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November 29, 2004

Another Spoon in the Insinkerator

A savage MTBlacklist bug will delete weblogs for no reason anyone can definitively identify.

And to think that once upon a time we all depended on the stone knives and bearhides of text editors and FTP to manage our personal sites. How did we get by without the convenience of tools that could convert themselves into content-deleting buzzsaws of death?

Anyhow, pass this one along because it's ugly and scary. If it doesn't get resolved, I'm not sure what I'll do. To illustrate the importance of MT Blacklist, of the 20 most recent entries in its database:

If we stretch the total number of blacklist entries out to 75 (the next increment that MT Blacklist will display for its entry list), it gets really nuts:

Over the lifetime of this MT installation (I installed it some time around mid-July), MT Blacklist has caught 9,147 attempted comment spams and allowed moderation of an additional 1,927:

And despite its wonderful performance, I've still been "warned" by a self-appointed watchdog group because one of the blogs on puddingbowl.org had an unblocked comment spam that eluded notice and pointed at a pedophiliac site, and I still have to deal with one or two spams a day that don't get caught initially.

Posted by mph at 6:15 PM

Word for the Day: Narcissizen

Narcissizen (när′sĭ-sĭz'ən)

NOUN: 1. The enlightened and calm acceptance of the suffering of everyone around you. Narcissizen reaches its highest peak of perfection when the practicioner (see: sollipshartha) has the presence of mind to scold others for their failure to calmly accept their own misery.

Posted by mph at 10:24 AM

November 25, 2004

Pies Two Years On

Two years ago today I wrote about my efforts at pie diplomacy with the serial car rammer across the street. I also made mention of the neighbors across the side street, whom I suspected of calling my Volvo in to the cops for expired tags.

Since then, the car rammer has moved on, but we still see her because her daughter is in preschool at the other neighbors' house (I suspect she's the one who clipped the Volvo and tore part of its side front bumper off), and she occasionally turns up at the Laughing Planet on Belmont, just a few blocks from what I suspect is Michael Totten's house. Someone should take Totten a pie, too. He seems to spend entirely too much time sitting around coffee shops listening to paranoiac hippies, and it has curdled him.

One of the neighbors I viewed with a mixture of suspicion and resentment for calling my car in came over and helped me rake leaves last week, then he offered to take several yard bags worth to the dump with his own load. So I think I should probably pull out the pie recipes and get to it again, because that was certainly nice of him and it's surely worth a pie.

What else?

Via pk, here are a few links related to Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea." They affirm what a singular moment that album was... how things converged to make it then spun apart, never to reform again:

Wallace Stevens once said that the imagination is God. And if your world is filled with garbage, dead dogs, parents drinking, people dying and people wanting to die -- as it is in Mangum's songs -- you're going to need something to rise above it. Sex is one way, and there's plenty of spit, semen, tongues and fingers in these songs. But Mangum doesn't limit himself to the corporeal. His lyrics float above the trumpet's complaint, into the ether of childhood fantasy: "When you were young you were the king of carrot flowers and how you built a tower tumbling through the trees." With an inner life like Mangum's, even death is robbed of its darkness. There is no moment, seen properly, that does not contain God, joy, beauty or whatever your particular name for that ecstasy is. In the universe contained within this album, rattlesnakes are holy, trailer homes are cathedrals and ordinary people are bursting with fruit and love and white light.

Regarding the clip from that Salon review, it seems useful to remember That Ecstasy in the midst of a read like Under the Banner of Heaven, which I'm not even sure I want to finish. It's remarkable how much ugliness people discover in the name of finding the source of all that beauty.

Posted by mph at 9:34 AM

November 24, 2004

Dear Diary, Nov. 24


A few words about the Volvo:

It's a 1987 240GL four door sedan. I bought it during what Al and I remember as "The Carless Summer," the year her Toyota wagon almost literally dropped its transmission on the street. We got around on bikes the rest of the summer.

We came across the Volvo as we were walking back from a trip to the UVa library and I wanted it instantly. I'd just gotten one of my first checks from a freelance editorial gig and the car was for sale for exactly half of that check. 1987 wasn't too long ago, but a car that old still required some caution. We took it out for a test drive and prodded around under the hood and it looked... you know... like it ran.

1987 being as recent as it was, it's sort of surprising the things that stick out about the car. I know from dad's brutal experience with a much older pair of 240s (a '67 and a '72 he tried to wed) that there's more electronic stuff than you might suspect, but the car's overwhelming essence is analog... analog dials, incandescent warning lights that don't mind looking incandescent... you can see the filaments shining through the plastic covers, big control knobs with few choices spread far apart, a sun roof with a crank that's geared such that large & swooping arm motions are needed to make it work. The seats are worn leather, and the padded vinyl that covers the dash surfaces has a rough surface.

Getting in and out of the Saturn involves a lunging, unfolding motion... like climbing in and out of a jet fighter might feel. It sits low to the ground and creates a sense of claustrophobic blindspots with its small rear window and severely sloped windshield. The Volvo has big doors it's easy to step in and out of as easily as walking in and out of a house. It rides high above the street, too, with a much more panoramic view. And it has seat warmers. Driving it isn't exactly "fun," but it's a smooth ride and it's a lot more comfortable than the Saturn. It's good to have it back in operation. And I'd rather have Ben riding around in it than the Saturn.

Having a second car didn't make a ton of sense over the past year, but I couldn't bring myself to get rid of the Volvo. Now that Al's getting ready to start a new job with a more rigid office schedule, it'll help to have two cars again. And that means the siren call of finally getting all that suspension work done is back. New shocks and struts would do a ton for its overall sense of smoothness. It has 217,000 miles on it, and I suspect it's been 100k miles since anyone bothered with the suspension.


Media coverage of the Wisconsin hunter massacre is maybe a little funny. Some reporters have been making a lot out of the fact that the Hmong hunter who shot up the locals was a US Army veteran with a "sharpshooter" medal.

Sharpshooter, which has lately been used as a euphemism for "sniper" in Iraq doesn't really mean, uh, "sharpshooter" the way you might think. It's the middle rating in Army qualifications. It means that on a target range with 40 exposures, the shooter managed to put down more than 32 and less than 39 targets during qualification. In other words, "better than poor, but not that great." The "sharpshooters" you read about in Iraq are in a different league altogether.

The Army's standards aren't particularly rigorous: Prior to enlisting, I put less than two dozen live rounds through a .22 the summer after 8th grade and hadn't fired anything other than a BB/pellet gun prior to that, and didn't fire a weapon again until 12 years later. It took a week in basic training to learn how to fire up to Army standards, and I can only take it as a matter of luck and a complete absence of habits good or bad that I managed to set the platoon-high shooting score during rifle qualification (39 out of 40... I put a round over the head of a 250 meter target because it followed right after a 300 meter and I forgot to adjust down a hair, but I hit 6 out of 6 on the 300 meter exposures). My roommate in Korea was a lot more fearsome: He was a competitive pistol shooter in the real world and I remember him firing sharpshooter only once, and he immediately requalified for the expert badge that afternoon he was so ashamed of his performance.

I turned in pretty consistent sharpshooter qualifications (36's and 37's) after basic training, mostly because I refused to quit smoking and drinking coffee the day of a qualifying range, and nicotine plays all sorts of hell with your shooting, especially first thing in the morning.

Point being that an "Army sharpshooter" is a lot of things, but "Terminator-like killing machine" isn't one of them. And the Marines put Army marksmanship to shame. I'd guess even a poor Marine could tear up an Army course.

As for the rest of that tragic story, I lived a few years among gun/hunting people and I know how they get in the woods. I don't believe the whole "We asked him politely to leave and he went bananas and lit us up" story. We'll never know the truth though, will we? There are a lot of dead people, the shooter seems to have gone well beyond the minimum needed to defend himself and get out of the area, and there are enough survivors that there are plenty of words against his. Hope they move the venue for him.

Six dead people. And if I had to bet on why, I'd guess a terrible collision of swaggering machismo and fear.

Note the article I linked to, btw. Appleton, WI. Where Florian Kardoskee was from. I wonder what he had to say about it. "Could be worse" is roughly true, to the extent there are two or three survivors out of a group of eight or nine friends.

Posted by mph at 11:46 AM

November 21, 2004

November Carwash

The Volvo's been sitting by the side of the house for about a year now. The last time I remember driving it, it was to take Al to a childbirth preparation class. It grew a light layer of moss on the shady sides. Sitting doesn't do much good for a car, so I had it towed in to get looked at by a local Volvo specialist who fixed a relay in the fuel line and filled the tires again.

I took it to the DEQ for an emissions inspection so I could renew the tags, but it failed because it's been sitting so long (said the technician) that the fuel is sludgy and filthy. Nothing to do but take it to a carwash and scrape off the moss. And I'm going to be driving it around a lot in the next few days to work all the filth out of the fuel line.

I'm pretty happy with the thought of finding a stretch of road to cover as long as I've got the iTrip along, because the one sort of weird thing that's happened since the election has been a sudden re-interest in music after a really, really long time of not much caring about it.

(continued on the inside... though it's a way to go to get where everyone else probably already is.)

I went through a jazz kick when it was the subject of a course, but I don't think that was so much a musical experience as it was a cerebral/historical/aesthetic experience. I like playing jazz a lot more than I like listening to jazz, and I haven't played jazz in a very long time (though I've thought it would be fun to pick up a trombone again, probably even more fun if I had someone to play with once I got my lips back).

But for the most part, music has taken a back seat to other interests, and I've been in a holding pattern that's seen almost no change in what I listen to for a very, very long time. Everything's been ruled by a collection of fairly predictable selections: the Velvet Underground, Meat Puppets, and X formed a sort of core; with Television, Uncle Tupelo, and a lot of this and that tossed in. Then add some outliers like Negativland & The Residents, or the Butthole Surfers. And then toss in the old Sun collections from Elvis and Mr. Cash, and the Patsy Cline greatest hits CD. Then toss in generous helpings of SomaFM and you get this thin gruel that I'd happily defend on its merits, but that's been getting sort of stale all the same. I felt like a teenage boy who's solved all wardrobe problems with jeans and black t-shirts (which is how I tend to solve wardrobe problems, now that I think about it, except I've become more fond of pigment-dyed shirts in the last few years).

But I'm lucky to know pk, who doesn't so much collect music as accrete it, so when he played the "I know how much you liked the Meat Puppets card" and fingered the Shins a while back, I took his word for it and grabbed a pair of their albums and pecked at them a few times, then decided it was easier to go back to what I already had. But a sense of guilt (I bought the albums) and obligation (Phil bothered to recommend them so I should figure out an opinion) and fear (if I don't listen to these albums, maybe it'll be proof that my music gland has finally just died) got me to listen a few more times, and I discovered that golly, I sort of dug 'em. Well... one of the albums. The other one I didn't so much. But it was a start.

So then he came back last week with a recommendation for Neutral Milk Hotel, and I downloaded that much more quickly and it was a much more immediately revelatory experience, probably because it has trombones, and I always relate well to trombones... especially the big, sloppy, boozy trombone on that album.

There are trombonists who haven't reconciled themselves to the fact that everyone else thinks trombonists are either weird (the slide... the slide intimidates them) or just not very good (because trombone players in high school bands spend a lot of time just filling the sound out instead of carrying much melody, unless there's a sudden pure cheese moment that calls for low and high brass alike to lift up their voices together in a crowd-pleasing bleat of unity, or perhaps an arrangement of the theme from Rocky that gives the trumpets a break but doesn't dare abandon the melody, lest the audience get bored and start throwing wadded up programs) and so they overcompensate with either range (the squeal of a trombone pushed octaves past middle C can cause the nervous system to seize or cure intestinal parasites, depending on the purity of the trombonist's purpose) or busy-ness, trying to prove that sliding around a few feet of slide and articulating into a mouthpiece the size of a novelty shot glass can be a matter of dextrousness and precision. They miss the majesty of a trombonist who isn't out to impress, but out merely to accomplish his mission. It's big, broad, blustery, but with an ease that's akin to an elephant sauntering through a native village, not charging through it. And there's a little of that in Neutral Milk Hotel, but more in a sort of "degenerate Salvation Army street corner band" kind of way. Along with a vocalist who is damaged... deeply hurt... "processing." Processing all over the studio.

So I liked Neutral Milk Hotel enough to want to know more about what, exactly, it was. I visited All Music Guide and learned that there were a few pigeonholes: lo-fi, indie rock, neo-prog (I didn't like the sound of that and still don't). And then I looked up the Shins and noted that both groups shared a lo-fi pigeonhole. Hm. So then there was more digging around, and some recommendation agent or another seemed to think that if I liked both of those, I might like Belle & Sebastian... I think that might be because the Shins also fall into "indie pop," as a broad category. I'd avoided Belle & Sebastian for years, mainly on the grounds that NPR had covered them early on in their career and made them sound sort of heinous (to my ears at the time), but the switch had been flipped: Neutral Milk Hotel made me want more new stuff. So I got their first (well, really their second, but their first widely distributed) album. It's not at all like anything on Neutral Milk Hotel, and perhaps maybe a tiny bit like the Shins albums I had, but pretty compelling in its own way. And somehow that led to picking up a Stereolab album (another recommendation agent somewhere) on their shared "indie pop" pigeonhole. And then I noted that AIR (which contributed a track or two the Lost in Translation soundtrack) was turning up along the Stereolab axis, so I got Moon Safari, which is kind of space lounge. And there's also the digging out of a pair of Nick Drake albums from Sam I'd set aside as too pretty at the time but now make much more sense to me.

That's the most music I've bought in a week in a really, really long time. I'll slide a quick word in favor of the iTunes Music Store experience here, too: no clerks, no trepidation in the period between finding a disc on the shelf and making the trip up to the cash register (if I bought everything I'd carried around the store in the past decade, I'd have a big collection)... mostly frictionless, with the exception of the after-purchase time spent fixing some issues. The "people who bought... also bought..." provides some odd connections now and then, but it's useful in its own way, too.

The net result of my mini-orgy is a newish perspective on music for the first time in a while: I kind of like "catchy" now. I also don't mind "poppish" or "poppy." It's pleasant. It doesn't have to be stupid or offensive. It can just be. It can occupy a space between demanding concentration (like the sense that Robert Fripp and the League of Crafty Guitarists are doing base 12 math in a semi-circle while cowled acolytes spoon nutrients into their toothless mouths or dab at the drool sliding down their chins) and sliding off the back of the brain unregistered. And in turn, that recasts things that have been in my collection for a long time:

We could veer toward calling it an expansion of musical tolerance, except it's made me sort of cranky where a few other things are concerned: I'm less fond of the novelty acts that prefer to inflect older forms with self-loathing or misanthropy, as if to say every form but the cut-up remains of what has come before has been exhausted. I mean, I still sort of enjoy Killdozer plowing through "Sweet Home Alabama," (especially the grunting, belching "Oo... oo... oo!" in the chorus), but I'm less tolerant of the "dark novelty cover." On the flip side of that, I can look back at Ween, which is less a subversion of a particular song and more a subversion of an entire form (like in "Push th' Little Daisies" or "Don't Get Too Close") and still be pretty content.


So I took the Volvo out to Jantzen Beach, which gave it the opportunity to burn through some more of whatever crud has the sensors at the DEQ going berserk (and me the opportunity to get to know it again as a highway car, where it's a pretty pleasant ride), and that gave me the time to think more about this.

Once upon a time, I wanted to be about music the same way Jack Black is in High Fidelity... all opinionated and angry and judgmental. That's sort of a developmental milestone for a lot of people, right? Everyone seems to pick a tribe of some kind, and music lends itself nicely to adolescent differentiation rites. But it's a losing proposition if you've got a relativist streak (I do). Maybe it feels right to say "Nothing really moves your ass like the Red Hot Chili Peppers," for instance, but then someone comes out of nowhere and says "No... nothing really moves your ass like the Red Hot Chili Peppers," and there you are... it's down to how much will you care to bring to bear on the problem. I have very little.

The thing that makes all this sort of revelatory is that I was still listening to a collection of music that felt like the old reliable jeans and black t-shirt... it was premised on some sort of tribalism past, and bound up in how well I could defend it. I'm not sure if I can defend anything I've found over the past few weeks on any grounds other than relativist ones, but it's a new turn for me to not care about that.

So maybe that's behind a recent spate of musical exhibitionism with Audioscrobbler and mp3Fridays. Either way, it's a lot more fun looking for new music than it has been in a while.

Brought to You By

There were an awful lot of All Music Guide lookups to process for this entry. I did a quick script that let me highlight the band/artist name, hit the context menu to activate the script, get Omniweb to launch a search on the name, and build a clipboard entry in the form of a Markdown href tag that pasted itself into the selection:

--Open this script in a new Script Editor window.

on main(s)
    -- AMG's a giant pain:
    set baseurl to "http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&opt1=1&sql=" & s
    open location baseurl
    display dialog "Add this link to the document?"
    -- On ok, make OmniWeb give us its frontmost URL (which we just opened with the "open location baseurl" command
    tell application "OmniWeb"
        set theFrontmostWindowID to item 1 of (ListWindows)
        set theFrontmostWindowInfo to (GetWindowInfo theFrontmostWindowID)
        set myURL to item 1 of theFrontmostWindowInfo
    end tell
    -- make the URL into a properly formatted Markdown reference URL
    set the clipboard to "[" & s & "](" & myURL & ")"
    -- open up BBEdit
    tell application "BBEdit"
        --paste the properly formatted Markdown URL into the selection
    end tell
end main

Posted by mph at 4:59 PM

November 7, 2004

To the servant's quarters, all of you!

Naturally, having lost the election in such a brutal fashion relative to the stakes and expectations, we could expect, in addition to the bitter self-recrimination to which liberals are prone, a lot of smug dismissals of all that we believe from the Establishment Right. (The Frothing Right will, of course, be employing flamethrowers, urine, and gravel cannons.)

Which is why I wasn't surprised to read the following in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, along with chortling declarations that we Democrats--a whole 49 percent of the country--are all trial lawyers, Hollywood actors, "and other strange folk":

This is a Democratic Party in which nostalgia for tradition is too often considered racism, opposition to gay marriage is bigotry, misgiving about abortion is misogyny, Christian fundamentalism is like Islamic fundamentalism, discussion about gender roles is sexism, and confidence in America's global purpose is cultural imperialism. To put it mildly, this is not the values system to which most Americans adhere.

The column was accompanied by a picture of Hillary, lest loyal readers forget who they hate.

The WSJ editorial page carefully cultivates its role as a conservative counterweight of equal gravitas to the New York Times, and no doubt considers itself to be of much higher stature than its Moonie-owned ideological sibling, the Washington Times.

But it's unseemly for capitalist pigs to speak the moral language of a Baptist minister. Missouri, Nebraska, or Kentucky Republicans may be adhering to Old Testament values, but WSJ Republicans are Republicans because Republicans promise to take less of their money for the work of government, and get government out of the work that they do--and that's all ye need to know.

Which is why the Wall Street Journal, when it tries to mouth the Bible-belt rhetoric upon which the GOP has built winning coalitions since 1968, is clumsy enough to produce a line like the first one above. (Go ahead--read it again.)

What sort of "nostalgia for tradition" is it that we foolish, out-of-step Democrats might have sputteringly denounced as "racism"? Seriously, I'm stumped. Was there some Democratic campaign overreach for which this is shorthand? Was there some scarlet charge of racism that was so off-base that they could refer to it this dismissively? I understand the rest of their critique, and I'll argue with or stand by all of it--at length, and probably soon--but what do they mean by that?

"Damnit, Freddy, don't you long for the days when the help knew their place?"

I'm perfectly happy to believe they revealed their own true mindset, having blundered too far out on a limb in declaring that Democrats are...well, reasonable critics of American society who just happen to be out of step with political reality.

But if any readers know what they actually meant, please drop it in a comment.

Posted by pk at 7:09 PM

November 6, 2004

Things You Don't Want to Find in the Tub

Gollum might be something you wouldn't want to find in your tub, and so is Princess. It appears that the Infernal Gift has found its way back into our home after being away for two years.

What's an infernal gift?

After that, an infernal gift can be pretty much anything. The important part is that it stay on the move. And if you can get someone to accept it freely (but unwittingly), then the tribe will sing your praises to the stars. If you can't get someone to accept it freely and can rid yourself of it all the same, perhaps by claiming that you're remodeling your bathroom and need the use of your dear friends' shower and then leaving the infernal gift behind, well... you win, too.

For now, Princess will abide in our home and await the stirring of her inevitable wanderlust. When she's had enough of our hospitality, she'll walk the earth again. And someone will be sorry.

Posted by mph at 1:46 PM

November 4, 2004

Staying put

After I brought in the Kerry/Edwards and Kernan (D for IN governor--he lost, too) signs, the big question was whether to scrape the K/E stickers off my cars' rear windows, or leave them on for...whatever they might say to fellow drivers in the coming months.

"Kosmic Fool on Board"

"I Don't Know Why I Live Here Either"

"Whatever Happens Is Not My Fault, Fucker"

I had already planned a vacation day Wednesday to use however events demanded. I spent the morning rather creaky due to two martinis, four hours' sleep, and, of course, the psychic sucker-punch Dame Fortune had been saving for three years and eleven months. I kept turning on the radio--and turning it off. Turning on the TV--and turning it off. The info-habit was still on me, but today there was nothing left that I needed or wanted to know. I listened to Tom Waits's The Black Rider, an obligatory November listen and seldom more appropriate than today, with its arcane and tragicomic atmosphere of sin, sham, and dank, claustrophobic provincialism.

I browsed my customary, reasoned group of bloggers and pundits, most of them posting light through the late-morning (ET) hours. Few held out hope, nor did I, though of course de facto possibilities remained, until they didn't. I dipped a toe in Salon, but studiously avoided Slate and the real news. I still haven't looked at the Times or the Post. I thought about racking up a full-on Fuck-The-Man set in the CD carousel--Sex Pistols, Public Enemy, Fugazi, ... maybe some Dylan ... but my heart wasn't in it, and Tom Waits trailed into silence. In retrospect, I should've blasted Mingus all day; now Max is asleep and it's too late.

By chance I turned CNN back on just in time for Bush's concession. Heard Cheney use the word "mandate." No accident, that, and it's funny how, even to me, 51 percent does seem like one. Those damn Republicans sure can move the boulder. Bush, I thought, seemed rather subdued. Pleased, certainly, but--could it be?--humbled, and not a little stunned. I wondered if a part of him, after he voted and commended the outcome to God and the People, had started feeling somewhat relieved that he might just get to go cut brush in Crawford come January.

Bush said what he was supposed to say, for beneficence and strategery, and the Angel said, "Oh, he's just a normal husband and father trying to soothe the nation and re-assume his responsibilities." But the Devil said, "Right, you son-of-a-bitch, like with your noble words it is impingent once again upon the LIBERALS to do what we do so well and, generous and trusting, rise above the reeking memory of your perfidiously flung muck and extend the hand of friendship so you can spit in our palm again." From "Sore/Loserman" to Enron to Abu Ghraib to the Swift Boat Vets, the flood is ever tossing at the lip of the spillway.

Four years isn't that long to stay drunk, is it? It's not so much that Kerry lost, Democrats lost, WE lost. It's that THEY won. Bush? Validated. Karl Rove? Vindicated. Fox News Channel and those proudly misinformed right-bloggers you were sure would be tearfully eating their own shit? Back up in your ass with the resurrection.

Indeed, the heartland bellicosity to which Bush has given purpose is apparently the most disturbing thing for most of us. Most of us outgrew calling people fags when we were, I dunno, 15, or at least when we hit our 20s and started actually meeting some gay people and learning that they didn't all dress like Rocky Horror fans or constantly try to "convert" us. In fact, we realized they held down jobs and carried on relationships and were as reliable in all relevant areas as we ourselves strive to be, in addition to being hilarious raconteurs with impeccable taste.

But a lot of Americans think they don't know any gay people, believing they would recognize them by their rampaging promiscuity and the prominent horn sticking out of their foreheads. Having categorized gays and lesbians as foreign and malign, it is easy for otherwise generous citizens to abrogate the rights of these Americans--especially when irresponsible politicians pander to their psychological unease with all sexuality and employ homophobia as a wedge issue in a closely contested election.

Such political irresponsibility also allows otherwise good and decent Americans to overlook the death toll being suffered in nations to which we are endeavoring to bring "democracy" by force of arms. One thousand Americans have died in Iraq, compared with one hundred thousand Iraqis, and I don't know how many Afghanis. Pious hawks declare that we have brought our war to Iraqis for their benefit, and I don't deny that Saddam was bad or that progess has costs, but when civilian death tolls exponentially exceed that of the terrorist attack that began this martial paroxysm, then one has to ask whether our methods will provide, let alone be justified by, our stated goal of defeating terrorism. (I know--I don't think Iraq has anything to do with the WOT, but just for argument's sake.) It is hard to say what to call our blithe disregard for those deaths, but the conclusion that we think their lives matter less than ours is inescapable.

Many who supported Kerry against Bush are aghast, then, at who they are apparently sharing the country with. Are they racists? Homophobes? Theocrats? Trepanned dupes of George the Idiot King? Well...maybe. We can say that we don't understand why Bush's personality is so magnetic for so many people, but we know those people, we even love some of them, and we know how well Bush speaks their language. We just don't like to think about it, because in a couple weeks we may have to eat Thanksgiving dinner with some of them.

It's disgusting and discouraging that Bush ran the campaign he ran and profited by it, but we can't fight the prejudice and superstition that motivated many of his supporters, and we don't have to. If segregation could be ended in the face of a racism that went to the bone in this country, then what we face today is minor. The American middle is more moderate than it looks today, and history is on our side. Whether he's a genius or an idiot, Bush and the circumstances that produced his success are a rare combination, and the radical right will have a hard time finding as appealing a spokesperson for bigotry and repression, and that stuff will go back under the table where it belongs.

More important than faint hopes for an end to demagoguery from the right is finding the narrative and the language that will make it irrelevant as a political strategy. Because it is. You don't have to be a policy wonk to have a rough idea of the problems this country faces and their solutions. These are the moral issues, and we need politicians who don't cede the concept of morality to Baptist ministers. Morality, as far as the government should be concerned with it, is about fairness in business, equality of opportunity, and protecting the environment.

Power and wealth accrues to the powerful and wealthy, and regulating the powerful requires massive, unignorable grass-roots mobilization. It also means developing support and platforms and candidates from the ground up, not waiting for them to be handed down from the Party.

I'm not preaching, here. I run my mouth a lot, but I've never invested myself personally in politics to that extent, and I wouldn't be thinking about it now if it weren't so obvious that we simply don't have a choice. It's either that, or wait around for the revolution. If we all run off to Canada, then the terrorists have already won.

Posted by pk at 7:11 PM

November 3, 2004

Ten Pounds Lighter

This afternoon I treated myself to the elimination of the seasonal blog roll and its analogous folder in my NNW subscriptions.

The caterwauling has begun, in a mode we could have predicted if the election itself hadn't come as such a nasty surprise: List all the things you hated about the last four years, but with an oratorical flourish like "They don't care that ..." or "They voted for more of ..." or "They lined up in record numbers to make sure ..."

Bonus points (or all take a sip) if the author claims to not recognize the country anymore.

Alternately, create a hateful list of everything vile about southern rednecks then end with a snarling "values" in rhetorical scare quotes.

So in lieu of a grandiloquent rant about how mine very heart has been ripped from my tear-soaked chest, or a hate-filled rant about how I prefer the Democrats be out of power if the alternative is becoming whiskey-swilling crackers, I opened up a new page in my Brain voodoopad entitled "PoliticalLanguage" and pasted in a slightly reworked paragraph from an entry a few weeks back:

The corrosive secondary effect of that assault on conscience, besides serving to marginalize people acting on a different set of principles, is the self-demonization of people who perceive "morality" and "goodness" to have become the property of the religious right, which makes it difficult to speak about moral or ethical behavior without invoking notions of abstemious piety and literal-minded intolerance of dissent.

It came to mind to do that after listening to Air America on the way out to pick up some more whiskey. The host was in denial about the election. The drift of the conversation was "The margin was tiny, we just need to grab a few more votes next time and it'll all be ok again."

That's no way to live... hoping to scratch out a few more votes next time so the marginal majority tips in our favor and we can get another hit of presidential power. That's not a program. That's just asking for this all over again... another four or eight years after this terms ends of trying to defend a better-than-the-alternative president from a well-honed political machine that put us on the defensive during Clinton's presidency and will do so again the next time.

So I opened up that PoliticalLanguage page and pasted in the graf and I'll ad more grafs as time goes by, because we really are locked in a battle over language. While it's easy for me to parrot Lakoff or Phil Agre or whomever, it's time for me to begin thinking about the language war and its attendant campaign for control of (or at least peaceful coexistence within) the realm of "values" and "morality" and even "faith."

It's also time to start thinking about how to get involved, too. The more I think about it, the more I'm sorry I got involved so late.

Posted by mph at 10:20 PM

The Boy in the Bubble

Josh Marshall writes:

"Yesterday evening I heard various commentators say that Kerry's defeat would usher in a civil war among Democrats. Tucker Carlson said it would or should lead to a 'Goldwater moment' for the Democrats.

As I've noted above, I don't want to diminish the scope of what's happened. But a civil war over what exactly? Yes, some consultants will get a hard shake. And I'm certain there will be backbiting against Kerry (which I for one will very much disagree with.) But a civil war over what? The right and the left of the party were remarkably united in this cycle and managed to find points of compromise on key issues."

Right. And a united Democratic party lost. Maybe a slightly less cute electoral strategy would have changed things, but we'd still be dealing with a popular loss, or a victory so thin that there'd be no mandate with which to clobber congress.

So it seems to me that if there is a civil war, it should be about how we begin to address where we failed with not only the two million who didn't vote our way, but with the extra two million we'll need to create a convincing win the next time. It's going to take a lot of work, a reworking of the language progressives in the party both use and tolerate, and a titanic effort to destroy the notion of "values" as "pieties you can mouth that the Republicans have a monopoly on."

We'll have to go deeper and further: Everyone agreeing with everyone else doesn't seem to have done the trick. Our leadership needs some new ideas, and like any leadership, some of its representatives won't care for them.

Posted by mph at 11:39 AM

Could Be Worse

I once lived across a hall from a guy named Florian Kardoskee. Florian was from Appleton, WI, and he was one of the few soldiers I ever met who'd tell you "service to country" was an important part of his decision to join. I believed him. That's a hard thing to say with a straight face among soldiers, believe it or not.

Other details: He was fairly small for a soldier. He didn't buy a lot of junk, and his barracks room was pretty spartan. He invested his money and could occasionally be seen out on the picnic table with a prospectus from one investment fund or another.

The most important thing about Flo, though, was his stock response to things that really sucked:

"Could be worse."

It was the source of a lot of humor around the barracks, with repeated attempts to get him to admit to a circumstance that could not be any worse, but Flo didn't really budge. He took assorted dismemberment, bankruptcy, emasculation, and bad weather scenarios presented for his consideration in stride. And the worst hypotheticals only served to make his point for him. It was just raining while we happened to be out in the field, which was clearly better than losing both your arms to a landmine... see? It could be worse.

Death scenarios caused him to lose his patience and he'd say, with a small edge in his voice, "If I'm dead, then I really won't be around to know how bad it got, now will I?"

I'd guess Florian is pretty pleased with the results of this election. He leaned that way last I knew him. So from his perspective, things could definitely be worse this morning.

It did suck to go to bed last night knowing that even if Ohio were somehow pulled out for Kerry, the popular vote would still stand where it did, and an electoral victory doesn't feel as winningly legitimate as a popular one.

It sucked to drive Ben in to daycare this morning and hear the first news that Kerry had quietly conceded to Bush.

It sucked to wake up and see the numbers on Measure 36, which only got worse over time last night, and to hear the tally of similar measures and amendments in ten other states.

For all the suckage, though, we have a sort of clarity we didn't have two days ago. The post mortems will come in and we'll learn from them. Rather than worrying about shoring up a president with a tenuous popular mandate and a hostile congress, we'll have time to figure out what we did wrong, what we did right, how our imaginations failed us, and how we can do better. How we must do better.

Going in to the election season, I was curious and engaged by the unfolding story, but I was also unhappy. I felt detached from the process, unenthused with the candidate we got, unhappy with how the race was run. My actual civic involvement was limited to casting a ballot and spending a few afternoons out trying to get my neighbors to vote, and that's close to nothing.

In some ways, this morning leaves me feeling much more invigorated politically than I ever have. We're about to get reams of data on what just happened, we're still alive, and there have been times in living memory when this country has had worse to contend with. It's up to us to shake off our unhappiness and cope. The alternative is a useless nihilism in which we make ourselves powerless and hopeless. I'm not going there. This is still my country, too, and it didn't get conceded along with the presidency.

It could be worse. If you say otherwise, you've already given up. Please roll your own body into the ditch so the rest of us don't have to step over it.

Posted by mph at 9:18 AM

November 2, 2004

Got Vote

Rainy Portland day today.

I took the day off from work so I could go help with the local GOTV drive. None of the other volunteers for my neighborhood showed up, so I took a precinct for myself and headed out without a partner. I didn't do my tallies when I got back, but the organizer said there were probably about 100 doors to knock on, and that seems about right. The rain made for pretty slow going.

I covered my area in about 3.5 hours, and didn't find many people at home. The ones I did talk to had already voted earlier in the day, or planned to drop their ballot off as soon as they headed out for work. I handed out or left a lot of drop-off guides.

The first picture has the area I walked highlighted in a red square. The second picture is the view from under my umbrella while I was out canvassing. The whole urban chicken thing's big in our neighborhood.

And that's about all I've got to say. This entry has been sitting in the draft hopper for three hours now, so I might as well toss it up. I was feeling much more wordy while I was out hopping over puddles and discovering houses that were marked as Democratic but happened to have stealth Republicans lurking within. I think I was indulging in some motivational self-talk, and the occasional person who wanted to know why I was out and why I'd take the day off to remind people vote gave me good reason to keep the talk fire stoked. I also entertained myself by doodling a story about 19th century electioneers coping with rambunctious neighborhood toughs. Sample dialogue:

"Gar! Why should I vote for Mr. Kerry?" asked the young ruffian, "By all accounts he is a coward and a liar! What do you have to say about that?"

My countenance must have changed, for the young tough stepped back.

"My man Mr. Kerry is an honorable man, sir, and a hero of the people! Anyone who says otherwise is asking for a licking from me he won't soon forget!"

At that, the young man doffed his cap and said "If all of Mr. Kerry's fellows are as stout as you, then I say 'huzzah! for Mr. Kerry!'"

"Then you shall avoid a sound thrashing this day, good sir!" I exclaimed, and began to walk again. The young ruffian and his gang fell in behind me, shouting "Huzzah! for Mr. Kerry! Huzzah!"

I think I was about two hours into my walk when that idea came and went.

But by the time I walked back to the drop-off place for my tally sheets, I wasn't feeling too talkative, and that hasn't changed much. Probably because I'm glutted on other peoples' commentary, my vote's been long cast, and I've done about all I can do this year.

One thing that kept going through my head was that as much as I liked going out and reminding voters, I'd probably rather do something else next time. I wonder what.

Posted by mph at 9:06 PM

November 1, 2004

Alderaan Can Finally Rest

The UPS man stopped by today with my Star Wars IV replacement DVD.

It fixed the issue I was having with chapter 26, wherein the destruction of Alderaan created such a disturbance in The Force that my DVD player was shocked back to the opening titles.

Now to find a solid seven hour stretch so I can watch all three back to back. There was no way in hell I was going to just skip that scene and get on with my life.

Posted by mph at 1:21 PM

5,872 Bottles of Herbal Immunity Booster Remedy on the Wall...

Apologies to anyone sending mail I may not have replied to in the past few days.

At some point over the weekend, a spammer used an old work address as his forged From: header. Beginning some time Saturday morning and ending about two hours ago, I received 5,872 messages including failed challenge/responses, delivery errors, and commercial anti-spam gateway notifications (which are their own sort of spam, to the extent they're careful to take the opportunity to pimp their miracle spam-fighting powers).

I was able to write some filters to catch the most likely patterns, but about 25% still made it through between me realizing what was going on (I woke up to the first 1,200 or so) and me not bothering to write filters against the odds and ends that represent individual mail server admin attempts at cleverness (Favorite 550 subject of the weekend: "Fuck of [sic], spammer.")

Upside: That old work address, which no one uses except spam harvesters visiting articles I wrote three or four years ago, was disabled without question. I need to send a box of chocolates to our support people for just turning the damn address off without a fuss.

Lesson: If your organization does a major namespace reorg of some kind, rather than simply aliasing the old addresses over to the new domain, consider adding an X-Header with a filterable bit of text in it like "X-Old-Address-We-Maintain-So-the-Spammers-Can-Find-You-and-Fuck-Up-Your-Weekend: True. That way, your employees can write a filter or recipe in their mail client or procmail to file mail to the old addie in a special folder, figure out which contacts need the new address, notify them (or send an autoresponse notification), and then write filters sending the rest to /dev/null where it probably belongs.

Another Lesson: People who use challenge/response systems come off like dweebs no matter how hard they try to make the whole "Use the sekrit word" message sound polite or professional.

Anyhow. Dug out now. Back to work.

Posted by mph at 10:27 AM