June 2003

Well, that didn’t take long

Bill Frist is proposing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. I figured we’d see plenty of “defense of marriage” bills. But a constitutional amendment? That’s cutting to the chase, alright.

Frist’s logic is comically confused. “And I’m thinking of, whether it’s prostitution or illegal commercial drug activity in the home, and to have the courts come in, in this zone of privacy, and begin to define it gives me some concern.” What he’s putatively concerned about is the removal of legal oversight, not the creation of it (but that’s really just a straw man). At least he doesn’t embarrass himself quite as much as Scalia, who fretted in his dissent that removing sodomy laws would pave the way for legalized bestiality, pederasty, and (whisper it) masturbation.

Frist continues that sodomy laws should be handled at the state level: “That’s where those decisions, with the local norms, the local mores, are being able to have their input in reflected.” But not marriage: that’s a matter for the whole country, uniformly.

MoveOn virtual primary

MoveOn.org has published the results of a virtual primary. It is, of course, not binding, and arguably doesn’t really mean anything: although MoveOn did go to some trouble to avoid ballot-box stuffing, there’s always that risk. MoveOn had already made nice noises about Howard Dean, and the voters would probably be sympathetic to MoveOn. MoveOn only gave three of the candidates an opportunity to address the voters in advance–it defined those three as the “front runners,” but those three are Howard Dean, John Kerry, and Dennis Kucinich (??), which is unrealistic. And sure enough, those three easily outpolled the others. Dean got over 40% of the vote. Kucinich, inexplicably, got over 20%.

The others got the dregs, and there wasn’t much for them to fight over. Carol Moseley-Braun outpolled Joe Lieberman, which strikes me as unrepresentative. Wesley Clark–who wasn’t even on the ballot–outpolled Al Sharpton. This is interesting: Sharpton doesn’t even have much cred among the dedicated left, and a recently retired general, who has made only vague noises about running, does. But I’m not sure what it signifies: has the left moved to the right? Does Clark appeal to a certain subset? Is he perceived as more viable today because of his military background?


No doubt many electrons will be spilled as self-appointed geniuses like me pore over Apple’s new announcements. These are interesting, I agree, but I’m going to take a detour and look at Apple’s website.

Apple has long done an admirable job of presenting a clean design on its site. One thing that it always steered clear of is dynamic content. There’d be a little “hot news” animation on the front page, but that was usually it. As of today, though, there are signs of more mouseover fun. The Panther page uses some mouseovers (using old-school HTML+JS instead of way-new CSS effects), and the G5 page likewise uses these on the performance charts (one could easily miss these), and on the navigation bar for the G5 pages.

Shortly before OS X was made public, the Apple site was retooled with an Aqua look for the graphic buttons. It is interesting that it is reversing course to some extent–the buttons have a much less pronounced Aqua look (the Aqua interface itself has been toned down), but on some of the Apple Store pages, some buttons are flat ovals–not at all Aquatic.

Apple seems to be reversing course on Aqua for its software, too: in addition to all the iWhatever programs, Apple will be applying its “metal” theme to the Finder. This strikes me as dumb: the rationale behind the metal theme has always been dubious, the application of that rationale has been spotty, and I never liked the theme in the first place (so I turn it off).

I’m not sure what prompted the changes to make the site a tiny bit more dynamic and less aquatic. The website once was a harbinger of the Aqua interface on the Mac, though, and I wonder if it’ll be again. It would be nifty, from a geeky perspective, if Apple tried using modern CSS layout techniques and valid, clean HTML, but it is still a pleasure to read.

Thanks, Dick

When I’m president, we’ll have executive orders to overcome any wrong thing the Supreme Court does tomorrow or any other day

Representative and Dem presidential candidate Dick Gephardt. Makes G.W. sound like a frigging constitutional scholar and defender of democracy.

Finding Nemo

Partly on the recommendation of my sister (who, having kids, probably only sees children’s movies), and partly because I’ll see any Pixar movie on spec, Gwen and I saw Finding Nemo on Friday. A 9:30 PM show, meaning there was only one bawling child in the theater.

The movie is very enjoyable. It has a typical Disney “child-loses-parent” plot, although unlike Bambi, Dumbo, the Lion King, etc, the child is reunited with the parent. While those are always coming-of-age adventure stories for the child, this one atypically includes as much coming-of-age adventure for the parent. But we weren’t going for the plot–we were going for the visual imagination and the comedy. Albert Brooks was great, as he always is. Ellen DeGeneres was perfect. Willem Dafoe, likewise. The quality of the images was stunning, and the artistry–which somehow made the fish look realistic and still anthropomorphic–was delightful. I want to know how they do that.

New Green Goddess coming

Kenkyusha is readying a new version (link in Japanese) of its New Japanese-English Dictionary. Despite its many faults, it is considered the standard J-E dictionary, and is referred to by Japanese translators as the Green Goddess, or GG for short. It is interesting that the product announcement explicitly refers to this. On the Honyaku mailing list, Tom Gally writes:

The chief in-house editor of the dictionary
at Kenkyusha first learned that the dictionary has this nickname from
Mayumi Nishioka, a long-time Honyaku contributor, when she contacted
him in 1995 about a term that had been discussed on Honyaku.

Purchasers of this dictionary may note other connections between
Honyaku and the new GG, including terms and translations that have
been discussed on this list in the past and several familiar names
among the contributors.

It is a minor sport among J-E translators to point out bizarre entries in this dictionary, many of which seem preserved from the first edition in 1918–it still contains entries like 鉄道馬車 tetsudo basha or horse-drawn railway car. The fourth edition was released in 1974, and one gets the impression that new glosses were tacked on to the end of existing ones, so one often must skip to the end of the entry to get the most helpful definition. The example sentences also have an antique quality, like “give a wrench at the doorknob.” Anyhow, it’ll be interesting to see how new the fifth edition is.

Cops not in the business of regulating behavior

So the city council has passed the controversial smoking ban. Whichever side of that issue you stand on, you’ll probably find this quote, by Mike Sheffield, Austin Police Association President, very interesting:

We were going to stay out of it, because we didn’t know how it was going to go,” Sheffield says. “But our concern is whether what they left in place would materially impact what we do. Are we going to go in and tell little old ladies to put it out or go to jail? You just can’t legislate personal morality and responsibility and change behavior simply by passing laws. It doesn’t work.[Emphasis mine]

I wonder if the cops apply the same reasoning to other drugs.

Raiders Remake

Coming home from a dour observance of Gwen’s sister’s birthday, we wound up railroaded onto I-35’s upper deck–apparently the lower deck was under construction. So as we crawled along, we half-joked about doing something fun downtown. Then I remembered there was a show playing at the Alamo that seemed interesting, and it was dollar night. So we went.

Now, the movie that I thought was showing was Schmelvis. It wasn’t: it was the Raiders of the Lost Ark remake (QT trailer, sorry, no official website or IMDB entry). This was a shot-for-shot homage to the original made by teenagers who began when they were 12 and finished six years later.

As cinematic art, the movie sucks: the video imaging was awful, the sound was worse (they really, really needed a wind baffle on the mic), and the acting left a bit to be desired. But as a monument of amateur enthusiasm and ingenuity, it is amazing. Amazing, I say! It’s also clear that these kids had very indulgent parents.

When the kids undertook difficult stunts, everybody cheered, because we knew they were working without a net. When the movie was over, everyone left with a big smile.

360 ride

With no work on my desk today, I decided to get out on my bike.

I started rambling in a generally southwest direction without any plan in mind, not following any of my usual routes. I eventually wound up on that path next to Lamar, which took me as far as 12th St. I felt unaccountably nervous on this path–I’d never ridden on it before, but that shouldn’t be enough to make me feel wigged out. At the southern end of the path, I did run into a few obstacles that justified some nervousness–a few dips, swerves, and one really bad bump in the pavement. I took the bump hard, but thought I got over it without incident.

Eventually I decided to ride 360, and made my way over towards the Town Lake pedestrian bridge. After crossing the bridge, I noticed that the city seems to be working on a new path that will connect the south end of the bridge to Rollingwood, which will be a boon to outbound cyclists–but in order to take advantage of it on the inbound side, one would need to ride against traffic for a few yards.

The ride up 360 was fun and uneventful, but with a wind out of the north, was a lot of work. I noticed a couple of deer grazing right out by the highway, which I had never seen before. Gosh, I wonder if they’d been displaced from their usual habitat? [he said, with great sarcasm] When I got to the convenience store at Steck & Mesa, I discovered it had been more work than I knew: my back wheel had been knocked out of true and was intermittently rubbing against the brakes. That would explain why I had been averaging 14.5 mph. I headed over to Nelo’s, my favorite shop (fortunately very close at this point), and once there, we discovered I had actually broken a spoke. I’ve done that only once before, in a really serious accident, so I was very surprised. Nelo had built that wheel, and I joked to him “you built this wheel–it should be bulletproof!” He put a loaner wheel on my bike and sent me home while he worked on my wheel.

I made it the rest of the way home without incident. Coming in on Shoal Creek, I caught up with a guy on a really fancy mountain bike–full suspension, disc brakes, the works. Except he definitely wasn’t dressed like a cyclist (gym shorts and Keds), and the one serious telltale: cheap quill pedals. Normally, someone with a bike like this would be riding clipless pedals–bikes at that level usually don’t even come with pedals, on the assumption that the rider will want to put on the clipless pedal system of his choosing. If they do come with pedals, they’re cheap throw-aways–like this guy had.

A lot of cyclists are snobs about their sport, and I’ll admit I’m one. There are levels of snobbishness: Some won’t condescend to wave at anyone–I assume this is either because they don’t want to break their perfect aerodynamic position, they view everyone else as a competitor, or at that moment you aren’t in their road/mountain/commuter clique. Some will only be friendly towards someone with a fancy bike that shows they’ve made a monetary commitment to the sport.

What turns my snob-knob up to 11, though, is a rider who isn’t as good as his bike. There’s nothing wrong with being a recreational rider of modest abilities and aspirations on a modest bike. There’s nothing wrong with being a great cyclist on a humble ride or a superbike. But when a guy in tube socks, who considers five miles to be a real workout, is riding a fancy bike, he is a fred.

Consultant, de-jargonize thyself

The NY Times reports that Deloitte Consulting has come up with a Word macro, aptly named Bullfighter, that removes or simplifies annoying consultant jargon. Words like “extensible” and “scalable” are simply eliminated; “ecosystem” becomes “system” (which isn’t much better, frankly).

All specialized professions protect their turf through the use of inscrutable jargon. Once people figure out what the hell Deloitte’s wonks are telling them, they’ll stop hiring them.

Movie night

Movie nights, actually–Gwen and I have had a couple recently that are worth mentioning.

First we saw Turkish Star Wars. OK, that’s not what it’s really called–it’s really called Dünyayi kurtaran adam (The Man Who Saves the World). Utter mind-warping dreck. This movie must have been made by Turkey’s Ed Wood. The first ten minutes was nothing but a few minutes shamelessly pirated from the original Star Wars, cut and re-cut. Much of the soundtrack was stolen with an equal absence of shame from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The quality of the filming may have been worse than those bootleggers who sneak videocams into movie theaters achieve. There was a mask-wearing bad guy, but not Darth Vader. He looked more like a kachina doll. And of course the tape has no subtitles or dubbing, so you’re pretty much obliged to fill in dialog a la MTS3K. I’ll be lazy and quote the Film Threat review here: “‘The Turkish Star Wars’ makes film criticism moot.”

Last night was a double-header. First up, About Schmidt. This movie left me a bit underwhelmed. Not a bad movie, but very flat. This was intentional–the writers clearly went out of their way to make almost every moment as blandly trite as possible, and that’s an achievement: somebody probably racked his brains to come up with a song as mawkishly awful as “Longer” by Dan Fogelberg (badly sung) for the wedding, and I salute that achievement. Perhaps the problem with portraying a universe of triteness is that the portrayal itself risks being trite.

Movie number the second was Hedwig and the Angry Inch. This was much better. A sort of earnest Rocky Horror Picture Show, if you will, it had good musical numbers, an interesting lead character (admittedly most of the other characters were slim to nonexistent), and interesting ideas, some conveyed through song. Having seen it now, I’m actually a little surprised that it hasn’t attracted more of a cult following.


Jenny writes about snacks. She rightly ridicules snacks trying too hard to be health food.

But the other end of the spectrum alarms me. I’ve noticed that at the grocery store, there are some sections I almost never visit, and when I do, I am astounded at the shit that people are evidently cramming down their gullets. Many of these products seem to be ways to extend existing manufactured food products (or at least brand names) into new niches–especially to make condiments into standalone food items, to make messy food more portable, and to claim as much shelf space as possible in an arms race of product diversification between food-manufacturing conglomerates. In the dairy section, Philadelphia-brand cheesecake bars. Tubes of yogurt–called “gogurt” if I recall correctly–that you rip open and squeeze into your mouth (I am guessing the beneficial lactobacillus has been killed in these). In the frozen-foods section, Sara Lee (I think) cheesecake “bites”. Tubes of pudding that you freeze. Cookie-dough-flavored snack food–how incredibly perverse! Eggo waffles made with Fruit Loops. Brightly packaged string-cheese logs, cheese niblets in a can, and so on. Potato chips intended to taste like baked potatoes smothered with condiments.

An analogous trend is found among hard-liquor companies producing malt beverages (ie, beer) that’s been de- and re-flavored to taste like a margarita, rum-and-coke, or whatever.

John Dean on G.W’s WMD lies

John Dean, who should know a thing or two about such matters, has written that if it turns out there are no WMDs in Iraq, then G.W. is guilty of “the first potential scandal I have seen that could make Watergate pale by comparison.” Interestingly, he follows the format, sort of, laid down in the noted blog-post by billmon.

Coincidentally, a Pentagon report from September 2002 has made its way into public view, and it uses much more equivocal language about the existence of WMDs in Iraq than the administration. Never mind reports that the intelligence on WMDs was cooked.

Given the current makeup of Congress, it isn’t likely that anything G.W. does would result in impeachment proceedings. But it’s still interesting to hear his perspective.

Via On Lisa Rein’s Radar