Friday, September 29, 2006

NPR and Macbeth

While I'm posting like mad, I'll mention that I've found that I do indeed get a wireless signal in the lab, and have been listening to NPR for the past few days. It seems like every time I start to think that it's incredibly informative and it'd be great if everyone listend to it, they do something which proves to me why people don't. Like when I was driving back from PNC Park and heard a story about the mating sounds of mosquitos. Or a few days ago when a singer/songwriter's sound was described as being "as if he had been soaking in some very warm water", whatever the hell that means. Or walking to my hood to hear that the Dodder is "One of the creepiest plants I know. I still don't know what the hell to make of that.

Oh, and in Northwestern research news, a group has found that, upon thinking of things that you've done that were bad, it's more likely that you'll want to clean yourself, suggesting that guilt is somewhat directly linked to the general feeling of disgust. That's right. Shampoo companies will now be offering you puppies to kill to get you to buy more product.

More Legislation

The House approved a bill that would allow for a form of the "warrantless wiretaps" program to continue. On a side note, it's hilarious how much Congress can get done when a) they break on Friday and b) they're not trying to figure out if we should amend the document that literally defines the country to worry about whether or not gays can marry. While I'm very cautious about giving the government power to conduct searches that are in violation of the 4th amendment, this bill would at the very least provide some guidelines, as follows.

1) The President has to clear any and all searches by the House and Senate congressional committees and notifies leaders of both (though how much good that would do for a group of people that appear to be entirely defined through which team they're on is debatable)

2) The President has to have reason to believe an attack is imminent and has to explain why the hell he wants to wiretap them.

3) He's got a 90 day certification on all of that.

So it does set some limits, as opposed to "whatever the hell he feels like." Again, I don't think that a dystopia is upon us yet. But I'm not sure how one sets this into law without the first person it's used on claiming violation of the 4th amendment. I can see why wiretaps could be invaluable to fighting organizations which wish to harm us, but I really dislike the "if you're not doing anything wrong, why do you care" argument, because it's asinine.

So I'm torn. Whatever. The wheel keeps turning.

Update on Everything

I've finally gotten around to seeing Brick, which was recommended to me long ago in a coffeehouse in NYC (The Esperanto Cafe, if I remember correctly) which served coffee in short glass mugs that offend my senses as well as furthering Dr. Zamenhof's ideals of peace through common language and fuel for sitcom jokes. And muffins. I regret that it took me so long to get around to it, particularly when it was playing in Evanston at Century Theater's "less popular movies" annex for about a month. It's a bit hard to buy the whole "No really, everyone actually talks like this" and odd to think that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is two years older than I am and is apparently still in high school, and that no one ever goes to class ever, but I'll take it. It kept me interested throughout, which is something Jenna's latest Netflix Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story didn't do so well, though they're vastly different films in every possible aspect. I'd recommend checking it out.

The Pirates have three games left in the season, all against Cincinnati, who is at this point struggling to hold on to the possibility of coming out on top of the Central, as they've been eliminated from the wild card. Depending on how the next weekend goes, either the Astros or the Cards are likely taking the division, while the wild card is up in the air between whoever doesn't win the NL West and the Phillies. Not that any of that will matter, as the Mets are the ones going to the World Series. I'm still hanging on to some hope that they'll be facing the A's.

The Senate voted today 65-34 to approve a bill which would set up rules for dealing with those deemed "enemy combatants" and would define, more or less, what is or is not allowed to occur in an attempt to comply with the Third Geneva Conventions, after the Supreme Court found that we probably couldn't just ignore bits. There has been a fair amount of controversy in that it eliminates, for those declared enemy combatants, the right to appeal with habeas corpus. This would follow not only for combatants held in, say Guantanamo, but in any U.S. prison anywhere in the world, and can be suspended during such time as it is being determined whether or not they are enemy combatants.. Habeas corpus, historically, can only be suspended in the United States in time of war, and while the current situation differs from war in most classical aspects (that is, we're not waging war on a country, but on a concept), it is the opinion of a majority of the Senate that this right to revoke should be available. I'm not positive where I stand on this. It is necessary to try those who may be a threat to the wellbeing of the people of this country. But in doing that, is it right to withdraw one of the most fundamental tools for a defendant against possible wrongful imprisonment? I simply don't trust the government enough to believe that everyone they arrest as being connected to a terrorist plot is actually the correct person. Which is why, of course, they're tried, to determine whether they're guilty or innocent. During the Nuremberg trials, the United States were one of the entites that most desperately clung to the concept that there are rules and ways of doing things so as to use a legal system to determine who is to be punished and punish them accordingly. We are faced with a similar challenge today. We must find out who is responsible for the planning of crimes against humanity in the form of terrorist attacks, and we must punish them accordingly and work to prevent those attacks. In doing so, we must not trample the rights of those that aren't planning such attacks.

There are those that would read this and conclude that I'm supporting the coddling of terrorists. Those people are attacking strawmen. Terrorists, as everyone agrees, are not to be taken softly and should be punished in the harshest manner. But before we can do that, we must determine accurately who they are to a further degree than who we have in custody. Among the three Guantanamo detainees that committed suicide this summer, two were about to be released after the military had acquired evidenced that acquited them of attempting to plan and carry out a terrorist attack. They were innocent, but had not been told, and were denied the basic human rights outlined in our Constitution. While it would be nice if our methods for rounding up those who would do us harm were infallible, it's not. So we must have a system to decide whether or not we have made the proper arrest. Would those who seek to do us harm do the same, allowing for reporters captured in sensitive areas to appeal to be released because they're not spies? Of course not, they'd kill them on the spot. But I would like to think that the unwillingness of terrorists to step away from barbarism and savagery is not a rationale for treating our own prisoners below our own standards that are enshrined in the document that makes the United States a country. We're better than they are. We can win without stooping to their level. I'm simply at odds with the concept that we might be playing into their hands.

I am not at all against aggressive interrogation, and recognize that often, it is necessary to extract information that could harm many many people. I am simply concerned whenever the government begins to restrict the basic defenses of anyone in a trial situation. Do I think this will evolve into a dystopian scenario where thoughtpolice pick up those who disagree with the government in big black vans for treatment in Room 101? Of course not. But neither do I think that every single person detained is the #3 man in Al-Qaeda. I don't like the path our high-ground is heading down if we abandon tenets like habeas corpus, the ability for the defense to review the evidence against them, and while I understand the importance of aggressive interrogation of people who are actually terrorists, I find it troubling that what we're fighting so tenaciously over is the definition of torture.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I'm still comprehending the fact that the Pirates have managed to avoid 100 losses this year (which they cemented with an out-of-nowhere sweep of the best team in the NL to force them to clinch the division somewhere other than PNC) and the rationale that sends a quarterback who spent much of the off season in a hospital bed into a game with a fever of 104 degrees and thirty tons of rust, but I can put that aside for now.

I felt I should post about this because it's one of those things that I'm already way too late on, and yet am willing to laughingly ignore that fact. It involves Pandora, which I'm quite happy with recently, and would enjoy more if I worked somewhere other than a bunker that kills everything that could even be close to a wireless signal, so that I can't actually listen to this at my bench. It works by picking apart the style of music of an artist or song that you've input. Z.B., for "The Pietasters", it surmised that I like music that has subtle vocal harmony, a vocal centric aesthetic, busy horn section, major key tonality and an upbeat tempo, which is pretty good. I often run into the Tower Records down the street, gasping for air and bleeding, demanding that they point me toward the "Major Key, Subtle Vocal Harmony" section. Which is to say that they found a way to describe Third Wave Ska without using those words. It's the internet radio version of The $25,000 Pyramid.

Slate has a article up comparing this type of very technical music recommender, which tends to pull music out of context with everything but that it's somequality-centric, with things like, which rely too heavily on very popular tracks, recommending them over and over, because hey, they're so popular after all. That's like, the Man's free internet radio music recommender thing. Presuming the Man is Cee-Lo. Actually, he'd make a good Man. I don't think I'd want a still from the Closet Freak video staring at me as if to tell me to love Big Brother.

No, I don't care which shot you'd pick from that video to use for hate propaganda. Pick one. It's all creepy enough.

And a shiny nickel to the first reader to relay what "Z.B." means. Jenna and Rory should be on this.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


By the end of the year, there's a very good chance I'll have given more money to the Golden Nugget than to anything else. Possibly including rent. And no, not The Golden Nugget. The Golden Nugget. If there's one thing I know about me, it's that I have a soft spot for late night diners. Typically one's named "Eat'n'Park" that will occasionally sell me a whole pie and let me stay in the restaurant eating it, but as that's not a franchise that has yet made the break into Chicago (or out of the Pennsylvania-WV-Ohio tristate area), I'll have to deal with substitutes. And sadly, there are no Denny's within walking distance, which is a real shame as the perfect compliment to after-hours bars is a place where they'll sell you thirty pounds of eggs without asking questions. So I imagine I'll be frequenting this place, as it bumps my ability to read incredibly dryly written articles about tenfold. To do so, however, I might need to set down a few things I expect from the waitstaff at these establishments. Which might amount to printing out this post and pinning it to the front of my shirt so I can concentrate on reading and grunting at the coffee. I've worked at two different formats of restaurant, first doing the whole busboy thing at a sportsbar/restaurant/place with games, then a summer as a burger jockey at a major hamburger chain. So I understand that diners can be overneedy, annoying pricks. I'm simply trying to relay what I'd think to be ideal, so that we're both clear on that. I'm usually more a fan of "tell me what to do" if I'm serving someone, rather than the school of "guess 'til I'm happy." So here are the rules, as it were.


1) Don't even ask if I want coffee. I do. If I didn't, I would have no business being in your establishment. In fact, if any table has less than 50% coffee drinkers, their bill should be increased tenfold to make amends with the restaurant. Diners, if you weren't aware, are not in the business of selling food, but in the business of getting rid of as much cheap coffee as possible without actually just dumping it into the sewer. The food thing is merely a coincidence.

2) Regarding the fashion in which I should be served. You should check on whether I need more coffee at least twice during the course of my stay. I'd probably creep you out if I demanded, shaking, that you "leave the pot", so let's try to avoid that by just checking on whether I've drained the coffee and have started staring like an addict going through withdrawal at the people in the other booths and their full drinks. Any time you pass the table with a coffee pot that has any coffee whatsoever in it, at least glance at my cup.

3) You might want to relay to the cook that I can make French Toast. It's one of the few dishes I've mastered at this point that isn't HotPockets, and if necessary, I could whip it up at home, though it would probably be harder and wouldn't help you out with your problem of how to get rid of coffee. So here's the deal. When I make French Toast, it doesn't take thirty minutes. I'd understand more if the restaurant were really packed, or if I'd seen a single dish hit the countertop in that time. Don't get me wrong. It was magnificent, and better than I make (though I think thickness of the bread does have a lot to do with that,) but I came in because I was hungry, not because I wanted to sweat in a place that was inexplicably ten degrees hotter than the outside temperature.

4) I'm not that involved in what I'm reading. Feel free to ask me how I'm doing. That way, I can get the check from you before finally giving up and getting it at the register.

5) Those guys talking incredibly loudly at the next table. It's ok to spill things on them. Like coffee. Or fire. Except if I'm one. Then don't.

6) Follow those rules, and you'll usually get at least 30% tip.

Tonight was middling. Rule 1 was followed in that coffee was given before she gave me water, but then I only got one refill. I view coffee like I currently view Netflix. I'm paying a given amount regardless ($1.50 or $18, respectively), so I'd like each actual thing to cost as little as possible. As it went, I had two cups of $0.75 coffee. Not bad, but not as good as 50 cups of $0.03 coffee. I did have to go to the register to get the check, but it looked like she was the most productive waitress there, so that's relatively ok. I'll definitely be back. Perhaps with a note on my shirt like I'm five and going to the grocery store to get milk.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Three A. M.

I'm of the belief that one can only get a sense for where one has decided to live by checking it out at night. If you'd done that with my two previous homes, in Cheswick and Meadville, the results were pretty similar. Most people are asleep. In Meadville, there was some activity at the 24-hour Super Walmart*, but not much anywhere else and the activity that was at the Walmart was mostly cleaning crews and the greeter guy. Russelton had roads that led to diners, which were open and serving people that had just jaunted over from the Blue Haven Lounge. Both places I've spent many a 3 am in, and it was kind of subdued. Which is fine. It flowed with the particular makeup of those settings, and I wouldn't have traded it for anything. In Edgewater, even, mostly things are shut down. The 24 hour Dominicks had some activity (mostly a woman named winifred who also worked at another 24 hour Dominicks at Howard), and then not much. Some crowd from Sizzle, but it was rather small, as I believe Sizzle closed at 2. Now, I'm living in Lincoln Park. Most people I've said that to immediately jump to the "Oh, yuppietown" end, though that didn't play into my decision to jump on this place. What played into that decision was the fact that it's midway between UIC and NOrthwestern, had affordable rent, and I really just wanted to be done with the damn Apartment People. So there's that. Tonight, I decided to take a quick half-hour walk (from which I've just returned) to get a feel for what Lincoln Park is like after 3, specifically on Clark between Diversey and Fullerton.

It's like drama incarnate, which is to say "very much like college." I passed one breakup, a few "playfully throwing water bottles at you" scenes, TWO couples having the "defining our relationship" talk, both of which seemed headed for "breakup 2 and 3" status and one of which was being conducted tearfully over a mailbox, lines out the door and around the corner at the few eateries that were still open (most concentrated: Angela's Burrito Style, which sounds and looks like it would be kind of good if not for the throng of drunken 25-year-olds in Polo shirts and if the guy making the food would put on a damn hairnet or something. Bathe or something.) There was a thick group huddled around the entrance to Frank's, which appeared to be the only after-hours bar on my short little trip, bouncers at Frank's trying to convince the would-be customer-at-the-front-of-the-throng that he's probably had enough for the night and that people are actually starting to merge physically with the wall due to overcrowding, some annoying people in a Stretch Hummer (imagine that! and one dude who yelled "do you want me to drive over and pick you up" into a cell phone immediately before walking dead into a wall. I've also become convinced that the phrase most often drunkenly screamed into a cell phone is "don't leave," followed closely by "We're coming over, stay there." One gentleman said "howyreadoin" at me with a nice smile, and at least seven people just walked the hell into oncoming traffic-entirely-composed-of-taxis, two of which were trying to hail an already occupied taxi on a cross street, ignoring the endless line of taxis that had almost hit them. I imagine the taxi drivers are pretty used to that though, and are probably artists with a brake pedal. I walked by the Blockbuster, and mournfully thought of the card I'll never use again, and then came home to talk to the security woman in the lobby about how damn busy the building had been tonight, apparently.

I look forward to taking this 3am walk thing up as my most recent sport.

On a completely unrelated note, I'd like to say "Rest in Peace" to Mayor Bob O'Connor, who assumed the office in January of this year, was diagnosed with a rare lymphoma in July and passed away Friday evening. I wasn't in Pittsburgh for his tenure, so I don't know how he had started to affect the city (or how much he could have affected the city in the 6 months before he was diagnosed and entered treatment), but he seemed, from all accounts, to be a good man. I'd also like to say "good luck" to Luke Ravenstahl, the new 26-year-old Mayor of Pittsburgh, who has the most awesome name in the history of Mayoring, in addition to being the youngest mayor in Pittsburgh history. Hopefully, he can live up to what many think Mr. O'Connor would have been able to accomplish if not for the tragedy of his illness.

*It's entirely possible that "24-hour Super Walmart" is redundant.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Woo! Things!

I've finally moved into my new place and gotten acquainted with the neighborhood, and so I'll try to be posting here a bit more regularly. Some topics.

1) I've capitulated and gotten Netflix, partially because it's a pretty good deal given how many movies I try to watch , but mostly because I've decided that, at least for now, cable is pointless. I'm not home enough to warrant spending $50 on television per month, and it was starting to make the fact that I have game consoles pointless. So far, I'm so-so on the service. The turnaround could be a bit quicker, but then that might not be something I should be blaming entirely on Netflix, given that the post-office does actually have to make sure they get to my door. So I'll give it a little while longer before I go about cancelling.

2) Can we go thirty seconds without a damn story about YouTube? I understand. YouTube's great. I use it probably every day, mostly because it's a bit of a way around the whole "illegally downloading songs" while (surely copyrighted) music videos are still up. Surely, the RIAA will be by shortly to slap the hell out of Darshana90 for posting the worst quality video of "Wonderboy" in existence. Still, it's like the media got the hint that the whole "blogging" thing it got all crazy about was kind of overblown and not really that interesting, and had to find something to grab on to. (Incidentally, "Wonderboy" was playing on the radio when I went to the NYC location of Forbidden Planet Comics, which is evidently surprising. I don't know. Ask Jenna.

Post script to that: I hope every single person who has some video of themselves lipsyncing to Bossy tries to run for office. Not because I'd want them in power, but more for the "What the Hell Was Going On In Your Basement" factor. Incidentally, the actual video for Kelis' Bossy is the most godawful thing I've ever seen. What's with the cake? The poodle? Too Short? I can't think this is how music is supposed to be.

3) I get angry at the CTA at times, despite the fact that it's damn convenient and no where near as expensive as owning a car and I would be lost without it, mostly because it's occasionally delayed. Usually, this is because of work on the tracks, but as a person who regularly drove on Rt. 28 outside of Pittsburgh, "delayed by construction" is almost a default for me. That said, I'm incredibly glad I'm in Chicago, land of the overcast recently, and not London where trains are stopped by happy, jolly, coercive rays of sunshine.

4) Slate has been showcasing the new 9/11 Commission Report Graphic Novel. I'm not quite sure about what I think about that, partially because it does, to an extent, trivialize the event by portraying it as more of a cartoon than ever (though I suppose it could be debated whether this is the first attempt which has actually made a cartoon out of 9/11). Still, I don't believe that the medium of graphic novels (or comic books) is inherently "comic," as many political graphic novels, historicals and hell even Doonesbury prove time and time again. It's more or less pictures of the event and aftermath set to excerpts from the committee report, and does do the service of putting the report in a format that people might actually read. Which is definitely a good thing.

5) If you happen to be in Chicago, here's a list that the Tribune put together of stuff to do before the summer ends. But then, if you're in Chicago, you ought to come out to Chicago's Jazz Festival. It'll be awesome.