Thursday, October 29, 2009

So, local elections coming up next week. I've moved to a new precinct - Bellefonte South. The real estate boosters call most of the precinct "Rainbow's End" - a neighborhood of neat, aging, well-kept ranches and Cape Cods - but I'm pretty sure my slice of town's still Downtown, which is noticeably lower-class, decrepit, and mostly tumble-down Victorian.

As for the ballot, well... There's no choices to speak of for mayor, tax collector, or the school directors. That last one - the system's set up to only deliver four choices for four seats - is sort of annoying, as our school district has a nasty habit of jumping at Cadillac solutions to problems & driving our school property taxes to county highs. Especially since they've been sniveling about insufficient classroom space for the primary school kids, which suggests they're getting ready to go on another construction binge.

I'm voting straight Republican on the judges, I think. I haven't noticed any serious beefs about any of the choices in that section, and Republicans are heuristically preferable to Democrats or anyone who would run for a judge's seat on the Libertarian ticket. Absent, of course, credible and convincing testimony to the contrary in individual cases.

The big local race is for District Attorney. The Republican incumbent has gotten caught up in a scandal over an assistant district attorney's inability to keep his private life and his job separate - there are a couple of lawsuits or somesuch ongoing, and a case or two got overturned because of the scandal. That's bad, but the Democratic opponent (whom I voted for in the Democratic primary, mind you) isn't really a very attractive alternative. She's a classic squishy soft-on-crime Clintonite faker, and I hate her signs - very liberal-fascist "smiley face on the sole of our jackboots" creepy. I'll probably hold my nose and vote for the guy who needs to keep a better eye on his jerkass subordinates. I will probably vote for the incumbents in the other county offices.

Lastly, borough council & the precinct offices. Council's a "race" between a Democratic "facilities manager" (I think that means janitorial super?) and a Republican who didn't even bother to respond to the local paper's request for information. Some research shows that he's an older DJ who's heavily involved in all the festivals and events-planning in the borough - all that crap that the Curtin Hill toffs live for, which clutters up Downtown for those sods who actually live there. Just based on my impressions of those two, I'm going to go with the Democrat - he seems less likely to waste my property taxes on the festival chrome, and more likely to waste it on guys leaning on shovels. Eh, a bit of a trade-off.

The Judge of Election and so forth are all "write-in". What the heck's up with that? Is there anybody running things in this precinct?
If any population in the United States deserves this sort of treatment, it's the government-happy employees of the federal government who drive to and through the District of Columbia and the deep-blue inhabitants of that fair territory. They won't learn the lesson, though. They'll just fume "If Comrade Obama only knew! He'd put it right!"

Monday, October 26, 2009

If you've never heard of shad planking as an extreme example of political "sign war" excess, this is absolutely gob-smacking.
Well, isn't this lovely. There's a Star Chamber in Great Britain which exists to find elderly individuals incompetent (because of Alzheimers, dementia or mental illness), seize their assets, and presumably lock them away in a facility. I'd call it enslavement except people generally make slaves of those whom they might find of use. This is rather that sort of slavery where the benefit to the slaver is entirely of a moral cast: the beneficial glow of having done a good work, of having saved these old dears from the exploitations of their grasping, depraved parasite spawn, of having put them into a gentle, soothing trajectory towards the Great Recycling Box in the Turf.

All great evils are done by those who think highly of their moral certitudes.
"If Rachel’s people are 'nothing,' what does that say about mine?"

A link encountered in a comment thread on the rise of the English neo-Fascist BNP.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some poor schmuck in town bought a 2010 Nissan Cube; it was parked on High Street Saturday morning. I was astounded and revolted. After a bit of staring in horrified fascination, I called a friend to share the revulsion.

It is quite honestly the worst-looking car I've ever seen. Some might offer the Aztek as a rival, but you can kind of see where they were going with the Aztek - it's just a streamlined, cubist variant on the minivan aesthetic, one that goes terribly, eye-slicingly wrong. The Cube is a whole different class of 'orrible.

To start off with, it's a cube, a box on wheels - but it's a cube defined entirely with curves, not a single straight edge that I could identify in ten minutes of awe-struck examination. Every curve takes away from all the others, and the whole is much, much less than the parts.

The Cube isn't much bigger than my Aveo, but it's slightly taller, and has to have twice the air-resistence, because the front window is the closest thing to a straight line on the vehicle. It's at about a 65 to 70 degree slope, perfectly calculated to suck airflow downwards into the scoop under the hood & devour forward momentum. The only way it could be worse is if it had a Jeep-style perfect vertical sheet of glass.

Said scoop is the next abomination in this parade of horrible. It's about five-six inches wide, and four inches deep, a great little pit for slush, ice, and snow to accumulate in bad weather, and mess with the thermal balance and weight of the car. It's an utterly, formlessly worthless aesthetic touch which will just make life miserable for the owner in winter weather. The interior is bedeviled with a bizarre ripple ridging effect cast into the ceiling around the dome light, as if it were a rock tossed into a pond. Why? Damned if I know.

Lastly, the hatch door opens sidewise, like a RAV4 or a CR-V. This car is too small and close to the ground to compete with those mini-SUVs - it's *not* a crossover, far as I can tell. It's more in the way of a competitor to the HHC, as if someone would actually want to compete with a half-car, half-stationwagon like that. The main thing accomplished by making the hatch open sidewise, is to greatly increase the required opening radius, and to render the layout of the vehicle irrepairably unbalanced - distressingly asymmetric, like a vehicle designed by that aesthetic vandal, Frank Gehry.

Someone once accused the Chrysler K-Car of not being a car, but rather the box the car came in. Likewise, the Nissan Cube isn't so much a car, as the vacuum-sealed clamshell it was shipped in: the sort of clamshell which takes a pair of scissors, a boxcutter, and a lighter to get open. The sort of packaging which hates the purchaser.

This car is an aesthetic offense against the gods of design. The designers ought to be tarred and feathered, and run out of Nishi-ku on a rail.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Article on Steven Vincent Benet and John Brown's Body. I almost said that it's my favorite poem, but to be strictly honest, Benet is my favorite poet. It's true that there are long stretches of John Brown's Body that are kind of precious and others which are too much of their time. There are long stretches of John Brown's Body which I think count among the greatest things written in English, especially his summation of John Brown the man, and some scene-setting sections at the beginning. Other passages, especially the western stuff set after Shiloh, are... kind of Narmish. I think his best work was probably the Burning City, which included the superlative "Litany for Dictatorships" and "Nightmare, with Angels", as well as "Ode to the Austrian Socialists" and a lot of harrowing, doomful premonitions of the apocalyptic coming war which Benet wouldn't survive.
I've been playing around in the kitchen the last week or so, mostly with garlic, cooking oil, and green onions. I kind of went overboard with the garlic last night. Everything tasted like really overconcentrated garlic juice for the rest of the evening, including diet Mountain Dew and cups of water.
Heavy, heavy snowfall. About two and a half inches off the top of my car this morning, and there was a small tree down over the fence at the back of the condo association property - didn't look like it caused any damage, except maybe to that guy's bird feeding apparatus.

Radio reports say that the southeast section of the county got hit monstrous hard - six inches of sodden October snow around Port Matilda. Rightwing Prof lives down that way, on this side of Skytop. Hopefully Gray's Woods didn't get too badly hammered.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

We're losing another employee here at work. Middle of the worst recession of my lifetime, and everybody's jumping ship.

Anybody need work as a system administrator with experience in CentOS & Red Hat Linux management? There's a list of requirements as long as my arm.

BTW, so much for "no snow accumulation". There's a half-inch on the boardwalk outside my office-closet window.
I *so* know what I'm giving *somebody* for Christmas this year.

I just have to figure out who's the lucky relative.

To be honest, I'll probably buy it for myself & then push it on somebody else after I'm done with it. It looks cheap enough.

Aigh! Snow tonight through Sunday! They're talking about *accumulation*, even down here in the bellybutton of the valley! (Admittedly not until Friday evening, but still!)

Damnit, I used to joke, but please - please! Bring back global warming!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The first hard frost of the season. Had to go dig my ice scraper out of the closet I had tossed it into during the moving process. At least I got the bulbs into the garden-box a week and a half ago, so that's taken care of.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Figured out how to start up & light the pilot light on my propane space-heater yesterday, and in the process also found my propane supplier. Apparently I do *not* own that big honking tank under my porch, and the supplier was quite wroth to find that the previous owner had moved without notifying them of this fact. They were willing to transfer the contract to me easily enough, and the cost seems reasonable for the first tank & rental. We'll see how much I end up using in a year. Wonder if I'm responsible for maintenance on that tank? It's starting to look a bit rusty, and when I thought I owned it, I had been contemplating giving it a new coat of paint.

I was fiddling with my propane furnace/space-heater/what-have-you because I had been talking with my friend Jason earlier that day, who had lost two propane tanks to their actual owners from his new house last week. Apparently the previous owners were renting their propane tanks, and hadn't bothered to inform the new owners of this. The tanks just disappeared from behind his garage one morning, taken by the propane supplier without so much as a by-your-leave. So he bought a replacement tank & was getting it filled at a station down the road from his new place. For him, the purchase-price of the tank was an improvement over the rental cost, long-term. I don't know, we'll see how I fare. I've got a much bigger tank, and the terms aren't horrible.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Damn straight, Lech. Buncha obsequious lap-dogs, apologizing for the misbehavior of their degenerate corrupt brothers in the Olympic oligarchy, a way for them to say "it's not you, God-Emperor Barack, it's America!"

Let's just hope the God-Emperor's post-Nobel career isn't as ill-starred as fellow recipients Arafat, el Baradei, Carter, Rabin, Gorbachev, or Aung San Suu Kyi. Maybe the God-Emperor can demonstrate some grace by actually deigning to meet with fellow Nobel laureate the Dalai Lama the next time he's in town, instead of crudely snubbing him like he did last week.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

There's an independent trying to get to the right of the Republican candidate in the New Jersey gubernatorial race. He's proposing extensive property and corporate tax cuts to be replaced with what sounds like a vigorous VAT - he calls it a sales tax, but a "sales tax" that's applicable to things outside of retail sales - sounds like services, etc, from what he's talking about - is more of a value-added tax if you ask me.

It *sounds* good, but VATs require a pretty hefty social contract to work right. Once you put the whole of the small business community into the position of reporting their revenue in detail to the government and impose a significant surtax, there's a heck of an incentive for cheating. New Jersey is rather infamous for a, how should I put it, less-than-world-class social contract.

Monday, October 05, 2009

So, Starship Operators had a fairly dire first three episodes. Oh, not in terms of animation, but there were way too many characters, they didn't spend much time establishing the setting or backstory, and the framing conceit is more, well, conceited than usual.

Said conceit: when their home planet in the galactic sticks is overrun by the neighborhood militaristic alliance - "the Kingdom" - a shipful of military cadets on a long-range training cruise arrange a "deal" with a powerful media network based off of Earth - the Galactic Network will finance their rebellion in exchange for broadcast rights. It's Survivor: Doomed Intergalactic War! This is a bit high-concept for my usual tastes, and when it was getting fansubbed, I never got past those three initial episodes. They were killing people off I hadn't even identified as individuals yet, and the nominal heroine didn't seem to be doing much of anything heroic, or even particularly distinctive.

I was buying pretty much anything I wouldn't be embarrassed to have on my shelves last summer, so this ended up in my "to-watch" stack, even though it hadn't been good enough to watch *free* the last time 'round. Luckily for me, it got better. Fast.

The version of war the writers and animators handed us - once things settled down & all the goofy adolescent bushwalla had been disposed of - was actually pretty nifty. It bears more resemblance to Walter Jon Williams' Praxis trilogy than Legend of Galactic Heroes, Star Wars, or most other supposed space operas. It really does feel like real fighting - hours and days of suspenseful boredom punctuated by seconds of screaming terror. Range and reaction arcs introduce actual tactics and operational art into the fighting, and logistics & strategy do their proper jobs of framing the respective pace and purpose of the fighting, concepts that probably will be alien to someone fed solely upon TV and film SF.

Furthermore, the heroine justifies her existence, and visibly & coherently demonstrates operational planning & wargaming, while not actually being the captain of the ship. We have an actual G-3, people! Although they call her "deputy captain", so points off for that.

Characters die in unnecessary and tragic fashion, and likable characters' failures cause those tragedies. Youth's idealism is used by the avuncular cynics who could be characterized as the cinders left by the ambitious idealism of earlier generations. Losing battles are resolved by unrelated, well-foreshadowed political developments. In the end, our protagonists don't so much triumph, as survive. For the most part.

In short, Spaceship Operators is an excellent little space opera. Shame it stumbled so badly getting out of the gate.
We were sitting around watching the Penn State game on Saturday after helping a friend move, and as usual, I paid more attention to the commercials than the football. Lots and lots of advertising for Big Ten universities - wonder if they think of football as a loss-leader for recruiting students these days?

The most interesting ad was for an "office F-150" from Ford. Internet ready! Ten years ago I'd have scoffed at the idea of an "office edition" pickup truck. Not anymore. I took one look at that, and said "the farmers and field reps will love the hell out of that thing". Sure enough, I was talking to a location manager this morning, and she had seen the same ad, and was thinking about getting them the next time her office's leases were up on their current vehicles. She was also talking about taking wifi'd tablet PCs into the field for recordkeeping real-time with our system. Wi-fi. In cropland.

It's a strange world, and getting stranger by the day. Here's hoping the Singularity saves us from our political idiocies before those idiocies starve us out.