28 September 2005

The hammer comes down on the hammer

    Bang, bang Maxwell's silver hammer came down on his head.
      The Beatles

This couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

27 September 2005

The Voice of Comet

    From now on, we won't let Rudolph join in any reindeer games.
      Coach Comet in
      Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Don Adams died yesterday at the age of 81. We remember him, of course, as Maxwell Smart. You might not know that he was also the voice of Coach Comet in the Rankin/Bass production of Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He is listed in this role on IMDB, though he was not credited.

It seems people have been wondering if he is indeed the voice of Comet, as search criteria like '"Don Adams" Rudolph Comet' are topping the list of search terms reported by BlogPatrol, leading people to my earlier post about the program.

One thing I didn't know about Don Adams was that he was a Marine in WWII who fought in Guadalcanal and survived deadly blackwater fever. When he returned to the States, he became a drill instructor. Now that would have been something worth seeing.

26 September 2005

Losing My Religion - Wrap Up

    Walking through that door
    Outside we came
    Nowhere at all
    Perhaps the answer's here
    Not there anymore
      The Moody Blues

Well, I've finally finished the series I began more than a month ago, and I can go ahead and state that I am a Unitarian Universalist.

In the end, I didn't really lose my religion. I still don't know what I believe, and I don't know what religious truth is. But I found a place where I am welcome in my search.

Losing My Religion - Part IV: Choosing My Religion

    Come come whoever you are
    Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving,
    Ours is no caravan of despair
    Come yet again come.
      Hymn #188 in
      Singing the Living Tradition
      the Unitarian Universalism hymnal

This is part of a series that begins here. The post before this one is here.

One of many traditions at our New Years parties was brought to us by our friend Beth. Sometime after midnight everyone thinks of something they want to give up or let go in the coming year. They write it down on slips of paper which are then gathered in pan and burned. Beth usually brings magician's flash paper, so they go up rather dramatically. For the past three years, I had written down God, religion, or both.

One year, in a conversation loosened by alcohol, I explained what I had written and why. The details of the discussion are (understandably) a little vague now, but when it was over I had decided to visit a Unitarian Universalist church and our friend Rob said he'd go with me.

I had begun poking around the UU website looking for alternatives to the Episcopal religion that I was having so many issues with. Dennis, my older daughter's godfather and a great friend, had once told me about Unitarian Universalism. What immediately attracted me was the lack of creed or dogma that defines what to believe. Instead, there is a set of guiding principals that define how one should act. In the Episcopal Church, my problem was never with how we were supposed to act. My problem was always with what we were supposed to believe.

So Rob and I went to the UU service. In many ways, it was very similar; there were hymns, a sermon, and readings. In many ways it was very different; the readings were from Hindu sacred texts, and I had never sung "Food, Glorious Food" from Oliver! in church before. The service was about consumption, our need to consume, and the responsibility to use our resources wisely, hence the choice of music. Afterward we attended a discussion meant to introduce Unitarian Universalism to newcomers. I thought this might be what I wanted to do, but it would take another two years to do it.

I kept going to the UU church's web site, mulling the idea of making the switch as I struggled with leaving the Episcopal church. Yet when I finally left, I held off. We spent a lot of time talking about if we shoud go, how we should go, when we should go, and so on. It would be tough entering a new church where everything was different and we knew no one. We also didn't know if this was something the kids really wanted. Finally we asked them, and they said they wanted to try it out. So we did.

I'm happy to say we've been going for several months now. It was difficult at first, but we've gotten beyond the intial awkwardness. We went to the picnic and the fall Harvest Dinner. We now know a few people, and the kids have made a few friends.

I think the girls are happy with our decision. Sharon and I concluded that it was important for them to have a religious education. The more we learn about the religious education program, the more certain we are that this is what we wanted. The goal is to give them the knowledge and tools to make informed decisions about what they believe. It was interesting to see how many other parents were looking for the same thing we were.

For me, I finally find myself looking forward to church again. There have certainly been some interesting services. I like to tell the story of the pagan cakes and ale ceremony. The service explored the importance of meals in various religions, then focused on the pagan ritual. We all participated in the meal, which included real ale from a local brewpub. Cracking open a growler in church was yet another first for me. Most of the services are less exotic, but no less worthwhile. In a few weeks, I'll be attending a meeting after services to discuss membership.

25 September 2005

Iraq roundup

    They have more men, equipment, money, better explosives and remote-controlled detonators.
      Afganistan Defense Minister Abdur Rahim Wardak on the Taliban

Here's a quick roundup of some recent stories on Iraq:

  • How the Iraq war is weakening terrorists:
    A Newsweek article reports that the Taliban are emboldened by the success of the Iraq insurgency, and they may be receiving training in Iraq. Wow, it finally is a terrorist training ground.
  • Iraq's "sovereign government" in action:
    A judge renewed homicide arrest warants for two Britons rescued earlier when troops demolished the jail holding them. I don't think we'll see them turning themselves in any time soon.
  • Bush know better:
    Despite all this, Bush still knows better.

Meanwhile, the coalition casualty count is 2112. The civilian death to toll is between 26,000 and 29,000, and by the time you read this, these numbers will have probably gone up.

21 September 2005


    There's a moon in the sky
    It's called the moon.
      The B-52's

That full moon we just had was the Harvest Moon, so named because its light afforded farmers a few more hours to harvest their crops. This year's was special because it was in the same place as it was 50 years ago when captured on film as the famous "Autumn Moon" by Ansel Adams. Astronomers figured out the precise time and date of the original image, then predicted it's return (the story).

The Harvest moon is not the only named moon. Most people know the Blue Moon, the uncommon second full moon of a calendar month. Actually, there are traditional English names for the full moon of every month. Native Americans had their own names, as did other cultures. Here's a list from the Farmer's Almanac (via Wikipedia).

MonthEnglishNative AmericanOther Names
JanuaryMoon After YuleWolf MoonOld Moon
FebruaryWolf MoonSnow MoonHunger Moon
MarchLenten MoonWorm MoonCrow Moon, Crust Moon, Sugar Moon, Sap Moon
AprilEgg MoonPink MoonSprouting Grass Moon, Fish Moon
MayMilk MoonFlower MoonCorn Planting Moon
JuneFlower MoonStrawberry MoonRose Moon, Hot Moon
JulyHay MoonBuck MoonThunder Moon
AugustGrain MoonSturgeon MoonRed Moon, Green Corn Moon
SeptemberFruit MoonHarvest MoonCorn Moon, Barley Moon
OctoberHarvest MoonHunter's MoonTravel Moon, Dying Grass Moon
NovemberHunter's MoonBeaver MoonFrost Moon
DecemberMoon Before YuleCold MoonLong Nights Moon

20 September 2005

Low watermark for Bush?

    When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
      Old adage

    Until I read Eleanor Clift's recent commentary, Bush Repackaged, I hadn't heard that Karl Rove was in the hospital with kidney stones during the height of Hurricane Katrina. Clift suggests that this explains Bush's poor response to the disaster early on, and his subsequent retooling.

    The main focus of the commentary, however, is the implications of the Bush administration's reconstruction plan. Thusfar, I am mainly appalled at Bush's assertions that the $200 billion bill could be paid for with spending cuts. I saw the plan itself mostly as damage control. Having read the Clift commentary, I realize it is much more. "To hear Bush talk," she says, "we're about to witness a Republican utopia in the hurricane zone."

    Citing the Republican's current weakness in the polls, Clift describes this as "a pivotal moment in politics with a president severely compromised and the country poised to embrace a contrary view of government that rejects the Darwinian capitalism of the Reagan-Bush era." But if that is to happen, Democrats will need to offer real alternatives that voters can embrace. It is not enough, she says, "to stand aside and wait for the GOP to implode." Unfortunately, her assessment of the Democrat response is less than optimistic.

    Meanwhile, the Bush camp has already moved beyond damage control. In their eyes, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath is an opportunity to further their conservative agenda, just like the 9/11 attacks. To be sure, the absencee of an aggressor makes it more difficult for Bush to rally the country behind him, and his early inaction hurt his credibility seriously. But that is in the past, and voters have short memories.

    With Rove back, they're working full-time to turn things around. If they do, the post-Katrina reconstruction could be a final crowning achievement of a Bush presidency, strengthening the neo-con's hold on the Republican party, and government as a whole. They are certainly doing all the right things to make that future a reality.

    17 September 2005

    Humor in motion

      That's what we call love. You'll like that a lot.
        Captain Kirk

    In a recent post I linked to a stick figure animation of Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice" video. I started poking around that site, looking at the other animations. Nothing is nearly as complex, but there are a bunch of really cool animated GIFs. Here are some of my favorites (links all open in the same window):

    • In this, a tiny bit of animation makes all the difference in.
    • A bunch of the animations are simply moving eyes, winks, etc., so I wasn't expecting this one.
    • This I just love.
    • But this is my favorite. (It also explains the quote on this post.)


    16 September 2005

    Google Earth is COOL!

      Everybody lives on a street in a city
      Or a village or a town for what it's worth.
      And they're all inside a country which is part of a continent
      That sits upon a planet known as Earth.
      And the Earth is a ball full of oceans and some mountains
      Which is out there spinning silently in space.
      And living on that Earth are the plants and the animals
      And also the entire human race.
        Yakko's Universe
        performed by the Animaniacs

    If you haven't played with Google Earth, and you have an hour to kill, check it out. It's the coolest!

    P.S. If you've read Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, Google Earth will look familiar.
    P.P.S. If you haven't read it, you should.

    Losing My Religion - Part III: The Problem With Leaving

      I wish I were Catholic
      I don't know why
        Happy Birthday to Me
        by Cracker

    This is part of a series that begins here. The post before this one is here.

    I have often joked that it would be easier if I was Catholic. I have so many issues with the social and political stance of the Roman Catholic church that I would have no qualms leaving. The same would be true if I were Southern Baptist or Evangelical. I would have left those churches on principle alone, without ever considering the deeper aspects of religious truth.

    The Episcopal Church is different. It's an open and liberal Christian community. Both men and women can be priests, and they can marry. They welcome practicing homosexuals, ordain them, and make them bishops. To be sure, not all Episcopalians were in favor of this. Acceptance and ordination of gays, ordination of women, even modern language in the Book of Common Prayer all came with controversy and threatened schism. Yet the church has weathered these storms without halting its progress towards openness and acceptance.

    After reading that last paragraph, you might be wondering why in the world I wanted to leave. Indeed, I was always proud of the Episcopal church and its progressive stand on social issues. So what was the problem? As I became more involved as an acolyte and vestry member, I was increasingly called upon to profess my faith. I was asked to mentor a young adult preparing for confirmation. I attended retreats with the vestry. I spoke in front of the parish about stewardship.

    In all these situations, I always became uncomfortable discussing my personal relationship with God and Christ. That's actually an understatement. I began to resent being put in the position at all. I was skeptical when people sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit. The last thing I wanted to hear was someone's story of how God spoke to them. In vestry we often prayed for guidance before discussing an issue or voting, and I hated it when our decisions took on extra weight because they were made with God's guidance.

    It was a while before I realized why it bothered me so much. The answer difficult to face, but it was simple. I just didn't believe it. When someone sensed the Holy Spirit in our midst, I thought they were just excited. I thought the silent prayer in vestry helped people clear their heads, not tune into God. It seems obvious to me after the fact, but it was hard to accept. I would have to accept it, though. As I discussed in Part II, having children pressed the issue as much as anything. I needed to be honest with them.

    I resolved to leave the Episcopal church. It was a slow process. Sharon and the kids stopped attending first. I continued to attend vestry meetings, and went to church when I was scheduled to acolyte. Eventually my rector figured out something was up and asked me about it. I think he was worried that I was having trouble at home or something. We discussed my doubts and concerns, but did not come to any resolution.

    I stopped going to church altogether when I was done with vestry. The last service I attended was the Sunday of the Annual Meeting, officially my last day on vestry. I had still not explained about my decision to my rector. Nonetheless, I think he sensed it was my last day there. I keep meaning to write him and let him know how I'm doing, but I haven't yet. That last thing I did was congratulate one of the new vestry members. She was my age, and had been there as long as I had. I left with a strange mixture of regret and relief. I miss that church, but I think I made the right choice.

    For the next several months, we didn't go to church at all. However, it didn't stay that way. That story, in what should be the last installment of this series, Part IV.

    'Duct Tape Man' and other nonsense

      If Michael Brown’s resignation this afternoon as the head of FEMA was supposed to end the political controversy over the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina, it probably won't.
        Keith Olbermann

    Keith Olbermann is keeping his critical eye focused on the Bush administration with his latest blog post on "Duct Tape Man" David Paulison, who told Americans every home should stock up on duct tape and plastic sheeting.

    Meanwhile, the failure wants to reassure America that no taxes will be required to pay for Gulf Coast reconstruction. "You bet it will cost money," he said, "but I’m confident we can handle it."

    Well, that makes me feel better. George W. Bush is confident that we can handle it. His assessments have been so dead on in the past. He went on to tell us that, "It’s going to cost whatever it’s going to cost," demostrating his unique insight into the situation. In case you're wondering, you can also expect recontruction to take as long as it takes and fix whatever it fixes.

    By the way, how are we going to pay for this? The same way we'll pay for everything, Pinky, spending cuts. Ahhh, panacea of the borrow-and-spend republicans. All spending can be paid for with spending cuts. Who needs that pesky math, anyway.

    Don't worry though, Bush assures us that they'll be "wise about the money we spend."


    I'm not even going to bother with that one. If you want, you can read the MSNBC article on Bush's little fantasy world.

    By the way, they also have this article on the who-knew-what-when question, where they note that:

    Bush told ABC on Sep. 1 that “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.” In its storm warnings, the hurricane center never used the word breached.” But a day before Katrina came ashore Aug. 29, the agency warned in capital letters: “SOME LEVEES IN THE GREATER NEW ORLEANS AREA COULD BE OVERTOPPED.”

    National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield also gave daily pre-storm videoconference briefings to federal officials in Washington, warning them of a nightmare scenario of New Orleans’ levees not holding, winds smashing windows in high-rise buildings and flooding wiping out large swaths of the Gulf Coast.

    A photo on the White House Web site shows Bush in Crawford, Texas, watching Mayfield give a briefing on Aug. 28, a day before Katrina smashed ashore with 145-mph winds.

    15 September 2005

    Nice what?

      You can't always tell a book by its cover
        Old adage

    Likewise, you can't always tell a web site by its domain name. Case in point:


    Go on, check it out. Thanks to Snopes for this one.

    Update: I'm two-for-two on posting screw-ups. The site should end in ".org" not ".com" as it did earlier.

    Interesting challange to abstinence-only

      Never in recent history has so much government money been put into so many programs with so little oversight and so little proven impact.
        James Wagoner
        president of Advocates for Youth

    This AP article reports an interesting challange of abstinence-only sex-education programs. The Information Quality Act allows affected persons to seek correction of erroneous and ineffective information disseminated by federal agencies. I think erroneous and ineffective pretty much describes absitnece-only.

    Update: Duh. I forgot to link to the actual news story. It's there now (the first one).

    Check out my new weapon

      Don't be shocked by the tone of my voice
      Check out my new weapon, weapon of choice
        Fatboy Slim

    I was listenning to some Fatboy Slim, and it got me looking for the classic video for "Weapon of Choice" that stars Christopher Walken. I found it.

    I also found a stick figure version.

    06 September 2005

    Olbermann on the "city" of Louisiana

      If ever a slip-of-the-tongue defined a government's response to a crisis, this was it.
        Keith Olbermann

    Once again, Keith Olbermann shows why his is my favorite news blog with this post about the "city" of Lousiana.

    Update: Thanks to Shakespeare's Sister, I found video of the commentary that is worth watching. This version is in Windows Media format, but the sound is low. This version is much better, but you need Quicktime.

    Be Cool to the Pizza Dude

      Tip him well, friends and brethren, for that which you bestow freely and willingly will bring you all the happy luck that a grateful universe knows how to return.
        Sarah Adams

    One of the readings in church this past Sunday was Be Cool to the Pizza Dude, an essay by Sarah Adams for the NPR "This I Believe" series. It's a quick read, and worth it.

    The blame game

      They told me they fixed it. I trusted them to fix it. It's not my fault.
        Lando Calrissian
        The Empire Strikes Back

    A stinging criticism of the Bush administration was offered by Michael Moore in this open letter to President Bush. As Moore is wont to do, the letter is heavy on sarcasm and, IMHO, tries too hard to blame Bush.

    In particular, Moore goes after cuts in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' budget. To be sure, Bush's cuts have been the largest to date, but previous administrations from both parties had already cut plenty. FactCheck.org has an analysis of this issue, and the jury is still out.

    More accurate and appropriate criticism was offered by Eleanor Clift in this commentary about the Bush administration's leadership (and lack thereof) in the days leading up to and immediately following Huricane Katrina striking the Gulf Coast.

    For its part, the White House addressed these criticisms by doing what it does best: pointing fingers and shifting blame.

    02 September 2005

    Ride the spider

      We love you spider
      Get rid of
      Must stop
      He is our hero
        They Might Be Giants

    I spent a week down the shore in Seaside Park two weeks ago. I'm only just getting to blogging it now. We spent one day at the Funtown Amusement Pier. We rode many rides, including ferris wheel, bumper cars, Mighty Mouse, and the Tower of Fear, a ride that rockets you to 225' the air, then drops you. None of these rides, not even the Tower, tested my stamina like the Spider.

    My youngest needed an adult to accomany her, so I went on. The ride went on forever. We were on it so long, my daughter annouced that she was bored. I wish. When we were done, I felt as if it literally sucked the life of me, like Count Rugen's machine in The Princess Bride.

    The Spider is one of several amusement park rides designed by Lee Eyerly. Eyerly was initially building flight training devices, but found a better market for them as amusement park rides. The Spider is one of his later inventions. The key to the Spider's evil is that the ride operator has full control of the ride's movement. Instead of the push-and-go green start button we are see on newer rides, the spider has two levers that control the speed and tilt of the ride. It's like a demented video game for the ride operator's own twisted enjoyment.

    Not a stunning endorsement of the Spider, eh? Well, that was only the second time I've ridden an an Eyerly Spider in my life. The first time I was eight or so. I remember the unpredictable twisting motion had me sliding up the back of the chair. I thought I was going to be flung out at any moment. That ride went on forever too.

    Wherever Lee Eyerly is now, I hope he's happy.

    Hard times for the Big Easy

      We're holding on by a thread.
        New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin

    As I watch the residents struggle to survive, I cannot conceive of their suffering. As I sit comfortably at my desk in my air-conditioned office, I cannot imagine what it is like to have witnessed the devastation firsthand. I cannot fathom what trials lie ahead. Yet this disaster still touches me in a personal way.

    New Orleans will always be a special place for me. When planning our honeymoon, Sharon and I had two criteria. It had to be warmer than New Jersey in February and there had to be a train that went there. That's how we ended up spending an unforgettable honeymoon in New Orleans. Eleven years later we still remember all the little details of the places we saw, the music we heard, and the wonderful food we ate. The city is like a dear friend.

    I've been at a bit of a loss as to what to say about this. Anything I have to offer seems insignificant or trite. But I'll take this moment to join the Hurricane Katrina: Blog for Relief Weekend and ask anyone reading this to help out this dear friend of mine, and its neighbors, in their time of need. But then, you probably already have.

    As for me, I'm donating to Habitat for Humanity. Katrina has left countless people homless. Habitat has been helping people get new homes for thirty years. Credit Sharon with the choice.