Archive for November, 2004

Fewer police and firemen since 9/11

Nov 29, 2004 in Current Events

An article in Monday’s USA Today (“Police, fire departments see shortages across USA”) reports on the declining numbers of firefighters, police and other first responders in many communities. There are now fewer police and firefighters on the streets than there were before 9/11. Special projects have been cut, training is harder to come by, and local officials are worried about whether they will be able to respond to large scale disasters.

The reason for the decline? Tight budgets, of course. The possible solution? Federal money to increase staffing levels, in the form of the SAFER Act which was passed by Congress last October. But despite the passage of the SAFER Act, the Bush administration has not funded the program. According to the article: “Bush administration officials say the federal government shouldn’t be in the business of paying salaries for state and local employees.”

Yep, you heard that right. Apparently, the Bush administration doesn’t think it’s important for you to have adequate police and fire protection in your communities. Just another example of how they have made us less safe since 9/11.

VH1’s “40 Most Awesomely Bad Metal Songs Ever” and revisionist history.

Nov 25, 2004 in Music

No Thanksgiving dinner for me until later this evening, so I’m watching TV and hitting the bottle right now. I’m watching the 40 Most Awesomely Bad Metal Songs Ever on VH1 right now, and while it is quite enjoyable (as enjoyable as VH1’s pop culture crack can be), I have to take issue with the program’s (admittedly well-deserved) derision for late-eighties’ hair metal.

Yes, it’s bad. It was bad then, and it’s even worse in retrospect. But while watching Riki Rachtman, assorted critics and celebrities, and VH1’s producers slam bad metal videos, I can’t help but think that it’s the MTV Networks’ fault for popularizing this trash in the first place. Same with the network’s other bad video shows, in which they trashed “Ice Ice Baby” and other awful hits of the past two decades. If they do another program in ten years trashing the boy bands, hair metal and tween pop they helped to popularize in the 90’s, I’m going to go fucking ballistic.

On the subject of hair metal: As bad as it was, it was virtually inescapable in the late 80’s. In fact, this pop-influenced “metal lite” penetrated so far into the mainstream, that it was mistaken for metal by many people. I had this conversation many times in those days…

Me: “Yeah, I listen to metal.”
Clueless Person: “Oh, do you like Guns N’ Roses / Poison / Insert-hair-metal-band-here?”
Me: “No, that stuff’s crap. I like stuff like Metallica / Slayer / Insert-obscure-thrash-metal-band-here.”
Clueless Person: “Never heard of them.”

The Riki Rachtman helmed “Headbanger’s Ball” was a prime example of this. When it premiered in 1987 (with big-haired future blogger Adam Curry as host), HB was the place for metal fans in the heartland to get their fill of metal videos. In it’s early incarnation, the program ran the gamut from popular hair metal bands to old school metal to the underground. As the decade wore on into the early 90’s, the ascendancy of hair metal overran the program to the point that Riki Rachtman became one of the most hated men in America. (Unfortunate for him; Riki had nothing to do with the selection of videos on the program. That task lay with the network’s programming directors, and Riki’s criticism of the network’s choice of videos eventually cost him his hosting job.)

Eventually, a band called Nirvana came along and sent hair metal the way of the dodo bird. (Ironically enough, Nirvana was mistaken for a metal band by MTV. One of Cobain’s first TV appearances was an interview on HB in a gaudy Victorian-era dress. “It’s a ball, isn’t it?” Kurt wryly intoned.)

Master of the Flying Guillotine : Great Thanksgiving family entertainment!

Nov 25, 2004 in Film

For those of you looking for some Thanksgiving television entertainment, aside from family films, football and cable marathons (especially VH1’s “Awesomely Bad” marathon), you couldn’t do much worse that watching one of the best kung-fu films ever made on extended cable.

Master of the Flying Guillotine (aka One Armed Boxer vs the Flying Guillotine) is a classic in a genre full of cheesy films. The film’s star villain, a blind assassin posing as a monk, wields possibly the coolest weapon ever used in a kung-fu film: a spinning hat-shaped projectile with blades that beheads it’s intended victim. The flying guillotine-wielding monk sets out to assasinate a one-armed boxing instructor who killed two of his disciples in a previous film.

Master of the Flying Guillotine is actually a combination of two film franchises: the Shaw Brothers’ produced Flying Guillotine (in which the weapon is used as a tool in political assasinations), and the Wang Yu starring/produced One Armed Boxer, of which Master of the Flying Guillotine is the sequel.

For a good chunk of the film, the plot is set aside for an tournament sequence featuring some unique and bizarre fighting styles — the coolest probably being the Indian monk with the extending arms. This film also has the coolest soundtrack of any 70’s kung-fu film, featuring the music of German krautrock band Neu! (whose song “Super 16″ was borrowed for Kill Bill 2). Also note the lo-fi rock n’ roll track during the alternate title sequence.

If you have digital cable, Master of the Flying Guillotine will be shown on the Sundance channel today at 3:30pm EST/PST (2:30 CST), and again at 6:30pm EST/PST (5:30pm CST) on the West Coast feed. A two-disc deluxe anniversary edition will be released on December 21, a nice last-minute addition to your Christmas list.

NYT poll on American political attitudes: Good news for Democrats

Nov 23, 2004 in Current Events

Today’s New York Times features a comprehensive poll on American political attitudes (“Americans Show Clear Concerns on Bush Agenda”). The poll results show that despite the results of the last election, Americans are still predominately moderate or liberal, and have a favorable attitude towards Democrats. The country is (predictably) evenly split on Bush, with a slight majority expressing skepticism or disapproval. A PDF of the full results, with historical data, can be downloaded here. Some of the more interesting highlights:

  • While a slight majority of Americans approve of Bush’s job performance and 56% say they are optimistic about the next four years, a majority also believe that the country is going in the wrong direction. 55% disapprove of Bush’s handling of Iraq, and 51% disapprove of his handling of the economy. Bush also receives a vote of little confidence on international crises and social security. A plurality of 48% disapprove of Bush’s foreign policy, and the same percentage believes that Bush’s presidency will continue to divide the country.
  • However, Bush did receive relatively high numbers on terrorism. 59% approve of his performance, which shows that terrorism fears likely helped to catapult him back into the White House.
  • A majority of Americans (51%) now believe that the Iraq War has nothing to do with the war on terrorism. A slight plurality are also pessimistic about the possibility of stabilizing Iraq.
  • 66% believe that big business has too much influence on the Bush administration
  • Despite the much-ballyhooed exit polls, “moral issues” aren’t nearly as important as was believed. The economy was the most important issue (29%), followed by terrorism (18%) and Iraq (17%). The moral issues of abortion (5%), gay marriage (2%) and stem cell research (4%) combined accounted for about 11% of voters.
  • A slight majority of Americans — and 70% of Kerry supporters — are worried about political leaders that are too close to religion and religious leaders. An overwhelming majority (85%) oppose the efforts of leaders to make their religious beliefs into law.
  • A majority of Americans support either gay marriage (21%) or civil unions (32%). 44% believe there should be no legal recognition.
  • A large majority (almost 80%) believe that abortion should remain legal. A plurality (44%) believe abortion should remain legal, but with strict limits.
  • Americans have a more favorable opinion of the Democratic party (54% favorable to 39% unfavorable) than of the Republican party (49% favorable to 46% unfavorable).
  • More Americans consider themselves Democrat (36%) as opposed to Republican (29%). This has been consistently true for at least the last twelve years. A plurality (over 40%) consider themselves moderate, over 30% consider themselves conservative, and about 20% consider themselves liberal.

Dizzy from “Vertigo”

Nov 22, 2004 in Music

U2’s new album is coming out this week, and I have to say that this is the first time a band has made me sick of their new song before the album even comes out.

The song “Vertigo” has been inescapable. You can’t watch TV without seeing the iPod commercial featuring it. You can’t flip by a music channel without seeing the video. And thank God I’m not forced to be anywhere near a radio.

Why can’t they just take a cue from REM, and just fade off as a fondly remembered, but largely irrelevant band that still does albums and tours from time to time. I don’t recall REM’s new single being shoved down my throat (Yes, they do have a new album out.)

I Want To Believe: “Black Triangle” UFO’s

Nov 20, 2004 in Linkage

An interesting post on Fark this morning: Las Vegas TV station KLAS recently did a report on “black triangle” UFOs (w/ video), which appear as triangular formations of lights that move slowly across the sky. This particular variation of UFO sightings has started to penetrate the mainstream media: did a recent article on black triangle sightings.

But what’s interesting to me about this is not necessarily the novelty of it, but the fact that I saw something very similar earlier this week. I was outside around 8pm for an astronomy lab at school. I looked straight up, and saw dim lights in the shape of a flock of geese (very similar to the top photo in the KLAS report), moving swiftly across the sky. Unlike most of these sightings, it wasn’t low to the ground, and thus it wasn’t very bright. But it was too dark and too swift to be a flock of geese, and it certainly didn’t resemble an airplane.

I do live near a municipal airport, and did see several planes in the sky that night. But planes are usually well lit, with blinking lights. I only saw the strange object for a few seconds, and I don’t think anyone else saw it. I shrugged it off; perhaps it was an airplane or a flock of geese. But after coming across this online, I’m starting to wonder exactly what it was that I saw, and if it has anything to do with this black triangle phenomenon.

I’m not really obsessed with strange phenomenon, or out to win any arguments defending their existence, but considering that there are so many uniform reports from across the world concerning strange objects in the sky, it makes you start to wonder…

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy some aluminum foil…

More on the Urban Archipelago, FCC complaints and Firefox extensions

Nov 19, 2004 in Current Events

The Stranger article referenced in the last post now has it’s own website: No original content aside from the article though. Luke from Correct My Spelling! stumbled across my post and has some cogent analysis on his site.

Ok FCC, we get it. Americans don’t like nudity with our football. Especially when it involves mixed-race couples. Barely-clad cheerleaders are ok though. Realistic violence is also ok, as long as there are no swear words uttered.

The current FCC crackdown almost makes me nostalgic for the 80’s, when limits regarding sexual content on television were constantly pushed, and hardly anyone was fined. While the FCC is coming down hard on indecency complaints on network television, it continues to push forward it’s agenda for increased media consolidation, and is even attempting to tighten it’s grasp on cable, satellite and the internet. (Fortunately, they’ve failed to make significant progress so far, but the implications are disturbing).

Firefox users: Forget Mozilla Update, and get your extensions from the Mozdev Extension Room instead. Mozdev has an updated list of extensions, and if the extension you’re looking for hasn’t been updated, you can always check the author’s site.

Let’s all move to the cities!

Nov 16, 2004 in Current Events

This week’s issue of the Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger features a scathing, yet thought-provoking screed on the urban/rural political divide, and a possible future course for progressive political action. With the realization that the red state/blue state dichotomy is actually a rural/urban one, Democrats and liberals are starting to realize that the political course lay in their own backyards; even embracing such foreign notions as States’ rights.

Although the Stranger piece spews a little too much bile for my taste, it brings up an interesting point. For progressives, the only plausible choice of action is to exercise their considerable political power in their own urban neighborhoods and let Red America fend for themselves. For those liberals stuck in Red America, the most plausible choice is to move to the cities. (The Northeast and Canada are just too damn cold, and there are still plenty of liberal-minded cities in the midst of Red America.)

Does the term “checks and balances” mean anything to you?

Nov 12, 2004 in Current Events

Today, John Ashcroft criticized federal judges who had the audacity to rule against Bush administration policies.

‘Ashcroft forcefully denounced what he called “a profoundly disturbing trend” among some judges to interfere in the president’s constitutional authority to make decisions during war.

“The danger I see here is that intrusive judicial oversight and second-guessing of presidential determinations in these critical areas can put at risk the very security of our nation in a time of war.”

“Courts are not equipped to execute the law. They are not accountable to the people,” Ashcroft said.’

How in flipping hades did this man ever become in charge of the Justice Department? Especially considering that he lacks the basic understanding of the judicial branch’s purpose to provide “checks and balances” to the other two branches of government; a fact that every first semester poli sci student knows.

While Bush, Ashcroft and Co. have been subverting constitutional and international law to execute their war on terror, federal justices have been doing their job in reviewing said policies and bringing them closer in line to constitutional and international law. Ashcroft is correct in saying that the courts are not accountable to the people. They’re not accountable to the executive branch either. The only authority that courts are accountable to is the law, and we have a well-established system of appeals to contest erroneous court decisions.

It’s a good thing this man has resigned from his job. Let’s hope his replacement has more sense than him.

On Firefox and Lip Balm

Nov 11, 2004 in Tech

So Mozilla Firefox 1.0 came out yesterday. It’s a huge milestone, and download servers are reportedly swamped. I managed to download and install my copy, but not before realizing that THEY CHANGED THE EXTENSION ARCHITECTURE AGAIN!

I like Firefox, but as a convert from Opera, I’m a little dissatisfied that some of my favorite features (such as tabbed single window mode) are lacking. Extensions resolve this to some extent, but with the latest updates, the extensions have stopped working. They did it with the 1.0 Preview release, and until all of the extensions were updated by their respective authors, I had to downgrade to 0.9.3. So, I’ve downgraded again, and will have to wait until new extensions appear.

On another note, I rediscovered this oldie but goodie: Lip Balm Anonymous. The author of this site contends (seriously) that lip balm is an addictive substance, akin to cigarettes or drugs, peddled by the crooked, greedy lip balm industry. This site seems almost satirical, until you realize that he’s really serious. To me, it’s interesting because I’m a hardcore user of Blistex Lip Medex (the stuff in the little blue jar), and can’t live without it. But I kinda doubt that lip balm usage serves as a gateway to hard drug use, as the author maintains.

Hang on, I need to apply more of this stuff to my lips…