April 2006

Inspired by Bascha, I have updated my book meme entry to include books I loved and books I love so much I’m pretty much always reading them or about to read them.

So, is anyone reading this knowledgeable about, or experimenting with, or curious about High Dynamic Range photography?  This is something I really, really want to try, just for the heck of it.  (If you ask me, it makes real subjects look like pre-rendered backgrounds in videogames, which is strangely beautiful).

Some samples can be found in the HDR Flickr pool, or in the blog post linked above (which also includes links to a tutorial).

I don’t have the full version of Photoshop CS 2, just Photoshop Elements 4.  However, Photomatix has a trial version available for download, and there are of course versions for both Mac and Windows.  I’ll probably download the OS X version tonight, then bust out the camera this weekend and see what I can produce.

These four things are the keys to happiness, I think. Oh, and high-speed Internet access. Oh, and books.

And gaming.  Kittens, too!  OK, so I have a lot of needs.

Saturday afternoon we rolled over to Bascha & Kath‘s place to start off the grilling season in style. Bascha’s enormo-grill was in full effect (she has mastered the use of a chimney to get it going quickly, something I should learn to do at some point) and Kath had a spread going before we’d even gotten there. We cracked open some wine, The Boyf marinaded some ribeyes for me to grill, and several pounds of meat (I’m not exaggerating, really) later I was laid up on their couch while the rest of the party got their fun on. One nap and a few Tums later, I was well into my second wind.

You know you are in good hands when one of your hostesses tells you that the other hostess has Advil in her bathroom and when you go check said bathroom there are both Advil and Tums sitting out, ready to be used by those who need them. Gods yes. They have great grilling parties, I am here to tell you.

Speaking of good friends and fun times, those of you who know fiend must check his new digs: Geek Nanny (FYI – fixed the link; that was weird). It’s good reading. Follow along as he twists young minds to his evil purposes!

As The Boyf finished getting ready, I took some ridiculously adorable kitten pictures.

Just, you know, FYI.

I saw this at Mz. GoRightry’s place, and as I love to talk books, here are mine. (UPDATE: I have stolen Bascha‘s color notations for favorites, just FYI.) The deal is, you copy the list, bold anything in it that you’ve read, and add four to the end. As an extension of the meme, I am further denoting books in this manner:

  • italicised, but not bold = a book I want to read but haven’t yet
  • italicised and bold = a book I’m currently reading
  • bold and struck through = a book I tried to read and have formally abandoned out of disinterest
  • purple and bold = a book I have read and is a favorite
  • purple, bold and italicised = a book I have read and love so much that it’s always “current” reading

Maybe yugen is right, and I need to be a systems librarian.

The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams
The Great Gatsby – F.Scott Fitzgerald
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter 6) – J.K. Rowling
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Animal Farm: A Fairy Story – George Orwell
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
1984 – George Orwell
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Book 3) – J.K. Rowling
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4) – J.K. Rowling
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter 5) – J.K. Rowling
Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut
Angels and Demons – Dan Brown
Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Book 1) – J.K. Rowling
Neuromancer – William Gibson
Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2) – J.K. Rowling
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Ender’s Game (The Ender Saga) – Orson Scott Card
Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Good Omens – Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman
Atonement – Ian McEwan
The Shadow Of The Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
Dune – Frank Herbert
The Unberable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
Hey Nostradamus! – Douglas Coupland
The Nature of Blood – Caryl Phillips
Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules – Ed. David Sedaris
The Last Continent – Terry Pratchett
The Book of Skulls – Robert Silverberg
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Laurie R. King
Persepolis 2 – Marjane Satrapi

My four additions:
The Sound & The Fury – William Faulkner
A Wild Sheep Chase – Haruki Murakami
The Bridge of Birds – Barry Hughart
Foundation – Isaac Asimov

Whew! Work has just kicked my tail this week, so I haven’t blogged. Lame, I know. Whatevs.

I did get to have some fun at work, though. A co-worker got tired of an issue he couldn’t figure out, and dumped it unceremoniously in my lap. A few words were mumbled about being busy with something else, and then he ran – literally ran – from the scene of the crime. I yelled after him that I guessed that meant I, being sort of in charge of this sort of thing, would have to do it. So, I did.

By Day Two of trying to deal with The Unfixable Problem From Hell, I had exhausted my local resources and learned that what the client wanted to do wasn’t possible anyway. It now fell to me to explain to them that despite said co-worker’s assurances that all would work just as they expected, it would in fact not work at all and that we were not going to make it work because we could not do so.

That’s not what I’m really blogging about, though.

A second colleague offered to take it off my hands, so I stood up and said, “I appreciate your offer. Sincerely. But I inherited this because Gimpy McDumpAndRun didn’t feel like doing this, because he was tired of talking to these people and failing to help them, and I am a better person than that. I am tired of talking to them – make no mistake – and I am tired of this issue and I wish it were over. But this company pays me to show up anyway, and to talk to them anyway, and I refuse to do to you what was done to me.”

Everyone was listening, and everyone was staring. And that is what I’m blogging about. Do not cross the McManlyPants with lies and obfuscations, because he will burn your ass in front of the entire office in a crescendo of passive-aggressive drama. Nobody wants that.

Sadly, I learned that Gimpy wasn’t even at his desk when this happened, so he didn’t hear a word. That just makes it even more passive-aggressive, but again, whatevs.

All told, the client got over it and came out of it happier than they were before. And, as a bonus, I got to say this: “I am an engineer. I will tell you the truth. No one issued me a bucket of white-wash for this job.”

And they liked that.

In 2000, as I was standing in line to vote, a woman in front of me addressed those of us standing around her with this: “Why can’t I just do this online?” I should have kept my mouth shut, but I didn’t. “Because,” I said, “It would be too easy to hack.” After finding out I worked in network security, she went on to decide that it was somehow my fault that this hadn’t been figured out yet. While I certainly didn’t have the answer, I shared her frustration. A part of me relishes the civic cameraderie of standing in line to vote – how else would I have met that lady in ’04 who told me her kids played soccer with the Bush twins in Texas years ago, and said “Laura is the biggest bitch you’ll ever meet,” without that experience? Still, online voting would make some things much easier.

And so, with that in mind, pretend for a moment that you and I are sitting in a bar. There is a large plate of cheese fries between us, with ample supplies of both ranch and honey mustard dressings. I have a Diet Coke (it counteracts the cheese fries, right?) and you have the beverage of your choice. You have just pulled out a pen and one of the bar napkins and said, “So how could it work and be safe?”

This is not a circumstance in which we are going to solve the problem from start to finish, but I do have a few ideas. I don’t know how feasible they are. I don’t even know if they’re truly secure, because encryption and authentication are not my specialties. I do network perimeters, though, so I do touch on authentication and encryption. I am not, however, a genius. I am a guy who is good enough at his job to keep doing it. Keep this in mind. I say this in part to excuse any gaffes and in part to make clear that criticism or other suggestions will not offend me. I am aware of my limitations! Anything we can come up with to improve on the following scenario is a good thing. I do not believe that in a day or a month or a decade the whole world will look back on this post as The Answer That Worked, but neither have I found much of anywhere that this is being discussed in a serious but casual and open way. So, we begin here, and see what happens.

The biggest issue with online voting is, how do we know your vote was cast by you? Online voting would, if dissected into an order of operations, look a great deal like voting in person, in part because that’s already the model that works, and in part because this can be translated into a friendly, tech-free presentation to the user that will make them comfortable with a new process by making it feel like the old process wherever possible. That means the first thing we have to do is check in at the front desk. So, we need to authenticate you. However, managing a national database of logins and passwords is impossible and, just as importantly, neither would it be anonymous. Confidential is not the same as anonymous (let’s hear it from the HIV-testing activists from ten years ago, people), and what we’re gearing for is authenticated anonymity. (I don’t even know if that’s a real term, but we’re too busy eating cheese fries to care. This is all just kicking the ball around.) You want to check in at the front desk but, after that, you do NOT want your vote in any way tied to your name. Remember, you don’t sign your ballot before you stick it in the box.

The second big question is going to be ensuring that your vote is not tampered with. In real life we do this by being alone in the voting booth and then putting the ballot in the box ourselves. Polling place workers do not take the ballots from our hands after they’re filled out. Instead, they are tucked away in the big, brown boxes for security’s sake. After that, we have to trust that the authorities are honest with their counting, but hey, we already do that. So far, so good. How to duplicate this online is going to be to use extra-strength encryption. I am not talking about 128-bit encryption you use to check your bank balance. Yes, that’s great, and the kid down the street sniffing your wireless link is not going to be able to crack that in a hurry, but we know someone can: the government. Rumor has had it for years that 128-bit is the industry standard because the average cracker can’t break it but the NSA can and in real time. Perhaps it is true that Uncle Frank is simply not going to care about that, but the geeks sure as heck will. If we’re going to sell online voting to anyone, we have to win over the geeks first. Then they can sell their Uncle Frank on it on their own time. Thus, I’m going to go out there and suggest 1024-bit encryption. It’s overkill, yes, but it is very, very safe, and all the nerds out there with GnuPG are going to like seeing that big number.

The third question is, how do we deliver it? The bottom line is that, like any question of voting equipment and processes, it’s going to be decided at the state and local-elections-board levels. Your town or county or city or whatever is going to have to keep a server where the votes are tallied. This is not hard, because the process of tallying votes is now largely computerized anyway. Butterfly ballots excluded, do you really think that here, in NC, when we complete the little arrow to the candidate’s name that someone is going through and checking those by hand? Those things are scanned and the results stored on a computer. We will store our results on the same computer. Voila.

“That’s a lot of nice talking,” you say to me around a mouthful of Beverage(tm), “But we already know all that.”

Too true! Here’s the tech part of it, and it’s very simple: one-time crypto keys.

Let’s say we have our system in place. I want to vote online because I am lazy and I could be sitting at home stuffing myself with my own plate of cheese fries rather than out standing in line. Thus, I appear at my local polling place and skip the line and go straight to the front table that’s next to the other front table. There is no line. I tell them who I am, and they check me off in the big book because I’m now saying that I have voted and I am not going to vote in person. The other front table checks me off, too. The nice people behind the table hand me a CD with the voting client software on it (a cosmetically modified VPN client that is light and simple and will uninstall the day after the election and a link to the page where I will vote, using a private IP address for which I’ll only have a route after the VPN client has bound to my network interface). Then, they reach into a big box next to them and pull out an envelope. It looks like a paystub – perforated edges on each end – and they open it. They toss the carbon-copy sheet in the middle, hand me one of the two pieces of paper inside, and take the other piece and stick it into a ballot box.

I have now, for the purpose of validating that as many votes were cast as voters showed up to vote, voted.

I go home. I start warming up the cheese fries.

While that’s happening, I pop the CD in and install the VPN client. It is quick and painless, and requires minimal user interaction. When it launches, I am asked for one thing: the string of letters and numbers printed on the otherwise blank sheet of paper I was handed at the polling place. That string is my key. I should note here that I don’t mean the actual encryption key, I mean something like a pre-shared secret – it’s not 1024 bits of characters, it’s just a random jumble of characters (let’s say 8 to 12 characters in length) that can be compared on the far side of my connection to verify that this is legit. Once I put that in, my browser launches and I am taken to a page that has the appropriate offices and candidates for my precinct/district/etc. I vote by clicking a few radio buttons. I click submit, which takes me to a listing of the votes I just cast. I am asked to review these votes and confirm them. Because this is just a simple page, my enhanced accessibility software for any disabilities I might have has no problem handling it – the page is read outloud, the text is enlarged, whatever. I click that I have verified this information, and tah-dah, I have voted.

The server on the far side marks my key as having been used. It can never be used again, not even next election.

I eat my cheese-fries.

That night, one candidate in a race asks for a recount. The number of votes cast is compared to the number of voters having shown up to vote, voted early or listed as voting online. The tallies are run again. There is no problem with online votes because they are, ultimately, every bit as secure as the output of a touch-screen machine that has no paper trail. So, OK, there are potential problems of the tallies having been tampered with, but these problems exist already in our system, so they are separate questions entirely.

Now, of course, there are problems with this. What about all those unused keys sitting in that box? They are thrown away. But what if someone decides to start opening them and checking off random no-shows in the voter roll and just voting for them? Well, that could already happen with blank paper ballots at any polling station. If we distrust the people running our elections, that is a separate question entirely and not of import to the technical matter of allowing secure, online voting.

But what, then, of Uncle Frank? He’s so bad with computers he tried to install iTunes and wiped his hard drive! He didn’t even know what iTunes was!

That, my friend, is Uncle Frank’s problem. Perhaps his geek niece will help him. Perhaps his geek niece will be so civicly minded that she sets up a local volunteer tech-support line for her precinct to help folks who aren’t sure what to do – staffed by both Democrats and Republicans, and endorsed by the local elections board after receiving election-staffing training. Perhaps she is supported entirely by one party or the other, like the many other programs the parties run on election day to assist voters by giving them rides to the polls, ringing doorbells to remind them it’s election day, all sorts of things.

But they could trick them into voting the wrong way! Yes, and so can phone-jamming schemes in New Hampshire prevent them from getting to the polls in the first place; the thing is, if it’s found out, it can be punished just as surely as any other form of election fraud.

Fine, Mr. Smarty Pants, what about spyware? Hackers? Key-stroke loggers? What about a virus that changes the local host file on Uncle Frank’s computer so that he gets redirected to a false website and his vote is stolen and he gives away his key to someone else to use? That? That I’m not so sure about. That’s partly a function of making sure your computer is safe in the first place and partly a function of threatening such voter fraud with the same punishments as any other form of voter fraud. It is, ultimately, a matter of law enforcement. I’m here to answer the technical matter of making the online voting happen as securely as possible, though, so I simply don’t have the technical answers other than to say that we all risk this every time we check our online banking or pay a bill. As such, Uncle Frank (or his geek niece) are going to have to take the same precautions they take every day, cross their fingers and hope for the best just like the rest of us.

So who’s going to pay for this? We are. We’re the taxpayers. The same budgets that pay for touch-screen voting machines will pay for the VPN equipment, and connections, and the perimeter security around the machines that handle tallying and the VPN concentrator itself, and on and on and on. Will it be expensive? Oh, you bet it will. It’ll be worth it, though, and heck, what we’re spending now on touch-screen devices is already pretty outrageous.

And yet, there are other problems, and other questions, and probably a whole slew of technical issues and hitches and hiccups that I just haven’t thought of. So what are they? It’s time to get cracking on this issue, because it’s going to happen one day, sooner or later, safe or not. We might as well start kicking around the best-case scenarios – not the worst-case, but the best-case – so that we can push for them early.

Now please, stop bogarting the honey mustard.

Another update to Pigs Are Good People, FYI. In this one, we even lose a cast member! By lose, however, I mean temporarily (I hope). The player of Nigel, known in other parts as fiend, has moved on to a new opportunity in another town and I wish him the absolute best possible results.

I won our office pool on the NCAA tourney.  It’s a long story, but suffice to say it required no knowledge of basketball, merely luck and the ten dollars required to enter.  Today, a co-worker walked by and said, “How’ve you spent your winnings?”  I told him that I haven’t yet – I’ve carried it around as pocket money for a week, but I haven’t yet identified the thing so delightfully frivolous that I simply must spend on it what is essentially found money.

“When you spend my ten dollars,” he said, “Spend it big.  Wave it around in the air and yell, ‘Thank you, (co-worker), for your ten dollars!  I’m having a blast spending it right now!'”

I like that idea.  But I don’t know if I’ll actually do it.

From today, online, at The Independent:

The Bush administration has sent undercover forces into Iran, and has stepped up secret planning for a possible major air attack on the country, according to the renowned US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.

While publicly advocating diplomacy to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, Hersh reports in the next issue of The New Yorker magazine that “there is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change”.

One former senior intelligence official is quoted as saying that Mr Bush and others in the White House have come to view Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as a potential “Adolf Hitler”. According to a senior Pentagon adviser on the “war on terror”, “this White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war”. The danger, he adds, is that “it also reinforces the belief inside Iran that the only way to defend the country is to have a nuclear capability”.

The article goes on to explain some recent tests conducted in Nevada which are designed to simulate proposed bombing runs over Iran.

Just in case you find it easy to get to sleep, the tests were of low yield nuclear devices, ie, “bunker busters.” So, if the article is right, the Bush Administration is considering using nukes to teach Iran not to build nukes.

Then, it goes on:

According to Mr Hersh, some officials are shocked at what they describe as “operational” planning which goes far beyond the usual work on hypothetical scenarios. One former defence official is quoted as saying the planning was based on a belief that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government”.

Let me guess – they’re going to arm themselves with flowers and candy.

Undercover units are also said to be working with ethnic minorities in Iran, including the Kurds, Baluchis and Azeris. While one goal was to have “eyes on the ground”, the broader aim was to “encourage ethnic tensions” and undermine the regime.

Because ethnic tensions have worked out so well for us in Iraq, haven’t they?

I really hope I’m wrong in my paranoid certainty that we are going to attack Iran and my equal certainty that it will be a terrible, terrible mistake. I hope we don’t attack. If we do, I hope it goes as well as any war can. But I think those are not how it will be. I think we will regret it for many, many decades to come.

Re: Your Brains. (Music link; use headphones if you’re at work, not because anyone cusses – they don’t – but because it’s f’ing rude not to, OK? Thanks.)

I was talking to Aaron a few weeks ago and he asked if it was just him or if everyone is all of a sudden really into zombies. “Zombies are the new vampires,” I told him. I’ve thought more about that since then, and wondered why. I’m sure a lot of it is just fashions changing, but we all know that the fashion of horror says a great deal about a society’s fears. In the ’80s it was all serial killers and nuclear-waste zombies: under Reagan our greatest fears were superhuman sex pervs and the irradiated proletariat hordes of post-nuclear Marxism. In the ’90s, our enemy was defeated, long gone, and in the era of trashy talk shows and self-help and Trainspotting we wanted what scared us to be intimate and sexy, to have a face we wanted to kiss before we died. We wanted that which we feared to be some dark reflection of ourselves, not because we were afraid of our inner demons or at all seriously self-critical but because we thought they flattered our waking-life features.

Post-9/11, the enemy is something that has no face, no name, no body; it is a concept, an abstract. It is also, quite frankly, almost impossible to actually fear. Those of us who simply were not busy duct-taping plastic wrap around the windows the last four and a half years and watching the alert level to see if it’s still breathing are busy joking about being afraid way more than merely being afraid. Zombies are a nice fit for that sort of thing: nameless, faceless, relentless, but also easy to be all self-consciously ironic about. Oh yes, the zombies are coming, etc., we’ve seen this part of the movie like a gazillion times! It’s so easy in a society where terror alerts only happen in election years and the fatwahs get issued by guys we’ve never heard of whose names we’ll never remember and whose pictures we’ll never see. Yeah, OBL is out there somewhere, but you certainly don’t hear the Prez’nit talk about him, or anyone else, so he’s easy to forget. He’s just kind of there, like the way Davros is there somewhere in Dr. Who, issuing orders to the Daleks, but nobody remembers Davros, they just remember the Daleks.

Poor mutant, scarred, irradiated Davros, all one big electronic eye in the middle of his misshapen forehead.

See how easy it is? I started talking about terrorism and ended with Daleks. That’s why zombies are so perfect. They’re like the Mad-Libs of horror, just a big sheet full of blank spaces and devoured brains. Add the verbs, nouns and adjectives of your choice to make the story you want to tell. What do they want? What can they tell us about ourselves? Brains, and nothing, in that order. They are unintelligent, unresponsive, inscrutable, unrepentant. They require no complex justifications, no back-story, no catalyst event, no redemption. They show up, they munch cranium, they get axed to death, next scene please. They will repeat, over and over, a thousand times over, so that we can cram whatever meaning we want into them, fill them to the brim with whatever motivation we can’t ourselves articulate. Though I would argue that every zombie movie I have ever seen had strong, often blatant and overt elements of social commentary to them, and always come away believing the zombies represent something, the zombies themselves never make the case. Zombies have no agenda and have no desire to make the case themselves. They have no fear to articulate for us. The ball’s in our court on that one. It’s that simple. Louis can grab Christian Slater by the throat and slam him against the wall and state, plain and simple, that the point of the Interview was to explain why it’s terrible being a vampire and that he knows we all want the everlasting hotness anyway, but no zombie is ever going to produce an almanac of pop culture and explain how their actions over the course of the original Dawn of the Dead will describe the rise of the shopping mall as the new public square, the crass commercialism and remorseless ethic of the ’80s, the end of the “Me” Decade and the beginning of the heartlessly go-getter, active-verb “I” Decade. It’s there, but we have to find it and express it ourselves.

Zombies are open-source horror. Roll your own reason to fear them if you can’t find one you like. It really is that easy. They don’t mind one bit.

A few weeks ago I posted about my dark certainty that this administration is absolutely determined to pick a fight with Iran for a variety of self-serving reasons. Is Iran having nukes a bad thing? That’s not the question I was trying to answer. The question I was trying to answer was, why would the administration get such a hard-on for bombing Iran? apostropher was kind enough to help ease me back into my seat with some soothing and reasoned words in opposition to my own. This made me feel much better. This afternoon, however, he pointed me to this from Laura Rozen of War & Piece, which is in turn a quote from the “Under the Radar” section of this American Progress bit:

IRAN — ANALYST SAYS SOME SENIOR U.S. OFFICIALS DETERMINED TO STRIKE IRAN: “For months, I have told interviewers that no senior political or military official was seriously considering a military attack on Iran,” Joseph Cirincione, director for non-proliferation at the Carnegie Endowment, writes in Foreign Policy magazine. “In the last few weeks, I have changed my view.” Cirincione says his shift was partly triggered by “colleagues with close ties to the Pentagon and the executive branch who have convinced me that some senior officials have already made up their minds: They want to hit Iran.”

So, uh… back to digging my shelter, I guess.

So here’s the question I still have: why? For this question, “nukes” is not an answer. A lot of nasty people have nukes but we are not invading them (everyone wave at North Korea at the same time, OK?). Well, OK, “nukes” is an answer only if we follow it with “as long as we know we can beat them and as long as we don’t think they can actually deliver the nukes yet,” so I guess “ethereal maybe-nukes” is an acceptable answer.

But, lots of people have those same ethereal maybe-nukes, from fantasies on up to actual programs, so I guess that’s not really an answer, either, it’s just an excuse. If it’s just an excuse, what is the real reason, the reason we need to cover for by coming up with an excuse?

For that answer, I can only hypothesize. Were it my job to come up with reasons to invade Iran and to ignore reasons not to invade Iran, I could come up with all sorts of ideas, potential results that might happen if everything went just right. These results would have all sorts of entries in the gleaming, potential “pros” column, things that would aid the administration’s aims in both foreign and domestic policy. These things are slimy and terrible to think about from my perspective, but I wouldn’t put them past the BushCo machine for a second: galvanizing the ultra-conservative religious base against foreign nonbelievers rather than continuing to rely on homophobia (a strategy already showing diminishing returns because there is only so far it can be taken), creating an artificial air of urgency to justify continued illegal surveillances, creating an artificial air of bipartisanship propped up by the usual cadre of easily flipped Democrats (now everyone turn the other direction and give Joe Lieberman the bird, ‘kay?), an excuse to pull most troops out of Iraq, an excuse to set up “temporary” (and by “temporary” they mean “permanent”) bases in Iraq, a ghost of a hope that with Iran in disarray that things will actually improve in Iraq (and possibly in Afghanistan), an excuse to demonstrate to the world that we will use our overwhelming force in any circumstance and that we just don’t give a fuck what anyone else says to us about it, an excuse to arrange a sort of 2nd Cold War with whoever stitches all these failed states we’re creating into one Muslim super-state, an excuse to go blow up a few more unpopular-at-home people in the name of American Empire, an excuse to have some fun with all that cash we spend on defense, all sorts of fucked up reasons to go around killing people.

I want the world to be a more peaceful place, and frankly I want America right at the very top of the heap, too, but I think that can just as easily be accomplished by talking as it can by shooting, so to me, all of these are absolutely terrible reasons to go to war. Still, it can’t really just be nukes, so my mind starts to wander into the realm of wondering why someone would want to go over there and these are what it spits out.

But, really, why? I know, I know, it starts to sound obsessive – and petulant, like a curious three year old – when it’s said over and over again. Still, that’s what we have to do. The Democratic leadership is stuck in response mode and petty sniping mode. As long as the Republicans control the debate, the only thing the Democrats are ever going to do, on the rare occasion they do something, is going to be to question the excuse. That’s never going to work. To take control of the debate, we have to figure out the real reasons and start exposing and questioning those openly.

So… why?

So, I keep up with what search strings lead people to my blog.  I am egocentric like that.  Mainly I do it because they are hilarious, my all-time fave being when someone ended up here (I know not why) by Googling the phrase “virginia slims 120’s, tranny.”  Since Friday, I have attracted eyeballs with only two topics:  the Waynesville, NC, voluntary castration case, via various search criteria, and, unrelated, the search string “kitten names.”  This is even better.


Because the kittens got fixed this morning.

I came downstairs as I was getting ready for work and The Boyf was just returning with our two littlest patients and said, “How are the boys doing?”

His response:  “Well, they have air quotes.”


I wake up this morning to what sounds like a bomb going off in the driveway. Instead it is thunder – close and incomprehensibly loud and repeating over and over again, like a war going on down the street. The panes of the windows over our bed rattle and the ground shakes. I pull The Boyf’s window the last couple of inches closed, afraid in my half-asleep state that he’s getting rained on. Then I think of the kittens and lean over, peeking under the bed. I find them huddled and terrified. “It’s okay,” I tell them for a few minutes, over and over, as the thunder marches through. Eventually they settle back to something like sleep, as do I.

When I awake for real, the storm is gone. By the time I’m out of the shower, the sun has come out.

I run errands all afternoon, trying and failing to get my car inspected (I am too impatient to wait much, and have too many important things to get done today in terms of Hall business). Then I get back home and settled in to read the latest Superman, write more zombie story and sit on the front porch waving at neighbors as they walk their dogs. No sooner has The Boyf arrived home from his own errands than the sky darkens and the wind starts to scream. “There’s a tornado warning until midnight,” The Boyf comments. The trees bend lower still, and I start to hear a real roar on the air, a mad howl like I have never heard except during Hurricane Fran, ten years ago. The wind is blowing so hard that the pine pollen – a thick, yellow blanket routinely ejected in spring that coats everything in sight for weeks – is shooting through the air in thick sheets, mapping and narrating the whipping and turbulent twists and turns of the air. The sky stops being only a little darker than before and as thick, black clouds roll over us the sun is blotted out. It turns to night in the span of seconds, like something out of a bad apocalyptic horror movie. I briefly ponder whether a tornado is coming down our street, whether that’s the roar I hear in the distance – I remember a lifetime of hearing survivors describe them on the news by saying they sounded “just like a train,” and it certainly sounds like a train is out there – and then I push that back down and refuse to let the sound of a train in the distance become a bad thing because I love that sound too much.

I do go inside, though, rather than sit on the front porch and watch the storm.

In the house, the kittens are wigged out again. I go upstairs to finish reading my email, and they hurriedly pile onto my desk and stick their faces between the slats of the blinds and watch the storm pass through from my little office’s 2nd-floor window. I hear NPR announce a severe weather warning, from where The Boyf is listening to it downstairs as he makes dinner. I fret again, then once more push it back down. I refuse to live like that, I say to myself. If he hears them say that tornados are bound for our county, OK, fine, I’ll get worried, but for now The Boyf is reporting them miles and counties from here.

Two minutes later, it’s all over. The storm is gone. The darkness outside is normal night. The wind has died down, the rain has stopped bouncing off the window in my office, the trees are upright. The kittens pull their heads out of the blinds and hop down off that shelf onto my main desk area and curl up and take a nap. Didi always wants to be touching my keyboard, so he settled in right next to it. Gogo, normally the brave explorer blazing a trail for Didi to follow, curls up behind Didi instead and tucks his head in and goes to sleep as well.

I take a few pictures of them in the moment, and then it’s back to life as usual: dinner, thoughts of whether I’ll win the office pool tonight, contemplating a structure for the next PAGP update, debating adding onto what I’ve written of the Vampire portion of the Zombie Stories already today. It’s over just that fast. I blog it to try to lock in the way the kittens look right now instead of just moving on to other concerns. I take a couple more pictures as they shift and stir. Every time I move my chair they wake up, so I know as soon as I finish this and stand up and go downstairs they will be back on their feet and running around like crazy.

I hear The Boyf getting plates out of the cabinet, though, so I know it’s almost time to eat. Time to go back to ordinary concerns again.