One last political note for the day

It’s an absolute shame that McCain’s running mate has dominated the news, or at least my own brain. Really, the most important note of the week was Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. Here it is. You should watch it if you haven’t already:

Obama is, and I’ll happily say this without feeling like I’m exaggerating, a genius. I was impressed by how he attacked McCain’s policies and positions without once attacking McCain the man. “We are better than these past eight years”, Obama reminded us. “Patriotism has no party”, he says, and I can’t tell you how glad it made me feel to hear a national politician say this.

I still have a few minor quibbles with Obama, but nothing that can’t wait until after he’s been elected President and our nation is being steered back off the path of self-destruction it’s been on since 2001.


“I beg to disagree with any candidate who would say we can’t drill our way out of our problem…” -Sarah Palin

The more I learn about this woman, the more frightened I become. And the more I would want to slap McCain around and ask, “What in the world were you thinking?”, if I seriously believed that McCain had much say in the VP selection.

She’s a friend of Big Oil. She wants to see “Intelligent Design” taught in public schools. Her lack of experience suggests that McCain’s campaign doesn’t mean it when they attack Obama’s lack of experience. I mean, seriously. No one can hear McCain use that particular card anymore without laughing hysterically:

MCCAIN: My opponent lacks the experience necessary to lead the free world.

AMERICA: Dude, have you SEEN your running mate’s resume?

MCCAIN: Why, no. Who is he, anyway?

And don’t say it’s different just because she’s only the VP candidate. When the President might keel over midway into his first term because of a heart attack, her experience is very much relevant.

The other wanker of the month is, of course, John Goodman, who may or may not be a McCain campaign adviser, who gleefully pointed out that everyone in America has access to free health care in the form of their local hospital emergency room. While technically true, I suppose, it’s disingenuous to say that an emergency room visit could be considered free to anyone. Whenever someone does get free care at the emergency room, guess what? That care still gets paid for. It gets paid for by everyone else who uses that hospital, in the form of higher costs. It was stupid when Bush said it. It was stupid when Goodman said it. It will still be stupid when Palin says it.

Meh. Whatever. According to both and, Obama has, as of today at least, a pretty solid lead over McCain. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Sarah Palin

So, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is apparently going to be McCain’s running mate. An interesting choice. I wonder if McCain’s gunning for the disaffected Hillary Democrats who feel spurned by the party’s choice of Obama over Clinton? If so, will her anti-abortion / pro-drilling stance still appeal to the Clinton holdovers?

It’s also kind of a confusing pick for me, since McCain has been working so hard to win over the evangelical right-wingers, many of whom have difficulty with the notion of a woman in a position of authority (though I guess they did grudgingly accept Rice as Secretary of State). Is McCain going after centrist/moderate Republicans who have felt disenfranchised by their own party, many of whom have declared their intention to support Obama/Biden? She’s also younger than Obama, which may undermine McCain’s attacks on Obama’s inexperience.

I wonder what Geraldine Ferraro has to say about this?

At any rate, this campaign has already been making history. McCain’s upped the ante, and I commend his choice, but I still plan on voting for Obama, and so should you.

Someone get the barf bags.

I admit that I haven’t been following the Democratic National Convention. I know that I’ve missed some truly amazing speeches. Michelle Obama’s speech was, I’m told, nothing short of awe-inspiring, and Hilary Clinton’s motion to nominate Barack for President was apparently on the same level. I also missed Bill Clinton’s speech, which is kind of a bummer, because, well, I like Bill. I did find this quote from his speech, though, and I love it:

“People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example, than by the example of our power.”

That’s just brilliant. And so true.

Now, every Presidential campaign will bring with it some moments of interest, one or two moments of great inspiration (very few, though I will say Obama is the first candidate whose speeches I’ve actually downloaded to my MP3 player to listen to later on), and some moments of profound, truly inspired idiocy. McCain, a man who has never been afraid to stoop to levels of campaigning which really ought to be beneath a man of his stature, provided one already with his earlier speech comparing Obama to Paris Hilton. More recently, though, he’s demonstrated how willing he is to drop to what many of us would consider the bottom of the cesspool, then grab a shovel and start digging.

Consider, for example, this excerpt from a May speech of Obama’s:

Strong countries and strong Presidents talk to their adversaries. That’s what Kennedy did with Khrushchev. That’s what Reagan did with Gorbachev. That’s what Nixon did with Mao. I mean, think about it: Iran, Cuba, Venezuela — these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don’t pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us. And yet we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying, ‘We’re going to wipe you off the planet.’ And ultimately, that direct engagement led to a series of measures that helped prevent nuclear war and over time allowed the kind of opening that brought down the Berlin Wall.

I think this is a good speech. He acknowledges the threats that face our nation today, but emphasizes that we must talk to those that oppose us. We never cut off relations with the Soviet Union, even though they were a much bigger threat to us than, say, Iran. McCain’s campaign took this speech, did some quote mining, and pulled up the phrase:

Iran… tiny…

then squatted and squirtted out this ad:

This ad strikes me as so blatantly misleading as to be just plain ludicrous, and it’s downright shameful how willing the McCain campaign is to appeal to the ignorance of the voting public. Of course, it’s also frightening how well this tactic works; Bush Jr. managed to stick around for eight years using pretty much the same strategy.

As always, things are going to simply get more ridiculous, more offensive, and more appalling before they get better.

Someone get the barf bags.

(Tip o’ the hat to for the info.)

Mixing Messages

This past weekend, we went and visited Jennifer’s sister up in Washington. On Friday night, while sitting around and watching the Olympics, we caught this ad:

Followed immediately by this one:

At the time, I didn’t really catch the irony. I was mostly stuck on the whole notion of premium M&M’s, which strikes me as just absurd. But the more I’ve been thinking about it, the more I am struck by the mixed messages that are being sent by these two ads, particularly since, as the Hathor Legacy points out, the Green M&M is almost always portrayed in a sexualized way. Even this commercial makes me a little wary, mostly because the intent of Green’s photoshoot is pretty obvious in the reactions of the Red, Blue, and Yellow M&M’s at the end of the commercial.

I just can’t help wonder what sort of mixed message my 7-year-old niece would have gotten if she’d been awake and watching television with us at the time. “You’re beautiful as you are, hun, but you’d be even more beautiful if you threw on some high heels and sexy stockings?” Seems somehow wrong to me.

Funny, but while I was writing up this blog entry, Jennifer pointed me at this video, the LHC rap:

Which is cool not just because it’s a rap about the Large Hadron Collider, but also because the lead rapper/artist/presenter/scientist in this video is a woman. Makes me want to be a high energy particle physicist all over again.

And buy a chemistry set for my little niece.

Parsing an anti-gay-marriage argument

Gay marriage is legal in California now, though predictably there’s a proposition on the ballot to make it illegal. The ballot language — “Revokes the right of gays to marry” — is under protest from the folks who want to do just that, because representing the proposition’s actual intent on the ballot is deceptive.

Whatever. I am voting no on the proposition. Even in a democracy, you don’t get to vote on who is allowed to have rights. On issues like this, on equal rights and so on, the judiciary has to trump what the people say. Any democracy where the rights of one group are up to majority vote is no democracy, just a parody. Democracy gone wild, really.

But there is one argument against gay marriage that has always fascinated me, just because of its sheer weirdness. These are the folks who say that allowing gays to marriage somehow cheapens their own straight marriages. It took me quite awhile to parse this argument. After all, my own marriage feels just as strong and sacred as it did before gay marriage was legal anywhere, so I never figured out what I was missing.

But now I think I have it. Marriage is like M&M’s.

See, just as marriage is about a relationship between a man and a woman, M&M chocolate candies are all about the little “M” on the outside of the candy. Now M&M’s allows you to customize your M&M’s if you want; when I went to my friend J’s 40th birthday party last year, his wife had ordered some of these custom M&M’s, with messages like “Over the Hill” and “J’s 40!”. With the little M, M&M candies used to be special; no other candy had just that combination of shape, flavor, and lettering. But now that you can have your own message on your M&M’s, the whole M&M experience is cheapened. It’s less notable now. The whole meaning of what M&M’s are has been tossed out the window. So by allowing gays to marry you essentially give people the right to have their own messages on their M&M’s, thereby cheapening the whole experience for everyone.

Ludicrous? Well, so is the original argument.

Anyway, the takeaway message here is that I’m voting No on Proposition 8, and so should you.

Book Review: "The Academy" by Bentley Little

The Academy
by Bentley Little
ISBN: 978-0451224675
Published August 2008 by Signet Books

I’ve been a fan of Bentley Little’s for years now; whenever I’m in the horror section at Borders, I check to see if there’s a new Little book out that I haven’t read yet. Some writers have compared Little to King, Straub, Barker, and other greats in the horror fiction field. One blurb on one of his books, from Stephen King, describes Little as “A Master of the Macabre”; and on Little’s latest book, The Academy, there’s a blurb from King that describes Little as “Horror’s poet laureate”.

The first book of Bentley Little’s book that I read was The Ignored. That book is, in my opinion, Little’s best; not only is it a fine horror novel, but I think it could stand on its own as a respectable mainstream novel, with the likes of Upton Sinclair or John Updike. It’s the rather hokey supernatural stuff at the end of that novel, in fact, that are its biggest undoing.

Likewise with his 1998 novel, The Store. That novel can be read as a great condemnation of the influence that major “big box” retailers such as WalMart have on small towns in America. It’s great satire, another brilliant novel unfortunately done in by overly dramatic supernatural influences at the end.

Most of Little’s books are like that: unfettered and unbridled condemnations of large institutions and their dehumanizing effects over regular people. I’ve never met the man (I did have the opportunity to chat with him online once), but I have this image of Little as a card-holding NRA member, secluded on his property in Arizona and probably voting Libertarian. The dehumanization in Little’s books are usually shown as an institutional supernatural horror, which often brings people, particularly those in authority, to their absolute worst, in brutal and quite often sexually explicit ways. In The Association, we get a glimpse of how a home-owner’s association can drive a typical homeowner to utter ruin. The Policy shows a family devastated by an evil insurance corporation, sort of Michael Moore meets Freddy Kreuger.

In his more recent books, however, it feels to me that Little is scraping the bottom of the barrel in his search for ways in which he can demonstrate the inhumanizing effects that large institutions can have on people, and his supernatural elements are becoming more and more banal. In Dispatch, which I believe is Little’s strongest novel since The Ignored, the “big bad” at the end turns out to be just another misshapen, evil beast. And to be honest, I’m not even sure I got the point of The Vanishing, his 2006 novel.

In his newest novel, The Academy, Little takes on charter schools, and the result is, unfortunately, disappointing. While he handles the trope of a haunted school much more adeptly than Michael Paine did in The Night School, there’s still quite a bit that’s lacking. The dehumanized victims of the supernatural forces are brutal and vicious in typical Little ways, and in typical Little fashion we witness most of it through the eyes of people who are on the periphery, affected by the forces but not altered by them. But here the causes of the events are given such short shrift that it almost feels like Little uses the novel more as an excuse to showcase brutality and depravity, rather than examine its effects. I went through too many scenes wincing, rather than wondering what was going on. And when the forces behind the events in the novel are finally revealed, I found myself disappointed. It’s an interesting villain behind it all, but given so little face time that it’s barely seen at all. Most of Little’s villains are faceless and operate entirely through intermediaries, but the villain here seems mishandled, even clumsily written.

In general, I enjoy Bentley Little’s novels, and I recommend him. The Academy, however, is not his strongest novel, and I can’t recommend it to anyone.

Still kicking

No time for anything more than a drive-by posting. Here’s some stuff going on in our lives.

  • The Kitchen Remodel. It goes well, and is almost done. To me, the only issue is that the refrigerator makes me feel short, what with the placement of the handle and the high shelves. Jennifer has been dutifully taking pictures and recording the progress. See them here. Or if you really want some fun, you can see a slideshow of pictures of our original kitchen here.
  • Work. I’m a PHP developer. Mostly I hack away at Moodle. Part of the fun here is that Moodle is a total LMS (Learning Management System) solution, but it’s built around some assumptions about how the educational institutions that use it will implement their business logic. Ours is completely different from the Moodle assumptions, so most of my time is spent rewiring Moodle to make it work according to our own business logic. It’s fun on the whole, though I was really thrown for a loop when part of the API changes significantly from one version — the version we use is 1.5 — to a new version — the most current stable version is 1.9. For example: a function called get_record() has changed radically, without my knowledge or approval (not that the core developers need my approval, of course). I spent days trying to figure out why my new code was throwing SQL errors at me, until I actually read the function itself. I’m also trying to figure out how to implement some test-driven development procedures in hacking at this legacy code. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Believe me, it’s twice as fun as I make it sound here.
  • Writing. My Story of the Week project has been going well, and has actually inspired me to work on other projects, like The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster and critiques of other writers in my writers’ group.

That’s it for now. I hope you’re having fun as well.