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Friday, October 31, 2003

Lies, Damn Lies, and Politics 

William Rivers Pitt at truthout.org has a well-written, scathing summary of the current administration's rather flexible relationship with the truth here. If anyone cares to rebut any of his factual assertions, I'd be interested.

The same site also provided a link here to a news story on President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" publicity ploy on the carrier and subsequent recantation. Critical language:

When it was brought up again Tuesday at a news conference, Bush said, "The 'Mission Accomplished' sign, of course, was put up by the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished."
"I know it was attributed somehow to some ingenious advance man from my staff - they weren't that ingenious, by the way."

After the news conference, a White House spokeswoman said the Lincoln's crew asked the White House to have the sign made. The White House asked a private vendor to produce the sign, and the crew put it up, said the spokeswoman.


Hmmm. Not a clearcut lie, but certainly misleading.

I'm not particularly surprised at politicians shading the truth, but the frequency and breadth of this administration's deceptions does distress me.
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It's All Bad 

Courtesy of Atrios' Eschaton blog, a couple of disturbing notes:

Someone has put up a fake version of Riverbend's blog. I wonder if the frequent grammar and language mistakes in it are an attempt at verisimilitude, or just reflect the actual incompetence of the forger.

John Gorenfeld is tracking the story here.

On an even more disturbing note, Atrios has this picture of a burned out street near the Scripps ranch in San Diego. I have relatives there, who report that their neighbor's house and all the houses across the street burned to the ground, but their house is still standing. Scary, scary stuff.

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Thursday, October 30, 2003

Pleased to Note 

Dan Drezner and Melymbrosia both referenced my blog in recent posts -- thanks, you two!
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Wednesday, October 29, 2003

A Fool and his Money are Soon Parted 

Here's an update from snopes.com on the Nigerian scam. I guess this paragraph answers my question about the success rate:

"We have confirmed losses just in the United States of over $100 million in the last 15 months," said Special Agent James Caldwell, of the Secret Service financial crimes division. "And that's just the ones we know of. We figure a lot of people don't report them."

The article also notes that earlier variations of this scheme go back to the 1920s.

Plus, Douglas Cruikshank at Salon.com wrote this entertaining article on the literary merits of the Nigerian scam letters.

Anyway, go read. And if you know someone gullible and rich enough to need to be warned about this scam, feel free to suggest that they send their excess money to me instead.
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Scam-o-rama 

Mr. Joseph Mphogu of South Africa wants to give me 25% of 18.5 million dollars. I haven't bothered to do the math, but it sure sounds like a lot of money. He knows that I am the perfect candidate because "a member of the South Africa Export Promotion Council (SEPC) who was at the Government delegation to your country during a trade exhibition gave your credentials/particulars to me," and he's hoping I "will keep it as a top secret because of the nature of this transaction." Uh-huh.

Mr. Mphogu tells me frankly (knowing he can trust me), that the money is the result of a fraud perpetuated on his government, although the details of the scam are a little vague and internally inconsistent. But that's ok, because I know that if he's a crook he's certain to fulfill any bargain he makes with me, because otherwise I could go to the police, right?

Anyway, he assures me that the "business itself is 100% safe, on your part provided you treat it with utmost secrecy and confidentiality. Also your area of specialization is not a hindrance to the successful execution of this transaction." Not sure what that means. I understand all the words, just not in that order.

Mr. Mphogu is reposing his confidence in me. After all, I have an honest face. He wants me to contact him immediately and tell him whether or not I am interested in this deal. He says, "If you are not, it will enable me scout for another foreign partner to carry out this deal I want to assure you that my partner and myself are in a position to make the payment of this claim possible provided you can give us a very strong assurance and guarantee that our share will be secured and please remember to treat this matter as very confidential matter, because we will not comprehend with any form of exposure as we are still in active Government Service and remember once again that time is of the essence in this business." Golly, I wonder what form the "very strong assurance and guarantee" of security would take? I'll bet if I gave them some money, that would help them trust me.

I wonder what success rate this ploy has. It seems like it'd be awfully difficult to find an unwitting sucker stupid and greedy enough to fall for it.
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Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Arabic 

I went to a bookclub meeting last week. The book was Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and there were five of us there. Three of us were then beginning Arabic lessons. Let me emphasize that the bookclub had nothing at all to do with Arabic or the Middle East.

Of course, coincidences are just that -- interesting, but ultimately just a coincidence. One apocryphal story does not prove anything. On the other hand, as one of the three beginning Arabic, I know that the interest in learning Arabic in the DC area has been so great since 9/11 that Arabic 1 classes regularly fill up well in advance of their start dates, and additional classes are being offered as fast as they can be arranged.

When WW2 got going, I wonder if there was an upswing in German language classes, and if not, what's changed in the world.
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Stranger than Fiction 

According to the Washington Post this morning, a now-fired Michigan city manager is facing a public flap after lying about his education in order to teach... wait for it... an ethics class.

I swear, no one would write this as fiction -- the irony would be just too obvious.
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Monday, October 27, 2003

Ah, love 

In the spring I asked the daisies
If his words were true,
And the clever little daisies
Always knew.
Now the fields are brown and barren,
Bitter autumn blows,
And of all the stupid asters
Not one knows.

-- Sara Teasdale

[Edited to change title, after deciding that the poem doesn't really reflect my life at all -- I just like it.]
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Sunday, October 26, 2003

Clearly I'm on a Bujold Roll 

Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself. The friction tends to arise when the two are not the same.

There is no more hollow feeling than to stand with your honor shattered at your feet while soaring public reputation wraps you in rewards.
That's soul destroying. The other way around is merely very, very irritating.

Guard your honor. Let your reputation fall where it will. And outlive the bastards.


-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign
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Saturday, October 25, 2003

Ch-ch-ch-changes 

I am sitting on my bed looking out at a new view, of trees and grass through an arched window with a half moon atop it. Clothes are away, furniture is arranged, my little 13" tv has suddenly acquired more stations than it's ever had before, and... [drumroll] I have a cable modem for my laptop. It's just like surfing at work! Life is Good.

I wandered out to possess my new yard this afternoon, and said hi to my new neighbor. In 10 minutes, I found out all the basic details of his family, work, and prior history. My housemate Joshua told me later that he has been here for five years, and didn't even know the guy's name. I wonder if it's a gender difference.

Stop worrying where you're going, move on
If you can know where you're going, you've gone
Just keep moving on
I chose and my world was shaken, so what?
The choice may have been mistaken
The choosing was not.
You have to move on.

-- Sondheim, Sunday in the Park with George
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Friday, October 24, 2003

Thought of the Day 

Some prices are just too high, no matter how much you may want the prize. The one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart.--Lois McMaster Bujold, Memory

...Now back to packing.
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Thursday, October 23, 2003

Slouching Towards Bethlehem 

I have been reading Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion's book of essays on California in the 60s.

The title essay is full of foreboding, a sense that the world has spun irrevocably out of control. She writes:

...nor was [the political potential] clear to the press, which at varying levels of competence continued to report "the hippie phenomenon" as an extended panty raid; an artistic avant-garde led by such comfortable YMHA regulars as Allen Ginsberg; or a thoughtful protest, not unlike joining the Peace Corps, against the culture which had produced Saran-Wrap and the Vietnam War. This last, or they're-trying-to-tell-us-something approach, reached its apogee in a Time cover story which revealed that hippies "scorn money -- they call it 'bread'" and remains the most remarkable, if unwitting, extant evidence that the signals between the generations are irrevocably jammed.

Because the signals the press was getting were immaculate of political possibilities, the tensions of the District went unremarked upon, even during the period when there were so many observers on Haight Street from
Life and Look and CBS that they were largely observing one another. The observers believed roughly what the children told them: that they were a generation dropped out of political action, beyond power games, that the New Left was just another ego trip. Ergo, there really were no activists in the Haight-Ashbury, and those things which happened every Sunday were spontaneous demonstrations because, just as the Diggers say, the police are brutal and juveniles have no rights and runaways are deprived of their right to self-determination and people are starving to death on Haight Street, a scale model of Vietnam.

Of course the activists -- not those whose thinking had become rigid, but those whose approach to revolution was imaginatively anarchic -- had long ago grasped the reality which still eluded the press: we were seeing something important. We were seeing the desperate attempt of a handful of pathetically unequipped children to create a community in a social vacuum. Once we had seen these children, we could no longer overlook the vacuum, no longer pretend that the society's atomization could be reversed. This was not a traditional generational rebellion. At some point between 1945 and 1967 we had somehow neglected to tell these children the rules of the game we happened to be playing. Maybe we had stopped believing in the rules ourselves, maybe we were having a failure of nerve about the game. Maybe there were just too few people around to do the telling. These were children who grew up cut loose from the web of cousins and great-aunts and family doctors and lifelong neighbors who had traditionally suggested and enforced the society's values. They are children who have moved around a lot,
San Jose, Chula Vista, here. They are less in rebellion against the society than ignorant of it, able only to feed back certain of its most publicized self-doubts, Vietnam, Saran-Wrap, diet pills, the Bomb.

While I am fascinated by the glimpse of SF in such a pivotal period, and I love the lucidity of Didion's prose, I cannot help but noting that things did not fall apart; ultimately the center held. The runaway hippies grew older and used drugs less, got jobs, raised families. The war in Vietnam ended. We moved on to disco, oil shortages, a slump followed by an economic boom, to the Internet and the telecom bubble, through new wars, disasters, scandals and triumphs.

Perhaps that is why history can be more useful than news reportage for understanding the world: there's nothing like the distance of several decades to help separate the mountains from the molehills.
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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The Nature of Gifts 

I loved TWW's Mrs. Landingham showing up as God last week on Joan of Arcadia.

Joan is about to tell her friend Adam that God talks to her, when Mrs. Landingham God interrupts.

Joan: So...did you just pop up to stop me from telling Adam about you?
God: I don't pop. I abide. I am eternal. There's no popping.
Joan: So...I can tell him?
God: That's entirely up to you. Free will. Just remember that it's a burden asking people to believe you.
Joan: Adam will believe me.
God: Yes...but you don't know Adam that well yet. For example, you don't know how many burdens the boy is already carrying. And I'd like you to consider the possibility that it is you who should take on some of his burdens...not vice versa.
Joan: Adam has burdens?
God starts to leave: Sometimes they look a lot like gifts.

This quote puts me in mind of a similar sentiment on the nature of tests as gifts voiced by Cordelia in Lois McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor:

"I've always thought - tests are a gift. And great tests are a great gift. To fail the test is a misfortune. But to refuse the test is to refuse the gift, and something worse, more irrevocable, than misfortune. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"No," said Vortala.
"Yes," said Vorkosigan.
"I've always felt that theists were more ruthless than atheists," said Ezar Vorbarra.
"If you think it's really wrong," said Cordelia to Vorkosigan, "that's one thing. Maybe that's the test. But if it's only fear of failure - you have not the right to refuse the gift for that."
"It's an impossible job."
"That happens, sometimes."
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Blog Stats 

Perseus has posted an interesting White Paper survey of blog stats and usage, here. (Thanks to Melymbrosia for the link.) Highlights:

*Perseus estimates that 4.12 million blogs have been created on these services: Blog-City, BlogSpot, Diaryland, LiveJournal, Pitas, TypePad, Weblogger and Xanga.
*The most dramatic finding was that 66.0% of surveyed blogs had not been updated in two months, representing 2.72 million blogs that have been either permanently or temporarily abandoned.
*Blogs are updated much less often than generally thought. Active blogs were updated on average every 14 days. Only 106,579 of the hosted blogs were updated on average at least once a week. Fewer than 50,000 were updated daily.
*Blogs are currently the province of the young, with 92.4% of blogs created by people under the age of 30.

Huh.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Anywhere You Go 

Sonya is writing a WIP Buffy/HP crossover called Anywhere You Go, and I have spent the last hour engrossed even though I don't like WIPs and most Buffy/HP crossovers suck dead bunnies through a twisty straw. And yet, this doesn't. So. I hope she posts regularly, at least.
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Monday, October 20, 2003

Obviously I've Pretty Much Stopped Working for the Day 

Melymbrosia sums up my opinion on Joan of Arcadia, saving me the bother of being that coherent. I can't think of anything more that needs to be said:

Joan of Arcadia is a treasure. Those of you who haven't been listening to vonnielake are missing out. This is incredibly charming and at times very thoughtful, and the cast is solid, and the snark very good indeed. The struggles with faith and belief are done with enough passion and doubt to feel real to this atheist, and these struggles are interwoven with elements that don't depend on religious belief to be interesting: self-definition and redefinition in the aftermath of crisis, not to mention just the course of normal life; figuring out how to relate to other people and the world; seeing how your choices affect your life. It reminds me a lot of early Buffy -- brightly colored, good dialogue, vivid characterization, thoughtful undercurrents to the action and debate, and strong stand-alone episodes with emotional continuity creating a throughline.

In another vein altogether, Maayan has some interesting thoughts on criminal types in her 10/20/03 blog entry:

There is no such a thing as 'an arsonist', 'a rapist', 'a burglar'. D's rapists stole, burglarised, assaulted, burned. My arsonists vandalised, robbed, shoplifted, sexually assaulted. There is no evidence of specialisation to be found anywhere--none. The greatest minds in criminology have championed specialisation; many people whose work I respect are proponents of specialisation. It doesn't change the fact that there is no evidence of it anywhere; in fact, the evidence is firmly against it. There are not, strictly speaking, different causes for different crimes, and going about studying crime this way is doomed to failure. Ninety percent of all published research can be thrown out with the baby's bathwater.

There's quite a bit more, and it's all worth thinking about.

Lastly, I saw Intolerable Cruelty last week, and just have to comment that while it was funny and clever, the film was so entirely dead wrong about practically every fundamental of California divorce law that it might as well have been written by aliens. OK, the Coen brothers are from the Midwest (I think, yes?) but surely many of the people who worked on the script have been divorced in California? The mistakes are so glaringly obvious, that anyone who got a California divorce in the last 25 years would recognize them -- a law degree is not required. Just for starters, California is a no-fault divorce state, so all of that blather about who had been having affairs with whom would mean diddly-squat to the judge. And there's no jury trial in divorces. One party can't unilaterally end a valid prenup just by tearing it up; it's a contract, not a will. And to be valid, prenups have to be signed a minimum of 7 days before the wedding (that law has only been on the books since 2001, but it was a well-publicized change). And, and, and. I do realize that if the law had been accurate, there would have been no plot left, but couldn't they have placed it somewhere else?
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Born Under a Rhyming Planet 

Just the other day, linguist John McWhorter pointed out at a book signing the current absence of poetry from our daily lives, and today I find this in Bookslut's blog:

Judge Deborah Servitto handed down her decision on a lawsuit between DeAngelo Bailey and Eminem in rhyme.

Mr Bailey complains that his rap is trash
so he's seeking compensation in the form of cash.

Bailey thinks he's entitled to some monetary gain,
because Eminem used his name in vain.
The lyrics are stories no one would take as fact,
they're an exaggeration of a childish act.

It is therefore this court's ultimate position,
that Eminem is entitled to summary disposition.


Read more here. So okay, it's doggerel and it was only a footnote in the decision, but it is verifiably poetry.
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Just Flabbergasted 

Courtesy of Mark Morford at the SF Chron, comes this link to a product so ineffably bizarre that I'm left in shaking my head in wonder. I feel the sudden need to lie down with a cold compress on my forehead.

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Joan of Arcadia  

Joan of Arcadia continues to delight me.

Joan asks, "I'm being punished because I made a tiny little effort to fit in?"
God explains: "It's not about punishment. It's that actions have consequences. And to be in denial of that is to be disengaged from the laws of the universe, which renders you powerless and vulnerable to an inordinate amount of pain."

Amazing how many people seem to have trouble with that concept.
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Saturday, October 18, 2003

No Place Like Home 

I found a new place to live in Arlington, outside of DC. Now I just have to figure out how to get all my stuff over there. My new roommates seem nice and non-psychotic, so I'm hoping for Good Things.

Kodiakkemax has discontinued her yahoo address. If anyone knows of a current way to reach her, I'd appreciate hearing from you. I'm looking for a story she wrote in 1997, "The Mourning After."
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Friday, October 17, 2003

Bush orders leaks to stop 

I gacked this intro to a news story from Dan Drezner's blog.

"Concerned about the appearance of disarray and feuding within his administration as well as growing resistance to his policies in Iraq, President Bush - living up to his recent declaration that he is in charge - told his top officials to 'stop the leaks' to the media, or else.

News of Bush's order leaked almost immediately.

Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he 'didn't want to see any stories' quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used."


Just too funny.
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Thursday, October 16, 2003

Procrastinating at work, I wandered into the Farscape Leviathan archive to see if KodiakkeMax had written anything lately, and hopped over to her blog, which turns out to contain bits of poetry and odd insights, conveyed in a dreamlike sense of urgency. I was particularly struck by this quote:

"You will only understand what it is to be a citizen of one country when you have been a foreigner in another."

Word.

But she hasn't posted since May, so I will content myself with re-reading her brilliant epic In the Company of Ghosts, a truly amazing story based on a single what-if: what if John didn't hit Crais' brother Tauvo in the pilot episode, but hit Aeryn instead? KodiakkeMax gives us a John searching for something he doesn't know he's lost, and an Aeryn we've never seen. The story could easily have been implausible and just Very Bad, but it is so faithful in its depth of detail and so skilled in its use of dialog from the show, that the characters' tones and rhythms are unerringly familiar. This one is on all the rec lists for a good reason.
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Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Good mail! 

Today my new laptop power cable arrived. The package really worried security, because when they x-rayed it there were wires and such, but I was very happy to see it. It's been awkward trying to hold the cable at the precise angle for electricity to flow through with one hand while typing with the other hand.

Also, I got the last DVD of Farscape Season 3, so I will finally be able to read Maayan's and TGUT's commentary on those eps.

Today was one of the good days.
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Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Monday, Monday, so good to me 

OK, it's Tuesday, but it feels like a Monday, because of the Columbus Day holiday we just had. I don't know of any songs immortalizing Tuesday.

RozK has a fascinating historical exposition of homosexuality, with a focus on Christian attitudes towards the same, in her LiveJournal here. It's lucid and informative. Read the comments too -- some good tidbits there.

My search for new housing continues to take up scads of time. (How much is a "scad," anyway? Merriam-Webster unabridged doesn't admit to the existence of the word (except as a type of fish) but I'm sure it exists.) So far, I've seen and mentally rejected two inexpensive but fatally unaesthetic places and sent out many emails and voicemails.
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Sunday, October 12, 2003

Let's Hear It For the Boy 

My AC adapter abruptly became unreliable mid week, so I have been forced to drastically minimalize my computer usage. However, today I had a lengthy chat with a nice young man named Heric in Manila, who ultimately agreed that the power cable should be replaced and is under warranty, and is airmailing me out a new one, so happier times and renewed posting are ahead. I'm actually rather surprised that Dell is covering this under its warranty -- glad that I sprang for the extended term.
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Monday, October 06, 2003

Angel (SPOILERS) 

Finally got around to watching the season premiere of Angel. The opening sequence seemed campy (and yes, I understand that it was a reference to the series premiere, but it still seemed over the top) and the unexplained transformation of Angel as a superfighter niggles. His fighting skills and acrobatic abilities went well beyond what was common in previous seasons, and way way beyond what he appeared capable of on Buffy, or what other vampires appear to be able to do. It looked extremely improbable, to the point of being just silly.

I liked that Angel and the MoG were having serious cold feet about joining with the Law Firm o' Evil in order to Do Good, and they managed to fit in a large amount of exposition in a short, contained section. It would actually be illegal for Angel as a non-lawyer to run a law firm in California, but I can fanwank that easily enough: in a universe where the DA may have put a magical shield around a jury to prevent jury-tampering, the State Bar could be bought off, or demonic. But here's the quote that got me:

Gunn [talking to Wesley about their new offices]: We can switch if you don't like the, y'know, kung pao, or whatever.
Wesley: Feng shui.
Gunn: Right. What's that mean again?
Wesley: That people will believe anything.

Once my laughing fit died down, I just lay back and enjoyed the rest of it. I'm hoping that with Joss only doing one show this year instead of three, he may actually be able to keep the quality up. And here's hoping he writes many more episodes.

The gay/kinky subtext was darn near text in this episode, and from the looks of the previews for next week, it's continuing unabated. Angel may end up the first bisexual lead character on broadcast television -- at least, I can't think of any competition.

And then there was more priceless dialog:

Angel [pressing a button on his new phone to reach a secretary]: Uh, can I get a cup of coffee or something?
Phone voicemail recording: You have reached Ritual Sacrifice. For goats, press "1" or say "goats."

Hee!

My other show this fall appears to be "Joan of Arcadia." So far, it has done almost nothing to annoy me, and I'm pretty much an atheist. Anyway, I like shows that tackle the hard questions, whether or not I agree with their answers. Plus, I like the way God brings up Joan's most embarrassing moments to convince her that he's God.
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Iraqi opinion poll 

August survey of Iraqi opinion here.

Where do we go from here?
The battle's done,
And we kind of won
So we sound our victory cheer

Where do we go from here?
Why is the path unclear?
When we know home is near
Understand
We'll go hand in hand
But we'll walk alone in fear

Buffy: OMWF
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Sunday, October 05, 2003

Joss makes me giggle 

Gacked the following Joss Whedon quote from Lcsbanana's response to DiraSudis' 9/9 blog entry, via AnnaS, who has a knack for finding good stuff. Anyway, here it is:

"Yes, Eliza has said she'll come back if the stories are interesting. Which is just too damn bad, 'cause I had some really DULL stuff lined up for Faith. Man, QUALITY dull. She was gonna knit, there was whole psoriasis arc, intense dandruff -- Oh! She was gonna vaccuum. But, like, obsessively. It's the kind of lifeless TV the fans demand, but apparantly Little Miss Contrary isn't into that. Well, fine."

Note to self: avoid mentioning my dandruff issues and occasional obsessive vacuuming in this blog. Interesting stories only. (They may have to be fictional, though.)


In other news, my roommate has just announced that she has decided to become a single parent and as a consequence feels that she has to be alone, and therefore I need to look for housing that's elsewhere. Funny, if I were going to be a single parent I think I'd want as many potential relief babysitters in my life as possible. So, as of now, I'm in search of new housing in the DC metro area.

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Friday, October 03, 2003

Yay! 

Bloom County's Opus is returning to the comics in November! Details here. Read Mark Morford's column for additional commentary, to which I can only say, "Word."
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Journalism and Politics 

While avoiding actual work, I found this link from Josh Chavez' post in the Oxblog. Go read it -- it's funny. Really.
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Thursday, October 02, 2003

Breadbasket of America 

Back from a two-day junket to the Midwest for work. Toured the former Satcom building at Offutt AFB, which is now the military law center. Small, unimpressive rooms, and the underground portion only went down one floor, as far as I could tell. I don’t think it was particularly hardened, but perhaps still better than putting a newspaper over your head in case of nuclear attack.

It was a bit of a revelation how hilly Nebraska actually is. I expected it to be flat as a table, but it was more like a rucked up sheet. Many of the fields actually had terracing. It was actually somewhat scenic. On the downside, though, I’ve eaten so much red meat over the past couple of days, I feel like I will have to go entirely vegetarian for a week just to rebalance my system. Two steakhouses and a law school lunch (where they fed us chicken and steak) in two days. Oy vey.

My boss displayed deep interest in the fate of the Braves vs. Cubs, while I made encouraging noises and tried to pretend I had at least minimal knowledge of their respective statuses (stati?) and prospects this season, and that certainly at no time could I ever have confused them with football teams.
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