Riba Rambles:
Musings of a Mental Magpie

About the author: Elisabeth in early 2007, photo by Todd Belf
Elisabeth "Lis" Riba is an infovore with an MLS. This is her place to share whatever's on her mind, on topics both personal and political. [more]
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Friday, September 19, 2003
Accidental evening
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:25 PM

I got a frantic IM from Ian at about 3:35 PM -- the bus never showed and he needed to get to work by 4:30. I got permission to leave work early (the phones are usually quiet Friday afternoons), raced home and actually managed to get him there on time.

Of course, that meant I was in downtown Boston at 4:30 PM on a Friday. Along the drive, I could already see how backed up the outbound traffic was, and I really didn't feel like dealing with rush hour traffic. I didn't have anything planned for the evening, so I decided to just grab dinner somewhere in town, and head back after the evening commute had eased up.

I decided I wanted pho, so headed over to Harvard Square. Got there just before 5 PM, as the day shift people were leaving, meaning I found a parking space. And then....

And then. I am such a geek sometimes, I feel I must be pitiful. You see, I can't eat in a restaurant without something to read. Fast food is quick enough that it doesn't matter, but in a sit-down establishment, I need something to occupy my mind while waiting for my meal. I had the free Boston Phoenix, but Pho Pasteur is a nice enough looking establishment, that reading a big ol' paper didn't feel right.

And that led me on an hour-and-a-half trek among five bookstores looking for just the right book. Don't get me wrong, I saw lots of books I desperately wanted to read, and quite a few that I actually might've been willing to spend the money to buy, but none that I wanted to read right then. Bookstores are dangerous, and there were so many enticing titles... But libraries are spoiling me. And, besides, I have so many partially read books at home, that I really wanted a sure thing. So, I got stuck in a web of indecisiveness.

I also had an odd realization along the way -- one that's occurred to me in the past, but this time wanted to make sure to record. I'm not sure whether this is just my perceptions or actually true, but I think I have an easier time buying luxury items for Ian than I do buying them for myself. I saw lots of things I wanted, but kept putting them back as too expensive. As if I'm somehow undeserving. Maybe it's because he's been depressed for so long and I've gotten in a habit of doing things that might elevate his mood. Maybe it's insecurity on my part, as I feel like I don't deserve such things until I do better with any number of overdue unfinished chores. Or, maybe it's just faulty memory; after all, there are times I can remember making impulse purchases for myself, too. It just feels like I have less reluctance towards buying things for him. At any rate, this seems to be something in my psyche to poke at, so I can feel more equitable about buying things.

Anyway, I was wandering in and out of bookstores. Along my journeys, I discovered that Christopher Lydon was interviewing Paul Krugman on Church St, with free admission. I wandered in about ten minutes before it started and looked around -- the place was reasonably filled. And then walked back out again. I suppose if I had been a more serious blogger, I would've stayed and taken notes, but it was nice outside and I was still hunting for a book and dinner, and didn't feel like anything too heavy or strenuous.

Eventually, I remembered a recent recommendation for The Eyre affair and quickly found and bought it. And, with that, I was able to head downstairs to Pho Pasteur and get myself something to eat. A good meal and an enjoyable book (so far). I headed back up to Pandemonium to chat with jadasc, who was working up there, and then decided to head back home. [I briefly thought about returning to Church St. just to get a glimpse of Krugman, but that seemed just too geeky, and rather pointless, so I didn't bother.]

Got home, finished the post I'd been in the middle of when Ian called, and then switched between reading Eyre and writing this post.

Anyway, I'll have to leave in about five minutes to pick Ian up from work. We may go see the 10:55 showing of Pirates of the Carribbean in Danvers. [It's annoying; the film is still successful enough that it hasn't moved to second run theaters, but the first run theaters aren't holding many showings; Danvers was one of the few holding showings after 10pm, when Ian gets out of work.] On the other hand, I'm also feeling a bit tired, so we may head back home so I can just go to sleep. Who knows.

BTW, on the drive in, I noticed a billboard for WB's new series. And, without further ado, two lines of an instafilk popped into my head. I could hear, clear as a bell, a young Sting crooning:
     You don't have to swing that vine tonight...
Of course, whenever I do this, Ian insists that I'm now somehow responsible for writing up the entire song. I don't think so. I'm very good at coming up with lines, but I have little interest in continuing the exercise. Therefore, I'm opening it up to any other filkers who wish to complete it.


I remember Microserfs, but now Microslaves?
Posted by Lis Riba at 3:39 PM

In a Slashdot article on Microsoft's planned search engine, wonkamaster shares the following example:

[S]earch on "black people ebay". Google [google.com] results start off by providing links to items offered by black people and about racism. MSN [msn.com] results start off by advertising that it will sell you black people on E-bay (as well as their related items).

I wonder how long before they fix that little problem!

I tried it, and sure enough:

MSN search for black people ebay
[via BT!]
More booty, me hearties!
Posted by Lis Riba at 12:30 PM

With so much flotsam and jetsam filling my mind, it's no wonder I forgot a few things. This started with a few more tidbits that I forgot in my earlier post, but I decided to also take the opportunity to clear out some of the links I've been accumulating, before they go completely stale:

  • Arrrrgh! No, that's not actually part of Talk Like A Pirate Day, rather I'm just really really ticked at the amount of spam I'm getting. Hundreds upon hundreds of fake Microsoft security notices and false returned emails, each with 150k attachments. Fortunately, I read my email on a UNIX shell account, so my computer's not at risk. Still, it's incredibly annoying wading through and deleting the lot of them every few hours, trying to make sure not to accidentally wipe any legitimate messages. Also, this morning, I got a warning message from my ISP that I was over my disk quota. Of course, after I deleted all the spam, I was back under by a safe margin. I asked them for some leeway until this current attack ends.

News & current events:

  • Meant to mention Former rep. Max Cleland's beautifully catty remark to the President:
         "Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President. Sorry you didn't go when you had the chance."
    [Seen on DailyKos; here's the full essay.]
  • I've gotten in the habit of checking the weekly Army Times and Stars & Stripes to better understand how the troops are viewing the war. The letter columns are particularly interesting to read, somewhat split between those with complaints and those who wish the complainers would shut up. Curiously enough, the latest letter column online includes several letters about Jessica Lynch, all denouncing her status as some kind of special hero. But this week, my eye was caught by this story:
    Oil may drive troop staging
    Oil -- where it's drilled and how it's shipped -- will be a prime factor when the Pentagon selects new austere forward-operating locations in Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, a top military official says.
    Remember the slogan "no war for oil"? Now there's a story deserving of more attention...
  • Another revealing but buried story came from the conservative Washington Times. Early this month, they reported on a secret report for the Joint Chiefs titled "Operation Iraqi Freedom Strategic Lessons Learned":
    The report also provides a classified timeline of events from September 11 leading to war. It says that on Aug. 29, 2002, Mr. Bush "approves Iraq goals, objectives and strategy."
    August 2002. If you look at the Guardian's timeline, that's before Hans Blix and inspectors even got into Iraq to see whether or not Saddam had WMDs!
    I find myself agreeing with Senator Kennedy's comments yesterday, when he called the case for war a "fraud." [Report first seen on Altercation, which sadly doesn't keep archives.]
  • Updating on an old story, the Pentagon last week gave a briefing on the investigation into the Baghdad Museum. Here's the transcript with information on the current status.
  • I'm still trying to find the actual Ashcroft memo where he claims zero uses of Section 215. Many news organizations write about the copy they received, but nobody's quoted it verbatim, nor can I find it on the USDOJ or FBI websites. If you see a copy, please send me the link. I'm tempted to write the papers and/or file an FOIA request.

Frivolities and fun stuff:

Short takes:
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:10 AM

Just some random detritus cluttering my mind this morning:

  • Sometimes, Ian and I can just be too silly.
  • Last night was Ian's first shift bartending at the Harvard Club. Here's his description of the evening. [Incidentally, if you walk past the Harvard Club on Commonwealth Avenue (about two doors down from the intersection with Mass Ave) you can actually see the back of the bar from the windows.]
  • I can't help wondering whether any of the folks running BloggerCon are Harvard Club members, so we could go back there afterwards and I could flirt with the bartender. :)
  • Friday cat blogging: The random kitten generator
  • I just discovered that David Starkey, author of Six wives: the queens of Henry VIII, which I just finished reading last weekend, will be doing a reading and signing at a nearby chain bookstore in a few weeks. I'll be there. Heh, I wonder how many people attending will have already read the entire book. Maybe I'll bring along a copy of my review and the gripes about his endnotes.
  • And, while looking up info on that appearance, I just discovered a theatre troupe from Cambridge (England) will be performing Midsummer Night's Dream at MIT next week. And apparently, they're doing it in period costume. Cool. Don't know if I'll be able to attend; Monday night we're flying back from Florida, so Tuesday may be a lot of catchup work for me.
  • When I worked at Lotus, I used to walk past a new hotel being constructed. It was rather fun watching it go up. Last night, driving Ian home from work, I finally saw its name: Hotel Marlowe. I am such a geek, but I found it to be cool. Sorry, matociquala, it's not terribly convenient to WorldCon.
  • Finally, since today is Talk Like A Pirate Day, I simply must link back to this image and entry.
  • I also thought it would be fun to close by run portions of Ashcroft's recent statements through the English-To-Pirate Translator:
    I know you share me concern that t'public not be misled...
    T'numbero'times section 215 has been usedt'date be zero.
    You know, somehow, it sounds more natural in that dialect... And just as trustworthy.
Thursday, September 18, 2003
Sins of blogging
Posted by Lis Riba at 6:02 PM

One of the prayers we recite on Yom Kippur is called Al Chet (the "ch" is pronounced like the German or Scottish, and not as commonly found in English or Spanish) -- "For the sin." It's an alphabetical recitation of sins we confess to, both for ourselves and on behalf of the entire Jewish people.

Several years back, I found an updated version by Mark Frydenberg which addresses some of the sins that I often feel most culpable for -- those committed through online discourse. I've tried to add some or all of these during the silent meditations at the end of each recitation of the prayer (time willing), and found it to be helpful in inducing both mindfulness and peace of mind. And I can't help but wonder if others reading this might benefit as well. So, for all our sakes, and with sufficient time to print it out and bring it along to shul:

For the sin which we have committed by responding too often,
  And for the sin which we have committed by not posting at all when we have something valuable to say;
For the sin which we have committed by responding angrily in haste,
  And for the sin which we have committed by posting private email in a public forum;
For the sin which we have committed by misinterpreting others' words,
  And for the sin which we have committed by not expressing ourselves clearly;
For the sin which we have committed by being sarcastic to other list members,
  And for the sin which we have committed by not being tolerant of their positions;
For the sin which we have committed by not explaining technical terms,
  And for the sin which we have committed by assuming others know as much as we do;
For the sin which we have committed by posting announcements directly,
  And for the sin which we have committed by posting subscription commands to the list;
For the sin which we have committed by forwarding messages without introduction
  And for the sin which we have committed by cross-posting our own messages to many other lists;
For the sin which we have committed by not using an appropriate subject line,
  And for the sin which we have committed by having a long .signature file;
For the sin which we have committed by quoting others' posts in their entirety,
  And for the sin which we have committed by not providing context to our replies;
For all of these, Forgiving One, Forgive Us, Pardon Us, and Grant Us Atonement.
© Mark Frydenberg, 1995, 1995, 1998 and 1999

Rereading it this year, it seems somewhat dated. These primarily refer to sins committed within mailing-lists, Usenet, and discussion boards. Blogging (including LiveJournal) is related but distinct. The older formats were communal space shared by all; blogs and journals are more like to personal spaces that have been opened up. Some of the above still apply, others less so, and there are still other common failings that haven't been mentioned.

There's not much time remaining, but I wonder if folks can't think of worthwhile updates that apply to blogging and LiveJournalling... I'm not talking about ways to improve your blog, but rather ways in which we harm other people (or the world) through blogging -- actions that we might wish to repent, given the opportunity.

Off the top of my head, I can think of two that are not on the list above, and I would very much appreciate refinements and additions:

For the sin which we have committed by abusing others in their personal forums
And for the sin which we have committed by denying attribution, links and proper credit

Finally, readers who wish to give further thought to improving the quality of their own discourse along these lines may wish to look at the Words Can Heal Pledge.
Meanwhile, I'm thinking that as part of the atonement process, the Days of Awe might be a good time for me to go back through my old posts and publically correct my errors and mistakes from the previous year, along the lines of Ellen Goodman's annual mea culpa. I don't know if I can get through it all --I've written a lot of entries over the year, but we'll see. I hope to post that sometime before Yom Kippur.

Finding memo: the latest on the USA PATRIOT Act
Posted by Lis Riba at 1:59 PM

First of all, a mild annoyed expletive. Due to Hurricane Isabel, the Federal government is closed today [thanks, Modulator, for the info!] I've been deferring my post until I could get legislative info on the bill from THOMAS, but the site's been down. I guess that's why...

At any rate, I made a late addition to my previous post, but that may not have been picked up by those who read my blog through aggregators. Therefore, I'd like to repeat and expand upon it.

Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the Washington office of the American Library Association, said she was "shocked" by the lack of warrants, but said it showed that the power wasn't needed. "If this number is accurate, then they have demonstrated that there is no need to change the tradition of protecting library patrons' reading records," she said. [Knight-Ridder]

Two important parts in the sentence I emphasized.

First of all, do we trust John Ashcroft's memo? Has Section 215 truly never been used? That section of the law includes a gag order which makes it illegal for anyone who received such a search warrant to reveal that information. So, John Ashcroft can claim whatever he wants -- if investigations have occurred, nobody is allowed to step forward with contrary evidence!

Therefore, I'd like to call upon Ashcroft to lift the gag order aspect of the Act, at least regarding past investigations, so we can be certain of his claims.

And, speaking of Ashcroft's trustworthiness, compare these sentences from two different news reports:

New York Times:
Mr. Ashcroft says the Justice Department has used its powers sparingly. But until now he has refused requests from members of Congress and others to provide details about the department's use of the section of the law dealing with library records and other documents, saying the information is classified.
Associated Press:
In his memo to Mueller, Ashcroft noted that all members of Congress have had access to the formerly secret information about use of the Section 215 authority in the Patriot Act.

Well, which is it? Did Congress have access to that information or not? I've been following this story closely for quite a while now. And from what I've read and heard, Congress did not have access to that data. So, that's one probable lie in Ashcroft's memo. I haven't yet been able to find the full text of the memo online, just snippets in news articles.

Now to my second point. Rep. Bernie Sanders responded:

This is an important first step, but now Congress must work to amend section 215 of the Patriot Act. The issue is not just what the Department of Justice has done in the past but what it could do in the future as a result of this dangerous provision. The bottom line is that the Federal Government should not be able to walk into a library or bookstore without probable cause and obtain the reading records of the American people.

Since the Justice Department has shown they didn't need these added powers, let's support Vermont Representative Bernie Sanders' Freedom to Read Protection Act, H.R. 1157 , which exempts libraries and booksellers from those provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Bernie claims he's already got 135 cosponsors for the bill; THOMAS, which would have the definitive information, is down at the moment.

This would be a good time to contact Congress to support this bill. [Maybe not right now, while the city is closed due to the storm, but this week while it's hot news.] If your Representative hasn't already co-signed to this bill, urge them to do so. I don't know if there's a parallel bill in the Senate, but get your Senators involved, too.

Don't forget about the Congressional toll free switchboard at 1-800-839-5276. [Working Assets offers some tips on communicating more effectively with Congress]

I'm sure this is hardly the end of the matter, but that's all I have for now.

Ashcroft now claims he's never used Section 215
Posted by Lis Riba at 8:25 AM

This morning's Washington Post obtained a memo from Ashcroft to FBI Director Mueller:

The Justice Department, which has repeatedly been accused of encroaching on civil liberties in its war on terrorism, has never actually used a controversial provision of the USA Patriot Act that allows it to seek records from libraries, bookstores or other businesses, according to a confidential memo from Attorney General John D. Ashcroft.
"The number of times [the provision] has been used to date is zero," Ashcroft said in the memo, which was obtained by The Washington Post.

The article describes Section 215 in this manner:

Section 215 of the Patriot Act, a law approved six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, expands the government's power to obtain records from a wide range of businesses as part of a counterterrorism investigation, without notifying the subjects of the probe. The potential use of the provision in libraries has generated some of the strongest objections to the law.

For more info on this provision, the details in my paper on the topic remain accurate.

Now, if I were going to get really snide, I'd ask why, if they had nothing to hide, did they so resist revealing the information... But, I don't believe that line of argument. More seriously, this is our government, and their business is, by all rights, our business.

And, of course, the cynical part of me wonders what the Justice Department has done since that memo was written...

Added a few minutes later: And if the Justice Department honestly has never used the provision, why were they so damn insistent after 9/11 that it be passed immediately, without proper time for legislative review?

Added 9:45 AM: A later Knight-Ridder article includes a further comment by the ALA which corresponds to mine above. To wit:

Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the Washington office of the American Library Association, said she was "shocked" by the lack of warrants, but said it showed that the power wasn't needed. "If this number is accurate, then they have demonstrated that there is no need to change the tradition of protecting library patrons' reading records," she said.

Since the Justice Department has shown they didn't need these added powers, let's support Vermont Representative Bernie Sanders' Freedom to Read Protection Act, H.R. 1157 , which exempts libraries and booksellers from those provisions. If your Senator or Rep hasn't already co-signed, this might be a good time to contact them. I have to run off to a meeting shortly, but I'll try to provide more info this later today.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003
I am such a geek
Posted by Lis Riba at 7:00 PM

Earlier this afternoon, I was thinking about the membership requirements for the Harvard Club, so I started poking about at the Harvard University website. And I found the Divinity School's Summer Language Program. Intensive study in Biblical Hebrew, Christian Latin, New Testament Greek... That just sounds so appealing to me...

[Mind you, last week I was reading a story which made a minor point about how Elizabethan sounds compared to modern English, which suddenly made me want to run out and study Elizabethan pronunciations, both the rudimentary stuff at this site along with some of the books I saw this summer at the Folger library.]

From Harvard, I wandered over to MIT's OpenCourseWare pages, looking for something a little closer to my current budget. Went to the complete course list and ohhhhhh

Here are just some of the classes that caught my eye:

[I suspect some on my friends list might be interested in Beginning Japanese I. And MsWAE, Medical Computing and Medical Decision Support reminded me of you.]

Ashcroft: U.S. to declassify library data
Posted by Lis Riba at 5:00 PM

Woo hoo! Librarians rule!

This just in:

The federal government will disclose how many times the FBI has sought records from libraries and businesses under the Patriot Act anti-terrorism law, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Wednesday.

Ashcroft told the president of the American Library Association, Carla Hayden, in a telephone call that he was removing the veil of secrecy on one of the most contentious provisions of the law, which was passed following the Sept 11 attacks.

Currently Google News only lists an AP article for the full story, though I also found this ALA press release.

Now, this isn't a total victory. It doesn't sound like they're changing the law in any way, just that they're going to release a report on how it's been used so far. But, given the gag-order nature of the law, that's still progress. And once we can see how it's actually been used, it will either confirm or relieve our fears;which will give us more evidence for further action.

Discovered on Atrios, who credits it to Liquid List [via BT!]

Let me be brief
Posted by Lis Riba at 1:45 AM

LiveJournal gave errors tonight warning that my feed is too big: over 150k. I edited the file and removed the earliest posts so it would update tonight. But for now, I guess I've got to try to limit myself to fewer and/or shorter posts for a little while. That or switch back to abbreviated feeds rather than the full content. We'll see how it goes.

Odd late night thought
Posted by Lis Riba at 1:19 AM

Combine the trailer to Calendar Girls,
the announcement of a blogroll of BloggerCon attendees (and my curiousity over the gender ratio), and
Oliver Willis' revelation that Playboy is planning a spread on the women of Wal*Mart...

I shouldn't stay up so late, 'cause it's got me thinking:

So, when will we see Babes of the Blogosphere?

Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Gone but not forgotten
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:48 PM

A couple surprise updates today in some older stories.

  • Remember Valerie Plame? Apparently somebody in the press corps gathered up the nerve to ask White House spokesman Scott McClellan about it today. [Here were my impressions of the last time McClellan answered questions on the matter.]
    This time, somebody asked him about the rumors of Karl Rove's involvement, to which McClellan replied:
    That's just totally ridiculous. But we've already addressed this issue. If I could find out who anonymous people were, I would. I just said, it's totally ridiculous.
    Maybe somebody ought to ask McClellan, if he's actually serious that he would find who the leakers were if he could, why doesn't he support an investigation so he can give folks a definitive answer.
  • Looking further back in the news, remember Ed Rosenthal, who was convicted of drug felonies because the judge refused to let the jury hear any testimony about growing medical marijuana? Well, it looks like the administration's tight-fisted grip is slipping further. The Truth in Trials Act is being introduced into the Senate in order to "create an affirmative defense that could be used against the outrageous federal prosecutions of patients and caregivers acting with the approval of state authorities and in accordance with state medical marijuana laws." If you agree with this, fax your Senators and tell them to support the bill.
  • Today at 11:30am EDT, the Senate voted 55-40 to roll back the entire FCC rule change. That's the media consolidation plan that Michael Powell pushed through back in June on a party-line vote, despite letters and comments running over 95% against. It took a while, but it looks like the people finally got their way. Cool beans.

Meanwhile, I've noticed in Ian's journal, many people asking what it takes to get into the Harvard Club, where Ian will be bartending. Since he's at work tonight, I thought I'd take a stab at answering that question.

First of all, if he becomes a function bartender, then you probably won't be able to see him at work unless you're invited to a wedding, bar/bat mitzvah, or other function/event held at the Harvard Club.

If he gets the Commonwealth Lounge position, I believe that's open to any Harvard Club member who comes in off the street. The catch, however, is membership. Anybody with a Harvard or Radcliffe degree, current faculty and full-time students of Harvard, plus certain others are eligible to join. However, membership also requires a hefty chunk of change in annual dues (fortunately, it's a sliding scale -- lowest for students, and rising the longer you've been out of school). With that membership, you (and guests) can use the facilities, including the bar, dining rooms, an athletic center, overnight lodging, etcetera, although many of these have additional fees.

Now, I may be wrong; I may be crazy. This is how I understand it from past comments by Ian and what I've gleaned from the Harvard Club website.

[Incidentally, the Harvard Club is only a few blocks away from the Hynes Convention Center, where next year's WorldCon is being held. I wonder if any Harvard-grad congoers plan to get their lodging through the Harvard Club...]

Nicely done
Posted by Lis Riba at 6:10 PM

A segment on NPR's All Things Considered (at about 38 after the hour) neatly eviscerated Ashcroft's slams against the ALA and other critics of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Ashcroft came across so smug and smarmy that I had a fingernails across the blackboard reaction and may have yelled back at the radio. You can hear the story here within about 90 minutes when the audio feed will officially be available.

Meanwhile, excellent catch by the ACLU's rep. While talking up the successes of the USA PATRIOT Act, Ashcroft provides statistics showing a drop in violent crimes. If there is any relation between the crime rate and USAPAT, then Congress ought to get involved immediately! USAPAT was sold strictly as an anti-terrorism measure, with reassurances that it wouldn't be used against common crimes. Isn't it nice of Ashcroft to give us further ammunition?

Updated 6:30 PM Here's the audio, in both Windows MediaPlayer and Real Audio formats.

On a lighter note
Posted by Lis Riba at 4:45 PM

First of all, thanks to everybody for their reassuring comments to yesterday's post. They really helped.

Second, after all the heaviness of my previous two posts, I feel a need to counterbalance that by sharing some more fun and uplifting stories:

  • Glee! Terry Pratchett read and responded to a post of mine. I didn't even know he read those groups.
  • And, of course, everybody's blogging about the "rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy" over reading comprehension and "waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are." Amusing, but unverified; fortunately Snopes is on the case.
  • You think Massachusetts rotaries are bad, get a load of the magic roundabout in Swindon (UK)! [Via steelwngs]
  • A local fair included a children's ride modelled after the Titanic. And then, it sank! [Via Boston Common]
  • The Treasury Department is modifying the currency again, making the $20 bill more colorful. I was tickled by a comment to Hesiod, which said: "Only the Bush administration could turn $20 bills into a pink slips."
  • Sometimes I can't help punning. A friend who shares a fascination with Elizabethan playwrights was talking about wines, which made me want to bottle a Kit Merlot. Silly me. Of course, when I conducted a search to see whether such a thing already existed, I found numerous references to "wine-making kits: merlot"
  • Thanks to Ian's bartender training, our own curiousity, and a really persuasive (former) salesclerk at a nearby liquor store, we've accumulated quite a collection of interesting liquors. The other day, at the store, I noticed a bottle of Pusser's Rum, which bills itself as the same rum served by the British Navy. Naturally, we were curious, but it was priced a bit too high to justify purchase on that grounds. So I turned to Kindred Spirits, a book of liquor review, to see whether it was worth the cost:
    Attractive chardonnay-like golden color -- each pouring kept throwing curious brown-colored particles -- I'm absolutely positive that the glassware wasn't the problem, because I changed glasses three times to make sure that the unwanted sediment was coming from the bottle; the atypical nose is astringent, acutely vegetal, verging on medicinal, saline, and kippery -- a peculiar, improper, and outrageously unwelcome fragrance for a rum; all the oddball elements found, and thouroughly disliked, in the nose regrettably show up in the chemical-like flavor and the completely disagreeable aftertaste; no wonder Britian no longer rules the seas; this stuff is awful, pure and simple, avoid.
    Me-owch! And I think I can pass on buying it, too.
    Catty bad reviews are so much fun to read, whatever the subject (as long as it's not you, I suppose). Though Spirit Journal magazine is too expensive to subscribe (over $10/issue), you can read his some of the latest reviews online (and older ones through the Internet Archive Wayback Machine).

If you enjoy liquor-geekery, head over to Ian's Sunday post on whiskeys. The comments range from linguistics to history to snobbery, and all in good spirited fun.

And on that note, I can finally share some good news:

With luck, he'll be working six nights a week behind the full bar; otherwise, they'll assign him to function bartending and barbacking. [He'll be working a training/evaluation shift on Thursday, so management can decide.] Either way, it'll pay better and should be more satisfying than his current gig, working at the convenience store/gas station down the street.

Only last month, Ian was finally able to verbalize his dream job. [Growing up, all he ever wanted was to be a stay-at-home parent; unfortunately, medical and financial issues have put that on hold for the time-being.] Now, it looks like he's on a track towards that goal. [Mind you, now that Ian's found a path, he's afraid he'll discover he doesn't enjoy it, which he thinks will leave him in a worse position than he was in before. Sort of a "Better not to have loved at all than to have loved and lost." I'm not terribly concerned about this; should that occur, I see it as just another data point in determining what's right for him.]

It also looks like we've got a tenant lined up for the downstairs apartment. With Ian's added income, we think we can get away with renting out just some of the rooms and making more of the space into a common area so we can actually entertain guests. How about that concept! Of course, Ian's hours may not give us as much time for socializing, but reducing some of the clutter in our current space will definitely be beneficial. [Don't worry, Dad, we're not putting any valuables downstairs -- we're talking about games and a card table, our paperback fiction, and that kind of thing.]

Read it and weep?
Posted by Lis Riba at 12:30 PM

A few more ugly stories that didn't quite fit in my previous post:

  • Donald Rumsfeld has announced that he's dispensing with trials for most of the detainees at Guantanamo. [This, after defense lawyers protested that the guidelines set up for military tribunals were too unbalanced and unfair.] Instead, they will be imprisoned indefinitely without trial until the global war on terrorism is over. (Do I need to say it?) [TalkLeft]
  • The administration is also pushing Congress to give it even broader powers including subpoenas without judicial permission, further elimination of bail and making more crimes death penalty offenses. Even other conservatives are saying they're going too far.
  • And, even though some of us Cassandras knew this would happen, the news media is finally paying attention: the Justice Department told Congress in May that it is using the [USA PATRIOT Act] in criminal cases, not just terrorism investigations.
  • Banks and commercial institutions are also using the USAPAT to blacklist innocent consumers, mostly those of Arab descent. Meanwhile, the TSA is estimating their new CAPPS II screening system will permanently bar 1 to 2 percent of passengers from flying. Given the number of air travellers, that's 2-4 million American adults, most of whom are innocent. And where's the accountability to clear them? Nobody knows.
  • For all that prosecutors have loved DNA evidence when it helped them catch criminals are now refusing to release prisoners exonerated by DNA. Stories at TalkLeft and Avedon.
  • And if you haven't heard, Tommy Chong was given 9 months in federal prison in a Justice Department sting for selling artistic glass pipes and bongs. Chong pleaded guilty, hoping to get community service performing anti-drug education. There are also rumors that he pled guilty because prosecutors threatened his family. The prosecuting attorney used his thirty year old movies as evidence for a harsher sentence. [Um -- reality vs. fiction? First Amendment?] What's more, numerous articles point out that "drug paraphenalia" law was ambiguous and most of the people busted were small businesspeople who had been operating openly and legally. It may be splashy, but I doubt it's going to prevent a single person from using drugs.
    See TalkLeft, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Drug War Rant for further information and links.

Finally, take note of how the New York Times spins Ashcroft's latest remarks. Today's article is headlined "Ashcroft Mocks Librarians and Others Who Oppose Parts of Counterterrorism Law" Not that the attorney general disputes their arguments or counters their facts -- he mocks us. Of course, a Justice Department spokesman backpedals a bit, claiming that poor widdle librarians have somehow been duped by the ACLU. Guess what, hon. We can read things for ourselves. We're quite good at it, with graduate degrees no less.

Needless to say, I found it trivially easy to obtain the full transcript of Ashcroft's prepared remarks, for those who prefer to make their judgements from undigested evidence. What a load of bull. Strawman arguments, misdirection, out-and-out lies -- too much in there for me to fisk it all. It'd be funny if he didn't so much power and wasn't using it for evil. Instead, I was amused by the ALA's response: "If he's coming after us so specifically, we must be having an impact." Heh.

As much as I adore my Spider Robinson .sig quote, I think this comment by Michael Moore is a worthy closer:

I really didn't realize the librarians were, you know, such a dangerous group. They are subversive. You think they're just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They're like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn't mess with them.
           -- Michael Moore

It's time we teach Mr. Ashcroft an overdue lesson: his arguments don't check out.

Light at the end of the tunnel -- an oncoming train?
Posted by Lis Riba at 11:10 AM

Everything this morning seems to be reminding us that it's still about the economy. From this morning's Washington Post:

Some Republican analysts, in fact, say they would welcome a debate that focuses more on Iraq -- even with ongoing U.S. deaths and other problems -- rather than jobs.
"I'd love to have Democrats throw us into the briar patch of Iraq and terrorism," said GOP pollster Glen Bolger.

Of course (leaked) GOP Talking Points are to plug "jobs, jobs, jobs" at every opportunity -- something Bush is doing, even when it doesn't make sense. These may make it that much easier to draw attention to the lies.

Kevin Drum this morning posts his interview with Paul Krugman and he doesn't paint a pretty picture:

Train wreck is a way overused metaphor, but we're headed for some kind of collision, and there are three things that can happen. Just by the arithmetic, you can either have big tax increases, roll back the whole Bush program plus some; or you can sharply cut Medicare and Social Security, because that's where the money is; or the U.S. just tootles along until we actually have a financial crisis where the marginal buyer of U.S. treasury bills, which is actually the Reserve Bank of China, says, we don't trust these guys anymore ? and we turn into Argentina. All three of those are clearly impossible, and yet one of them has to happen, so, your choice. Which one?
Well, how about your choice? What's your best guess?
I think financial crisis, and then how it falls out is 50-50, either New New Deal or back to McKinley, and I think it's anybody's guess which one of those it is. It's crazy stuff, but think about where I am on this. My take on the numbers is no different from Brad DeLong's, it's no different from CBO's now, and we all look at this and we all see this curve that marches steadily upwards and then heads for the sky after the baby boomers start retiring. I don't know what Brad thinks, I think he's open-minded [actually, it turns out he's optimistic that voters will eventually come to their senses and raise taxes on the rich. ?ed.], but the general view is: yes, but this is America, it can't happen, so something will come up. And I'm just willing to say I don't see any noncatastrophic solution to this, I don't see an incremental stepwise resolution. I think something drastic is really going to happen.

It's an excellent, but scary, interview and I recommend reading it.

Sunday's New York Times Magazine included a lengthy article by Krugman titled "The Tax-Cut Con" which goes into more detail about the truths and lies behind recent tax policy, and their causes and effects. And it's a pretty terrifying picture.

Lines up with some of my thoughts for a while now.

Society seems to be getting more openly callous by the day. That's one of the reasons I've been doing less newsblogging -- I don't like what I'm reading.

From Interesting Times on Sunday (emphasis mine):

Billmon notes a disturbing fact from recent polls: the American people think the war in Iraq was necessary but they don't want to have to pay the bill for it (in both money and lives).

George W. Bush really does bring out the worst in Americans. This attitude of give me what I want but don't ask me to pay for it is the worst stereotype of the ugly American, but it is a stereotype that is proven when you look at the kind of numbers that Billmon highlights. We really are a selfish, spoiled nation.

Maybe that's why so many people like Bush? After all, he also wants everything but he doesn't want to have to pay the price for it. He is the poster boy for the ugliest side of America. By elevating him the American people are essentially trying to make the worst part of us seem like it is our best.

Yes of course, many of us opposed the war in the first place, but this is talking about the majority as shown in national polls. And, that stupid, shortsighted, selfish attitude doesn't just apply to foreign policy, but is being catered to in every aspect of American life. And our bills are starting to come due.

Two blog posts I saw a few weeks ago that really spoke to me. These are excerpts; I recommend you read the entire thing:

South Knox Bubba:
Here's the problem with Republicans and other "compassionate conservatives" in a nutshell (from the welfare discussion below):
Rational Person: Everyone (in the abstract) also benefits from a well-educated, well-nourished, healthy populace.
GOPher: Um...has anyone really stopped to question this? How do I personally benefit from someone else being educated?
Rational Person: How do you benefit from other people being educated? You're kidding, right? People with education are more likely to have jobs, costing you less in welfare (or private charity, as you'd prefer), and keeping more folks out of prison (also expensive).
Folks with better educations, because they tend to have better jobs and more money, have better health care, which keeps down the cost of insurance and/or public assistance.
A better educated workforce attracts business. Did you know the #2 reason why businesses say they don't come to Tennessee - right after "not enough govt subsidies" (tee hee)- is the quality (or lack thereof) of our workforce wrt education and training?

GOPher: Assume the complete elimination of all social spending and then redefine your answer. If we didn't have a egregious welfare state, how would more people being educated benefit me? How does it benefit me that they have jobs? How does it benefit me that as a result of that they can have higher pay and thus more health care, etc.
Avedon Carol:
Some "conservatives" think the Republicans are the party of New Ideas because they have no knowledge of history at all. They seem to regard things like SEC regulations and worker safety laws as though they have existed since Adam ate the apple, and imagine that if - for the very first time ever! - we got rid of them, we would suddenly live in a utopian free-market meritocracy. Their perspective is so narrow that they don't even realize that their "new" idea has been around as long as there have been humans and still exists in many (most?) parts of the world, and that the world Franklin and Jefferson and FDR (and even LBJ) et al. wrought for us - the world they grew up in and always knew was better than all the others - is the genuinely new idea, and that it was working precisely because it was fine-tuned with all those fiddly little regulations and things. Yes, they require maintenance - you have to keep watching out for things like regulatory capture, you need accountability and public scrutiny to make sure that neither the government nor anyone else gets drunk with power - you remember that thing about "the price of liberty", right?

The Christian Science Monitor is running a special web feature on neoconservatives, including an Are you a "neocon"? quiz. Unsurprisingly, I am a liberal. And proud of it, too.

Monday, September 15, 2003
Am I a flake?
Posted by Lis Riba at 12:38 PM

No seriously.

I've often likened my diverse interests to a butterfly, flitting from topic to topic. But sometimes I wonder whether that's just me putting a shiny gloss on an ugly habit.

Last week, I started squee-ing over NaNoWriMo. A month earlier, I felt just as excited over the thought of writing for an online magazine soliciting articles on Elizabethan mysteries. I actually contacted the editor on that, but since then managed to forget completely about it until something else this week triggered my memory and reminded me about it. [I had decided against writing for them anyway, but it was still startling to remember how recent that was and how completely it slipped my mind.] And, it makes me concerned about my stick-to-it-iveness, and whether participating in NaNoWriMo is a good idea.

Looking back in my journal, I see so many things that I got so excited about, and then just dropped as the next shiny new thing caught my eye. Maybe I've always been this way, and it's the nature of blogging that I record more of these transitory passions, in a way that makes them more noticeable later on.

But I feel so... fickle.

And I can't help but wonder:

  • Am I a flake?
  • Am I unreliable?
  • Am I letting people down?

And if so, what can and should I do about it?

Advice and comments desperately welcome.

Weekend in reviews
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:15 AM

My main triumph for the weekend was finally completing David Starkey's Six wives: the queens of Henry VIII. I consider it an accomplishment, because although I've started several books about Henry, I never got very far -- the period always felt too remote and inaccessible. I was able to read about Edward VI and beyond, but Henry just never grabbed me. So not only have I finished the book, I've just extended my range of British history back to 1500 (and from there, I've now read about every monarch through 1700; though not much about the interregnum, and I'm still looking for a good book on the Hanoverian switchover).

At any rate, I did manage to completely read Six wives, which in itself is an endorsement. The sections on the divorce start to drag on and on after a while, but he manages to evoke distinct, plausible and interesting personalities for all the wives. The authorial voice gets a bit tiresome -- far too often he spotlights a piece of evidence that he says earlier historians somehow misinterpreted, whether they underestimated its importance, misunderstood it, assigned it to the wrong time, couldn't read it, were too prudish to reproduce, or whatever. It sounds like he's bragging, and he does it too many times. Frankly, that kind of frequent disagreement with (even recent) historians makes me more likely to distrust his scholarship, for why should he be the only one who gets it right? I'll be interested to see whether newer books agree with his findings or dispute them.

A couple other complaints about accessibility of the text: First of all, Starkey doesn't mention the year often enough. Starkey's going on and on, month after month, and then makes reference to something that wouldn't happen until, say, 1534. And suddenly I realize that I don't know what year he's currently talking about. Is 1534 imminent or distant? And I start flipping back, and can't find mention of it anywhere! It gets worse when he switches his narrative from Catherine (of Aragorn) to Anne, and backtracks over the same events from the other perspective. Makes it really hard to understand the parallels when you can't keep track of when things are happening in the first place.

And finally, I am really sick of the way footnotes are formatted. With modern computerized publishing, there is no reason (other than aesthetics) why books can't use actual footnotes (at the bottom of each page) instead of endnotes (at the back of the book). But if they insist upon using endnotes, there are friendly and unfriendly ways of doing them. Six wives only lists endnotes by chapter number, but the chapter number is only provided in the TOC and the start of the chapter -- not in the margins of the pages themselves. So the act of looking up an endnote involved flipping to the endnotes, realizing I didn't know which chapter I was on, flipping back a few pages to figure that out, flipping back to the endnotes, by which time I forgot what number I was looking for. It was more bother than it was worth. One of the more usable examples of endnotes was in Peter Novick's The Holocaust in American life. Endnotes listed both chapter name and chapter title, and the top of each page said "Endnotes for pages __ to __" making it incredibly easy to find a footnote without having to flip back to the text.

Back to Starkey, I will add that I really enjoyed his earlier book, Elizabeth: the struggle for the throne. Having also read Alison Weir's Children of Henry VIII and other biographies of Elizabeth as queen, I found Starkey's portrayal of Princess Elizabeth taking a disguised and deniable but active role in politics more plausible than the more typical portrayal of her as isolated naif who suddenly becomes a master plotter upon her succession.

In other entertainments:

Watched Spy Kids 3D. Enh. Nowhere near as good as the first and second films. Too much time and attention spent on the 3D effects (poking, spraying or squirting things at the audience) and not enough to plot, dialog or witty effects. And most of the adult cast were either too busy on other projects or too expensive for more than an extended cameo. Felt like an end-of-series wrapup than an adequate entertainment in its own right. Oh well. The first and second movies were still fun.

I was bad and splurged on the new Casablanca DVD. The biggest kickers that talked me into purchasing were the inclusion of the recent Warner Brothers Carrotblanca cartoon and the premiere episode of the 1955 TV series version. [We watched the first five minutes of it -- really cheap and cheesy looking.] I wish they included an episode of the 1983 TV version, which starred Hector Elizondo as Renault. I have a feeling he could've done well in the role -- or at least better than the nobodies in the 1955 version. For the film itself, the commentary tracks look interesting, though we saw Julius Epstein (the last surviving writer) speaking a few years ago, and I wish they had managed to get his anecdotes.

Read the third Artemis Fowl book. Maybe I wasn't in the right mood for it, but it didn't do as much for me as the first two in the series. However, Eoin Colfer closes on a note where if he writes a fourth book, I'm very intrigued by the possibilities.

PS (Added later): In other entertainment news, The Hebrew Hammer is opening around Chanukah. [Details at Upcoming Movies] Am I the only one who's really looking forward to this?

Sunday, September 14, 2003
Ooh yay!
Posted by Lis Riba at 1:55 PM

The revised citizenship oath I wrote about Friday may not be as much a done deal as I thought.

Sisyphus Shrugged found a New York Times article that its adoption is being delayed as Congress and groups like the American Legion are weighing in with their own objections.

PS: It looks like the modified oath didn't escape cartoonist Ann Telnaes, either.



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