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Robust McManlyPants on Average Display » 2006 » May

May 2006


OK, so I’m seeing something in my referrer logs* from a specific site within pbwiki.com. Is that you? If so, I’m just curious about what you’re linking to. Please feel free to drop me an email by clicking on my name at the top.

* I added the italicized words later; funny how it helps when what you say actually makes sense.

Today, mrh posted the 1,000th comment on my blog. Holy crap. That seems like such a mammoth number for such a dusty corner of the webbertrons.

Also: this weekend The Boyf and I went to see The Da Vinci Code, where we ran into Joey and Carl. And I finished The Subtle Knife, the second book of His Dark Materials. I’m currently two chapters into the final novel, The Amber Spyglass. Thoughts below the fold, for spoiler-avoidance.

Seriously, if you’re going to read these books or see this movie and you don’t want spoilers, just know this: if you liked the book The Da Vinci Code, see the movie. If you thought the book TDVC was forgettable crap, guess what? The movie is forgettable crap. If you hated the book TDVC, don’t waste your money. If you haven’t read the book, but are curious about it, save yourself some time and watch the movie. Sir Ian McKellan is worth it, and you will have effectively just read the book because there is not a thing different between them.

Also, His Dark Materials rules us all, and you should read it.

(more…)

The whole NSA thing, and the ensuing privacy discussion that keeps not happening around it, has me feeling like posting the story of The Time They Got The Wrong Guy. So, here you go:

Seven years ago, for my first post-collegiate job, I had to fill out a waiver for a background check. It noted that although they asked for my SSN, they would not use it. I was young and dumb and desperate for money and had absolutely no other offers on the table, so I put it in.

On my 2nd or maybe 3rd day at work, The Boss came and told me he needed to see me and led me into a conference room with the mammoth who ran Corporate Security. He said there were a few questions about my background check, handed me a clipboard with some printouts on it, and asked me to look it over for accuracy. All the normal information – name, street address, driver’s license number, etc. – was correct. The name was even correct (mostly – his middle initial was different). But two things were wrong: the SSN, and the twelve pages of arrest records. These were pretty detailed records, too, down to how Robust’s Evil Twin shouldn’t be allowed near witnesses to his crimes because he had threatened to injure/kill anyone who might testify against him, all sorts of fun things.

They thought it was me.

Long story short, I get a few days of “free vacation,” they called it. While CorpSec guy – who looked like a linebacker and talked like he always got picked last – was explaining that they would need to see copies of my Social Security Card, my birth certificate and my passport – like, go home right now and get as many of those as you have on hand and bring them right back, we’ll be here waiting – The Boss ran around and told everyone that (a) he was about to change all the passwords to everything because (b) it turned out I was secretly an axe murderer.

Remember the part about being young and dumb and poor and desperate? Yeah, it never occurred to me to sue. Instead I worked there for a year before moving on to greener pastures, and later The SubBoss told me they had spent that entire year fretting that I would sue the company dry. I should have, too. Turned out the company that did their background checks mistyped my SSN when they ran their search and it was the only criteria they used to identify me after stating they wouldn’t use it at all. My boss got a letter of apology. I got nothing but suspicious stares for my first six months there.

Moral: your SSN is tied to so much information about you that a lot of people lazily think it is a shortcut to absolute profile of you. As such, it is very, very easy to misidentify someone in the labyrinthine system used to track people’s personal data in our society. It doesn’t just matter that the government be selective in its monitoring for the basic human liberty of privacy, it also matters for accuracy. Cast a wide enough net and something inaccurate or downright false is liable to end up in someone’s profile. The more data gathered, the more opportunities there are for error. This isn’t just a privacy issue in the sense of a noble, but ultimately abstract, quest to uphold civil liberties. This is an accuracy issue in how we are recorded and represented in society, with potential real impacts on our day-to-day lives.

Likewise, it matters that not too much data about us be tied to, or extrapolated from, any one way of identifying us – not just for the sake of privacy as an ideal, but for simple accuracy. When 867-5309 calls OBL for today’s codes, what do you think happens to the little old lady at 867-5306 when the agent misreads the dialing phone # and goes around to have a chat?

Trust me. Every time I’ve had to do a background check for a job (and I’ve had to do so several times), I’ve had to open with: “By the way, there’s someone out there named Robust E. McManlyPants, not Robust N. McManlyPants, and he’s got an arrest record a mile long and his SSN is almost identical to mine and he was born about twenty miles away from where I was in the same week. The mistake has been made before, and I want to bring it up now so that if it’s made again I don’t look like the kid who claims the dog ate his felonies.”

In an earlier post, I stated that what I want to hear come out of the next President’s inaugural address is that the Era of Fear is over, that warrantless spying would stop, that the government would be accountable, that color-coded fear-mongering would cease. More than one commenter said they liked the idea of a speech like that. So here’s my question: how do we make it happen?

Is this where we start writing to representatives? Challengers? Organize a PAC? Organize a think-tank and start producing policy papers? Organize a magazine? A march? Draft a candidate? Start a movement for a third party?

I honestly don’t know, and I honestly ask.

The thing is, I can talk about it all day long on the webbertrons. All. Day. Long. But while I know many people who read blogs, almost none of them do not also have a blog of their own. The Left is just as much a victim of the echo-chamber effect as the Right, and so while I think a lot of valuable position-taking and point-making and philosophizing happens online, I find it very hard to believe that a good idea is going to spring forth from one clever turn of phrase on a blog somewhere and launch itself into the overall discourse. If we want to effect real change in the political climate, change meant to bring about a better, more hopeful environment in which new ideas can grow and flourish, we have to get out of our chairs and do something.

And I am not, right now, doing anything. Yeah, I donated a little money to a few candidates I liked in 2004. I guess that counts, but I have trouble believing PayPal will be the lever I use to move the world.

So what do we do?

The thing is, doing is hard. We are quick to criticize the 101st Flying Keyboardists, but doing so hardly requires us to leave the comfort of our own executive-style office chairs, does it? I can talk online all day. I can talk offline all day. My mother and I spent her Mother’s Day call railing against the war and Bush and the Right in general – meaning the lasting legacy of the Bush Administration may well be his having cemented my parents’ position as slightly-left-of-center evangelicals – but neither one of us has the stones to ring up her sister, who believes Bush is the only thing that stands between Satanic brown-skinned terr’ists and her underwear drawer.

And so I ask, utterly without irony or rhetorical intent, what do we do to create change? Because if we’re going to, we need to get on the stick.

Just an FYI to fellow Lake House folk:  I will be bringing the whole of Seven Soldiers with me.  I will also be bringing the His Dark Materials trilogy.  It is decided.

Also, Red Son. And Pyongyang.

I cannot get His Dark Materials out of my brain.

Just as an FYI, the zombies have been updated.

Also, recently I have had many strange dreams, prime among them the dream in which I discovered that mangos were secretly made of pork.

Another odd one:  I was working for a reincarnated Napoleon, whom the pope was trying to kill.

My short, shameful confession of today:  I really want to see the movie version of The Da Vinci Code.

Finally, I have begun reading the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman.  I’ve almost finished the first book, The Golden Compass, and I am totally in love with it.  It’s what I wish Harry Potter were more like:  dark and mysterious and full of danger and questionable motives.  There are no crystal-clear heroes, but there are gypsies and prophecy and talking animals and dark portents and divinatory magic and it’s all utterly drenched in a sense that everything hangs in the balance.  The general message seems to be that it would be better to run away with gypsies and live a life of adventure than to sit comfortably while the whole world goes to hell, and I can get behind that.  It’s also written extremely skillfully, so that anyone from age, I dunno, let’s say eleven on up can enjoy it.  If I had to boil it down to one pop-culture sentence I would say:  “Imagine if Neil Gaiman and HP Lovecraft and Tim Burton conspired to write a Harry Potter/Pokemon cross-over.”  That makes it sound terrible, but it’s actually really, really good.

On second thought, another pop-culture summary might be “Harry Potter with a body count.”

The Boyf has called dibs on TGC when I’m done with it, but after that it’s up for borrowing grabs.

For those following Whitten’s adventures, I’ve posted another update to Pigs Are Good People.

I am having far too sleepy and bored of a day to blog, and my brain is far too consumed by hatred for this NSA wiretap thing to write anything original. In the spirit of relaxing in anticipation of the weekend, I wish to share with you that b. and Deadblob are food-blogging at the moment, and they are making me so hungry.

So, the gubmint’s amassing a database of every phone call placed or received in the US.  I don’t mean they’re just curious as to whether you or I are calling the terr’ists, I mean they’re curious as to whether you or I are calling you or I.

Of course, only terrorists could possibly object, right?

Red-blooded Amurkins with nothing to hide have nothing they care to keep private, right?

This boils my mountain-born blood.  This is the sort of thing that could make me start to wonder whether those Libertarians have got something worth listening to.

And of course, President Smirk sits on his tall, white horse and shakes his itty fists and swears that they’re not just trolling for any ol’ information.  They’re trying to keep us safe!  We’re at war!  A War Preznit needs his powers of war, dang it, or the terr’ists have already won!  Only islamofascist running dogs of the brown-skinned extremists would possibly care whether anyone is keeping track of who calls whom, 24/7, domestic or international, local or long-distance.

And what makes me even more sick is that only Qwest had the gonads to stand up to them, to ask that they get a FISA warrant before they start handing over that information, and as soon as Qwest mentioned FISA then the NSA said, “Oh, well, we don’t know that they’d actually let us do this,” and then they walked away and never mentioned it again.

The only explanation I can come up with is that the people collecting this data are cowards and criminals who knew their request was unreasonable.

That is the only explanation.

If it were a reasonable request, it would have been a simple thing for them to get a FISA warrant.  It would have taken hours.

They didn’t even try.  They just clammed up and walked the second FISA got mentioned.

They are cowards and criminals.

But will anyone get impeached for this?  Will anyone be cost anything, politically?

I don’t think so.  I don’t think anything will happen in Washington.  I can’t imagine this playing very well among certain of my relatives, certain elements of my home town – that network of hills and hollows where families lurk for generations, where life and change are slow, where privacy is not some luxury reserved for times of peace but a basic requirement of life, where a respect for privacy is a fundamental element of sociable human behavior not a nicety.  But come November (’06, ’08, forever) there will always be bigger, more hot-button issues that can be played to curry just enough favor, just enough less revulsion, to string votes out of expected constituencies so that real change – ever feared – is kept at bay.

And so my heart sinks just a little, and a little more of our privacy and our expectation that the government follows its own laws and my trust for authority are eroded away, and we all get used to one more thing the government shouldn’t be doing but is.  Sure, Congress could pass a law, but then Bush could just refute it with his signing statement and go about his merry way – or, hell, he could just ignore it altogether.  I am reminded of one of my favorite things The Boyf has ever said:  “As late as the 3rd or 4th century CE you could probably still find Senators who thought they ran the Roman Empire.”

The next person elected President is going to have to do something drastic in their inaugural speech.  I am serious when I say I want to see this, and I will vote for any candidate who promises to do so.  I want the next President, standing there on the stage, with Bush shaking off his DTs behind them and the nation watching, to say:  “Everything is going to change.  We are going to be more open.  Gitmo will be closed down.  Warrantless spying on our own citizens will stop.  The color-coded alert levels are over.  The Era of Fear is at an end, and we will be held accountable, and in addition we will hold an accounting of others.”

But will either party make that claim?  Is there any candidate interested in being President – for which, surely, a job requirement is a lust for power – who will look at all the crazy fucked-up shit Bush has gotten away with and then say to themselves, “No, I will not use this same power.  I will give it back, or give it up.  I will apply a brake to the Executive and I will not rule as a despot, but lead as a President?”

A part of me wishes it were so, and a part of me finds it doubtful.

All of a sudden I want to draft Jimmy Carter.

A bit of a catch-up post today. This morning I had an idea for a blog post about the Hookergate scandal or something like it and I remember wondering whether it was clever or just coincidence and now I can’t remember it.

Oh, but trying to write about it made me remember it, so here it is: Scott McLellan resigns as Resident Punching Bag and the next week Jeff Gannon officially comes out of the closet at a blogger conference in Philly, in the process saying he stayed overnight at the White House one night, election night 2004.

Of course, rumor’s had it for years that Scott is something other than strictly heterosexual, and so I have to wonder… what are the odds that they’re related events? Like, Scotty’s leaving his post would somehow involve a signal to Gannon that it was OK to start letting in a little sunshine, or something. I don’t even know why it would matter, so I guess it was just dumb.

In gardening news, the apple trees are all doing quite well. I need to start pruning them back to give them some shape. I want to take some pictures of them, but I can’t find my tripod and think I may have accidentally abandoned it somewhere on a trip or something. So, time to get a new one.

In WoW news, the new playable race on the Alliance side has been revealed for real. It’s the Draenei, alright, but they don’t look like the sick little frog-men you can find in Swamp of Sorrows and that, shallow as it sounds, is a nice thing to hear. I can’t wait for some Jack Thompson-style moron (such as Jack Thompson, who is an utter moron) to go screaming across the stage of some lame talk-show somewhere with “LOTS OF PLAYERS HAVE WANTED TO PLAY DEMONS” on a banner to illustrate that we all want to eat your babies.

And in hometown news, I found out last night that the little brother of a friend from childhood got busted for running a meth lab out of his mom’s trailer.

Stylin’.

Sigh.

According to this MSNBC.com story, “The Dog Whisperer” is getting sued by his producer after the producer’s dog was injured at TDW’s animal-training facility.  The dog, it is alleged, was put into a choke collar that damaged his esophagus, then overworked on a treadmill.  $25,000 in vet bills later, the dog isn’t finished with surgeries to try to repair the damage.

It’s sick and tragic if this is the case.  It also reminds me of a few weeks ago when I heard TDW as the guest on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR.  There was an office potluck that day, and one of the things I was bringing required me to be out of the house earlier than usual.  As I sat waiting for my contribution to be prepared, I caught part of his interview.  In it, he expressed his philosophy for training a dog:  exercise, discipline, affection and reward.  I have never seen the guy’s show, so I have no idea if he’s in fact the most talented dog trainer ever or just another snake-oil salesman.  What I want to note, however, is what I heard him say on the topic of that approach:

“It’s just like how I treat a woman…”

*pause*

“…How I treat my wife.  First I exercise her, then show affection, then ask for what I want.”

Now, I cannot find a transcript of that interview, and so I have no way to demonstrate that I heard him correctly.  What I can tell you is that I sat there and stared in shock at the faceplate of the radio.

Exercise her, show affection, then ask for what you want.

Smooth.

Now, did anyone else hear that?  Or am I insane?

Goss resigns from the CIA. Tell me if this sounds canned and stiff to you:

Bush said that Goss has “helped make this country a safer place.”

“We’ve got to win the war on terror,” Bush added.

Goss, for his part, said that “I would like to report to you that the agency is back on a very even keel and sailing well.”

“We’ve got to win the war on terror” is the best you can do when the CIA director up and walks?  That’s not exactly the best line for someone’s retirement party, is it?  We’ve got to win the war on terror and step one is inviting Gossie not to let the door hit him on the ass isn’t exactly a gold watch and a handshake.  Sounds… rushed.  It’s not up to the usual Stepfordian, scripted saccharine of the Bush Team.  Sounds like someone got caught with his pants down.

And with that as my segue, what is not, on the other hand, on an even keel is the reputation of a number of current and former Congressmen who are currently being investigated in connection with a hookers-for-contracts ring involving a couple of lobbyists and a whole bunch of Congressmen. And Goss, of course, used to be a Congressman and has been rumored to be a potential target of the investigation.

I imagine he’s going to say he’s retiring to spend more time with his family, since that is the BushCo party line when someone walks the plank. I have to wonder if it has to do with those doin’s at the Watergate, though.

No, not Those Doin’s, the hookers-for-contracts doin’s. Oh, yes! See, they thought it would be a good idea to have their little sex parties at the Watergate.

The fucking Watergate.

As MAC pointed out, it seems like it would take an idiot to do anything at all questionable within five miles of that place. And yet, there they were. I imagine that the psychology of the taboo was in full effect, that at least once in an elevator one of them clapped the other on the back and said, “At the Watergate? Man, that is hot.”

Morons.

Heck, a fantastic co-worker, even, is one who goes out for barbecue at lunch and sees that they can get an entire rack of ribs for less than it costs to get the lunch they were going to order, thanks to a special of the day. Cut into individual pieces, each roughly the size of a standard ruler, the ribs fill a foil sack the size of, oh, I dunno, a party-sized bag of nacho chips. They buy said ribs, bring them back to the office and start handing them out and you end up with three of them.

Then, hours later, when dinner time rolls around and you are trapped on The Conference Call At The End Of Time, you pull out those three ribs, mute your phone, and chow down. I think I had sauce on my forehead as a result of this feast.

That’s what makes a great co-worker.

Just a few things running around my mind today:

  • One of the criticisms leveled against Twin Peaks in what little scholarship I’ve read regarding the series’ encoded meanings is that it is an anti-feminist work that glorifies violence against women. Taking the series and film as a whole, however, and especially in light of the last scene of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, it seems to me that it has no agenda other than to reflect Laura as a whole person with good and bad qualities and decisions all her own. She is neither held up as a saint nor damned as a sinner. In fact, the end of FWWM suggests that the only way she is able to move forward is by having someone, presumably the audience, witness – neither condemn nor endorse but witness – the whole truth of her complicated life and recognize her as a fully three-dimensional human being rather than a positive or negative stereotype or otherwise pigeonhole her specific and unique and human experience. As such, it has no specifically feminist agenda but it is also impossible to classify as anti-feminist; given that its message, if one chooses to find it in this way, is that each person must be allowed to be all of themselves and recognized as such, and that each person has a right to face their own fears and demons and, by integrating those and other experiences into the whole of their being, gain enlightenment, it seems that it is equally empowering of all people and, in that regard, may be more subtly feminist than anyone suspects. It also means I’ve probably watched Twin Peaks too many times, but in fact sitting around thinking about it like this makes me want to watch it again. I also think that the show’s message, if there is one, is no more complicated than that the social pressures of the middle class make it easy for kids to turn out fucked up.
  • There are few things in the world more tasty than salmon.
  • I would rather spend a sweaty morning mowing my back yard every 2 years than sew it with grass seed and have an easy time of mowing it every 2 weeks.
  • I really need to get my emergency brake fixed so that I can get my car inspected.
  • Dan Brown (author of Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code) should be publicly mocked for publishing such a thinly veiled pitch for a screen adaptation and daring to call it a novel.