Perils of the small dog, part 2

I just went out to get something out of my trunk, and Diego followed me, barking as the screen door opened.
When I came back to the front door, I saw something behind the screen door, between it and the front door — it was Diego, who had been sandwiched when the front door closed itself, trapping him between the two doors.

This is what Right = Wrong means

The president says that the leak of information on his illegal spying on Americans is “shameful” and helps “our enemies.”
Now, I know that I am not the only person who is laughing his ass off over the spectacle of the president claiming that his activities are honorable actions while the exposure of the activities is bad. I swear, this White House has made spin an art form.

Gotta get up pretty early in the morning

I miss my morning NPR routine. Back in DC, WAMU always had something on I wanted to listen to, from Morning Edition for a full four hours — until 10am — to Diane Rehm and All Things Considered, again, repeated on a loop for hours.
When I moved here, I stopped listening to NPR, because I couldn’t receive the “local” station, KQED, where I was.
Now that I’ve moved north, I can receive KQED just fine… but I’m finding that their schedule just doesn’t mesh with mine. They run Morning Edition for a whopping five hours every morning — but they start it at 3am. Then, the schedule is heavy with the sleep-inducing Forum and boredom in audio form, The California Report.
The announcers on KQED seem like they were pulled off the street, stumbling over their scripts constantly. It gives this major public broadcaster the sound of an amateur college station.
And this will surprise a lot of people: I’m finding Morning Edition to be too heavy these days. At least half of the show is dedicated to the war and equally heavy subjects of doom and gloom. Good morning! It has done away with the last vestiges of Bob Edwards’ chipper but serious delivery.
I got an XM radio for Christmas, and I’ve tried to find Bob Edwards at his new home, but XM seems to be scheduling for the east coast — his show ends at 8am Pacific, although it repeats at 5pm.
Maybe I’m just sleeping in too late.

It’s not illegal if no one leaks it

From the “We’d have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those darned kids” file comes the news that the Justice Department is beginning an investigation into who leaked classified information about — ready for this? — the Bush administration’s illegal and unconstitutional domestic spying program.
Now, that’s what I call speed — they’re quick to investigate who leaked word of an illegal activity, but so far no investigations of the illegal activity itself.

Breaking news from the Bay Area

Before you make fun of Diego, you’d better cover your ankles. Here’s “Breaking News” from the AP:

A pack of angry Chihuahuas attacked a police officer who was escorting a teenager home following a traffic stop, authorities said.

The officer suffered minor injuries including bites to his ankle on Thursday when the five Chihuahuas escaped the 17-year-old boy’s home and rushed the officer in the doorway, said Fremont detective Bill Veteran.

The teenager had been detained after the traffic incident, Veteran said.

The officer was treated at a local hospital and returned to work less than two hours later, Veteran said.

Oh, and get this:

Two hours earlier, a homeowner in Niles reported that an intruder broke into her home and added pornography to her computer.

The woman said she woke up and was startled to see a stranger typing away on her computer. The intruder fled, but left behind an altered screen saver that featured images of “erotic Indian art,” Veteran said.

Allow me this gay geek moment

It’s no secret that a large portion of Doctor Who fans are geeky gay guys like me. But what is astonishing is how long it took for the series to pander to that audience segment. The longest-serving producer of Doctor Who, John Nathan-Turner, was gay; yet in his reign from 1981-1989, he did precious little to keep the poofters tuning in. Along comes Russell T Davies, arguably the most famous gay telly writer — remember “Queer as Folk?” — and finally, we get a bisexual, sexy companion, Captain Jack, who not only flirts with everything that moves but goes naked and produces a compact laser deluxe from someplace on his nude person.
Captain Jack is off to be in his own series now, but thankfully Davies has kept our interest up in the just-aired Christmas special:


First, he gives us Alex, the Prime Minister’s “Right Hand.” You can make your own right hand joke here.


Of course, the new Doctor himself is rather nice to look at. He obviously agrees in this scene, where he checks to see if his hair is gelled just right — although he seems to be disappointed that he’s not ginger.

Ah well. Like Captain Jack, this Doctor might be more open about who he dances with.

For you fans out there who haven’t seen it, here are a few screen caps of the 2006 coming attractions. Sarah Jane Smith is back, along with K9 and The Face of Boe… cat women and Queen Victoria… and the Cybermen!


The F Word

Monday night, as I drove home from San Francisco, I heard a story on the news about a “hate crime” in San Jose. Someone had burned a “word” into someone’s lawn; but during the entire story the reporter never uttered the word, making only oblique references to it. I was completely mystified at the end of the story, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the word could be other than the “N” word.
The word turns out to have been FAG.
I’m really astounded that KCBS didn’t have the journalistic courage to mention the word, when the newspaper seems to have had no problem. Is KCBS being overly PC? Are they trying to be considerate of the large gay population in the bay area?
I think they did a disservice by not disclosing the word and thus hiding the victimized group being discussed.

A Republican non-hypocrite surfaces

The conservative stranglehold might be crumbling — yes, we can cynically point out that the Republicans beginning to break with the administration are simply being politically aware, considering that an election is nearing. But one thing they’ve still been denying is that the behavior of the Bush White House could possibly be worse than the Clinton White House. But now comes Bob Barr, the former Republican congressman who I often found to be worthy of derision. After all, this is the man who forced Washington National Airport to be renamed for Ronald Reagan, then threatened to withhold federal funding if Metro didn’t rename the adjacent subway stop as well. He was an instigator in the Clinton impeachment. Unlike other Republicans, he is not taking a hypocrite’s stand on Bush’s activities — although he tempers his criticism of Bush by dragging in previous presidents such as Clinton while at the same time describing how Bush plans to escape impeachment proceedings:

Two of the most powerful moments of political déjà vu I have ever experienced took place recently in the context of the Bush administration’s defense of presidentially ordered electronic spying on American citizens.

First, in the best tradition of former President Bill Clinton’s classic, “it-all-depends-on-what-the-meaning-of-is-is” defense, President Bush responded to a question at a White House news conference about what now appears to be a clear violation of federal electronic monitoring laws by trying to argue that he had not ordered the National Security Agency to “monitor” phone and e-mail communications of American citizens without court order; he had merely ordered them to “detect” improper communications.

This example of presidential phrase parsing was followed quickly by the president’s press secretary, Scott McLellan, dead-panning to reporters that when Bush said a couple of years ago that he would never allow the NSA to monitor Americans without a court order, what he really meant was something different than what he actually said. If McLellan’s last name had been McCurry, and the topic an illicit relationship with a White House intern rather than illegal spying on American citizens, I could have easily been listening to a White House news conference at the height of the Clinton impeachment scandal.

… First, we get a president bobbing and weaving like Muhammad Ali. He knows he can’t really tell the truth and he knows he can’t rely only on lies. The resulting dilemma leads him to veer from unintelligible muttering to attempts to distract, and then to chest-beating bravado and attacks on his accusers.

Soon, he begins taking trips abroad and appearing at the White House podium with foreign leaders with minimal command of English, allowing him to duck for cover whenever scandal questions arise.

Of course, the president can’t carry the entire stonewalling burden alone. The next actors to enter the stage typically are the president’s press secretary and the White House counsel’s office. Serious scandals tend to spawn congressional investigations and independent counsels. As Clinton quickly learned, and Richard Nixon before him, the best way to short-circuit such endeavors is to force the investigators and lawyers to fight like dogs for every inch of ground they get.

By using the White House counsel’s office to bury investigators in a sea of motions, pleadings and memoranda, an administration can drag out an investigation to the point of exhaustion. By the time the investigation actually slogs through this legal maze to bring real charges or issue a report, the courts, public and media are so sick and tired of hearing about it that the final charges fall stillborn from the press.

A critical component of White House Scandal Defense 101 is rallying the partisan base. This keeps approval ratings in territory where the wheels don’t start falling off. The way to achieve this goal is you go negative and you don’t let up. If you’re always attacking your accusers, the debate becomes one of Democrat vs. Republican, rather than right vs. wrong. Anyone who questions the legality of the decision to wiretap thousands of Americans unlawfully is attacked, as either an enabler of terrorists or a bitter partisan trying to distract a president at war.

Yet another tactic is to shore up your congressional base in order to avoid or at least control pesky oversight investigations. A president’s job here is made far easier if his party maintains a majority in one or both houses. Even if your party doesn’t enjoy control of either the House or the Senate, you can still achieve your desired goal, as did Clinton — America’s master scandal handler. You’ve just got to work harder at it.

The signs are everywhere that the Bush White House is busily implementing all parts of this defense strategy. It would be refreshing if it decided to clear the air and actually be honest about its post-Sept. 11 surveillance. However, that’s unlikely. The problem this president faces, as did his predecessors, is that full disclosure would lead to the remedy stage. No president wants to fight that end-game.

So that’s where my money went

It’s the end of the year, and all those lists are starting to crop up — you know, the ones that count down the best of the year.
I started to read one about the top 50 gadgets of the last 50 years, and counting up which ones I actually owned. It’s shocking:

  • Sony Walkman
  • Apple iPod
  • TiVo
  • Palm PDA
  • Motorola RAZR
  • TI Speak & Spell
  • Nintendo Game Boy
  • Apple Newton Messagepad
  • Roomba
  • Iomega Zip Drive

I wonder how much money I have spent buying gadgets and gizmos over my lifetime — probably more than the gross national product of some small nations.
Perhaps not by coincidence, I’ve just started reading Affluenza, targeting the American propensity for conspicuous consumption.

Dear Circuit City

I understand that it is prime time for customer returns, but must you use the same desk for both returns and purchases?
Today I tried to purchase a home kit for an XM radio I received for Christmas, but was thwarted by the line of over 20 people trying to return or exchange gifts. I left the store with nothing.
Simple economics should tell you that by driving out customers who wish to purchase in favor of customers wishing to return items, your ink for the day would tend to be in the red.
I went to Best Buy instead, which wisely had set up a separate returns desk away from the checkout counters. I spent $5 more, but it was worth it to avoid the hassle.

Gene Cowan

A report from the front

And we’re back! Sorry, I had pre-written entries for while I was gone, but for some reason they didn’t appear everyday. I dunno, this blogging system is a little wonky, mostly because my server is so clamped down with security that the software is not allowed to do a lot of the things it wants to do.
So, let’s start with some complaints — the raison d’être for this blog, of course.
It was raining in San Francisco on Thursday, so naturally all the flights were delayed. Then a power failure crashed the computers, so the gate agents made announcements along the lines of “We think the plane has left Phoenix, but without the computers we can’t tell.” Scary, really — I mean, couldn’t they use a telephone?
So, my flight left an hour late. And my layover in Charlotte was — you guessed it — an hour. This meant that I made a very gay spectacle of myself running through the Charlotte airport like a drag queen wearing stillettos. Because true to form, my flight came in at gate C15, the last gate at the very end of one of those piers off a hub-and-spoke airport. My connection was leaving from, yes, B15, the last gate at the end of another pier. I ran all the way up the pier, into the airport, then down another pier, just in time to catch my next flight.
But that’s nothing compared to the distance I had to run for my flight back.
I booked these flights back in June online. I’ve had the printout for my itinerary on my fridge since then. So, it was somewhat of a surprise when I went online a week ago to confirm the times and was greeted with a message: no such flight. Calling the airline revealed that three of my flights had been changed, a fact that I was seemingly not notified of.
Well, I wrote down the new flight information and all was well. Until yesterday, when I showed up at Dulles airport for my flight home and was once again greeted with no such flight.
That’s because I was at the wrong airport.
My outgoing flight was departing from National.
One cab ride and $60 later, I made it to National with time to spare — this, people, is why I am obsessive about arriving at the airport with plenty of time.
For the first leg of the journey, I was sitting in front of conservative pundit George Will and his family. I couldn’t decide whether to lambast him for his right wing commentary, or congratulate him for his criticism of George Bush. In the end, I let him start his family vacation in peace while I read the Sky Mall magazine and marveled at how people will pay such ridiculous prices.
On the second plane (funny how you can’t get a direct flight anymore, but still the flight crew announces each leg as “non-stop” — “Welcome aboard our non-stop service to Charlotte.”) the entire first class compartment was jumbled up. There were 3 couples who were not sitting together. I switched seats with one man so he could sit next to his wife; then the flight attendant came by and asked if I could do it again so another couple could be together. No problem, doesn’t bother me in the least. Except that once the moves were made, I was sitting in front of a middle-aged Jewish grandmother, who could have stepped right out of a New York sitcom. She was very sweet and lovely, but talked incessantly. About nothing. Nothing. And despite the fact that I was wearing my headphones and the cabin was filled with that white noise from the jets, she could still be clearly heard all over — but especially right behind my head. I can now understand the cliche of the stoic Jewish husband. The constant yammering — “See that? Over there? Look! There, to the right. Look over there. That’s the America West plane, I think. Well, it says America West. They merged. America West. See the plane? Right next to us. Hmm, that plane is a different color than this one. America West, it says.”
In conclusion, I wish my iPod volume was louder.
So, here I am at home. I’ve realized that my home is very important to me, and it doesn’t matter where it is. It is my little refuge where I can be alone. My dad’s house is chaos, someone is awake in that house almost every hour of the day. On top of that, it is hard for me to sleep anywhere other than home, in my own bed.
I had a disconcerting realization this weekend, as well: I am the only one in the family (except my parents) to have my own home. I’m not just talking about owning a house, I’m talking about a separate existence. My brother lives in his in-laws’ house with his wife and three kids. His sister-in-law also lives there with her daughter. My other brother lives at home. My sister and her fiance live there as well. Heck, my friend Eric and his wife live with his parents, as does his sister and her son. Is this a throwback to an earlier time when families all lived together? Or is it an indictment of the high cost of housing and too much debt?
I think I will stay home today, in my little bungalow, have a sandwich and enjoy the solitude.

Seating passengers in rows 1-4

As you read this, I’m winging my way back to San Jose from DC. I’m writing this before I actually leave, so there’s opportunity to make the kind of jokes that one usually hears on talk shows that are pre-taped. Stuff like, “Wow! Wasn’t that snow on Christmas beautiful?” or “I’m flabbergasted — who would have expected George Bush to resign on Christmas Eve?”
But I will refrain.
Here’s a question: why do people get bogged down with the whole nail clippers on a plane issue? As I see it, there are two aspects to this. First off, I don’t think that nail clippers will ever be a successful terrorism tool on a plane, not just because of their diminutive size and lack of threat, but because since September 11 passengers are not only more cognizant of security, but they have become complicit in it. Any future hijackers will have to content with at least a hundred passengers coming after them.
Second, why oh why do people feel the need to take nail clippers on board, anyway? Are they actually going to clip their nails while sitting 2 inches away from another person? Have they no class at all? I mean, why not bring a pumice stone on board, and scrape your feet?
I’ll be flying first class today, which I got used to immediately the first time I flew it this year. It’s not the perks — there really aren’t any anymore, save those that are free like getting to board first — big deal. You don’t get there any faster than everyone else. No, the real reason to pay exponentially more is to have space. A few extra inches of leg room and a wider seat mean that you aren’t in constant physical contact with someone next to you for hours upon end. It’s like the free range end of the cattle yard up there in the sky.