Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hell, A Happy Weenie

Oops! I mean Happy Halloween!

Check out more Geek-O-Lanterns here (courtesy of Wired magazine)

Have fun and watch out for all those hard-to-see trick-or-treaters when you are out driving tonight.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

DewKid Lives Near Mordor

DewKid has some pictures of the smoke from the wildfires in California.

Scary stuff. I hope they get it under control and soon.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, probably because it's so spontaneous! There is no "official" day off and no governmental recognition. In spite of this, it has been celebrated in the US for more than 100 years!

Mostly it's a completely secular celebration, although some for some Pagans & Wiccans it's a major holiday, Samhain. The fundies either ignore it, campaign against it, or celebrate alternatively with a generic "Harvest Festival" (isn't that Oktoberfest? tee hee..) or construct Hell Houses.

In any case, I find it's alot of fun for kids, and now, for adults as well. It's an excuse to be a little bit crazy and weird, spend a few hours indulging in candy, and maybe even having a costume party!

So tell me your favorite Halloween story, and don't leave anything out!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

New Show: Pushing up Daisies

Pushing Up Daisies = (Narrator from Series of Unfortunate Events) + (Narration style of Amelie) + (60s retro theme of Edward Scissorhands) + (Quirky character types of Ugly Betty or My Name is Earl)

There were some other references in there too. In fact, they may have borrowed the entire pilot episode from other places for all I know. It is a pretty good show, but I am not sure I will keep watching it. In the age of torture being described with pleasant euphemisms, I am not sure another show about moral ambiguity is what I need. The premise is that the main character can touch a dead person/animal/whatever and bring it back to life, but if he touches them again they die. The twist is that if they stay alive for more than one minute, somebody else must die. You can imagine the dilemmas that would come up.

Check out IMDB for more details.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Don't Taser Me, Either, Bro!

In Florida you can be tasered for asking questions at a public forum.

In Portland, Oregon, on the other hand, you can be tasered for videotaping police conducting an illegal search on your neighbor's property.

Good thing it isn't Myanmar. Police shoot people for videotaping things there:

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ma (or someone's Pa)

My mom would have been 73 years old today. She had lung cancer and died at 69 instead. The easy thing is to say she shouldn't have smoked, but that doesn't explain how George Burns lived until 100+ smoking cigars or why my grandfather lived into his 90s after being exposed to asbestos particles for years and years.

The fact of the matter is that we lost her before we wanted to and the particulars along with their moral/rational sense of superiority was irrelevant; to say the least. That fact was driven home this last week as my good friend's father passed away from the same ailment. Just as my mother volunteered to help many who needed it, this father built a business that provided for his wife and sons and many others. If he or my mom had been struck down in any of a hundred other ways, the pain and remembrance would not change.

My dad called me today to recall the memory of my Mom. There are few of us who become Desmond Tutus or Lance Armstrongs or others who are quoted for years to come, but for most of us, a more modest legacy remains. My mom or my friend's dad may not be published in every major newspaper, but they sure touched many lives and left a good mark in this world. They are worth remembering and worth grieving even years later.

In time, sadness gives way to a life that goes on with the capacity for happiness, but every passing life leaves a mark that changes us forever. For me, it is a pang that subsides, but for my friend, the wound is fresh and it cannot be salved in a day or a week. It seems of no consolation when pain is ripe and bare and present to know that things will get better...but in the back of the mind, this knowledge is the microscopic seed of later healing.

I've lost several loved ones over the last decade, but those words I have been most comforted by were the ones who acknowledged my pain by admitting their own and oddly, flowers. Before I really got hit with pain, I always thought flowers would be a nuisance. When the day came when I thought there was little life left in this dark, grey world, all the flowers that people sent us were proof against the darkness. Every pot and vase was a message from somebody saying, "We love you. We sense your pain. We wish you well." While it couldn't stem the feeling of loss, these tokens built a bridge back to the idea that things could get better.

And indeed they have. Goodbye Mom. Goodbye, Mr. Grant. We will heal from our pain, but we will remember your lives.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Politics and Grammar

Language and government often make a very sensitive mix. After all, within our own lifetime we have seen plenty of political interference in the way people communicate. In the U.S.A. what qualifies as "appropriate language" as well as the level of restriction put on words that fall afoul of that standard can be viewed as a barometer of which way the conservative - liberal balance is tipping. Elsewhere in the world we have seen provinces and even whole nations try to impose linguistic restrictions in an attempt to preserve the "integrity" of their native tongue. Such laws, often very appropriately referred to as "language fascism", tend to be absurd at best and hypocritical at worst.

Well, now Brazil has gone and taken the proverbial cake. In a bizarre twist one would expect to find in The Onion rather than Bloomberg, the governor of the Federal District (i.e. the capital city of Brasilia) has officially banned a verb form, specifically the present participle, from government use. (Sitting here typing, it is occurring to me that some of you may not be recalling what a present participle is. Broadly speaking, being the nice guy that I am, amusing though it may be, I'm providing a telling link here.) To quote him:

``The present participle is hereby fired from all federal district entities,'' the governor wrote in a decree posted on the government's Web site last night. ``As of today, it is forbidden as an excuse for INEFFICIENCY.''

Apparently politicians in Brazil are notorious for linking endless participle phrases in government documents as a way of hiding what it is they truly want to say. It is effectively grammatical double-speak, or grammatical camouflage. It also leads to pages and pages of unnecessary discourse. Therefore, to increase efficiency and reduce costs, the governor wants to do away with the abused grammar form.

Now, that's really looking out for the public interest! After all, clearly another potential fringe benefit of the ban is increased academic performance in Brazilian schools (Wow! That's a lot of schools!)(WHAP) since it means one less complicated grammar rule for kids to worry about. Maybe the U.S. should take a lesson from this!

Speaking of which, if you had the authority to do so, which grammar rule would you ban? As for me, I think I would get rid of particle phrases (not to mention rhetorical parentheses).

Monday, October 08, 2007

Changes at my Alma Mater

I graduated from Western Oregon State College in 1987. My how things have changed...but first a little background.

My dad is moving and, in the process, is going through decades of family history. Among the items we ran across was the rate schedule for the 85-86 school year. I was curious, so I did a bit of checking things out.

First of all, it is no longer Western Oregon State College. It is Western Oregon University. The name distinction is important as it signifies that the school now offers graduate degree programs. However, not just the name has changed.

For the 1985-86 school year, yearly tuition for in-state students was $1,428. Now it is $5,763. Out-of-state fees rose at a slightly greater pace. Dorm living went from $2,307 then to $7,380 in 2007. Books rose from about $600 to around $1,125 (book prices vary due to a number of factors). Interesting, but then price increases are expected in our market economy.

What is more interesting is the rate of increase. The consumer price index from 1985 to 2007 rose by a factor of 1.92. In other words, a one dollar item in 1985 costs roughly $1.92 now. If you go back and do the math on the increases from the previous paragraph, you will see that tuition has gone up 4.04 times for in-state and 4.36 times higher for out-of-state students. The cost of living in the dorms is 3.20 times higher. Books are roughly the same as the CPI increase.

As you can see, the rate of increase for tuition is twice as much as for the American market as a whole. This puts a great deal of strain on working families who want their children to do better than their parents did financially. Indeed, some will be closed out of higher education altogether thanks to this inflation of college pricing. I know it is out of fashion in the age of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly to say this, but the stark fact is that racial minorities will suffer more than the white majority from this (other than the tiny percentage who ride the athletics gravy train). However, this increase is enough to harm everyone to some degree.

In fact, according to the Oregonian, the big drive for colleges falling on tough times is to recruit from other countries; especially China. Western Oregon University is held up in this article as a model for just that reason.

The Chinese subsidize their students' American education as do many countries, which puts American students at an unfair disadvantage. However, this unfairness is self-inflicted. Our knee-jerk reactions against taxation harm our own competitiveness in a world market where other people aren't so quick to shoot themselves in the foot. However, we would rather build bridges to nowhere, expensive cold war weapons, and other pork barrel projects than invest in our own people to compete in an increasingly difficult marketplace.

Why do we do this to our own children? Out of my current group of friends, I can't think of one who hasn't benefited greatly from public money, whether through state-supported colleges or through GI pay in the National Guard or standard military and maybe other ways I am not aware of. We've received more free wampum then we are willing to admit to. However, our children will not be so lucky. They will face expensive colleges and a military where clever bean counters try to finesse them out of their benefits or make them wait for medical care which is often substandard.

These are the same children and grandchildren we hope will forgive us leaving them less than we got. Not cool.

John Cougar Mellencamp: Jena

The struggle for equal protection under the law continues...

UPDATE: The link died, but you can go to Mellencamp's web site to see it.