Tuesday, June 29, 2010
We'd been planning this camping trip for a while now. There was some sort of American Girls promotion going on, and I guess they were tracking the number of people who camped out on the 26th, so that's when we had it. The whole thing went extremely well. I got home around ten in the morning after my night out with Frederick and dozed on and off during the day. We got there around 5:30 and the whole thing couldn't have gone better. Lily ran around and played with the other kids and had a ball.
After sunset, we roasted hot dogs (Jen sent me to the car for her roasting fork, and apparently it's somehow inappropriate for me to yell in a Jerry Lewis voice, "Hey Lady, here's your wiener stick!" in front of a bunch of kids) and marshmallows and did the whole camp out thing. Lily occasionally tells me that she hates us and that she doesn't want to live in our house any more, but man, did she have a good time on this camping trip. Entirely by coincidence, there were fireworks at night and hot air balloons in the morning. We could not have picked a better weekend for this trip.
One of the local kitties was rubbing against the outside of the tent, and against Lily, who had migrated across the tent in her sleep. She semi-consciously mumbled "Knock it off!" and I said that the cat didn't know any better. Against my expectations, Lily settled down and said "I don't care if a cat bothers me. I only mind if mommy and daddy bother me."
And you know, I don't even know if that's a good thing or not. Welcome to parenthood!
Surprisingly, the SCOTUS made a shitty 5-4 decision in striking down Chicago's ban on handguns. Who'd've thunk it? Anyways, they concluded that your right to own a toy that kills people outweighs my right to you know, be alive.
Seriously, the dangerously anachronistic second amendment guarantee a right to bear arms (as part of a well-regulated militia). It doesn't guarantee the right to bear a specific arm of your choice. How hard is this to understand? If you really need a gun to protect your family, shotguns or rifles are readily available, and they have the added feature of not being easily concealable so that you can hide them in order to murder civilians and law enforcement officers.
Prior to his Senate run, I knew Al Franken as an SNL performer and author. (He was heavily involved behind the scenes, but I knew him only as Stuart Smalley.) If you had told me that he would become one of the most articulate voices in the history of the United States Senate, I would have derided it as ridiculous. And yet, he comes out with statements like this:
"I think we've established very convincingly, we did during the Sotomayor hearing, that there is such a thing as judicial activism. There is such a thing as legislating from the bench. And it is practiced repeatedly by the Roberts court, and it has cut in only one direction, in favor of powerful corporate interests and against the rights of individual Americans. "
"So here is my point, General Kagan. Citizens United isn't just about election law. It isn't just about campaign finance law. It's about seat belts. It's about clean air and clean water. It's about energy policy and the rights of workers and investors. It's about health care. It's about our ability to pass laws that protect the American people even if it hurts the corporate bottom line.
As Justice Stevens said, it's about our need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government."
In conclusion, Portugal is a land of contrasts and Al Franken is pretty awesome
Monday, June 28, 2010
I have two friends named Jeremy (Frederick and the Lord), each of whom who have worn eye-patches in LARPs. One of them is cool and the other is not. I always leave this ambiguous so each can think that he is the cool one.
Frederick was home alone (Ahhhh!!!) for the weekend, so he invited some friends over. I was the only one who could make it, so I headed over after work on Friday. We got some food to eat at the local pizza joint, and settled down to watch "Bender's Game", the Futurama movie where Bender is institutionalized after going insane when playing Dungeons & Dragons. It never rose to the transcendent awesomeness of Futurama at its peak, but it was pretty fun, with lots of gaming in-jokes. Favorite lines: When Fry sees Bender has lost it because of role-playing, he falls to his knees and wails "When will young people learn that playing "Dungeons and Dragons" doesn't make you cool!", "I know not of this "Bender"! I am Titanius Anglesmith, Fancy Man of Cornwood!" Honorable mention to Rosie the Robot Maid, receiving therapy in the HAL Institute for Insane Robots: "Everything must be clean. Very clean. That's why the dog had to die. He was a dirty dog. Dirty. Dirty. Also that boy Elroy. Dirty. Dirty."
I watched while Frederick played some Red Dead Revolution and then we both killed a bunch of zombies in Left 4 Dead 2. The plan was for Dave to come over after he was done with his patchouli-fest, but Frederick left his phone upstairs when we went back down to watch another movie and Ancker texted him, but not me at quarter past two, so we missed that entirely. The text was only to say that he couldn't make it, so I don't feel too badly.
We wound up watching the Book of Eli.
SPOILERS FOLLOW, so Frederick, don't read until you've seen it all the way through.
The gist of the movie is that a lone wanderer (Denzel Washington) is transporting a mysterious book westward across a post apocalyptic wasteland. I have an enormous amount of respect for Mila Kunis, as she's a non-native English speaker who now speaks the language better than I do, but she just seems miscast for this movie. Gary Oldman plays a crime lord with his characteristic restraint and understatement and Jennifer Beals has it going on as Mila Kunis's mom.
Plot Twist One: Eli is blind.
Post Twist Two: The book he is transporting is the bible.
There are hints to both early on and I do think they are both handled pretty well. I knew about the bible, but I was almost a third of the way through the movie before I figured out that he was blind. Denzel does a good job of selling it, but not over-selling it.
It reminds me of Rutger Hauer in Blind Fury, where the lead character was also a blind badass. I think Blind Fury did a better job of remembering that its main character couldn't see. Hauer's Nick was amazingly competent, but still blind and had difficulties with things that you and I would take for granted. My favorite scene is at the end, where Hauer is dueling with a hired gun. He's lost his sword cane, and his sidekick throws it to him. "Catch, Uncle Nick!" The cane flies through the air in slow motion, and Hauer reaches for it, but misses it by yards. Contrast this with BoE, where Denzel Washington has such an acute sense of smell that he's picking guys off a rooftop with a handgun.
That said, I think it's still more realistic than the revelation that he's carrying the very last bible in the world. I'm an atheist and I've been calling myself one for years, but I still own three or four bibles, and Jen has several of her own. Before I started looking into this, I had assumed that there were millions in circulation, but after looking into it, it looks like the number is closer to Billions. I really find it less of a stretch that a blind man could fight his way across the continental United States than the possibility that we would ever get down to just one bible. (There's a line that Gary Oldman gives about the fact that books were burned in the past, in an effort to justify this, but the first scene we see with Eli, he's scavenging from an undespoiled private home. Since almost every household in America has at least one bible, I just can't buy into this.)
I find it a little bit...I don't want to say offensive, so let's say naive, that the lessons in the bible are ones around which society can be rebuilt. There are some good messages in the bible, but there are also a lot of horrifying wickedness passed off as good advice too. And the culture was different then, and the books of the bible are by no means all bad, but I wholly reject the assumption that it is needed in order to lead a moral life or to have a functioning society.
And while we're on the subject of post-apocalypticia, I came across my new favorite song: "We Will Become Silhouettes" It's a cheery little upbeat ditty about life after a nuclear holocaust. When I first saw it the video, I thought it was from the 80s, the era of incomprehensible music videos and nuclear paranoia, but apparently the album is from in 2005. If Tim's brother ever gets a cell phone, this is totally going to be his ringtone. It's neat, and will be joining Seasons in the Sun and I Will Never Forget on my playlist of songs that sound happy, but really aren't.
We fell asleep at about four in the morning, then we got up and went to Tic Toc for breakfast. I was a little sad to see that they are no longer actually twenty-four hours, despite pasting that claim on their placemats and on the large sign outside. Ah, well. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
We went hunting for fireflies in the local cemetery again. Lily got so excited. She asked me to take a picture in her firefly catching outfit. Her wish is my command.
She's picky as only little kids can be about her costume. It had to be this shirt with the glow in the dark dragonflies, this pair of shorts, these little black dress shoes, these hair clips, that hair band and of course her butterfly catching net.
The cemetery is nice. (But then again, I'm partial to cemeteries). It's a fine and private place (as it were) that's ostensibly still open for business, but seems to have seen its heyday during the Spanish American war. I think the most recent year of death I've seen on a tombstone was from the 1970s.
(I wasn't kidding about the Spanish-American war. It's a running joke between Jen and me that there seems to be a disproportionate percentage of veterans from that war buried in this cemetery)
Lily had a blast. She was running everywhere waving her net, completely heedless of where she was going. I thought she was going to run after a firefly and wind up with a bruise that read "Flynn" or "McDermott" on her face. Jen summed it up exactly, "A lot of days the parenting gig is not what we imagined. THIS however, is EXACTLY what being a parent should be like every day." I took a little video of it on my phone. It's pretty dark, and I was going to edit it to improve it, but apparently my phone films in a format my freebie movie editing program can't handle. So just fiddle with the gamma on your monitor if you're going to watch it.
While we're on the subject of bugs and videos, our Wacky Wednesday movie was A Bug's Life, which was fairly good. Pixar films are generally pretty awesome (except for Cars, which was fucking dreadful) , but this seemed somehow incomplete. It was almost like "Proto-Pixar", as if they were still refining the tropes that would come to characterize their movies, even though it came after Toy Story, which is as Pixarish as movie as there ever was. I wish it were a little more little kid friendly. It seemed every few minutes, one bug or another was saying kill this or die that, and we didn't want to set Lily off. She seemed more or less oblivious to that, though. She liked it. Her favorite characters were the pillbugs. She really likes pillbugs (aka Roly Poly) . She had a couple in a little container, which she brought inside the house to show me. Then she promptly dropped it and spilled them all out. I think we got all of them, but at night I have nightmares of Ohmu growing in my walls.
Bonus! Names for pillbugs by region
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
It was some time in the early years of the decade when my Constitutional Law professor said "Not only is the Supreme Court we have now very conservative, it is probably the most conservative Supreme Court in our nation's history."
She could probably be forgiven for not foreseeing that the Supreme Court would veer even more sharply Rightward in the coming years, with the addition of Roberts and Alito to the bench. I think the greatest failure of congressional Democrats in my lifetime was their abrogation of their responsibilities in vetting candidates from the Supreme Court. (Alito: "I'm not going to answer that." Senate Democrats: "Good enough for me! Have a lifetime appointment!") Roberts and Alito are only in their 50s, they're as conservative as anyone who has ever been on the Court and they are going to be influencing policy for a long, long time.
It just handed down two of the worst decisions in the history of its existence this past week. One of them was a run-of-the-mill atrocity upholding a provision of the USA PATRIOT act that permits the criminalization of pure speech advocating lawful, nonviolent activity. That's just awesome, and about what I'd expect from the Roberts court.
But that's not likely to affect anyone you or I know. Their decision in Rent-A-Center v. Jackson will. The gist of that case is this. An African American guy named Antonio Jackson was hired by Rent-A-Center as an account manager, and his employment contract specified that any dispute between the employee and the company be settled through arbitration.
Arbitration, in this sense, if you're not familiar with the concept. says that the dispute is handled outside the court system, in what is essentially a private court of the more powerful organization's choice. Wikipedia has a decent summary of why if you as a private citizen go to arbitrage against a company, you're going to lose, no matter how badly they screwed you.
Anyways, Jackson was repeatedly passed up for promotions which went to less qualified white employees. He complained about this vocally and finally got one, two months before he was terminated without cause. He sued Rent-A-Center, alleging that he had been the victim of racial discrimination and retaliation.
Rent-A-Center filed a motion to dismiss, saying this was supposed to go to arbitration. Jackson's argument was that because of the parties’ unequal bargaining power and the fact that the agreement to arbitrate was presented to him as a non-negotiable condition of his employment, he lacked the opportunity to make a meaningful choice.
He was arguing that the agreement was an unfair, one-sided deal that the company forced on him as the price of getting a job, that the arbitration agreement was so fundamentally unfair that it should be up to a judge, not the arbitrator, to decide whether the agreement to arbitrate could be enforced. You can guess where it went from here. The conservative majority ruled 5-4 in favor of Rent-A-Center.
I actually have a dedicated blogging site (plug: http://where-there-had-been-darkness.blogspot.com/) but I assume you're reading this on Facebook. In order to create an account on Facebook, you had to agree to have your suit settled by arbitration. Any time you interact with any corporate entity, in any capacity you care to name, be it playing a game online (or merely going online), clicking through those little click-through agreements that nobody reads, you're agreeing to have your dispute settled by arbitration. You probably had to sign an arbitration agreement as a condition for accepting your job. I know I did. And if you're fighting a big corporation in open court, it's not like your chances are great anyway, but if they did something sufficiently illegal and embarrassing, there's a chance that they might settle to avoid the bad publicity. But as arbitrage proceedings are private, you can't even clutch at that straw.
The ruling in Citizen's United was pretty awful too. I feel like the court is laying the groundwork for the Shadowrun future.
Monday, June 21, 2010
We had a nice little weekend. On Saturday, I was helping Lily with her coloring. She's got a little coloring book with cats and dogs. She took the right hand page and gave me the left. I was so impressed with how nicely my doggy came out that I couldn't stop talking about it, finally prompting Jen to snark "That's great. We'll go to Friendly's and they can hang it on the wall." It was awesome, though. I'd totally be the star of the twelve and up wall.
Lily was cute. She colored her kitty's nose in and said, "I colored his nose green because I know that's your favorite color."
I like how we can be driving along and Lily will just spontaneously say "I love you, daddy." (or mommy). I think she gets that from Jen and me, because that's something we'll say to each other, and it's nice to see her emulating one of my few good traits.
On Saturday morning, we walked downtown to Easton's Farmer's Market and ran into Eric and his family down that way. The website claims that the Easton Farmer's market is the the oldest continuous open-air farmer's market in the United States, going back all the way to 1752. It's really a short, pleasant walk and I think we'll be doing it more during the summer.
Later that day, we streamed Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs through Netflix. A friend said it was pretty good, but I didn't have much more to go on other than that vague recommendation. I was a bit wary, because it seemed pretty recent to be available for streaming, and as a general rule, stuff you can stream tends to be either A.)old or B.)crappy. However, we had considerable success with Up the other week, so we gave it a shot.
The water effects were beautiful. I read somewhere that Finding Nemo (if I recall correctly) had to dial down the water effects because they were too realistic.
Despite being an animated movie, I think it was aimed more squarely at adults than kids. But that's fine. Lily will watch anything we put in front of her, so I figure we might as well play something we'll enjoy.
Bill Hader and Anna Faris voiced the leads. Faris is actually a really good voice actress, which is a surprise because she's just a mediocre actual actress. I like her, but she's kind of forgettable. How often does a casting agent say Anna Faris is perfect for this role? I mean, she's pretty, but as has been observed elsewhere, on the Periodic Table of Hollywood, "hotness" is not exactly Raretonium. She did play my favorite character in Lost in Translation, however and I have a far amount of general goodwill towards her. She gave a pretty great performance for Cloudy.
Later on in the movie, there was a spaghetti tornado onscreen and I was twisting myself into knots, trying to explain the concept of a tornado to Lily without using the word itself because I didn't think it would have any meaning for her, when she interrupted me with the question "Is that a spaghetti tornado?" I asked her where she had learned about tornadoes and she told me, "The Dorothy movie!"
On Sunday morning, Lily gave me my Father's Day present. It was a green lunch bag (because she knows green is my favorite color) and it was decorated with stickers and Jen had written a message with a sharpie on it. It was very nice, but I wasn't allowed to take it into work today because Jen wanted to cover the stickers with packing tape first so they wouldn't get all cruddy.
Jen and Lily went to church, then they picked me up and we drove up to my father's house, where we had our monthly family get-together. Jen wanted to give a Father's Day card to my unmarried brother. I don't think she gets this whole Father's Day concept. I got roped into computer maintenance, which is par for the course. He claimed that he doesn't show up on Google when one searches for our name, so I typed it in and the first result was the obituary for the uncle I never met, but who was featured in a movie that got the MST3K treatment. He has apparently died last week.
Lily only wanted to play with Nana, and was completely blowing off her cousin, who wanted to play with her. She was so terrible that Jen was ready to pack up and go home. Then twenty minutes later she was playing with Joey like nothing had happened.
We took Lily up to Oma's and then Jen and I took a walk around town. I love cemeteries more and more. I think someday I'll wind up dragging the family along on some weird Sarah Vowell-type roadtrip where we visit a bunch of cemeteries. I want to go back to DC so I can see Arlington again. Anyways, we were there after dark. Just us and the headstones and about a million fireflies rising up like mist. It was beautiful.
Speaking of beautiful this address by Al Franken kicks all kind of ass.
Video, with a bunch of other speakers.
Transcript of his remarks
Lily's talking about having long hair, but not any longer than down to her feet, ("because then I would trip"). I mentioned this to my friend Karen, who brought up Crystal Gayle. My mom had always been a fan, and it was funny to hear the name in 2010 because she seems like such a creature of her time.
To make Lily's rice more appealing the other week, I added a drop of food coloring and mixed it in. When she asked me how I had done it, I told her that I used "Fairy Juice". She called me on that, saying "Fairies aren't real," then she paused and added, "Did you make them real?"
Sunday, June 20, 2010
The name of the blog comes from (what else?), a Zelazny novel.
"Where there had been darkness, I hung my worlds. They were my answer. When I finally walked that Valley, they would remain after me."
I misread that when I first saw it, and thought it was "Where there had been darkness, I hung my words." I like the poetry in that.
Anyways, I'll be blogging here and importing it to Facebook.