Saturday, December 30, 2006

R.I.P., Saddam's victims

Saddam Hussein, of course, should be added to any list of significant 2006 deaths. That's why you shouldn't do the year-end wrap-ups until the year actually wraps up. I discuss why my normal opposition to the death penalty doesn't extend to deposed dictators in the comments to this post on Victor's page.

A roundup of the fates of various twentieth-century tyrants here. Most died of natural causes; Saddam was the only one to get a full trial (Ceaucescu's was rather brief). Still, I think it's premature to say that "the state of Iraq has succeeded." In a legal sense they conducted the trial and the execution, but in a practical sense the Iraqi state still can't enforce its authority without the help of the coalition military forces. I'd be a lot happier if I had some confidence that the arrow of progress was pointing toward an internally stable, democratic, non-Islamist Iraq.

A Yahoo! News search for "Stroessner" reveals a twice-updated AP article rounding up 2006 deaths first published as far back as December 18! Notable bad guys who died of natural causes this year include Slobodan Milosevic, Alfredo Stroessner, Augusto Pinochet, Turkmenbashi, and P.W. Botha. Of course, this list won't be final for another 24 hours.

5 weird things about me

Donna tagged me on this one. I'm trying to limit this to stuff you probably never gleaned about me online, like, you probably know that I love maps and keeping tallies of things and such like that. Sorry about the emphasis on bodily functions.

1. I cannot smell farts. I know this sounds absurd, but it's true. I was in college before I realized that people weren't just joking when they turned their noses up when people farted. People say they smell like poo, but I can smell poo. Not farts, though. Needless to say, this makes me paranoid whenever I do fart, because I can't tell if it's stinky enough for other people to smell.

2. Speaking of which, I generally have at least three bowel movements a day, often more.

3. I have no idea if this has anything to do with that, but I drink a ton of milk. My wife drinks no milk, so I am the only one in the house drinking it. I generally buy two gallons at a time, and can usually finish both gallons before they expire. (I've never gone through with a completely controlled experiment, but in situations where I've gone without milk for a few days, it's had no effect either way on my bowels.)

4. On the other hand, here is a partial list of foods I can't stand and will refuse to eat for almost any reason:
  • Mayonnaise
  • Sour cream
  • Unsweetened yogurt
  • All salad dressings (yes, even "just a light vinaigrette")
  • Most cheeses (mozzarella and parmesan are OK; jack, swiss, or ricotta are OK in small amounts)
  • Mustard
  • Whole tomatoes, sliced tomatoes, chunks of tomatoes, etc. But I love ketchup and will cheerily gobble down pasta or pizza with sauce--- provided I can remove any large chunks of tomato. If your pasta sauce still has chunks in it, that doesn't mean it's "garden fresh," it means you didn't cook it long enough.)
  • Pickles
  • Eggplant
  • Zucchini
  • Coffee (this goes for coffee itself, as well as any coffee-flavored drinks, ice cream, candy, etc. The odd thing is that I think coffee stores swell lovely. But the drink tastes nasty; I've never drunk a full cup of coffee in my life.)
  • Beer (The only time I ever drank a full beer in my life was during a concert in Seattle, where I needed to be able to sing, but my vocal chords were raw from screaming, and the only liquid anybody had was some cheap local beer in cans. I chugged one and was able to carry on. I once tried some Weißbier at a German restaurant in Indianapolis that I thought wasn't bad because it lacked much of that awful aftertaste most beer has.)
Anyway, I feel so strongly about some of the stuff on this list that it reaches the level of a phobia; if someone across the table from me is eating, say, coleslaw, I'll turn away or position objects so that I can't see it.

5. I think the powers that be in the media who decide which women are attractive are pulling a big scam on the world, although I think they've eased up a bit in recent years as curvy women have become more acceptable. Mainly I object to the standard angular-faced blonde as the epitome of female attractiveness; c.f. any of Hugh Hefner's girlfriends. A lot of supermodels are pretty ugly, too. Jessica Simpson is a lantern-jawed hag. It's not just blondes, either; I never saw anything attractive in, say, Julia Roberts or Bettie Page, either.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

R.I.P., Gerald Ford

So now the newspapers who put together their people-who-died-in-2006 lists early must really feel stupid.

I really have no opinion on Ford. I was very young during his time. He pardoned Nixon, which kinda sucks, but I suppose if that's the worst thing you can say about his Presidency, that's not so bad. He restored blandness to a country that was tired of all the excitement. He also managed to avoid two assassination attempts by crazed women in California over a seventeen-day period, so he couldn't have been quite the bumbler he was portrayed as (he'd been a collegiate all-star football player, too).

Other Ford tidbits:
  • He was born with the name Leslie Lynch King, Jr. His parents divorced when he was a baby, and he took the name of his stepfather.
  • Despite being a Ford from Michigan, he was not related to Henry Ford.
  • Of all U.S. presidents, he lived to be the oldest, beating Reagan by just 45 days.
  • Ford had the second-longest retirement of any President, beaten only by Herbert Hoover.
  • Ford was the third President to die in California. The other two are Harding and Reagan.

Update: A big roundup of blogger reactions here. There's an interesting side story on Oliver Sipple, the ex-marine who saved him from the Sara Jane Moore assassination attempt. Sipple was gay, but efforts by Harvey Milk to use him to show that gay men could be heroes, too, backfired as the outing ruined his personal life.

Update 2: Even Chevy Chase has good things to say about Ford.

Update 3: A good argument from blogger Captain Ed that pardoning Nixon, though well-intentioned, was a mistake.

Update 4: Professional naysayer Christopher Hitchens slams Ford pretty hard.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

War in Somalia

So, Ethiopia is announcing that they're cutting through the Islamic militias in Somalia like a hot knife through butter. Is this going to turn out better than our similar efforts in Iraq? Somalia has been without an operationally effective government since 1991, although the Islamicists gained control of Mogadishu earlier this year and established their version of stability. I wonder what the future holds. Surely the people of Somalia want stability, but it can't be a good thing if sharia is the only system that can provide that stability. The best-case scenario is that Ethiopia provides the muscle that allows for the UN-sanctioned Somali transitional government to succeed. But it seems that even that would flare up problems with Eritrea. Any thoughts?

Christmas Weather Report

Sunny, 80 degrees. Well, it had been cooler over the previous week. Two weeks ago we were visiting Bryce Canyon in Utah, and it was snowing with overnight nows in the single digits. I'll try to get those pix uploaded sometime soon; the snow accentuates the beauty of the rock formations at Bryce.

R.I.P., James Brown

See, this is why news organizations who compile "year in review" features before the year actually finishes are fools. Now how many 2006 necrologies are going to exclude James Brown because he didn't have the courtesy to pass on before the publication deadline?

Also, yes, the cover to the 1992 single "James Brown is Dead" really did look that stupid. Bonus points to the first reader to identify which Stale Urine song stole its main riff from L.A. Style's 14-years-too-early club hit?

Update: This wrap-up of 2006 is centered on pop music but has a posting date of December 20 and, of course, neglects James Brown. Oops. I missed posting about Ahmet Ertegun's death while on vacation, though, so let me belatedly note an R.I.P. for the Atlantic Records founder.

A good appreciation of James Brown's musical influence. I remember one time in college working in the office of our student newspaper while "Sex Machine" blared from the stereo on infinite repeat. The song never got old, and the end flowed seamlessly back in to the beginning. The beat, the groove was unstoppable and if that couldn't fire you up, nothing would.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

R.I.P., Turkmenbashi

The most insane, all-powerful world leader not named Kim Jong-Il died suddenly this morning. Read up on his bizarre cult of personality, naming cities, airports, and even months after himself.

Update: Wikipedia says, about his mandatory-reading book Ruhnama,
An enormous mechanical replica of the book is located in the capital; every night at 8:00PM it opens and passages are recited with accompanying video.
You can read the book for yourself in English here.

A Good Story from Chuck Palahniuk

From a post of his (via Dave Barton) offering 13 tips on writing:

Almost every morning, I eat breakfast in the same diner, and this morning a man was painting the windows with Christmas designs. Snowmen. Snowflakes. Bells. Santa Claus. He stood outside on the sidewalk, painting in the freezing cold, his breath steaming, alternating brushes and rollers with different colors of paint. Inside the diner, the customers and servers watched as he layered red and white and blue paint on the outside of the big windows. Behind him the rain changed to snow, falling sideways in the wind.

The painter's hair was all different colors of gray, and his face was slack and wrinkled as the empty ass of his jeans. Between colors, he'd stop to drink something out of a paper cup.

Watching him from inside, eating eggs and toast, somebody said it was sad. This customer said the man was probably a failed artist. It was probably whiskey in the cup. He probably had a studio full of failed paintings and now made his living decorating cheesy restaurant and grocery store windows. Just sad, sad, sad.

This painter guy kept putting up the colors. All the white "snow," first. Then some fields of red and green. Then some black outlines that made the color shapes into Xmas stockings and trees.

A server walked around, pouring coffee for people, and said, "That's so neat. I wish I could do that…"

And whether we envied or pitied this guy in the cold, he kept painting. Adding details and layers of color. And I'm not sure when it happened, but at some moment he wasn't there. The pictures themselves were so rich, they filled the windows so well, the colors so bright, that the painter had left. Whether he was a failure or a hero. He'd disappeared, gone off to wherever, and all we were seeing was his work.

That wasn't one of the writing tips; that was just an extra.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Most quote-tastic movies?

Hey folks, what movies do you think have the greatest collection of quotable quotes? Not just one big quote, but movies chock full of great lines from beginning to end? Here's my list to start with:

Dr. Strangelove
Once Upon a Time in the West
2001: A Space Odyssey
The Godfather
Blazing Saddles
Young Frankenstein
Star Wars
Animal House
The Blues Brothers
This is Spinal Tap
Full Metal Jacket
Dazed and Confused
Reservoir Dogs
Army of Darkness
Pulp Fiction
Office Space
Freddy Got Fingered


Time Travel Question

First off, I haven't posted for a while because I was on vacation for a week in Bryce Canyon (very pretty) and Las Vegas (lots of fun activities), and then when I came back I didn't have anything I felt like writing about.

Second, a time travel question. Say you have a time machine and wish to go back to sometime in the past. Now let's say you don't want to arouse suspicion by bringing back some kind of futuristic object. Not even current-day money, since the design will be different and the dates would be a giveaway. What should you bring with you that would enable you to make the most money in the past?

One approach would be the Back to the Future Part II trick of bringing along a sports almanac and placing bets on sure winners. But you'd need to have some cash to start with. I would think some kind of precious stone or precious metal would be the way to go. I wonder which one would net you the most profit. You'd lose a lot trying, for example, to sell 21st-century lobsters in colonial Massachusetts. But diamonds, for example, as expensive as they are today, were exceedingly rare in Europe before the age of exploration. Gold has been used for millennia, but it, too, is expensive today. I wonder what the most profitable item to bring back to different time periods would be. What would be cheap today but recognizable and valuable in the past? Salt? Exotic animals? Out-of-season fresh fruits and vegetables?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Barack Obama's Experience

For all the talk of Barack Obama's lack of experience, Political Insider points out that his experience in government is just about identical to Abe Lincoln's when he was elected President, with the coincidental kicker of having served in the same state's legislature.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Not even newsworthy by celebrity news standards

This just in: Hollywood Women too Busy to Shave Armpits

Long-distance pilgrim on foot

I don't know enough about Caucasian politics to touch the comment about "Armenian agression," but regardless, it's pretty cool that this guy is doing the Haj on foot all the way from Azerbaidjan.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Paper of Record

Conservatives are always railing against the New York Times for its politics, so it's refreshing to see Slate calling out the Times just for printing something stupid, namely:
Mr. Lloyd Webber is often referred to as the Shakespeare of his time with musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, and The Phantom of the Opera.
My personal favorite was their review of Don't Be a Menace to South-Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (not in their online archive, as far as I can tell), which, in typical New York fashion, was written by a reviewer who couldn't be bothered to care enough about Los Angeles to tell the difference between reality and parody, assuming that Fatburger was a fictional creation of the screenwriters.

It was pretty surprising, then, to see them acknowledge that Los Angeles is "the best international eating city in the world," although if this article's editor had known what they were talking about, they'd catch that the Asian suburbs don't extend anywhere near as far as San Bernardino.

Update: Now I've added the link to Slate that I intended when I first posted this.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Interview with an Executioner

Here's some screen captures of a subtitled interview with Saudi Arabia's Lord High Executioner, a fellow who seems creepily matter-of-fact about his job.