Monday, September 11, 2006

On this, the anniversary

My son was about to turn one year old.

I was asleep in bed, with the television on.

My then-husband woke me with the words, "They crashed a plane into the World Trade Center."

The towers had not yet come down when I groggily began to watch the news.

It is hard to believe it has been five years since then; my son is nearly six and in school, George W. Bush is inexplicably still president, and I fear we have learned nothing except greater intolerance and fear.

This is a day to remember those who died faultless, in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is a day to remember that hatred of the Other and the Unknown brought about the original events. It is a day to remember that we are not invincible, that we depend not only on the friendship and might of our allies but also on the goodwill and understanding of our neutral neighbors. We would do well, each of us at the microcosm level as well as our nation at the macrocosm level, to remember that it is the peace with our acquaintances that most influences how secure we feel in our own homes.

Whatever you think you have learned about Muslims, about Islam, about tolerance or intolerance -- use today to think of an exception to your rules. Use it to learn. The US has squandered the goodwill of its acquaintances. Begin to rebuild with yours.

You cannot wage war on terror. You can only refuse to be afraid.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Skip to My Lou, Part Two

Let us take a moment to recall, from the earlier post about Skip to My Lou, what the Art Department promised us following the cleaning and graveling of the sculpture:

"We are sensitive to that fact and plan to install extended outdoor, in-ground signage after the sculpture conservation is complete that will tell people about the artwork and also encourage people to use the sculpture as a gathering place/meeting area."

I'm pretty sure this is still not what they meant.

This way to crazyArrrr, mateys, there be garage-sale signs aplenty 'ere!
Flamingo checking Easter sign for directionsJumpin' Jack Santa

Halloween and EasterArt improvement
It's fall!Yellow-horned Reindeer and green-hat Santa

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

It's a miracle I survived.

Earlier this week, an article circulated describing how British censors had decided to edit the smoking out of old Tom and Jerry cartoons. This didn't exactly shock me; 4Kids has been doing this for ages with anime it imports and then repurposes for the under-10 set here in the United States. Most famously, chain-smoking metrosexual kickboxing waiter Sanji of One Piece was stripped of his fag and instead given a lollipop. (Coincidentally, this did nothing to improve his metrosexual status, but I guess we're not worried about the shounen-ai aspect of things.) Their transformation is so effective that American fans of the show argue, "No! Sanji doesn't smoke!" The son of my manager saw my lovely Sanji figurine, cigarette in hand, and said, "You lost the candy from his lollipop!"

(There's a small Wikipedia article about the modifications to One Piece that is an interesting, if incomplete, read.)

Eh, all right. So they don't want a fag-smoking metrosexual kicking the asses of the bad boy pirates. But it doesn't end there.

Pako brought this to my attention this evening:


THEY. MADE. HIM. WHITE. I have nothing more to say, aside from a bit of incoherent spluttering. Apparently bad guys with large lips simply cannot be black.

An equally flabbergasting amount of editing is done with Naruto. I realize that US juvenile audiences aren't supposed to see blood -- never mind the fact that we're watching a bunch of ninjas in training. But the effort they put forth to make it look like it was part of the original series when they edit blows my mind.

For your consideration, here's the original screen capture from the Japanese version:


And here's the Toonami version that shows on Cartoon Network:


Never mind that I don't know how they made the story work such that Naruto is carrying an apple and a lunchbox with that grimace on his face in a scene that once involved getting a knife in the back of the hand. Never mind what they probably had to do for the rest of the show to explain a likely bandaged hand later.

The lettering on his lunchbox is in Japanese. And so an entire generation of American kids will argue that the people who say there was blood in the original Naruto are on crack.

Remind me again how I survived my childhood watching Tom and Jerry and Looney Tunes. Remind me again why Japanese schoolchildren aren't shooting each other in their classrooms. Remind me again why it's bad for a little boy to want to be a noble samurai.

The Amazing Self-Brushing Cat

My 16-year old kitty Clio continues to amaze me with her talents. As proof she is the lowest-maintenance cat ever, I submit her self-brushing trick:

You really CAN polish one.

Originally posted 8/8/06 on the old blog.

Several months ago I became semi-obsessed with photographing an art installation on the Microsoft campus: Ursula von Rydingsvard's Skip to My Lou. It offered visually delicious shapes and color combinations, as well as an almost infinite playground for depth of field with otherwise uniform elements of size, shape and texture. It was certainly odd, and I didn't see von Rydingsvard's intended theme even after I read about it. Specifically, Skip to My Lou represents "the awkward handwriting of an elder who can barely read and write, a Native American image of the ocean’s surface motion, and people dancing energetically in a circle, then separated. Skip to My Lou links illiterate immigrants, the site’s original tribal inhabitants, and the workers who built the piece in an organic, passionate, undulating cedar composition." Okay. I believe her.
Skip To My Lou wood sculptureSkip To My Lou vertical segment
Skip To My Lou againMoss and wood
However, when I decided to hop up to the fourth floor of a nearby building for an aerial photograph, the flickr comments that immediately followed made me see it in a different light.
Skip To My Lou from the fourth floor
I later learned that some fellow employees, who shall remain nameless, were known to call it Shithenge.
Regardless of the name which now made me stifle a titter each time I saw the installation, Skip to My Lou remained a favorite place for my son and I to stop on our weekend walks around the neighborhood. He would hide inside the little "forts" formed by its design, or hop from one extension to the other. He could roll around in the grass in the middle. I've seen meetings take place seated on it, and jugglers standing on different sections tossing clubs to each other. In short, despite its scatalogical undertones, it was a lovely little rendezvous point and courtyard centerpiece.
A few weeks ago I was walking to the cafeteria when I discovered something most disqueting: a temporary Hurricane fence had been erected all around Skip to My Lou. The grass had been torn up wholesale and replaced with medium-sized round rock gravel. A team of workers were scrubbing away at the weathered cedar surfaces of the sculpture -- cedar surfaces once treated in graphite and then allowed to take on the inevitable mossy slick sheen of a wooden thing alive in the Northwest. The individual pieces of Skip to My Lou were slowly turning to reddish-brown, like newer cedar wood. I don't know if they did anything as outrageous as actually staining the thing.
Last week, just when I had begun to console myself with the assumption that they were merely improving the finish on the sculpture, and that soon the fence would come down and the sod would be re-laid with little warning signs for us not to walk on it again until it was well-rooted, something even more disquieting happened:
The new and improved Skip To My Lou, with flamingoesFlamingo in the foreground
Yes. Flamingoes. The fence was taken down, the round rock gravel remained, and the entire centerpiece of the courtyard was festooned with plastic pinwheel lawn flamingoes, of the most cheap and gaudy construction, coloration, and movement. When I walked through the courtyard with a stiff breeze blowing north to south, the sound of dozens of whirring plastic pinwheel legs reminded me of a swarm of unpleasant hard-shelled winged insects. The flamingoes were placed somewhat unevenly, with a single pair in the center like the king and queen of bad taste. I wondered if they had been installed there by the workers; I daydreamed that perhaps the workers were in Ursula von Rydingsvard's employ, and that she and they were so taken aback by the new bed of gravel that they left the little pink monstrosities as their final artistic protest. Or perhaps employees placed them there under cover of darkness for similar art-dissident reasons. Whatever it was, the net result is horrid.
I can only hope the curator of the Microsoft Art Collection will answer my e-mail.
Sadly, I don't need an answer to my e-mail. I just needed to check my mail from last week, which among other things says:
"With any change we realize that for those that view the sculpture and use it as a seating area it may take some adjustment to the visual and physical transformation of the space. We are sensitive to that fact and plan to install extended outdoor, in-ground signage after the sculpture conservation is complete that will tell people about the artwork and also encourage people to use the sculpture as a gathering place/meeting area. Ms. von Rydingsvard enjoys that people sit on the sculpture, and we sincerely hope that by undertaking this conservation treatment Microsoft employees and visitors will enjoy Skip to My Lou for many years to come, which is why it was so essential to perform the artist-recommended treatments that are now underway."
Apparently, they determined that the sprinkler system was damaging the wood and that any long term sprinkler use would have the same effect. Of course, this is Seattle...
Also, the artist chose the gravel herself and approved its installation. The fact that the flamingoes are still there means they're part of the artist's vision (or at least the art department's vision) too, or they'd have been pulled forthwith.
Perhaps that's what they meant by "extended outdoor, in-ground signage."

The tragedy of Barney

Originally published 8/3/06 on the old blog.

I know an Australian shepherd named Casey who destroys stuffed Barneys on sight. It's downright creepy and he's very methodical: first he rips out their eyes, then he eviscerates them by detaching the tummy panel from the rest of the doll, and then he pulls out all the stuffing.
This morning I read about Barney the Dobermann, a guard dog employed at Wookey Hole Caves (evidently a children's museum - god love the British). It seems he has a bit of a complex about his cuddly stuffed dinosaur name or something, because while ostensibly protecting an exhibit of famous and rare teddy bears, he went on a rampage and mauled much of the collection to smithereens.
Barney and his handler, security guard Greg West, at the scene of the crime
Methinks if your trained guard dog normally enjoys stuffed animals as a healthy way to get out his aggressions, you shouldn't volunteer him for such a job...

80% Fiend, 20% Glee today

Originally published 8/2/06 on the old blog.
Armchair pundit
I can't decide if I am just older and more crotchety, or if there are a larger number of kuh-razies in international politics than there used to be. Also, I wonder if I might have thought of Gorbachev as a kuh-razy if I'd been 30 whence came the Glasnost and the Perestroika, instead of 16. Anyway.
Fidel Castro, invulnerable to oppressive regimes and CIA-trained sacrificial monkeys, is laying quite low following surgery to correct abdominal bleeding. It's possible he's laying very, very low, considering the fact that he's only been quoted in the days since his Sunday proclamation in which he temporarily transferred various duties to his brother, Raul Castro, and to other senior members of his cabinet. I suspect it is likely Castro walks a fine line between reassuring the people and showing his weakness, though. If he is in a very weakened state - on a respirator, confined to a hospital bed, etc. - it may be considered dangerous for the public to see those images. On the other hand, it's fodder for those speculating he's already in far worse shape than has been acknowledged.
I find it interesting when mainstream news articles suggest the people in Cuba were shocked in the early years of the 21st century to "realize" Castro is mortal. A friend who traveled to Havana in 2001 commented that the English speakers he met and talked to were frank about the fact that they were "waiting for Castro to die." That's a downright morbid approach, and certainly not one that suggests any confusion about the mortality of the man currently running the country. It seems the North American media bias against Cuba is at least as strong as the Cuban media bias against North America. I'd link to specific examples, but I haven't been able to get to the Prensa Latina English site all day.
The fact of the matter is that Castro is looking practically normal these days, thanks to the antics of his peanut gallery of aspiring successors.
Evo Morales, newly-landslide-elected president of Bolivia, had starry-eyed hopes to completely rewrite the Bolivian constitution. It seems he has given up on a plan to eliminate the Catholic religion from schools now that the Catholic Church has a higher approval rating than he does.
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez stoked the zomgtheUSisgoingtoinvadeus paranoia fires by declaring, apropos of nothing, that he would cut off oil supplies to the US if the Bush administration took an aggressive stance toward Venezuela. Okie dokey, Mr. Chavez. You sell the 50+% of your oil that you usually sell to the US to somebody else so that another oil-producing country has to offload their oil, and then the US will make up for the 12% drop in its oil imports you create by buying that.
Mind you, Chavez is worrisome. He's wiggling in Russia's lap like a drunk freshman girl at her first frat party, which in and of itself is fine, but he's also proclaiming his solidarity and brotherhood with Syria and Iran and attempting to drag other Latin American countries into anti-US blocs with him. Again, that might be well and good if he weren't practically foaming at the mouth with his desire to "fight back" against the Bush administration. I'm waiting for him to take the UN resolution that Iran just rejected and wave it around as an excuse to do something patently stupid.
Last weekend I went up to the High Point Trailhead with my parents and the boy.
Vintner's wakingJaws of life
Lousy parking jobAnd bolts.
This week in Las Vegas is BlackHat, the "professional" lead-up to the weekend of unprofessional nerdy debauchery that is DefCon. As a former DefCon attendee, I have a certain nostalgic fondness for the principle of the thing, but I don't think I would ever go back.
At any rate, the AP has picked up word of a demonstration coming up at Black Hat in which computers with wireless devices that are turned on - whether or not the computers are connected to the Internet - may be vulnerable to rootkit drops.
"Maynor said he and Ellch were not identifying the makers or models of wireless devices that are vulnerable, so that manufacturers have a leg up on criminals who might exploit the vulnerabilities."
They're demonstrating this flaw on a Macbook, although they claim the vulnerability is the same on Windows or Linux machines. It's testament of a sort to BlackHat that the demonstration will take place in a controlled and somewhat concealed environment. At DefCon, it would be a presentation in which unsuspecting audience members discovered their systems rooted while they were busy taking notes.
This could change the face of Capture the Flag for the forseeable future. Particularly if you happen to be one of the people who knows how this demonstration is done.