Monthly Archives: September 2012

one for the whigs


Today in Cute Kidz Politics…

Tessa and Lucy are hiking up the Na’Pali Coast, Tessa in front, Lucy keeping good pace for a 7-year-old. Out of nowhere, Lucy speaks.

LUCY: Why do the Republicans get the elephants?

TESSA: What do you mean?

LUCY: Their symbol. The elephant. How come they get the elephant?

TESSA: That’s the way it’s always been.

LUCY: And what is ours?

TESSA: You mean Democrats? It’s a donkey.

LUCY: (pause) A donkey?


Lucy mulls it over. It’s not horrible, but not entirely satisfactory either.

LUCY: I don’t like that they get the elephant. I love elephants. You know what their symbol should be?

TESSA: What?

LUCY: A rabbit hanging by its leg.

TESSA: A dead rabbit?

LUCY: No, but it’s hanging by a string from its leg. Then we can have the elephant.




aleutian time zoning out


We flew 6 hours to Kauai today, to help my sister celebrate her babymoon, and then to show the cast and crew a rough cut of the new short film in Oahu. We ran into the ocean for 20 minutes, watched the sun set, and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…………..


a just machine to make big decisions


Tired of the future taking too long? Desperate for that house-surround computer that wakes you up with a gentle voice, opens the curtains and fires up the espresso? Yeah, me too. We’ve got all this awesome shit, but it requires all this input from us. What happened to the brave new world of vaguely intuitive automation?

Well, until the artificially-intelligent bedmakers and golden-domed fellatrixes show up, lemme introduce you to the next best thing: that’s right, the GETTIN’ CRAP DONE 7000™!!!!


“A monitor with stuff on it?” I hear you cry, but this is no ordinary monitor with stuff on it. The Gettin’ Crap Done 7000™ satisfies a bunch of needs at once, for the family on the go-go-go. It’s got:

• your shared calendar, with “to do” list

• weather forecast for the next 5 days, with icons

• current conditions

• clock

• and a Google traffic map for your town, updated every 3 minutes!

Specifically designed for the hyperfunctional (Tessa) and the A.D.D.-addled (me), I got the idea from the main lodge at Mammoth Mountain ski resort, which has this gigantic TV screen showing a map of the mountain, all the micro-climates, and which trails are open at any given moment.

People have been screwing with their computer desktop images since George H.W. Bush was in office, and these days, it’s having a bit of a renaissance – check out some of these. Most of those examples use GeekTool, which is a little app that makes things magically appear on your desktop.

You can use it to show Twitter feeds, disk space, NFL scores, all kinds of stuff. Many of the little “geeklet” scripts are here – you download ’em, plug them into Geektool, and let the bon temps roulez. I used Geektool to display the weather forecast and icons, but not after delving into the code and making it do exactly what I wanted.

Then came the calendar. I tried some GeekTool solutions, but they weren’t ready for prime time, so I went with Blotter. It has lots of limitations, but it’s gorgeous, and displays everything from your online Google or Mac Calendar.

The main thing I wanted was a big map showing Google Maps traffic for the Los Angeles area. I don’t need to explain this to anyone living down here, but so much of your day and so many decisions are based on traffic. I don’t know if you can see it in the picture, but the nexus of I-10 and I-405 can either cancel plans, or make you try surface streets you didn’t know existed. Knowledge is not just power, it’s hours added back to your life.

So I used Desktopr, which is another background app that simply displays any webpage as your desktop image. You can set it to refresh as often as you like, so I thought every three minutes would do the trick during rush hour.

The rest was putting it all together to look decent. My aesthete wife was not going to truck a shitty-looking monitor in our kitchen, so I used GeekTool again to extend the “ocean” from Google Maps all across the screen, and then placed the ever-changing icons with a little panache.


And there you have it. All of these apps run in the background with no programs open. The monitor was one I got for my mom a few years ago, and the computer (hidden in the butcher’s block) was an extra laptop past its prime, but fit for the task. It runs on our solar power setup, and the screen is timed to shut off at night.

Yes, the Gettin’ Crap Done 7000™. A calendar, weatherwoman, taskmaster, and traffic prefect all in one. Besides USB-powered Ben Wa balls, what else could you possibly want from technology?

the needs of the many


I read something interesting today: someone was quoting a 15-year-old book on raising boys, and it said:

“Boys want to know three things:

1. What are the rules?

2. Who is in charge?

3. Will the rules be enforced by the person in charge?”

I think this is one of those brilliant statements that explains way more than the subject it intends; the same three rules could be adopted for pretty much any of us, boy/girl, child/adult, every time we walk out the door. Some are nakedly obvious – if you’re in a car, the rules are the law, the cops are in charge, and they will enforce them. But it’s the more nebulous situations that force us to contemplate each rule, one by one.

Say you’re in a college class, and the teacher is extremely late. I remember things working as follows:

1. Rule: If a professor is 15 minutes late, you can leave. If it’s a T.A., they only get ten.

2. The absent professor is nominally in charge, but “accepted tradition” is the trump card here.

3. Generally, the professor knows they have little recourse after those 15 minutes.

You’re in traffic, at an intersection where many of you are stopped at a red light. There is no traffic on the other road, so you’re waiting for nobody. The lights aren’t changing. For a long time.

1. Rule: if the lights haven’t changed in a bizarrely long time, you can surmise they’re broken.

2. Again, the cops are in charge. But they’re not around.

3. You can run the red light, and pretty much everyone will follow suit, using the mob mentality to justify it.

Now you’re in a men’s bathroom at an Applebee’s in suburban Virginia. You hear a kid being repeatedly spanked by his father in the next stall, using profanity and causing the child to scream.

1. Rule: if it sounds like child abuse, the newer rules may compel you to confront the father, if only to let the helpless child know that his father’s behavior is unacceptable.

2. Who is in charge? Right then, it’s either you or the father, and which one is bigger. If any other patrons come into the bathroom, the scales tip towards you. If management comes in, suddenly Applebee’s is in charge.

3. If you’re in charge, enforcing them is up to you. Once Applebee’s is in charge, it gets very corporate, and you can bet your ass the father will be escorted from the premises.

In a way, you can gauge your own personality by the way you respond to question 3. It can be defined as a “moral code”, but it’s more aptly described as “in the grand scheme of things, how fucking important is it to observe this arbitrary bullshit in the name of the greater good?” I have to say, I find myself coming down on the side of “this is stupid and I won’t do it” more times than I’d like to admit. I have a fundamental belief that:

1. The rules are moronic.

2. The person in charge only has the power I give them.

3. You can’t get in trouble if nobody sees you do it, and you can run fast enough.

Being married and having a li’l punkinpants has definitely altered all that. Yet I still find myself fighting it occasionally, which sucks, because it smacks of entitlement and exceptionalism, two traits I have no business handing down to Lucy. She’s a girl who wants to know the rules, figures there’s somebody in charge somewhere, and has zero interest in testing it out. She loves to be a part of the program, to do good things for the sake of doing good things, and I’m not ashamed to say I could learn a lot by following her example.



i declare a case of the vapors


I woke up last night at 4am with a migraine so bad that I had to use meditation techniques to stave off nausea. I had to go on the emergency headache meds, which found me lying in a dark room, trying to work on a laptop with the screen dimmed to almost zero Kelvin, until 2pm today.

So I’m not trying to be trenchant today, nor am I going to say something utterly original. But I feel a need to reiterate my previous position: anyone surprised by the behavior of Republicans, either clandestine or brassy, whether on a secret videotape or through a loudspeaker, clearly hasn’t been paying attention.

I’m confused as to which part of Mitt Romney’s 47 percent statements are novel, for him or for any other member of the GOP. Maureen Dowd wrote yesterday “We thought Romney was secretly moderate, but it turns out he’s secretly cruel…” Shit, I was saying this nine years ago!

GIGO, like my brother Steve said in the 1970s: garbage in, garbage out. Disgusting platforms make for disgusting candidates. Plants, not people, grow lushly from a diet of shit.



blackbird has spoken


This just in: Cat Stevens still an asshole

VENICE, CA (Daddo) – Despite 23 years having passed since Cat Stevens (or Yusef Islam) reiterated that a novelist should be murdered, area blogger (me) still finds him reprehensible. I was working in a record store in the summer of 1988, selling a lot of 10,000 Maniacs’ album In My Tribe, which meant listening to goddamn “Peace Train” every day. Imagine the irony a few months later, when Cat Stevens himself agreed that Salman Rushdie should be executed for a book!

Thanks to the internet, there’s no doubt what the musician said or meant, although he’s spent the better part of two decades either explaining he was joking, or saying he was merely elucidating the public on sharia law. Both are clearly bullshit. He hasn’t even apologized, instead giving his fans a preachy denial on his website.

As recently as 1997, he reconfirmed the fatwā, as well as stoning women for adultery. In every interview I’ve seen, he has that know-it-all mannerism of the fundamental blowhard, coupled with a dollop of narcissism.* For being such a spiritualist, he sure is pecuniary: he’ll sue anybody for music that reminds him of something he wrote 30 years ago. He is a menace on YouTube, has sued bands like Coldplay and The Flaming Lips, and even copyrighted an ancient Gaelic melody-turned-hymn (Morning Has Broken) so that my mom couldn’t use it to teach kids how to sing.

This obviously hits my buttons: someone wanting to hurt a writer, religious wacknuttery, and overly-meaningful folk music. And before anyone jumps to conclusions, this isn’t about Islam (the religion) at all – as most of you know I’m offended by all organized religions equally. In fact, Muslims the world over must have been horrified by Cat Stevens; I have come to understand jihad as a war within oneself, not the West, and god knows that’s something I can get behind.


Rushdie, early ’70s

I had the good fortune to sit at Salman Rushdie’s table during a dinner party a few years ago, and I find him to be a total stud. He’s the smartest man on whatever peninsula he happens to be on, and his prose is magic. I can’t imagine what those ten years were like for him, but he’s got a new memoir about the ordeal that looks amazing.

Meanwhile, hardliners in Iran have re-issued the fatwā, and Cat Stevens gets to play in the Rally to Restore Sanity. Some things are just too goddamn poetic.

* “know-it-all mannerism” is an anagram for my brother Norman Kent Williams. How hard does that rule?


one of your chair moisteners from sector 7-G


A deceptively easy and confusingly hard question for you lot.

Put simply, were you psyched about going to work today? Or if you need more general terms, was today something to be excited for, to be tolerated, to be vaguely numb about, or to be completely dreaded?

Those unable to speak freely, please use your anonymous animals!


anonymous ocelots

[Tues. update: These are fascinating… more please!

(while I try to fix some admin issues with the blog software…) – ed.]

he’s so fine, gotta be mine


If you haven’t read our very own Virginia Heffernan’s column over at Yahoo today, you really ought. She has pit Wikipedia against the novelist Philip Roth, and has actually taken sides!

To set the stage… Imagine you wrote a book about lesbian vampires, and created a character based on somebody in real life: perhaps an old girlfriend who went on to become a famously vicious tabloid reporter. The book becomes a hit, they make a movie based on it, and years later Wikipedia has an entry on your lesbian vampire book, quoting two good sources that say the female character was based on your mother.

So you try to edit the entry in Wikipedia, because, after all, you wrote the goddamn book, and bloody well know who inspired the character. But Wikipedia rejects your edit, because there’s only one source: you. So you write an angry letter published on the New Yorker website.

Trade your lesbian vampire novel for The Human Stain, and you’re pretty much in the position Philip Roth is now. Only Mr. Roth (despite being amazing – any of you read Portnoy’s Complaint during the throes of late puberty?) is getting on in years, and doesn’t really respect or grok what Wikipedia’s all about.


Roth in 2009

Virginia rightly conveys Wikipedia’s two killer credentials – anonymity and humility – although I think of them as essences of each other. Much has been made of Wikipedia being false, or easy to hack, but in all of my years poring over the site, I’ve only seen one malicious bit of misinformation (and it was written by a Dook fan).

So Roth (as old media) mishandled Wikipedia (new media), but his complaint does seem logical. Inherently, the creator of a piece of art is the only human in existence who knows its inspiration (despite what the Jungians say). There are cases of “subconscious plagiarism”, which was the ruling against George Harrison because of “My Sweet Lord”, which stirs the possibility that artists may not know the original atom of their idea. But any farther than that, and you end up with B.F. Skinner and the end of creativity.

So let’s go back to your book: only you can tell Wikipedia that the lesbian vampire was actually your girlfriend. Surprise, you’re not allowed to. I totally get it: Wikipedia needs two sources in order to have any credibility, and third-party verification in print provides a “durability of facts”. But it does seem a little counterintuitive, and in this case, a detour away from truth.

The solution? Roth figured it out, whether he meant to or not. By creating a ruckus and writing his screed to the New Yorker, he provided his second source. The newsworthiness of the story made it into the Human Stain entry on Wikipedia, and bob’s your uncle.

Before you go off on your weekend, a word about Virginia Heffernan: in a world of monotonous snark, dispassionate reportage, and vocab words used as intimidation, Virginia is a rare diamond. Nobody sounds like her. She writes these pieces the way she talks, with a sort of impeccably free-form jazz that is always a little surprising, but never wandering too far away from the tonic chord.

She’s also a technophile who sees things in the light of what they are, not what they’re replacing. She has a skill that I try to keep sharp in my own life: the sense that the revolution isn’t happening, it already happened, and there’s lots to be excited about if you’re not nailing your shoes to the floor.