Thursday, July 31, 2008

Scrabble chic

I'm guessing the makers of Scrabulous don't have these bumperstickers on their cars...

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Half-Blood Prince trailer released

Woohoo! The Harry Potter 6 trailer is out:



Here's a scene-by-scene analysis.

You can view it in higher resolution here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Earthquake disrupts California bar exam [UPDATE: Examiners will consider quake's "possible impact on test scores"]

[UPDATE: A reporter for the National Law Journal, Amanda Bronstad, is working on a story the earthquake's impact on the bar exam, and she's looking for people to interview about it.

If you were taking the bar during the earthquake, and you'd like to talk to Ms. Bronstad for her article, please contact her at 213-620-1204, or at Amanda.bronstad@incisivemedia.com. She's working on the story Tuesday and Wednesday, August 5-6.

Original post below.]

* * * * *

On my post below about this morning's L.A. earthquake, Lisa made an excellent point in comments: it happened smack-dab in the middle of Day 1 of the California Bar Exam!

"Would you like an earthquake with your stress?" asks Rebeccafrog. "The California bar is hard enough without having to take it while the room is shaking!" Indeed.

The two largest test centers are in Century City and Ontario. (Non-laptop exam takers are in Anaheim; "special accomodations" test sites are in downtown L.A. or near LAX, according to this PDF.) Ontario was by far the closest site to the earthquake epicenter. I haven't seen any reports from there yet, but Above The Law has details on what happened in Century City:
When the chandeliers began shaking, some test takers squealed / screamed. The announcer told everyone to remain calm and stay seated. Some people kept typing. I was rebooting to leave anyway. Proctor then shouted: "Don't worry, this happens in California. If you're not from here: welcome. And there will be aftershocks."
Heh. A commenter adds: "Some pieces of the chandeliers on the ballroom fell. Some people freaked out, others kept typing. Some got under their desks. Most (myself included) sat and stared. ... They did not stop the test or give us extra time even though we all lost about 5 minutes (except the crazy gunners who kept typing)."

Another commenter writes: "It was a scary one... felt it pretty strong here in Century City/Los Angeles. Struck towards the end of the third question on the morning part of the bar exam. Most people actually stopped typing for a minute, and weren't sure what to do, but the earthquake was reasonably short (maybe 10 seconds or so). The bar exam is in the basement of Hyatt hotel - there is no way to get out even if you tried. It took a good 20 minutes to leave after the morning session was over. One of the elevators stopped working too (we were told that it needs to be reprogrammed). Overall, not a big deal and thankfully it was towards the end when most folks were done with their bar exam answers anyway."

Here's more, from the mother of a test-taker:
Just talked to Nicholas. I know -- he’s in the middle of taking the California Bar Exam. Seems that he was about ten minutes to the end of the first session when the earthquake hit. Tiles falling from the ceiling. He laughed out loud and then finished the question.
They'll just be finishing up the afternoon session shortly, so I'm sure there will be more war stories coming in soon. (The reports thus far came from test-takers who logged on during their lunch break.)

UPDATE: Thanks to an Instalanche, some of those "war stories" are being posted right here in comments. For example, Jessica writes:
I was taking the exam in Ontario, and we felt a BIG shake--bigger than I've felt in many years, and I've lived in Cali all my life. There are two rooms for testing there, and I was in the smaller (but still massive) room. People pretty much stayed quiet, but there were a few shrieks and murmurs. I grabbed my computer, went under the desk, and kept typing down there for a minute or two. A few others did the same. The proctor came by and told the guy next to me to get up, but I didn't hear it and stayed down for longer than most. I'm not going to risk a concussion!!!

No extra time was given, even though the main announcer/proctor herself narrowly missed being hit by a falling tile. However, in the other room, they got five extra minutes! No fair! If I had that extra time I would have gotten that last issue! The State Bar had better grade the rooms separately or we will be at a big disadvantage just for having a stern proctor.
And here's another Ontario account, from a commenter on Above The Law:
I was taking it at the Ontario site. At first, everyone thought it was just a truck or something. I had my earplugs on, so it was hard to discern at first, but it's not like the Convention Center moves that easily with the simple passing by of a truck. Then the ceiling started to shake and, no joke, pieces of the ceiling started falling down, and dust began to fall on desks. One of the security camera got dislodged and was hanging by a cable. At this point, people were under their tables and most of the non-California ppl were freaked out. Our proctor, though, stayed eerily calm and, when it was over, everyone went back to typing. I don't think we lost more than, say 5 minutes to it, but boy, was it scary!
Blogger Gabriel Malor has posted a full account, also from Ontario -- specifically, from the room that got those five extra minutes:
Today was the first day of the exam. The quake hit with about 30 minutes to go in the morning session. The epicenter was about 11 miles from my test site (in Ontario). There was a loud rumbling and then suddenly the room was swaying. For a few seconds the tables were bumping around and a tile fell from the convention center ceiling. The California-savvy people ducked under their desks almost immediately. The rest of us kinda went, “Daaaawaaah?” Then we ducked under our desks.

You could tell the people who really wanted to pass. They brought their laptops with them under the desks. After maybe a minute, we got back in our seats. The head proctor announced that he would have five extra minutes tacked on to the end of our exam period. People actually clapped.

I was looking around after and I saw a lot of people with shaking hands and distracted looks. I think the first five minutes after the quake were pretty much a waste for everyone. I know I would go on writing and then notice that it just wasn’t quite right. Other people were doing a lot of the same: write something, then delete, delete, delete. I wonder if the graders will be able to tell by the exam answers just when the quake happened.
[UPDATE/CORRECTION(?): Another commenter who took the test in the "lucky" room in Ontario reports that, although the proctor said he was going to give the test-takers an extra five minutes, he ultimately didn't do so:
Just to clear things up a little, I took the exam at the Ontario site and was in the room in which the proctor said we get an extra few minutes. However, when we were told to stop typing, I looked at my watch and we had exactly 3 hours to complete the exam, not 3 hours 5 minutes. If he had given us 5 extra minutes or even a couple extra minutes, I don't think that would've been fair, especially because a lot of people in that room continued to type during the quake.
You'd think the other eyewitnesses would have noticed that they weren't actually given the promised "extra time," but maybe not. Anyway, we report, you decide.]

Meanwhile, it seems the Anaheim Convention Center, the non-laptop site, was evacuated, at least according to one parent's account:
Today was the first of three days of testing for my son Ben in his quest to successfully pass his first try at the California Bar exam after graduating from law school earlier this summer. Today was also, as you may know from the news, the day an earthquake struck Southern California with the epicenter in Chino Hills, not too far from the Anaheim Convention Center where Ben was taking the bar exam! The kind woman who answered my call at the Anaheim Convention Center information line advised me that the building was evacuated immediately after the quake but then everyone returned to resume testing. All's well, she told me, just as she had advised the dozen concerned parents and significant others who had phoned before me.
[UPDATE/CORRECTION(?): Another conflicting report: "Cal bar writer" comments that Anaheim was not evacuated. "The head proctor instructed all to stay seated and calm. The quake shook the sub-ground hall, its concrete pillars, hanging lights, and metal ceiling grid above but nothing seemed to have fallen. It sounded like a freight train, lasted only 10-15 seconds, and happened with about 12 minutes remaining to the morning portion. No extra time was given on the exam." Sounds like they lied to the concerned parents, then! Heh.]

Back to Ontario, here's another second-hand account, from the brother of a test-taker:
My brother called my mom during his break and was laughing about the whole thing. He told her that he kept writing, on account of this shaker being nothing compared to the Northridge earthquake that ravaged our neighborhood and scarred us for life years ago, but then he noticed that there was a light fixture swinging above his head. He ducked.
Finally, here's another blog post looking at the geography of the quake and the exam.

ANOTHER UPDATE: More reports from around the Interwebs:

National Law Journal: "Earthquake doesn't faze law firms, or first day of bar exam." Key quote:
Robert Hawley, deputy executive director of the State Bar of California, said he received no reports of health or safety issues following the earthquake and that some of the buildings were inspected during the break between sessions.

"Any interruption weighs heavily upon the takers," Hawley said. As a result, the State Bar is gathering data on the disruption that, along with reports from experts in psychometrics, will be presented to the committee of bar examiners in order to measure the earthquake's possible impact on test scores.
Athar Khan, another Ontario test-taker, reports:
Yes, we had an earthquake during the bar but fortunately no one was hurt or injured. It happened some time during the third hour. I was running behind on the essay when it started. At first I thought I was just feeling stressed — I was surprised and remember thinking to myself “Am I about to get sick?? I don’t ever get that stressed. This is new.” Then the ceiling lights started shaking and the whole conventional hall started creaking, shaking and ceiling. I looked up and a large beam and an air conditioning duct were rattling together. It still didn’t really sink in because it was so unreal and I had never been in an earthquake until today. Then I saw a lot of people in front of me dive under the tables. That’s when it finally sunk in — “oh… this is an earthquake!” I dove under that table so fast that I was giggling about it under the table. The guy next to me under the table was not amused.

I don’t remember how long we were under there — probably no longer than 20 seconds. Some people just kept on typing. When we came up, and sat back on our seats, it finally sunk in — we had just been in an earthquake. I hate to admit it but I was pretty rattled by the experience and took quite a bit of time for me to ease up. A proctor announced that we would get an extra couple of minutes and everyone applauded. I don’t really know if we ended up getting extra time but I am fairly sure we did. I considered writing something in my exam (e.g. “Pardon my incoherence henceforth because we just had an earthquake”) but then thought that it would serve no purpose other than calling more attention to any flaws in my exam. Besides, if I were reading something like that in an exam, I would think of it as complaining and not accepting responsibility for a hastily written answer. So, I decided not to. I will say however, that although I am not someone who expects any special treatment, just this once if the State Bar decided to be slightly forgiving of whatever I wrote in the last few minutes, I wouldn’t exactly demand that they grade me without any kind of handicap.
Law Law Stud reports that, in Century City, the separate arrival of the faster, weaker P-waves and the slower, stronger S-waves was quite distinct:
There we were, in the Century Plaza Hotel, typing merrily away about implied-in-fact contracts, when the building started to shake. At first we thought it might be a semi rolling by, or the sound of construction. But then the pillars in my testing room began to blur. And this being only the first day of the bar, I knew it wasn't just my eyesight. It had to be an earthquake.

The room shook for a few seconds, then there was a second or two of relative calm, before a second convulsion shook the room. [That would be the S-waves. -ed.] "You've gotta be kidding!" some people started exclaiming. I wondered if I was supposed to duck and cover, but decided instead just to keep typing, especially since there were no emergency announcements. The head proctor spoke at the podium a few seconds after we were sure there were not going to be any aftershocks and used the same reasoning. So 500 or so people kept typing away at their essays.

In the morning, some of us had bemoaned the fact that our testing room was in what seemed to be an old parking lot or storage room of some sort. We envied the other 500 or so people who got the ballroom, with the beautiful chandeliers. As it turned out, a piece fell from one of the chandeliers in the quake, and dropped on the table behind one of my friends, who only then considered doing the duck and roll.

As we gathered after lunch for the afternoon session, one of the bar applicants reported that she and her friends who were taking the exam in Ontario had spoken, and it turned out that they had to ride the quake for more time than those of us in Century City did, because they were closer to the epicenter. Despite Professor Honigsberg's anecdotes during Bar/Bri, the proctors did give the Ontario applicants extra time--all of two minutes.
Another conflicting report about what happened in Ontario! Heh. It's the Fog of Law, I tell ya.

Here's another report from "Doop Doop," titled "so I heard that one year, there was an earthquake during the bar":
A classmate of mine said she hopes something interesting happens at the bar this year. Well, her wish came true. There we are, 1,000 stressed people in a big hall typing away when a rumbling noise started. Most thought it was an airplane coming (including me). I sat for a while thinking the earthquake would end soon, but it didn't. Alas, I had to desert my post and go under the table as everyone else did. The funny thing is, many people continued typing away. It's not like the proctors said "okay, time out." So, many people didn't want to waste time! Some even brought their laptops under the table with them. LOL.

They always tell stories about disasters that happen during the bar exam. They tell us to be prepared for anything. They tell us about people having heart attacks, flooding, and the dreaded power outages! So now, earthquake will be added the list.
Indeed.

Still another report, from Mixed Blessings: "I survived the 5.7 earthquake that made us all duck under the tables but you would not believe how many people popped right back up and kept typing like nothing happened..not to mention the handful that never went under the table. Also notable: the people that took their computers with them under the table."

Rachael Lynch, whose blog is titled Once Upon a Bar Exam, writes: "As long as the ceiling doesn't fall on me while i'm taking the exam, things will be great!"

Erin Davis writes that, in San Diego, at least some people left the room:
The most exciting part of the day ... was the EARTHQUAKE!! As I'm sure you've all heard, California was hit with a 5.4 earthquake this morning. I was furiously typing away when the table started shaking and I got irritated and thought it was smelly-boy bouncing his leg up and down that was shaking the table. Then I realized the whole building was shaking....and then people started freaking out. Smelly-boy and a few others jumped up and ran out of the testing room. Other people pushed their chairs back and contemplated getting under the tables or running away. I looked up and saw some ceiling debris falling, but also saw that I was safely located in the middle between two of the giant, swaying ceiling lights, and figured I was safe, so I just kept typing away. It lasted for probably 7 or 8 seconds, and then abruptly stopped. People were still freaked out and there was a lot of buzz going on around the testing room....and then it was back to work. The Bar Exam doesn't take breaks for earthquakes! (I decided there on the spot though that if there was another, bigger earthquake, i was outta there. If I'm in danger, screw the Bar! I'll live the rest of life as a happy, ALIVE mailwoman or something ;-) ) Since it was pretty dramatic in San Diego, I can only imagine how it was for all the LA bar-takers!

I'm pretty sure I jinxed the earthquake. I was talking to a friend last night about earthquakes and how it would be funny if there was one during the bar exam. Oops. I'll make sure I don't talk to him about tsunamis. The testing location IS right off the water, after all. ;-)
Finally, The Bovina Bloviator writes simply: "Oh. My. God."

P.S. Incidentally, in case any regular readers are wondering, this is my "one longer post" of the week. :) That fact, combined with the ongoing Instalanche, explains why I keep adding "UPDATES" instead of starting a new post.

Incidentally, if you Google "california bar exam earthquake," the top two results are this post and InstaPundit's link to this post. Heh. Take that, ATL! ;)

UPDATE: One final update, via e-mail from Adrian McDonald, who was one of the Ontario students who got hit by a falling tile. He is not at all happy about the State Bar's reaction:
After the quake went from “that must be some big truck” to “holy s**t, wrath of God,” ceiling tiles, as you know, began descending on the test takers below. I understand the head proctor almost got hit, but I failed to notice because one of the tiles actually grazed my right shoulder before landing a couple feet from me (I was at the end of one of the back rows). Thankfully, I was not physically injured. After the shaking stopped, one of the proctors, who must have seen my close call, came over and asked if I was ok. That expression of concern is about the only thing the California State Bar has done right since.

I found the comment by the proctor in LA to be particularly disconcerting. To brush off a 5.4 magnitude quake with a “welcome to California…and there will be aftershocks” comment is patently outrageous. Had he been in Ontario and made that statement, as I was busy brushing debris from the tile off of my shirt, I think I would have lost it and committed a few intentional torts on him…using the large tile laying at my feet as my weapon of choice (perhaps with a parting “there will be aftershocks” comment after his beat down). Lucky for him, he was not in Ontario. But I can’t imagine a comment like that after a quake…as if the actual event was not stressful enough! Those poor test takers having to frantically finish their essay (which in Ontario was contracts) with the added stress that, at any moment, all hell could break loose again? That total disregard for the safety and sanity of freaked out over-stressed test takers is about as low as they can go. Way to lower the bar as we are trying to pass it!

And how ironic that the essay we were working on was a contracts question (duress anyone?) and, even better, the afternoon performance test had us duress specifically. Don’t ya think? In any event, I am not sure what the remedy should be…but there should be one. The reaction of Bar official Robert Hawley did not help. I love the following description of the Bar’s official reaction:

“The State Bar is gathering data on the disruption that, along with reports from experts in psychometrics, will be presented to the committee of bar examiners in order to measure the earthquake's possible impact on test scores.”

What the hell does that even mean? Then there is this zinger directly from Hawley’s own lips, “While it was momentarily unnerving, I've not heard that there was a significant disruption…You can't treat Sally different than Johnny just because one person felt the earthquake more than others.” The f**k you can’t Hawley. The bar has extended many “accommodations” to hundreds of test takers in recent years. Let me get this straight…if I visit a psychiatrist and get on Adderall for ADD I can get an extra hour per session, but those who ride out a significant quake get psychometrics? Johnny Sally what Hawley? Christ, the law we are being tested on rests upon exceptions to exceptions upon exceptions. Hawley, come down to Ontario, sit in the exam room and volunteer to stay seated as about a dozen or so ceiling tiles are allowed to rain down on you. Do that and then, maybe, you can claim such an encounter is not a “significant disruption.” What exactly is a significant disruption? I think many test takers would argue ANY. It’s the Bar Exam. The test itself is, to say the least, a “significant disruption.”

So understand how grating it was to listen to the threats and consequences for the test takers if we violate the copyright of the bar exam. Don’t try and impress upon us, the test takers, of the legal consequences of reproducing test questions while at the same time you, Bar Examiners, negligently disregard the mental health and physical safety of a few thousand future lawyers. In fact, now that I think of it, how stupid are they? Lawsuits anyone?

I have rambled on long enough, but I will say that the wanton disregard for our safety after the quake is just inexcusable. Will more of the ceiling fall? What else came loose? How about some direction for those of us not used to “every day earthquake” universe some of the examiners apparently live in? Duck and cover anyone?
(Emphases added.)

The quote from Hawley, incidentally, comes from this L.A. Times article about the exam and quake, which I hadn't seen previously. See also this Mercury News article:
The earthquake that shook Southern California on Tuesday might have thousands of would-be lawyers shouting, "Objection!"

The first part of the three-day state bar exam was being held when the 5.4-magnitude quake hit, affecting 4,000 to 5,000 test-takers in Los Angeles, Anaheim and Ontario. Now the State Bar of California is considering revising test results if it appears the quake negatively affected test-takers.

"It was a good solid jolt," said Robert Hawley, deputy executive director of the State Bar of California. "It unnerved the test-takers right there at that moment."

After a scheduled two-hour break, they resumed testing in the afternoon. Still, Hawley said, expert test consultants will look at the results and determine whether the earthquake may have disrupted them.

"My guess is that ... it really didn't have a material impact," he said.

If the experts determine the quake affected the test scores, they will recommend adjustments so that all 9,000 test-takers statewide have an even field, Hawley said.
Meanwhile, in comments, two other Ontario test-takers dismiss their colleagues' complaints as so much grievance-mongering. Nick:
I was in the big room in Ontario that supposedly got 5 extra minutes. I'm not sure if we got them or not. I finished and left about 10-15 minutes early. If the exam is graded differently in my room because of the quake, I'm not going to be happy about it. The earthquake only lasted about 20 seconds, there's no reason we should have had any extra time. We had three hours to complete the morning session, a couple minutes either way shouldn't make a difference if you were actually prepared for the exam. With that said, it's definitely a memory I won't forget any time soon.
And David:
I was in the big room in Ontario as well. I'm not sure which is worse -- taking the bar during an earthquake or hearing all the whining about how some of us Got! More! Time!* Honestly, my first thought after feeling the shock (I kept on typing, btw) was how people were going to try to play it to their advantage, and sure enough, they are!

Overall it was no big deal. I'd say some of the more nervous of us were made even more nervous by the quake. However, part of studying for and taking the bar (and being a lawyer) is rolling with the punches. I certainly wasn't going to let a medium-sized earthquake get between and a discussion of restitutionary remedies!

I'd be surprised to find out that the Bar Examiners choose to grade the rooms differently. How could you adjust for something like that? Adding points? Subtracting them? I'd guess that if they grade anything differently, it will be the third essay only (the quake happened with about 15 minutes left in the morning session).

* 3-4 minutes extra by my watch, certainly not five.

Earthquake in L.A.

CNN Breaking News: "A magnitude 5.8 earthquake has rattled Los Angeles, California." [UPDATE: It's been downgraded to a 5.4.]

UPDATE: USGS details here. The epicenter was actually near Chino.

My initial reaction is that a 5.8 is decent-sized, but not huge, by L.A. standards. But, damage-wise, a great deal depends on the details.

UPDATE 2: It happened at 2:42 PM EDT, or 11:42 AM local time. (Aftershocks are ongoing.) Nikki Finke calls it "one big, long earthquake."

Various TV stations in L.A. are streaming live over the Interwebs: CBS 2, ABC 7 and Fox 11.

UPDATE 3: Sounds like there wasn't much damage. There's a "1 in 20 chance" that it was a "foreshock" of a larger quake coming, according to CBS 2.

Meanwhile, congrats to Flying Cats, which was, according to Google Blog Search, the very first blog on the Internet to post about the earthquake.

Elsewhere the blogosphere, West By East reports: "to my East Coast friends and family who have never experienced a quake, I am honored to share with you that it feels like a fat man running really fast on your roof."

Ted Stevens indicted!

In a development that seems certain to produce unprecedented levels of bipartisan blogospheric schadenfreude, U.S. Senator Ted "Series of Tubes"/"Bridge to Nowhere" Stevens of Alaska -- widely reviled by liberals, pork-busting conservatives, and techies of all political persuasions -- has been indicted by a federal grand jury on corruption charges:

Mr. Stevens, 84, was indicted on seven counts of falsely reporting income. The charges are related to renovations on his home and to gifts he has received. They arise from an investigation that has been under way for more than a year, in connection with the senator’s relationship with a businessman who oversaw the home-remodeling project. ...

Mr. Stevens’s troubles are not linked to [Jack Abramoff]. Instead, they stem from his ties to an oil executive whose company won millions of dollars in federal contracts with the help of Mr. Stevens, whose home in Alaska was almost doubled in size in the renovation project.

Mr. Stevens is a former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and he is still on the panel. As chairman, he wielded huge influence, and did not hesitate to use it to steer money and projects to his state.

“No other senator fills so central a place in his state’s public and economic life as Ted Stevens of Alaska,” the Almanac of American Politics says. “Quite possibly, no other senator ever has.”

Stevens, the longest-serving Republican U.S. Senator, would be fourth in line to the presidency if the GOP were to regain control of the Senate. But, barring a party switch by Joe Lieberman prior to the January 2009 congressional inaugurations, that eventuality appears as remote as ever. Stevens's indictment would seem to greatly increase the chances of Democrats picking up a Senate seat in Alaska, to go with the 3 to 7 other GOP seats that Dems are likely to "flip" in November. (Source: Five Thirty Eight.)

P.S. The Anchorage Daily News has complete coverage.

Is it just me...

...or have we reached the point where there are so many different polls, saying so many different things, all at once, that it now feels relatively pointless to pay much attention at all, to any of them?

When I think back on, for example, 1996, it seems like there would be a new Clinton vs. Dole poll coming out, oh, maybe once a week. So each poll was a big news story, seemed legitimately important in its own right, and really shaped public perception of the campaign.

Flash forward 12 years, and it seems like there are a half-dozen new polls out every day, often revealing conflicting insights about the supposed state of the race. Maybe true polling junkies and professionals can sort it all out and glean something meaningful from it, but for most people, myself included, I feel like the glut of information just turns everything into noise.

Dubya, coming soon to a theater near you

The first trailer for Oliver Stone's film about President Bush, W., has been released:



Oh, this isn't going to be controversial at all. Nope. Particularly not when it's coming out on October 17, right in the middle of the presidential campaign (two days after the final Obama-McCain debate, in fact).

More on the film here, here and here, and an amusing side-note here.

NYT reports on Comcast's blogger outreach

Remember Frank Eliason, the Comcast corporate representative who, back in April, intervened in my cable saga (which was, we later learned, caused by Comcast stealing our cable), and shortly thereafter was written up in the Philadelphia Inquirer for his wide-ranging blog outreach efforts?

Well, on Saturday, he was on the front page of the New York Times. There was even a photo. Here's an excerpt from the article:

From a sparse desk dominated by two computer screens in the new Comcast Center here [in Philadelphia], Mr. Eliason uses readily available online tools to monitor public comments on blogs, message boards and social networks for any mention of Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company. When he sees a complaint ... he contacts the source to try to defuse the problem.

“When you’re having a two-way conversation, you really get to clear the air,” Mr. Eliason said. ...

The company was ranked at the very bottom of the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index, which tracks consumer opinions of more than 200 companies. Hundreds of customers have filed grievances on a site called ComcastMustDie.com.

Comcast says the online outreach is part of a larger effort to revamp its customer service. In just about five months, Mr. Eliason, whose job redefines customer service, has reached out to well over 1,000 customers online.

Lyza Gardner, a vice president at a Web development company in Portland, Ore., used Twitter to vent about a $183 cable bill last month. (The bill was prorated for almost two months of service.) Her comment — “very angry at Comcast” — set off Mr. Eliason’s search tool, prompting him to type out his typical reply: “Can I help?” The response caught Ms. Gardner off guard.

“It’s one thing to spit vitriol about a company when they can’t hear you,” she said in an interview. It’s another, she said, when the company replies. “I immediately backed down and softened my tone when I knew I was talking to a real person.”

Ms. Gardner's reaction is, I think, probably the most common one -- it was certainly my reaction as well. But the Times article also notes another, rather silly reaction that some folks have had to Mr. Eliason's outreach efforts: they feel like Comcast is stalking them. One customer is paraphrased as saying that he "found it all a bit creepy." He said, "The rest of [Mr. Eliason's] e-mail may as well have read, 'Big Brother is watching you.'" Another blog is quoted as declaring contemptuously, "Comcast Is Watching Us."

Frankly, this is downright asinine. If you post about something publicly, on a blog, on the Internet, you can't complain that someone is invading your privacy, or being "creepy" or Orwellian, simply by reading it and responding. That makes no sense! Your blog isn't private! People can read it! *sigh*

The more serious concern is the one hinted at here:

[One customer recalled that, after Mr. Eliason intervened,] “The reaction was a thousand times better than what I was getting by phone.”

Of course, most customers still call when they have problems If they all started blogging and commenting instead, Mr. Eliason would be quickly overwhelmed. “This is a channel, but it is not the first step” for customer concerns, he said.

That's why, as I've said before, "one shouldn't have to be a P.R. threat to get good help from a company that one pays for service." A customer should be able to get "a speedy and adequate response to any such problems that may arise, even when the customer is working through the 'normal' channels." On that front, Comcast still has a lot of improving to do.

UPDATE: The first comment on this post is by... Frank Eliason. But of course! Heh.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Man who attacked Knoxville Unitarians "hated liberals"

When initial reports suggested that the murderer who shot up the Unitarian church in Knoxville yesterday "hated Christianity," I was skeptical. Why would an anti-Christian bigot attack a Unitarian church? Anything is possible in the mind of a deranged killer, of course, but that explanation just didn't smell right to me. I mean no offense -- I'm not implying anything negative about Unitarians -- but they aren't exactly the poster children for in-your-face organized religion of the sort that's likely to offend somebody who "hates Christianity."

This, on the other hand, sounds much more plausible:

The shotgun-wielding suspect in Sunday's mass shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church was motivated by a hatred of "the liberal movement," and he planned to shoot until police shot him, Knoxville Police Chief Sterling P. Owen IV said this morning.

Jim D. Adkisson, 58, of Powell wrote a four-page letter in which he stated his "hatred of the liberal movement," Owen said. "Liberals in general, as well as gays." ...

Owen said Adkisson specifically targeted the church for its beliefs, rather than a particular member of the congregation.

Did he know in advance about the children's play, I wonder? But then, I suppose those little kids had it coming, right? After all, they were at a gay-loving liberal hippie church, the little snots. Children whose parents care about "desegregation, racial harmony, fair wages, women's rights and gay rights" deserve to die! Ugh, ugh, ugh. What a God damn evil lunatic.

Anyway:

Adkisson said he also was frustrated about not being able to obtain a job, Owen said.

The letter, recovered from Adkisson's black 2004 Ford Escape, which was parked in the church's parking lot at 2931 Kingston Pike, indicates he had been planning the shooting for about a week.

"He fully expected to be killed by the responding police," the police chief said. ...

Officers recovered 76 shells for a 12-gauge, semiautomatic shotgun inside the church. Among those shells were three spent rounds. He had carried the shotgun inside the church in a guitar case, Owen said.

"He certainly intended to take a lot of casualties," the chief said.

Thank God the death toll wasn't higher. And if it weren't for Greg McKendry, maybe it would have been.

On an unrelated note, I expect two things to happen once the local media and blogosphere move past the initial grief/shock reporting phase. Firstly, there will be an incredibly annoying, obnoxious pissing contest between gun-control advocates and gun-rights advocates, with each using this shooting as an example of their pet beliefs. (This is why we should ban all guns! This is why everyone should carry a gun!) East Tennessee is pretty much the ideal place for such a debate, given the combination of traditional southern red-state conservatives with liberal hippie northern expats who've moved down here. (This same dynamic is responsible for the Ichthys War, which is unceasing in these parts.) InstaPundit, being a local, strongly pro-gun blog with a huge national following, will no doubt have a lot to say about this issue, though I hope Glenn will show some restraint and not use this tragedy as an opportunity to grind an axe. (That same advice goes for everybody, BTW.)

Secondly, now that we know the shooter was motivated by a hatred of liberals, gays, etc., there will be all sorts of inappropriate recriminations from certain corners of the lefty blogosphere, which will in turn spur inappropriate overreaction among some righty bloggers. For example: some idiot blog commenter, or Daily Kos diarist or whatever, will cite this shooting as yet another example of Evil Republican Conservative Violence, and will tie it into larger themes (e.g., a vote for John McCain is a vote for the Knoxville butcherer!). Some bloggers on the Right will then act as if this idiotic individual is some sort of spokesman for the Left, and will use it as an example of how liberals in general are deranged and unhinged. It's all quite predictable, and it, too, will be incredibly annoying and obnoxious, on both sides.

Sunset on the tarmac

Sunset at the Buffalo airport Friday:

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I love the cloud shadow.

Technically, this post belongs on the Photoblog, but when I took the above photo, a couple of airport employees saw me doing so, and were interested in the picture, so I gave them my main website URL (which points here) and told 'em they'd be able to find it at that address. So I figure I should make an exception and post it here.

Besides, there's an interesting Homeland Security angle. One of the employees, having seen me taking sunset pictures through the thick glass in the terminal, asked if I'd like to go outside -- onto the tarmac -- so I could get a better shot. Not wanting to pass up such a cool opportunity, I said, sure! So he entered his security code, opened the locked doors and took me outside, where I did indeed take some more photos, including this one:

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I also watched a couple of planes land. All the while, I was thinking to myself -- though I obviously wasn't going to compalin -- "um, isn't this kind of a security breach?" Then again, the employee who let me out was there the whole time, standing very close by, so, even if I were a terrorist, it's not like I could have, like, launched a shoulder-fired missile without him noticing, or whatever. Besides, standing around inside an airport taking pictures of sunsets, and waiting for an employee to spontaneously offer to take you outside, is not exactly a high-percentage terror strategy. :) But still. I guess I must have looked fairly non-threatening...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

McCain's dishonest, dishonorable attack ad

John McCain has a new TV ad out, in which he cites the bogus controversy over Barack Obama's cancelled visit to wounded soldiers in Germany as evidence that Obama isn't "always there for our troops." Worse, the ad states -- falsely -- that the reason Obama cancelled the trip is because the "Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras." I repeat: that statement is a lie. It is not true at all.

An Obama spokesman responded to the ad by saying, "John McCain is an honorable man who is running an increasingly dishonorable campaign." That's true. While no politician, Obama included, is as pure as the driven snow, this is a new low in the general-election campaign. I know politics ain't beanbag, but I did not expect to be disgusted by McCain campaign tactics. And yet here we are. Have you no shame, Senator?

Gunman attacks Unitarian church in Knoxville; seven critically wounded [UPDATE: 2 dead]

Just as we're leaving for Knoxville after visiting Shannon in Buffalo this weekend, I get this piece of terrible, shocking news from back home, via a CNN Breaking News alert on my cell phone:
Seven shot and critically wounded at Unitarian church in Knoxville, Tennessee, authorities say. Suspect arrested.
More details: the attack "occurred about 10 a.m. ET at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church ... [C]hildren from the congregation's summer theater workshop were preforming the musical 'Annie' when the gunman opened fire[.]

Becky and I have been to TVUUC a couple of times, and I gave a presentation on Hurricane Katrina there last summer.

Needless to say, this is awful. Who the hell would attack a church, and a Unitarian church at that, and during a children's play to boot? WTF?

UPDATE: Elrod of The Moderate Voice is a TVUUC member, and he writes:

This is such a shock to the community here. Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church is such a welcoming community. Though it’s decidedly more liberal than East Tennessee as a whole, we have very good relations with the rest of the community. I don’t understand why anybody would do this. All we know right now is that the suspect was not connected to the church in any way. I have no idea if the man had some sort of political or cultural agenda (TVUUC had just put up a sign welcoming gays to the congregation), or if it’s just some lunatic acting for no reason at all.

Please keep the members our church community in your thoughts and prayers today. This is such a shock to our congregation and our community as a whole.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel's Michael Silence has a full roundup of blog reactions.

At least one person is dead. Specifically, church member Greg McKendry, 60, was killed after apparently confronting the gunman and attempting to protect the children in the play:

"Just make sure you let people know that Greg McKendry is a hero, an absolute hero," [McKendry's 16-year-old foster son] Taylor Bessette said as he emerged from a side entrance at the church about three hours after the shooting. ...

He said McKendry acted as a shield to protect the children participating in the play.

"He stood in front of the bullets and … actually took the bullets to save the child," he said.

There are conflicting reports regarding whether a second person died. [UPDATE: It is now confirmed that a second person, 61-year-old Linda Kraeger, has also died.] More details:

Church member Marty Murphy ... said the more than 200 people attending a production of the musical “Annie Jr!” dove under whatever cover they could find — pews or pianos — or ran out the two doors leading to the sanctuary. The production of the musical had begun just minutes before the shooting.

Murphy said children were standing as close as 2 to 3 feet to the shooter when the attack began. ...

“One little girl had blood all over her, all over,” she said. “She was just hysterical. I don’t know how that girl is going to sleep tonight.”

Murphy said three men jumped and disarmed the shooter and bound his hands behind his back and his feet with belts “or whatever they could get their hands on.”

The shooter was placed face down on the floor, where he continued to struggle.

“He was mumbling,” Murphy said. “I couldn’t hear what he was saying. He was treated somewhat roughly.” ...

Murphy, who has been a church member since 2000, shook her head in disbelief.

“Who would have thought, here in Knoxville?" she said.

Ted Lollis, who runs the forums at TVUUC and also sends out the church's occasional e-mail bulletins (which I subscribe to), wrote the following this afternoon:

Dear friends,

As you may have seen the national news, a horrible shooting took place during this morning's crowded worship service at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist church, here in Knoxville.

Neither Schera nor I was present. I arrived at the church 50 minutes after the shooting and found the congregation already gathered in the social hall under the leadership of Brian Griffin (director of religious education) in the absence of minister Chris Buice.

From all accounts, one church member is dead, and five other adults are injured. Two or three church members jumped on the shooter and held him down until police arrived. One church member may have have deliberately stepped in front of the perpetrator and taken a direct hit from his shotgun.

I talked to several eye-witnesses but no one recognized the shooter or could tell why he so tragically interrupted a musical play (Annie, Jr.) being performed by the church's children after two weeks of rehearsal.

Local media are now scrambling to fill in the missing details. One of the best on-line sources of additional information may be http://www.knoxnews.com.

PS: On June 25, Schera and I visited the Columbine Memorial in Littleton, Colorado. (See http://www.columbinememorial.org/.) Now we have a version of the same thing in our own backyard.

Awful.

UPDATE: A new post about the shooting.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Biblical Obama

Heh:
And it came to pass, in the eighth year of the reign of the evil Bush the Younger (The Ignorant), when the whole land from the Arabian desert to the shores of the Great Lakes had been laid barren, that a Child appeared in the wilderness.

The Child was blessed in looks and intellect. Scion of a simple family, offspring of a miraculous union, grandson of a typical white person and an African peasant. And yea, as he grew, the Child walked in the path of righteousness, with only the occasional detour into the odd weed and a little blow.
It goes on, and is quite funny. Read the whole thing.

A rant on hurricane "hype"

Posted at Weather Nerd:

*    *    *    *    *

[N]ow that hurricanes have become a political football, a bizarre and infuriating phenomenon occurs every single time a hurricane hits land but fails to adhere to the direst of warnings. Out of the blogospheric woodwork come the village idiots, complaining of all the purportedly overheated “hype” and “doom and gloom” predictions that were once again unwarranted. “The forecasters said it would be worse than this!” they jeer. “This proves they’re a bunch of alarmists!”

The distinction between “would” and “could” is totally lost on these people. No, forecasters didn’t say it would be a disaster; they said it could be a disaster. And it could have been. Did forecasters emphasize the worst-case scenarios over the less dire scenarios? Yes — as they should! Only with 20/20 hindsight is it possible to look back at a storm and know exactly which warnings were necessary and which ones weren’t. In real time, forecasters and disaster planners have to assume that the worst-case plausible scenario will occur. They have no choice!

Because worst-case scenarios are just that -- scenarios, out of a wide range of possible scenarios -- they usually don't happen. Yet if forecasters were to choose the grossly irresponsible course of ignoring or downplaying the worst-case scenarios, and then one of those scenarios did occur, the forecasters would be rightly pilloried (including by these same village idiots, no doubt) for failing to warn and protect the public!

Critics are holding forecasters to an impossible standard. When it comes to issuing warnings of disasters that are realistically possible but (of course) not guaranteed to occur, forecasters are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

Why does this make me so angry? Because those who unfailingly, thoughtlessly and relentlessly snark at forecasters (and, ahem, weatherbloggers) for these “incorrect” predictions — never mind that, in most cases, what actually occurred was within the predicted probability cone, so the predictions weren’t actually “incorrect” at all — are more than just ignorant idiots (though they are that). They’re dangerous idiots, because they give aid and comfort to the fools who, when subsequent storms threaten their lives and property, ignore warnings of imminent danger.

*    *    *    *    *

Read the whole thing.

P.S. If you're wondering, I put the above-quoted excerpt inside asterisks, instead of a blockquote, because a lengthy blockquote is ugly and hard to read in my current Blogger template. Gotta work on that.

"They had flowers in their minds"

Without necessarily endorsing it, I offer this article by Samantha Power, titled "The Democrats & National Security," as food for thought and possible fodder for discussion. It's a good read. I found this quote particularly interesting:
Because many conservatives presume exceptional American virtue —and believe that this virtue is self-evident to others—they have also consistently failed to see how aggressive US actions can appear abroad, and how the fear they generate can give rise to threatening behavior by others, who believe they are acting in self-defense.
Read the whole thing, particularly the section toward the end that begins with the question, "How can Obama and his Democratic colleagues expose once and for all the fallacies in the conservative approach to national security, while putting forward a convincing alternative?" How, indeed. The "convincing alternative" part, in particular, is something I've been waiting to hear since 9/11. Despite all the Republicans' failures, Democrats have generally failed to present a viable and coherent alternative approach. (This goes for not just foreign policy, but also homeland security, as I argued back in 2003.)

Dems have suggested some good ideas, of course, and they make frequent biting criticisms of Bush and the GOP (that part is easy). But the over-arching, positive, forward-looking philosophy -- the liberal counterweight to the Bush/McCain strand of (neo-)conservatism -- remains generally lacking. Will the Dems finally clear this hurdle in 2008? Already there are some positive signs. I think an Obama-Biden ticket would be potential dynamite in this regard.

P.S. Jim Hu offers a different perspective on Power's piece. Of particular note, I think, is this line:
I'm not convinced that the GOP has owned national security based on any of the details of its policy views - and it's not clear to me that there is real consistency running from Nixon to Reagan to Bush 1 and 2, other than a general invocation of "Strength" with a vagueness similar to Obama's invocation of "Hope and Change". Rather, I think the public tilts toward Republicans on national security based on distrusting the Dems more. This distrust isn't necessarily about questioning anyone's patriotism - it's about predicting that the Dems will rationalize minimizing security threats to justify funneling the budget toward domestic social programs. Similarly, the public calculates that R's overstate these threats to justify funneling the budget to their constituencies in the military-industrial complex... and also away from public welfare programs they dislike.
I wish this were the sort of intelligent debate we were having in the country at large, instead of whether Castro hearts Obama and such.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Uh-oh...

This isn't good, is it?

IMG_7477.JPG

Stop the presses: a meaningless poll!

"Voters Want Less Pork, Even in Their Own District": Color me skeptical. Extremely skeptical, actually. It's very easy to say, in response to a poll question, that you would prefer a "candidate who wants to cut overall federal spending, even if that includes cutting some money that would come to your district" to a more spendthrift, porky candidate. That is, after all, the "right" answer; who's going to openly admit that they like pork, particularly when the organization asking the question is the Club for Growth?

But what does the answer mean? In a word, nothing. The concept of "cutting some money that would come to your district" is just that -- a concept, and an incredibly vague one, at that. How much money? For which projects? Nobody thinks their favorite federally-funded project is "pork"; surely the cuts would come from some other, less worthy project. And besides, they'll think: while reducing pork might entail cutting "some money" from my district, there will be more cuts in other districts, right? Because really, the spending in my district isn't that wasteful. We've only got a little bit of pork here. Now, Alaska, that's where the pork is, am I right people?

If you could show me micro-targeted polling that shows voters rejecting specific local pork projects in service of an anti-pork mindset, then I'll be interested. This poll, however, is almost worthless.

(Hat tip: InstaPundit, who is a bit too credulous in this instance.)

Wait, you're both wrong!

Supporters of Barack Obama seriously need to stop abusing Web 2.0 community-policing tools to censor opposing political views. It's unbecoming, it's un-American, and it's deeply unhelpful to their candidate's cause. If they truly believe Obama is the best candidate for president -- if they truly believe in the "movement" he represents -- then they should welcome, rather than seeking to squelch, a free and open exchange of ideas that will presumably, if they're right, lead other voters to freely and openly reach the same conclusion. (And if they truly prefer silencing the opposition instead of battling them head-on in the marketplace of ideas, maybe they really should do what liberals keep threatening to do after losing elections: move to Canada.)

On the other hand, conservatives need to stop blaming these occurrences, which are caused by individual users abusing politically neutral technologies, on Google and other such institutions that set up the systems which are subsequently abused. See, e.g., the headline on the above-linked piece -- parroted by InstaPundit -- declaring, misleadingly, that "Google has officially censored my Barack Obama video." In saying such things, the anti-Obama crowd displays either an ignorance of the way this Web 2.0-style technology works (something John McCain would surely sympathize with) or a willingness to blatantly distort the truth in order to advance their pet theory of ingrained pro-Obama bias all along the MSM-Hollywood-Google axis. Blaming "Google" for the reprehensible actions of individual Google/YouTube users is so misleading as to be basically a lie -- and, as such, it is (again) deeply unhelpful to the cause, in this case the cause of raising awareness of the alleged pro-Obama bias. Blaming something on institutional bias when that is manifestly not the issue degrades the accuser's credibility, thus making it harder to get people's attention in other cases when institutional bias really is the issue.

Also: conservatives need to recognize that it takes only a small army of committed idiots on the Obama side to make this sort of thing happen. It doesn't require a grand-scale consipracy, and thus these occurrences do not imply that most "Obamabots" are in favor of squelching opposing views. That said: responsible Obama supporters who believe in the free exchange of ideas ought to vigorously denounce this sort of thing, and make clear that it has no place in the "movement."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dolly intensifies, hits Texas as Cat. 2

Hurricane Dolly rapidly intensified overnight, and is about to make landfall near the Texas-Mexico border -- probably as a Category 2 storm.

All the latest information is at my Pajamas Media weatherblog, Weather Nerd.

UPDATE: Dolly made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane, with 100 mph winds.

Here's a live radar image out of Brownsville:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hurricane Watch

Tropical Storm Dolly is becoming a real threat to Texas. The writing was on the wall last night, and now the track has been adjusted northward, and Hurricane Watches have been issued.

UPDATE: The watches are now warnings, and Dolly is almost a hurricane.

All the latest info is on Weather Nerd.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Batman

Going to see The Dark Knight. Woohoo!

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Cristobal and Dolly

For those who are interested, I'm blogging up a storm (literally!) over on my new Pajamas Media blog, Weather Nerd. There's plenty to talk about: Tropical Storm Cristobal is currently brushing North Carolina; Tropical Storm Dolly just formed, and could become a Gulf of Mexico blockbuster next week; Tropical Storm Bertha finally kicked the bucket this morning, after 17 1/2 days; and there's the hint of a "proto-Edouard" getting ready to emerge from Africa. (Is it really only July 20?)

Milestones in nostalgia

It's been fourteen months to the day since I graduated from law school, and this morning I think I crossed a key psychological threshold. As I was driving from Knoxville to Nashville at the ungodly hour of 6:30 on a Sunday morning (to catch a flight to Denver, natch), I hooked up my iPod to the car's tape teck and cued up two bands -- first Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, then Flogging Molly -- that I discovered while at Notre Dame. (They both played at Legends, f.k.a. Senior Bar, during my second or third year, and I attended both concerts and enjoyed both immensely.*) I used to routinely play their CDs on my car stereo while driving around South Bend, so the music is indelibly associated with that period in my life. And as I listened to it this morning I found myself getting nostalgic: for law school, for Notre Dame, even for the 'Bend itself.

This isn't the first time I've looked back fondly on my law school / Notre Dame experience, obviously; far from it. But there's a difference, I think, between recalling (and missing) individual aspects of past experiences -- specific people, places, events, etc. -- and feeling a sense of nostalgia about a previous era in one's life. Nostalgia is far more broad and generalized than memory: it can somehow encapsulate an entire three-year period into a single song or mental picture or brief recollection, which may itself be a composite of various discrete recollections, fused into a vague sense of memory and loss: "I miss that place," or that time in my life, or whatever.

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Nostalgia is also, of course, fuzzy, and it involves some reinventing of history. It is the form of memory that recalls not the details of a thing, but a soft-focused, mentally transmogrified version thereof, with all the bad stuff edited out (or at least pushed to one side). So never mind that, back when I was actually driving around South Bend listening to Stephen Kellogg's "See You Later, See You Soon" or Flogging Molly's "Rebels of the Sacred Heart," I was as often as not stressing about schoolwork I hadn't done, or a looming final exam, or my job search, or some petty bloggy or law-school drama, or the South Bend permacloud. None of that unpleasantness seeps into nostalgia. Instead, the thought of driving around South Bend reminds me of a vague sense of excitement and freedom and discovery and camaraderie and the last vestiges of youth. Not to beautiful spring and autumn days, and football weekends, and the Dome, and...

touchdown jesus reflection

Well, you get the idea. :)

And yet, nostalgia is a happy emotion tinged with sadness, because it recalls -- in the fondest light possible -- things that are done, and gone, and over with. I'll never again be 23, setting out on the grand new adventure of law school on a gorgeous spring day in the Midwest. I'll never again be 25, enjoying one last night at the Backer with my school friends. Not that I'd really want to be -- I very much like being 26, father of the cutest 6-month-old on the planet (no really, they've done studies), husband to my beautiful Becky, law clerk to a fantastic judge, living in the wonderful city of Knoxville -- but still, the inexorability of time's forward march brings with it a certain intrinsic melancholy. J.R.R. Tolkien nailed this when he imbued the immortal Elves with a sense of profound sadness underneath their wisdom and grace, for immortality would be sad. An immortal being would have a very, very long list of things to be nostalgic about. After a while, it would get to be too much, I think.

I'm a very nostalgic person, which is why I think (and hope) I will always have a strong drive to remain active and vibrant and energetic, constantly doing new things and making new memories. If I didn't, I imagine the weight of all the old memories would become a burden rather than a blessing. But that won't happen as long as I keep doing and experiencing things that will someday themselves be worthy of getting nostalgic about. (And is there any doubt that, years from now, when I listen to my current musical playlist -- WDVX's bluegrass repertoire, Great Big Sea's Fortune's Favour, Bradley Walker's Highway of Dreams, and so forth -- I'll fondly remember those heady, youthful days when I was a brand-new daddy? Oh, to be young again!)

*Coincidentally, it turns out that Stephen Kellogg and Flogging Molly are both in Denver this weekend for the Mile High Festival. Alas, I can't afford an $85 day pass. The concert at Legends was free. :)

Anyway... on an unrelated note, I think The One Blog's first week has been pretty successful, no? It has been for me, at least. I stuck to my time limit, give or take a couple of minutes, and I didn't feel either deprived or burdened. Some tweaking to the limits may be necessary, particularly now that Weather Nerd has been launched, but overall, I think my system is working pretty well.

Better yet, it's Sunday, so the clock just reset! :) Moreover, most of the time I spent writing this post doesn't even count, because I wrote it on the plane, which means it's technically "Moblogging"... woohoo! (Heh. Always the lawyers and their loopholes.)

Oh happy day

Start your day off right with a healthy, and smiley-face-shaped, breakfast. :)

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Another blog announcement

No, I'm not switching blogs again. (Heh.) But I do have another new blog -- and I get paid for this one! :)

Pajamas Media has given me the keys to the kingdom, sort of, by creating a "PajamasXpress" blog for me, titled "Weather Nerd." I now have full editorial control over my PJM hurricane blog posts, and the ability to publish such posts at will, which means I'll be able to more reliably post timely updates than I have been up until now.

I've added the Weatherblog to the "MY OTHER BLOGS" column at right, and I'll be integrating its RSS feed into my combined feeds as well. Stay tuned for that.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

All-time supervillains

With The Dark Knight coming out tomorrow, Yahoo! Movies looks at the top movie supervillains of all-time. Who's missing from their list, who's there that doesn't belong (hint: Doc Ock?!), and more importantly, how would you rank the all-time greatest villains of the silver screen?

Poverty of the soul

I'm not endorsing its conclusion, necessarily, but this essay about Britain's welfare state -- which argues that it creates "a miasma of subsidized apathy that blights the lives of its supposed beneficiaries" -- is, if nothing else, a good read, and I figured it'd make great fodder for discussion, if anyone is so inclined.

But first, take 10 or 15 minutes and read the whole thing.

(Hat tip: Alan Sullivan. The essay is from 1999.)

Clooney on Clooney

A funny picture from Kyle Whelliston's "Pictures of Teevee" set on Flickr.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Photogate update

Reason's Jacob Sullum weighs in on the Mountain City "illegal photography" kerfuffle, calling the police officer -- whose name, incidentally, is Starling McCloud -- a "public menace" who "misapplied the law and abused his authority." Indeed. Sullum concludes, quite correctly, that "as much as McCloud might wish it were otherwise, there is no law against annoying police officers."

Among other things, Sullum points out something I'd missed when I wrote my initial post about this outrage: official statements by Officer McCloud and Officer Lane (PDF) confirm statements by the photographer, Scott Conover, that Officer McCloud demanded that he delete the photo. This is excellent news, as it eliminates any chance of McCloud relying on the obviously-bogus "I thought it was a laser pointer" defense. (What -- was he asking Conover to delete a photo from his laser pointer?) It also definitively establishes that McCloud engaged in totally unjustified and illegal bullying, no matter how much of a "dick" (in Sullum's words) Conover might have been, and no matter how ignorant of the law McCloud might have been.

To wit: there is no possible universe of facts, even under the most irrationally charitable of interpretations for Officer McCloud, in which it could ever have been remotely acceptable for him to demand, on pain of imprisonment, that the photo be deleted. If Officer McCloud honestly thought, due to legal ignorance or heat-of-the-moment misjudgment or what have you, that the photo was either contraband (i.e., illegal in itself) or evidence of a crime, then deleting it would constitute destruction of evidence. And if the photo was neither contraband nor evidence, then by definition, the police obviously had no right to seize it or otherwise make any demands about it. So, no matter how you frame the issue, McCloud can't win.

Or, at least, shouldn't. That said, if the D.A.'s office has a sufficiently defiant mentality about that meddlesome jerk Conover and these know-it-all blogospheric outsiders trying to push them around and tell them how to do their gul-darn jobs, I wouldn't be surprised if they drop the legally bogus "unlawful photography" charge and the factually bogus "laser pointer" charge, but leave the catch-all "disorderly conduct" charge in place, on the basis that Conover was "abusive" and so forth. You can practically script the officers' testimony in your head, as they try to make this about Conover's behavior, instead of about theirs, and abuse the power of their badges -- again! -- to win the credibility war. That's how people like this operate: they violate your rights, threatening you with arrest when you've done nothing illegal, then blame you for not handling their unlawful bullying with perfect grace and aplomb, and further justify their unjustifiable actions on the basis that you were being a jerk. Like that's the issue.

I hope I'm wrong, of course. But, for an example of how this sort of thing can unfold -- and why it isn't necessarily so obvious that we should "relax" because "the citizen involved is exercising his rights, and he will win; the system IS WORKING" -- check out the sidebar on Miami photojournalist Carlos Miller's blog, "Photography is not a crime":

My name is Carlos Miller and I am a multimedia journalist who was arrested by Miami police after taking photos of them against their wishes, a clear violation of my First Amendment rights. Since that arrest on Feb. 20th, 2007, I've been fighting a lengthy battle against the State of Florida to prove my innocence. Recently, a jury acquitted me of disobeying a police officer and disorderly conduct, but convicted me of resisting arrest without violence.

[Miller later asked, "How can one resist an unlawful arrest?" I would add, "What exactly does 'resisting arrest without violence' entail?" Surely a mere verbal argument that you shouldn't be arrested, not involving physical force (or violence), is protected speech, not illegal "resistance," yes? -ed.]

I am now appealing the conviction. During the sentencing, an extremely biased judge gave me four times the amount of probation the State was seeking because he was angry that I had blogged about my case. Judge Jose L. Fernandez said he was "shocked" by my lack of remorse in this case. But why should I show remorse for crimes I did not commit?

Why, indeed. And why should blogging about one's case have anything to do with sentencing? That's one civil-rights violation piled on top of another, there. In any case, the "resisting arrest" b.s. is precisely the sort of thing I'm worried about in this case. That's exactly how citizens get trapped in cases like these: with bogus charges like "resisting arrest" and "disturbing the peace" and "disorderly conduct," which become a courtroom credibility battle between the officer and the citizen, which the officer nearly always wins.

Miller, incidentally, has a post about the Conover case, which is how I found his blog. He notes, correctly, that the official police documents make it clear that "the basis of the arrest was solely because Conover refused to delete the photo he took of McCloud" -- and "it is illegal for a law enforcement officer to order a civilian to delete a photo without a court order."

Yet there are countless examples of this sort of thing happening, and of the "system" not working, at least not well enough to completely vindicate the rights of the people who've been oppressed, let alone to correct the problem going forward.

The truth is, many decision-makers and authority figures in our society just aren't terribly friendly to the Random Man With A Camera -- and their unfriendliness is buttressed by the attitudes of certain members of the public who will tend to make statements like, "one does have to question why the dude decided to photograph the cop in the first place," thus shifting the burden to the victim to explain himself, while paying only lip service to the need for the police officer -- the one who actually did something illegal -- to explain himself. For this and many other reasons, people in Mr. Conover's situation tend to face a huge uphill battle, and it's foolish to assume that everything will turn out all right just because it obviously should.

That reminds me: the extensive blogospheric commentary on this issue has brought out of hiding at least three unique species of unfortunate comment-section creatures (not necessarily here, but in the blogosphere generally) who are each, I think, worth mentioning in their own right. They are:

* The "police can do no wrong" brigades. These folks are essentially authoritarians, though they don't realize it. Significantly less common in the somewhat high-brow world of the blogosphere than at, say, water coolers or, better yet, construction sites (or, online, in places like AOL chatrooms and YouTube comments), they are the people who will always give police officers the benefit of the doubt, even when they clearly don't deserve it, and will justify this position not with specific facts from the case in question, but with blanket assertions about how cops are "heroes" who "risk their lives" for all of us ungrateful bastards -- including for know-it-all jerks like Scott Conover, who have the audacity to annoy America's Heroes in the line of duty, which, if it isn't a crime, it should be. People in this category do not recognize any civil-liberties concerns related to law enforcement as being remotely legitimate, because police are, again, heroes who would never dream of abusing their authority (of which they should have more, by the way), and anybody who thinks otherwise is a stinkin' ACLU-loving, tin-foil-hat-wearing, commie pinko idiot. U-S-A! U-S-A! (People in this category, incidentally, generally feel the same way -- but even more intensely -- about the military.)

* The "police can do no right" brigades. These folks are significantly more common in the blogosphere than IRL; they are the idiots whose helpful contribution to discussions like this is to make statements like "stinking pig cops," and/or to paint all police misbehavior as part and parcel of a vast conspiracy. Needless to say, they make the rest of us -- those who seek to criticize the police only when the criticism is actually justified, and who otherwise respect and appreciate the hard work officers do -- look bad. They also make us easy targets for Group #1, which sees anyone who criticizes the police as being in this group. People in this category are unable to distinguish between actual bad policing and the mere appearance or suggestion thereof, because they never give a "pig" the benefit of the doubt; indeed, they would never dream of doing so. The police are bad, bad, bad.

* The "well, yeah, but he was being a jerk" brigades. There is some overlap between Group #1 and this group, but not too much. Generally, members of this group are a whole different type of animal: instead of being credulous believers in the purity and righteousness of the police, these folks are the masters of judgmental snark with regard to the officers' victims. It isn't so much that they always give police the benefit of the doubt, as that they never give that benefit to those whose rights get trampled. They can always find some fault in the victim, and they regard this fault as the overriding issue that everyone else is overlooking. Without recognizing that they're doing so, they pose an almost impossible standard on the victims of police misconduct: unless the citizen's behavior was totally and completely above reproach throughout the entire incident (and, frankly, it's awfully hard to avoid getting angry when an officer of the law is blatantly bullying you), the whole thing is really the citizen's fault, according to the people in this group. The motivation of these folks is hard to divine, but their effect on the debate is clear: they make it far easier for the defenders of police misbehavior to turn the tables on their accusers, or at least obfuscate the issue by putting the victim on trial and spreading harmful memes about his or her behavior. To the extent that some of those memes may have some validity, the people in this group feel vindicated, failing to recognize that, in order for any of us to have rights, jerks must have rights too.

It's always frustrating to see the people in these three groups come out from under their rocks whenever a story like this breaks. But alas, such is the nature of discourse these days. Mercifully, the discussion here on The One Blog has been mostly free of these characters thus far, but if my blogging about this issue continues to attract attention, I figure they're bound to show up in greater numbers sooner or later -- and I figure it's easier to recognize them if you're on the lookout for 'em. So, be on your guard, as Gandalf would say. (He would then add, "There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world." But that's probably not pertinent here.)

P.S. If you're keeping score at home, this was my "one longer post" for the week. For normal posts, I've got 18 minutes left. Yes, I realize it's only Wednesday... and I only started counting on Tuesday. Harumph. ;)

UPDATE 2: I've posted a another detailed post about this case, including a link to another blog that has published the photos in question, along with a more detailed account by Conover of what occurred. Read the whole thing.

Obama Derangement Syndrome Watch

"Obama is humorless, and full of himself." --Glenn Reynolds

Isn't this the sort of unsupported character judgment that conservatives have spent the last eight years criticizing liberals for making about Bush? (Bush is "stupid," Bush is "evil," etc.) Of course, if the good professor has first-hand personal knowledge of Obama's alleged humorlessness and self-importance, that would be another matter. But if he's judging based on public appearances, wouldn't it be better to say that Obama appears humorless and full of himself, rather than presuming to know what lies inside the man's head, heart and/or soul? A fine distinction, maybe, but one that I think is important for a civil political discourse.

Better yet, wouldn't it be more productive and relevant to focus on actual substantive disagreements with Obama, rather than engaging in cheap shots and attacks on the unknowable inner reaches of the man's character, and generally playing into the GOP's attempt to turn him into a caricature? I thought high-minded conservatives like Glenn wanted to move the national discourse away from that sort of thing.

P.S. TNR's Noam Scheiber writes: "No question Obama--and, for that matter, the entire campaign--can be a little self-serious at times. On the other hand, Obama actually has a pretty good sense of humor, and, more importantly, he can be amusingly self-deprecating." Thus, Scheiber says, Obama "shouldn't have trouble" shaking off the notion that he's humorless. He adds, however, that the (related) charge of "elitism" is "less fair, more damaging, and potentially harder to shake."

JibJab's latest

While I doubt they'll ever be able to top "This Land," JibJab has made another funny campaign animation. Among other things, it does a pretty good job -- unlike many comics -- of making fun of Obama.

As the still-frame suggests, it can be personalized; you can insert yourself (or anyone you have a photo of) into the tail end of the video. So naturally, I put myself in there, as you'll see if you click the "play" button. :)

Anyway, enjoy:

Send a JibJab Sendables® eCard Today!

(Hat tip: MumZ and Marc Ambinder.)

P.S. For those keeping score at home, I'm at 31 minutes down, 29 minutes to go. :)

Unity

On the floor of my car's back seat. :)

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

NYC photos

Over on the Photoblog, I've just published a new post -- "new," though it's filled with five-year-old photos -- focusing on New York City.

IMG_3619
Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Full post here.

Bertha and proto-Cristobal

Here's my latest tropical update for Pajamas Media.

Tennessee man arrested for "unlawful photography" after photographing cop on public highway

This is disgraceful:
A Tri-Cities area man ended up behind bars after snapping a [photograph] of a Johnson County sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop. ...

A Johnson County sheriff’s deputy arrested Scott Conover for unlawful photography.

“He says, 'You took a picture of me. It’s illegal to take a picture of a law enforcement officer',” said Conover.

Conover took a picture of a sheriff’s deputy on the side of the road on a traffic stop. Conover was stunned by the charge.

“This is a public highway,” said Conover.

And it was not a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy as Tennessee code states. The deputy also asked Conover to delete the picture three times.

“He said if you don’t give it to me, you’re going to jail,” said Conover.

The officer claims he initially thought the man's camera -- an iPhone, as it happens -- was a laser pointer, which is ridiculous on its face (as the article notes, "there is no flash or any light that comes from the phone that could be mistaken for a laser"), and in any event cannot explain the officer's demand that the man delete the photos, nor the blatant, illegal abuse of power entailed by accompanying that demand with a threat of arrest.

What makes this case even more galling is that, in most cases, the officer's bullying tactic would work: I imagine that 90% of people would accede to the cop's unlawful, unjustified, and possibly unconstitutional demand, rather than fight it. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if his wife and kids, and maybe even he himself, are (or were) sitting there thinking, "Why didn't you just delete the stinkin' photo?" I can easily imagine myself in the same situation, with Becky saying something similar. After all, it's such a small thing, isn't it? Just delete the silly photo, and all your troubles will go away!

But it isn't a small thing! Not at all! It's a matter of high principle in a nation of laws. Police officers are supposed to enforce the laws, not invent them to persecute people they're annoyed with. And they certainly aren't supposed to arrest people -- on trumped-up charges like "disorderly conduct," natch -- for refusing to obey the officers' invented "laws."

As one local blogger
puts it, "Refusing to delete pictures taken from a public area isn’t disorderly. It’s asserting one’s rights." Indeed. (I've pointed out before that charges like "disorderly conduct" and "disturbing the peace" are often used as catch-alls to punish legal, and in many cases constitutionally protected, activities. This is a classic example of that.)

The above-quoted local blogger, "DeMarCaTionVille," goes on:

What happened seems clear to me: Conover annoyed the cop by taking his picture. When Conover refused to delete them, the cop got angry and arrested him. (After all, the photos might have been taken with the intention of policing the police - and how dare a mere mortal citizen do this?) After the arrest, the officer scrambled to find some law, any law which would back up his actions.

Conover heads to court on August 6th - and I imagine the charges will be dismissed. The department surely knows all Hell will break loose if they’re not - but is this good enough?

Absolutely not. If this officer is not fired, or at the very least severely disciplined (and required to go through some sort of citizens'-rights training), it's an absolute, intolerable outrage. There is no excuse -- none -- for officers of the law to behave in this sort of illegal, bullying, rights-trampling fashion. As a free society, we simply cannot tolerate it.

It's not just about the ability for citizens to take pictures of police officers in public places (though that's important too; see: King, Rodney). It's about the officer's behavior -- specifically his attempt to bully this man into compliance with an illegal demand, using his power as an officer of the law in the service of his personal pique, at the expense of the citizenry that he is supposed to "serve and protect." It is absolutely, totally and completely unacceptable for police officers to use the authority conferred by their badges to violate people's rights in this manner, and society needs to send that message loud and clear.

Moreover, because citizens will usually back down, allowing the police to get away with this sort of thing in most cases, it is essential that these misdeeds not go unpunished when the perp -- meaning the police officer, of course -- actually gets caught. As InstaPundit says, "Examples need to be made."

P.S. Michael Silence writes, "
'Unlawful photography' in a public place? I don't think so. Memo to cop: Get a good civil attorney. Memo to the town of Mountain City: Are your liability premiums paid up?"

UPDATE: I've posted another lengthy post on this topic, including the following crucial detail that I failed to note initially:
[O]fficial statements by Officer McCloud and Officer Lane (PDF) confirm statements by the photographer, Scott Conover, that Officer McCloud demanded that he delete the photo. This is excellent news, as it eliminates any chance of McCloud relying on the obviously-bogus "I thought it was a laser pointer" defense. (What -- was he asking Conover to delete a photo from his laser pointer?) ...

[T]here is no possible universe of facts, even under the most irrationally charitable of interpretations for Officer McCloud, in which it could ever have been remotely acceptable for him to demand, on pain of imprisonment, that the photo be deleted. If Officer McCloud honestly thought, due to legal ignorance or heat-of-the-moment misjudgment or what have you, that the photo was either contraband (i.e., illegal in itself) or evidence of a crime, then deleting it would constitute destruction of evidence. And if the photo was neither contraband nor evidence, then by definition, the police obviously had no right to seize it or otherwise make any demands about it. So, no matter how you frame the issue, McCloud can't win.
Read the whole thing.

UPDATE 2: I've posted yet another detailed update on this case, including a link to another blog that has published the photos in question, along with a more detailed account by Conover of what occurred. Again, read the whole thing.

Don't let the door hit you...

I already mentioned this in the Linklog, but it's too joyously wonderful to not get a mention here in the main blog as well. Indeed, this may be the best news I've heard since Hillary Clinton didn't win the nomination. Billy Packer's reign of terror is finally, finally over:
College basketball commentator Billy Packer, who has announced 34 consecutive Final Fours on network television and created a few controversies along the way, will not be returning to CBS for a 28th season, The Miami Herald has learned.

CBS has decided to replace Packer, 68, with studio analyst Clark Kellogg on its lead announcing team.
HIP, HIP, HOORAY!!!! (Hat tip: B. Minich.)

A few of my previous posts about Packer:
Oh, and let's not forget, my old blog had an entire category dedicated in part to Billy Packer's suckitude.

So yeah... I'm happy to see him go. Very happy. Good riddance, Billy. College basketball won't miss you, and it will be infinitely better without you there to debase its "shining moment" each year with your arrogant, ignorant, joyless, self-important, buffoonish boobery.

And the living is easy

It's a gorgeous summer day in Knoxville.

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

The One Blog

Well, we've come a long way since "I will give up the blog." :)

Less than two weeks after shutting down the Irish Trojan blog, I've come full circle, back to having a general-interest, multi-topic blog that isn't hemmed in my labels like "weekly" or "photo-" or "mo-." But why? And how I am going to adhere to the original goals that animated this change in the first place?

When I decided to shutter "Irish Trojan," my initial intention was to replace it with a Photoblog and nothing else (with the exception of my Pajamas Media hurricane-blogging, and perhaps some additional Facebook-ing). Maybe I should have stuck with that idea, but I hated the notion that, months down the road, I might have something interesting that I want to say -- about the election, about college football, whatever -- and nowhere public to put it. After all, a "Note" on Facebook can't get Instalanched! ;)

As if in answer to that quandry, a bunch of readers jumped on bandwagon for Becky's concept of a "weekly blog." It seemed like a good idea at the time, so I decided to go with it. Then, it occurred to me that a Linklog might help keep things fresh on the Weekly Blog. And then, at last minute, I threw in a Moblog for good measure, because that doesn't take up much time. Suddenly I had, in essence, four blogs.

I figured this would be inconvenient for my readers, but convenient for me. It quickly turned out that, while the former was doubtless true, the latter was not. For one thing, it was driving me crazy to not have a clear idea of what my true "homepage" was. For another thing, it added a layer of artificial complication, as I'd see an item and think, "Now, which blog does this belong on?" Most importantly, though, I just really didn't like the weekly blog -- it felt like a homework assignment, and I was even more uncomfortable than I thought I'd be with the format.

And yet, as soon as I started to conceive of the the weekly blog as being something other than weekly, the whole structure sort of fell apart. An "occasional blog" would have an audience asymptotically approaching zero; a "more-than-weekly, less-than-hyperactive" blog would lose any distinctive character that justifies the inconvenience of keeping it separate from the Moblog.

So that, fair readers, is how I came around to the idea of combining the Weekly Blog and the Moblog, eliminating the prefixes that seek to define them, and establishing clearly that this is my main blog, the catch-all site where everything begins and ends. And I decided to do it now, rather than waiting a while longer and giving the Weekly Blog a chance to grow on me, because I realized it would be a much, much bigger pain in the butt if I waited until after I'd already been using Disqus for a few weeks. It was much easier to make the blog switch and the comment-system switch at the same time. Plus, I heard the rumblings that I was agonizing about this too much, and I realized they were right. So, since I was already 90% sure that I wanted to do this, I decided to, as Nike would say, just do it.

You could argue that Ash Blog Durbatulûk is the Irish Trojan by any other name. And maybe you'd be right. But, I still think there was a value to making that clean break from my old blog two weeks ago. And I still think I can adhere to the original goals of the switch -- cutting down on the time I spend blogging, making sure my life is in balance, etc. -- by the combination of two things: continuing to use the Linklog, an innovation that has already really helped on the time-management front; and following the previously stated time-based guidelines. (Starting tomorrow. :)

And if it turns out I can't adhere to those goals, then I'll shake things up again, most likely by nuking this blog and going back to the original plan of Photoblog + Nothing Else. But I promise I'll give this setup more of a chance to succeed than I did the last one.

Incidentally, if you're wondering why I'm keeping the Photoblog separate: it's because I think it's purty. :) Plus, I like having it ready-made as my "blog of last resort," just in case I do decide to nuke this one someday. That said, since this blog is my homepage, and will likely get the bulk of the traffic, I will probably post links here to specific Photoblog items that I particularly like. So you can follow all events of the Loy-o-sphere from this page.

That said, I encourage y'all to patronize the Photoblog -- there's a little link in the upper right-hand corner that tells you when it was last updated -- and I also encourage you to comment on the Linklog! I've tried to make that as easy as possible, format-wise, by putting the prominent comment-counter link thingies in the right sidebar... but let me know if you have any suggestions on that front.

Speaking of the Linklog: it and The One Blog are actually part of the same Disqus sub-account (i.e., Disqus considers them to be the same "blog"), so that furthers the integration of everything into this "One" site. I really consider the Linklog to be a "companion" to this site; only the Photoblog is truly a separate blog. Anyway, you can view the most recent comments in the One Blog + Linklog combined in an RSS feed here.

Like I said yesterday, please let me know if you have technical problems with anything. I'm sure there are some little bugs and issues floating around, as this site is very much a work-in-progress right now.

P.S. You can feel free to refer to this blog, interchangably, as "Ash Blog Durbatulûk" (its official name), "One Blog to Rule Them All" (its subtitle, but also simply its official name translated into the Common Tongue, a.k.a. English), or "The One Blog" (the nickname that I will probably use most often when being self-referential).

Woman videotapes herself being struck by lightning

Flickr user Jessica Lynch, a.k.a. "slowloris," was videotaping a thunderstorm on July 2 when she got struck by lightning:


She's okay. (Hat tip: Flickr Blog.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

This blog is under construction

Major changes in progress; explanation soon. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Apologies for the blog-whiplash. I realize this is my fourth different homepage in two weeks. I'm hoping this one will stick. :) 

Speaking of which, here's a pertinent cartoon, from comics.com:



Heh. (Hat tip: Jason.)

Anyway, as I said, I'll post something soon, probably tomorrow, explaining in more detail what I've done and why. But, bottom line, this is now my main blog -- as its title suggests. :) I've still got the Photoblog and the Linklog, but the separate "Moblog" and "Weekly Blog" are no more. They've been merged into this blog, which will be limited only by the temporal guidelines I mentioned here.

I've still got a good bit of tinkering to do, particularly with the RSS feeds, making a "recent comments" page, etc. So, stay tuned.

P.S. I feel kind of bad about dropping the blog title "Hopefully Considered" so soon after adopting it, since it was partially a tribute to my grandfather. It's certainly not intended as an insult or a slight to his memory that I've dropped it (and replaced its eternal optimism with the Black Speech of Mordor -- heh). It's just that "Hopefully Considered" only made sense, for me, if it was the title of a weekly blog, as an ever-present reminder of the blog's weekly character. Absent that referential relevance, it doesn't feel right as a title for my blog. It just isn't "me." I'm afraid I'll never be quite the optimist that Papa was. :) However, I've retained "Linking Out Loud" as the title of my Linklog -- a rather oblique nod to Papa Loy, as I explained before.

P.P.S. If you have any technical problems -- with the blog(s), with the new Disqus comments, whatever -- please let me know.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

WANT.

Testing out the iPhone 3G at the Knoxville Apple Store. Photo taken
with an iPhone.

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Campaign finance humor

Isn't this ostensibly why Obama refused public financing? Because he feared a 527 war? :)

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

A new blog concept?

[This post originally appeared on my short-lived "weekly" blog, "Hopefully Considered." -ed.]

I'm going to "cheat" with a quick weekday post here, because I need your suggestions and thoughts about something.

[But first: a shameless, cross-blog plug! Notre Dame readers, check out the Photoblog! Srsly. ... Okay. Shameless plug over.]

As I mentioned below, I'm having some doubts about the viability of the weekly-blog concept. I'm still firmly committed to my twin goals of a) limiting the time I spend blogging while b) maintaining a creative outlet for myself (ideally, one that's worth reading for my audience!). I'm just not sure the weekly blog, in combination with my other blogs, is the best solution, either for me or for my readers.

I'm sticking with the current format for now -- indeed, I already have this weekend's post half-written in my head -- but I'm also thinking about possible alternatives.

The best alternative, I think, would be to replace the current three-blog format -- Weekly Blog, Photoblog, and Moblog -- with a two-blog format. The Photoblog would remain as is, but the Weekly Blog and the Moblog would be, in essence, merged, with the temporal restrictions on the Weekly Blog loosened somewhat.

In keeping with (to varying degrees) the suggestions of Julie, Alasdair and kcatnd, I'm thinking of limiting myself along lines something like this:

• I will resume posting regular blog posts during the week, like the old days, but I am strictly limited to 60 minutes per week for these posts -- no cheating. (I figure this would be good practice for billing my time!) The time limit may eventually be adjusted up or down depending on how it works out in practice, in terms of its impact on my free time, but 60 minutes seems reasonable as a starting point.

• I will continue regularly updating the Linklog, and I will try to get y'all to actually pay attention to it. :) Linklog posts, which take very little time anyway, won't count toward the 60 minutes. They're freebies -- thus encouraging me to use the Linklog unless I have something really good to say about a given article.

• I will allow myself to do one longer blog post per week -- essay-style, liveblog-style, or whatever -- with no arbitrary time limit. (At least at first. If I find that I'm spending too much time on these posts, I may impose a time limit.) I won't promise, however, to do one such post per week, and some weeks I might not. (This should alleviate the "homework assignment" problem.) Nor will there be a specific schedule for these posts. However, I'll hopefully avoid the sporadic/infrequent problem because the blog will remain fresh regardless of whether I do a long post in a given week, thanks to the time-limited mini-posts, the Linklog entries, and any Moblog posts (which also don't count toward the time limit).

• Finally, to prevent myself from getting bogged down in comment-wars -- which can be a huge time-sink -- I will institute a policy of personally refraining from getting into tit-for-tats in the comment section. I'll only comment if there is some administrative/webmaster-ish type need to do so, i.e., to correct an error or clarify/resolve some issue. Otherwise, I'll let my posts speak for themselves (updating them in the body of the post, if my response to a particular comment is sufficiently important to justify that). Basically, I do the blogging, you do the commenting. :)

As I said, these are just ideas that I'm floating, not a final plan of action. Nor do I have a timetable for this. I'm just thinking out loud, as Papa Loy would say. So, in that spirit, my first question is, what do y'all think?

And my second question -- surely you saw this coming -- is, if I decide to create a blog along these lines, what should I name it?

Neither of the current names of the blogs that I'd be merging -- "Hopefully Considered" and "Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost" -- would really work well for the combined product, IMHO. The latter, certainly, is way too long and clunky. I suppose I could use the former, "Hopefully Considered," but the whole point of that title was as a reference to a weekly column. (As for paying tribute to my grandfather, I intend to continue calling the Linklog "Linking Out Loud," which is also a nod -- albeit rather obliquely and inside-jokily -- to Papa.)

Instead, I was thinking of a title that makes a play on the word "ramble," which has a perfect double-meaning for a blog that will be combination Moblog/Travelog and Politics/Sports/Etc. Rantblog: "1. to move aimlessly from place to place ... 2. to talk or write in a desultory or long-winded wandering fashion." This idea was inspired by The Rambles of Spring, one of my favorite Tommy Makem songs, whose chorus goes:

I've a fine, felt hat
And a strong pair of brogues
I have rosin in my pocket for my bow
O my fiddle strings are new
And I've learned a tune or two
So, I'm well prepared to ramble and must go

I sort of like "Rambles of Spring" as a blog title, but it might seem a little odd during the summer, fall and winter; it's not like I'll only be blogging (and rambling) during one-fourth of year. :) Another possibility, also taken directly from the song, would be "Well Prepared To Ramble," but I don't really like that as a title. It sounds okay when you say it out loud, but when you look at it on the screen, it sort of looks clunky and, er, un-title-ey.

So anyway, I'm once again turning to y'all for suggestions. Anyone have a good title idea involving "Rambles" or "Rambling" or "Rambler," using the word in a way that's applicable to both of the above-quoted dictionary definitions?

I'm also open to suggestions that don't involve "ramble" at all. Perhaps a pertinent Lord of the Rings reference, or an Irish or Great Big Sea song reference, or something else applicably nerdy? (Two things to avoid: references to "Irish Trojan" -- that ship has sailed -- and references to my profession. My blog and my career are separate, and I don't want the title to undercut that concept.)

Oh, and don't forget the subtitle. I was thinking either "Brendan Loy's Moblog, Travelog and Occasional Rantblog" or "Brendan Loy's Moblog, Travelog, Occasional Rantblog, and Den of Miscellany" ... but I'm not sure either of those quite capture it. I'm sure y'all can do better. :)

Leave your suggestions in comments. (And, by the way, the new blog -- if there is a new blog -- will not use Haloscan. I can assure you of that!)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

False advertising?

If I can find just ONE person who doesn't like Sara Lee, can I sue? :)

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Speak softly and carry a big stick

Spanish-American War Veterans' Memorial, Knoxville.

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Audioblog via cell phone #1

Rorschach blot alert!

Is it just me, or does the blob of rain over Knoxville on radar right now look a little bit like Newfoundland?

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

One of life's moral dilemmas

Somebody evidently dropped two $100 bills next to my car; I found them in the parking lot. I want to do the right thing and return the money, but how does one track down the owner of lost cash? If I post a sign, a dozen different people will claim it! :)

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

And so it begins

[This post originally appeared on my short-lived "weekly" blog, "Hopefully Considered." -ed.]

It's appropriate, in a way, that I'm writing my first weekly blog column in the aftermath of Tim Stevens's wedding on Saturday. When we were in high school, Tim wrote a weekly column, called "Complaint of the Week," which he sent to his friends via e-mail. Those of us on the distribution list eagerly awaited each week's rant: they were always very amusing, and you never knew just what Tim was going to gripe about next.

Of course, I didn't name my weekly blog after Tim's weekly e-mail column. I named it after the weekly newspaper column that my grandfather, Tom Loy, wrote for Connecticut's Imprint Newspapers during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Papa Loy's column was, in a sense, almost the opposite of Tim Stevens's column. Instead of complaining about things, Papa's goal was to provide a break from the doom and gloom that so often dominates the news. Hence the name, "Hopefully Considered."

Sometimes, Papa would pursue "hopefulness" by summarizing a bunch of positive, uplifting news stories from the past week. Other times, he would focus on a particular "good news" item, and try to draw some larger meaning from it. Often, he would pleasantly recount a life experience or childhood memory and relate it to current events. But whatever the topic, Papa sought to discuss it in a tone that was, as the column's title suggests, hopeful and uplifting. Even his dire warning in February 1990 about the dangers of global warming ended with an anecdote about a 13-year-old boy who "helped saved a New England wetland by spearheading a campaign against a building project."

(I daresay Papa Loy would have been a Barack Obama fan. "Hope! Change! Yes we can!" No buffenbarger, he; my grandfather would have eaten Obama's hopeful message right up, methinks.)

The tone of my "Hopefully Considered" columns will almost certainly fall somewhere in between Papa's undying optimism and Tim's unyielding pessimism. Papa rarely, if ever, allowed such emotions as anger, outrage or disgust to seep into his prose; I inevitably sometimes will. But while I won't seek out the silver lining in things as assiduously as Papa always did, I think the title of this new blog provides me with a worthwhile challenge: to avoid the worst excesses of what my dad calls "high dudgeon," since my least hopeful, most outraged posts also tend to be the ones I'm most likely to regret later on. Rather than exploding in righteous rage, it's usually better to take a deep breath and, as Papa would say, "sit a while first." That's something I'll strive to do with this weekly blog.

Er, assuming I actually decide to continue with this weekly blog, that is. Just one week in, I'm already having serious doubts about the viability of the concept. The tardiness of this post is symptomatic of a larger problem: as Sunday approached (and then arrived, and then receded into memory), the specter of writing this post came to feel like a homework assignment, much moreso than updating the old hyperactive blog generally did -- notwithstanding that the updating the old blog took much more time than writing this one silly post has or will. I guess it's just the immediacy of the old blog that kept it, 99% of the time, from hanging over my head like a looming cloud: I updated it whenever I felt like it, and then it was done, so there was nothing to loom.

Anyway, suffice it to say, if updating the weekly blog continues to have that "homework assignment" feeling in my head, there's no way I'll still be doing this by the end of July. But Becky tells me I should give it at least a few weeks, especially considering we were traveling this week -- unusual, extenuating circumstances, she says. (By the way, did I mention we saw the Google Street View truck?) I'm skeptical that our travels made much difference in this regard, but still, I'm not giving up the ghost on the weekly blog quite yet. This is only Week 1, after all. Michigan didn't forfeit the season after losing to Appalachian (HOT! HOT! HOT!) State, did they?

Regardless: enough meta-blogging! Rather than agonize or procrastinate further, I'm giving myself an hour to write the remainder of this post... actually, 56 minutes now. Go!

* * * * *

After all that "blogging about blogging," what to actually blog about in my first weekly column? Frankly, I don't have any sort of overarching theme for this column, so if you're expecting it to coalesce into some great work of bloggy genius, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. Instead, I'll once again channel Papa Loy by turning to the Linklog -- which is essentially my digital version of his "clippings." Papa used to clip and save articles from the newspaper that he might want to comment on in future columns. That's essentially what the Linklog is for me: a collection of articles that I would have blogged about during the week, if I'd been blogging, and that I therefore might have something to say about in my column.

There were two major topics that got a lot of play in my Linklog last week: Hurricane Bertha and Barack Obama's patriotism. I'll write about the latter shortly, but let's start with the former.

I actually wrote a full update on Bertha for Pajamas Media that hasn't been published yet, but the basics are this: she formed on Thursday, just 500 miles off the coast of Africa, becoming the easternmost July storm in recorded history. She then languished as a weak tropical storm for a few days before unexpectedly and explosively intensifying on Sunday and Monday, from a 50 mph storm to a Category 3 hurricane -- maybe even Category 4 -- in about 30 hours.

Bertha's sudden strengthening was, in Dr. Jeff Masters's words, "somewhat surprising," given that "environmental conditions for intensification were good, but not great," and it once again proved that forecasters have precious little skill at predicting hurricane intensity. Further proving this point: Bertha has since weakened almost as rapidly as it strengthened, and is now a Category 1 hurricane seemingly destined for a return to tropical storm status. As Alan Sullivan wrote this morning, "Southwesterly shear is now degrading Bertha as fast as yesterday's windlessness strengthened it. Hurricanes are fickle. Their energies are vast, but the least disturbance of their symmetry sometimes tears them apart."

In any event, Bertha now holds the records for easternmost tropical storm, easternmost hurricane, and easternmost major hurricane to form in the Atlantic basin in recorded history (basically, since 1967, when the satellite era began). Bertha is also the sixth strongest pre-August hurricane on record in the Atlantic basin.

It appears, however, that Bertha will not become the third storm named Bertha to impact me personally. (We got hit by Tropical Storm Bertha in Nova Scotia in 1990, and by the remnants of Hurricane Bertha in Connecticut in 1996.) She is very unlikely to impact the U.S., and will probably not even come terribly close to Bermuda. A dying swipe at Newfoundland is possible, but it's much too early to tell at this point.

What, if anything, does Bertha's formation portend for the rest of the season? Believe it or not, it actually might be a meaningful sign that we're in for a busy season. As Max Mayfield explained on his blog: "There is no good correlation between when the season starts and the overall seasonal activity for the Atlantic. The overall number of named storms in June and July (JJ) does not mean much in telling us how active the remainder of the season will be." However, the number of Cape Verde storms in June and July is a different story:
Stanley Goldenberg, a research meteorologist with NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division, has shown “…if one looks only at the June-July Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes occurring south of 22°N and east of 77°W (the eastern portion of the Main Development Region [MDR] for Atlantic hurricanes), there is a strong association with activity for the remainder of the year. According to the data from 1944-1999, total overall Atlantic activity for years that had a tropical storm or hurricane form in this region during JJ have been at least average and often times above average. So it could be said that a JJ storm in this region is pretty much a “sufficient” (though not “necessary”) condition for a year to produce at least average activity. (I.e., Not all years with average to above-average total overall activity have had a JJ storm in that region, but almost all years with that type of JJ storm produce average to above-average activity.)”
It should go without saying that none of this has anything whatsoever to do with global warming, and if anyone so much as utters those words in comments, my head may explode. :)

Anyway, onward and upward. I promised I'd say something about Obama's patriotism, and since I've only got 33 minutes left, I guess I'd better start.

* * * * *

I've noticed a trend in recent days among conservative bloggers and columnists toward trying to elevate the discussion of Barack Obama's patriotism -- or alleged lack thereof -- to a legitimate topic of debate, rather than the purely emotional, irrelevant, demagogic, low-information-signal-sending, fever-swamp nonsense that it quite obviously is. Basically, the object of the game here is simply to keep Obama's patriotism in play as a legitimate question. One need not, and indeed should not, attack it directly. Instead, what we're seeing are, to steal Ben Smith's words, "sophisticated, bank-shot attacks" on Obama's otherwise self-evident love of country.

Bruce Kesler's suggestion that Obama should prove his patriotism by divorcing his wife misses the mark, since it's so obviously absurd and intellectually dishonest as to be totally risible (though, disappointingly, it did get an apparently-approving link from Glenn Reynolds, whose intellectual integrity sometimes seems to go out the window where Obama is concerned).

A better example came from a column I read, and then promptly lost track of (I forgot to put it in the Linklog!) and now cannot find, that said Obama's version of patriotism -- which the author characterized as a love of the ideals that Obama says America stands for, coupled with unrelenting criticism of what he claims America has become in reality -- is like a husband saying to his wife that he loves what she could potentially be rather than what she is now. This argument was interesting enough to pass the laugh test, yet upon closer inspection, it falls apart rather quickly.

The author apparently fails to comprehend the difference between a human being, whose actions are governed by his or her own internal decision-making processes -- the locus of which, the brain, is inseparable from the person being judged -- and a nation-state, whose actions are governed by, well, a government, which can be replaced wholesale with a new government (whereas a person's brain cannot be replaced). Thus, to harshly criticize the actions of a government, or a series of governments, and to suggest that a nation isn't living up to its ideals, while still claiming to love the nation, is entirely different (and more plausible) than claiming to love a person while suggesting that said person should totally alter his or her personality, appearance, etc.

A better analogy would be a husband who loves his wife, but hates her mental illness (or alcoholism, or whatever) and insists that she get help. I don't think anyone would suggest that a husband in that situation doesn't love his wife, simply because he focuses more on what she could be than on what she presently is. That's essentially what Obama, according to this author's characterization of his message, is saying about America: that she's a good nation in need of an intervention. There's nothing unloving -- or unpatriotic -- about that.

The classic of the "sophisticated bank shot attack on Obama's patriotism" genre, however, comes from Jonah Goldberg, who wrote in USA Today that "Barack Obama has a patriotism problem." Goldberg started with a line of attack similar to the above-paraphrased author, quoting Obama's riff on "what I believe will make this country great" and responding: "Not to sound too much like a Jewish mother, but some might respond, 'What? It's not great now?'"

But then Goldberg takes up a different line of attack: he asserts, in essence, that Obama's alleged elitism is itself unpatriotic:
Definitions of patriotism proliferate, but in the American context patriotism must involve not only devotion to American texts (something that distinguishes our patriotism from European nationalism) but also an abiding belief in the inherent and enduring goodness of the American nation. We might need to change this or that policy or law, fix this or that problem, but at the end of the day the patriotic American believes that America is fundamentally good as it is.

It's the "good as it is" part that has vexed many on the left since at least the Progressive era. Marxists and other revolutionaries obviously don't believe entrepreneurial and religious America is good as it is. But even more mainstream figures have a problem distinguishing patriotic reform from reformation. Many progressives in the 1920s considered the American hinterlands a vast sea of yokels and boobs, incapable of grasping how much they needed what the activists were selling.

The Nation ran a famous series then called "These United States," in which smug emissaries from East Coast cities chronicled the "backward" attitudes of what today would be called fly-over country. One correspondent proclaimed that in "backwoods" New York (i.e. outside the Big Apple): "Resistance to change is their most sacred principle." If that was their attitude to New York, it shouldn't surprise that they felt even worse about the South. One author explained that Dixie needed nothing less than an invasion of liberal "missionaries" so that the "light of civilization" might finally be glimpsed down there. These authors simply assumed, writes intellectual historian Christopher Lasch, that " 'breaking with the past' was the precondition of cultural and political advance." Even today, writes Time's Joe Klein, "This is a chronic disease among Democrats, who tend to talk more about what's wrong with America than what's right."

Echoes of these attitudes can be found in Obama's now infamous explanation that "bitter" working-class rural voters won't embrace him because they "cling" to God, guns and bigotry.
Goldberg goes on to say that "Obamania can seem...vaguely anti-American." But then, intriguingly, he takes a step back from the precipice: "The notion that what America needs is a redeemer figure to 'remake' America from scratch isn't necessarily unpatriotic. But for lots of Americans who like America the way it is, it's sometimes hard to tell when it isn't."

You see what he did there? Goldberg spends an entire column insinuating that Obama is unpatriotic because he's an elitist who wants to fundamentally reform the country, but then he concludes by disclaiming the notion that he's saying what he just said. Thus, anyone who accuses Goldberg of calling Obama unpatriotic can be attacked for being a conspiratorial lefty who doth protest too much.

Well, I doth protest, dammit. Goldberg's argument is interesting, sort of, and yet it's pretty damn flimsy when you really get down to it. Indeed, consideration of Goldberg's key points falls into the category so deftly described by Chief Justice Marshall in Marbury v. Madison: "deeply interesting... but, happily, not of an intricacy proportioned to its interest."

First of all, Goldberg's definition of what constitutes valid cries for reform, as opposed to unpatriotic anti-Americanism, is awfully narrow. Goldberg writes, "We might need to change this or that policy or law, fix this or that problem, but at the end of the day the patriotic American believes that America is fundamentally good as it is." I daresay an awful lot of reformers, in all eras, of all ideologies, would be affronted by the notion that their crusades for change involved nothing more than attempts to "change this or that policy or law, fix this or that problem." Leaving aside the question of whether this particular moment in American history is actually one where fundamental, wholesale change is needed, can't be all agree that such moments do occasionally exist, or at least that they could exist, in theory? If American society and government really were to become corrupt and benighted -- and again, I'm not saying they are now, necessarily, but hypothetically it could happen -- would it be unpatriotic to argue that we've gotten to the point where the country, in its present state (as opposed to its ideal state, or its past glory), might not be so "fundamentally good" at the particular moment in question? According to Goldberg, this is indeed an unpatriotic thing to say, under any and all circumstances. That's an entirely untenable position.

Secondly, Goldberg's suggestion that elitism and anti-Americanism are equivalent is intriguing but pretty clearly incorrect. Being elitist is bad and wrong, but it isn't the same thing as being unpatriotic, any more than anti-intellectualism (e.g., the belief that those "bitter" "clingers" are fundamentally and intrinsically better than coastal elites) is unpatriotic. You can't single out a particular group of Americans (e.g., the denizens of flyover county, pointy-headed professors, National Review columnists) and declare, "If you don't like these particular Americans, you hate America." That's just not how it works.

What makes Goldberg's argument so frustrating is that, amid all the crap, he does hit upon an important point: patriotism has to mean something. It can't just be a meaningless concept, with no substance beyond silly symbols. Yet the content suggested by Goldberg is wrong, and in the mean time, the central result of the debate he's fostering is that it keeps this issue alive a bit longer, a topic of quasi-legitimate debate, thus helping to thwart Obama's apple pie campaign and allowing the low-information signals about his supposed lack of patriotism to continue seeping down to those barely-paying-attention voters in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania who are still trying to figure out who this Barack Osama guy is. As long as MSM and blogosphere types keep asking the question, "Is Obama patriotic?," it doesn't matter what the answer is; what matters is that low-information voters get the vague sense that he's, y'know, different than them. Whether intentionally or not, Goldberg & co. are winning just by keeping the ball in play.

I was going to make some suggestions about what are legitimate boundaries for definitions of patriotism, but I've run out of time to finish my post, so I'll have to leave that to y'all, or maybe take it up next week.

* * * * *

WEDNESDAY MORNING UPDATE: Pajamas Media has finally published my Bertha post, about 12 hours after its meteorological data was current, and with a headline -- "Are We In For a Busy Hurricane Season?" -- that is nearly identical to the headline they put on my last article. Worse, the headline implicitly invites commentary on that irrelevant side-issue, global warming, instead of focusing on the topic at hand: Hurricane Bertha.

Oh, well.

UPDATE, A BIT LATER: At my suggestion, the headline has been changed to "Hurricane Bertha Humbles Forecasters."

The publishing delay is still a problem, though; hurricanes can change rapidly in just a few hours, never mind half a day or more. I'm trying to work something out with PJM that would alleviate this issue, but it may or may not be practicable. We shall see.

NOTE: These "updates" originally appeared in a separate post; I've moved them here. Comments on the original post can be found here.

Huh?

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Monday, July 7, 2008

$286.52

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Two hundred eighty-six dollars and fifty-two cents: that's the total amount we paid for gas on our 2,016-mile road trip to Connecticut.

(The mathematically inclined will notice that I left this photo -- of a $35.21 fill-up -- out of the above collage.)

P.S. Upon seeing this post, Becky asked, "How many miles per gallon did we get?" Good question!

According to the nine photos, we used a total of 70.538 gallons on the trip. (If you're wondering, we filled the tank immediately before leaving and immediately after returning, so we started and ended our trip with a full tank. I did not include the pre-trip fill-up in my count, but I did include the post-trip fill-up, so the nine included fill-ups should accurately represent the gas we actually used on the trip.)

So, according to the trip meter's count of 2,016 miles, divided by 70.538 gallons, we got 28.58 miles per gallon, which is actually slightly better than what the Mazda is supposed to get for highway mileage (28 mpg). And that's despite the fact that we did a bit of city driving in there as well. Nice!!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Already missing my deadlines

[This post originally appeared on my short-lived "weekly" blog, "Hopefully Considered." -ed.]

I realize that some of you have been counting the hours until today's scheduled blog column, and I hate to deviate from my weekly calendar immediately upon starting this blog, but I'm not sure whether I'll be able to finish my inaugural "Hopefully Considered" column today.

We're starting our drive back to Knoxville (Tim and Janelle's wedding was lovely, by the way), and my usually fairly reliable cell-phone Internet access in the car is a bit spotty at the moment. Also, I'm on baby duty in the back seat, and with Loyette's naptime almost over, I'm only three paragraphs into the first draft of my column. Moreover, I will presumably have to drive at some point. :) So I'm afraid a Monday or Tuesday column is looking more likely at this point. It's still possible I might get something up here today, but if not, you know why.

In the mean time, if you haven't been visiting my Photoblog and my Moblog, check 'em out! I've posted a number of things there recently. Same goes for my Linklog.

P.S. Incidentally, I realize Haloscan sucks, and I'd really like to switch ASAP to either Disqus or Intense Debate as my comment system. But Disqus's installation system for Blogspot is broken, and Intense Debate keeps telling me I'm "not the admin" on my own account, and therefore can't add blogs to it. I have tech-support requests in to both places, but thus far, no luck. So, I'll make that switch as soon as I can, but it's basically out of my hands at this point.

Ouch.

I do believe that's the most I've ever paid for gas. (This is in Wethersfield, CT.)

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Connecticut

We're here. Finally!

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

State count

Eighteen hours ago, Loyette had been to a grand total of two states in her life: Tennessee and Arizona. Now she's been to six, having added Virginia, West Virginia (which, admittedly, she slept through), Maryland and, as of a few minutes ago, Pennsylvania. By the end of the day, she'll up to nine, as she'll add New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.

From two states to nine in barely 24 hours! If she had a Facebook account, her "Where I've Been" application would be going nuts! :)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

We saw the Google truck!

A little while ago, on I-81 in northeastern Tennessee, we saw an orange truck -- yep, that orange truck -- with the phrase "We’re mapping your world!" on its rear windshield and a bunch of cameras on top of its roof:

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So, when Google Maps introduces Street View along the stretch of I-81 North between Baileyton and Jearoldstown, TN, look for the red Mazda 5 in the rear view...

(Incidentally, I've decided that blogging from my laptop while in the car, hooked up to the Internet via cell phone, counts as "moblogging." Hehe.)

En route to Connecticut!

For the Fourth of July and Tim Stevens's wedding. It's Loyette's first road trip. At present, she's napping peacefully. :)

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Comments are down

Aaaand, on the second day of my new blogs' existence, Haloscan's servers go offline, so comments aren't working. Lovely. Disqus or Intense Debate, here I come!

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Manbearpig?

Actually, this is Cecilia Chub, a stuffed animal from Toys R Us who we *think* is supposed to be a horse. :) And this post is a test; it's supposed to publish simultaneously to the Moblog and Facebook Mobile. I'm not sure if it will work, though.

(Posted via cell phone using Flickr.)

Welcome to my new blog!

[This post originally appeared on my short-lived "weekly" blog, "Hopefully Considered." -ed.]

"Well... I'm back."

For all the references to Grey Havens and final poker games over on the now-defunct Irish Trojan's Blog (here's what the final homepage looked like*), I'm not actually going anywhere. I've just got a new home in the blogosphere -- or rather a new constellation of homes.

*If this link initially doesn't work, try reloading the linked page. If it still doesn't work, try clearing your browser's cache. Your browser may still be adjusting to the DNS changes. [UPDATE: Stylesheet problems fixed. Again, you may need to reload, clear your cache, etc.]

As I explained earlier on the old blog, I'm replacing my "hyperactive," multi-topic blog with a series of more focused, less demanding projects that will, I think, allow me to spend less time blogging -- and avoid the dreaded "beast that must be fed" problem -- while still maintaining the sort of creative outlet that I want and need. Specifically, those outlets are:

Hopefully Considered, the weekly blog (i.e., this blog)

Linking Out Loud, the companion linklog to this blog

Light and High Beauty, the photoblog

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost, the moblog

Pajamas Media, where I do hurricane-blogging

If you like, you can subscribe to a combined RSS feed featuring the weekly blog, the photoblog and the moblog. Or you can subscribe to a feed that includes all 3 blogs plus the linklog (which will, in turn, undoubtedly link to all my Pajamas Media articles).

As I said earlier, I realize it may seem counterintuitive to think that I'll spend less time blogging by splitting my efforts up in this way, but I actually think it will work, for reasons that I explained previously. And if it doesn't, then I'll change course as needed. This is, as I've said, a "trial run." Life beyond the blog -- or rather, blogs -- remains my overriding priority, and if I need to cut back further, up to and including the eventual deletion of all these blogs, then so be it. But I don't think that'll be necessary. We shall see.

In any event, this, of course, is the weekly blog. The idea is that I'll update it once a week, usually on Sundays, generally with a lengthy, multi-topic column. (This Tuesday-morning post is an exception, as it's an introductory post.) I may occasionally miss a week, and some weeks I may end up blogging on a different day, but generally, weekly Sunday updates is the plan.

Both this blog and its companion linklog are named in honor of my Papa Loy. "Hopefully Considered" was the name of Papa's old weekly newspaper column for Imprint Newspapers in Connecticut, and "Linking Out Loud" is a reference to his tendency, when confronted with a situation where he felt rushed, to Entishly hroom-hoom, "Well, now, let's think out loud about this." (My dad gets an indirect hat tip for my linklog-naming brainstorm.)

Anyway, I'll add interesting links to Linking Out Loud whenever I feel like it; no particular schedule there. The linked items may be interesting articles, funny YouTube clips, cool pictures -- whatever. But they'll all simply be links, with a short headline and no further commentary by me (though readers can comment individually on each link). Eventually, recent linklog entries will actually appear directly in the sidebar of this blog. I'm still working on the technical side of that. [UPDATE: It's working now!]

Meanwhile, like I said, this isn't my only new blogospheric home. The photoblog, Light and High Beauty (named after my favorite line in Lord of the Rings), will be updated whenever I have pretty pictures to share, and time to share them. Sometimes they will be new pictures, and other times they might be old ones; I intend to spend some of my newfound free time digging through old photo archives and building my Flickr library, which should in turn lead to some fun blast-from-the-past photoblog posts.

I've long wanted to focus more bloggy attention on my photography, so the photoblog idea was a no-brainer when, having decided to shut down the Irish Trojan Blog, I started thinking about possible alternative creative outlets. A last-minute addition to that list of outlets, though, was the moblog, Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost (named after yet another Tolkien line). As long as I've had a blog, I've always moblogged -- that is, posted stuff via cell phone -- but I've never had a whole separate blog devoted entirely to moblogging. It should be a fun experiment. You can read more about my plans for the moblog in my introductory post on that blog.

One thing that regular readers will notice on all three blogs -- and the linklog as well -- is that I'm using Haloscan for comments. I know, I know: Haloscan sucks. But for a variety of reasons, it was the best option at this point. (Blogger's built-in comment system was not an option, because it doesn't allow me to ban individual commenters, which is a necessity when you've got an army of trolls who like to follow you around the Internet.) I may eventually consider switching over to a more robust commenting system like Disqus or Intense Debate, but for now, it's gotta be Haloscan. Sorry.

This means, among other things, that the only way to view the "most recent comments" is via Haloscan's 10-comment RSS feed. That's right, it only shows the last ten comments (on all three blogs plus the Linklog combined). I know: lame. Again, sorry. But alas, some of these sacrifices are a necessary incident of this downgrading process. It's better than me not having a blog at all, right? :)

One final note before I sign off. Jay has set up a Google Group called "Irish Trojan Detox" for regulars who want a place to continue debating, venting, etc. Of course, you're welcome to do that in the Haloscan comments here, on the linklog, etc. But you also have Jay's group as an option. And there, unlike here, ex-guestbloggers (and anybody else, for that matter) can start their own topical threads. Could be fun.

Anyway, that's it for now. Welcome to my new blog. Ta-ta for now, and I'll see you Sunday! :)