Sunday, August 30, 2009

New Symbol for Democrats

I can't be the only Dem who's getting fed the hell up with spineless leftie office-holders, can I?

Here they are, the party in power, and they seem determined to keep talking nice-nice to everyone and yapping about bipartisanship with obstructionist Goposaurs.

These are the same people who sat on their thumbs and gave President Fratboy everything he wanted. These are the same people who steadfastly refused to do the right thing, taking impeachment "off the table" and not bothering with investigations. They're all about healing and moving on as a nation. Remember how John Kerry told us to play nice that first Wednesday in November of '04? It was his "playing nice" that got us 4 more years of Fratboy. He whipped his own ass!

Wanna bet they screw up the health care reform by just giving in and letting the Pubbies and those crap-sack "blue dogs" have their way?

With that in mind, they need to get rid of that donkey. Too willful, too stubborn. No, they need to go with this:

I specifically wanted non-stinging jellyfish, since I needed a symbol that's only slightly more aggressive than instant mashed potatoes, yet still has no backbone.

I could have gone with stinging jellyfish, if only to call them a bunch of spineless pricks...but I'm only willing to go with that if they start showing some fire--and those who've got the fire need to start getting those who don't fired up. I want them throwing elbows and body-checking the right-wing mouthpieces, but what I get is pre-time-machine George McFly:

They need a new motto: "Yeah, We'll mess this up, too."

Really, guys, I'm already at a point where I'll never vote Goposaur--but you people act like you're trying to make Dems unelectable as well.

Since both parties suck, maybe that's not a bad thing, letting them die off.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The most horrific thirty seconds.

This morning on the Garland Robinette talk show (WWL out of New Orleans), he opened up the 11:00 hour with a discussion of the CIA guys who might be facing investigation for *ahem* "harsh interrogation" of alleged terrorists during the Texas Fratboy's administration.

He mentioned that he'd done research, because he wanted to hear both sides of the argument. He mentioned that there's a list of stuff the "interrogators" are allowed to do, including locking an "interviewee" in a box for up to 8 hours, blowing smoke in their faces, threatening them with guns (but not actually SHOOTING them), threatening them with power drills (but not actually DRILLING them). He didn't mention the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program, where a prisoner is tossed on a plane and flown somewhere to face harsher "interrogation" at non-American hands. He mentioned waterboarding. But he seemed to go out of his way to make all this seem mild, unimportant.

He then tried to equate all this with a 30-second audio clip of an American civilian being decapitated with a knife by some assholes in Iraq. I did a brief search for the clip, then gave up and looked for the link to the show.

Here it is. The clip is about 15-20 minutes in.

But be warned. It's not pretty, it's not funny, and it is horrific.

But it's not the same thing. Yes, torture is torture--but that man isn't being "interrogated" by the Iraqi CIA, on behalf of the Iraqi government. He's being butchered. It's not pretend, it's not "make him think he's about to die." It is a terrorist act--otherwise, why record it? Why distribute it? The recording itself in intended to put fear into the listener--"We are killing him, and we will kill you this way."

That's not the same thing as water-boarding, or uncomfortable "stress positions," or smoke in the face. It's not the same as our own government violating national and international laws and the Geneva Conventions.

But even more disturbing are the sheep who called in afterward, still toeing the party line of a dirtbag who's no longer in office, their voices hoarse from whatever "U-S-A!!!! U-S-A!!!!" cheerleading teabagger shagfest they just got home from. The majority of callers were gung-ho that the ends justify the means, and that torture--oh, sorry, "harsh interrogation"--is ay-okay as long as it gets the right results. We're at WAR!!!!, and those poor CIA boys were just following orders! We don't need them Geneva things, them Eye-Rakkies killed 'Merkins! Don't you 'member a little thing cawlled NINE-ELEVEN?!?!?


Fat lot of good "just following orders" did those poor German and Japanese boys as a defense in the aftermath of World War 2. See, we strung up German and Japanese guys who "just followed orders" and tortured--sorry, "harshly interrogated"--prisoners. Waterboarders got executed. But when Americans do it, it's ay-okay?

Bullshit. I don't accept that. This crap went on for the remainder of his show, and then bubbled over to take up all three hours of "Spud" McConnell's show.

Oh, and Iraq had nothing to do with the September 11th events. If you're going to go all bloodthirsty and torture every swarthy asshole in robes, why not start with the assholes who did it? Why not start the hunt in Saudi?

For that matter, where the hell is Bin Ladin? Ol' Sheriff Fratboy was gonna bring him in...then he decided it'd be easier to go after Saddam. Lazy bastard.

Another of Garland's arguments was that "We're at war, we have two wars, Social Security is in a shambles, the economy is tanking, shouldn't we be worrying about important stuff like that?"

Oh, sure. Allow criminals to go free because the economy is tanking. Does that apply to all criminals, or just the government-sponsored ones?

We've ended up doing all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons--and going after the CIA spooks now is probably too little, too late. Obama's first act on January 21 should have been to get them all--the ones who GAVE those orders, not just those who followed.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pic of the Day: Tori

This is the only clear pic I could find of the car I spent so much time driving around for a decade. It doesn't seem fair that I've got a couple dozen shots from the last few days I had the car, but almost nothing from the "good times," especially when her "big sister"--the little silver monster--is the most-photographed car I've ever owned.

It helps that I've got a digital camera.

Why a Citation?

Back in early 1996, I couldn't have picked a Citation out of a lineup. I know I'd seen them, and I remembered the jingle from the commercials, the way the singers accentuated the name--"Chevy Ci-TAAAAAAAYYYY-tion!"

And here it is on youTube--the 1980 introduction.

Wow. What a hideous song. It reeks of marketers trying to get the disco demographic. Yuck.

But the interior space? Hell yes it's got interior space. More about that in a moment. It's January, 1996. My '76 Impala has died, I'm riding a 10-speed bike around Tallahassee, and I need wheels. My parents found an '83 Citation, shelled out the $1200 for it, and brought it to me.

Love at first sight. It was mostly white, but years of neglect (and crappy GM paint) had garnered rusty spots on every horizontal surface. I didn't care. She was fun to drive, got great mileage (about 22 in the city, close to 30 on the highway), and even looked happy. I pretty much had to give her a name as soon as I set eyes on her: Tori (because of Tori Amos, not Tori Spelling; I liked the name and her music).

Over the years that little car went everywhere I wanted to go with few breakdowns and fewer mechanical issues. We weathered hurricanes, drove through a flooded Tallahassee after a day-long deluge that followed a months-long drought, got Number Two to church and work on time. When I was depressed and thinking of ending my life, the car gave me something to focus on other than myself. There was always some little thing I could fix or tweak. I liked thinking that the car needed me--and in a way, it did, for maintenance. But I needed it, too--needed that focus, that little piece of the real world, to keep me going.

Her biggest trip was in 1999, when I had to move out of my Tallahassee apartment. I had nowhere else to go, so I moved back to Pensacola. I didn't think I could afford a truck, so I used the Citation.

This is where that "interior space" comes into play. I quickly found that I could put a pattern of 3, then 2, then 2 milk crates in back, with the back seat folded down, and lay up 7 more on those. I used crates for bookshelves (hasn't everyone?). But I quickly realized that I had more books, magazines and papers than crates to put them in. I pulled everything out, unbolted the rear seat, and started pouring books, magazines, papers, and miscellaneous small stuff into the back of the car.

When I was done, it filled the rear compartment from floorboards to just below the top of the seat back. Then I filled up the front seat and made the run. I logged close to 1600 miles, I think, just running back and forth 200 miles at a time.

In Pensacola, we went even further. Fort Pickens is only 30 minutes away. We went to Tampa in '99 for a Tori Amos concert, and I saw Fort DeSoto. I made several trips to Forts Gaines and Morgan over in Alabama, strapped a kayak to the roof and wandered to a river or bayou to explore or just sit and float with the current. She always got me there--and always brought me home.

I always intended to do the body work. But the rusty spots grew, the small leaks around the windshield grew larger. And the gas mileage started to fall; there were some irritating drivability issues by the time I parked her for the last time and started driving a '92 Tracker. That was supposed to be a temporary thing--I'd drive the Tracker and fix up Tori, bring her back to factory condition, make her better. Good intentions, yes...but there never seemed to be time or ambition.

I'd always intended.... But she sat under a tarp for nearly three years until one of the County's code-enforcement dicks gave me 2 weeks to get rid of her. I pulled a few parts off, thinking that I'd have another Citation as soon as I could get the money together. I kept a set of keys; they hang from the X-11's rear view mirror now.

I made arrangements. On September 29, 2008, a flatbed wrecker came for her.

She was gone.

I was left with $100 and an empty spot in the yard.

Yeah, it's just a car, just an inanimate machine, but a year later I still miss her.

Movie: Watchmen (2009)

Rating: 4
Year: 2009
Genre: Fantasy/Superhero
See Again? Yes

Our Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror Meetup group watched the new BlueRay release of this film last night.
The "director's cut" is 186 (3:06) minutes long, versus the theater release time of 162 (2:42). The extra 24 minutes gave us a little side-story, but not something I couldn't live without. It made an already long movie feel longer.

The story: it's an alternate 1985. Tricky Dick Nixon is in his third term as President. Masked superheroes have been outlawed. The Watchmen disbanded, retired, and melted into the populace.

One of them--The Comedian--is murdered, thrown from his high-rise apartment. One of his former teammates suits up to find the killer and warn the others: Rorschach, who reminds me of Sam Spade with a white ski mask under his fedora, but with Wolverine's manners.

Casting was mostly good.
I really liked Jackie Earl Haley's "Rorschach"--but I couldn't say whether his "Christian-Bale-As-Batman" voice was done as a nod to Bale's superhero or not. I'll have to see it a few more times. He does get the single coolest line in the entire movie. After being locked up for a murder he didn't commit, he gets into a brief fight with an inmate, then announces to the others: "None of you understand. I'm not locked up in here with you! You're locked up in here with me!"

Patrick Wilson's "Dan/NiteOwl II" was fun. He's the "Batman" of the team--lots of money, lots of wonderful toys, lives alone. No butler. The in-joke with this guy is that his costume includes goggles that give him night-vision and such--but in his mild-mannered persona he has to wear glasses.

Malin Ackerman (Laurie/Silk Spectre II) is the obligatory vinyl-clad hottie heroine, and she pulls this off reasonably well, aside from some clumsy hero-landings and poses. I kept expecting to see a "Clairol" (tm) placement in some of the fight scenes, where her hair flows like something out of a hair-care commercial.

Billy Crudup appears only briefly as John Osterman; the vast majority of screen time is given to his computer-generated heroic ego, Dr. Manhattan, of the glowing blue skin and the glowing blue todger. Thumbs up from three out of three women in the Meetup! A subtle but VERY effective effect with Dr. Manhattan was the interactive lighting when he got near enough to cast light on a person or thing. In a medium where explosions don't cast light or shadows (or interact with their surroundings), this is a neat effect.

On the downside, I wasn't impressed with the age makeup on Carla Gugino's Sally/Silk Spectre (she's Laurie's mother, and handed the name down to her kid). She didn't look as much like an older version of herself as Lea Thompson did in "Back to the Future." Her lower face was puffy-looking--but it could be because this was in BlueRay, which is much less forgiving of weak makeup effects than a regular DVD just because we can see so many little details.

By the same token, the Nixon makeup on Robert Wisden was iffy and fake-looking. They got the nose right, and the overall look was good, but he suffered from the same puffy-face syndrome as Gugino.

I could have done without the "Knotheads" side-story of the extended version. This is a gang of various ethnicities, each with a samurai-style topknot, and they kill the original NiteOwl (Stephen McHattie). This just leads to a fight in a bar where the current NiteOwl (Patrick Wilson) beats the stuffing out of one of the gang members after learning of his mentor's death. Meh.

Still, not that many negatives. I have yet to read any of the original comics or books, so I can't say how closely they're followed, but I liked it.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

So, what's an X-11?

Back in 1974, GM decided they were going to need to make smaller cars. To replace the aging Nova (which didn't change much stylistically from 1973 to 1979), they came up with a front-engine, front-wheel-drive platform called the X-Body (the Nova and its GM sisters were called X-Bodies, too, but they're not the same platform).

Four of the five GM companies would get this new car:
Chevrolet: Citation
Buick: Skylark
Pontiac: Phoenix
Oldsmobile: Omega

Funny that Cadillac didn't get an X-car; instead, they re-badged the smaller Cavalier, gave it some tacky fake chrome and wood, and called it the Cimmaron. Bleah.

The X-cars debuted in 1979 for the 1980 model year. The Citation came in a notchback coupe, hatchback coupe, and hatchback four-door. For engines, there was the 2.5-liter (151 cubic inches) "Iron Duke" inline four or the 2.8-liter (173 cubes) V6. For transaxles, you got either a 4-speed stick or 3-speed automatic. They were built to give pretty good interior room and good gas mileage for the day.

Then there was the X-11. These little monsters had a warmed-up version of the 2.8 V-6--a more aggressive cam, bigger valves, larger exhaust, a double-height air filter, and functional cowl-induction hood. Underneath, the car got lowered a couple of inches, got a stiffer suspension, and got some bracing at the back corners of the engine cradle that made a grocery-getter into a race-winner.

Chevy's engineers built the X-11 as a race car first and foremost, competing in SSB/SCCA ("Showroom Stock 'B' "class, Sports Car Club of America) races. The rules required that the cars had to be available for sale, so Chevy made it happen with the 1981 model year (the 1980 version was just a stock Citation with some decals and other trim items, but without the higher-output engine). Essentially, the car as built and sold--and now in my parking spot--is the racer. With some safety modifications, I could theoretically take my little silver monster out to an SCCA SSB event and race it.

Nope. Not this one. I've wanted an X-11 since the late 1990s, and even if the resale's only a couple grand, the car means a lot to me. Especially this car, since the County code bastards made me get rid of its predecessor, a plain-jane 1983 Citation. More about that one later.

John Heinrichy's the man to thank for X-11's; here's a Hot Rod Magazine writeup about him, with a few pics of a racing X. The man's an auto engineer, race driver, and all-around cool guy who (as of the writing of the article) is GM's director of high-perf vehicle operations. He's also third in the SCCA's all-time winners list. I can respect that!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pic of the Day: Saturn V at Michoud

This is what a '92 Tracker looks like when it's parked in front of the biggest, baddest, coolest rocket ever.

That's S-IC #15, the last one built at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, where it's on permanent display. If you follow the map link, click on "Satellite" view and move the view slightly down and left so you can see the facility's main gate (Michoud Facility Rd.). From there you can zoom in on the rocket stage itself.

The S-IC was just the first stage of the massive Saturn V launch vehicle. It makes up nearly half of the 365-foot total height of the rocket: 138 feet long, 33 feet in diameter. Each of those engine bells is about 14 feet wide at the mouth!

Michoud will soon produce its final External Tank for the Space Shuttle. Supposedly, the facility will be used for the Orion Command Module and Ares rocket system (the Shuttle's replacements--together they're a sort of Apollo II), but those don't seem to be moving along very well.

Song of the Day: Higher (Creed)

Not because I like the song, but because I really really hate it.

I never would have given it much thought, if not for the first dozen or so times I heard it.

It was August, 1999, and I was sleeping on a friend's couch somewhere near Tampa/St. Pete, Florida. She moved around a few times even after that, but this time was a second-floor apartment. I was visiting from Pensacola. She and I stayed up until the wee hours, talking, and I finally got to sleep around 5:30.

Somewhere around 7, her daughter's girlfriend wandered out to the living room and started up the computer. I was only mildly disturbed from sleep by this. Things quieted down, the click of keys, the ticka-ticka of mouse buttons, and I fall back into sleWhen dreaming I'm guided through another world Time and time again--

I should have thrown the couch at her. She played that gawddamn song nearly every waking moment during the week I was there, and I made sure to get enough sleep overnight so this wouldn't be a problem anymore.

Sucks that this band has re-formed and have had the bloody-minded nerve to push out another album. I wonder if it's going to be the same holy-roller hypocracy from their singer as before?

Didja know: Creed is what Pearl Jam would sound like if they SUCKED.

Arguing with Number Two

This would have been sometime in early September, 1996. I'd just gotten Number Two moved into her new home, a 14'x 80' trailer in a nice neighborhood--but inconveniently located 15 miles outside of Tallahassee.

This trailer's heating and air conditioning system had some crazy two-thermostat setup on it--one for heat, one for air. Two's landlord had explained it to her, and we decided to try it out. Within 10 minutes, she was shouting her fool head off at me. Then she stormed off to her room (just a few feet away). Her dramatic exit was spoiled, however: you can't really slam a door in a trailer. They don't make the right sound.

I've always heard that people don't always argue about what they're REALLY arguing about, so whatever this was about, Two wasn't arguing about thermostats. I was, because I didn't know what else I was supposed to be arguing about. The ins and outs of relationship politics will always remain a maze to me.

I camped out in the living room on a neat little fold-out chair. There were two bathrooms, so I didn't need to bother Two as she pouted in her den, waiting for me to come to my senses, realize that she was withholding sex, and come to her with apologies seeping from my tear ducts.

Yeah, that doesn't happen with me.

I'd rather be right than pretend to be happy, and dammit, she didn't know what the hell she was talking about with the thermostats! Yes, I really did think that was what it was all about. No, I never found out what it was REALLY about.

So I camped out in the living room, happily reading or writing, and not concerned that sex was being withheld, since sex has never been a high priority for me. From Wednesday evening until Saturday afternoon, I enjoyed the silence. Then she ruined it all by coming to me and apologizing tearfully. Oh, great, now I gotta have sex again *grumble*. Even then--we'd been together maybe 6 weeks--sex was becoming an obligation, something to do because then she'd shut up about it.

Still, I made my point rather clearly: I wouldn't play along with the "withholding" game. She never tried it again.

It might have been right about then that I realized that I needed to get my own place and get out of there--but that took another 3 months.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Pic of the Day: X-11 two-fer

Hard to believe it's been 7 months since I got this car.

First, what it looked like as delivered.

Then, same car, today.

I'm so proud!

1981 Chevy Citation X-11 hatchback coupe

--High-output 2.8L V-6 (larger valves, bigger cam, 2" exhaust)
--F-41 suspension package (2" drop, stiffer springs)
--X-11 trim package (decals, emblems, sport steering wheel, rear spoiler)
--Muncie 4-speed manual (different gearing from stock)
--Cowl induction hood, air cleaner (functional!)
--14" x 6" aluminum wheels, 215/60R14 tires
--Heavy-duty radiator (3 rows)
--Sport gauge cluster (speedo, fuel, oil, temp, volts) plus tachometer
--Color-keyed bumpers (painted to match body color)
--Bumper "rub strips" (black)
--Bumper guards (black)

--Black velour interior
--Power windows
--Power door locks
--Power brakes
--Power steering
--Cruise control
--Center console
--Tilt steering column
--Air conditioning
--Bucket seats
--AM/FM stereo, 4 speakers
--Power radio antenna
--Courtesy lights
--Rear-compartment light
--Space-saver spare (in factory condition!)
--Underhood light
--Rear-compartment trim panels
--Rear-compartment carpeting

At this point, everything works except the tach, power antenna (stuck "up"), air conditioner, and the heater. When I first got to work on things, the car was practically arthritic--the door locks were gummed up, the window lift systems were broken, half the light bulbs were burned out, the sunroof leaked (still does), and quite a bit more.

One very cool detail for me is that the car was built about a month after the April 12, 1981 maiden launch of space shuttle Columbia. With that in mind, I'm considering some modifications to commemorate Columbia.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


The car totally punk'd me.

Remember, I thought I was just out of gas? Then I decided that the fuel pump had gone out? After 6 weeks of my lazy self working a few hours each Sunday afternoon, I finally figured out the problem.

Fuel hoses.

I'd replaced them in January, but they'd deteriorated--thanks to a power steering fluid leak--to the point where the "suction" line was drawing air. No gas, no running engine. How simple. Car's laughing her ass off at me.

Took her on a 70-mile "trial run," the closest thing to a road-trip I've done so far since getting the car in January of '09. She's come a long way from the pitiful-looking, filthy little car that barely had enough power to drag itself off the trailer on delivery day. The engine was so out of tune and tired that it sounded like a diesel.

She's a long way from restored...but she's solid and strong and coming into her own, now. The trial run was flawless, the engine growling along with ease. The only disappointment is in fuel economy: about 18.6 mpg, burning just under 4 gallons in that 70 miles.

Helicopter parents suck.

I'd never heard this term until a few months ago when I came across Greg Williams' cartoon illustrating the Wikipedia article's title (more stuff here).

I work with such a person. The Helimom's one of those cell phone-dependent people who simply cannot do without the convenience of being able to monitor her children's bowel movements from the inconvenience of work (what's that? No cell phones allowed at work? I wonder what that means?). If she could wipe for them via text message, she would, no matter that both kids seem reasonably functional. Two arms, two legs, all that stuff.

Her son is the main one she hovers over, and the rest of us get reports throughout the day on the boy's progress in school. We even learn whether he got a "red," "yellow," or "green" for the day. She doesn't understand why he gets into fights (but the rest of us see him taking after his helimommy, poor kid).

None of us cares, but this doesn't keep her from broadcasting right into a conversation. The Helimom's like that. All conversations must be about her when she is present.

And now we know that the boy's beginning football this year. I wouldn't have bothered to write about Helimom or her kid, but she pissed me off whining about his first day at practice, when the coach did something she didn't approve of--and since she was right there (and didn't need to call him to bitch him out), she went and bitched him out in front of alllllll the other kids and parents, explaining to him that her son is special and should be treated as such. I don't even remember what it was that was so damn special about the kid.

Of course, Helimom can't grasp the concept that the coach knows his job, and he's in charge on the field, and she just needs to be tied down to the bleachers and sat on by some non-heliparents.


Student gets important lesson!

I can't really say I'm "teaching guitar" to a friend of mine; about all I've done is help her find out a pretty steel-string acoustic at the local flea market, then help her pick out a beginner's instruction book.

Well, I gave her some picks, too. That counts for something, I hope. I haven't been following her progress like a proper teacher should. Weekly lessons? Hah! Lesson plans, exercises, and photocopied scales? Uh, no. I'm lazy. Get home from work, fall into my computer chair, and switch the thinker off. I'm surprised I've made it this far into a post!

It's been about 7 weeks. She's doing reasonably well, but I just had to take away an excuse: "My hands are too small!"

I held up my hand and had her go palm-to-palm: our hands are the same size!


Song of the Day: Rock 'n' Roll Train (AC/DC)

This is the opening track of AC/DC's latest disc, "Black Ice."

Yeah, it's another one of those 4- or 5-chord songs, like all the other 4- or 5-chord songs they wrote, heavy on the A, D and G Major chords.

But let's not be snobbish. They know how to get an infectious riff out of the few chords they use--just look at "Highway to Hell," "Back in Black," "Whole Lotta Rosie," "Hell's Bells," and "For Those About to Rock." Or look at the numbers: 200 MILLION albums sold worldwide. I can play those chords, but I ain't sold a thing.

Brothers Angus and Malcolm Young have a guitar sound that's easily in my top-five--those chords ring clear and bright, Angus' vibrato is a joy to hear, and Brian Johnson's still got the pipes after nearly 30 years of screamin' the hits.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Riff of the Day: Low (Cracker)

Time for a non-Rush riff. This is the intro/verse guitar part.

It's a neat little two-bar strum, good for working on string-skipping with the right hand:



~ vibrato
h hammer-on
p pull-off

Most of the work in the riff is on the right (picking) hand; keep it going in a steady 16th-note strum and focus on keeping it loose. Keep in mind that you're not hitting strings on every stroke and let the two open strings ring cleanly.