Unconnected

The time is quickly approaching, and it’s coming far faster than I had hoped. Yeah, I’ve mostly packed everything already — I did it before I put the house on the market — but there are still things to sort through and pack… and I have to make three “piles.” Stuff that is going in the moving van and I won’t see again for 2 weeks; stuff that is going to my aunt out in the country (couch, chair, table, stuff like that); and stuff that I will carry with me on the plane.
That last one is the toughest. What stuff do I need to take with me for 2 weeks’ survival? Clothes, obviously, but also stuff like my iPod and PowerBook, my various important papers, and of course, the dog.
The hard part is going to be the last few days I’m here, because there’s simply so much happening — potentially all at once. The movers are coming either next Saturday or Monday. The car will be picked up for shipping sometime Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. I’m moving my furniture to my aunt’s on Sunday. And I close on the sale of the house on Monday. So, this means that it’s quite possible that the movers will all show up on Monday while I’m out closing on the house. They can’t yet tell me what day or time they’ll be here.
Lovely.
Meanwhile, if they come on, say, Saturday, I’ll find myself with an empty house, no TV or internet, and no car, for 3 days. That alone would be enough to drive me completely batty.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that blog entries may be few and far between starting next week. Sorry.

Puff piece

A little while back, I posted something about “Cuban” cigars being sold at a Republican fundraiser or some such event, pointing out the hypocrisy of the right wing lawmakers. It engendered a furious back-and-forth from at least one commenter who alternately punched holes in the “Cuban” claim, quite rightly, and then headed off into ridiculous attacks.
Well, I hesitantly put my toe back in the water just for the sake of a good guffaw (and the ever-enjoyable pointing out of hypocrites) with this article from Time magazine:

image Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes, according to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a cigar is an economic prop to a brutal totalitarian regime. Arguing against loosening sanctions against Cuba last year, DeLay warned that Fidel Castro “will take the money. Every dime that finds its way into Cuba first finds its way into Fidel Castro’s blood-thirsty hands…. American consumers will get their fine cigars and their cheap sugar, but at the cost of our national honor.”

DeLay has long been one of Congress’ most vocal critics of what he calls Castro’s “thugocracy,” which is why some sharp-eyed TIME readers were surprised last week to see a photo of the Majority Leader smoking one of Cuba’s best—a Hoyo de Monterrey double corona, which generally costs about $25 when purchased overseas and is not available in this country. The cigar’s label clearly states that it was made in “Habana.” The photo was taken in Jerusalem on July 28, 2003, during a meeting between DeLay and the Republican Jewish Coalition at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

… DeLay’s smoke may have run afoul of his principles, but it did not violate U.S. regulations at the time. However, it would now. Last September, the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control tightened its prohibitions against U.S. citizens importing or consuming Cuban cigars. Even Americans licensed to bring back up to $100 worth of Cuban goods are no longer allowed to include tobacco products in what they carry. The regulation also noted that Americans are barred not only from purchasing Cuban goods in foreign countries, but also from consuming them in those countries.

Asked about the Majority Leader’s consumption of a Cuban cigar, his spokesman Dan Allen replied there has been “no change in our Cuban policy.”

Sitting on a gold mine

My luck — at least, financially — has been pretty good lately, and today brought another pleasant surprise. As I started to clean out drawers and whatnot, I collected all the loose change around the house in a small plastic container. I went out to the bank this afternoon and glorped it all into the change counting machine. It wasn’t really that much change, it only filled 1/4 of the 6″ container; still, it took about 5 minutes to make it through the counter.
That small amount of change turned out to be $80. Well, $81.30… which means that I already have more change to begin the next collection.

Stuck around for 25 years

Via Jason Kottke comes a link to a celebration of Post-It Notes. They turn 25 this month, and the article traces their inception and eventual success — it’s a fascinating read about the tortured process of a great idea to a great product.

The More You Know

Perhaps one of the most recognized public service campaigns of the last decade, “The More You Know” has been the cornerstone of NBC’s PSA activities since January 1989.

The most toys

I told myself that I would allow one splurge after I sold the house, considering that the real estate bubble has brought a windfall my way. The vast majority of the sale proceeds will be going into escrow to pay for a new home in California — or at least offset that cost — but I decided to take a very small amount to spend on something I wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford.
At first I thought I’d get myself a nice big plasma TV; but my current tube-based HDTV still produces a far superior picture, even though it’s large and heavy.
So instead, I spent a bit less money and purchased a high definition video camera. We’ll be using it this weekend for our entry in the 48 Hour Film Project, which I’ll be entered in once again. I’ve come up with a really neat idea for this year’s film (but it’s not going to be in high definition because none of the screening equipment is in HD). I’m not going to tell you what this idea is because I don’t want to tip off any competitors. Generally speaking, our team always try to put the “challenge” into the competition. Anyone can create a boring film in 48 hours; we tend to gravitate towards ideas that are very difficult to realize in that time, like our last film which had some difficult special effects finished up at the last moment.
Suffice it to say that our new film will be incredibly challenging and memorable, which is important because we want to win that coveted audience vote! You might remember that we won the audience vote last year and then went on to win Best in Show.
Anyway.
This camera, a Sony FX1, produces a gorgeous 1080i picture that simply can’t be compared to the cheap camcorders I’m used to. Here’s a shrunk down frame from the camera, shooting the orchid on my dining table.

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Now, click here to see the full size image.

It seems like the time is ripe for HD editing on the Mac; in the past I complained that the Mac had no built-in support for the HDV format of these cameras; now the iMovie application effortlessly downloads the HD footage and even creates a movie “magically” without any intervention from the user. Next month, an update to Final Cut Pro will bring HDV editing to that professional application. Yeah! I’ve been waiting for this to happen for years. Luckily, it’s arrival coincided with my ability to pay for it.

Wish me luck this weekend. The stress of making a movie in 48 hours is just going to add to the stress of moving in a little more than a week. Anyone got a valium?

Audience participation

In only 2 weeks, my little tagline “the blue county in the red state” will be no more. What clever moniker will I apply to San Jose, California? Any ideas? Send ‘em in. I might even come up with a fabulous prize!

Tools

You know, the last time this whole “indecency on television” boondoggle reared it’s ugly head, the government came up with the ridiculous “V-Chip.” Remember that? What about TV content ratings? Don’t these boneheaded moral crusaders from the PTC notice the rating at the top of the screen that’s supposed to warn of vulgar language and violence?
One problem — for there are many — is that any parent who might conceivably have a speck of brain matter and decide to limit what their kids can watch is probably likely to be bamboozled by the arcane and complicated procedure to activate the V-Chip… and in fact, their kids are far more adept at circumventing it.
Of course, the fundies don’t actually want you to be able to limit your kid’s viewing, they simply want to a) call attention to themselves and b) keep all the good porn for themselves.

For those of you who had no idea that we already had a ratings system in place, I give you this handy guide, courtesy of TV Barn. Cut it out and glue it to the side of your television, won’t you?

There are two ratings codes used at the beginning of every entertainment program airing on television today. The first is age-based and is modeled on the movie industry’s ratings system. The second, which children’s advocates lobbied for after the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, adds letters that describe the type of mature content in the program. All networks use the age-based ratings but NBC has refused to include the description letters.

TV-Y: The show is suitable for all children. (Note: The American Academy of Pediatrics has urged parents ban TV use for their children under age 2.)

TV-Y7: Appropriate for children 7 and older who can distinguish between fantasy and reality.

TV-Y7 FV: Program contains fantasy violence but is suitable for children 7-up.

TV-G: Suitable for all ages. Unlike the above ratings, these programs are intended for adult viewership as well, but TV-G indicates that kids can watch the shows unattended.

TV-PG: Parental guidance suggested.

TV-14: Parents strongly cautioned. By now most parents have enough experience with the movie industry’s PG and PG-13 ratings to understand these two.

TV-MA: Mature audiences only. Programs like “South Park” and “The Shield” are rated TV-MA and their networks have pledged not to promote these shows at earlier hours, when more kids may be watching.

DLSV: Letter codes which may appear on-screen with the show’s age-based rating. They indicate the presence of graphic sexual description (D), strong language (L), on-screen sex (S) and violence (V).

If the blue dress fits…

So, here’s the story: a prostitute is signed in and out of the White House more than 200 times, some with no legitimate reason for being there. Some of the times, the logs show no exit time; others no entrance time.

I’ll bet your mind immediately conjured up the Clinton White House, didn’t it?

Nope. It’s the Bush White House, and the prostitute is pseudo-reporter James Guckert. Secret Service logs obtained by members of congress show that on many occasions, Guckert had no reason to be in the White House — there were no briefings going on — and that sometimes he never signed out… or he signed out without signing in.

Guckert made more than two dozen excursions to the White House when there were no scheduled briefings. On many of these days, the Press Office held press gaggles aboard Air Force One—which raises questions about what Guckert was doing at the White House. On other days, the president held photo opportunities.

On at least fourteen occasions, Secret Service records show either the entry or exit time missing. Generally, the existing entry or exit times correlate with press conferences; on most of these days, the records show that Guckert checked in but was never processed out.

In March, 2003, Guckert left the White House twice on days he had never checked in with the Secret Service. Over the next 22 months, Guckert failed to check out with the Service on fourteen days. On several of these visits, Guckert either entered or exited by a different entry/exit point than his usual one. On one of these days, no briefing was held; on another, he checked in twice but failed to check out.

“I’d be worried if I was the White House and I knew that a reporter with a day pass never left,” one White House reporter told RAW STORY. “I’d wonder, where is he hiding? It seems like a security risk.”

Others who have covered the White House say not checking in or out with the Secret Service is unusual, especially in the wake of Sept. 11. The Secret Service declined to comment.

Is the indictment here one of lax security by the Secret Service, or the fact that the White House allows prostitutes to roam the halls as long as they parrot the party line?

Right to Disagree… until they disagree

I just can’t wrap my mind around right wing dogma, especially the contradictory, hypocritical stuff. Like the fact that “pro-life” people always seem to be pro-death penalty. It’s a strange contradiction, the way they are bent on protecting a person before he is born, but then once he’s been delivered they don’t give a damn.
I see this very phenomenon today in an article about Bill Frist’s speech at a church rally. He was denouncing the Democratic filibusters against Bush’s judicial nominees, defending the Republican assault on checks and balances.

He told conservatives that judges deserve “respect, not retaliation,” no matter how they rule.

What a huge, smelly load of crap. It was just weeks ago that the Republicans were calling for retaliation against judges — some of them their own appointees — for ruling that Terri Schiavo should be allowed to die.
I’m always amazed at how today’s Republicans have managed the difficult art of reconciling their contradictory positions on just about everything.
Even funnier is this:

Charles W. Colson, head of Prison Fellowship Ministries, also appeared by videotape. He said Senate Democrats are trying to use the filibuster “to seize what they lost at the ballot box and to prevent the appointment of judges, holding the judiciary hostage.” Their actions, he said, “are destroying the balance of power, which was a vital Christian contribution to the founding of our nation.”

To Republicans, the “balance of power” means “100% of power in ultra-right wing hands.” Since they came into power, they’ve been systematically dismantling the balance of powers that was so carefully designed by the founders, giving unprecedented powers to the Executive and emasculating the Judiciary.
James Dobson, that slimy creep, trotted out his ignorance of how the checks and balances work with this brilliant contribution:

James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, spoke from the church’s pulpit and criticized the Supreme Court, seven of whose nine members were named by Republican presidents. The court’s majority, Dobson said, “are unelected and unaccountable and arrogant and imperious and determined to redesign the culture according to their own biases and values, and they’re out of control.”

Unelected judges? Who knew? Of course, the Republicans are trying to push through a whole slew of “unelected” judges right now. “Ah, but that’s different,” they’d say.

Suspension bridge of disbelief

Hmm. I guess that the National Geographic Channel has a slightly lower journalistic standard than the magazine.
I’m watching a show on the Golden Gate Bridge, a kind of primer for my new home, and they’re talking about the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Which they’re illustrating by using — over and over and over — footage of freeway and parking structure collapses from the 1994 Northridge earthquake, hundreds of miles away. I almost expect to see footage from Kobe with the Golden Gate superimposed.

Take me out to the… nevermind

After years and years of campaigns to bring back baseball, after a rush to pick up season tickets, is this the most people that the Washington Nationals can manage to attract? For this, Metro decided to hold the system open late?

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Granted, it was raining that day, but what’s a little spring rain on a 75° day to a fan who’s been agitating to get a team for the better part of 30 years? (Photo by Kevin Ambrose)