november 2001

11.1.01
It is impossible to play the Strokes too loud.

11.1.01
Our number of Halloween visitors wasn't significantly reduced last night. We had a total of 104 (yes, we count them). That's down from last year's total of around 130, but we also didn't get any huge church groups this year. That alone could have made the difference.

11.1.01
Look, I understand that security is going to be tighter these days, especially around airports. But if this is the kind of bullshit that is going to take place on a regular basis (all of which seems in violation of the writer's rights, regardless of his status as a member of the press), then we're going to do far more damage to our country ourselves than the terrorists ever could. This should make every American who reads it angry. If not, maybe you need to review the Constitution and remember that they didn't tack on the Bill of Rights for no reason. Even in a time of war, law enforcement officials are still supposed to be governed by just cause and due process.

11.1.01
Well, the "Job Service Orientation" I had to attend yesterday as a condition of receiving unemployment was exactly the soulcrushing exercise in pointlessness that I thought it would be. At first, I thought maybe it wouldn't be too bad: they made me fill out an online registration form on one of the many shiny new computers they had in the lobby, which included selecting a primary job category for job-matching purposes. I spent a long time looking through the computer-related jobs, but they had nothing matching my web and multimedia skills, so I just had to put in computer programmer, which isn't really what I do at all. But it only took 10 minutes, and I thought maybe I'd get to leave after that.

No such luck, though. When I went to the desk to tell them I was finished, they made me say my Social Security Number out loud, even though it was already on the appointment letter I had given them when I came in. Despite the fact that I was obviously saying it quietly because I didn't want everyone in the room to hear it (mine is pretty easy to remember), the ladies behind the desk both repeated it much louder and in unison. At least it wasn't anything personal—they did this to everyone who went up to the desk while I was there. I could have harvested five or six SSNs, and probably gotten the names and addresses to go along with them. I guess those ladies don't realize that with that information, you're just a couple of phone calls away from being able to ruin someone's credit rating and even steal their identity.

Then they told me to have a seat and that a counselor would be with me soon. I thought the counselors worked on a first-come, first-served basis, but I guess not, because two or three people who sat down after I did were called back before I was. I sat there staring at the clock for half an hour waiting for my appointment, and I was just about to get up and ask if I had been forgotten when a woman came out and called me and two other guys back to a small conference room.

I'm trying to be as nice about this as I can given how much it pissed me off, but this so-called counselor was less than useless; I'm guessing that paying her to work at the Job Service Office is cheaper than paying her unemployment. She spoke a backwoods dialect that is just on the edge of not being English ("library" was "liberry", "renovation" was "renomovation", and so on—I can't remember them all, but there were many, many more, and no, I'm not making up the "renomovation" thing). Her grammar was also incomprehensible, and she also seemed to have some sort of speech impediment. If I had to guess, I would have put her education level at no higher than 6th grade. Combine all of the above factors, and I could hardly understand a word she was saying. And hey, I'm from the south, so I'm used to interesting accents, but this was far and away the worst grammar/pronunciation I'd heard in a while. Plus she had this tendency to drone on endlessly about their internal job codes, which of course meant nothing to me BECAUSE THEY'RE INTERNAL. She also told us several times about how she's been doing this for 20 years, and tried to give the impression that she was the smartest person in the office. Sadly enough, that may have been true.

The parts of the session that I was able to understand consisted mostly of her passing out copies of all the pamphlets they had on the desk out front and then reading from them. You know, I never liked storytime as a kid; I always liked to read the books myself, so that the voices in the book could come through on their own. And this was ten times worse: it was information that I didn't need because it was so bloody obvious that only be useful to someone who a) had been incarcerated for the last 20 years and needed to be reminded of how to live and work on the outside, or b) wasn't a native speaker of English and had just arrived in this country, and had no skills, or c) had a glaring mental defect that prevented them from using common sense in any job-related circumstance. What's the quote from Macbeth?: "a tale told by an idiot...signifying nothing".

Another thing she encouraged us to do over and over again was attend free job workshops down in Columbia (as opposed to actually looking for jobs, since attending these workshops would fulfill your active-seeking-employment requirement for that week). This one was my favorite:

Positive Attitudes: How to keep your attitude "UP" and how to deal with other people's "DOWN" attitudes.

I will say it again: I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. Really.

She ended the session by forcing us to write down the names of a bunch of books that listed every company in the state of Maryland. She repeated this statement over and over regarding theses books: "they list the companies from big to small and then small to big, so you can find out which ones are good ones and which ones you shouldn't waste your time with"—what the hell does that mean? She also insisted on making photocopies for us with the job hotline numbers of several of the bigger employers in the county (none of which would have any positions for me, as they are all big manufacturing companies). She had been off making the copies for about five minutes, and just as I was starting to wonder what could possibly be taking her so long (there were only two pages she needed to copy), I realized that she was in the office next door to the conference room talking on the phone to her dentist about how he was going to bill her insurance for a procedure she'd just had done.

Fan-fucking-tastic.

On the way home, I decided to stop by the record store and pick up the new Le Tigre album to cheer myself up. Of course, they've decided not to stock it. I feel so sick and sad and stupid...


11.2.01
This little vacation I've been on for the past month is starting to feel more like a prison sentence.

11.2.01
This is the text of a Public Service Announcement I saw on a billboard on the way back home from my Job Service Orientation:

If you're 17 and she's 13, SEX IS RAPE

Where am I living again?


11.5.01
For the fourth week in a row, I have a new review up on Plug. This week: the new disc from the Idaho (yes, Idaho—Boise, to be exact) trio Built to Spill, "Ancient Melodies of the Future". I'm still planning to write one new review a week from now until the end of the year, but if anyone else wants to help, I'd be happy to add to the editorial staff.

11.5.01
Hallelujah! Last night, with the game tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth, 1 out, and the bases loaded, Luis Gonzalez of the Arizona Diamondbacks hit a weak bloop single into shallow center field to drive in the winning run of Game 7 of the World Series, ending the Yankees' three year run as World Champions. And seriously, I'd bet there are even some New Yorkers who were getting sick of them winning every year. Certainly the rest of the country was.

11.5.01
Do John Goodman and Alec Baldwin have some kind of sick bet to see how many times they can host SNL before they die?

11.5.01
Well, we're coming up on the holiday movie season, which is rivalled only by the summer blockbuster season in terms of the number of highly anticipated, big budget films that are coming to theaters near you. This summer was a huge disappointment: Tomb Raider, A.I., and Planet of the Apes all could have been great (and should have been great), but none lived up to their potential. Despite great casts, great directors (well, okay, I don't know who directed Tomb Raider, but Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton are usually great), and oversized budgets, not one of these three films was even good, really. They were all interesting failed experiments, and A.I. may go down in history as the most fascinating Frankenstein's Monster ever produced by Hollywood in its attempt to marry the conflicting visions of Kubrick and Spielberg, but I really don't have any great desire to see any of these three films again. At least not right now.

On deck for the holidays, we have Monsters, Inc., the new Pixar feature which opened this weekend, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, an adaptation of the first volume of the wildly popular series, and The Fellowship of the Ring, the first of a trio of movies based on Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. I could also mention the Royal Tennenbaums, the new comedy from Wes Anderson, whose last film, Rushmore, has become one of my favorites. It's not really in the same league as the rest of these films in terms of expected box office revenue, but it may well be the best movie released between now and the new year.

We were going to go see Monsters, Inc. yesterday, but we ended up going geocaching instead. It has gotten mostly good reviews, although the general consensus is that it doesn't quite live up to Pixar's three previous hits (the two Toy Story movies and my favorite, A Bug's Life). We'll probably go see it later this week, because even a slightly subpar Pixar film should still be well worth seeing.

Harry Potter looks really good in the trailers; the casting was one of the most important things that they had to get right for this movie to even stand a chance at living up to audience expectations, and it looks like they've nailed most of the characters. We'll probably go see this one at least two or three times unless it's really, really awful, because both of us love the books (seriously, if you haven't read them yet, you should—they are full of imagination and wonder, and yet the world they create seems utterly believable and real). Of course, the trailers for Tomb Raider looked really great, too, so I'm not going to declare this a must-see until I've actually seen it, no matter how much I love the books.

The Fellowship of the Ring is another film that is almost guaranteed to be a hit because, just like Harry Potter, there are legions of devoted fans who will want to see this one for themselves no matter what the reviewers might say about it. It is also the riskiest of the three movies; the storyline is almost impossibly complex to render to the screen, and there are still some lingering questions about the director's abilities and the believability special effects. And if this one is a bomb, it could cost the studio untold millions, since work on the next two pictures in the trilogy is already in the final stages—the three films were shot back to back to back, and all that is left to finish are the special effects and editing. Harry Potter, on the other hand, has only just begun shooting the second film, so if the first one is a failure, the studio could the series to a halt before it has invested too much. But there's no going back for the Lord of the Rings pictures; they're most likely going to be released no matter what the first picture does, although if it's a failure there are probably quite a few people involved with it who will never work in Hollywood again.

So I'm pretty excited about the next few weeks. It's been a while since I've seen a movie that I genuinely thought was great (last May's Shrek was probably the best I've seen this year), and in the next two months I could see up to four. And even though I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Hollywood hasn't found a way to screw up these seemingly sure-fire concepts, I know that all four of them probably won't be as good as I want them to be. But if even two of them are...

11.6.01
I know on a lot of log sites, people like to incorporate interesting links into the content of the main page in addition to the more editorial/personal content. I do that occasionally, if there are relevant links to something that I'm talking about in an entry, but I usually save all my linking for my links page. I don't know how many of you people look at the links page every day, but, well, I really wish you would. I put a lot of time into selecting interesting links, many of which I could use as content on the front page if I hadn't already set aside a special area on another page to display them. Ideally, I would like to display the current day's links on this page, but there's just not enough width here, since I usually like to write a short comment about each story that I link to.

So if you don't regularly look at the links page, just give it a try for a week. Already this month, I've linked to a story about the custom software that Pixar wrote to animate each hair on the characters in Monsters, Inc., a page that has the first images from the new Mars probe, and an article about a boy who dressed up as a giant vagina for Halloween and got suspended for it (his mom is a midwife and helped him make sure the costume was anatomically correct).

11.7.01
On Sunday (I think it was Sunday—the specifics of the calendar are starting to matter less and less to me), Julie and I went to do a geocache down near Columbia. The description of the cache said it was hidden near a pond with a beaver dam, so I thought I might be able to get some good photos. It was supposed to be in a park, but there were no signs and no parking lots, so we just followed the GPS until we found a residential street that put us about a quarter of a mile away from the cache and parked there.

It wasn't so much a park as walking trails that had been added to the land set aside for power lines; there were lines of parallel twin towers that stretched to the horizon in three directions. The cache was actually pretty hard to get to; we had to leave the paved paths and venture into thick grassy fields that would have been waist-high in the summer, and at several points we had to jump over a few of the dozens of meandering streams that ran throughout the grass.

After a few minutes, we saw the pond in the same direction that the GPS unit was pointing, and stumbled on to the cache by accident. We must have approached from the wrong direction, because the cache was practically on the path the way we came, but if you looked at it from the other side, it looked pretty well hidden. We made our entry in the log, and then hung around for a few minutes looking at the pond and trying to figure out if there really was a beaver dam there.

The only other time I've been to a pond with a beaver dam, it was the middle of the night and I couldn't see anything. It was when I was up in New Hampshire visiting Regan at Dartmouth, and we had spent the day with a physics Ph.D. candidate named Pablo (who I would meet again a year or two later when I was touring Europe and he was doing his postdoc work in Trieste, in northern Italy). He was going to a party being thrown by a friend of his who was housesitting for a professor who was on sabbatical. We helped him make pasta salad, and then drove up to the top of the mountain where the house sat.

All I remember about that night was being very happy just to be there. We ate grilled chicken and pasta salad and drank a little wine, and sat outside to watch the stars come out. Later, Regan and I walked down to the pond with a flashlight to see if we could see any beavers. We never actually saw one, but we heard them everywhere, slapping their tails on the water and diving back in the pond as they heard us approaching.

That was a good day, an interesting day. I don't have too many interesting days anymore.

11.7.01
So NYPD Blue is back on the air. It's nice that they decided not to wait until January this year, but I'm starting to wonder how much longer this show is going to hold my attention. Over the last two years, I think they have lost all of the original cast members except for Sipowicz and Metavoy, and they've already lost Rick Schroeder, who was on the show just long enough for me to start to get a good sense of his character.

They billed the season premiere as a two-hour movie, but you could tell it was just two episodes played back to back with a little surgery done to string them together and a reference to the WTC attacks added in for good measure. It's still a pretty good show, but I'm just starting to get ansty about all the personnel changes, the way I got ansty about ER (another show with a ton of recent cast changes) before I stopped watching it altogether. The writing on NYPD Blue is always pretty good, and sometimes outstanding, and the acting is the right kind of acting for this kind of show. But something just doesn't feel right about it anymore.

I don't know. Schroeder's character was becoming one of my favorites, but instead of replacing him with a new type of character (why the hell didn't they sign him to a longer contract?), they have essentially jackhammered another child star, Mark Paul Gosselar (Zack of Saved by the Bell) into his role. It just feels like they're running out of ideas, which I guess is understandable after so many years on the air. But it still sucks. It's one of the only shows that I make a point to watch every week, and it's going to be disappointing if it starts to go downhill. I'd almost rather just see the network cancel it outright than have it go through a process of steady decline over the next few years.

We'll see, though. Some of the other new cast members are intriguing, and it's certainly possible that the show will be able to recover from the loss of so many key personalities. And they're still doing better than the X-Files at dealing with the loss of star power—at least they haven't resorted to hiring Xena, for god's sake.

11.8.01
Maybe I should cut that Job Service lady a little slack. While watching a two minute snippet from one of Bush's press conferences today, I saw him use the word "commiserate" when he meant "commensurate" (it wasn't a mispronunciation, he just used the wrong word), and he also pronounced the word "nuclear" in the style of Marge Simpson, "nukuler". I mean, if the President of the United States (and a graduate of Yale and Harvard, to boot) can't handle simple grammatical tasks, maybe I shouldn't expect too much out of the local-yokel unemployment office counselors.

11.8.01
On South Park last night, they tried to do an Osama bin Laden thing. That's in keeping with their tradition of doing satirical takes on current events almost as they are happening (the Elian Gonzalez episode and the Florida election results episode are probably the best examples of this), but it just didn't work this time. It wasn't so much unfunny as it was just plain pointless. But it was unfunny, too. It's probably just a little too soon still, and, well, this news story probably cuts a little deeper than Elian or the 2000 election.

11.9.01
It was interesting to note that, for the first time in recent memory, the majority of the mainstream television networks decided to air their regular programming instead of a Presidential address. A few weeks ago, Bush's first big address to the nation in the wake of the 9.11 attacks wreaked major havoc on the television schedule, pushing back NBC's Friends and ER and the premieres of CBS's Survivor and CSI. It was certainly understandable then, although the networks (and I daresay the viewing audience) were clearly a little annoyed. But this time, a month after that initial address, all the networks decided to stick to their original programming; ABC was the only network to air the speech, and it only sacrificed a couple of episodes of Whose Line Is It Anyway, which is not a ratings powerhouse by any means.

And really, can you blame the networks? Almost every company has taken a financial hit in the wake of the attacks, including, presumably, the major networks. And Thursday is a big money-making night for many of them: CBS has the already-mentioned Survivor and CSI, both of which are top 10 mainstays this season (CSI is actually pulling better numbers than Survivor, to the surprise of many), and in addition to Friends and ER, NBC also boasts Will & Grace, another top 10 staple, and Just Shoot Me, which is usually in the top 20. Fox has also spent a lot of time advertising the premieres of the Family Guy, a returning animated series, and The Tick, a live-action version of the comic book (which was also developed into an animated series by Fox a few years ago) starring Seinfeld's Patrick Warburton in the title role.

Bush's administration keeps telling everyone to go about their normal lives, but it's kind of hard to when they're issuing "credible threat" warnings without giving any more specifics every week and interrupting the country's most popular night of television on a regular basis. It's clear that Bush's press people know that Thursday is a big night for television, and they figure they'll just hijack the audience that the networks have built for that night in order to give the President's speeches better ratings. But after last night's snub, I'm betting you won't see him try to give another Big Important Speech on Thursday night (unless, god forbid, there are more attacks, and he has something to talk about besides the progress of the war). I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't switch to Mondays or Wednesdays, which have a lot fewer lynchpin shows for the networks. I also wouldn't be surprised if his people gave the networks more than a few hours warning next time, so that they could actually rearrange their schedules appropriately.

11.9.01
I finally saw the video for Ryan Adams' "New York, New York" on VH-1 yesterday. This song is one of those weird little by-products of the 9.11 attacks that no one anticipated: recorded months before 9.11, the song takes on a completely new resonance in the wake of the terrorist attacks. It's really the story of how a breakup with a girl went so horribly that the narrator was forced to sever his ties with the city itself in order to move on, and how he still misses the city despite its association in his mind with the girl, but in the wake of 9.11, it comes off as more of a celebration of the city despite some of the negative things that happen there.

The video, which was also made long before the attacks, plays up on this new interpretation, tacking on dedications to those who perished in the attacks, and not being at all shy about showing the twin towers of the WTC standing boldly in the background of many shots. In fact, images of the towers, both at night and in day, are so prevalent (they appear in at least half the shots in the video), I have to wonder if this is the original cut of the video. It would have been very easy to go back and re-edit the footage so that the buildings would be given more screen time, and I certainly wouldn't put it past a big media conglomerate to try and reap some windfall from the tragedy (Adams is signed to Lost Highway, an outsider-country label under the Universal Music umbrella). But it is a good song, regardless of its newfound poignancy, and it's clear that the point of the video was to celebrate the city's skyline, of which the WTC was the most recognizable feature before it was destroyed.

11.12.01
We went to an early showing of Monsters, Inc., on Saturday morning, hoping to avoid the swarms of children that we knew would be there later in the afternoon. At first, I thought we were in luck: we were the first ones to arrive in the theater, and even as they began showing the previews, the theater was still relatively uncrowded. But during the previews, a few larger groups streamed in, and by the time the film actually started, we were pretty well surrounded by little kids, kicking the backs of the seats and talking amongst themselves (including one kid right behind me who spent about half the movie muttering "stop it stop it stop it" to his brother who was antagonizing him).

They showed a Pixar short in front of the main film, which is something that I wish American theaters would do more often. I remember when we spent a semester in Britain, they would always show some kind of short film in front of the main feature (often by the the claymation animator responsible for Wallace and Gromit). I like it that Pixar puts in that extra effort to make the moviegoing experience that much more worthwhile.

Monsters, Inc., wasn't too bad, although I would agree with the reviewers that this is probably the weakest effort yet from Pixar. Billy Crystal and John Goodman did great jobs with their voice characters, and the animation was, of course, outstanding. The only thing that really rang false to me was the voice of the beauracratic administrative slug who is constantly giving Crystal's character a hard time about handing in his paperwork; the voice just sounded very forced and fake, like they had someone at Pixar do it just to get a sense of how to animate the character, but then forgot to go back and hire a real voice actor for the actual film.

There was nothing really bad about the movie, but I guess what made it less good than Pixar's other offerings was the lack of an extended and vibrant supporting cast. There are basically two protagonists, voiced by Crystal and Goodman, a pre-verbal human girl that wanders into Monstropolis accidentally, and a couple of bad guys. Whereas in both Bug's Life and the Toy Story movies, you had a large supporting cast that fleshed out the storyline (in Bug's Life, it was the circus bugs and a large contingent of ants; in Toy Story, you had all the other toys in the room). Monsters, Inc., just didn't feel as vibrant as the other three movies.

It was still good, and I would still recommend it, but I'm not sure if I'm going to go see it again in the theater. Especially not with Harry Potter coming out this week...

11.13.01
Well, it's a day late, but here it is: This week's new Plug review, Gorillaz.

11.14.01
Since last Saturday, I have been on a really bizarre sleep schedule. Not that it wasn't weird before; I would usually stay up all night working, finally drifting off to sleep around 7 or 8 in the morning, and waking in the middle of the afternoon. It was actually an okay schedule for me, if a little unconventional. I have always preferred to work late at night, and since Julie works during the day, it didn't affect the amount of time that I spent with her.

But last weekend, after two or three days in a row where I only got a few hours of sleep (never more than three), I went to sleep around 9 p.m. and didn't get up until 4 a.m. The next night, I was able to hang on until around 10 p.m., and then I woke up around 5 a.m. Since then, I have settled into a nice little routine of sleeping from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

It's kind of strange for me; I've never been a morning person, and I'm more or less mystified at what to do with all this free time in the mornings. My brain just doesn't work the same way early in the day, so even when I try to write or do work, I'm not nearly as productive as I am late at night. Even though I can get things done, it feels a little like a wasted effort.

But it's not so bad, I guess. I can run errands a little easier now, since I'm awake when the bank and the post office are open, and it's certainly a better schedule to have in anticipation of future employment. Now if I could just find a way to avoid those annoying panic attacks...

11.15.01
When your life consists of reading, watching tv, doing housework, submitting resumes via email, and waiting for the phone to ring, there's not a whole lot to write about. So let's hope something interesting happens to me between now and tomorrow.

11.16.01
Just a reminder, because I probably won't post here again before Monday: don't forget to watch the Leonid meteor shower on Sunday morning (the 18th). It's always cool, but this year is supposed to be especially spectacular.

11.16.01
There are a couple of really good articles on Salon today about how the Bush administration is using the terrorist attacks as a way to severely curtail the civil rights of everyone in this country and how they are considering authorizing the use of torture against terrorist suspects. Unfortunately, they are both premium, subscriber-only features. And even more unfortunately, Salon is one of the only media outlets covering these stories. It is also pretty much the only media outlet that is not owned by a larger corporate conglomerate that has a financial interest in keeping the Bush administration happy.

You can probably already guess my stand on these issues, but just so we're clear: some of the powers that Bush has granted to the authorities, such as the ability to hold people without charging them with any crime, to spy on someone's email and phone communications without probable cause and the oversight of a judge, to monitor the confidential communications between detainees and their attorneys, and to try people at secret military tribunals, are the same kinds of powers that military dictatorships in third world countries grant to their secret police forces. Add to this the fact that the new Homeland Security Office is outside of Congressional control and supervision (it has a black budget that is unknown to the public), and the head of Homeland Security answers only to the president. Bush has resisted making Homeland Security a cabinet position not because it is not important enough to be a cabinet department, but because making it an official cabinet department would mean that that office would have to adhere to the same procedures and protocols that all other government agencies have to follow. And don't even get me started on Bush's decision to ignore the Freedom of Information Act and deny access to public documents (which his administration was doing well before the 9.11 attacks)—especially presidential documents: his most recent order in this area makes it so that a president can override the Freedom of Information Act for any document produced under his administration, no matter how old the information is. For god's sake, even some conservatives in the government are starting to get concerned.

Right now Americans seem to believe that these newly granted powers will be used only against suspected terrorists, but just you wait: if the Bush administration is allowed to continue these practices unchecked, political dissidents and those who advocate unpopular ideas or ideas that are contradictory to Bush's goals will be next. These powers, once granted, are not easily given up again, and we should all be very mindful that we are coming very close to tearing up the Bill of Rights and flushing it down the toilet in response to one terrorist attack. If that happens, then maybe the terrorists really have destroyed America. Or at least the America that I thought I was living in.

As for the torture issue, I think that torture is an abominable practice, and its use is not justified under any situation, but it is especially horrible when it is being used as a legal instrument of a government that is supposed to put the rights of individuals above the goals of the state. This goes back to the same issue as the civil rights problem. If we ignore civil rights as soon as they become inconvenient, then what good are they, really? Similarly, if we resort to the use of torture, which is against the Geneva convention, just because it will make information gathering easier, then we might as well just dispense with the Geneva convention altogether, and not pretend that we're going to try to fight war in a more or less civilized manner (although to my way of thinking, war is the antithesis of civilization and culture).

Look, I'm not naive about all this. I realize that if they are talking about publicly asking permission to torture suspects, then agents of our government have already engaged in torture in their search for more information. And I know that none of our enemies respect the Geneva convention in regards to the treatment of prisoners of war and torture, whether or not they have signed the accords. But the whole point of us following them is to set an example, and also to remain true to our own moral code as a nation.

It really is disturbing to me to see how quickly we Americans seem to have given up what are supposed to be our most prized ideals in the wake of a single attack against our nation. Its disheartening that many Americans seem to give a lot of lip service to rights such as freedom of speech, probable cause, and due process, which are the bedrock rights on which this nation was founded, but that when push comes to shove and they get a little scared, Americans seem more than willing to put these values on the chopping block in exchange for the perception of a little more security and safety. If we're willing to give these things up so quickly, just what are we fighting for here? If you're dumb enough to believe that the government can protect you if only it is granted enough power over your life, then why don't we just quit right now, and sign up for national ID cards with our fingerprints on them, submit our DNA to a giant database where all of our personal information is available to both the government and any corporation willing to pay for it, and get used to having our homes and property searched for no good reason. You say you've been detained but not charged with anything? But you feel safer, right? What? You don't like having to submit your ID at military checkpoints every time you leave your city or enter another one? All in the name of security, ma'am.

It might seem like I'm being overly dramatic to some of you, but with both the government's and the people's recent actions and reactions since the 9.11 attacks, we've moved a whole lot closer to that version of America, which isn't really the America that our forefathers imagined, or the America that many people who believe in the sanctity of the Constitution, even when it makes administering justice more difficult, would want to live in. Yes, we have a long way to go before these types of scenarios filter down to the average American, but once we allow that to happen, it will be too late to prevent it; the government will already have too much power to be stopped, and we will never get those rights back. And try to remember back a year ago: could you have imagined then the realities of today?

Because rights aren't really all that useful if the government can take them away as soon as they become inconvenient. So you don't think any of this could ever happen to you, right? Well, the law doesn't specify that these new powers can be used against only young men of middle eastern descent who have links to terrorist organizations and who are not legal citizens of this country (save for the secret military tribunals, which cannot at this time be used to try American citizens). That's ostensibly who these new powers are aimed at right now, but they can be used against anyone; it is left to the discretion of law enforcement alone, with no oversight from the judiciary.

But of course none of these powers would ever be wrongly used against you, right? Well, why don't you ask some of those people who are currently being detained indefinitely with no charges against them, some of whom are probably being tortured for information and some of whom are probably innocent of whatever it is that they are suspected of? Oh, that's right—you can't. Because the government won't tell us how many there are, or who they are, or why they are being held. Most people, I guess, are content to trust the government, to say "Well, they know what they are doing, and we shouldn't question it because they're doing it to make this country safer."

But many people seem to have forgotten that American ideals are not about safety and security. They are about freedom, and freedom comes with a price. Sometimes that price is sending members of our military somewhere else to die in order to protect our values and our sovereignty. But sometimes the sacrifice that we make for freedom means that we won't catch every bad guy, and that some innocent people on our own soil might die because we couldn't obtain enough information in a timely manner to stop a terrorist threat. Sometimes our respect for civil rights and the innocent-until-proven-guilty doctrine mean that we won't get the information we want, and that innocent people will die. But if that's the cost of our freedom, then we must be prepared to pay it, just as we are prepared to send our military into hostile situations.

Everyone who believes in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights should be sickened over what has happened over the last couple of months. Congress is concerned, the judicial branch is concerned, and you, as an average American, should be concerned, because these decisions put too much power in the hands law enforcement, which is in turned controlled directly by the executive branch. And guess whose signing the orders giving all this power to law enforcement? That's right, the executive branch, aka, the president.

There's a good reason that the founders set up a complicated system of checks and balances. They knew that sometimes it would allow the guilty to escape punishment, or that it might slow down the process some, but they also knew that it was necessary in order to ensure that the ideals set forth in the Constitution were upheld. We cannot sacrifice the rights of a single individual without implicitly sacrificing the rights of every American; to ignore the civil rights of even a single suspect is to destroy the very precepts upon which our concept of freedom is founded.

11.19.01
We got up on Sunday morning at about 4:15 in order to watch the Leonid meteor shower. It took a few minutes to groggily put on some warm clothes (it was about 30 degrees outside), find the flashlight, and make our way out the back porch, where we had earlier set up a ladder to make it easy to get onto the roof.

Even though the weather forecast had said that the skies were supposed to be clear, we noticed very quickly that there was a gathering fog that left only a tiny hole in the sky directly above us, where the North Star was positioned. If that wasn't bad enough, the fog was quickly getting thicker, which had the effect of not only obscuring the sky, but also of amplifying the ambient light from the streetlights in the neighborhood. But we decided to stick to our plan and sit on the roof for a while, hoping to catch at least a few shooting stars even though we knew that we wouldn't get the full effect of the shower. The peak was supposed to be at 5:09 a.m. EST, so we figured we'd just stay on the roof until about 5:15 unless it turned out that we could see the meteors through the fog.

We did see a few of the brighter ones, but I'd say that in the 45 minutes we were outside we saw fewer than 15 shooting stars. It was still pretty cool, though, because the ones that were able to shine through the fog were spectacularly bright. Maybe next year we'll get up earlier and have a contingency plan in case of fog.

11.20.01
A new review is not available on Plug. This week it's the new EP from Modest Mouse, "Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks".

11.20.01
Last Friday UPN aired the first episode of Iron Chef American, which is exactly what the title says: an American reworking of the popular Japanese import Iron Chef, which airs on the Food Network and which has become a cult favorite both here and in Japan. Chairman Kaga has been replaced by Captain Kirk, and the four Japanese Iron Chefs (experts in the styles of Chinese, French, Italian, and Japanese cooking) have been replaced by four Americans (experts in French, Italian, Asian, and American).

While William Shatner was a suitably cheesy replacement for Kaga, who is also an overly flamboyant ex-actor, he botched the role by reveling in the camp of it all, whereas Kaga takes the whole competition dead seriously, which is what makes it so campy in the first place. Instead of taking a dramatic bite out of a pepper and then removing himself to the dais to watch the competition with the panel, as Kaga does, Shatner wandered around the cooking floor aimlessly, trying to work in a few extra seconds on camera, finally resorting to actually eating from an unfinished dish to get attention. Plus, the chefs were just annoying. The first challenger was dubbed "The Rock and Roll Chef", although I never quite understood why, other than the fact that he dressed in black and seemed to think that he was really cool. For his competitor, he selected the Iron Chef American, who didn't seem much better. He was also very cocky and obnoxious, and seemed to get more enjoyment out of flinging a couple hundred dollars worth of caviar to the idiots in the broadcast booth than he did in actually preparing his dishes.

The new announcers, who were a tag team of annoying sports guys wearing mustard yellow jackets and football-style headsets, added to the annoyance factor. And don't get me started on the panel. In the original Iron Chef, the panel consists of two permanent judges, an expert food critic and a fortune-teller who had a lot of culinary knowledge, and two guests, usually actors, baseball players, other chefs, or members of the government. All of the panel members are personally selected by Kaga, who you assume selects them because they have some sort of interest in and knowledge of culinary matters. And instead of having the show narrated by two Monday Night Football wanna-be's, the panel actually provides intelligent commentary and seems to have some experience with exotic dishes during the tasting portion of the contest. Contrast that with the American panel, which consisted of he's-not-as-funny-as-Hollywood-thinks-he-is Academy Awards scripter and Hollywood Square Bruce Villanch, some Playmate or other, and two stars you had never heard of from two UPN shows you had never heard of. And their commentary (aside from Villanch, who just made a bad joke about everything) was basically "Well, when I first saw it, I didn't think it looked very good, but then I tasted it and it was good."

The rule changes were also annoying, although they paled in comparison to the other transgressions. In the original, the chefs have one hour to create as many dishes as they want using the theme ingredient, and their goal is to create dishes that bring out the true character of the theme ingredient (which neither of them know ahead of time). They are judged by each of the panel members on a scale of 1 to 20, and that score is supposed to take into account presentation, originality, taste, and how well the theme ingredient was used. In the American version, each chef must create five dishes (sometimes, the Japanese chefs would only create three or four, because those three or four would often involve elaborate, multi-tiered preparation, and sometimes a single dish would actually be equivalent to two or three dishes all rolled up into one), and the emphasis is placed on taste, with 50% of the score going to taste alone. How well the theme ingredient is utilized in each dish seemed to count of very little; the only thing that mattered was that it was present in some form.

I'm such a big fan of the original show that there's almost no way I could like this over-the-top, bigger-is-better Americanized version. But aren't I the target audience? I mean, UPN certainly isn't expecting to build a following for this show on people who didn't like the Japanese version. I didn't want it to replicate the original show exactly, but I did want it to retain some of the original show's quirky charm, as well as the absolute seriousness with which the chefs took on the challenge. Watching this show reminded me of the two times that Bobby Flay, an annoying, look-at-me American chef who specializes in spicy Southwestern style cuisine, faced off against Iron Chef Japanese, Masaharu Morimoto. Bobby Flay came off as arrogant, obnoxious, stupid, and shallow, and more concerned about performing his antics for the camera than cooking the dishes. Morimoto, on the other hand, approached the competition with the seriousness of a matador in the ring, and, not surprisingly, he won both competitions. At one point during their first match, Morimoto even angrily told an interviewer that Bobby Flay shouldn't be allowed to call himself a chef, after watching Flay stand on his cutting board. Morimoto regarded this as a genuine affront, and seemed to believe that a real chef would no more do that than a real artist would wipe his ass with a piece of his canvas. And I am inclined to agree with him.

Watching Iron Chef American on UPN was like watching two Bobby Flay's face off against one another: I didn't really care who won, but I found myself hoping that one of them would cut himself because he was too busy mugging for the cameras to pay attention to his cooking. I will probably watch it again, just to make sure that it's really as bad as it seems, but I'm not going to go out of my way to do so.

11.21.01
I'm going home for Thanksgiving today, and I won't be back until next Monday, so this will probably be my last post until Tuesday (I haven't yet felt compelled to post while on vacation, but you never know—my dad has a computer and internet access, and that's all I need). I have gone ahead and posted the rest of the pictures that I would have posted had I been here. If you want to see them, just click on the photo archives link. I hope you all have happy and safe holidays, and I hope you get to spend them with people you love.

11.21.01
I admit it: I am an unabashed fan of the Harry Potter books. My stepmother gave the existing four books to us last year for Christmas, but I resisted reading them because they were just so damn popular and I was also a little snobby about them being kids' books. Julie read them a couple of months after we got them and really liked them, but I still wasn't convinced: as a former English major, I'm pretty uppity about reading Important Literature, and I just didn't want to participate in the media frenzy about Harry Potter that I viewed as on par with the Oprah Book Club.

However, a couple of months ago, during a weekend when I was trying to avoid dealing with the distinct possibility that my job was going away, I opened the first book, just wanting to read the first chapter so that I could dismiss it. But to my surprise, the story really grabbed me. Almost before I realized it, I had devoured all four books, and was suddenly very interested in the then-upcoming movie, which was finally released last Friday.

And of course, since Julie is as into the books as I am, she took off early so we could try to see it before the after-dinner crowd showed up. That turned out to be a very good move—we got to the theater just in time for the 5:00 show, but after that everything was sold out through 10:30, and it looked like tickets for that seating were going fast. When we left around 8:00, the line of people waiting for our theater to empty was in the hundreds.

I was so excited about the movie that I had even gone back and re-read all four books the week before. Which may have been a mistake. I mean, I thought that the film was pretty well done, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again this weekend (my stepmother hasn't seen it yet, and since we always do a family movie outing over the Thanksgiving weekend, she has already announced that Harry Potter will be this year's selection). But I didn't like it nearly as much as I thought I would, or nearly as much as Julie seemed to. Since I had just read the book again, I kept on thinking "Oh, they left a scene out there", or "That's not exactly what they say in the book", or "Hey! That doesn't happen until the third book", and so on. Julie, on the other hand, who hadn't read the books in about six months, didn't really notice any of the nitpicky alterations they had been forced to make in order to keep the movie at a reasonable length.

I didn't expect the movie to recreate the book exactly (for that, they would have had to have made the movie 6 hours long, even though it is based on the shortest book of the four so far published). But I was hoping that they would be able to capture the spirit of the books and translate it to the big screen. From the trailers, it looked like the filmmakers might have succeeded in this seemingly impossible task, despite the fact that it was helmed by Chris Columbus (whose previous credits include Home Alone 2 and Mrs. Doubtfire). The cast that they had chosen looked perfect, the sets were amazingly detailed, and, well, it just felt right. The actual movie, however, seemed to move a little too slowly, taking too long to explain the fairly complicated main plot while cutting or severely limiting the importance of tons of fairly prominent characters (like Fred, George, Percy, and Peeves) and major subplots (such as the quidditch season, the house cup competition, and Hagrid's dragon Norbert, who only makes a cameo appearance in the movie).

I was really amazed by was how the kids reacted to it, however. The theater was actually...quiet. The kids were sitting still and paying attention to the story. I didn't even notice them getting up to go to the restroom or to get more snacks, despite the fact that the movie is a little long for a kids' movie at 2 1/2 hours. Contrast this behavior with what we saw during Monsters, Inc., which we saw a couple of weeks ago and which is a much shorter 90 minutes in length. It's not that the kids in the theater weren't enjoying Monsters, Inc., they just seemed more easily distracted: moving around, talking, eating, etc. That's how all the kids in Harry Potter were behaving, too—until the movie actually started. From then on out, it was nothing but rapt attention. They even cheered and clapped at the end (along with most of the adults).

Stupid me for reading the books again so close to seeing the movie, I guess. Maybe it will grow on me more when I see it again this week. Or next week, when we are planning to see it with a couple of friends. But no matter what my final opinion ends up being about the movie, it's not going to diminish my desire to read the next book, or even to see the next movie, which has just started shooting for a release about a year from now.

I guess I haven't really learned anything from this experience, though—I've recently begun re-reading "The Fellowship of the Ring" in anticipation of the movie adaptation of that book, due out in December.

11.27.01
Our Thanksgiving visit to my dad's house in Wilmington was very normal this year, which was nice. That is to say, it was nice to be somewhere where nothing seemed changed by my employment status; everything went as it normally did. We went to Julie's family's Thanksgiving on Thursday with Tori and Carrie because dad had first call (Dodd was invited, but as is his wont, he declined). That night, Carrie, Dodd, Tori, and I, the four siblings, each drank a quarter of the 12 pack that Rachel had thought would last the whole weekend and stayed up late playing cards and talking.

On Friday, our regular family group was joined by Angie, a friend of Dodd's from Duke, and Uncle Neil, Rachel's mother's brother, for Thanksgiving dinner at dad's. Rachel made her usual turkey, stuffing, squash casserole, and sweet potato casserole, served along with mashed potatoes made by Carrie and a soy and ginger fried tofu dish contributed by Tori (which was really good, but a little out of place alongside the other dishes). We all went to see the Harry Potter movie Friday night (it was better the second time around), which was pretty cool because I had talked Dodd, Tori, and Carrie into reading it in the couple of days before that (Julie, Rachel, Angie, and I had read them a while ago, so dad was the only one who wasn't already in love with the Potter universe before seeing the film).

Saturday we took Tori geocaching, then met everybody for lunch at Saltworks before heading over to Wrightsville Beach for the annual Christmas flotilla, where 20 or 30 boats decorated with Christmas lights parade up and down the inland waterway side of the island. Sunday we went to church and lunch together before everyone dispersed: Tori's plane left at 3:15, Carrie's plane at 7:30, and we drove up with Dodd and dad to see the Duke basketball game at 8:00 before driving back home.

We didn't get here until around 4:00 a.m., but I still think it was the right thing to do. It felt really good to just sleep in and have a relaxing day before Julie and I resume our normal routines of job and job search, respectively.

11.28.01
Even though I've given up on any of the record stores that I normally patronize stocking the new Le Tigre album, "Feminist Sweepstakes", I still can't bring myself to order it from CDnow, mostly because that's all I really want to buy and when I make online purchases of books or CDs, I like to buy three or four at once to consolidate shipping costs. I decided to look for it when I went home for Thanksgiving, and even though Wilmington doesn't have a great music scene, it does have a couple of decent independent stores. I was really hoping I'd get lucky and find this record (which has been out for almost two months now) at one of them.

First I tried Schoolkids, which is the local branch of the famous independent record store in Chapel Hill of the same name. Every time I've visited it before, it stocked lots of indie and hard to find stuff; I even had some hope that I might stumble across the Le Tigre disc in the used bin. The Wilmington store has never been as good as its cousin in Chapel Hill, but I knew that it wasn't a good sign when I noticed that the store took up half as much space as it used to (there was a burger joint where the other half used to be) and the clerk was a balding, forty-ish looking guy who had probably been through at least a couple of divorces. And the selection just sucked; it was worse than a lot of the big national chain stores, which will stock pretty much anything that is distributed by a major label. This new version of Schoolkids didn't even have any Modest Mouse, and they're on a major label. I mean, you can find their new disc in Best Buy, for god's sake. I can only hope that the Chapel Hill branch has not suffered the same fate.

Saturday afternoon we took Tori downtown so she could take some pictures of churches for an art project she's working on. Tori had lured me down there by telling me that there was a really good music store on the waterfront, and although I was a little reluctant to believe her (no one in my family is really into music the same way I am), I was so desperate to find this record that it was worth it to me to investigate. At first I thought my prayers had been answered: the staff picks displayed by the front door included the Shins, Modest Mouse, and Sparklehorse, and the Flaming Lips' "The Soft Bulletin" was blaring from the in-store sound system. I headed straight for the racks, and, of course, found that they had no Le Tigre albums in stock. They did have a slot for them, so I decided to ask just for fun, and they said they were just sold out and that they should get some more in in a couple of weeks.

That sucked almost more than if they just didn't carry them at all. I was able to pick up Guided By Voices' "Bee Thousand" and Elf Power's "Winter Is Coming", two records I've been looking for for a while now, so the trip wasn't a complete loss. But I swear, it's like god doesn't want me to have that new Le Tigre record or something. If I don't find it by the new year, I'm just going to break down and order it off of CDnow.

11.29.01
I had a phone interview yesterday, the main point of which was to figure out if this company thought I was worthy of a face to face interview. It went okay, I think. Again, I feel like I was pretty lucky even to get to that stage—the guy I was talking to, one of the founders of the company, said that they had received a ton of applications, and the jobs have only been posted for a week or so. I didn't have everything they were looking for, but he made it sound like if they found the right person (or persons—he said they had two open slots), they would be willing to let them do some on-the-job learning. He said that he was going to pass my contact info on to the head of web development, and made it sound like that person would be contacting me soon for an in-person interview. So it sounds like I'm still on their list of possibilities. But I've thought that before. I guess I'll just have to wait and see.

11.30.01
I feel like my brain has stalled.
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