awkwardly

Friday

'PASS THE WORD for Captain Aubrey, pass the word for Captain Aubrey,' cried a sequence of voices, at first dim and muffled far aft on the flagship's maindeck, then growing louder and more distinct as the call wafted up to the quarterdeck and so along the gangway to the forecastle, where Captain Aubrey stood by the starboard thirty-two-pounder carronade contemplating the Emperor of Morocco's purple galley as it lay off Jumper's Bastion with the vast grey and tawny Rock of Gibraltar soaring behind it, while Mr Blake, once a puny member of his midshipman's berth but now a tall, stout lieutenant almost as massive as his former captain, explained the new carriage he had invented, a carriage that should enable carronades to fire twice as fast, with no fear of oversetting, twice as far, and with perfect accuracy, thus virtually putting an end to war.

The paragraph above is the opening sentence of The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian. A whopper of an opening line. At a few other points in the book, I notice sentences as excruciatingly long as the first one, and they all seem to have a hook at the end. You open a book about ships at war and the first sentence practically exhausts you, then ends with "virtually putting an end to war."

It leaves me hopeful. If he can get away with such a long opening sentence in a book that becomes a national bestseller and major motion picture, there's hope for other people to make seemingly unforgivable transgressions against the rules of writing and survive.

(Now a major widescreen collector's edition dvd and major out-of-stock sailing game.)

Thursday

The Middle of the Road Fallacy
I was arguing politics with my stepdad on Christmas morning. You know how it is. We weren't getting really raucous because we've been through it all before. "See, I don't like extremists on either side," he said. "The ones on the right go to far and the ones on the left go to far."

And then Ma and Melinda wanted to start opening presents, so we set it aside and forgot about it.

...Okay, obviously I didn't forget it or I wouldn't be writing this.

Here's the problem with that old chestnut that says the middle of the road is the best policy, as if you're finding the best of both worlds. Picture a stretch of highway through the southern part of Mississippi. Three lanes wide all going the same direction, and you can't see the other lanes going the opposite way because they let tall stands of trees grow up in the median. It's beautiful, but feels isolating. I wouldn't want to break down in there.

You could drive in the left lane, the middle lane or the right lane. Maybe the left lane seems to have more potholes. Maybe the right lane seems to be the side from which deer and tortoises keep jumping out, and you're bound to hit one if you stay in that lane. It's pretty foggy out, so you might not have time to steer away from a deep pothole or a big deer. (Why are you driving so fast if it's so foggy? Never mind, this is a metaphor. We gotta run with it.)

If you hear two backseat drivers bickering for hours about whether to stay in the left lane or the right lane, you might tell them the best compromise is to stay in the center lane. Anyone who told you to go off the road would just be way too extreme, not even worth listening to.

Great, so we have all eventualities covered. Except what if somewhere up ahead, the road goes over a cliff? What if one of your backseat advisors claims to have deduced from his sources, from his observations, from his memories of this tricky stretch of highway, that the road has been washed out and that following this road for much longer will take you over a precipice? Between the fog and how fast you're going, you'll never be able to stop in time.

If the guy in the backseat could explain his reasons in a clear way, and if they made sense, you might agree that all three lanes are losing propositions and the best option is to go off-road. Maybe we'll get a flat driving along narrow pigtrails, but it might be the best alternative. In that case, are you going to stick with the middle of the road?

That might be a little too silly or abstract, so here's another analogy. You travel back in time in a malfunctioning time machine. Maybe you intended to visit the 1889 Paris World's Fair for the unveiling of the Eiffel Tower. Instead, you're deposited in a ballroom somewhere in Europe, circa 1940, where 100 Germans loyal to their fatherland, and 100 Italians loyal to Mussolini are having a candid discussion of which country has better policies. You and I might see no difference between the two groups, but these people might find important distinctions between Nazi policies and Italian Fascist policies. As they talk about it more, they might develop a continuum, a line with Nazi policies on one end and Fascist policies on the other. Some people at the ball might feel that the middle ground makes more sense to them for whatever reason. At least if you pick the middle of the road, then you're avoiding the extremes.

The "road" is our acceptable range of options. If the acceptable range of options is between Nazism and original Fascism, are you going to stay on that road or veer off?

Whenever you think of "extremes" and middles of the road, consider who is defining the acceptable range. Shouldn't it be you? If you see some other option that makes sense, should you abandon it because the opinion-making road crews mark it "unacceptable"?

Get to know the road and all the surrounding territory. Stick to the road when it makes sense, but don't be afraid to leave the road or blaze new trails when that makes more sense. Be your own road crew. And don't be ashamed if you're called an "extremist" by pilgrims following the road to absurdity.

Wednesday

FRENCH FRY SPAM CASSEROLE
Yield: 8 servings

1 pk Frozen french fry potatoes,
-thawed (20 oz)
2 c Shredded Cheddar cheese
2 c Sour cream
1 cn Condensed cream of chicken
-soup (10 3/4 oz)
1 cn SPAM Luncheon Meat, cubed
-(12 oz)
1/2 c Chopped red bell pepper
1/2 c Chopped green onion
1/2 c Finely crushed corn flakes

Heat oven to 350'F. In large bowl, combine potatoes, cheese, sour cream, and soup. Stir in SPAM, bell pepper, and green onion. Spoon into 13x9' baking dish. Sprinkle with crushed flakes. Bake 30-40 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

[Or to characterize it by the elemental components, what we have here is some carbohydrates combined with not-very-lean meat product, fat, sour fat and condensed fat.]

Tuesday

According to the New Scientist, It's better to green your diet than your car. [via postcarbon.org]
"The typical US diet, about 28 per cent of which comes from animal sources, generates the equivalent of nearly 1.5 tonnes more carbon dioxide per person per year than a vegan diet with the same number of calories, say the [U of Chicago] researchers, who presented their results at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco last week.

"By comparison, the difference in annual emissions between driving a typical saloon car and a hybrid car, which runs off a rechargeable battery and gasoline, is just over 1 tonne. If you don't want to go vegan, choosing less-processed animal products and poultry instead of red meat can help reduce the greenhouse load."
More extreme leftists clamoring for impeachment:
Editors of Barrons Suggests Bush Committed Impeachable Offenses
"The latest call for the possible impeachment of President Bush is coming from an unexpected quarter - the prominent business publication Barrons. The editors of Barrons have criticized Bush for authorizing the National Security Agency to spy on Americans without court warrants. The editors wrote 'Putting the president above the Congress is an invitation to tyranny. The president has no powers except those specified in the Constitution and those enacted by law. ... Willful disregard of a law is potentially an impeachable offense. It is at least as impeachable as having a sexual escapade under the Oval Office desk and lying about it later.' "

Thursday

NOT SAFE FOR WORK.
MMORgy.com mentioned my article "Furniture Whores and Debit Card Toilets"!
Furni Whores: Sex Bartering in Furniture Currency

Should I mention this in the press releases I'm sending out for Dungeons & Dayjobs? I'm not sure if this is a bigger deal than Bruce Sterling mentioning it passingly in his blog four years ago. Ah well, it's nice to be noticed.

Wednesday

One of Time Magazine's People of the Year, Bill Gates, made a half million dollar donation to help more children learn and enjoy the card game Bridge. That'll give the tykes something to do over breakfast at school, where more of them are taking advantage of their subsidized school breakfast program than ever before.
Boing Boing: MP3 of "It's a Wonderful Life"
I feel like I scooped Boing Boing, but it's old news. Lux Radio Theatre kicks ass, even three-quarters of a century later.
Cute headline. On metafilter, they described this as Conyers Flies Paper Airplane into Whitehouse.

Saturday

Help Team 501st in their run for cancer research!
In memory of a six year old girl who died of cancer, this woman is going to raise money by running the Walt Disney World Half-Marathon (13 miles) in Imperial Stormtrooper armor.

Friday

Editor Exposes Dangerous Caped Vigilante
In the tradition of J. Jonah Jameson's attacks on his nemesis (and employee) Spider-man, yesterday's Jackson Citizen-Patriot newspaper gave an unflattering portrait of "Captain Jackson."

If you've searched the web for info about Jackson, Michigan (but why would you do that?), you've probably seen info about this guy in a superhero costume who tries to make the police and the city of Jackson sound like good things. Maybe he's right. Go figure. Basically telling kids to call 911, not to intervene in crimes, try to remember a perp's height, weight and hair color if you see a crime go down, that kind of stuff. On his website www.CaptainJackson.org (seriously), he says he's "sanctioned by the local Police" and that he "patrol[s] the streets of Jackson, Michigan looking to report and deter crime and educate people..."

According to the story in the Citizen-Patriot, his patrolling is not just wacky hyperbole. "Strapped to his waist are Mace, handcuffs, a rope and a pack containing a cell phone and other gadgets....Most of Captain Jackson's nights are spent on foot patrol downtown, jiggling doors, rousting panhandlers and spreading goodwill." Hmm, do the panhandlers consider it goodwill to be "rousted"?

On his website, the Captain keeps a journal of "Activity Reports" such as 8-10-05: "With the murder suspect of a Walgreen's employee on the loose, CAPTAIN JACKSON was on duty early in the afternoon. He patrolled his district and looked for anyone who fit the description of the suspect to report to the police." (A clerk was really murdered at the Walgreen's on West St.)

This exposé was prompted by Thomas Frankini's October 12 drunk-driving arrest. "Frankini, 49, appeared in street clothes in court Wednesday and was placed on six months probation. He pleaded guilty to operating while visibly impaired on U.S. 127 near Hart Road -- his blood-alcohol level was .0625." Since he was busted while off-duty, "he believes his crime-fighting alter ego remains viable.... With his cover blown, Frankini said his life is in danger because of all the felons the caped trio [including his wife Queen of Hearts, and daughter Crimefighter Girl] has foiled."

'As for his contention that Jackson Police Chief Ervin Portis "sanctioned" him several years ago, that might be a stretch. "He came to Chief Portis and told him what he planned to do, and the chief said he couldn't stop him," Deputy Chief Matt Heins said.'

Portable Litter Device
I wouldn't have thought there would be a need for such a thing, but Marlboro apparently recognized it and jumped on it. You're standing outside your friend's house smoking, because they don't allow smoking inside. You don't want to pitch the smoldering butt in the street or their bushes... Okay, you WANT to, but super-ego restrains you. You don't want to bring it back indoors and throw it in their trash, to start a fire in their garbage. (Not like it would really happen, but try explaining that to a paranoid non-smoker.)

In the past, your options have been sticking butts in your pocket, secretly sneaking them into the garbage when you get inside, or overcoming your superego and chucking them in the street. Now you have this steel contraption that looks like a lighter, designed specifically for putting out and storing butts when you don't have a convenient place to dispose of them. An altoid tin could have done the trick, but this is so much more sleek.

Thursday

New York Blood Center, in conjunction with ExxonMobil, presents BLOOD FOR OIL program. For real though. "Donate blood between Dec 22, 2005 and Jan 9, 2005, and you'll receive a $5 ExxonMobil Gift Card."

Friday

Somebody at work asked if my coveted salsa was one of the five recipes featured in Dungeons & Dayjobs. Wish I had thought of that. So I'll post it here instead.

Fresh salsa
3 tomatoes diced
.5 cup onions finely diced
.5 cup cilantro (that much???)
4 to 6 chile peppers
2 tsp salt
2 tsp lemon juice
The key ingredient is fresh cilantro, as far as I'm concerned. Without that, you got some nice seasoned tomatoes, but to make it good, chop some cilantro and heap it on.

For canning, I use this reliable recipe tested by the USDA. If you're new to home canning, start reading about the equipment and preparations you'll need at http://foodsafety.cas.psu.edu/

Thursday

Sometimes
when I walk past shipping
toward the vending machines,
I look up at the skylights
like a shrivelling sunflower
straining to see the sky.

Wednesday

Estimated number of years (or less) before wintertime salting of roads in northeastern United States renders rural freshwater streams and lakes toxic to wildlife and unfit for human consumption, according to environmental scientists: 100
(From UPmag.net, pointed out by Melinda.)
Everything's coming up Robbie!
Not only are more people at work talking about ordering Dungeons & Dayjobs. But this morning when I checked the mail, my order of Michelle Shocked Texas Campfire Takes double cd came in, along with an autographed poster. Signed with real marker ink when you hold it up to the light, not the kind that's pre-printed in the poster.

I have to buy a frame.
"After an article incorrectly linked the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy to a former administrative assistant, Wikipedia no longer accepts new submissions from anonymous contributors."
Time to stick a fork in wikipedia, or leave it in there a little longer? I guess it's still useful to have a source of info updated by everyone willing to register.

Saturday

Headline: Unthinking Bureaucrats Cost Lives
Actually the headline is "Documents Show Katrina's Political Storm", but check out this morsel...

Three days after the storm, Blanco wrote Bush asking that the 256th Louisiana National Guard Brigade be sent home from Iraq to help. The governor also asked for more generators, medicine, health care workers and mortuaries.

Five days later, Bush assistant Maggie Grant e-mailed Blanco aide Paine Gowen to say that the White House did not receive the letter.

"We found it on the governor's Web site but we need 'an original,' for our staff secretary to formally process the requests she is making," Grant wrote. "We are on the job but appreciate your help with a technical request. Tnx!"

When it's a national emergency and you recognize a request for federal assistance posted on a governor's website, what you can do is fricking CUT AND PASTE. If you're using windows, first highlight the section of text that you wish to copy. Next, hold down CTRL and push C. Then open an email or word processing file, click somewhere in it, hold down CTRL and push V. To the end of the file, please append your resignation for your enforcing obstacles in the middle of an emergency request for assistance. Keep your resignation announcement brief. Tnx!