Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

 
Saturday, May 31, 2003

A few quick hits…

and then I'm outta here.

  • Bill Clinton suggested the other day that it might be a good thing if we amended the 22 amendment and allowed Presidents to serve more than two terms. He said he didn't have himself in mind when he suggested it.

    He didn't have sex with Monica Lewinski either.

  • SARS has returned to Canada, with a significant new outbreak in Toronto and smaller one in British Columbia. Meanwhile, the US hasn't reported any new cases, and no fatalities.

    Anybody still want to model our health care system after theirs?

  • Florida residents are hopping mad over new graduation requirements which force kids to actually pass a test in order to graduate from high school. Approximately 10% of high school seniors failed the test, despite having 6 tries at it.

    The whole "confusing ballot" deal begins to make a lot more sense now.

  • Congress is hard at work at crafting a plan to end internet gambling. They want to move the crap games back into the dark alleys where they belong.

    The Vegas line is 7-2 against the ban ever happening.

  • The Dow has closed up for the last three months, it's strongest showing in two years. The economy is growing faster than predicted. Consaumer confidence is up. Unemployment is holding at right around 6%.

    Dems better hope it's NOT about the economy, stupid.

  • Israel has agreed in principle to a Palestinian State, and Prime Minister Abbas has agreed to shut down the militant factions.

    Of course, Arafat will never let that happen, as long as he has a breath in his body. HINT!

  • Carol Mosely-Braun is having trouble raising money to support her bid for the Presidency.

    If slavery reparations don't kick in soon, she's history.

  • This week, the Tennessee Legislature killed a ban on giving driver's licenses to illegal aliens.

    Giving illegal aliens official US ID cards. Why does that seem to be a bad idea right now?

  • President Bush signed a new tax cut, raising the child tax credit, reducing the marriage penalty, cutting taxes on investment, and lowering all marginal rates, allowing everyone to keep more of what they earn, and encouraging investment. He also signed legislation extending unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks for those struggling in the slow economy.

    That heartless bastard.


That's it for now. See ya on the other side.

Posted by Rich
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Like I don’t drive enough during the week

I commute an hour and a half each way 5 days a week (actually 6 days here lately), but is that enough for the road jumkie in me?

Nope, not hardly.

I'm driving to Indiana and back tomorrow so my son can spend the week with his grandparents.

Obviously, I won't be blogging much, but think of the stories I'll have to tell when I get back!

Posted by Rich
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Friday, May 30, 2003

Volunteer Tailgate Party

The next VTP will be hosted by yours truly, and will be publishe on Thursday, June 5. Please have all entries submitted by Midnight Wed, June 4. If you don't have a blog, but want to be included, send me your post in an email, and I'll format it and add it to the party. After all, we do strive to be inclusive here in the RTB.

Posted by Rich
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What a week!

And it really started over the holiday weekend, but more about that in a minute.

First my host's server's server, or something like that, went down, and kept me off the site. I have to tell you that Wednesday's posts were brilliant, filled with razor sharp analysis, brilliant wit, and a dollop of humor. Unfortunately, none of them got posted, so today you're stuck with the standard drivel.

My deepest apologies.

Yesterday, I put in 13 hours at work, fighting incompetence, laziness, and an inefficient bureaucracy to do a 3 hour job that's been in the planning for 2 weeks. Only on the day of the job, it seemed to catch everyone by surprise.

Next time, I'm going to do no planning or prep work. Why bother?

Tomorrow, I'm driving to Indiana to take one of the kids to see their grandparents for a week. They like visiting up there; it's like summer camp without the bad food and chiggers.

Sometimes life accelerates; this is one of those times.

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, May 27, 2003

The Matrix is Reloaded

Unfortunately with blanks.

Because some things never change. And some things do.


This is what the Wachowski brothers attempt to pass off as meaningful dialogue. We know it's suppoesed to be meaningful, because like most of the other drivel spouted endlessly in this movie, it's with all the affected gravity of adolescents minds trying to impress themselves with their own brilliance.

Yeah, it's got "bullet-time", and slow motion wire-fu, and really cool sunglasses, and all the stuff we'd never seen before the first movie.

It's also got an interminable car chase scene that makes up for it's lack of originality with an utter lack of excitement, a mish-mash of sub plots and characters that are never explored, much less developed, and a story that tties to do too much, while attempting to do very little. (This ambiguity stuff is contagious...)

The first movie was very cool eye candy. The Wachowskis created a visual style that had not been seen before, but has since been ripped off by movies from Charlies Angels to Shrek. In Matrix Reloaded, the Wachowskis give us more of the same, without anything new. This is a common problem for franchises that rely heavily on special effects. Some choose to go with bigger effects, sometimes sacrificing the story to do so. Others stay with the same level of effects, and concentrate on telling a story to keep interest high. The Wachowskis chose to go the plot route, with limited success.

Let's face it; if you want to make a movie to explore deep philosophical and intellectual topics, Keanu Reeves is probably not the best choice for your lead actor. On the other hand, Lawrence Fishburne is magnificently annoying as the portentious Morpheus, leading the field as this year's candidate for the James Earl Jones Excellence in Diction Award. It's actually a relief to find that most of the films other characters find him to be just as annoying as we do. As for Trinity, as a love interest, she makes a great hacker.

Character quibbles aside, the plot rips off better movies at every turn. Neo surrounded by Zionists begging him to save their loved ones is a dark echo of a similar scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but where Harrison Ford manages to convey compassion and concern, Reeves can only muster his habitual confusion and depression. The Wise Elder counselling the Young Savior is a staple of every action film ever made, and here feels like a formality, rather than an homage.

The action sequences are ruined because there is no drama. When Neo fights a thousand Agent Smiths, he gets hit a few times, but never hurt, and eventually just flies away. I was left wondering why he didn't just dive in and blow up the Smiths like in the first movie, instead of engaging in hand to hand combat. Nobody ever gets gets hurt, nor do they ever really appear to be in danger of getting hurt; well, except for a few thousand of the humans Neo is supposed to be saving, but they really don't count, which is a problem that lies at the heart of the movie.

At heart, The Matrix is an elitist vision of the future. The only players that matter are the machines and the people of Zion. All the masses of humanity, trapped in their cocoons, are treated as worthless or as enemies. Machines and humans alike kill hundreds indiscriminately. From the machines point of view, this would be a terrible squandering of a valuable resource, and should be even more repugnant to the humans. But apparently, only those specially chosen to have their minds freed are worthy of any consideration.

The above makes the movie sound horrible, and it wasn't. It's a decent movie, but I was disappointed because it utterly failed to recreate the magic of the original. The second movie in a trilogy is the most difficult to make, simply because it has to function as a bridge between the first and the last, while functioning on its own. The Empire Strikes Back
is a movie which successfully fulfilled both roles, resulting in what I believe to be the best of the Star Wars movies so far. The Two Towers also succeeds, setting up the events of The Return of the King, while telling its own story. In Matrix Reloaded, the two functions work against each other. The expositional material needed to set up Revolutions kills any momentum Reloaded tries to build. With the exposition dealt with, there is a good chance that Revolutions will close the franchise on a strong note.

Grade: 6 of 10

Posted by Rich
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TN DMCA is dead for now

One of the more amusing things I noticed last week is that a couple of conservatives, supposedly slaves to corporate interests, came out against the TN cable bill, because it gave big corporations way to much power over how we choose to view information in our homes.

We must have lost our playbooks.

On the other hand, we had liberals, who by default view anyu corporate sponsored legislation as inherently evil, arguing that the legislation in question wasn't all that bad, and that we could trust the big corporations not to take advantage of the "sloppy" wording.

They must be ice skating in hell right now...

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, May 21, 2003

I lied

Just checked in at Bubba's who doesn't see what the fuss over the Mini DCMA in Tennessee is all about.

Here is the house version of the bill, HB457.

A quick walk through the bill shows several troubling areas. The bill refers to "unlawful communications devices" repeatedly, but doesn't define them until section (c) 8.
(8) "Unlawful communication device" means any communication device
that is capable, or has been altered, modified, programmed or reprogrammed
alone or in conjunction with another device or other equipment so as to be
capable of acquiring or facilitating the acquisition of any electronic serial number,
mobile identification number, personal identification number or any
communication service without the consent of the communication service
provider.


Let's think about what this actually says. Any device that can connect to a communication services without the consent of the service is unlawful. That includes everything folks! Can a VCR acquire a cable signal without the consent of the transmitter. You betcha! It would be unlawful under this definition. Same for a Tivo. Heck, it's the same for a home theater sound system. Don't believe me? Let's look at the definition again, clarified a bit.
"Unlawful communication device" means any communication device
that is capable, or has been altered, modified, programmed or reprogrammed
alone or in conjunction with another device or other equipment so as to be
capable
of acquiring or facilitating the acquisition of any electronic serial number,
mobile identification number, personal identification number or
any
communication service without the consent of the communication service
provider.

Remove the extraneous verbiage, and it is clear that the bill outlaws any communications equipment that the cable company wants to declare unlawful.

That's a problem.

Now take a look at section e 2:
A violation of this section involving five (5) or more unlawful
communication or access devices is a Class D felony.


Count your VCR's Home Stereos, and TV's. Got more than 5? Then you too could be a class D felon.

But you actually have to do something wrong to get charged, right?

Let's check out section (f):
In any criminal prosecution or civil action under this section, any of the
following shall create an inference that the defendant intended to violate this section:
(1) The presence of an unauthorized connection of any kind between the
defendant's property and any network, system or facility owned or operated by a
communication service provider; or
(2) The presence on the defendant's property, or in the defendant's
possession or control, of any communication device which is connected in such a
manner as would permit the unauthorized receipt, interception, acquisition,
decryption, transmission or re-transmission of a communication service; or
(3) The defendant's possession of five (5) or more unlawful
communication or access devices for any purpose prohibited by this section.


Section 1 tells you that any unauthorized connection of any kind creates an inference of intent to violate the law. Run a splitter and a second cable line to the back bedroom, and you're a criminal. If you have 5 TV's or VCR's, you could be a felon. Section 2 tells you that if you do something with the signal that the provider doesn't like, say, use Tivo instead of their proprietary recorder, you're a criminal. Section 3 tells you that if you have 5 TV's and a VCR, you could be a criminal.

Basically, this bill as written allows your service provider to tell you what you can hook up to their cable, and what you can do with the signal. The wording of the bill allows them to declare basically any home electronic device as unlawful, a fact which brought out the CEA to oppose the bill. The bill also allows the cable company to define exactly which types of connections are authorized, and back up those determinations with the force of law.

Now I don't know about you, but I really don't trust my cable company with that much power. I still remember the bad old days when we had to rent a set top box from them, when they wanted to charge a separate fee for each room, when you had no choice of cable companies, and the only other options were rabbit ears or a big C band satelitte dish. This legislation seeks to drive us back to those bad old days.

For more info, go to the Tennessee Digital Freedom Network.

Posted by Rich
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Last post for the week

I'm headed for Massachusetts to pick up my son and bring him home from college. On the way back, we plan to sing through NYC, Philadelphia and Washington DC. I'll rejoin y'all Monday, so take care.

Posted by Rich
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Season Finales

Ok, time to lighten up a bit. I've been watching the season ending episodes of a few shows over the last couple of weeks, and now it's time to pass out the reviews.

First up is Ed Well, my worst fears were realized. Y'all might remember back at midseason, when I was irritated by the plot decision to split up Ed and Carol.

It turns out it was all just a plot device to keep us watching until the end of season sweeps. Now a perfectly good character (Frankie) has been introduced and discarded, in a blatantly manipulative attempt to keep us watching. Sorry, but I just don't buy it anymore.

Which is sad, because when the writers aren't acting like a bunch of lazy hacks, they can really come up with some powerful television. The episode featuring Eli's (Darryl Mitchell) return to the restaurant he lost after the accident which paralyzed him was moving without being mawkish or manipulative. The final scene, showing Eli getting dressed for the day is simply one of the greatest acts of bravery captured on film. Ed has the writers to live up to that standard. It's too bad they decide to lay down so often.

Next is CSI. OK, is it just me, or did Jorja Fox look all discombobulated in the last episode? Even before the explosion, I mean. That, plus the way she was dressed led me to expect some kind of major announcement during the finale, like, "Grissom, I'm pregnant with your baby!" Instead, we get Grissom going to the hospital for surgery on his ear, accompanied by Catherine who just found out that her father is a casino boss and a murderer. Not a happy day for Catherine. And no Sarah story! This show is at it's strongest when it concentrates on the weekly episodes. Their attempts to draw story arcs are flat, and unconvincing.

Next up is ER. John Carter goes to war, where he gets to act heroic, disgusted, bemused, terrified, and world weary.
Yawn.

The Alias season ender was a slam bang episode, complete with all the double crosses, suspence and action Alias fans have come to expect. Then they had to end it with a clinker like that? After one of the better chick fights ever put on film, Syd collapses on the floor in her room, anly to wake up some undisclosed time later in Hong Kong. A distressed Vaughn tells her she's been missing for 2 years.

Beg pardon? Two years? There was absolutely no lead up to this, so it hit like a sack of wet cement, and was equally enjoyable. Had they ended the episode with Syd unconscious on the floor, Francie shot over in the corner, and Will slowly bleeding to death in the bathtb, that would have been enough of a cliffhanger for anyone. But no, they pushed a little too far, and had to throw in a missing 2 years.

Well, they might be able to pull it off, but it'll take a much better effort than this season's cliffhanger resolution.

Now we come to the best of the bunch, the season finale that actually exceeded expectations. The Dead Zone

In the novel by Stephen King, Johnny Smith dies while attempting to assassinate Gregg Stillson, a presidential candidate who will lead the world to destruction. Johnny dies in the attempt, refusing to shoot Stillson, who shields himself with a small child. This ends Stillson's political career, allowing Johnny to die peacefully, knowing that the world is safe from the future represented by Stillson.

While this works for a one shot movie, it kind of limits the span of a continuing series. The show's writer's came up with a creative way to resolve the technical problem while remaining faithful to both the novel and the series, and they chose to use the season finale to do it.

In the series, writers added the character of Bruce, Johny's physical therapist and later friend. In this episode, Bruce goes home for his father's funeral, and begins to wonder if he should have stayed home. Through contact with Johnny, he has a vision of an alternative reality, where he and Johnny never met. In this reality, events play out similarly to the original novel; Johnny is killed attempting to assassinate Stillson. However, Stillson isn't hurt politically either, and we are left to assume that he goes on to drag the world into destruction. Johnny and Bruce emerge from the vision, leaving Bruce to realize that Johnny needs him. The series is now free to move in a direction different from King's novel, while still remaining within the spirit of the original.

This episode also deftly changes the dynamics of the storyline in a profound way. In the novel, Johnny and Stillson were the antagonists, fighting over the fate of the world. In the series, Stillson and Bruce are now the antagonists, fighting over the soul of Johnny Smith, which will determine the fate of the world. The writers played up this shift by giving Bruce and Stillson mirrored upbringings. Both were raised around religion, but where Bruce's father was genuine in his piety, Stillson's father used religion as a con game. They are the two sides of humanity, the angelic and the monstrous, and Johnny is in between, like all of us.

What makes the episode special is that the resolution of the continuing plot issues is incidental to this story. (Writer's of Ed, pay attention!) Through the vision, Bruce deals with paternal expectations, religious faith, accepting his place in the world, and making a final peace with his father. Instead of hammering us over the head with manipulative plot devices, the writers gave us a well crafted story of loss and redemption, while also creating a new direction for the series. Truly well done.

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, May 20, 2003

A Dangerous Idea

The end justifies the means.

Has there ever been a slipperier, nastier, more pernicious concept in the history of thought? No matter how many times its essential fallacy is revealed, it keeps creeping back into our minds. It's seductive; it let's us do whatever it takes to win, and we're all genetically programmed to be winners.

Nowhere is this more evident than in politics. We believe in our ideals; we believe in them so strongly that they become part of how we see ourselves, part of who we are. We don't say we are 'members' of a liberal, conservative, or libertarian group; we say we 'are' liberals, conservatives, or libertarians. We take any challenge to our ideologies as a personal challenge, which invokes our will to win.

The end justifies the means.

Conservatives are familiar with the principle. It's practiced by some of the more extreme elements of the party, but we'll get back to that in a minute. Lately, that belief has surfaced in a particularly noxious form among some liberals, not among the extreme elements, but right in the mainstream.

Which isn't too surprising actually, since the left has always been fond of civil disobedience to draw attention to their causes, and what is civil disobedience if not the ends justifying the means? We break a law in service to what we see as a higher purpose or cause. The lesser wrong is committed to prevent a greater wrong from continuing.

We had another example of this just last week in Texas. 59 dems walked out of the legislature to bust the quorum, risking arrest, to prevent the republican majority from passing their redistricting plan. Many dems, maybe even most, applauded their actions, saying that the illegitimate action was warranted in order to stave off a worse threat, republican redistricting.

The end justifies the means.

Now we hear from Gary Kamiya, editor of salon.com.
Many antiwar commentators have argued that once the war started, even those who oppose it must now wish for the quickest, least bloody victory followed by the maximum possible liberation of the Iraqi people. But there is one argument against this: What if you are convinced that an easy victory will ultimately result in a larger moral negative -- four more years of Bush, for example, with attendant disastrous policies, or the betrayal of the Palestinians to eternal occupation, or more imperialist meddling in the Middle East or elsewhere?

Wishing for things to go wrong is the logical corollary of the postulate that the better things go for Bush, the worse they will go for America and the rest of the world. It is based on the belief that every apparent good will turn into its opposite. If this is true, then it would be better for bad things to happen to Bush.

Do you recognize our little friend hiding in there?

"But," you say, "wishing for bad things to happen isn't the same as doing bad things."

Let's think about that for a minute. Isn't the difference between wanting something to happen and causing it to happen merely a matter of conviction? If you truly believe your action will bring about a more positive outcome, aren't you ethically bound to act? Sure you are! It's an easy call when the action called for is positive. It's when the action is negative that things get tricky. How bad are we willing to go to get a better outcome?


The end justifies the means.

So what's so wrong with that? Why is it such a bad thing? Surely there are times when the end result is so important that almost any means are justified, right?

I know a group of people who feel just that way. Everyday, they are faced with a horror so deep, they're willing to do almost anything to try and stop it.They march; they picket; they hold sit-ins; they lobby congress; they mount ad campaigns. They do everything within their power to fight the good fight.

Some of them go a little further, though. Their convictions are stronger than average, compelling them to take stronger actions. They vandalize the locations where the activities occur; they sabotage equipment; they harrass and intimidate practitioners; sometimes, they even kill them. Of course, you know by now the group I'm talking about.

When asked why they do these awful things, usually as they're led away in handcuffs, they simply say, "I had to stop it somehow. I had to do whatever I could, whatever it took."

And that's where using the end to justify the means leads us, with the same certainty as the sun rising in the east. That's the problem with the argument; there's no ending point. There's no place to say, "We go this far, and no further." The exact same argument civil rights protesters used during sit-ins can be used by an eco-terrorist spiking trees, or a anti-abortionist blowing up a clinic, and it is logically the same in each case.

Now I'm not saying that Mr. Kamiya is going to run out and start actively working to make things worse, in some attempt to keep President Bush from getting re-elected. Nor am I saying that most dems want things to get worse, just to keep Bush from getting re-elected. What I am saying is that the thoughts he is entertaining, hoping to gain something from the misfortune of others are nothing more than another version of ends justifying means.

It has to be recognized for what it is and rooted out, before the libs find that the extremists have taken over the party.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, May 19, 2003

This is good news.  Really!

The largest Shi'ite protest yet took place in Baghdad today.
Up to 10,000 people gathered in front of a Sunni Muslim mosque in Baghdad's northern district of Azimiyah, then marched across a bridge on the Tigris River to the nearby Kadhamiya quarter, home to one of the holiest Shiite shrines in Iraq.


It appeared to be the largest protest against the U.S. occupation since the war ended.


"What we are calling for is an interim government that represents all segments of Iraqi society," said Ali Salman, an activist


Why is this good?

Well, first, this wouldn't have happened with Hussein in charge; the Shi'a's would never been allowed to assemble and march, and any who dared try would be dead.

Or worse.

But there's more good news.
The noisy but peaceful protest appeared to be well-organized. Organizers sprayed participants with water to cool them off and formed human chains around the crowd to ensure that the marchers stayed in line and no violence occurred.

At one point, the crowd swelled to about 10,000 people, but many participants soon wandered off, and were replaced by fresh batches of demonstrators. At the end of the march, about 5,000 gathered near the shrine of Musa al-Kazim, a much revered 9th-century Shiite saint.


A peaceful demonstration, urging the formation of a broad based, inclusive government, orchestrated by the majority religious group. That's freedom in action, folks, and democracy beginning to flourish.

Yes, there's still grave risks ahead. There are a million ways that things could go wrong. But changing from riots where people are shooting to peaceful demonstrations is one heck of a step in the right direction.

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, May 18, 2003

My bad!

Howard Owens just pointed out that I don't have an e-mail address posted. I guess it got lost when I moved from Blogspot to Hosting Matters. Not to worry, I've fixed the omission. Feel free to send you slings and arrows my way. I answer it all in the manner it's received.

Posted by Rich
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Lucid Dreaming

Have you ever been asleep and dreaming and knew that you were dreaming? If you have, you've experienced lucid dreaming. Now there are some that ascribe all kinds of magical or supernatural effects to it, but it seems to me it is just an altered state of consciousness, where the brain is functioning on a more primitive level.

I've experienced it fairly often, starting from when I was a kid. I used to have the typical nightmares of falling, or showing up at school nekkid, or missing final exams. One night, I dreamed I was riding in a car that was in an accident and crashed off the edge of cliff. I had been hanging onto the door when we crashed, and had ripped it away from the car when we ent over the edge, so I was still clutching the door as I hurtled down towards the rocks below. When I'd been falling for about an hour and a half, I realized that I must be dreaming, and decided to use the door as a wing, and change the falling to flying. That was my first lucid dream.

I still get that falling dream occasionally, but, whether I recognize the dream or not, I always convert falling to flying.

Now as a single parent, I have constant worries. Are my kids OK? Do I have enough money? Did I pay all the bills? Did I pick them all up from school? And on and on. It's not surprising that these fears sometimes leak into the funhouse mirrors of my dreams, where they can get magnified all out of proportion. Whenever I find myself in some desperate situation that looks hopeless, I ask myself if I'm dreaming. A good thumbrule is if you have to ask, you probably are, so the answer has always been yes. Once I know I'm dreaming, I simply change a couple of parameters and let the dream continue, without all the anxiety.

I've never practiced this, or tried to develop the skill, but it has been a very useful tool for relieving stress on the way to a good night's sleep.

There is another benefit though, one which really happened for the first time last night.

When I'm dreaming, a lot of times I act as a movie director. The Wachowski Brothers only wish they could make the movies I see. Everybody has dreams like that, but they usually lose focus part way through, during the transition from one REM period to another. When I'm in a lucid dream, during that transition time I put together the script for the next phase. On a good night, I can make a sequence last the night.

It isn't as conscious and controlling as I make it sound, more a matter of keeping the story moving along, keeping the focus where it needs to be, although on a couple of occasions that I can remember, I've had to do rewrites, since the story took a turn I didn't like.

Hey, it is MY dream after all!

Here's the bad part. Since I don't really practice remembering the dreams, when I wake up in the morning, I remember that I had a great dream, and maybe a fragment or two of the story, but the details slip away in the time it takes me to stumble from the bed to the bathroom.

Except for last night. I was in the middle of one of these stories, then realized I was dreaming, and started paying closer attention. While maintaining the air that anything is possible that is the hallmark of dreams, the framework was fairly consistant with reality. This time, when the segment ended, I decided to wake up, and wrote down the details of my dream. As I did, I realized that it would make a great framework for a novel in the vein of Voltaire's Candide or Dicken's A Christmas Carol. There's a great little bit with God, who looks and sounds like Mel Brooks, and a couple of cool twists in the story. It's not startlingly original; after all, there are only so many stories, and they've all been told a jillion times, but there's something about it that grabs me.

Now I have to write the darn thing.

Posted by Rich
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Saturday, May 17, 2003

Am I being too picky?

Or is there something wrong when the ice cream delivery guy is wearing a T-shirt from a strip bar?

Just one of the things I saw as I was making my rounds today.

Posted by Rich
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Funny Cide 2 for 2

Wouldn't it be funny if a gelding was the first winner of the Triple Crown in 25 years?

Posted by Rich
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