may 2003

Some of you who followed the link to CS Jeff's site that I posted yesterday may have thought I was being sarcastic when you stumbled upon his standard "No entry for this day" text that appears whenever he hasn't posted something for that day, but I wasn't. Thanks to a quirk in how my HTML editor handles links with ampersands in them, the link I posted was corrupted and pointed to the next day's entry, which just had his default text until he posted his real entry.

Those of you who visited later in the day, however, were treated to an incredibly insightful and well thought out piece on the power of the president to declare war, and you probably thought it was a little erroneous to refer to an article that was several paragraphs long as a "quote". But it's all fixed now in the archives, and I would encourage everyone to look at both the original quote he posted and the article he wrote that was inspired by it. They are both well worth your time, and also significantly shorter than the debate that makes up the bulk of my postings today.

Okay. I'm serious about this, people. You do not have to read this entry. It is long and complicated and by the time you get to the end of it you may well think that both Connie and I are windbags who just need to agree to disagree and shut the hell up (and at this point, I wouldn't blame you for thinking that). But I guess this is what happens when you let two passionately opinionated writers start exchanging emails about current events.

I've tried to make this as easy to decipher as possible, but I realize now that no matter how many different ways I try to glom together our three email exchanges and my final comments on Connie's most recent comments, it just ends up a mess. I've done the best I can to put it in some sort of reasonable order. For those of you obsessively interested in archival matters (like me), I have also created popups that preserve the original exhanges, including some of the opening and closing pleasantries that I've omitted from this conglomerated entry: my post from April 23, Connie's email about that post, my first response to her email, her response to my response, and finally, the email that never really happened, my response to her response (in reality, my responses are being posted in this entry for the first time).

Anyway. Here's the format:

Connie's original email.

My original response to her email.

Connie's reponse to my response.

My response to her response (which she will see for the first time on this page).

So basically, I'm green and she's red, and if the text is indented it's from our earliest exchange. Got it?

I know, you're already irritated. And I should warn you again about the length; the content of these four exchanges put together is equal to about half of what I publish in a normal month, and I fully expect that most people will not finish this entry. Still, if you have the time and interest, I think there many nuggets of insight from both sides.

Ready? Here we go.

Read your website entry for the 23rd about the Dixie Chicks. Thought it was interesting from your point of view, since mine is a bit different. And wanted to share some of the whys, since I am a conservative. :)

Now, since one of my points is that unless I solicit to receive opinion type of information, don't give it to me, you have every right to delete this message before reading the next paragraph. If you choose to read on, I am assuming it's because you have agreed to read a conservative perspective.

-----delete now if you wish---------

Absolutely not. I am always interested in other people's opinions; part of what makes our country great in the first place is that we should feel free to engage in meaningful discourse with each other no matter how different our points of view may be. A big part of free speech is being able to support your opinions while remaining opening to hearing the opinions of those who disagree with you.

Having said that, you should also feel free to stop reading now...

First of all, I believe that a lot of people were upset with the Dixie Chicks about what they said for a few reasons.

Some people are idiots. I can admit that, for both sides, we will always have nimrods that voice an opinion just to be heard.

No arguments here. There are idiots everywhere.

However, here are my thoughts on the other things you brought up, and I hope I can state this as objectively as possible.

1. The forum in which they shared their opinion was completely inappropriate. They are paid to entertain us with their music, not their politics.

Well, that's true, but I'm going to quote (actually paraphrase, since I'm too lazy to go look up the actual quote) Michael Moore defending his Oscar speech. What he said amounted to, "I don't stop being an American just because I'm up on stage, plus I was being recognized for speaking out on things I passionately believe in." And especially because his film dealt with a lot of issues that had to do directly with the current state of affairs in Iraq by focusing on some of the less well known details of the first Gulf War, I felt it was entirely appropriate for him to give such a speech.

Actually, I'm not too lazy to look it up. This isn't the exact quote I was thinking of (I remember reading about something he said backstage immediately after the Oscars), but this is from an interview a few days later that touches on the same topic:

Moore agrees that the Oscars ceremony is not normally a place for political commentary. "And if I had won the Oscar for a movie about birds or insects, I'd say something about them. But I made a movie about violence—and global violence—so I felt I had to say something about that.

"I just hope I generated a discussion about Mr. Bush and the war."

As for charges that his remarks were unpatriotic, Moore said, "It's unpatriotic to remain silent when you believe something is wrong. Silence is duplicitous. I want all our soldiers to come home alive."

What can I say? I totally agree with him on this issue, and I think his justification is solid.

I was really thinking about what you said here last night. Because you brought up a great point. I completely agree with you that a person does not become un-American just because they are actors. However, I do have to reiterate my opinion that there is a proper time or place and that the concert was not the appropriate place.

I was thinking of how I could answer this, and this was the best explanation that I could come up with. When we go to work, we complete the tasks that our job description requires. While working, we become our job titles. I am a technical writer. So when I am working, I am a technical writer, who represents the Documentation department. I am not Connie Cochren, the Republican.

We have the understanding at work that while we have free speech, there are certain things that can get us into trouble if we were to talk about them allowed (i.e. employee salaries, slander, sex, religion, politics, etc.). The reason that companies do not allow this type of conversation in the office is so that everyone who works at their job can feel safe from judgment if they have differing views. The company doesn't care about whether or not you are Republican, Democrat, Catholic, Hindu, or Gay. They just want you to concentrate on your work, so that their company is successful.

If I were to be as vocal about politics or religion or my views on Spanish as a second language at my office, I could immediately receive consequences that I don't like, such as losing my job. Why? Because there is a time and place for such conversations. I could argue that I should be able to say whatever I want because I have free speech. However, with free speech comes great responsibility and consequences. And part of that responsibility is knowing when and where things should be said. I'm not saying that they have to change WHAT they want to say, just to know when it's appropriate to share their information or opinion.

I guess the only thing I can say here is that I see it as part of an artist's function in society, part of their job, to be constantly questioning. The canary in a coal mine analogy is apt; they are supposed to be our early warning system, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that artistic statements often stir up controversy. Most of us do not have jobs that entwine our personal lives so intimately with our professional ones; in some ways, the rest of us are the lucky ones because, unlike the Dixie Chicks, we're never going to get called on the carpet at work and reprimanded for our personal beliefs, precisely because it doesn't matter to our employers and coworkers what our beliefs are as long as we're doing our job well. Most artists would not be successful if they were constantly worried that a statement they are making in their art might offend someone, and in fact most good art is meant to be provocative. Art generates discussion, and to generate discussion you have to be able to make people consider a point of view they hadn't thought of before. And that means showing them something that doesn't fit with their current picture of how the world should be.

Appropriateness can be endlessly debated, but I can almost guarantee you that there is not one person on the planet who shares the exact same opinion as you (or me, or anyone) as to what is appropriate speech or behavior in every imaginable situation. Given the subjectivity involved in this determination, it seems fruitless to continue to use it as a measure in this discussion.

As for musicians only being paid to entertain us with their music...what would you do with groups like the Clash, John Mellencamp, Rage Against the Machine, R.E.M., U2, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen (the masses have never really understood that "Born in the U.S.A." is actually a protest record), and countless others who use both their music and their fame to expound upon their political beliefs? Do they get a special pass because they overtly cover political themes in their music, so therefore the political statements they make in concerts are allowable? Since I don't know the Dixie Chicks' music myself, I don't know whether their music has political themes or not, but if it did, would that then give them permission to state their views on stage? It just seems like if you start drawing lines on appropriate free speech, the diagrams get pretty complicated pretty quickly.

The people who paid to get into their concert, paid for just that. A concert. If I had been at that concert, I would have been pissed that they had shared their opinion when I had just paid the $80.00 it cost me to walk in the door to hear them sing. In the same right, a liberal would have been pissed if they had shared their conservative opinion in a concert (like you are now).

It is your absolutely your right not to appreciate political opinions at a concert, but you as a consumer get to vote with your wallet - you can't expect artists to share your exact political views on everything, and as naturally expressive people who get paid for their personal expressions on life, love, politics, and whatever else compels them as artists, you certainly can't expect them to muzzle themselves just because something they say might be controversial. Do you really think the Dixie Chicks would have received as much flak if they had voiced support for PETA or EarthFirst? They would certainly have gotten some criticism from their core fan base, but do you think radio stations would have banned them and sponsored events to destroy their CDs? I don't. I think there is something especially dangerous about criticizing the current administration. And that just shouldn't be the case in this country.

And I know you don't know me that well, but I can assure you that I would not have been pissed if an artist I liked had voiced a conservative opinion at a concert. When I grow to love an artist, I try to do it because of their artistic output, not their political views or lifestyle choices. Many works of art that are near and dear to my heart have been created by people who are likely wholly reprehensible as human beings, but that doesn't make their art any less powerful or meaningful. You would have a right to be pissed, and the right to demand your money back if you had been at that concert, and the right not to buy their albums or listen to their music in the future. As a consumer, that's how you get to voice your opinion to the people and corporations that create the products you buy, from music to dishwashing detergent.

By the same token, however, I have to ask if you would have been pissed if an artist you liked had voiced an opinion that you agreed with. If you're going to disapprove of political statements being made in what you consider to be inappropriate venues, then you have to disapprove of them no matter who is saying them and no matter how much you agree or disagree with what is being said.

I say this with great discernment, but I think there is a difference between creating a political song, book, or movie that states your stance as opposed to just blurting out something on stage. When an artist creates material that makes a statement, the viewer/listener is able to make the decision about whether or not they want to hear or see what that statement is. People most likely have been forewarned in some manner that the song or movie or book is political or religious or racial, etc. You listen to it, view it, or read it because you have made the informed CHOICE to know what it says.

When I pay to see a concert, most likely I have paid for something that I can predict I wanted to see or know or hear. However, when someone pays to see what they think is a concert for country music, and unbeknownst to them, they hear a political statement, I feel that the artist has forced them to listen to something they may not have wanted to hear. The Dixie Chicks never vocalized their opinion before the concert, they waited until the audience paid for the concert and then shared their opinion with a captive audience. The people at that concert never got the chance to vote with their wallet because they never knew the groups political stance until after they paid. I am sure that had most people known before going in that their opinion of the war was different than their own, they might have or might not have paid to get into the concert, but at least they would have been able to make an informed decision.

I feel like I'm repeating what I said earlier, but I'll say it again anyway. (And why not? If people have read this far, what's one more paragraph?) Artists are not supposed to be predictable. You get to make your choice about their art/beliefs (again, these are uniquely tied together for an artist) after you see their work; you don't get to set expectations about them beforehand. I don't know enough about the Dixie Chicks to know if they have made public political statements before or if they have political songs on their albums, but that doesn't really matter. Just because their fans expect something of them doesn't mean that they are now shackled to those expectations for the rest of their careers. I would argue that as long as they played music and were entertaining, they fulfilled their contract with the ticket buyers. If you didn't like what they had to say between songs, just don't go and see them again.

If they were on a political entertainment show, or even an interview, in which their opinion was asked, then by all means, share it, but they weren't.

2. Limbaugh and O'Reilly can share their political opinion to me on the radio because that is what they are PAID to do. The purpose of their job is to share their political opinion, no matter how skewed it may seem. My listening to them is because I choose to do so. If I don't want to hear them, I can change the channel. In the same right, something like Politically Incorrect, which tends to be a more liberal show (even though they bring on conservative people) are allowed to say things with a more liberal slant because they are paid to do so.

Well, first off, Politically Incorrect has been canceled for quite some time now, abruptly removed from the air after Bill Maher criticized Bush's characterization of the 9.11 terrorists. That was the first real indication that the big media outlets were not going to tolerate any kind of open discourse about the war on terror, even on a politically oriented show with a liberal host who was known for his extreme remarks.

I did not know that Politically Incorrect was taken off the air. I don't believe that a station should boycott a show just because people may not agree with it. To me, they probably were afraid that their ratings would go down if they let it continue and instead of providing what was fair, they removed it. I wouldn't want the same to happen to a conservative show, but unfortunately, stations will always air the things that will make them money.

In the interest of full disclosure now that I've used Politically Incorrect to make a point, the show wasn't doing that great in the ratings even before Maher's controversial remark. But the show had never been that popular, so you still have to wonder if he would have been canceled if he hadn't said something that was labeled by the media as anti-American.

And I just have to disagree with you on O'Reilly and Limbaugh. Believe it or not, I have listened/watched both of them at one time or another, and even though they use current events as their starting point, they are, at their heart, entertainers. If they weren't entertaining while they were spouting their political views, you wouldn't watch/listen to them, no matter how much you agreed with them. I don't care why someone is on television or the radio, whether it's starring in a sitcom, playing a professional sport, or hosting a news show - if they're on tv, it's to entertain people. And as entertainers, I don't think that O'Reilly and Limbaugh have any more or less right to voice their opinions in their chosen venues than the Dixie Chicks do in theirs. If you don't like what any of them have to say, turn the channel, turn of the radio, whatever. But I don't think we should discourage people from speaking up about things they believe in passionately.

You are right, they ARE entertainers, but they are entertainers with the purpose of providing a conservative stand. As said above, liberal shows should have just as much air time as conservative ones. As for their right to voice their opinions more than anyone else, I agree with you as well. They shouldn't have more of a right, but again, I would refer you to my first section where the audience can make an informed decision about whether or not they want to hear Limbaugh's or O'Reilly's opinion.

I just don't see how prior expectations should factor into entertainment, because you can't know what to expect from a show/concert/painting until you've seen it for yourself. It's only after experiencing something directly that you can have a true opinion of it. What fun would entertainers be if we could predict everything they were going to do and say beforehand?

3. Michael Moore's statement was unacceptable at the time it was said because again, the forum was completely wrong. People turned on the channel to watch who won what OSCAR, they didn't go on to hear him yap his political opinion.

I've already mentioned this, but quite frankly, anyone who didn't think Michael Moore was going to do that was delusional. Even Jack Valenti (head of the MPAA) told Moore backstage that he wouldn't have expected anything less. That's Moore's whole deal as an entertainer: he has had a long and prosperous career stating his opinion in what some would consider inappropriate venues.

I think the more important issue here is that Hollywood seems to think they have more of a right to voice their political opinion because they are actors. But as far as the common person is concerned, my buying a ticket to see a movie they act in or produce is for the purpose of them to entertain me. Nothing more, nothing less. In return, my money pays for their extremely luxurious lifestyle. The least they can do is not try to sway my opinion. I will believe in their "common people" attitude when I see them willing to work for a movie for a few thousand dollars instead of demanding millions more than they made in their last movie.

Look, we can get into that spoiled movie stars/athletes/rock stars argument if you want, but I find it really disingenuous when someone with a conservative (which usually means capitalistic, so I'm making an assumption here) point of view brings it up. The salaries of entertainers are based on supply and demand; it's as simple as that. They get paid that much because the entity signing their checks is going to make more money off of them than they invested in them. That's the capitalist system at its finest, and I defy a true capitalist to say that they would turn down $10 million for playing a sport or acting in a movie just because they already had $100 million. You get paid what someone is willing to pay you, and no one who believes in themselves and their work would accept anything less, whether you're talking about $10,000 a year or $10,000 an hour.

I think that we both agree on this point. Yes, I am a capitalist. And I agree with the whole capitalist philosophy. What I was trying to say here is that I have yet to really see an actor/actress/producer/etc., who claims that they care about the common man, really put their money where their mouth is. They tout the liberal philosophy of us creating social reform saying that everyone should be equal, but they don't live it. I don't see many Hollywood types making sacrifices monetarily for much more than a tax break because I rarely seem them actually making a real sacrifice of themselves. If they truly believed in their liberal philosophy, they would be donating their homes to the homeless or paying for someone else's sick child, or living like Mother Theresa. They would at the very least be donating their time (for example, Princess Di, who spent countless hours in the mine fields of third world countries). I guess that is where I can't help but see that most Hollywood liberals are liberals without a real cause. They are closet conservatives with their finances and wealth, but liberals when they are telling the middle class citizen how to live instead of practicing what they are preaching because they are too busy to really do anything about what they believe.

You're going off on a lot of tangents here that don't have a lot to do with our original discussion, so I'll only address them briefly. 1) Since I have a little more sympathy for the liberal point of view (although I don't consider myself to be liberal or conservative—I don't think political points of view have to adhere to one end or the other of the polar dichotomy that the Democrats and Republicans have made out of politics in this country), I have to defend it and say that liberalism does not equal socialism to most people who believe in it, despite what Rush might say. 2) Similarly, an anti-war opinion has nothing to do with socialism (or liberalism, for that matter). 3) Everyone can be equal in the eyes of the law and society without everyone having an equal amount of everything—you're again equating liberalism and an anti-war stance with socialism. 4) I don't feel like Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon are telling anyone how to live; they're voicing their opinions about the state of our nation, something every American is entitled to do.

And honestly, I don't remember Tim Robbins or Susan Sarandon (to name the two most visible actors in this debate) ever putting on any "common man" airs; they're just stating their beliefs, which they have done both on and off screen for decades (whether you agree with his beliefs or not, Tim Robbins' "Bob Roberts" is one of the most scathing indictments of politics and political campaigns I have ever seen). Your money doesn't have to pay for anything; if you don't want to support them, don't see their movies and don't listen to their opinions. But if you're entertained by their products, then pay your money, enjoy the show, and try to forget that you don't agree with their political views 100%. You don't have a right to control their opinions or the venues in which they may state those opinions because you paid $8 to see one of their movies.

Yes, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon are two of the most visible actors in this debate, but they also know of a time and place. While she may have shown the peace sign at the OSCARS, Susan didn't interrupt her time on stage to talk about her political views, she did what she was asked to do, which was tell who was an OSCAR nominee.

You are right, I don't have to pay to watch their films or listen to their music. But again, I can also make the informed decision about whether or not I want to. There have been times where I have boycotted someone's work if I didn't agree with them, and there are times when I have paid regardless, but the choice was mine with the knowledge before I paid.

We've been over this before. I think it's safe to say we simply disagree on this point.

Just because someone's fame gives them a larger than average platform from which to speak doesn't mean they should be muzzled. Remember Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, Sonny Bono, Clint Eastwood, Bill Bradley, and even Gopher from the Love Boat? No matter how good at politics these people may have turned out to be, do you really think any of them would have had as easy a time getting elected if they hadn't been well known for their careers as entertainers/athletes? And mark my words, they won't be the last; I'd be willing to bet real money that Arnold and Will Smith are going to make their own runs at political office before all is said and done.

I am not saying that an actor can't be political. I want to make this very clear. What I AM saying again is that there is a proper time and place. When the celebrities you have mentioned went into the political forum, they did it in such a time and place where that was expected. They were running for office. When you run for office, you are sharing your political opinion. People want to know what they believe, but at a concert or at the OSCARS or any other get together where the primary focus is supposed to be the movie or the song or the book they are promoting, political statements are, in my opinion, inappropriate.

Ah. The appropriateness debate again. Another piece of ground we've both been over more than once. I think both our opinions should be obvious to everyone by now.

I'd be curious to hear your opinion on the canceling of the showing of Bull Durham at the baseball Hall of Fame, an action that seems to me to insert politics into an otherwise non-political event, something that you seem adamantly against based on your above statements. I'd also be curious to hear your views on the question I posted on the weblog: what if a country group from Arkansas had said the exact same thing about Clinton while he was in office as the Dixie Chicks said about Bush? If you are offended by the inappropriateness, you should be just as pissed at that scenario as you are at the Dixie Chicks. But if you're offended because you disagree with them, I have to hope that you would reconsider that position. Don't buy their records, don't support them financially, but don't take away their right to speak. Because it's their right to speak just as much as it is ours; the backlash against the Dixie Chicks was writ large because they are large cultural figures, but that backlash could be applied to any one of us who states an opinion and exercises the right to free speech. I'm not forcing anyone to read my weblog, but it would be a dark day if my government (or even my employer) forbid me to write it because it didn't like what I had to say. Who should be given say over what an appropriate venue or topic or format for dissenting opinions is? Isn't the whole point of free speech is that it is going to seem inappropriate to some?

First of all, the Hall of Fame canceling Bull Durham is STUPID. That movie has nothing to do with politics. And I completely agree with you that it's ridiculous that they did that. That, simply put, is pettiness.

My distaste for the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks is that she slandered the American president as a person. She did not protest the war; she didn't follow her comment with her support of the troops. She just merely bashed someone publicly because she was angry at something he did. She didn't attack the issue, she attacked the person behind the issue.

That's true, and I can comletely understand why so many people reacted so strongly to the statement. At the same time, Bush isn't just a figurehead for this issue; he's the one causing it to happen. In this case, it's hard to separate the person and the issue; his political opinions coupled with his power as president have an enormous effect on the lives of all Americans, and indeed, the lives of pretty much every person on the planet. I feel very strongly that if he were not in office now, we would not be in Iraq. And that's not a pro-Gore statement; I don't think John McCain would have led us into this war, either.

If I am in an argument with someone, I shouldn't attack him or her as a person, I address the issue that made me angry. And he or she should do the same. If he or she gets to a point where he or she attacks me as a person, the discussion is over because I will not tolerate being disrespected, and vice versa. We know that personal attacks solve nothing.

And yes, I would be just as angry if someone personally attacked the liberal person instead of the issue because it makes that person look ignorant. And the last thing I want from a person whose philosophy is the same as mine is a reason for the opposing side to point out how stupidly they behaved.

Again, free speech comes with great responsibility. I am not saying people should never be offended, but offend them fairly (if that makes sense). Offend them when they are able to defend themselves. Offend them when they and anyone listening have been forewarned that that is what the topic will be. Don't broadside someone because it's convenient. That's cowardly, regardless of WHO it is.

And again, there is an appropriate time and place, you may say what you want on YOUR weblog, but you wouldn't be able to send out a mass email to everyone at your company's work email address and get away with it. Your employer CAN forbid that and will. And the government will back them up. But because your weblog is personal and OWNED by you, you can say whatever you want, whenever you want. It's common sense really. Because you know the repercussions of your actions, you know when and where to voice some of your opinions. But celebrities seem to have no understanding of appropriateness because they feel that they are above any laws of social behavior.

I'm running out of steam here (as are, I suspect, any readers we have left at this point), having spent the majority of my free hours for the last few days thinking and writing about these issues. Politeness, appropriateness, manners, call it what you will—there is no way to settle on a universal standard for behavior. As a final point, I feel I must point out the journalist who was ordered to take down his weblog (which covered topics from baseball to the war), even though his function with the paper was to write about travel. He is the leading edge of what I fear most: people being scared into shutting up by their employers for fear of losing their livelihoods, even when the statements they make on their personal sites have nothing to do with their job performance.

4. I read the website to which you referred about the shirt arrest. Ridiculous that they did that. I completely agree with you. However, that statement is not a Bible statement, and I am not sure how I feel about representing it as such. But since it's your website, I can only make a comment on my opinion. :)

Well, you're sort of correct. But not really. While the phrase "Peace on Earth" doesn't appear exactly like that in the Bible, Luke 2:14 is often translated as "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (this is from the announcement of Jesus' birth to the shepherds). The "on earth peace" phrase has been paraphrased in many Christmas hymns, stories, poems (and now t-shirts and bumper stickers) to "Peace on Earth", the exact same words in a different order, and these words are often accompanied by the "goodwill toward men" phrase that immediately follows the "on earth peace" phrase in the Bible. So no, it's not a direct quotation, but it is as close as you can get without being a direct quote, and I feel like I am not improperly contextualizing it by referring to it as a phrase from the Bible. "Give peace a chance", on the other hand, has nothing whatsoever to do with the Bible, other than being a simplified restatement of a lot of the core teachings of Jesus; I know that this part of the t-shirt is not a quote, paraphrased or otherwise, from a Bible passage. But I think I have a pretty strong argument that "Peace on Earth" is.

Okay, I will give you this one. Peace is promoted in the Bible. In the same respect, the Bible also promotes war (see Ecclesiastes and any other Old Testament book). It mentions that there is a time for everything. I am going to fight back if someone tries to harm me or my family. End of story. Whether or not that means this war was right or not, I have no idea. But I would refer you to the last paragraph of my comment on my politics page of my website.

Your response is getting us off the track, I think. All I was trying to do was rebut your statement that "Peace on Earth" is not from the Bible. But since you brought it up, that's the problem that many people have with this war: Iraq didn't hit us first, and despite having been in almost total control of the country for weeks now, we haven't found one shred of evidence that Iraq possessed the weapons of mass destruction that were our justification for starting a war with them. I personally believe Saddam possessed them, and possessed them in terrifying quantities. But it's up to us to prove that to the rest of the world before we start a war. If we had been able to prove it, the so-called coalition would have been an actual coalition that included other powerful nations like France, Germany, Russia, and China. It really would have been an effort of the United Nations, not just the US and Britain. No one is arguing that Saddam was an evil, despotic tyrant and that the world is better off with him out of power, and if Iraq had attacked us or invaded another sovreign nation, we would have been justified in our actions. But I just don't think we were, and the strongest argument I've heard in support of this comes from Jeff's entry on April 30. If we invaded Iraq because Saddam is evil, then aren't we obligated to go into Syria? North Korea? Iran? China? Where does it stop? I don't know about you, but I have no desire to be a part of a new imperialism; America was never designed to be an empire.

The thing is, there is a lot of muzzling of free speech in this country, from the man being thrown out of the mall for his peace t-shirt to the teacher who was suspended for wearing a cross to school. I have very strong feelings about the "one nation under god" statement in the pledge of allegiance, and they might not be the feelings you assume I have because you seem to have classified me as a liberal. I don't feel like separation of church and state (which I stridently believe in, despite what my friend Scott my say) means that you get to silence people's freedom of speech about their religion, and if people want to say "under god" in the pledge of allegiance because a core part of their perception of America has to do with the values they have gained from a relationship with god, then they should feel free to do so, just as those who don't should feel free to omit it. But there shouldn't be judgment either way. And in the same way I would defend a teacher's right to wear a cross (or a star of david, or any other symbol of personal faith), I would also defend the right of another teacher to wear a button or armband protesting the war (or endorsing it). My main thing is that I don't think restricting free speech is a good thing, and there seems to be an alarming amount of it going on in this country, especially under the watch of John Ashcroft and the Bushies. I don't think that's a liberal or a conservative perspective; that's something that I would hope every American who cares about their rights would agree with.

I agree with you, our free speech is being muzzled in this country. As a Christian, I have less right to talk about my faith than a Muslim or Buddhist does theirs. Christians are persecuted more than any other religious people in the world. Not saying others aren't persecuted, but the statistics of Christians who have died for their faith has risen well above those of the holocaust (see,, Jesus Freaks by DC Talk—there are several other books and resources that I can provide, but I would have to do more research.). In the same right, there are just as many Christians who would muzzle a non-Christian, so they don't have to deal with the issue. Most Christians annoy the zingers out of me, but I think that the key is to remember that you can only make a difference one person at a time.

In the last 10 years, I can provide several personal experiences where I have been muzzled as a conservative, whether it was in school, at work, or elsewhere. I don't think it's a new thing that is happening with just Ashcroft and the Bushies.

So shouldn't that make you more adamant about the Dixie Chicks' or Tim Robbins' or anyone's right to free speech? You can't object to other people saying your speech is inappropriate and silencing you if you're going to impose the same restrictions on others, no matter how rich or famous they may be. We have all had experiences where we were bullied into silence, but that should make us even more willing to defend others' right to speak.

During the Clinton Administration, scores of people mysteriously died by accident or suicide who were outwardly vocal on beliefs that differed that of Bill or Hillary's (I need to go back and find the resource of where I got the information, so give me a few days, since I can't remember where I read that). Now granted, it could be a complete coincidence, and I'm not trying to start some conspiracy theory, but I have also read where people had been removed from parades or other public events for speaking out against Clinton.

You're really casting a wide net now, but I just have to comment here because I am fascinated by the trail of corpses that the Clintons seem to have left in their wake. There is a similar ripple of untimely deaths that spread out from the Kennedy assasination. And for the record, I'm a huge conspiracy theory freak, and you are in no way, shape, or form staring a conspiracy theory about the Clintons, you're merely referencing one that has been thriving in the more paranoid corners of the underground media for years.

Other than the original founding fathers, I'm not sure any government has supported complete free speech. In a perfect world, maybe, but as humans we are imperfect. And while our laws protect free speech, free speech has gotten many people in trouble legally. Not sure how I feel about it in all cases. But I am sure there are arguments for when free speech shouldn't be allowed (i.e. yelling "fire" in a movie theater).

No, you're right: free speech is often at odds with the aim of the government, which is to control the citizenry. I think there's a good reason the founding fathers made it the first amendment.

Yelling "fire" in a crowded theater is a well-established legal precedent where most discussions about "dangerous" forms of speech start, and I certainly agree that not all forms of speech are protected under the first amendment. But certainly don't think that Natalie Maines' statement was a dangerous form of speech, or that Tim Robbins statements about the war put our troops in danger (as some pundits opnined).

An example would be that of a business owner. As a former business owner, I knew that when I opened my restaurant, the purpose of my restaurant is to provide food to customers that come through my door.

If I, as a business owner, decided that I was going to say something that is considered offensive during business hours, I risk not only losing my customers, but being sued for offending someone.

Of course this country has gotten quite sue happy and overly sensitive about almost every little phrase that we say, as people are afraid to even be civil to one another out of fear that people will misinterpret what we say. But that is a whole new discussion.

That's true. And I think we've got our hands full with this one. Besides, I pretty much agree with you on this one.

Anyway, I don't agree that conservatives don't get less bashed for stating their opinion. In Hollywood, if you are conservative and express your opinion, you can pretty much guarantee that you are going to kiss your career goodbye. In my office, where most people are liberals, I hear people consistently bashing Bush and praising Clinton, however, if I were to do the opposite, it's frowned upon.

In regards to Hollywood, that is the stereotype, but I don't necessarily believe it's true. Or at least I don't believe there are any more liberals than there are conservatives; people with that much money tend to turn conservative in a hurry, and that goes double for the corporate overlords who really pull the strings in the entertainment/news industry (Rupert Murdoch being the prime example). But we'll never know that for sure. What I do know, however, is that no matter what I might think of Charlton Heston's pro-gun views, I don't find his work in Planet of the Apes or the episode of SNL that he hosted any less entertaining. His political views do not change his art, and I feel like I would be less of person, less of an American, if I let his political stance cloud my perception of his work.

As for your workplace...well, I can't speak to that. But I do know that my workplace is fairly conservative, including my immediate superior, a former Captain in the Navy. But he and I get along very well, despite our sometimes differing political views, because both of us respect one another as people enough to respect each other's opinions even when we disagree, whether we're talking about which print vendor to go with for our new brochures or whether it was right to invade Iraq.

And that's what I feel like you and I are doing here. I don't know you very well at all, but I know Jeff well enough to know that there must be something really special about you, and so I'm willing to give you the same respect that you've given me by responding to my posts in such a thoughtful manner. Your letter caused me to reexamine my positions on these topics, and I hope that my rebuttal has caused you to ask yourself a few new questions. I'm not saying we're going to change each other's minds, but the fact that we're willing to engage in this dialogue is really the most important thing. Our exchange is not about winning, or being right, or having a better argument; it's about keeping ourselves open to other points of view so that meaningful discussion can take place.

I think that you are going to find criticism no matter what you believe. And we tend to selectively hear who gets it worse by what we choose to hear.

That's just human nature. And that's one of the reasons I think we have to be very careful about stifling any sort of speech.

There. That's it. We're done. I promise.

For those of you returning after yesterday's overly long post hoping for a return to normal content, I'm afraid I don't really have any for you yet. I'm actually not finished with that entry yet, either—for archival purposes, I am going to go back this weekend and add in links that support my points (and if Connie would like to do the same for her portions, I would be more than happy to add them in). A few people responded to me via email, including Scott (predictably) and Ryan (surprisingly—I wasn't even aware that he was a regular reader until a couple of weeks ago), and I decided that it was better to respond privately. And that's what I think they wanted, too—from the tone, it felt like both of them wanted to throw in their two cents, but didn't really want to continue the debate past that. Which is fine by me—I think my opinions should be abundantly clear at this point, if you can sift throught that gargantuan entry to find them.

Anyway. This weekend I'm going to see the new X-Men movie, finish my final paper for the book class, mow the lawn, try to sleep off this sinus headache I've had for the past couple of days, and take few minutes off from thinking about political matters.

So I guess I should get my mom's visit out of the way before it slips off the radar entirely.

She came to visit the weekend before last, the weekend of April 25-27. She didn't tell us she was coming until earlier that week (she had a conference in DC the next week, but only wanted to come early if she could get a reasonably priced ticket), but since she didn't actually arrive until Saturday morning, we got Friday night to wind down from the week before her visit. It was the first time she had stayed with us since we moved to this house (although we have seen her many times in that timespan, since she is frequently in DC, Baltimore, or Philly for conferences)—she is very allergic to cats, and with our four indoor creatures, she could only stand to be in the house for a few hours before her symptoms started to get unbearable. So we tried to keep the cats out of the guest bedroom as much as possible, and she stocked up on her allergy meds so she could make it through the night without too much misery.

She didn't get to our house until around 11 a.m. Saturday, and since most of the activities we thought she'd be interested in only lasted until 4 or 5 in the afternoon, we headed into Baltimore pretty much as soon as she got here. We decided first to go to the Hopkins Spring Fair, an annual campus/community event where food and crafts vendors set up shop on campus alongside a small carnival and some live music performances. I had been briefly the day before with Kathryn, but there wasn't a whole lot going on (I did win her a goldfish as one of the carnival booths, which I fully expected to die before she got it home but which she tells me is still thriving in its new aquarium). In fact, compared to the year before, it was practically dead; by noon, when most of the people in our office went to grab lunch and check out the vendors for a while, I would say that there were probably only half as many food vendors and maybe one tenth as many arts and crafts vendors as the year before. So I was hoping that maybe the students in charge of organizing the fair had just been a little slack about setting things up for Friday, and that everything would be as it was before when we took mom on Saturday.

In fact, thanks to some rain in the morning on Saturday, nearly all of the arts and crafts vendors were closed, and the guy who ran the carnival game we played said told us that we were his first customers of the day at 1 p.m., when Saturday is traditionally the busiest day at the fair. Still, we had a good lunch of grilled marinated thai chicken, and mom and julie shared a funnel cake for dessert.

After the relatively disappointing Hopkins Spring Fair, we thought about taking mom to the Walters, but decided instead to head downtown and check out the festival on the waterfront and hopefully catch the tail end of the American Museum of Visionary Art's annual kinetic sculpture race. We parked a couple of blocks away from AVAM across the street from a high school and then walked down to the museum to see if any of the race participants had crossed the finish line yet. A couple of them had, but they weren't that interesting looking (very minimal two-bicyclyes-with-a-flotation-device type vehicles), so we decided to go into the museum for a while. Julie and I both have membership cards this year thanks to a Christmas gift from mom, and the membership also included a couple of guest passes, one of which we used to get mom in. We had already seen this exhibit, but walking through it a second time yielded more than I would have expected (I wasn't that excited about this one when we saw it earlier this year).

When we finihsed with the museum, there still weren't that many kinetic sculptures that had made it to the finish line yet, so we walked towards the harbor to get a drink and look that the waterfront festival. The rain seemed to have scared the crowds away from this event, too, although there were certainly more people and more vendors than there were at Spring Fair. We walked around for a while, got a lemonade, and got some free stuff from the HP RV in exchange for our email addresses. We got back to AVAM just in time to see a giant rat peddling into the home stretch, followed a few minutes later by Bumpo the Elephant, a mainstay of the kinetic sculpture race for years. We hung around for a while longer, but it didn't look like any other teams were going to be finishing any time soon, so we headed back to our car and back home for a quick nap before dinner.

We went to dinner at the nearby thai restaurant, and although mom usually likes to play cards or watch a movie before turning in, we were all so tired that we just said goodnight and went to bed. We all slept late the next morning, had brunch at the newly opened Bob Evans, and then went to Metzler's, a nursery and garden supply store, so Julie could pick out some new flowers for the beds in front of the house. Mom left in the middle of the afternoon, headed to Jane's house for a couple of nights before flying back to Florida after her conference.

I was going to write a review of the new X-Men movie today, but I've been pouring all of my energy into finishing up my paper for the book class. Plus my dad called us yesterday afternoon and let us know he was going to be in the area, so we met him for dinner in Columbia and didn't get home until after ten.

Anyway, the movie was pretty good, and if you liked the first one you'll want to see it. It didn't quite live up to the near-unanimous praise that the critics have been piling onto it, but it's still a great summer flick that's pretty faithful to the world of the X-Men that was established in the comic books and in the first film. I'll elaborate further once I get this paper wrapped up.

Still putting the finishing touches on my final paper, although I'm feeling much better about it now. I'd like to say that tomorrow will be better, but since I still have some work to do on the paper and we're going to another Orioles game tomorrow, I likely won't have much time to devote to this site until next week, but maybe I'll be able to get the X-Men review up by Friday.

Well, we were supposed to go to an Orioles game yesterday, but we failed to notice until it was too late that it was a day game that started four hours before we thought it did. So we went out to dinner and saw X-Men 2 again instead. Luckily for us, we can trade in unused tickets for similar seats later in the season, so we didn't really lose any money. But I guess we'll be more careful about checking game time as well as date from now on.

Whoops. Stayed up a little too late last night working on my final paper for the book class and I almost forgot to post. Better late than never, I guess. Now that I'm done with that, the content stream should be back to normal next week.

Full price for gum? That dog won't hunt, monsignor.

I hope everyone remembered Mother's Day yesterday, because if you didn't...well, you're pretty much screwed now.

Well, I finally finished my paper for my History of the Book class. I know you've heard enough about it over the past couple of weeks, and I hope you have some interest in actually reading it, because that's what I'm posting for today. There are still a lot of things I'd like to clean up and add to it—think about it more as an outline for a much larger work than a complete work in and of itself—but for what it is, I think it came out okay, if a little longer than my professor would have liked. The title sucks, but hey, it was 3:30 a.m. by the time I finally got around to thinking about that part of it and I just didn't have much left in the tank.


Reinventing the New:
Reflections on the Book in the Digital Age

For the first time in centuries, the human race can realistically conceive of a world where communication, data storage, and the transmission of ideas and knowledge is not intimately bound together with the physical object of the book. In the last thirty years, our ability as a species to store and retrieve data has changed dramatically, shifting from words printed on paper which are only occasionally searchable using a laboriously compiled index of key words, to databases and computer screens that can store entire libraries of text and images as bits and bytes on hard drives smaller than a pulp paperback and which allow the reader to search for any phrase or word (essentially creating a realtime, user-specified index of the text).

In all likelihood, we are living in the twilight of the book as a functional, everyday object, an existence that really began for the book with the invention of movable type and the transformation of the book from an exclusive object owned only by the educated upper classes to a cheap, mass-produced information container that spread knowledge through all social classes. The revolution in printing led not just to an increase in literacy and the birth of the educated middle class, but also to the creation of whole new forms of literature, most notably the modern novel, a mainstay of fiction writers since its introduction in the early 18th century. (The first modern novel is widely attributed to Daniel Defoe, author of "Robinson Crusoe" and "Moll Flanders", but there is some debate about how much share of the credit earlier texts and Defoe's contemporary Samuel Richardson should receive for their part in its creation. Nevertheless, most scholars will accept the general proposition that the modern novel as a formalized type of literature has its origins in early 18th century England).

It seems probable, however, that the movement away from the book as the most common repository for our cultural knowledge does not herald the end of the book as a physical object. But it does mean that in the future, a book will come to signify something entirely different than it does now. In 50 years (or however long it takes us to come up with a suitably portable and readable digital substitute for paper), books will likely not be seen as the primary medium through which artists, writers, scientists, and scholars record and transmit their thoughts and ideas, but instead as curiosities, art objects that use the form of the book to make a statement about the texts contained within them. Whether handmade, handbound art books or machine-printed texts, bound books made of real paper will be seen as exclusively collector's items, not something that the average person would use as a way to access the text or artwork that these objects might contain.

At the dawn of the age of printing, illuminated books of hours were far and away the most popular books owned by laypersons. They were a remarkable mix of exceptional visual artistry and vital religious texts, both of which combined to produce a transcendent experience when meditated upon and used in daily prayer rituals. There was no separation between the detailed miniatures that accompanied the various offices, prayers, and psalms that were standard in most books of hours: writing the texts required as much craftsmanship from the highly skilled artisans who inscribed them as the illuminations did from their artists, and in turn, the illustrations would have been meaningless without the context of the sacred words that surrounded them (at least to the original owners). Books of hours were not meant merely to be read or to be looked at: in order to fully appreciate their beauty, you had to do both.

In our current age, the book has been divided into two basic types: the printed, mass-produced functional object that is made to store and transmit mostly textual information, and the art object, often handmade, whose purpose is more to explore the nature of the book. Although the vast majority of books and manuscripts can be classified as one type or the other, there are still hundreds that attempt to bridge the gap between these two forms and create a functional object that is also a unique artistic creation. These range from Tom Phillips's "A Humument" (a book created by adding illustrations to and deleting passages from a little known Victorian novel), to the recent update of Francesco Colonna's "Hypnerotomachia Poliphili" (which not only presents the work for the first time in modern English with the original woodcuts, but which also attempts to recreate a few of legendary printer Aldus Manutius's groundbreaking shaped text blocks), to comic books (and their more highbrow kindred, graphic novels, popularized by the likes of Art Spiegelman, the man behind the "Maus" books, and Chris Ware, creator of the Jimmy Corrigan series).

These are but a few of many examples that could be used to argue against the black and white classification of books into either purely functional or purely artistic categories, but the fact is that most books do fit one label or the other. Nevertheless, it is by examining the outliers, the books that fall into that large grey area between form and function, that we may begin to better understand what the book has become in early part of the 21st century and what it may become in the future. With that in mind, let us look at two books that on the surface might seem easy to classify but which, upon closer inspection, defy easy description: The Circular Ruins project, an art book that strains against the conventions of the modern art book, and Mark Z. Danielewski's "House of Leaves", a recently published book that gives hope that there may yet be new frontiers to explore in the modern printed novel.

The Circular Ruins book is a result of the collaborative work of two dozen artists and writers who all drew their inspiration from an early and little known short story by Jorge Luis Borges called "The Circular Ruins". It unfolded over the course of more than a year, existing first as series of conceptual prints and documents made by individual artists, then as stacks of folios passed from one contributor to another, and finally as the bound volumes that are end result of the project. Which is apt: Borges' "The Circular Ruins" is a story of creation and birth, tinged with a melancholy realization that even the master creator is himself merely a creation of another, and that once a creation leaves the artist's hands, there is little he can do to protect it or preserve his original intentions. Nothing can escape from the cycles of change that are the only constant in this universe, not even our most revered works of art, despite our desperate attempts to freeze them in time, to hold them in a stasis that we can never sustain. Art is an interactive process in which works of art are changed as much by the people viewing them as the works of art change the viewers, and The Circular Ruins is a piece that underscores this idea by using the functional familiarity of a bound book to encourage its audience to participate in its ongoing evolution.

Dense and heavily layered, The Circular Ruins is a book filled with a number of texts, some of which are written in languages other than English, and many of which are purposely marred, distorted, or manipulated until they are indecipherable. Most bibliophiles or art history majors would classify this as an art book, our modern term for a bound work whose text is at best the secondary reason for the book's existence. By and large, the contributors to the book were not writers, but artists, particularly printmakers from the workshops at the University of Iowa and the University of Virginia. Most of the folios are handmade paper, although machine made materials (plastic, card stock, typewriter paper, etc.) are common. More man/machine intrigue can be seen in the artwork that exists on top of the base folio materials: some of the machine-made papers have also been machine-printed, such as pages from a coloring book, and some of the handmade papers have digital images from a bubble jet printer on them or words typed from an old manual typewriter stamped into them.

Normally art books like this, whether they were made in the modern age to be art books or whether they were books from other eras that have become treasured artifacts in our time, are only displayed infrequently, and usually only opened to a single page when they are on display. They are completely inaccessible as tangible, physical objects to all but a few privileged scholars, antiquarians, and collectors. But whoever made them and for whatever purpose, books are meant to be experienced as books, to be held and thumbed through and explored as physical entities, and not merely seen as the visual eye candy that they become when placed under glass for a typical museum exhibit. Books that we deem worthy of display as art objects in the 21st century lose a lot of what makes them so special in the first place when we confine them to a cage.

The Circular Ruins struggles against this imprisonment in a variety of ways. Even when the book was still under construction, it was not treated as a sacred, untouchable piece of art by the two dozen artists who contributed to its birth. Folios were passed around from artist to artist, from city to city, certainly incurring some damage along the way. But that damage was part of the creative process; the artists themselves would often take completed works by other artists and add to, alter, or even deface them to fit with their own vision of the project, knowing full well that the same thing could be happening to their own creations in another studio. The Circular Ruins project is a palimpsest whose goal is not the replacement of an older text with a newer one, but the construction of a new collaborative work the combines elements of a second artist's (or a third, or a fourth, and eventually even the audience's) ideas with the ghost of the original artist's intentions.

But works in progress are usually not handled as delicately as finished art pieces, and even though the pages that would eventually make up the body of The Circular Ruins book were probably more roughly handled than many artistic prints due to the vast distances the folios had to travel for the collaborative effort to take place, this wear and tear is not obvious in the final product. To allow the process of change and decay to continue to occur even after the book was "finished", the contributors to The Circular Ruins project made a conscious decision to allow members of the public to interact with the work in a very direct way, instead of forcing the audience to view the book as an object sealed under glass, protected from probing eyes and fingertips. For the premiere gallery showing at Penn State, members of the group not only framed and hung many of the unbound folios on the gallery walls so that viewers could see each artist's work outside of the context of the book, they also placed two copies of the book on a table and invited gallery visitors to sit down and leaf through the pages, to put the folios in context with one another, to experience the rich tactile sensations of the rough, heavy handmade papers, the textures of the different inks and paints, and even the impressions made on the paper by a typewriter. People were actually allowed to experience The Circular Ruins book as a physical object, something that rarely happens in the world of art books.

This decision was not made lightly, and it was made with the full knowledge of the consequences. Many pages in The Circular Ruins are delicate, some almost ephemeral, and the more they are handled, the more likely they are to deteriorate. The inks, paints, and other media that are used in the book are also not firmly affixed; after leafing through one of the books, you often find that a fingertip has become stained with some pigment or another; you literally take some of the book with you. Some pages look like they have already been attacked by moths; others are stuck together by some extra glue still lingering on a folio, and in order to see what lies on these pages you must peel them apart and transfer some material from one page to another in the process. It is a living, breathing, dying, decaying, vibrant document, and while it may make museum preservationists shudder, the artists created it to be held, touched, loved, and abused. The history of the damage inflicted on the book becomes part of the history of the book itself, allowing the audience to participate in the creation of what the book will eventually become in the same way that the artists themselves were allowed to change each other's folios during the initial creation process. Like a Stradavarius that needs to be played in order to keep its unique tone, The Circular Ruins is a book that needs to remain open to the air and vulnerable to the damaging influence of the human touch. It is an adamantly functional object; to seal it off from its audience is remove it from time and space, to remove it from life and to remove life from it. In the end, there is no way to tell if a particular hole or tear or smudge on one of the folios was put there by the artist (intentionally or unintentionally) or by a member of the audience (intentionally or unintentionally).

The profundity of The Circular Ruins project is revealed only if you are willing to invest a serious amount of time exploring it, but eventually you are rewarded with an understanding of the work that mirrors what original owners of books of hours must have experienced upon repeated examinations of their possessions: both are visually compelling books that stand on their own as works of art apart from the texts that they frame (a text that can seem almost secondary during initial reads), and in each book the artwork and the text of each are exponentially enhanced by one another. No matter what initially draws you to The Circular Ruins or to books of hours (text or artwork, prayers or illuminations), you cannot fully experience these books without giving yourself over to both aspects of their artistry.

On the other end of the spectrum we have "House of Leaves" by Mark Z. Danielewski, a novel that uses the full capabilities of page layout software and modern digital presses to create a book filled with layouts that not only push artistic boundaries but also give added depth to the text of the novel. Although it is a mass-produced printed work, it combines photographs, mixed media artworks, and a labyrinthine text written by several fictional authors that references hundreds of other texts and works of art (some of which exist, some of which don't) to create universe of layered meanings that the reader can spend an infinite amount of time exploring. On the surface, the book claims to be an academic article written by a man referred to only as Zampano that examines a documentary film made by a photographer named Will Navidson. The film is an investigation of the interior of a small house that Navidson has purchased in the farm country of Virginia that mysteriously changes dimensions, adding new doors, hallways, and eventually a whole subterranean world. In the tradition of postmodern books like Nabokov's "Pale Fire", however, the academic article is but a small part of the text. Much of the story is contained in the footnotes to this text that have been added by Zampano himself and a character named Johnny Truant, a strung out tattoo artist who discovered Zampano's manuscript in an abandoned trunk. Adding to these layers of complexity are numerous references to articles and books that do not exist, quotations from works in other languages that have been improperly translated, and passages of text from both the main work and the footnotes that have been purposely altered or omitted, leaving us to wonder what they really say and what else in the text might have been altered in less obvious ways.

From the title page on, it is clear that we are dealing with text whose purpose is to subvert our notions of what a text is and even what a book is, both through text itself and through the page layout, use of fonts, and the material contained in the appendices. Even though the cover and spine of the book have the traditional notation of title and author, where Mark Z. Danielewski's name appears below the "House of Leaves" title, the title page itself introduces the text differently: "Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves by Zampano with introduction and notes by Johnny Truant". Two other quirks also make their first appearance on the title page: the word "house" is printed in blue ink, and the book is notated as the second edition (when in fact, the copyright page clearly states that this is the first edition).

The word "house" appearing in blue is never given any explanation within the text, but it occurs in every instance that the word is used, from the blurbs on the back cover to the name of the publisher (Random House) on the copyright page. Even when it appears in other languages (such as the German "haus"), the word is printed in the same blue ink. The edition problem is another thorny issue: the copyright page lists four variations, three of which are not known to actually exist (full color, black and white, and incomplete), and the other of which (2 color) is really two separate editions that are lumped together in the following description: "Either house appears in blue or struck passages and the word minotaur appear in red".

The rest of the book is equally playful. Some of the more notable page layout manipulations include shaped text blocks similar Aldus's in "Hypnerotomachia" (when you combine the two halves of a block spread out across pages 110-111, you have what looks like a key, and on page 336 you can find a syringe), a large chunk of text that has been X-ed out by one of the many editors (373-376), a footnote that takes the shape of two concentric circles (466), a page with only one word printed on it ("changes.", page 460), a blank, vertically oriented line of musical notation (478), a single passage from the Iliad printed in multiple languages (648-650), and a complicated series of pages that use the same basic layout and multiple interlocking texts to create what may be the densest passage in the novel, both textually and graphically (119-144). Almost every page toys with traditional notions of page layout in some way, and it is clear that the author spent as much time formatting the text as he did writing it in an attempt to create a mass-produced book that is nonetheless a compelling visual work of art.

"House of Leaves" is a book littered false leads, dead ends, and red herrings (or blue houses), a book that defies easy classification and digestion. Although it takes the shape of our most conventional form of popular fiction, the novel, it struggles against this structure from the moment you open it. It is a text about links and connections, about mazes and passages; it is a hodgepodge of many different languages and voices, a treasure trove of information that gives you a deep understanding of the house of the title and the documents that have been produced in the study of that house (although you realize that none of the people reporting this information to you are entirely trustworthy and that you have to take each and every piece of information with a grain of salt). Reading "House of Leaves" is not unlike browsing the web for information on a relatively obscure topic that has a surprisingly devoted legion of followers who have posted exhaustive minutiae about the subject: you're going to learn a lot, but you're only going to believe half of it, and sometimes you'll end up more confused than when you started. In many ways, with its use of several different voices, its discussion and inclusion of multimedia related to the text such as photographs, paintings, and the documentary film that is at the heart of Zampano's article (which is in turn the base text narrative of "House of Leaves"), it is an attempt to recreate, in the form of a mass-produced printed book, the spirit and structure and confusion and wonder of the web itself. It is a literal house of leaves, a complex and three dimensional structure composed of nothing more than the leaves of paper that are bound together to make up the book.

"House of Leaves" subversive questioning of the novel as a structure for text and the book as a functional object begs the question: What kinds of changes will technology bring to our interaction with texts and their containers? It is not hard to imagine that, just as the first printed works took their cues from the most popular manuscripts that preceded them, the first attempts at digital paper will take the form of the outdated technology that preceded it, that is to say, the book. But trying to recreate the form and structure of the book in this new technological medium will bring its own set of problems. How do you deal with page numbers? After all, depending on the size of your screen, you may be able to display a lot more information than another reader, and it doesn't make sense for either person to have to compromise their reading experience. Will we see the rise of paragraph numbers, or even page numbers, since it will be easy enough to find specific passages based on these criteria? And what about footnotes, appendices, and other glosses? Given that pretty much everyone who is accessing information via one of these digital books will be familiar with the interface and functionality of hypertext and linking thanks to the web, doesn't it make sense to move all of that information into a linked structure that can be highlighted in the text and accessed whenever the user desires?

In a time when books in the form of bound quires of pages will likely cease to exist as anything other than objects of study for scholars or objects of affection for their owners and museum goers, "House of Leaves" pushes the boundaries of what is possible in a mass-produced printed work and anticipates some of the fundamental changes that are coming to the way we as a species create and interact with text. In the same way, The Circular Ruins project attempts to take the art book and turn it on its head to create something that is most decidedly an art object, but which is also faithful to its base functional object, the book. Both of these texts, produced at the beginning of a century that will likely witness the death of the book as an everyday, functional object, are attempting to give new life to a dying functional form by reaching back to the time before printing and recalling the handcrafted manuscripts that served as the blueprints for the earliest printed works. By attempting to recapture the distinctive qualities of pre-Gutenberg bound manuscripts in decidedly modern and technologically advanced books, the creators of books like The Circular Ruins project and "House of Leaves" are reshaping our notions about what a book is supposed to be in the 21st century.

It might be easier for these artists to give up on paper and ink and focus their artistic efforts on the intriguing new technologies of creativity that have sprung up over the past decade, but their loyalty to a form that has seen its golden age come and go says something about how beloved books are to all of us. It is difficult to describe the spectrum of singular sensory impressions that take place when you are leafing through the pages of a book—the texture of the paper, the smell of the ink, the curves and angles of the letters in the fonts, the heaviness of the book in your hands. But despite our affection for the physical object of the book, more and more of us are turning to alternate formats for artistic and textual information, from computer-based text on web sites and in Word documents to visual media like movies and video games. To be a printer, a printmaker, or any kind of creator of books in this day and age is to be constantly struggling against a future that will make books obsolete while simultaneously trying to incorporate ideas from that future into new types of books so that they will remain a relevant part of our larger cultural expressions. Efforts like The Circular Ruins project and "House of Leaves" are essential to the existence of the book in the age of databases, web browsers, and plasma monitors, because in the end, it will only be through constant redefinition that the book will survive beyond the digital era.

I can't keep running people over. I'm not famous enough to get away with it.

At this point, we've seen the X-Men 2 movie twice, once on the day it opened (we left work early—Julie really, really liked the first one) and once last week to make up for missing a 3:05 baseball game that we thought started at 7:05. It's been getting rave reviews and cleaning up at the box office (it won again this weekend, but that run is about to come to an abrupt end with the new Matrix movie opening on Thursday), but I'm not convinced that it's better than the first one (as most of the reviewers seem to think). As a fan of the comic books, it was definitely worth seeing twice—the plot is slightly more byzantine this time around, and the effects overall are much better than the first—but it didn't stand on its own as well as the first movie, and there were times when it felt like they were trying to do too much with too many new characters.

First, the good points: the casting continues to be excellent, with all of the major characters from the last movie still being played by the actors who originated the parts (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, etc.), and some great new additions like Alan Cummings as Nightcrawler and Brian Cox as William Stryker, a covert ops general who wants to eliminate mutantkind. The Nightcrawler teleporting effect is very well done (although the classic "bamf" sound from the comic books didn't seem quite right to me), and the opening scenes featuring Nightcrawler teleporting his way through the White House to the Oval Office is one of the best sequences in the film. Mystique's role is greatly expanded, and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos does a surprising job of rising to the challenge. Plus, we finally get to see Wolverine kick some serious ass, coming closer to the beserker rage that is so familiar to fans of the comic books.

The biggest criticism I would have of the movie is that it feels very much like the middle film of a trilogy of films that are really meant to be viewed as a single entity. That's not always a problem—The Two Towers is another middle film that seemed to drag in some parts, lacking the newness of the first film and the climax offered by the third—but The Two Towers was actually made at the same time as its two companion films; it really is part of a much larger structure that the audience is, in the end supposed to take as a whole. The same goes for the two Matrix sequels coming out this year—the middle film in the trilogy supposedly ends with a cliffhanger, but the other film has already been completed and we know that we'll get to see the ending in six months.

X2 doesn't really follow either of these patterns, however. Director Bryan Singer has always talked of the X-Men in terms of a trilogy, but unlike the Matrix or Lord of the Rings, he hasn't even written the third one yet, much less filmed and edited it. There are a lot of loose ends at the end of this film, and if the sequel never got made, it would feel even more inncomplete than it already does. I think most people will put up with the open-endedness because they're just assuming that the third film will eventually get made and wrap up everything, and while that's probably true, it takes away from this film's ability to exist as its own entity. It's fine for this film to be part of a larger story arc, but it really needs to stand on its own more than it does. The Star Wars trilogies offer another good comparison: George Lucas leaves three years in between each of the sequels, and although it's clear that each film is part of a larger structure, each film can also hold its own as a comlete narrative. Each of the Star Wars installments has its own climax and denouement that allows you to experience it as its own thing; seeing it in the context of its prequels and/or sequels certainly enchances the experience, but it is not necessary to have that context to enjoy each film. In X-Men 2, however, we really don't know much more at the end of the film than we did at the beginning; there is no complete story that exists solely within the structure of the X2 narrative. Sure, there are lots of conflicts, new characters, new storylines, etc., but it all feels like a setup for a climax that never comes. Most of the questions that we have at the beginning of X2 remain unanswered at the end; we have some new pieces to add to the puzzle, but we don't have enough information to state anything definitively. If X3 was coming out in six months, like the Matrix movies, that might be okay, but the fact is that it will likely be another three years or so before we see the next sequel that will provide some of the closure that is so desperately needed at the end of X2.

All in all, though, it's a good film, and it continues to uphold the standards set by the first film in terms of accurately translating the world of the comic books to the big screen (the X-Men films are probably the best comic book adaptations ever made). If you liked the first one, you'll like this one, whether you're a fan of the comics or not. I don't think it quite measures up to the first film, and it's certainly doesn't seem worthy of the fawning accolades heaped on it by most critics. But it is praiseworthy, and in time, in the context of a trilogy, its flaws might not seem quite as glaring. But I guess we'll have to wait a few years to find out for sure.

Finally, as an obsessive geek, I feel I must note a discrepancy: in the first X-Men (as in the X-Men comic books), Wolverine can use his heightened senses to recognize people by their smells, so he is never fooled by shapeshifters like Mystique. In X2, however, Mystique approaches him in the form of Jean Grey and he supposedly doesnt know its not Jean until he feels the scars he left on Mystique's belly during their first encounter in the last movie (I also feel compelled to point out that, as a shapeshifter, Mystique would be able to erase scars from her skin).

Surreal experience note: one of the many trailers that played before X2 was an ad for a videogame based on the movie called Wolverine's Revenge. But that's not really that odd these days. What's weird is that embedded at the end of this ad is a mini ad for the X2 movie itself. I believe this marks the first time I've had to watch an ad for a movie that I've already paid to see literally seconds before that film starts.

When I started working at Hopkins in March of 2002, my supervisor told me that our little IT team would be moving to new offices across the hall in April, or at the latest May. In May, that timeframe had been shifted to August. August turned to October, October to January, January to February, February to April, and April to May again. But in mid-April, we were given the definitive date when we would be moving: Friday, May 9. The new furniture had been ordered, the movers had been scheduled, and that was all there was to it. All we would have to do was pack our things into boxes and bags provided by the moving company, label them, and wait for them to be transported to our new digs. That might seem a little excessive for a move across the lobby that Mark and I probably could have done in a couple of hours ourselves, but that's the way Hopkins does things, whether people are moving across the hall or across town.

Of course, things didn't go that smoothly. It started in March when we started to hear rumblings about the move finally happening (really, truly, we're-not-kidding-this-time). Originally the three of us were supposed to get two offices, with Mark and Jinwen sharing one and me getting the other to myself. But due to some weird governmental restriction on the size of offices, we missed being able to split the new space up into two offices literally by inches. So part of the deal we made in agreeing to have the three of us sharing one office is that we would get new furniture, including some sort of cubicle-like privacy barriers that would allow us to have somewhat discreet conversations and do our work without feeling like we were sharing a single giant desk.

But when March came around and we were given the final move date (which turned out not to be all that final, since the first one was in April and it ended up actually happening in May), I went to talk to Maggie about what kind of furniture we might want, find out how much cubicle walls cost, etc., and she informed me that we were just going to use the desks we had and that there would be no barriers between us. This was a problem for several reasons, not the least because the walls were an important part of the deal, but also because Mark didn't have a desk per se—he'd just been using a table in a hallway on the days when he couldn't do his work at Eastern, where they had set him up with a spare cubicle near the other peope working on the project. So I lobbied Maggie and Richard, and eventually Maggie came up with some spare walls from elsewhere on campus. She also traded our two desks for three spare ones in the basement and promised to buy us each two small drawer file cabinets and a bookshelf.

Okay. One hurdle done. The next came in the week before the move. There was supposed to be an orientation meeting where they would explain the needlessly complicated moving procedures to us, but Mark and Jinwen and I were all scheduled to be offsite that day for training on Crystal Reports, so we had to rely on a representative from Maggie's group to attend the meeting for us and relay any important information. When we got back in the office after training, we were each given two big plastic ziploc bags and told that on the day of the move, we would have to put our phone in one and our computer peripherals in another and slap on a label that would be provided later. As for our other things, we would be given additional packing materials the day before the move.

When the day before the move came, Mark and I had to be off campus for another meeting in the morning, so Jinwen was the only one there to get the specific instructions on what we had to do to prepare our office possessions for the move. I asked her about it when we returned to campus, and the only thing she said was "Everything has to be in plastic bags." She repeated it over and over, and so firmly believed in this mantra that she had in fact stuffed not only her two bags full of things like her files, books, and her mini-pharmacy of chinese herbal remedies, but had also absconded with Mark's and my bags as well. I patiently explained the phone/peripherals thing to her again, made her unpack and return the bags that weren't hers, and went about my work, assuming that we would just move our stuff over the next day.

Around 2 in the afternoon, however, I passed Maggie in the hall and she asked if we had gotten our stuff packed up and out of the way. I told her "No, I just thought we would move it tomorrow," and she said, "No, you need to have everything packed up and labeled by the end of the day because they are going to take your furniture first thing in the morning" (her staff was getting our desks), and even though our stuff wouldn't be moved until the end of the day on Friday, we had to have everything—computers, files, books, software, everything—packed up and labeled before we left that day. "Okay," I said, "what do we pack it in? What do we label it with." "I don't know," was her reply. "We got our packing materials this morning. Maybe I should call Kathleen and find out why you didn't get any."

You think?

An hour later, when I went to see whether anyone had managed to contact Kathleen (who is apparently in charge of all the office moves at Hopkins), both Maggie and Bethany had left for the day, and all Diane could tell me was that Kathleen rarely returns calls and no one really knew what to do. At this point I figured what the hell and decided to try Kathleen myself. She answered on the first ring, and seemed genuinely mystified as to why we had not been provided with labels and packing materials. And despite the comedy of errors that had led to this situation, she actually did get stuff delivered to us within an hour, and even though I had to stay until after 6 boxing and labeling everthing in Jinwen's and my office, I figured the worst was over. I mean, all they had to do now was move our stuff across the hall, right?


I was so confident at the time, however, that when I ended up staying up until 3:30 working on my paper for the book class )when all I had meant to do was spend a half an hour reading it over), thinking that I could just stick around long enough to turn my paper in to Will at 12:30, have lunch with Kathryn, and leave early. The first half of the day went as expected. They moved our furniture out first thing, and I killed the morning taking a long-overdue trip to Design & Publications to get the artwork for the new CD we're sending out next week. When I returned, they had put together all of our new furniture and were in the process of putting together the desks from the basement, and I though everything was going to work out fine.

That is, until I noticed that the bookshelves, which were supposed to be on wheels, had stationary legs instead. And until the guys putting together the desks said, "Well, two of the desks are fine, but the third one is missing a bunch of parts and we can't finish it." When I went to talk to Maggie and Bethany about these issues, the general response was, gee, that's too bad. I guess someone is going to have to go to Ikea and try to find replacement parts.

I wonder who that would be? (The non-irritable part of me feels compelled to point out for the record that Maggie actually offered to go with me, but let's ignore him for now, shall we?)

After resigning myself to losing my afternoon of sleep, I convinced Kathryn to go to Ikea with me, where I looked through a catalog for a while trying to match up what I could remember from looking at the desks and the descriptions the furniture guys had written down about the parts with line drawings of all the desk components sold by Ikea. Of course, we couldn't buy the parts individually, we had to buy them as part of a larger set of replacement parts, so we ended up spending around $100 for four pieces of metal that, if sold individually, could have been purchased for less than $20.

Thanks to Friday afternoon rush hour traffic and an accident on 695, we didn't back to the office until around four, and luckily for me (and unluckily for him), I caught Mark on his way out the door and convinced him to help me put together the last desk and take the legs off the bookshelves and replace them with the wheels that we had also bought at Ikea. We were there until close to six, but by the time we left, the bookshelves were rolling, the desks were solidly put together and sitting in their proper corners of the office, and I was ready to go home and enjoy the weekend.

The worst was definitely over, but there was still one little surprise waiting for us when we came in on Monday. Our room has no windows and only has one door connecting it to the lobby, and that needs to be closed because of the high amount of traffic that passes through our building. So having our own air circulation system was critical, because we really are isolated from air sources other than the ceiling ventilation. When I arrived Monday, the air seemed stale and flat, and it was also about ten degrees hotter than it was in the lobby. I put up with it for a couple of hours before I called facilities management, and they made some kind of vague "we'll see what we can do"-type statement, so I wasn't expecting them to show up for at least a couple of days. Surprisingly, they sent a guy over shortly after noon, and it took him about two minutes to fix the problem: he stuck his head up in one of the vents, reached his hand in for a second, and said "Oh, somebody forgot to connect this sensor." Seconds later, cool, relatively fresh air started to flow from the ceiling, and we haven't had any problems with it since.

So the move was a huge pain in the ass, and we got way more than our fair share of headaches, but it's done now and we have a nice new office. The walls are supposed to be installed later this week (they are actually pretty nice, made of a dark wood with some glass panels), but in the meantime, we're using our mobile bookshelves to provide a little bit of separation between the desks. Once people figure out that HR, the EEOC, and legal counsel have moved elsewhere (we get a confused person poking their head in and say "Is this...?" before trailing off after realizing that, clearly, this isn't whatever they are looking for), I think we'll be pretty happy.

Lots of web sites have been posting reviews of the new Matrix movie over the last couple of days, and in general they are giving it a mediocre rating (despite the fact that many of these media outlets have made tons of money promoting the movie over the past few months). The most common complaints are that it tries to be to philosophical for an action movie, that the stylized action, while visually impressive, is emotionally empty, and that Keanu is a terrible actor (duh). What I try to keep in mind, however, is that they said the same things about the first movie, and they couldn't have been more wrong. The reviewers don't seem to really care about the movie itself, they just try to anticipate what their audience will think and the other critics they're competing with are going to say, and try to come up with something that appeases the former while saying something different from the latter. For the first Matrix, they failed to anticipate how strong the audience reaction would be, and for this one, they all thought they could jump on the backlash bandwagon before anyone else.

Of course, not having seen the movie yet myself, they could all be totally right this time. But I somehow doubt it.

Since Apple updated Safari to include tabbed browsing, I have officially started using it as my everyday browser. Previously, Chimera/Camino was my first choice because the convenience of tabbed browsing slightly outweighed the annoyance of the constant crashes, but once that feature was added to the much more stable Safari beta, there was no reason to continue using the open source Mozilla-based browser. As an added bonus, more features have been added to the latest public release of Safari, and it is generally handling complex page layouts much better. And it's still faster than anything else on the Mac.

When is Dan Akroyd going to quit abusing the legacy of the Blues Brothers? It was and is a great movie, Dan, but every time you trot out John Goodman as Jake's brother, you sully it a little bit more. Just drop it already before you ruin it for the next generation of potential fans. Besides, we see quite enough of Mr. Goodman on SNL as it is.

And while I'm on an SNL rant...this latest incarnation may well be the worst since they cleaned house in the late 80s and brought in Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Michael Hall, and Joan Cusack, among others (sure, they were already established comedic stars, but that might have been part of the problem—too many egos and not enough stage). Since Will Ferrell left last year, the show has been awful aside from the Jimmy Fallon/Tina Fey Weekend Update team and the occasionaly Robert Smigel cartoon. I mean, when your best recurring characters are the old Catskills nightclub comedian, The Falconer, and Brian Fellows, how good can the show be?

Those new Apple music ads that show people singing along to their iPods aren't so much cool and hip as they are creepy and disturbing.

Even though I'm dying to see the new Matrix movie despite the mixed reviews it's been receiving, I didn't feel compelled to go out and see it opening weekend. I guess I feel like between the movies, the inevitable bonus feature-packed DVDs, the video game, and the Animatrix collection of shorts, I'm going to have plenty of new Matrix material in my life this year and there's little need to rush myself to dive into it. Plus, I really don't want to see it in an overcrowded theater with a bunch of annoying assholes. We'll probably go see it at the earliest showing this Thursday, when Hopkins makes us take the day off to free up parking spaces for commencement. Til then, I'm just going to savor the anticipation that no amount of mediocre reviews can lessen.

We've all had our close calls with road ragers—sudden braking by a driver who thinks you're too close, a guy in the fast lane who gets angry when you pass him on the right even though he's not even going the speed limit, getting flipped off after accidentally cutting someone off—but it's usually nothing too serious, certainly nothing that you think about more than five minutes after it happens.

On the way to work yesterday morning, however, I had an encounter with a truly deranged individual. Julie and I were riding together, as we usually do, and on our way through our little downtown on the way to the main road that goes to the interstate, we found ourselves behind a blue Jaguar that we have seen around town a few times before. It's easy to remember because 1) nobody around us makes enough money to comfortably afford a car as frivolously expensive as a Jaguar and 2) the new Jaguar models look distressingly similar to the new Hyundai models, which makes the money you have to spend one even more ridiculous.

Anyway, he was riding through the downtown at exactly the speed limit, which is pretty uncommon unless the town cops have nailed you a few times for speeding. That wasn't really that annoying, because the difference between the speed I drive downtown and the official speed limit is only 5 MPH. However, once you get over the bridge and out of the town proper, most people speed up to around 45 MPH or so on the way up the hill to the intersection with the main highway (I'm not real sure what the posted speed limit is because it doesn't actually seem to be posted, and the town cops don't have any jurisdiction over there anyway).

After we got over the bridge yesterday, however, this guy didn't speed up at all, and in fact seemed to be slowing down, obviously too involved with his cell phone conversation to notice the line of cars that was stacking up behind him. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary except for his extreme slowness until out of nowhere, he slammed on his brakes, apparently in an attempt to make me smack into him. I'm not sure why this was—I was in no way, shape, or form tailgating him (Julie is way more sensitive about this than I am, and even she agrees that I was driving an appropriate distance from his vehicle). I didn't come anywhere near hitting him, because we were driving so slow and I was driving a safe distance from him. But once I realized that he was being a jerk on purpose, I impulsively flipped him off, which wasn't the most mature thing to do, but which is something I'm sure this guy sees a couple of dozen times a day based on the way he drives.

This wasn't enough for this asshole, though. After slamming on his brakes for no reason, he then swerved off the road and came to a stop, forcing me and other drivers to swing around him to get past. I figured that that was it, that he'd had his fun and that was the end of it. But we soon arrived at the stop sign at the intersection to the main road, which was clogged up with a line of cars behind a dumptruck that was trying to turn left. As soon as this jackass realized that we would probably be stopped for a few seconds, he took his seatbelt off, got out of his car, and started walking towards our car. He didn't have anything in his hands, but he was spewing expletives and taunting me to get out and fight him. Now, I'm not stupid, despite my impulsive obscene gesture, so I didn't even think about getting out of the car, and in fact I didn't even turn my head to look at this moron when he was standing right next to me. This seemed to infuriate him further, but traffic was starting to move again, so with a final few "motherfuckers" and a smack of his fist on my driver's side window, he returned to his vehicle and strapped himself back in. He fumbled around for a few seconds, and I was worried for a second that he might be rummaging around his glove compartment for a weapon, but I think he was in fact putting his cell phone back on, because a few seconds later he was again engrossed in conversation (it must have been fascinating to be on the other end of that line—"Hang on a second, I'm going to get out of my car and try to start a fight on the highway").

He pulled out right behind us on the main road and turned his brights on all the way to the interstate in a final attempt to annoy me, but given the extreme inappropriateness of his rage, I'm surprised he didn't do anything more aggressive. When we got the interstate, he stayed with us for about half a mile before getting stuck behind a slow vehicle in his lane, and his Jaguar faded from view shortly after that.

I don't even know what to make of a person like this. I mean, obviously, he's got some other problems that have nothing to do with me, and I wouldn't be surprised if he was also hopped up on something or drunk. It's a little scary that this guy probably lives within a few miles of us, and from what we can remember from seeing his car before, we also think he has kids, who we're praying weren't in the car yesterday morning but who surely must have witnessed behavior like this from him more than once if he flies off the handle that easily. His anger and willingness to risk a violent confrontation was completely disproportionate to the situation, especially because he's the one who instigated the conflict in the first place by playing his little braking game at his perception that I was driving too close to his precious Jaguar. I'd be willing to bet some serious money that this wasn't the first time this jerk has tried to confront a stranger on the highway. And I'm sure he's real popular with his neighbors. If he ever meets someone as confrontational and irrationally angry as he was, at least one of them will end up in the hospital, and if the other guy happens to have a gun, he'll probably end up dead.

Although it was disturbing, I'm not really that concerned about it, even though we're likely to see him again at some point. First of all, I have a pretty generic car, so it's unlikely he would see it and immediately think of me (unlike us with his sickly blue Jaguar). And the way I look at it is this: if he was on something, he's not likely to remember too much about the incident anyway; if he was just having a really bad day, he'll probably calm down and not be so hasty to confront anyone in that way again and he certainly won't be hell bent on tracking me down; and if he's just an asshole with a serious temper, he's likely to have several encounters like this every day, and since I didn't actually do anything to him or try to escalate the situation, there's no reason I would stay on his radar. Plus, we did write down his license plate number, and if we have any kind of negative contact with him again, I'll be pulling over and dialing the police before he even has time to take his cell phone headset off.

Well, I'm technically starting a mini-vacation today (Hopkins forces us to take today off so they can free up parking for commencement, and Monday is Memorial Day, so it just makes sense to take off Friday as well and make a very long weekend out of it), and I usually don't post when I'm on vacation. But I'm also usually out of town and away from my files, and as of now we don't have any plans for overnight trips, so I'll likely be around and posting content on my normal schedule. Today I'll just point out that there is a new Plug review of Cursive's "The Ugly Organ".

We finally went to see The Matrix: Reloaded yesterday, and as I suspected, it wasn't nearly as bad as many of the critics made it sound, and it may in fact be quite good. Not as good as the first—or at least not as good in the same ways—but still well worth the price of admission. Also, the supposed cliffhanger ending of Reloaded is no more of a cliffhanger than the ending of X2, which has had near-unanimous praise heaped on it and which got very little criticism (if any) about how it leaves so much unresolved. At least the Matrix creators had the decency to film the two sequels in succession and release them six months apart—we could wait for years for another X-Men, and by the time they get around to making it, they might have to do it with a whole new cast. I might write a more detailed review later, but I just wanted to get my initial thoughts down here while they were still fresh.

We also watched the most recent Star Trek movie, Nemesis, for the first time yesterday. Nemesis was the first Trek movie in a while that we haven't seen in the theater—it's not that we didn't want to, it's just that we somehow never got around to it and it was out of the theaters before we knew it. We didn't need to rent it to know that we would want to add it to our collection, so we went ahead and bought it on DVD. It, too, is not nearly as bad as I remember the reviews being, although it is probably the darkest Trek film to date and is missing a lot of the humor and lightheartedness that has been mixed in with the drama and action of the other films. There were some weird visual references to other sci fi films from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings, and some of the sequences seemed like they were just kind of thrown in and weren't that relevant to the story, but all in all it was a decent Trek film. I wouldn't be surprised if this one gains a strong cult following among Trekkers in the coming years.

Since I don't normally post the weekly stats for The Reef until after Sunday's games are complete and my position in the rankings might not last until then, I'd like to point out that I have returned from the very bottom of the league just a couple of weeks ago to edging out CS Jeff by half a point for second place after Saturday's stats were compiled. Now somebody just has to do something about Scott, who has been sitting pretty at the top of the standings for quite a long while now.

This has been a very relaxing weekend so far. We originally thought about going up to West Virginia for a few days like we did last year, but we never really got around to making specific plans, and in the end we decided that was probably because we weren't that enthusiastic about doing it. It's not that we didn't enjoy it last year, or that we don't want to do it again some time, but there were just a lot of little reasons for not wanting to go that added up to enough to make us want to stay home instead, such as 1) we needed to do a lot of work around the house and yard; 2) our normal cat sitter wasn't available and her sub, who we have only used a couple of times for an evening here and there, hasn't been as reliable as we need her to be and we didn't feel comfortable trusting her for a five day trip (in case you don't know, one of our cats has diabetes and requires an insulin shot twice a day and a special feeding schedule); and 3) we feel like the next few of months are going to be pretty hectic, with trips/visitors scheduled every couple of weeks until August.

We had planned to take two or three day trips in lieu of an extended vacation, but the intermittent daily showers kept us from doing too much outdoors (we saw the sun for about an hour yesterday, but other than that, it's been nothing but clouds and rain). Our big outing was on Saturday, when we went down to the Ellicot City area to go to one of the big flea markets they have there. We went late in the day, so a lot of the booths were closed, but it was still pretty crowded, and it was really interesting to see what was for sale in each stall and who was shopping there. One booth might be selling custom made cowboy boots and hats, its neigbor on the right would have an extensive selection of speakers, lights, and rims for cars (as well as tons of cell phone accessories), while its neighbor on the left might feature hand-made religious paintings, rosary beads, and other iconic artworks that are difficult to explain. The range of items for sale at the market was staggering: food (mostly smoothies and fresh fruit), used and new tools and equipment, clothes (mostly baseball caps and sports jerseys), sunglasses and handbags, artwork, sheets and bedding, jewelry, trinkets from Mexico and South America, video games, dvds, swords and knives, incense and oils, and just about anything else you could imagine. Some of the most interesting ones were the vendors who didn't sell anything in particular, they just had a table or a tarp with all sorts of random things laid out for sale. The shoppers were rednecks, hispanics, and asians of every stripe, and you were far more likely to hear a language other than English while strolling through the stalls. The flea market was a mix of the state fair, the freestanding booths in the mall, and a giant global yard sale. It was pretty freaking cool.

Other than that, I focused on updating my music collection to work better with the new iTunes that Apple rolled out with its music store (more on that later), and just trying to recharge my batteries from all the recent stress at work. There's a small part of me that feels guilty for not trying to get out and do more, but there's a much larger part of me that's very glad that I didn't try to do too much. Besides, the showers are supposed to stop later in the afternoon, and I'm sure we can find a couple of hours to go out for a walk to the river.

This sucks. After a nice little break, I was just beginning to feel refreshed enough to head back into work and tackle the difficult next few weeks. But then yesterday afternoon, I started to get a headache, my throat started to hurt, and I just generally began to feel ill. I have too much to do to miss any time, but the only thing I can do is up my vitamin c intake and hope for the best. I guess it's better this happened at the end of my vacation rather than the beginning, but still...this sucks.

Still sick...

Feeling a bit better. Good enough for work, probably, but not much else.

The Simpsons is older than the generation of kids who will start entering high school next year. The Simpsons is twice as old as the World Wide Web (in terms of the Web's existence as a pop culture entity). I am approaching the age when the Simpsons will have been on for half my life. The episodes from the first season are still funny, and even though the show has long since passed its peak, it's still better than 95% of all the other crap on television. It is the secondary language of American males under 40, and it's almost impossible to think of a situation in which there is not a corollary somewhere in the hundreds of Simpson's scripts.

I don't really have a point, but I'm still kind of tired from being sick and this is what popped into my head today.
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