Zeroing Susanna

I finally had to take steps.

When one CD takes up nine slots on the Top 25 Most Played playlist, and the other songs on the CD are tied for the bottom slot, and ready to force other songs off the list the next time the CD is played, well, it's time to do something. That was what was happening on my iPod.

With all tracks having play counts between 37 and 41, Susanna Hoffs' 1991 solo album When You're A Boy has now been declared the grand champion, and the play counts for the album have all been reset to zero. Yeah, I love that album to death, but if I want to listen to it, I can just select it in its entirety (which I frequently do). It defeats the purpose of having a Top 25 playlist when one album shoulders its way onto the list.


You Go, Girls!

I just love this story from Saudi Arabia: Saudi Religious Police Attacked by Girls

Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat- Members of Khobar's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice were the victims of an attack by two Saudi females, Asharq Al-Awsat can reveal.

According to the head of the commission in Khobar, two girls pepper sprayed members of the commission after they had tried to offer them advice.

Head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in the Eastern province Dr. Mohamed bin Marshood al-Marshood, told Asharq Al Awsat that two of the Commission's employees were verbally insulted and attacked by two inappropriately-dressed females, in the old market in Prince Bandar street, an area usually crowded with shoppers during the month of Ramadan.

According to Dr. Al-Marshood, the two commission members approached the girls in order to "politely" advise and guide them regarding their inappropriate clothing.

Consequently, the two girls started verbally abusing the commission members, which then lead to one of the girls pepper-spraying them in the face as the other girl filmed the incident on her mobile phone, while continuing to hurl insults at them.

The Eastern Province's head of the commission also revealed that with the help of the police his two employees were able to control the situation.

The two females were then escorted to the police station where they apologized for the attack, were cautioned and then released.

You might have seen the story a few years ago about the horrific fire at a Saudi school for girls, where the panicked girls ran from the school without their abayas, which cover the body from head to toe. The Saudi religious police chased the girls back into the burning school to burn to death rather than allow them to come out "inappropriately dressed." Fifteen girls died in that fire.

So I say, "You go, girls!" I have no sympathy at all for the Saudi religious police, whose usual model of "politely giving advice" involves beating the women with sticks. Too bad that the girls didn't have Tasers, too.

I read a comment elsewhere where someone noted that these two probably were comparatively privileged Saudi women, the sort who push their Indonesian maids down the stairs. Given the fact that they were just issued warnings at the police station and released, that isn't too unlikely. But having to choose between possible "princesses" and theocratic thugs, I'll take the "princesses" every time.


" "

In the news, French mime Marcel Marceau died yesterday at age 84. The linked article notes one of my favorite factoids about him: He had the only speaking line in Mel Brooks' Silent Movie, which was perfect. And the only appropriate comment on his passing is the one in this post's title.

Au revoir, Marcel.


Another Idiot Named Simpson

And no, it's neither Homer nor O.J. It's an MIT student named Star Simpson, who decided it would be a brilliant idea to wear a shirt with what appeared to be an explosive device on the front of it -- to the Boston airport! Needless to say, she was arrested and charged with possessing a hoax device. She claims that it was "art." I wonder if she would find prison bars to be similarly "artistic."

She's not the only college idiot this week, of course. She still has a long way to go to top Andrew "Don't Tase Me, Bro'!" Meyer from the University of Florida, who was tasered at the John Kerry forum in Gainesville the other day, for yammering on after he overstayed his welcome at the microphone, and then resisting arrest when the campus cops tried to escort him out. Although Simpson's charges probably were more serious, Taser Boy still takes the prize as the most arrogant, self-absorbed jerk of the week -- and he had to beat out the subject of the forum to do so, which was no easy feat.


The New iPods: Nano or Nono?

Apple unveiled their latest versions of the iPod last week. One of them, the iPod Touch, looks pretty cool. It appears to have some of the same features and controls as the iPhone, and allows users to download new songs from iTunes via wi-fi. It also has technology that senses whether it is being held vertically or horizonally, and it will automatically switch the orientation of pictures as it moves.

I was less impressed with the latest version of the iPod Nano, which now is shorter and wider and plays video. The main problem is that the Nano still only has either 4 GB or 8 GB of memory (and part of that is taken up by the operating system), and since video files are much larger than music files, that's just not enough memory. The main difference between the "classic" iPod and the Nano is that the Nano uses flash memory, and thus has no moving parts, while the "classic" iPod has a hard drive, which does have moving parts and thus is more sensitive to being dropped, etc. Because flash memory is so much more expensive, the costs are roughly the same, but the "classic" iPod has several times more memory at the same price point (and also is bigger and weighs more; life is full of little trade-offs).

I think in this case, Apple has misinterpreted what the Nano customer wants. In my case, I have no desire to watch videos on a dinky little screen. I want a light-weight, durable music player with good battery life, that allows me to carry around a lot of music in my pocket at work. The Nano I bought last year was perfect for that purpose, although I would have been happier with 16 GB rather than 8 GB. The new Nano doesn't offer more memory, but does have a bigger footprint. I don't know how much more it weighs; probably not a whole lot. But there's nothing there that makes me want to get one of the new Nanos. Now, if they'd come out with one like the old ones, but with 16 GB of memory, I'd be more interested.

Arrrrr, Matey!

Shiver me timbers, it's that magical time of year again: It's Talk Like A Pirate Day, me buccos!

Good thing for that goofball that got Tasered at the Kerry rally in Gainesville the other day that it didn't happen today, or he might have gotten a flogging with the cat o' nine tails instead. And you know THAT will leave a mark!


Why Buy the Cow?

The New York Times is reversing the decision it made two years ago to put some of its internet content, including all of its opinion columnists, behind its TimesSelect subscription firewall. Most people didn't think that was worth the $50 per year, and just stopped reading the Times' columnists. There's plenty of other internet opinion out there, and why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free elsewhere?

Frankly, most conservatives appreciated it when the Times put their writers behind the cordon sanitaire, which had a reverse megaphone effect in terms of the influence those columnists had on the national political discourse. If a New York Times columnist posts a column in a forest and there's nobody there to read it, does it make a difference?

But now it's two years later, and like the Berlin Wall, the TimesSelect wall has fallen. The haggard inkstained wretches are staggering across the shattered bricks and concrete, waving sheaves of (free) paper at us. Look, isn't that Maureen Whats-her-name? And Frank Whoozis? And David Whatchamacallit? Yeah, I kinda remember them. I've hardly heard a peep from them in two years, and then it was only if a column popped up in the Deseret News or some other influential newspaper like that. The silence has been nice.

Oh, well, I guess they can tell us what the O.J. arrest means for the Democrats in 2008. Joy.


Juice to Be Squeezed?

We all have a little unwritten list of people that we wish would disappear from public life and never be seen again. We're tired of them, sick and damn tired. And one name appears commonly on many people's lists: O.J. Simpson, acquitted murderer and former football star.

Unfortunately for us all, he's back in the news again. It looks like the justice system is going to have another crack at him, a dozen years after he was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife and a waiter at the restaurant where she had eaten prior to the murder, despite a plethora of evidence of his guilt. The good news for those who like to see justice done is that this time, O.J. is unlikely to get a mostly minority jury; nobody is likely to say, "Well, we've been suffering for injustice from white folks for centuries, so just this once, let's let the minority guy off, no matter whether he did it or not."

Today's background music: Mojo Nixon's "Orenthal James Was A Mighty Bad Man," from his The Real Sock Ray Blue CD. Dig it.



A couple of months ago, when The Simpsons Movie came out, there was some controversy over in England when someone created a maze in the cornfield with the image of Homer Simpson in his underwear. I saw the image then, but I have had no luck in finding it now.

Well, in today's weird news, someone up in Michigan has created a maze in a cornfield with the image of the late former President Gerald Ford:

I dunno... From that angle, it looks more like Al Gore to me.

What do Homer Simpson and Gerald Ford have in common besides being memorialized in maize? Well, they both appeared in an episode of The Simpsons titled "Two Bad Neighbors."

Separated at birth?


Speaking of Avatars...

My latest Amazon order is Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Complete Book 2 Collection. Yes, it's an animated kid's show on Nickelodeon, but it's a superior example of the genre. The people who came up with the ideas for the show were very creative, and the animation and voice acting are first-rate.

I got The Complete Book 1 Collection, which was the first season (20 episodes), a while back and thoroughly enjoyed it. I should have Book 2 sometime in the next few days.


Second Life, First Principles

I read this article on the New York Times web site the other day: Even in a Virtual World, ‘Stuff’ Matters

It's about the virtual world Second Life. That link, by the way, is for the Wikipedia entry for Second Life, which was inspired by the Metaverse in the Neal Stephenson novel Snow Crash. Yeah, that's a lot of links, but I think you'll find them very helpful for understanding what virtual worlds are, what they can do now and more importantly, what they may be capable of doing in the future. Snow Crash, by the way, was an excellent novel, but it's not for everyone; if you don't like science fiction in general and the 1990s cyberpunk genre in particular, it may leave you cold.

As the New York Times' article indicates, human nature is the same even in a virtual world. People want to create things, people want to acquire things, and people want to acquire status as well. I was amused by the academic's lament about this:
“Why can’t we break away from a consumerist, appearance-oriented culture?” said Nick Yee, who has studied the sociology of virtual worlds and recently received a doctorate in communication from Stanford. “What does Second Life say about us, that we trade our consumerist-oriented culture for one that’s even worse?”
The answer is that it says that we are human, and that "consumerist appearance-oriented culture" is our innate human nature. Political systems that try to deny that reality, such as communism, inevitably have to try to suppress it. So far, they haven't been successful in creating a New Soviet Man who has no desire to buy things. They only created an environment where there was nothing to buy in the stores, and a five-year waiting list to buy anything remotely worthwhile (unless you were an apparatchik, of course).

And what is Second Life, anyway? As the Wikipedia entry notes:
While Second Life is sometimes referred to as a game, this description is disputed. It does not have points, scores, winners or losers, levels, an end-strategy, or most of the other characteristics of games, though it can be thought of as a game on a more basic level. It is a semi-structured virtual environment where characters undertake activities for the purpose of personal enjoyment.
In a way, it's kind of like the computer game The Sims, where the player purchases houses and furnishings in order to keep his Sims happy. More expensive items make them happier. In the case of Second Life, though, the experience isn't just about upgrading the costume of your avatar or building and furnishing a virtual house. There are many other things that the virtual world allows, and with human ingenuity and the law of unexpected consequences, it seems highly likely that new applications will arise that were not originally planned. For instance, some universities are offering virtual college classes on islands that they have purchased for that purpose. Virtual concerts and art galleries allow a creative outlet for musicians and artists, and a chance for them to show off their skills in a virtual world in order to sell their music and art in the real world.

The technology still isn't quite up to Stephenson's Metaverse, but that may not be far off. When the time arrives that you can slip on a pair of Virtual Reality goggles that give you 360 degree 3D-vision and stereo sound, then you'll be able to move beyond just watching 3D-graphics on a flat-screen monitor. We won't even go into the possibilities involving virtual adult programming, or the virtual reality devices that will likely go with it. Let's just say that it will be a "killer application," one that when it goes online will make someone as rich as Bill Gates.


Who You Lookin' At?

So who got your eyeballs over the weekend? Were you looking for Osama Bin Laden's latest video, in which he sounds for all the world like he's a second-tier blogger for far-left web sites like Daily Kos or Huffington Post? Or did you go looking for the nude picture of 18-year-old High School Musical starlet Vanessa Hudgens? I went for the latter. Cute nude chicks? I'm there! Truthfully, though, the picture was nothing special; just another amateur nude pic, which are a dime a dozen on the Internet. It wouldn't have even drawn notice, except for that fact that Hudgens is the female star of the squeaky clean Disney franchise targeted at kids.

As for Binny and his wacked-out dyed beard and rambling commentary, I got the best bits from Fox News Channel. It was really kind of funny, because he berates the Democrats for not coming through on their campaign promises to end the war in Iraq. He recommends that we read far-left anti-American writers like Noam Chomsky. Oh, and he invites us to convert to Islam so that we can enjoy those low, low 2.5% tax rates, and not be murdered as the infidels that we are. Such a deal. I'll pass, Binny. I'll pass.


Apologies to Mr. Bierce

From The Devil's Dictionary:
Improvement, n., any change in company policy or working conditions that makes one's job more complicated and/or difficult, or that increases the chance of injury.
Don't ask. You'd either laugh or cry -- or laugh until you cried.


Sympathy For Goliath

Over the weekend, I watched most of the Appalachian State-Michigan football game. I heard that heavily-favored Michigan was trailing 21-14 in the second quarter, so I found the game on one of the Big Ten Network alternate channels and watched it through to its fascinating conclusion.

And yes, I cheered for the underdogs, as did just about everyone in the nation who isn't a Michigan fan. After all, this was a Division I-AA team (yes, I know that there's some confusing new designation like "Championship Subdivision", but most people don't know that and would just be baffled if I used it) beating the team that was ranked #5 in the nation. Americans love it when an underdog wins, unless the underdog beats their own team; in that case, the topic immediately turns to firing the coach/manager/general manager. (See "New York Yankees" after any season in which they didn't win the World Series.)

This was one of the greatest "David defeats Goliath" stories in sports history, and we had a local angle: The player who blocked the field goal attempt that could have won the game for Michigan was Corey Lynch, who attended Fort Myers' Evangelical Christian School, and whose father is that school's football coach. One of my co-workers told me that his son had known Lynch when they both went to school there, and that he was a "good kid."

Still, you have to feel a bit sorry for the players and the coach at Michigan. They just dropped from #5 in the AP poll all the way out of the Top 25, the first time that's happened since 1968. They got beat by an Appalachian State team that had won back-to-back I-AA championships, but still shouldn't have been competitive with the #5 team in the land, according to the pollsters. And they got beat in their home stadium, in front of 100,000 fans. Like many early season college football matchups, this was expected to be a lopsided win with the powerhouse home team running up the score to pad their Bowl Championship Series points. But the supposed tomato can turned out not to be a tomato can at all. And the fans and alumni are carping and calling for the coach's scalp.

So now Michigan is down, way down, down to #32 in the AP poll down. They're one week into the season and they can pretty much kiss their title hopes goodbye. Goliath took a sling stone to the noggin and went down hard. So what do the Wolverines do now? Do things fall apart or can the center hold? Is there a chance for redemption? Because if there's one thing Americans love more than an underdog knocking off a heavy favorite, it's the story of the guy who is down on his luck, down in the gutter, who staggers to his feet, pulls himself up by his bootstraps and then makes himself into a success. It's Popeye getting the crap beaten out of him by Bluto until he eats his spinach.

You can't have a redemption story without major failure first. The Michigan Wolverines have definitely done that part. Where will the story line go next? Stay tuned.


Digger Hats?

President Bush is in Australia for the annual APEC meeting. In previous years, there's always been a photo op in which all of the national leaders dress up in the ceremonial garb of the host country. Most of the time, that's been some kind of colorful silk outfit in whichever Asian country is hosting the meeting that particular year. I wonder what they'll be wearing this year? Will they be dressed up like Crocodile Dundee? That's my guess. I'd be very surprised if there are no digger hats in the picture.

How Gutsy!

I read this article the other day: Pete Seeger sings out against Stalin

The 88-year-old folk singer, who claims to have left the Communist Party around 1950, has finally gotten around to writing a song decrying the cruelty of the late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. All I could think was, "Wow, what a gutsy thing to do! Writing a song criticizing a despot who's been dead for more than fifty years, and who was the leader of a country that's been out of business for fifteen years. How edgy!"

If Mr. Seeger really wanted to do something edgy, he could write a song criticizing current Russian leader Vladimir Putin. I wouldn't recommend it unless his insurance premiums are paid up, though. Maybe he could criticize the human rights abuses of Fidel Castro. Maybe he could write a song about how awful the kleptocratic regime of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe is.

But walking into the mausoleum and thumbing his nose at Stalin's moldering bones? Too little, and much, much, too late. When you've been on the wrong side of history your entire life, there's no "come to Jesus" moment that's big enough to fix it.