Archive for January, 2006

State of the Union

Tuesday, January 31st, 2006

President Bush will make his annual State of the Union address to the nation tonight at a critical juncture in his term of office, and many folks are speculating about what he might say to try and boost his sagging approval ratings. I fully expect more of the same “stay the course” rhetoric and selective statistics purporting to show that we are “winning” the war on terrorism. But according to an article by James Carroll in the Boston Globe, the problem with this war is that we don’t have an enemy. Instead of fighting against a nation, an “insurgency”, or even a self-mythological figure such as Bin Laden, we are fighting an idea – and for that, Carroll says, “the muscle-bound Pentagon offers no authentic means of assault”. Yet, look for Bush to portray himself as a steely, determined war commander and justify all his activities (even the illegal ones) as necessary to defend the nation. It will be interesting to count how many times “9/11″ is invoked tonight; if less than 20, I’ll be amazed.

Another thing we can expect to see tonight is an attempt by Bush to deflect attention from the Iraq quagmire, illegal wiretapping, and Congressional scandals to health care and medical costs. The Seattle Times reports that “Bush is moving the issue to the top of the national agenda again and is expected to push a series of proposals” that he hopes will refocus the nation’s interest on domestic policies. After dismally failing to overhaul Social Security, The Times notes that success at health care reform “would allow the president to build political momentum heading into the midterm elections this fall”. However, if the government fiasco of confusion and frustration that is the Medicare prescription drug program is any example, don’t look for any significant change in benefits for those who need it most — the uninsured and under-insured. The last attempt at major reorganization of the US health care system in 1993 was a colossal political failure, so Bush better hope that his plan has more to offer than Hillary’s did.

Fortunately, I don’t need to actually watch Bush’s address tonight to know what he’s going to say. It turns out that he gave a preview of the speech to Congress last week, and I’ve managed to track down this video of it.

Coincidentally this year, the State of the Union Address falls during the same week as Groundhog Day. As Air America Radio points out: “It is an ironic juxtaposition: one involves a meaningless ritual in which we look to a creature of little intelligence for prognostication, and the other involves a groundhog.”

This is my Monday

Monday, January 30th, 2006

Today’s lesson in Hystery

Saturday, January 28th, 2006

On our way back home from San Antonio last week, we decided to get off the freeway and take the more scenic “back route”. This would mainly be Highway 21, which is designated by the Texas Department of Highways as the “Independence Trail”. It roughly follows the path of the early pioneers as they journeyed from the central and southern portions of the territory to Nacogdoches, which for a time was the capitol of the new Republic of Texas.

Along this route are many Historical Markers. These are big slabs of granite with engraved iron plaques attached that tell a brief story of why that particular spot was historically significant. Since this area of the state is literally crawling with History, there is one of these markers approximately every other mile along the highway, representing spots where, say, some settler’s wagon shanked a wheel and broke down in 1847, and it took so long to fix it back then that they had a couple of kids and a small town grew up around them before they were able to move on. The one pictured there on the right, for example, marks the location of a 150-foot-deep hole in the ground just outside of Marble Falls. No, I am not making this up. Grave-digging was a long, tough job back in those days, which made disposing of a body much more difficult than it is now — especially if the person died under, shall we say, duress. One didn’t just call the funeral home to “handle the arrangements”. Therefore, according to the plaque, this particular very deep and Historical Hole became the final resting place for at least 17 individuals. Apparently, if you wanted to dispatch some frontier ne’er-do-well, you hung or shot him and then simply tossed his body in the hole. How very convenient. If Jimmy Hoffa had been around at the time, I’m sure he would be down there too. Now you see what I mean: isn’t that an interesting and colorful slice of American History?

Someone with a true appreciation of our nation’s History would want to stop at every one of these markers, take photos of it, and perhaps pause to thoughtfully contemplate the hardships that our forbearers had to endure as they struggled to survive in this wild, foreign land. Our homage to these hardy pioneers, however, basically consisted of me briefly taking my foot off the gas to slow down from 80 to 70 mph as we flew past, and the following exchange:

Mrs. Toast: Hey, there was another one of them hysterical markers.
Me: Huh!

To your left is an actual “live” screen capture taken of our vehicle (the little green arrow) on our GPS mapping program as we moved along our way. If you look really close at the image and zoom in on it, you might be able to make out our little tiny van. If you look really closely you can perhaps make out a little teeny tiny figure at the wheel wearing little teeny tiny glasses and an itsy-bitsy teeny tiny oxygen hose. You may even possibly be able to see that at the exact moment this image was captured, I am shaking my fist at the gigantic hay-hauling truck in front of me that is going 40 mph in a 70-mph zone. That is the disadvantage of taking the back roads: it’s mostly two lane highway, and if you get stuck behind some smuff (“smuff” is my term for a S.M.M.F., which translates to “Slow Moving Mother Fu…” well, you know) the trip can take even longer than going via the freeway, which is 40 miles further in actual distance.

Anyway, as you can see, at this point in our journey we were passing by the Historic Texas Town of Dime Box. There’s an interesting and colorful story of how Dime Box got it’s name, and how significant it was in our history — but frankly I haven’t the slightest freaking idea what it is and (with all due respect to the 40 or 50 people who live there) don’t really care. Texas has lots of oddly-named towns with similar interesting and colorful history, such as “Cut-N-Shoot”, “Hoop & Holler”, “Looneyville”, “Uncertain”, “Oatmeal”, “Ding Dong”, “Lollipop”, “Gun Barrell City”, “Chocolate Bayou”, “Truth Or Consequences” (oh wait, maybe that one’s in New Mexico), and “Dallas”. Those last two got their names from popular 70′s TV shows, the latter starring someone named “J.R. Ewing”, who caused the nation much consternation when he got shot. I think before the show came along “Dallas” was simply known as “That Big-Ass Cowboy Town on the Trinity River”.

Yes friends, you can count on this blog to be your definitive source for interesting and (mostly) accurate hysterical, er historical, information.

The wayward cat returns

Friday, January 27th, 2006

Happy CatBlogging Friday y’all – this week’s Carnival Of The Cats #97 is here, so click on over and check out the furry goodness. My post today is an update on our feral friend that I first wrote about in December. Three weeks later we took him to our vet to be neutered and vaccinated, which he was not too happy about. He mostly disappeared after that, but we’re pleased to report that he’s back and trust is slowly being re-established. He becomes anxious when he can’t get back outside, and will sit at the door and cry incessantly until we let him out. But he’s staying indoors for longer periods of time, so I think it won’t be long until he’s fully domesticated. We’ve even let our other two cats socialize with him while he’s in the house; they’re a bit wary of each other, but there’s been no hissing, growling, or flying fur, so we think things are progressing well. The biggest problem is that we can’t come up with a name for him that we like. For the time being we’re calling him “P.T.”, which is short for “Puddy Tat” (as in “I tawt I taw a…”) as he slightly resembles Tweety Bird’s arch-nemesis Sylvester, but we’re not that keen on it. There’s nothing wrong with the name Sylvester, but it’s kind of a cliche for a black-and-white cat and we’d like something a bit more original. We could use some help in picking out a name. What comes to your mind when you look at that sweet feline face below? Please leave a comment if you have any suggestions, and thanks!

I search the web so you don’t have to

Thursday, January 26th, 2006

Free from artificial time constraints (i.e.,”a job”) I am able to devote countless hours each week scouring the dark, hidden corners of the Internet in search of the interesting and the bizarre, the strange and funny; those provocative items deeply buried in obscure web sites that most people are too busy to find. In other words, I have no life, people.

So when I do find something that makes me go “Huh!” I want to share it – which brings me today to Fafblog. I’ve been reading Fafblog for some time now, and Fafnir and his co-conspirators are consistently humorous and creative. Here are two recent samples (click the link for the full article).

From Our Omnipotent President:

Q. Can the president spy on Americans without a warrant?
A. The president has to spy on Americans without a warrant! We’re at war, and the president’s gotta defend America, and he’s not gonna wait for a permission slip from a judge or a senator or America to do it!
Q. That’s just the kinda tough, no-nonsense thinking I like in a de facto dictator! Now some crazy people say the president broke some silly old laws like FISA and the National Security Act and the Fourth Amendment. Are these crazy people crazy?
A. They sure are! Maybe those laws worked back in 1978 when Leonid Brezhnev was snortin coke with Ayatollah Khomeini and groovin to the hits of the Bee Gees, but in today’s dark and dangerous times they just aren’t enough.
Q. Things sure have changed since the innocent days of mutually assured destruction! Can the president spy on me without a warrant?
A. The president would never, ever spy on you, unless you’re talking to a terrorist.
Q. That sounds reasonable!
A. Or an associate of a terrorist or a suspected associate of a terrorist or a possible suspected relative of a member of an affiliate of a terrorist or someone with a name that’s spelled like a terrorist’s or someone who’s been mistakenly identified as a terrorist by an NSA algorithm.
Q. Can the president eat a baby?
A. If that baby has suspected ties to al Qaeda, then it’s the president’s duty to eat it – for the sake of national security.

From If You’re Tired of Coke You’re Tired of America:

No matter what happens to America, there will always be Coke. When the terrorists strike again, we will still have Coke. When a neo-fascist government takes over the United States, suspends the constitution, and imposes permanent martial law, we will still have Coke. When the genetically-engineered underclass is forced into slave labor camps to build neutron bombs to fling against enemy empires, they will sit back after their toils and enjoy Coke. When aliens sift through the ashen ruins of human civilization centuries hence for some clue to who we once were, they will find a shimmering red can beneath the sands, pop it, guzzle, and understand. This was our gift to one another, our gift to the world. Christian, Muslim, gay, straight, liberal, conservative, all of us everywhere can join in the dream. All of us can Enjoy Coke.

There’s lots more where that came from; surf on over and check it out. And remember: while you’re slaving away at your thankless day job, rest assured that you can count on moi to be your Web Watchdog, prowling the dirt roads and back alleys of the Information Superhighway to report my discoveries back to you. Hey, it’s the least I can do.

Fusternut

Wednesday, January 25th, 2006

…is my new Favorite Word. Thanks and a big shoutout to Moose for adding it to my meager lexicon. Before this, my prior favorite word was “asshat”, an all-purpose word so totally cool that it even has its own official website. But, other than in reference to the current occupant of the White House, I haven’t had much occasion to use it in casual conversation lately, so when “fusternut” came along I latched onto it like a pit bull to a pork chop.

The best part of “fusternut” is that it has no specific defined meaning, so you can use it pretty much any way you like. Here are but a few suggestions:

“You’re such a silly fusternut!”
“Dammit, I better turn that little fusternut of information over to the proper authorities, toot sweet.”
“Hey! Has anybody seen my fusternut?”

I encourage everyone to feel free to use it in whatever way seems appropriate to you.

In my opinion, however, the absolute best use of this word would be as a name for a candy bar. Frankly, I’m amazed that so far no corporate genius at Nestle or Hershey has seized on this, but I think it’s just a matter of time. So even though I thought up this idea, Ms. Moose coined the word to begin with so I hereby publicly cede all rights and royalties that may result from such crass exploitation brilliant marketing to her. Hey, that’s just the kind of swell fella I am. All I ask, Moose, is that after it becomes the top-selling candy bar in the world and you’re rolling in the big bucks, swing your Lear Jet down to Texas some day and cook me up a nice big fat juicy steak.

And I’ll have one of these for dessert.

Naughty but nice?

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

I made it back safely from San Antone with a newfound appreciation both for Texas history, and for the role of Librarians in today’s society – but that’s a “serious” topic for a later post. In other more mundane developments, I received an odd e-mail while I was away. I should mention that this was not spam, but came from a Real Person who actually knows me:


Valentines Day Idea

“Valentines day is upon us – so, why not find out if your love life is “Hot Stuff” or “Cold Fish.” with this LOVE TESTER KIT! Lots of fun to play with and a great party game! Press button and watch a roving flashing light, exotic sound, and finally stop on a statement. Learn about LEDs, ring counters, ceramic speakers and much more.”

I’m not sure which is more disturbing: (a) the fact that someone obviously must think I possess whatever quirky combination of gadget-freakiness and starry-eyed romanticism that would interest me in such an item, or (b) that I am seriously considering purchasing it.

Either way, this is just wrong on so many levels.

Stuff this in yer pie hole

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

Whoa, it’s National Pie Day today! Diets be damned. I love Dutch Apple Crumb pie, or Coconut Cream (with real whipped cream, no merangue, thank you). Or Key Lime. A slice of Blueberry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top is hard to beat too. What’s your favorite?

Happy National Pie Day!

More photos

Saturday, January 21st, 2006

Here’s a few other shots I’ve taken so far on our visit:


This is a quieter, less developed part of the Riverwalk. Below is a picture of the place where I had lunch today, and some dining companions who shared my table:

Of course, the waitresses hate these birds because they (the birds) shit all over the tables and they (the waitresses) have to clean it up. I thought they were amusing, though; after all, back home I seldom get the opportunity to share my lunch with friendly vermin.

San Antonio is much more than just the Riverwalk; The Alamo is hallowed ground not only to Texans, but to all Americans for its place in our country’s history. The names are those of legends: Crockett, Houston, Travis, Bowie, and more. Tomorrow we may try to get out and visit some of these famous landmarks. It’s started getting cooler and rain may be moving in, but I’m still having a grand time. If the weather holds up, I should have more photos to post later.

“You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.”
-Davy Crockett, Nov. 1835

A Bunch of Wild ‘n Crazy Liberrians

Friday, January 20th, 2006

Just in case anyone might be wondering what the heck brings me to San Antone, I’ve tagged along with Mrs. Toast who is attending the semi-annual convention of the American Liberry Association (er, excuse me, the American Library Association – damn those margaritas) of which she is a member. Now before anyone starts snickering, you can shed any preconceived notions you may have of librarians being up-tight, bespectacled, bun-haired little old ladies who spend all their time telling people “Shhhhhhh!”. No, we’re not talking about the NFRW here. Librarians are savvy specialists on the cutting edge of information technology, but I’m told they actually cultivate the old-fashioned stereotype because (a) they think it’s a big joke, and (b) it lets them get away with things that no one would expect. In reality, when librarians take off their glasses and let their hair down they become seriously wild party animals; it’s almost like having a secret identity. We hung out with a few of them this evening, and they could drink me under the table.

And damn, this town is definitely crawling with freaking librarians tonight; some 7,000 of them are here attending their midwinter conference. This is nothing compared to the 30,000 “informationologists” (a trendy inside buzzword) who will gather for the main ALA convention this coming June in New Orleans, but in the meantime they’re thick as fleas on a dog here this weekend. Did you know that there’s a secret hand symbol that librarians use to identify themselves to each other in public, kind of like “Gaydar“? Really. They put their thumb and forefinger together in the shape of an “L” (for “Library”) and hold it up to their forehead – see example here. Apparently, I must look like a librarian too, because many people on the Riverwalk have given me that secret gesture as I’ve walked past them today. I feel honored.

Seriously, I really am enjoying this visit to San Antonio, which is one of the top tourist destinations in Texas. It’s beautiful, with a decidedly European feel to it. Try to imagine a cool Paris outdoor cafe:

Set the cafe in a Venice-like waterfront atmosphere:

And then just for fun, toss in serenading Mariachis singing in Spanish:

The icing on the cake is that so far, the weather has been absolutely perfect … mid-70′s during the day and low 50′s at night. Writing this blog while hanging out on the riverfront with a cool drink has been tough, but I’ve managed to force myself. I’ve even worn my “Mr. Toast” T-shirt that I got for Christmas, in case anyone might see me and want my autograph, or something like that, but so far no one’s paid me any notice.

Except for the secret order of Liberrians.

Welcome to Margarita, Texas

Thursday, January 19th, 2006

We made it! Here’s a photo of the view from our hotel room balcony:

The trip here was fast and smooth; the most exciting event being a lunch stop for hot dogs at James Coney Island where I proceeded to spill mustard on my shirt. Yeah, I’m a wild man. My trusty DeLorme Road Atlas navigated us perfectly through unfamiliar freeways and downtown streets right to our hotel. Did I mention how much I love this software? (This, alas, is a testament to my geekiness – in case there was any doubt.)

Our digs aren’t luxe, but they’re not bad — somewhere between a Hilton and a Motel 6. The real appeal, naturally, is outside the room in the form of San Antonio’s famed riverwalk, home to some of the best Tex-Mex cuisine on the planet. After getting settled in at the hotel following our arrival, we wasted no time in getting to a riverside table and ordering mucho margaritas. For some strange reason, after consuming several of these we became unable to pronounce the word “library”, which instead became “liberry”. People who work in these establishments were, of course, “liberrians”. I can’t explain why we found this so riotously amusing; I’m certain the margaritas had absolutely nothing to do with this.

More adventures to follow!

Road trip!

Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

We’ve been preparing for a fun-filled 700-mile round trip to San Antonio this week, which explains why posting has been light lately. I really enjoy road trips; they bring back fond memories of my old hippy days cruising around the country for months at a time in a VW bus, and there’s a special allure in the freedom of the open highway that I still find very satisfying. Of course traveling these days is a bit more luxurious, thanks mainly to improvements in automotive technology; our current vehicle is much more reliable than my old microbus. While the VW was “home on wheels”, it had a disturbing tendency to break down in the middle of nowhere, and much traveling back then was from one repair shop to the next. I still recall one sad night when the engine sucked a valve stem, shattering a piston and leaving me stranded in the Great Salt Lake desert. I was forced to swallow my pride and call my parents back home in Boston to wire money to have it repaired, dashing the illusion of independence that I tried so hard to cultivate in my rebellious youth. But the old bus finally managed to gasp and lurch all the way to California, completing my grand coast-to-coast adventure. Hopefully we’ll be spared any similar mechanical failures on this trip.

Technology has also contributed to improve the experience in other ways; the new van’s four-channel stereo sound system and mp3 player will surround us with great road tunes (“Born to Be Wild”, “Running On Empty”, “Life in the Fast Lane”, etc.) as we cruise down the highway, and I have a designated space below the dash to set up the trusty laptop running DeLorme Street Atlas. This software, combined with a portable GPS receiver, shows our precise location on the map display and tells me exactly how to get where I want to go. At the risk of sounding like a DeLorme commercial, after I used it for the first time I could no longer imagine driving into unfamiliar territory without it ever again. It virtually guarantees that you’ll never get lost no matter where you are, and shows lodging, restaurants, and other points of interest along your route. You can zoom in anywhere from street level to full cross-country view. I love it.

One thing the GPS software can’t do, however, is compensate for the unruly nature of Texas drivers. Around our small town, people are very courteous and safe – but once out on the highway, especially in bigger cities like Houston, Austin, Dallas and yes, San Antonio, all bets are off; if you drive like you were taught in “defensive driving” class, you’ll be run off the road. On the Houston freeways in particular, everyone practices what I call the “hole theory” of driving, which is as follows: you own the “hole” that exists between your front bumper and the rear bumper of the car in front of you, and you guard it at all costs. This hole must be large enough to allow time to react if the car in front of you slows down or, God forbid, stops (the trick to this is to watch the brake lights not of the car in front of you but the car in front of him). But, if your hole is too large you will be taken advantage of by every other vehicle on the freeway who will cut you off mercilessly. You might as well display large signs on the front and rear of your car reading “PLEASE CUT IN FRONT OF ME. I AM AN IDIOT.”

So with this in mind, I found the following “Rules for Driving In Texas”, which should be helpful for anyone motoring across the Lone Star State:

1. A right lane construction closure is just a game to see how many people can cut in line by passing you on the right as you sit in the left lane waiting for the same jerks to squeeze their way back in before hitting the orange construction barrels.

2. Turn signals will give away your next move. A Real Texan never uses them.

3. Under no circumstances should you leave a safe distance between you and the car in front of you, or the space will be filled in by somebody else putting you in an even more dangerous situation (Aha! See? It’s the Hole Theory!); therefore, tailgating is a “must” for all Real Texans.

4. Crossing two or more lanes in a single lane-change is considered “going with the flow.”

5. The faster you drive through a red light, the less chance you have of getting hit.

6. If you MUST use turn signals, here’s how to do it, Texas-Style:
* Signal only when you feel like it.
* If you feel you must use your directionals, make sure they blink only once, then turn them off.
* Signal only after you change lanes. When driving straight, make sure that at least one directional is blinking at all times. This keeps the drivers behind you on their toes.
* Signal as you approach a curve in the road.
* If you intend to make a right turn, use the left signal.
* If you intend to make a left turn, use the right signal.
* When approaching an intersection, signal to turn and slow down. When other drivers or pedestrians cross in front of you, turn off the signal and go straight.
* When you intend to make a turn, start signaling approximately 6-8 blocks before your turn. Slow down for each block as you approach them.
* Always apply your brakes way before you signal.
* When making a left turn at a busy red light, wait for the light to turn green before you turn on your signal.
* Wait until after you have started to turn or change lanes to use your signals.
* If you must use hand signals instead of your directionals, use your right hand or have your passenger do it out the right side window.

We’ll be off shortly and I’ll post an update once we get to the Alamo City. If we make it there alive and in one piece, that is.

Slow Monday

Monday, January 16th, 2006

I don’t have much to blog about today, so let me pass on a little e-mail joke I received over the weekend.

A man and his wife were sitting in the living room talking about living wills.

“Just so you know, I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle,” the man said. “If that ever happens, just pull the plug.”

His wife got up, unplugged the TV and threw out all of his beer.

How many cats do you have?

Friday, January 13th, 2006

Due to the fateful intersection of Catblogging Friday with Friday the 13th, I thought that it would be only too appropriate for me to post a picture of a black cat today. It’s an old photo which I have scanned in, so please excuse the crappy color balance:


This is “Trapper”, the first cat Mrs. Toast and I had together after we were married. He was the sweetest, most affectionate kitty in the world. One spring day we were doing major housecleaning at our apartment and had all the windows and doors wide open. Trapper strolled in out of nowhere, casually plopped down on our living room carpet like he owned the place, and basically said “here I am, love me”. While this sort of behavior would be considered strange in humans (except, perhaps, in California) it seemed perfectly natural for Trapper and we adopted him on the spot. He was a beloved member of our family for several years until one night when he got into an unfortunate altercation with an automobile. As you might expect, the car won; we still miss him.

Mrs. Toast and I have occasional discussions about the optimal number of cats to have around the house. According to a recent pet ownership survey by the APPMA, the average number of cats per cat-owning household is 2.4, compared to 1.4 dogs per dog-owning household. We have two now, which we agree is the minimum number; a single cat needs a playmate so they won’t get lonely. Besides, they must also have another feline co-conspirator nearby with whom to hatch their plans for world domination. Beyond this, my wife is concerned that there is a point at which the addition of one more cat will cause her to cross the line from “someone who loves cats” to “that crazy cat lady down the block”, and we’re not exactly sure what that number is. We’re OK on three. Four is questionable, and things start getting dodgy when we’re talking about five or more. We’ve had as many as six at one time, although we found homes for two of them fairly quickly so our maximum cat population has really been just four.

My idea is that since cats love to sit in windows, you should count the number of windows in your house, and that’s how many cats you should have. Our home has eight windows: ergo, eight cats. Mrs. Toast has put the kibosh on this plan, but I still think it’s a sound theory.

A Stern-ly worded warning

Thursday, January 12th, 2006

I’ve got mixed emotions about Howard Stern’s long-anticipated debut on the Sirius satellite network on Monday (1/9). Let me state right up front that I am not one of Howard’s fans. Even though you could not by any stretch of the imagination call me a prude, his particular over-the-top brand of raunchy humor just plain disgusts me far more often than it makes me laugh. If there were an award given for “The World’s Filthiest-Talking Radio Host”, it wouldn’t even be close to a contest: Stern would win by a mile, and I don’t consider that much of an honor.

Yet in a way, I somewhat admire the man. Most likely this has much to do with me being a former disk jockey myself, and secretly wishing that I could have gotten away with one-one-hundredth of what he does on the radio. I was nearly fired at one station years ago for playing “The Bitch is Back” by Elton John, for God’s sake. (“We can’t have the B-word on the air,” said the station manager; good thing I never talked about my female dog.) My specialty was the double-entendre, which I always thought was a far more clever way to say something (gasp!) shocking, but this did get me in trouble more than a few times. And I enjoyed Stern’s movie “Private Parts” for the same reason I liked the old TV series “WKRP in Cincinnati”: both were relatively accurate representations of the world of broadcasting, and the short-sighted stupidity of bean-counting radio station managers who care only about sales and nothing about the listeners.

Neither am I a fan of the Federal Communications Commission’s current jihad on so-called “indecency”, an agenda pushed by radical conservatives. I am still amazed by the overblown reaction to Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction“, and the chill that has since permeated over-the-air broadcasting. Under the threat of major financial burden from an FCC fine, radio has become so dumbed-down, bland and predictable in the last few years that I can hardly stand to listen to it any more. Love him or hate him, you nevertheless must admit that Stern is probably the most successful and influential figure in modern radio. He pushed the free-speech envelope about as far as it would go, and as a result became the poster-bad-boy scapegoat for everyone who thought those boundaries were stretched too far. At least now Stern can say whatever depravity he pleases free from FCC censorship, and if you don’t happen to like that, nobody’s going to put a gun to your head and force you to listen.

As for Stern’s first satellite broadcast, it went about as you might expect. The word “fuck” was used 77 times, along with other colorful content; all together, there were “740 instances of profanity, sexual terms, scatological references (potty humor), verbal threats of bodily harm and sexual activities implied by sounds”. We know these details thanks to this fascinating report from MediaData corporation, who monitored the program for the Family Media Guide. Every minute of the inaugural show was carefully logged and double-checked. What dedication!

Bottom line? I don’t plan to run out and buy a Sirius receiver just so I can listen to Stern rant about his obsession with lesbians. He ain’t worth my money. But I’m not about to tell anyone else what they should or shouldn’t listen to – or say on the air – either. We still live in a free country. For now.

If it ain’t Brokeback, don’t fix it

Wednesday, January 11th, 2006

The box-office buzz recently has been all over Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee’s powerful tale of two sensitive sheep herders who struggle to repress their “forbidden” feelings for each other amid a culture that encourages macho stereotypes. While the movie has drawn critical raves from reviewers, has been nominated for several Golden Globe awards, and is widely being suggested as Oscar material, it’s also not surprisingly been the subject of backlash from right-leaning and Christian traditionalists who object to the portrayal of the gay relationship as anything other than a sinful abomination. Cinema mogul and Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller refused at the last minute to show the film at his Megaplex 17 theatres in Salt Lake City, although it can still be seen at other venues in the Mormon-dominated town. Elsewhere, conservative feminist, talk-show host and Fox News reporter Tammy Bruce writes:

“Hollywood honchos continue to wring their hands over why you’ve stopped going to the movies. They blame ticket prices and DVD availability. They had better start considering the fact that filmmakers are so disconnected, so nihilistic, that the hopelessness and hostility they feel toward the world now permeates their work. Americans will no longer go see movies which are nothing more than the manifestation of the backwash of malignant narcissists… Not only will we not go see films which insult us, we refuse to support an existential worldview… So you can take your gay sheepherder, noble communist supporting reporters, big-business is evil, Americans are hopelessly and inherently corrupt and violent and unfaithful movies and go to Cannes where at least the Parisian set will love you.”

Nevertheless, the film is being generally well-received by the public, despite the “shocking” scenes of man-on-man love that reportedly have caused nervous seat-squirming on the part of some heterosexual male moviegoers. Novelist Meghan Daum points out that the sensitivity portrayed by “Brokeback’s” protagonists is quite appealing to women, making the film, at its core, a chick-flick:

“It’s curious to see how the Jack/Ennis model of ideal manhood has come about just as metrosexuality – that marketing campaign for hair gel disguised as a social trend – is on the wane. A few years ago, men were being encouraged to access their inner woman by wearing turtlenecks and filling their apartments with ‘Queer Eye’-sanctioned Pier 1 furniture. As profitable as this may have been for cable-TV channels and the grooming-product industry, the result was a bumper crop of disturbingly aromatic men whose idea of expressing their feelings was to buy throw pillows.

‘Brokeback’ represents a welcome backlash to that faux male sensitivity. Instead of merely acquiring the trappings of kinder, gentler manhood, Jack and Ennis actually walk the walk. The sight of Jake Gyllenhaal crying in his truck as he drives away from Ennis (who retreats to an alley and vomits in tortured despair) is enough to make even the bitterest woman swoon. That moment, like so many in the film, feels like an epiphany not because of the gay context but because for once someone other than the woman is crying. Traditionally, women have done the heavy emotional lifting. We’re the ones who scream and probe and force conversations about the relationship while the man stews in confusion as to whether he’s feeling vulnerable or just hungry for a steak.”

In an effort to change public perception of the film away from “that gay cowboy movie”, the film’s producers have just released a new promotional poster seeking to shift focus from the two men to their relationship with their families. Note the original poster (left), and the updated version on the right:


While the poster does seem to be something of an attempt to “de-gayify” the movie, the spread is currently only in “for your consideration” release, intended more for members of the Academy than for the general public.

Anyway, whether despite or because of all the controversy, Brokeback Mountain is one of the most talked-about films of the year. Given Hollywood’s proclivity for taking a winning concept and beating it to death with sequels and cheap ripoffs, I think it’s inevitable that before long we’ll be seeing other movies that attempt to capitalize on the film’s critical success. Repressed yet sensitive wanna-be screenwriter that I am, allow me to suggest a few possibilities:

  • Brokeback Wigwam: Set in the Old West, Running Bear and Singing With Antelopes are two sensitive Indian braves who find a special camaraderie with each other after long nights on the plains together hunting buffalo. They take squaws back home in an attempt to deny their feelings and placate the tribal elders, but it soon becomes obvious that these relationships are a sham. Audiences thrill to the emotional scene when Running Bear’s wife, Kissing Beaver (played by Cher), unexpectedly enters the teepee to find the men in a passionate clench, and tearfully realizes that their papoose (Little Bear, played by McCaulay Culkin) was conceived not in love but out of obligation. Singing With Antelopes (played by Glen Campbell, right) is forced to leave the tribe in shame, and after wandering the prairie for years, opens a casino in Oklahoma where he eventually dies a lonely and bitter old man.
  • Brokeback Platform: A portrayal of the lives of two sensitive Louisiana roustabouts, Jack “Boots” Jackson and Ennis “Tug” Thibideaux, who find themselves away from their home and families for long and lonely 21-day shifts on an offshore oil rig. The men discover feelings for each other during long talks on moonlight nights overlooking the tranquil Gulf of Mexico, and over sumptuous chicken-fried steak dinners in the galley, all set to the constant, sensual throbbing of the drilling machinery. The setting affords ample opportunity for homoerotic metaphor, including references to “tool pushers”, “mud pumpers”, “pipe twisters”, “blowout preventers”, and “gushers”.
  • Brokeback Speedway: Combining the public’s newfound affection for gay themes with the popularity of professional stock car racing, “Speedway” is a tale of two sensitive NASCAR drivers who must struggle for balance between their respect for each other and their rivalry on the track. One fateful night in “the pit”, engines get revved up (so to speak); a friendship crosses the line and lives are forever changed. The film offers a perfect vehicle for advertisers who usually pitch Budweiser and Miller Lite at NASCAR fans to expand their markets by promoting White Zinfindel and Absolut Vodka instead.
  • Brokeback Smackdown: The dramatic portrayal of a friendship between two macho but sensitive wrestlers on the WWF circuit that takes a turn for… Ah, forget it, that one will never fly.

Hollywood producers take note: if you like any of these ideas, please submit scripts for approval and/or royalty checks to the email address in my profile. See you at the movies!

Self-portrait

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006


This picture, taken over the holidays, captures the sense of relaxation and peacefulness that Mrs. Toast and I were feeling at the moment it was taken. Except for my nasal cannula, I like this shot a lot. I try not to be self-conscious about my oxygen, but I can’t help it. I know the fact that I need an oxygen hose to breathe properly shouldn’t make me any more uncomfortable than the fact that I need glasses to see clearly, but I still feel funny about it. I almost Photoshopped the cannula out of the photo, but thought that would be somehow dishonest. A lot of times when I’m out in public, I notice people giving me the “ewww, what’s wrong with him?” look, but I mostly ignore it. The only time it really got to me was once about a year ago, when I was staying at a motel in Tyler. After checking in, I came back out to the car to get the rest of my luggage, and as I was returning to my room through the side entrance there were two teenage-looking punks standing by the door smoking cigarettes. They looked at me, looked at each other, and burst out laughing. I tried to let it pass and just walk on by, but it really pissed me off. I stopped, turned around and glared at them. “Hey, you think this is funny? You wanna know what it’s like for me?” I snapped. “Why don’t you try holding your breath for 10 minutes while you run around the block, and when you’re gasping for air, see how fucking funny you think that is.” I immediately regretted losing my cool; I’m not into self-pity, and they were just stupid kids who didn’t know any better. But I guess I was more sensitive about it than I realized. Fortunately, I haven’t run into any similar boneheads since then.

We are what we are, and the key to happiness in this life, it’s been said, is in not wanting the things we don’t have, but in making the best of the blessings we’ve been given. If you look at the expression on my face in the picture above, I think you’ll see I feel pretty blessed.

Ack!

Sunday, January 8th, 2006

My weekend has not been going extremely well. On Friday I started coming down with a cold, and it has hit full-force last night and today. I’m very nervous about this; due to my lung disease, anything that compromises my respiratory condition has the potential to be much more serious for me than the average person. According to my doctors, even a simple cold like this could easily turn into pneumonia, so I need to be very careful. I still have unpleasant memories of last February when a case of the flu put me in the emergency room, unable to breathe. Fortunately though, so far it hasn’t been all that bad (he said, knocking on wood), and I’m mostly dealing with the symptoms familiar to anyone with a cold – the coughing, sneezing, runny nose, etc. I’ve gone through two boxes of Kleenex® in the last 24 hours, so you should thank me if you own stock in Kimberly-Clark.

On a more positive note, staying in bed all day today has given me some time to play with our new Tivo. When I first saw the advertising tag line about the box “changing the way you watch TV” I figured it was just marketing hype, but I’ve now realized just how true this statement really is. The pause-and-rewind live TV feature is way cool, and once I figured out that I could watch one program while recording another by putting the unit in “standby”, it removed the only objection I had to how Tivo worked. It’s been interesting to turn it on each day to discover what little fusternuts of entertainment it’s recorded for us (deciding what we might like based on our viewing habits and thumb ratings), although its suggestions have occasionally been rather bizarre: today, for example, it speculated that we might enjoy watching something called “Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi”. WTF?? Either the box has a major malfunction, or our viewing patterns match that of a 13-year old girl. I find this very disturbing.

Well, I guess I’ll go snort some more Nyquil and crawl back under the covers. Oh, and one other good thing to mention: Kittycat came back yesterday, so evidently he’s forgiven me for turning him into a eunuch. (Or, more likely, he’s simply forgotten.) He’s quite a bit more skittish than before, so some ground has been lost in the domestication process, but at least he’s still hanging around the House.

Which is more than can be said for Tom DeLay, heh heh.

Windows Metafile security alert

Saturday, January 7th, 2006

Here’s important information for those who use the Windows operating system, myself included. A vulnerability has been discovered in the graphics rendering engine associated with Windows Metafile images, or files with a .wmf extension. It is possible for hackers to maliciously construct a .wmf file to execute arbitrary code without your knowledge when the file is viewed, either on a web page or as an e-mail attachment. Computer security professionals say there’s no need to become unduly alarmed; this is not yet a common threat, and chances are relatively slim that any one particular computer will be compromised. From an article in PC World magazine:

“As far as we’re concerned, the threat is being vastly overblown,” says Russ Cooper, editor of the NTBugtraq mailing list and a scientist at security vendor Cybertrust. “It’s not being massively exploited.”

Just two months ago, Microsoft fixed three other problems with the way Windows processes WMF images, and those vulnerabilities were not widely used with any success, Cooper says. “We’ve had image rendering problems in the base operating system for a long time, and still nothing massive has happened.”

Nevertheless, reports of attacks specific to this exploit are increasing, so in my opinion it’s better to be safe than sorry; you just never know when someone will see a golden opportunity for mischief on a wider scale. Microsoft Corp. is rating this alert “critical” and advising anyone using Windows 2000, Windows 2003 Server, or Windows XP with Service Pack 1 or 2 installed to read security bulletin MS06-001. (Windows 98 or ME is not vulnerable.) The Redmonders had scheduled the release of an update to fix this problem for January 10th, but have pushed the date up in response to public demand. That patch (KB912919) is available now, and you can download and install it from the Microsoft link above. If for some reason you can’t install the fix, the following simple registry tweak to disable the Windows Picture and Fax Viewer (shimgvw.dll) can be used as a workaround:

Microsoft has tested the following workaround. While this workaround will not correct the underlying vulnerability, it helps block known attack vectors. When a workaround reduces functionality, it is identified in the following section.

Note: The following steps require Administrative privileges. It is recommended that the machine be restarted after applying this workaround. It is also possible to log out and log back in after applying the workaround. However, the recommendation is to restart the machine.

To un-register shimgvw.dll, follow these steps:
1. Click Start, click Run, type “regsvr32 -u %windir%\system32\shimgvw.dll” (without the quotation marks), and then click OK.
2. A dialog box appears to confirm that the un-registration process has succeeded. Click OK to close the dialog box.

The Windows Picture and Fax Viewer will no longer be started when users click on a link to an image type that is associated with the Windows Picture and Fax Viewer.

To undo this change after the update has been applied, re-register shimgvw.dll by following the above steps. Replace the text in Step 1 with “regsvr32 %windir%\system32\shimgvw.dll” (without the quotation marks).

For more information, visit any of these sites:

Windows Security Blog
Computer Associates
Windows IT Pro
Secunia

Websense
Securiteam

Or, as someone never fails to point out at times like these, you could always just get a Mac.

This is one seriously pissed-off cat

Friday, January 6th, 2006

Well, if someone had just stuffed you into a cage, hauled you off to the vet’s office and had them cut off your balls, wouldn’t you be too? I thought so.

Happy CatBlogging Friday, everyone. Here’s an update to my earlier post three weeks ago about our neighborhood feline visitor. Kitty has been increasingly more friendly and playful, and finally overcame his fear enough to allow me to handle him regularly. Still, not knowing if he had any communicable diseases, it was necessary to shut our other two cats in the back bedroom temporarily whenever we let him in to feed him. So, we decided that yesterday would be the day of reckoning. After one botched attempt, I was able to get him in the cat carrier and to the vet, who determined that he was, in fact, male (with the long fur, we hadn’t been sure), was FLV-negative, and mostly healthy other than for a few fleas. Our vet is sympathetic to the plight of ferals, and after we paid for the exam and vaccinations he offered to neuter him for free, which was very nice of him.

A few hours later it was a done deal, but things did not go so well after we got home. Once out of the carrier, Kitty immediately made a lunge for the back door, smacking headlong into the glass. He then scrambled up the drapes, and stayed there for the next two hours. Efforts to feed and reassure him were only partially successful, and we decided that the best course would probably be to let him back outside until he calmed down.

That was yesterday afternoon. We haven’t seen him since.

We are hoping that he will forgive us and come back once he gets hungry again, but we realize there’s a chance he may never return. He did seem to enjoy the affection earlier in the week, so maybe that will overcome his wild instinct. We’ll be very sad if not – we’ve gotten quite attached to him in the month he’s been hanging out with us – but we can take some comfort in knowing that at least we took one small step to help cut down on the huge number of feral kittens born each year, and that by getting his shots he has a slightly better chance of staying healthy.

One other CatBlogging item of note: here’s an article about recent studies on the evolution of early predatory felines into “the cat that has induced people to pay for its board and lodging in return for frugal displays of affection”, i.e., the domestic house cat. Researchers have new insight into how the species developed, migrating to new continents as sea levels rose and fell. Cats are natural roamers, which doesn’t give us much encouragement that our friend will be back, but it’s still an interesting read.

In closing, here’s a couple of pictures from last week. We’ll leave the back porch light on for him, just in case.