Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Babs Gives Rosie Reach-Around, Sez Joe

On WFAN/MSNBC this morning Joe Scarborough said that Barbara Walters "gave Rosie (O'Donnell) a reach-around" by not explicitly repudiating her tinfoil-hat 9i/11 conspiracy theories.

This tasteless comment would have made for funny morning talk had the assembled chatterboxes not then spent the ensuing five minutes snickering about how naughty Joe was for saying it.

He had a point: Babs' dewy send-off for Rosie was a disingenuous bit of theater, and sitting next to her "dear friend" for months on the show should have afforded Babs the time to give Rosie the thirty-second overview of structural engineering necessary to debunk that looniness.

Remember back when Barbara Walters was a real reporter?

Yeah, me neither.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Video Camera, A Tokyo Sushi Bar

Someone placed a video camera on the conveyor belt in a Tokyo sushi bar. The resulting four-minute video is a warm and welcoming relief from misanthropy. The almost invisible smile on the woman's face at 1:13 is delightful. It ends too abruptly in that it would be nice if the camera made it back around to the couple who placed it there, but it's four minutes of cheerful healthy awesome.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Democrats' Plan: Run In Circles Shrieking And Flapping Hands

I'm so disgusted by the Democratic gutlessness on display on Capitol Hill today. Nobody's willing to stick their neck out and take a stand on their principles. And then we wonder why our kids are disaffected and shallow. I could just spit.

I expect arrogant and gratuitous acts of senseless incompetence from the Bush administration. But this latest war funding bill is another pork-laden slap in the face to the idea that the Democrats are anything more than a timid bunch of quislings.

Cause here's the truth about "timetables" that I've yet to hear any pundit say out loud: no one, not a soul, truly believes they mean a damn thing. The terrorists don't really think that if we SAY we're gonna leave on June 3, 2008, at 6:52 AM that we'll really DO that. The US military doesn't really believe that if Congress TELLS them to leave on June 3 that they actually have to be gone by that date. The public, wearily well-acquainted with a lying, secretive, incompetent administration, doesn't believe anything anyone says.

So Democrats aren't even willing to set HYPOTHETICAL boundaries on Bush's madness. Cowards! Yellow-dog, craven cowards!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Pall In The Air

The wildfires in Florida and a breeze blowing in off the Gulf of Mexico have conspired to cast a smoky gray pall over Birmingham. People sniff the air nervously and pick at their clothes. It's like walking around with a little alarm going off deep in the reptile brain: there is a fire somewhere, run! But cats seem nonplussed, so I'll take a cue from them and not worry about it.

Today is check-up day for Mom, and after multiple grumps about, "I hate going to the doctor," she's fresh as a daisy and looking forward to a ride in the car. Maybe we'll go eat lunch afterwards, but the les time I have to spend out in the muggy soup that passes for air today the happier I'll be. I guess we picked a good day to hafta wait in an air-conditioned doctor's office.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Topper Price, RIP

If you spent any time at all in Southside Birmingham in the past 20 years, you probably met Topper Price. He was a harmonica player and fixture on the local bar scene. That wailing harmonica that opens the one hit song Brother Caine had? That's Topper.

He was found dead in his Southside apartment Friday. He was 54. That sucks. I won't pretend I was his best friend or anything, but I had met the guy numerous times, and I know people who played in his band, The Upsetters. Topper was a smart, funny, cynical guy who was the living embodiment of "local character". He'll be missed.

Alcoholic Blackout

Tonight, I went to Atlanta to see the Arctic Monkeys.

I guess they rocked.

I really don't remember anything about the show. I mean, nothing. I remember seeing the opening band, Be Your Own Pet, but the rest of the night is a blur. The Tabernacle in Atlanta has a smoking section beneath the main stage, and the bartender in charge of said section took a liking to me and started feeding me shots of Cuervo Gold, leading to a a genuinely huge memory lapse.

For what it is worth, Be Your Own Pet fucking rocked.

My friends tell me I liked the Arctic Monkeys. Can't imagine how I wouldn't -- it's a great space, acoustically true, accommodating and tilting down toward the stage, like every good theater. I'll bet that I look good on the dance flooor, don't know what I'm dancing for. There is evidence that standing beneath a high ceiling increases creative thought, and while I can't vouch for that, it does seem true.

I went with Tim and Terry, which made for a good mix. Tim has every twittering neurosis known to man, and Terry has hereditary spastic paraparesis, so he's forced to be calm. Being with Terry is a weird blessing: it makes me aware of the stuff I can see that he can't (he's one of the roughly one percent of folks with his condition who have ocular and mandibular complications, meaning he's functionally blind and very difficult to understand). The huge crane hanging over that office building, the 8-year-old kid with the "Sarcasm Is A Free Service" shirt, the girl with the slutty tattoo , The Mark of the Skank, peeping from beneath her T-shirt. Describing this to him makes it more real. Plus, Terry says surprisingly illuminating things, like when Tim was commenting on the abundance of cute young girls at the show, he remarked, "Yeah, and they all smell like soap and lavender", which instantly made them all the more desirable to me. I guess the old cliche about smell compensating for sight has some validity, or else Terry was going around sniffing people, which is entirely possible. Just because he's a blind spastic doesn't necessarily mean that he's a nice guy.

Rock music isn't dangerous any more. Guys with strollers were negotiating for balcony seating as we went in. It was odd to see people with 3G cellphones setting up the shot and acting like National Geographic photographers.

I felt old.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Moral Majority Membership Now At Zero

"The idea that religion and politics don't mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country."

"AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals."

"There is no separation of church and state. Modern US Supreme Courts have raped the Constitution and raped the Christian faith and raped the churches by misinterpreting what the Founders had in mind in the First Amendment to the Constitution."

"I do not believe the homosexual community deserves minority status. One's misbehavior does not qualify him or her for minority status. Blacks, Hispanics, women, etc., are God-ordained minorities who do indeed deserve minority status."

"The Jews are returning to their land of unbelief. They are spiritually blind and desperately in need of their Messiah and Savior."

" If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being."


For more of these priceless gems of timeless wisdom, see Positive Atheism's big scary list of Jerry Falwell quotations.

Falwell also said on CNN a few years ago that he was confident he would see Jesus return in his lifetime. How'd that one work out for you, you smug stupid fuck?

Rot in hell, Jerry! Garcia and Falwell, for that matter.

Pat'll be joining you there before too long. And Dobson's getting up there, too, though one would think that being so vituperatively bilious can't be very heart-healthy. Maybe once those two shuffle off to eternal damnation, comparatively sane people will take over. Like Rick Warren, who looks he should be holding a festive cocktail on a veranda somewhere while hosting an infomercial; or Joel Osteen, who's every bit as creepy-looking as Pat Robertson but who sounds more like Tony Robbins.

One down, two to go.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Chappy, The Game Was Called Zork

...but it wasn't the first one, it was several generations of Zork down the line.

I've got my guy up to level 8 in LOTRO, but... did everyone playing this game decide to by an elf hunter (I mean, an elf who is a hunter, not one who hunts elves)? Or is it just the server I'm on?

God, I'm such a fucking dork.

But I hafta admit the game is getting more fun. I'm just now starting to grasp the crafting system and the game economy. Actually made a "friend", in that I helped him finish a quest and then he helped me finish one and we added each other to the "friend page" thingy. We went goblin hunting, and since he was also an elf hunter (I'm really uncomfortable with the slipperiness of that terminology, and wish "hunter elf" were used in its stead. See single-sentence paragraph, above.), we could set a couple of traps and then fill the trapped goblins with arrows. And if one broke through, one of us would engage it and the other could keep firing arrows. It worked pretty well. Until there were five goblins, and we were getting our asses kicked, and some sympathetic minstrel wandered by and healed me enough to finish the fight. And it doesn't seem like any of the healing potions work in combat, which is fucking stupid. Or maybe I just haven't figured out what the right equippable item is that heals in combat.

And my character is wearing a silly-looking hat, but I can't seem to find a better replacement. I chose "explorer" as my professional, only to read later that I've essentially doomed my guy to the life of a serf, harvesting resources for others to profit from.

But monster play kicks in at level 10...

So there's that...

Friday, May 11, 2007

In Which We Are Bored By Virtual Worlds

I played Ultima Online for like a minnit back in the day. It was more frustrating than fun. I futzed around with Active Worlds, too. No joy there. That's the summation of my experience with "virtual worlds" or MMORPGs.

But I've just gotten the Internet access back on at Mom's house, and with a shiny new computer and a cable modem (plus an old crazy lady to take care of, which requires, it seems, a specific form of focused inattention) I figured the time was ripe to try another online game. Oops, I mean "virtual world". Cuz an "online game" would be something like Counterstrike or Halo, you know, something fun, whereas a virtual world implies that I have a persistent identity in a staged milieu, you know, like life would be if God were a game designer.*

I knew I didn't want to play WoW, because everyone I know who plays WoW is WAY too into it, so I considered EVEOnline. I'd heard it described as "a spreadsheet simulator...in space" and that sounded rather appealing, actually, because I am a dork.

Then Lord of the Rings Online caught my attention. I'd read Tolkien as a kid, and just as I'd tossed aside my Big Wheel for a real bike I'd tossed aside Tolkien for "real literature". (C'mon fanboys, hate on that. Tolkien took 200 pages and entire geneologies to invoke a sense of wonder, Borges can do it in a paragraph. Who's the better writer? Oh, that's right...Tolkien fans don't read outside the canon.) But I have fond memories of the books, and I liked Peter Jackson's films, and I figured the Middle Earth mythos might weed out a certain percentage of the usual numbskulls (this logic is akin to thinking that the best place to pick up smart girls is at Star Trek conventions -- I think the women at Star Trek conventions probably ARE significantly smarter than their barfly peers, but...there are trade-offs involved).

So I gave LOTRO a spin. Logged on to a newbie server, made (heh...I almost said "rolled up"...I am so old...)an elf hunter, Fithion of Mirkwood.

The server was filled with elf hunters. Elves, at least. OK, that's cool, let's just scope stuff out. I'll reroll a hobbit burglar later, because that's what I really wanted to play, but I figured everyone else would want to play that as well, so I defaulted to elf hunter. So did everyone else. The game begins and NPCs are yellin' at me to do stuff. Huh? I don't even know the controls yet! I'm a console guy -- WASD doesn't come naturally. Plus, having not RTFM, I don't know how to communicate with other players. Where's that window? How do I...oh, I see. Gosh, this is pretty. Ooh a goblin! What's "attack"? Hm. I'm "incapacitated". I respawn. I have a bow. Let's click the red thing with an arrow in it and see what that does. Cool. I have little trouble dispatching the onrushing goblin pincushion with my "Dull Knife". But I still haven't mastered the controls. It doesn't feel right. I wade through a few more goblins. Some dude, elf or human, can't really tell, helps me out when I'm suddenly jumped by a lynx. Thx, I type, or thought I did, when the map comes up. Dammit. The guy stands there for a second, obviously communicating with me in some window I haven't found yet. I really need to RTFM. I find the NPC with the glowing ring over his head, like a perpendicular halo. Hey! I leveled up!

I could go on, but basically I ran around for an hour or so killing lynxes, looting my kills, and practicing basic combat skillz. I see that I reheal over time but my equipment damage is cumulative. I think anything that accumulates damage should have a meter I can see, but maybe I just don't grasp the interface yet. Again, RTFM. I get a quest to bring back lynx pelts. Covered, I think, then realize my inventory consists of lynx PAWS, not lynx PELTS.

Overwhelmed by the semantic distinction and its implications, I log out.

I have Much To Learn. But do I want to learn it? What do I get out of my investment of time and energy (not to mention $$$)?

Here's what I'll do. I'll play the game long enough to master the controls, I'll RTFM, and I'll make an effort to do something besides solo. I may go surf right now and see what I can learn. But initial impressions are not positive.

I mean, I love the idea. I spend half my time online reading about the construction and analysis of virtual worlds, because I do believe that this is a technology in its infancy and we've not yet reached our Buster Keaton, much less our Orson Welles, to push the film analogy until it breaks. But between idea and execution lies...an uncanny valley.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mama We're All Krazee Now

American culture is schizoid.

We spend billions on porn and preach abstinence in schools. We have draconian drug laws and we consume more drugs than any other country. We "demand educational excellence" and then practice social promotion. We teach our children not to lie or to steal...until they get to business school. We uphold "family values", but we have the highest rate of single mothers in poverty in the developed world. We talk about "freedom" and we lock up more people per capita than anyone on the planet. Beer ads urge us to drink their products...in moderation. But not behind the wheel of that car designed to do 130 mph, 'cause the speed limit is 65. The "Partnership for a Drug-Free America" PSA is sandwiched between adds for Zoloft and Cialis.

All this sprang to mind after I read this. The state of Alabama, Big Brass Buckle of the Bible Belt, in the form of the House Education Policy Committee (their motto: "Keep 'em dumb and fulla cum!") is considering a proposal for "Christian Heritage Week" in our schools.

Feel that icy shiver down your spine?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

XBollixed

The gaming press is awash in stories about the Xbox 360's unreliability. Huh, thought I. Mine works fine.

Well, it did until yesterday.

The Red Ring of Death. Three flashing red lights, in a pattern the woefully incomplete manual does not mention.

I call Microsoft Xbox 360 Customer Support. This, I think, will take all day and make for a bleakly funny blog post.

At first it seems my instinct is right. "Max" answers, a creepy electronic voice that oozes the same sort of false bonhomie as the robots at the beginning of "Westworld". Max uses hip, slangy words and phrases like "Gotcha!" and "Great!" and "No problem!". Max soothes me with the promise of help (after regretting to tell me that due to call volume help may be delayed)and offers a list of possible things I can say to make Max keep talking to me. Suddenly it seems very important to keep Max talking to me, as I have now invested a good eight minutes of my life listening to him. I say, "three flashing red lights!", one of the phrases Max has suggested.

"Gotcha!" sez Max. "I can help you with that!" Hooray!

Max walks me through the process. Patiently. Gently. He guides me step by step. Unplug power supply, decouple hard drive, replug power supply, boot, check power supply light, look at console and there should be a pleasing green glow. Turn off, unplug, recouple hard drive, replug, reboot.

Max wants me to succeed. I can hear it in his voice.

"Did this fix your problem?" Max asks.

Max, I have failed you. Three flashing red lights. Max is silent a moment. Thinking, perhaps, or mourning the loss of a brother machine. Max recommends I visit the website and check out document 90345667122345356832345^3. I sigh. Max has turned against me.

"If you would like to speak to an agent, say 'agent'," Max suggests, but now he sounds hesitant, like he doesn't really mean it. Max is giving me mixed signals, and it's creeping me out.

"Agent!" I say, and Max blips me over into telimbo, without so much as a goodbye, a simple humble acknowledgment of our time spent together. Robot asshole, I think.

But before I can even complete the thought there's an actual human being on the line. I marvel at a "hold" actually being a "hold" instead of an "interminable wait until you lose patience and hang up". Kudos, Microsoft, I think.

But before I can complete THAT thought, said human being, whom I can clearly hear breathing and rustling paper amidst the background chatter of the call center, disconnects me.

Click. Bzzzz. "If you'd like to make a call..."

I've worked in call centers. Dropping calls like that will get your ass fired. She should have just muted me and rode the call for three or four minutes before hanging up, or whatever length she needed to shave her talk time without looking like she's shorting calls (which is exactly what she's doing). That's what I would have done. I sigh and call Max back.

"Xbox console Xbox 360 three flashing red lights agent," I tell Max, who must be ashamed of how we last parted, as he is much less vocal this time.

After a similarly short hold, a real person smoothly and professionally gets my registration information and informs me that I have a hardware problem, my console is still under warranty, and they'll send me shipping materials to send it back to them prepaid via UPS.

Oh.

I don't even get to fight about this? I don't have to storm into Best Buy waving my extended service plan and demanding satisfaction? I can just...send it to you and you'll fix it?

OK.

I mean, I have a washing machine that I paid like $130 bucks for fourteen years ago and it runs like a top. It's a wet, spinning electrical appliance, for fuck's sake. You'd expect something to go wrong. Of course, when something DOES go wrong, I'll just buy a new one, since the new ones are probably more efficient and probably still don't cost much more than $200.

But a sleek $399 whangdoodley console, that gets used WAY less than our washing machine (OK, maybe not, but it's close), that's nothing more than an expensive paperweight unless you feed it $60 games, goes tits-up in less than a year. They damn well better make it work!

I don't have an end to this, because the story really isn't over yet - I've yet to receive the shipping materials, so we'll see how this all plays out.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Drunks Against Mad Mothers Gets New Member

Cincinnati cop & recipient of MADD award ticketing for DUI.

Heh.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Friday, May 04, 2007

Inbred Anachronism Sez What?

The Queen of England is visiting Churchill Downs, and track employees have had to take an etiquette class so as to not offend Her Royal Pomposity.

Didn't we fight a revolution so we wouldn't have to kowtow to royalty?

Let your hair down, Liz. Limber up with a couple of mint juleps, play the ponies, and pretty soon you'll be out back of the paddock sparkin' one up with the stableboys and playing quarters for shotglasses of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Farm Out!

So I'm clickety-clickin through MetaTalk, the snarky white underbelly of MetaFilter, and I see a call-out for awesomeness, which leads me to a great response on Ask MetaFilter to a question I didn't know I cared about: farm history.

Now that, friends, is what the Internet is good for (and at).

I can't wait for the third installment.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Where Are The NHL Playoffs?

The Buffalo Sabres are locked in an epic playoff battle with the New York Rangers. The Rangers roared back after a thrilling double-overtime win to even the series at 2-2.

At least that's what I've read online. I guess I should be able to find clips of the game with a little googling, but why haven't the playoffs been televised? (At least, anywhere besides some channel in the cable high-number ghetto that isn't included in basic cable?)

I'd really like to be watching the grizzled vets Brendan Shanahan and Jaromir Jagr, together for the first time on a playoff team after a combined 322 playoff games, facing the young, hard-skating, high-scoring Sabres, led by Daniel Briere and Thomas Vanek.

Go Sluggalos!

I hope the Stanley Cup will be on TV, at least.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

CBGB's Last Song

Robert Quine Lester Bangs. Peter Laughner. Johnny Thunders. Stiv Bators, Joe Fuckin' Strummer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2jhOoJMrZQ&NR=1

"Thirty-three years, that's the same age as Jesus."

You Light Up My Life

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Agl4IvNnQPo

Oh my God.