April 2003

How not to fix a problem

Blogshares seems like a fun idea that has attracted quite a bit of attention. Unfortunately, it includes a ticker–a mere frill–that is coded in Javascript that causes all Mac browsers (at least, that I’ve tried) to lock up. If you use a Mac, the only way to visit the site is to disable Javascript first. This has been mentioned repeatedly on the discussion board there.

The brilliant solution? A “ticker on/ticker off” switch. Implemented in Javascript. The only way to turn off the ticker is to turn Javascript on. If you do that, the browser locks up, making it impossible to turn off the ticker.

I think Joseph Heller wrote a book about this type of situation.

Art Car Parade

It seems incredible that a soul-sucking wasteland like Houston would have a fantastic art car parade, sponsored by the Orange Show, and that Austin would have none. Well, no longer. Yesterday was Austin’s first art car parade. Did I get pictures? No. Am I an idiot? Yes. There were some wonderful creations there–my favorite, if I had to choose one, would probably be the Aero Car, a brilliantly adapted BMW bubble-car. The add-ons and paint were flawless; the interior had an altimeter fitted to the dashboard; the propeller spins.

Other notables included the Roachster, twinkle twinkle, Student Driver, Iron Maiden, the bookmobile, and of course the Objet Dart. I wish I could scare up a link for the scorpion–it was amazing.

[update: Someone else got some pictures.]

The war and the bigger picture

One of many, many disturbing aspects of the U.S. invasion of Iraq is what the broader ramifications could turn out to be. Howard Dean has suggested that China may feel emboldened to “liberate” Taiwan. For that matter, India might decide to “liberate” Sri Lanka (but perhaps not Kashmir, because Pakistan’s got nukes). Yeehaw! I got yer New World Order right here, pappy.

A few articles in the paper today struck me as interesting as repercussions of the war. North Korea is sounding more conciliatory. So is Iran.

I suspect Bush apologists will look at these two data points and smugly declare that it was the strategy all along with Gulf War II to make an example of Iraq and get these other Axis of Evil honorees to play nice. And I’ll even allow as how, just maybe, such really was the intent all along. But I would argue that any similarity between that goal and these glimmers of possible outcomes is completely coincidental. These outcomes are completely unpredictable, as Cuba’s current crackdown on dissent suggests. No word on any actions, provocative or conciliatory, taken by unindicted co-conspirator in the Axis of Evil, Syria.

Anti-war celebrities

Plenty of celebrities have taken anti-war stances, and in some cases, it turns out that corporate entities that they’re somehow entangled with take umbrage. Somewhat more perplexing is the pro-war agitators who claim that celebrities (and anyone else against the war, but especially celebrities because of their high profile) gives (I should say “gave”) “comfort” to Saddam Hussein.

What does that mean, you ask? Here’s a surprising translated transcript of a recent meeting held by Saddam Hussein and Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, his Information Minister. You might think that in the midst of a shooting war with a vastly superior force that these guys would have more urgent things to discuss. You would be wrong.

SH: So what celebrities have recently spoken out against the war?

MSS: Let’s see, Viggo Mortensen, Eric Roberts, Jane Fonda, and Oliver Stone

SH: Viggo Mortensen? Who’s he?

MSS: You know, he’s Aragorn from Lord of the Rings.

SH: Really? What a coup! He was great in that movie, don’t you think? Having him on our side is truly a great comfort. Put that out in the next communication to the troops. What did he say about the war?

MSS: Well, he didn’t actually say anything, he just wore an anti-war T-shirt.

SH: Well, anyhow. Even that should be enough to demoralize those invading brigands and make them easy pickings for our fearless warriors.

MSS: What about these others?

SH: Well, it doesn’t hurt to mention Jane Fonda–she’s always reliable for speaking out against America’s imperialist aggression. And you know, she’s really hot considering her age. But forget Eric Roberts–nobody knows who he is. And if we put in Oliver Stone, well, our own troops will start wondering if there’s some kind of conspiracy.

MSS: Knowing we have the sympathy of these Hollywood celebrities will inflame the fighting spirit of our brave soldiers to even greater heights! America’s mercenary thugs will soon be crushed!

Yep, that’s exactly how it went.

So call me churlish

I suppose it is churlish of me to do anything other than effuse with a star-spangled flourish over our glorious liberation of Iraq. Still, a couple of recent news items give me pause.

  1. Rumsfeld and right wing groups are already rattling their sabres at Syria.
  2. Remember the Taliban? They’re still around, and they’re killing aid workers.

As Stephen Colbert sneeringly said last night on the Daily Show, “Rebuilding is for losers!” Is it possible that, despite our regime’s administration’s often-repeated promises to rebuild Iraq that they’re really more interested in a permanent war?

What’s the opposite of deja-vu? I feel as if I can see history repeating itself.


I’m ready to sell my comic-book collection. Anyone who’s interested, I have a list of titles, issues, some comments on condition, etc. Except where otherwise noted, all are in very-fine to near-mint condition.

With some exceptions, most of my stuff doesn’t seem to be very marketable (judging by ebay). In some ways, this surprises me–a lot of my stuff is from smaller publishers, and is better quality than a lot of the mainstream stuff. Then again, mainstream stuff gets made into movies, which no doubt feeds demand. It was also interesting just looking over some of the issues in my collection for the first time in quite a few years, and being surprised at what passes for “good” in comic books. I suspect that the original artboards for a lot of these really are good, but between the shitty paper and awful print quality, only a faint echo of that comes through.

The Soup Peddler

The local rag has an article on the Soup Peddler, a business run by a friend, David.

David’s is an interesting guy. He holds a semi-regular shabbat dinner, but it’s probably the only one you’ll ever go to where a Muslim friend in attendance will offer you a beer. He quit his computer-programming job some time ago to become a yoga instructor. He created this soup business on the side, but that seems to be turning into his main gig.


Paraleipsis is the rhetorical device of mentioning something by saying that you won’t mention it. Not that I would stoop to using such a cheap technique, but The Onion gives us a good example of its use.

Swiss army knife time-shares

People like their Swiss Army knives. But in these troubled times, we can’t travel with them on airplanes. A simple solution: sell time-shares in knives. Set up offices at all the major airports; a traveller would pick up a knife after landing at his destination, returning it before going back home.

What’s the big idea?

Years ago, when he almost seemed more important than the president, Newt Gingrich said something like “the Republican party is the party of ideas.” Is that true? I wonder.

The current war grew out of a right-wing think tank that has been promoting the idea of a war for about ten years. Say what you will, stirring up a war certainly qualifies as a big idea. And of course, war on Iraq is just the first phase of the operation. The next phase, according to these guys, is Iran. (I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that they’ll go for the Axis of Evil hat-trick and invade North Korea after that.)

Don’t Democrats ever have big ideas? Clinton did: his nationalized health-care plan. Which was shot down in flames, of course. Is that as big as the war on Iraq? Depends on the metric you use.

In terms of expense, it’s hard to compare a one-off like a war with a permanent program, but George II has already asked for $75 billion as a first round of funding for the war (which, if memory serves me right, is supposed to cover six months of operation). For the rebuilding of Iraq (which may be paid for largely with Iraqi oil money), I’ve heard numbers from as low as $50 billion right on up to $1 trillion. Let’s be wildly optimistic and stick with the lower figure, but assume that the whole thing is paid by the USA. That’s $125 billion to prosecute a six-month war and rebuild the country.

I had a hard time coming up with clear-cut numbers on Clinton’s health-care plan, but a critical, right wing summary of the Clinton plan suggests that the plan would have cost somewhere in the range of $4 billion per year. That seems suspiciously low–I figured it must be missing something–it seems to cover only the cost to administer the program, not the actual cost of benefits. Other critics have suggested that the government would take over all medical spending, which would remain at existing levels–about $700 billion a year. Now that’s big. The real number is probably somewhere in between. In fact, from what I’ve heard, U.S. health insurers skim slightly over 1% out of the system, so thats $7 billion. If that were removed and replaced with the government sucking up $4 billion, that would actually be a savings of a few billion.

A better metric would be the value to the American people. A nationalized health-care plan would instantly (ok, perhaps not instantly) solve a major problem for 35 million Americans who have no insurance, and many more (like me) who are worried about their ability to afford insurance long term, or feel chained to a bad job so that they won’t lose their current benefits (pre-existing conditions are a bitch). The war on Iraq will benefit manufacturers of military hardware, giant construction companies like Halliburton, and armchair generals (psychologically, at least). The rest of us need to put up with increased harassment by the government in the name of security, increased risk of terrorism, a weaker economy overall, concern for friends in the military, and so on. Our troops have much bigger problems to contend with, of course, and a few of them aren’t coming back.


I’ve been spammed by the Will Wynn campaign. I wonder how I got on their mailing list. Guess who I’m not voting for.

I greatly appreciate you allowing me to contact you electronically, and update you on the progress of our campaign. This e-newsletter lets us keep you and your family informed of the latest developments, and also saves us scarce campaign funds. Thank you!

It has all the hallmarks of spam–it pretends to have my permission. It contains extensive HTML markup and images. Of course, we’ve seen this kind of thing before.

[Later] Now I’ve gotten politispam from Glen Maxey on behalf of Howard Dean. I like Howard Dean. This is disappointing.