TV as real it deserves to be?  Or will you stand idly by as TV that keeps it real, goes off?

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I test drove a Toyota Prius today.

prius

I’ve been curious about the Prius for some time, and goodness knows I’d like to be doing better on gas mileage, for the planet just as much as for my wallet.

It was pretty sweet in a lot of ways. For those who don’t know me in person, I’m 6’7″ tall, and as such have a hard time fitting behind the wheel of a lot of cars. The Prius, though, had plenty of space.
Prius interior

It also has a fancy little computer in the dash that lets you know how much gas you’re saving.

BUT.

It weighs nothing. Like, I could pick it up and toss it places. And driving it in even mild winds was therefore less than pleasant. Can’t imagine it would handle too well in snow, either, since it’s quite low to the ground and has neither 4WD nor AWD.

I wanted to like it, really I did. I wanted to be the good little green consumer.

But it wasn’t to be.

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I’m following some unusual advice today, from the good folks at On Your Feet:

“Go through your entire day visualizing that you have a personal giant robot that protects you, defends you and gives you outrageous compliments.”

It sounded like fun. And I’m going to liveblog it so you can see all the action as it happens.

7:00am Alarm clock went off. Reached out to silence it and came terrifyingly close to pressing wrong button. Was saved by giant robot who quickly grabbed alarm clock and threw it out of window at such velocity that it left Earth’s atmosphere and took out Chinese spy satellite. May get DOD commendation. How’s that for Chinese takeout?                     

Robot says I am really good at sleeping and snore in a delightful basso profundo

oyf-giant-robot                     

Illustration copyright ©2006 Gary Hirsch

7:36am Getting curious about robot’s programming. Intentionally turned water in shower as hot as possible to watch robot decide between letting water scald me or risking electrocuting me by getting in way. Robot instead saved me with strategic deployment of shower curtain.

Robot says I have the deviousness to be one of the best evil masterminds in a generation and by the way my dick is enormous.

Am beginning to be quite fond of robot.

8:34am Commuting. Robot is allowing me to focus on my driving by taking over the duty of flipping off the other drivers.

Robot is also equipped with a satellite Internet connection which allows it to take dictation from me and update this liveblog accordingly.

9:16am Am now at work. Colleagues are cowering in fear of giant robot. Also having to dodge pieces of dislodged ceiling.

Have instructed robot to soothe colleagues’ nerves by giving them a few compliments as well. Team have been duly informed that they are awesome.

Robot whispering to me that I’m still awesomer.

Like robot. Need to name robot.

9:57am Have been informed by customer that the website work I spent the entirety of yesterday doing isn’t necessary after all and please undo it. Giant robot held me down so that my fit of rage would not be too detrimental to my health, provided cushion so that I could safely slam head repeatedly against desk, then procured me vodka and strong coffee and vodka again.

Robot tells me that I am an XML wizard and JavaScript god. This helps. Quite motivational.

Have decided to name robot Bunny. Bunny tells me he loves it and I’m a genius but I think he is having a harder time giving me compliments now.

10:33am Have been offered $3,000,000 for Bunny by Toyota. Not impressed.

Bunny says I’m the bestest for not selling him. Not sure how to break it to him that I think they might come back with a better offer.

10:54am Have now been offered $8,000,000 by a coalition of Republican Congresspeople to sell them Bunny so that they can say what they actually think and let Bunny keep Rush Limbaugh’s ego stoked.

Not selling. Bunny could crush Limbaugh.

Hmm. Idea has potential, though.

10:55am Have been offered $8,000,001 by Congressional Democrats to have Bunny crush Limbaugh.

11:08am Liking the Dems’ offer better. They need to stop with the razor-thin margins of victory, though.

Drinking a Dr Pepper. Bunny seems a little confused that it contains neither doctors nor peppers. Have explained the pleasure of carbonated drinks and Bunny now wants to try one because if I like them they must be wicked good.

11:14am Ever seen a giant robot with hiccups? This is pretty fucking hysterical.

Bunny tells me I have quite nice eyebrows. Compliments seeming a little forced again.

11:27am Have decided that Bunny is a stupid name for a giant robot. Now accepting suggestions for names in comments here, on Facebook and on Twitter. For now, he is Giant Robot again.

Giant robot liking me more now that hiccups have subsided and name is no longer Bunny.

11:47am Suggestions so far are “Fred the Robot”, “Distructor”, “Lucinda” and “Circuits O’Toole”. Am also considering “Mister Sexypants”, “Giant Robert” and “Crush Limbaugh”.

12:21pm Great names all, but the winner is “Circuits O’Toole”, suggested by @blueslives on Twitter.

Circuits thinks you rock. He also thinks I rock, but we’ve established that.

12:36pm Pointed out to Circuits that the ‘protect and defend’ part of his job doesn’t seem to be happening very much. He pointed out to me that I am not in very much danger in my cube at work, but he read on my old blog that someone was plotting my demise in a copier-related ‘accident’ and is thus very alert when I walk past the print room on my way to the restroom.

12:37pm Circuits just offered to hold it for me the next time I go to the restroom. Politely declined.

12:38pm Circuits now looking minorly dejected. Explained things like personal space and comfort zone and other emotional-spatial metaphors, but these are tough concepts for a giant robot to grasp.

Wishing I hadn’t used the word ‘grasp’. Imagery still unsettling.

Going to lunch. If I do not return within an hour, please send me a @message on Twitter, and Circuits will come rescue me from something.

1:20pm Back. Accidentally choked on peanut butter sandwich. Circuits administered rather enthusiastic Heimlich.

Ow. Want my blankie.

1:48pm Doing better now. Practicing sign language. Circuits is complimenting me on how well I do the macarena. Now I know he’s lying. If I were doing the macarena, I would be signing biscuit biscuit monkey monkey blue blue walk walk house sky crotch. And I’m not.

2:12pm Told Circuits the news that I get to become a US citizen in 2 weeks’ time. He is very thrilled for me and says I’ll be such a great American that I’ll be voted in as President even if I don’t run. Told him about Article II. He thinks they’ll change it for me.

2:33pm Accident in print room! Went in there to get a document and a member of the maintenance crew suddenly stood up from behind the copier. Circuits grabbed him and fed him THROUGH the machine.

I hope at least one of him is OK.

3:07pm Helped maintenance guy back to his usual building. Via interoffice mail.

Circuits thinks that was really nice of me and I should be given a medal of some sort.

3:16pm Novelty has worn off. Coffee also. Circuits starting to irritate me.

3:20pm Circuits now starting to piss me off rather a lot. Is currently singing “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” over and over again because he’s so thrilled at being around me. Probably a bad idea to stab the large electrical object.

3:26pm AUGH this sodding robot is more annoying than Microsoft’s little paperclip guy.

3:31pm Procured high-powered electromagnet from manufacturing department.

3:35pm Trapped Circuits in place and dropped a large copier/printer unit on him, pulverizing him completely except for one small piece of arm. Not worried about it. Even if the Terminator thing happened, he could then annoy someone else.

3:38pm Just realized I could have sold him to the GOP instead of squishing him, and been eight million bucks richer. Fuck.

3:39pm Got papercut while getting document from other copier in print room. Stings like heck.

Circuits would have prevented that.

Kind of miss him. Rest In Peace, Circuits O’Toole. Or more likely in pieces. But I’d prefer peace.

3:40pm Guess Giant Robot Day is over. If you’re still reading, get a life or something. It’s Friday afternoon, for goodness’ sake. But thanks.

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It’s TMI Thursday again…

The tradition of TMI Thursdays is the brainchild of LiLu at livitluvit.com. It is typically introduced as follows: ***Join us all in humiliating the crap out of yourself every Thursday by sharing some completely tasteless, wholly unclassy, “how many readers can I estrange THIS week??” TMI story about your life. Or hell, about someone else’s!***

Read on at your own risk.

(more…)

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I’ve been thinking a lot about music – what I like, and what I like about it. (BTW, thanks to all of those who left suggestions on my post earlier this month! Still open to more if anyone cares to drop them in there.) I started writing up some thoughts on that, which were then preempted by the post immediately below this. But since my music posts often seem to come in twos, here’s a little more.
phrenology head image from WikiMedia, headphone mine

Since the dawn of humankind, we have had music. From the earliest drumming of stone upon stone to the latest Next Big Thing, music has fulfilled a niche in our existence into which nothing else could comfortably fit.

Whether your poison is Slipknot or Shostakovich, Coldplay or Common, we are sensitive to rhythms and to harmonic vibrations.

I had for a long time heard and accepted the notion that music is really just a form of applied mathematics, but I no longer believe that to be the whole truth. Ultimately, the structure of any given piece of music can be described mathematically – as a sum of the frequency, duration and shape of each waveform – but I think this misses an important element.

Knowing why music sounds the way it does is all well and good, but that doesn’t tell us why it is good.

So instead I submit that music is 75% mathematics and 25% psychology. Add in lyrics (if appropriate to the piece in question) and the ratio might instead be closer to 65-35.

In Western music, we find that major chords sound happy, minor chords sound sad and diminished chords send us looking around for the small animal we must have just stepped on.

startled rabbit

We also find that certain chord progressions evoke specific ideas. For example, a movie showing a boat on the open sea will often be scored with a chord sequence of major I to minor v. (Side note – saw a planetarium movie while I was in Portland which used the same I-v pattern for space travel montages. The parallel is interesting.)

The emotional interplay between our existing mental states and the subtle but profound messages we get from music is incredibly complex – indeed, it must logically be a product of both the inherent complexity of our minds and the number of possible musical permutations, an almost unfathomably wide array of information.

This, I believe, is why we don’t all like the same music (even though Clear Channel, Viacom, SonyBMG and others seem to be trying to convince us otherwise). Perhaps everything lies in our individual reactions to the mathematical structures we perceive, and there’s really no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ music.

Except Muzak, of course. That shit is just terrible.

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