Friday, September 26, 2008

So Very Pathetic

I'm going to quit posting things like this soon, I promise. The point has been made many, many times over that McCain is a cynical, grandstanding schemer whose contempt for the electorate is matched only by his willingness to do or say anything he thinks will get him elected, and that Sarah Palin's qualifications for the job of Vice-President pale in comparison to most cacti. But still.

Alternet has more.

Update. Here's the first conservative pundit calling for SP to bow out: Kathleen Parker, in the National Review. Think she will?

Another Update.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What to Do Today

I normally don't like quoting other people's blog posts verbatim, but this is important. A Tiny Revolution has your to-do list today:

  • Find an action near you saying NO to the Bush bailout.

  • Read and sign Bernie Sanders' petition. Sanders' views on this are nothing radical—just basic common sense. Hence he is twelve million miles outside acceptable political discourse.

  • Call your Senators and Representative at (202) 224-3121 and tell them to say NO to any plan without the strongest possible protections for taxpayers and homeowners. Don't be afraid to tell them how angry you are. Ian Welch is reading the tealeaves and suspects Barney Frank may have already cut a deal with Bush, selling us all out. But if so, it may still be possible to stop it if members, both Democrats and Republicans, keep hearing (as they have for the past few days) how many of their constituents are extremely pissed off.

  • Read Billmon's post from Tuesday about the dire possibilities the US economy now faces. The collapse of the housing bubble would be troublesome by itself, but probably not catastrophic. The danger is that it comes on top of our gigantic foreign debt, itself exacerbated by the trillion-dollar Iraq war and ever-higher oil prices. Getting out of this will require a type of enlightened worldwide leadership (and followership) that humans have displayed approximately zero times in history.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

McCain v. McCain: Golden Parachutes

I have a hard time watching this because I'm afraid his head might explode.

What I've often thought of George W. Bush and his administration clearly applies to McCain, alas. To wit: there are only two possible options about what's going on in his mind. Either (1) he has a mental defect that makes him both completely insensible to irony and dangerously, surreally forgetful; or (2) he's a liar, a weaselly mendacious two-faced deceitful dishonest unscrupulous untrustworthy morally bankrupt evil lying-ass lying liar who lies. There are no other possibilities. It's hard to say which quality would be more alarming in a president.

Friday, September 19, 2008

How my Cats Affect Buddhism in the Electronic Age

If you're doing long periods of formal Zazen (i.e. sitting meditation) in a zendo, you may feel that your focus is starting to wander. This is part of the experience: bereft of stimulation, your consciousness tends to flip out a bit during the first twenty minutes or so of sitting quietly and doing nothing. You wonder if you put enough money in the parking meter. You think about stopping by Starbucks after you leave the zendo. You think about your job, balancing your checkbook, what you'll have for dinner. And of course you beat yourself up for thinking about all this stuff while you should be meditating. The trick is to let your monkeymind do its thing without being totally tossed around by it. You pull back, settle in, watch your breathing, and eventually your mind starts to clear, the way silt settles out of a bowl of river water.

If your inner freakage is really unmanageable, or if on the other hand you find yourself nodding off, one of the duties of the attendant is to restore your focus by hitting your shoulders with a long, narrow paddle called a kyosaku. In the Soto tradition (which is what I've practiced) you request this yourself; in Rinzai Zen, it may be done at the discretion of your teacher. (Soto Zen Buddhists joke that the Rinzai school uses too much grandmotherly kindness.) The blows fall on acupuncture points on your upper trapezius; it really does call every cell in your body to attention.

Like most of the apparatus of the Zendo, the kyosaku has an important symbolic function as well. It's considered to be the direct transmission of the dharma. Sudden, immediate, beyond words. This is what Zen is for: waking you all the way up, jolting you out of your morbid preoccupations, blasting the crap and crud off your mind so you can behold (even if only for a fraction of a second) the ultimate nature of reality.

Which is why I named the freakier and more extroverted of my cats Kyosaku. She wakes me up.

The reason I'm telling you all this? Well, look what you get when you do a Google image search for "kyosaku." I'm so proud.

Not a Story, Just Some Things that Happened

This past May, I was walking to my bank, and I saw a man helping up an elderly woman who had just fallen down. She had a big gash on her temple and was kind of spacey and disoriented. She couldn't tell her name or where she lived. I called 911, and we waited with her till the ambulance came. A guy from a nearby barber shop came out and cleaned up her wound and patched it with styptic. A little crowd started gathering: people coming out of their houses to see if she was ok, if there was anything they could do. The ambulance came in about ten minutes, and I left the woman in the care of the medics. I remember feeling pretty good about the whole thing. Here was a classic example of the reflexive sense of responsibility for the welfare of people around you that makes neighborhoods work. Jane Jacobs writes in The Death and Life of Great American Cities about the uniquely urban feeling of safety and security that comes from living in a healthy neighborhood, not only in spite of but because of the fact that you're surrounded by strangers, and they're looking out for you and you're looking out for them. That's the kind of place I live in. Cool, eh?

So. I started having major problems with my Washington Post subscription about a month ago. I've had to call four or five times about not getting my paper. It seemed pretty strange that the distributor could be so slack.

Then this morning at about 6:30, I had just gotten out of the shower, and I was sitting by an open window in my sunroom, sipping my first steamy-hot cup of tea. And who should I see but the very same woman I helped last spring, shuffling arthritically across my lawn towards where my paper lay in the grass. She stopped, bent slowly and carefully down, picked up my paper, tucked it under her arm, and started picking her way through the grass back to the sidewalk. She was stealing my paper. I'd caught her red-handed.

"Excuse me?" I called through the window. She didn't react, kept on shuffling away. Damn. Running after her wasn't really an option because, well, I had just gotten out of the shower, and the spectacle of a naked, slightly damp man chasing an elderly newspaper thief was a little more entertainment than I wanted to give my neighbors.

I raised my voice. "EXCUSE ME!" She turned and looked at me. "That's my paper you've got there," I said.

"Oh," she said. She dropped it absently in the grass and tottered away.

Yep. That's the kind of place I live in.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

High Excitement

When you're an indoor cat, you have to be on the lookout for whatever thrills you can find. I bet Ishi and Kyosaku will be talking for months about the ladybug that was walking across my bedroom ceiling yesterday morning.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

March of Death

Speaking of Rage Against the Machine, and apropos of my two obsessions today -- music and this election that absolutely must not be won by the Repuglicans -- I just found a couple of things that Zack de la Rocha has been up to. First, March of Death, an awesome, awesome song with DJ Shadow that came out a couple of years ago. And a newer project, One Day as a Lion, a collaboration with former Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore.

If the day ever comes that the American people finally get fed up enough to storm the White House with torches and pitchforks, these songs will be the soundtrack to the movie that gets made about it.

Carrickfergus Redux

Thanks to John, I've been, um, exploring the space at, and damned if my tortured little rendition of Carrickfergus doesn't sound pretty good with more cowbell. See what you think.

 Make your own at 

McCain on the View

McCain probably went on The View expecting nothing more than having to mug for the cameras with all the little ladies and do a nice non-confrontational softball interview. Little did he realize he was going to face some of the toughest questioning of the campaign.

There are more clips on HuffPo and Rebecca Traister has a play-by-play recap here. I especially like when Whoopie Goldberg interrupts his blather about "strict interpretation of the Constitution" to ask "Do I have to worry about becoming a slave again?"

This really shows by comparison what a lame job the MSM in general has been doing in covering this election. McCain and Palin should be pushed this hard by every journalist they meet. So should Obama and Biden, for that matter.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What you say what you say what you say what?

I've been wanting a Digitech Whammy pedal for a long time, and this past week I finally scored one from Ebay. The big brown truck of happiness brought it a couple of hours ago. I'm one happy little guitar slinger.

It's a harmonizer/pitch shifter. It has a variety of applications, including:

  • Harmonizing your melody lines in ways not otherwise possible on the guitar.
  • Creating chorus-like effects by subtly detuning your signal.
  • Transposing your signal one or two octaves in either direction.
  • Swooping wildly one or two octaves in either direction.
  • Mimicking the dive-bomb stuff you can do with a vibrato bridge (very handy if your guitar doesn't have one).
  • Making a lot of unearthly noise.
  • Making a lot of REALLY unearthly noise.

It's going to be a fun weekend. Oh, how my neighbors love me.

One of my favorite guitarists, Tom Morello, has made the Whammy an integral part of his style. Check this out:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Happy Doomsday!

This may be my last post, as the Large Hadron Collider is getting turned on today, and by the time you read this, the world may already have ended -- sucked into a black hole, or transformed into a cloud of strangelets. In which case, of course, you won't be reading this. It's all very exciting.

Update. Well, from all available evidence, the world didn't end. Does the fact that I feel a little disappointed make me a total ghoul? I was thinking that at least Geneva would get flipped into a parallel universe.

Another update. If you're interested or concerned about the teeny-tiny chance that further LHC experiments might fundamentally alter the nature of reality such that the earth no longer exists, here's a handy website to help you keep track:

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Too Much Coffee Man

I found this on my hard drive today.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Salve, Incitatus

Random observations on the woman from Alaska:

  • Leaving aside the question of the appropriateness of voting for a candidate because you want to bang her, have our tastes sunk so low that this appalling woman is a sex symbol? Then again, since Rachael Ray is so deemed, I shouldn't be surprised. This is a dark age for lust.

  • People in the Irish music community have been telling the pit-bull-in-lipstick joke about feis mothers for at least the last ten years. It's generally not intended as a compliment.

  • Somebody, anybody, please. Explain to me why gun nuts tend to be such rabid Christians. I went to my family's southern Methodist church pretty much every Sunday until I was in my teens, and damned if I can remember Jesus saying anything about the right to bear arms, let alone shooting wolves from aircraft. So what's the deal with the God 'n' Guns? How do Christians justify this?

  • "I think it's a shame that so many people are piling on the GOP VP designee; we are judging her too quickly and harshly and shooting too wildly from the hip, though she DID name her children Gat, Frib, Goop, Prab and Dingus. Also, she seems to think that The Pledge of Allegiance was written by our Founding Fathers." (Gene Weingarten)

  • "One of the great sights of American political life -- a YouTube moment if ever there was one -- was to see the doughboy face of Newt Gingrich as he extolled the virtues of Sarah Palin, a sitcom of a vice presidential choice and a disaster movie if she moves up to the presidency. ... It's a pity Gingrich was not around when the Roman Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known by his nickname Caligula, reputedly named Incitatus as a consul and a priest. Incitatus was his horse." (Richard Cohen, who I've forgiven for his wrongheaded column about tattooing a few weeks back.)

Update. Oo, oo, oo, did you see this? Maybe I should get my cable turned back on after all, just until the election.