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  xFriday, May 16, 2003

out of town


Just a quick note; we'll be out of town for the weekend attending my nephew's christening. Posting will resume on Monday.

Thanks once again for the kind messages and thoughts over the past several days. They're much appreciated.




  x

blue moooon


Just a quick note: Last night my wife and I got a clear view of the lunar eclipse. We didn't take a picture, but CalPundit did; it's similar to what we saw. He's right in that, since the moon naturally waxes and wanes, even this rare event is somehow less impressive than it ought to be. Still, it's nice to see celestial mechanics in motion.

Now I just need to witness a meteor, and I'll be satisfied.




  x

much appreciated


Thanks to Jaquandor for the nod. You have my gratitude...and sorry about the weather.




  xThursday, May 15, 2003

anime/manga/doujinshi link of the day


In Wednesday's rant, MegaTokyo writer/artist Fred "Piro" Gallagher raises some interesting points about common themes in anime and manga. Piro has apparently taken some flack with fans about the plot thread currently unfolding, in which a robot girl (actually, Ping is a PS2 accessory designed to work with dating simulators...) faces a a trip to a public bath; some have emailed to complain that the gag seems lifted from the anime series Chobits, in which a young man is befriended by Chii, a personal computer in the form of a girl.
If i get another email bashing me around about how I am being unoriginal and stealing a storyline from Chobits with the current 'ping and her interest in finding data on how to use a public' bath story thread, i'm gonna scream. I don't like having to come out and tell people what i'm up to (because you are all smart boys and girls and its more fun to figure it out yourselves) but let me make a few quick points.

First off, I am making fun of the whole concept - 'public bath' scenes are as common in anime as the need for a 'cute girl' character. It has been done and overdone ad nauseam in both anime and manga. There are a lot of apartments in Tokyo that do not have bathing facilities (hasn't anyone here ever read Maison Ikkoku? Jeeze) and public baths are where people can go to clean up. In most anime and manga, bath scenes are used as a vehicle for fanservice. Even the most innocent anime will often use it to show the main girls in towels.

Secondly, there is a reason for all this setup. There are a lot of things that will feed off the current direction of the story and branch out as Chapter 4 rolls along. Yes, I hear there is a similar scene in Chobits (hence the emails). Chobits is great stuff, but lets face it, the fanservice level is huge. Ping and Chii, even though there are a some similarities on the surface, are VERY DIFFERENT. Just like the Love Hina comparison's i get all the time - Megatokyo is different, even if it walks some of the same paths other stories do here and there. It's not like most of these paths haven't been walked a zillion times already.

The roll that Ping plays in Megatokyo is far different that Chii's in Chobits. VERY different. Chii doesn't have the privacy setup that ping does. Ping doesn't suffer from having to learn everything because she came with no programing. Embarrassing situations in chobits lead to a lot of sexual humor and innuendo (more than usual even for CLAMP) Does anyone really think that this is gonna lead to some big fanservicy bath house scene? Would I even do that?

Fanservice has it's place. I'm more than willing to use it if it is appropriate. Who says they really will end up at a public bath? Maybe the smell will settle in Ping's hair by the end of the chapter and she'll be obsessed with the horrible smell in her hair and cut it all off, going for the cute-short haired girl look. Maybe she'll want a service check to get her hair replaced. Please don't bash me for what is happening next if it hasn't happened yet. You don't know what's gonna happen. Let me finish.

For the record, i developed Ping long before Chobits came along. Ping pre-dates chii. I swear, i need a FAQ so bad...

I've faced the problem before - people jumping to conclusions because it's 'obvious' where things are going. This happens because the comic is released one page at a time. Y'know, you can ponder away at things all you want, in fact, i encourage it. But please don't jump on my case about 'ripping off' things until you see where the story thread is going. Emulation of certain things in anime is exactly how you poke fun at things. It's just a comic, ok? it's part of the fun.

Piro is quite right; public baths are a familiar part of Japanese culture, as are robots. MegaTokyo is basically a doujinshi -- a manga, or comic, produced by an anime and manga fan -- that at times makes overt homages to anime series like Nadesico and Di Gi Charat. So it's hardly suprising that MegaTokyo goofs on those themes. Heck, even the wonderful Spirited Away deals with a bathhouse, albeit in an entirely different context. As Piro said, some members of the audience should wait to see where the strip is going before crying foul.




  x

fatally idiotic parent of the day


Oh, no...it looks like summer "leave your kid to die in a car" season has begun a little early here in Indianapolis. 13-month-old Hanna Johnson died of extreme dehydration after he mother -- apparently drunk -- left her in a car for more than seven hours while she slept it off in the house.
Police on Wednesday charged Amie R. Price, 27, Hanna Johnson's mother, with a Class B felony of neglect resulting in death. She could serve a maximum prison sentence of 20 years if convicted.
On the day of her arrest, police recorded Price's blood-alcohol level at 0.21 -- more than twice the state's threshold for drunken driving. And they found antidepressants and what they suspect to be marijuana seeds, cocaine and methamphetamine around the house.
Price has been released on a $25,000 bond, said Johnson County Sheriff Terry McLaughlin.
This case is emblematic of a rising number of substance abuse-related child fatalities in Indiana, according to Andrea Marshall, executive director of the nonprofit group Prevent Child Abuse Indiana.
"What happened to this little girl is tragic," she said. "And unfortunately, in Indiana, it's not isolated."
From 1999 to 2001, 159 children statewide died from abuse or neglect, according to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. Last year, 70 children -- enough to fill three kindergarten classes -- perished as the result of abuse or neglect involving their caregivers.

In other good news from today's paper, a six-year-old girl was killed when a family friend backed her pickup truck into the girl's bicycle, and a four-year-old boy drowned when he fell into a swimming pool while left unattended.

Events like these are tragedies, the more so because they're so preventable. I know, of course, how difficult it is to keep an eye on one's kids every minute -- frankly, it's impossible, and probably not even good for them. But we don't have a backyard pool, and just about anything that could hurt them is out of their reach. For Pete's sake, people, observe the minimums, willya?




  x

unemployment diary day 2


This morning I woke at the usual time, although it owed more to the girls getting up with the sun than my alarm clock. I helped my lovely wife get them breakfast, and then showered, shaved, and got into my most comfortable business casual duds. I'll start to get worried if I stop shaving every weekday (I didn't always shave on weekends, so that'll be OK), and really worried if I find myself not showering. But I don't expect that to happen.

Fortunately, our financial situation is fairly stable for the moment. Since I had some vacation to cash out, I will recieve close my regular pay for the rest of the month, and I learned yesterday that our insurance extends until the end of the calendar month, which is nice. I spent yesterday signing up for unemployment and making arrangements for temporary insurance; I'm almost certain we can't afford to COBRA (but then, who can?). I also have some freelance writing to take care of, and that'll help. (It may also keep me from bloggign as much as I want, too...I don't want to get too far behind, though.)

I also learned yesterday that the contracting company I used to work for, while they can't keep me on the payroll when I'm not on assignment, has some encouraging prospects that may materialize next month. I'm not exactly eager to go back to consulting -- after all, it has little security; this is the thrid time in two years a position has evaporated on me. But if I return to them within 30 days my benefits continue uninterrupted, and that's a powerful factor.

I'm going to spend the day getting together some freelance work and doing some long-overdue chores for Destroy All Monsters...Musashi has been great at picking up the slack over the last couple of days. Also, of course, I'll be scouring the Internet job boards. I'll keep y'all posted.




  xWednesday, May 14, 2003

some good news


A short while ago, I fixed the problem with my computer's hard drive, so we're back online again. pH3@r my L33t B0x0r 5k1LLz!!!

My (new!) CD-R has been acting up even before this, but I've managed to hastily back up our email, personal documents, Palk databases, etc., onto a CD-ROM, and I'm backing up my Web site right now (and when I'm thru, one of my projects is to purge a lot of the old stuff, so if you want to take a look, now's your chance).

I plan to return to a regular posting schedule tomorrow morning. See y'all then!




  x

situation report


I'm down at the Indiana unemployment office using one of their workstations. I officially added my name to the unemployment rolls, so I'll figure among the 400,000 or so new claims this week.

In the it-never-rains-but-it-pours department, the hard drive on our computer seems to have crashed last night. I haven't had an opportunity to examine it and try to fix the problem, but if it's really toast, Planet Swank will of coure be offline more than I thought in the next few days. At the worst, though, I'd expect to be up and running again by the beginning of next week.

Thanks to my friends who have left kind messages in the comment thread to the previous post. Your kind words and support really mean a lot. I'm confident that I'll find new employment soon -- the consulting firm I worked for mentioned some likely prospects opening in June -- and besides, the alternative is simply not acceptable.




  xTuesday, May 13, 2003

the situation


The situation I alluded to in my previous post is this: I learned this morning that my contractor position here has been eliminated, and since the contracting firm I work for no longer maintains a "bench," my employment ends sometime tomorrow. (I delayed posting here until I could reach my lovely wife to inform her.)

It's a strange circumstance. I arrived for work this morning and was informed that today would be my last day. I was also told that there was no particular issue with my performance; really, no reason was given. (This is good; it means I'll be adding myself to the unemployment statistics.) Faithful readers will recall that I had a scare several months ago, which was fortunately alleviated by my placement in this position. This time, however, it's unlikely -- albeit possible -- that yet another opening will materialize on short notice.

Fortunately, since the scare I've kept my eyes open and I have a couple of active job applications already. I am sure I'll land on my feet. In the short term, this development impacts some plans my wife and I had, but hopefully things will return to an even keel shortly. I'll keep y'all posted, of course.

And speaking of posting, please understand that I'm occupied with clerical matters right now. I expect to return to posting late tomorrow.




  x

please stand by


Due to a developing situation, posting at Planet Swank will likely be suspended through today, possibly extending to tomorrow afternoon. I'll be back with details later.




  xMonday, May 12, 2003

bush's 9/11 achilles heel


It seems that Bush is going farther than I thought to keep the story about what he knew, when he knew it, and what, if anything, he did to prevent the 9/11 attacks from becoming public: Not content with redacting the existing record, he's going to try the old standby of presidents with something ot hide, executive privilege.
President Bush’s chief lawyer has privately signaled that the White House may seek to invoke executive privilege over key documents relating to the attacks in order to keep them out of the hands of investigators for the National Commission on Terror Attacks Upon the United States—the independent panel created by Congress to probe all aspects of 9-11.

...Some commission members now fear a showdown over the issue—particularly over extremely sensitive National Security Council minutes and presidential briefing papers—could be coming in the next few weeks. “We do think it’s important to engage this issue relatively early—i.e., now,” says Philip Zelikow, the executive director for the commission, who is negotiating with administration lawyers to inspect documents and interview senior officials.

...Zelikow’s comments, and even stronger ones from some commission members, suggest that last week’s brief contretemps over access to transcripts of secret congressional testimony was only one small flare-up in a much broader and potentially high-stakes struggle that could ultimately wind up in federal court.

Just two weeks ago, one commission member, Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, had sought to read transcripts of three days of closed hearings that had been held last fall by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees—hearings that Roemer, as a member of the House panel, had actually participated in.

But when Roemer went down to a carefully guarded room on Capitol Hill to read the classified transcripts—he says to refresh his memory—he was stunned to learn that he couldn’t have access to them. The reason, relayed by a congressional staffer, was that Zelikow had acceded to a request by an administration official to permit lawyers to first review them to determine if the transcripts contained testimony about “privileged” material.

...[S]ome commission members say it might be politically difficult for the White House to sustain that position—especially given the panel’s broad legal mandate to unearth all pertinent facts relating to the events of 9-11. The invocation of executive privilege could fuel suspicions that the White House is stonewalling the panel in order to cover up politically embarrassing mistakes. “I think they have got to be worried about this,” says one panel member. “This is a bipartisan commission, and we’ve got the family members.”

Among the most sensitive documents the commission is known to be interested in reviewing are internal National Security Council minutes from the spring and summer of 2001 when the CIA and other intelligence agencies were warning that an attack by Al Qaeda could well be imminent. The panel is also expected to seek interviews with key principals—such as national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice and her chief deputy, Stephen J. Hadley—to question them both about advice they gave the president and about what actions they took to deal with the rising concerns of intelligence-community officials about the Qaeda threat.

Some conservatives may be perfectyl happy with Bush's evident failure to take any action at all -- however ineffective -- to safeguard the United States, but I believe that much of the American public would not be so sanguine, especially as Bush clambers over the bodies of 3,000 of their countrymen and -women to launch his re-election bid.

In 2000, Bush campaigned on integrity; in 2004, hitting him on integrity and competence should be a winning strategy.

(via Through the Looking Glass)




  x

scalia on the constitution


Justice Antonin Scalia hotly denied that the odious so-called PATRIOT Act denied Americans their Constitutional rights. You can't deny anyone rights they don't have, Scalia said.

Well, not exactly; what he said was this:
One audience member asked Scalia about his thoughts on the Patriot Act, an anti-terrorism measure passed after Sept. 11, 2001, that gave government officials broad new surveillance powers and limited the information available to the public about the government.

Scalia said the more irresponsible and violent a society becomes, the more citizens' freedoms will be restricted. He said that U.S. citizens tend to interpret the Constitution as giving them more power than the document provides.

"I will enforce the constitutional minimums," Scalia said. "But they are minimums. You've got to realize that."


The Constitution begs to differ:
Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.


And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why the Democrats are right to deny Bush the opportunity to appoint any more like Scalia to the Court.

(via TalkLeft)




  x

costikyan releases free satirical card game


Game designer Greg Costikyan has released his satirical "Dot-Boom" card game online rather than continue shopping it around to publishers. c00L; thanks, Greg!

While you're there, check out Costikyan's essay on how broadband might spark a resurgence in shareware games.

(via BoingBoing)




  x

astronomy link of the day


deep space photo

The amazing Hubble Space Telescope has captured the deepest visible-light photo ever taken of outer space.
The 3.5-day (84-hour) exposure captures stars as faint as 31st magnitude, according to Tom M. Brown (Space Telescope Science Institute), who headed the eight-person team that took the picture. This is a little more than 1 magnitude (2.5 times) fainter than the epochal Hubble Deep Fields, which were made with the Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. It is 6 billion times fainter than what can be seen with the naked eye.

c00L!

(via BoingBoing)




  x

breakfast cereal link of the day


wacky breakfast cereal box

RetroCrush looks at the world's craziest cereal boxes!

(via FARK)




  x

economy watch


Bloomberg: Jobless Claims Exceed 400,000 for 12th Week

Remember, this is with the so-called "stimulus effect" of Bush's last round of tax cuts.

Economist Brad DeLong is always an excellent source on the potential economic harm of Bush's policies. SixDifferentWays points to a cogent New Yorker summary that dares to state the obvious: "If tax cuts automatically created jobs, businesses would be scouring the streets for workers right now, and nobody’s twenty-five-year-old children would still have to live at home."

Meanwhile, Tacitus is incredulous that the WaPo has only just figured out that it's all just about getting Bush re-elected.




  x

bush's tax cuts


The wonderfully named (and just permalinked) Gorilla-a-Go-Go posted a great chart from a Congressional study showing how vastly disproportionately the benefits of Bush's tax cuts go to to the very wealthy (of course). The wealthiest 1% of Americans would receive an average of $11,483, whereas the bottom 80% would average $29.50.

While the 81-99 percentile is conspicuously missing, this chart perfectly illustrates the mendacity of Bush's claim that taxpayers would receive an "average" cut of around a thousand bucks. I have to wonder again about principled conservatives -- doesn't it ever bother them that Bush feels he has to lie to the American public to sell policies they believe in so strongly?

bush's tax cut
(graphic swiped from CalPundit)

Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias points out that the "top 1%" figure doesn't have the resonance it should have; he suggests -- quite rightly -- that it needs to be a number. That number, it turns out, is US$374,000 per year.

Yglesias' observation is spot-on: While many of the American public may mistakenly believe that they're already in the top 1%, or will be there someday, they can certainly count. I wonder how much support these tax cuts -- not to mention the next round -- would receive from a public that realizes it won't get diddly from them, but given Bush's rhetoric -- and the fact that Bush is selling the cuts to people with no hope of benefiting from them -- I think Karl Rove knows the answer to that question, and he doesn't like it.

I wonder if Bush wants his tax cuts badly enough to accept some tax increases along with them -- and if so, how he plans to explain it.

P.L.A. has lots more on Bush's "faith based" tax cuts.




  x

bush awol story debunked? don't bet on it


There's been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere over a pair of blog posts (recently linked by InstaPundit) claiming that the "Bush AWOL" story is bunk. The author cites a Boston Globe article raising questions about Bush's National Guard service record but goes on to say that "later reporting proved Bush wasn't AWOL."

That's a bold statement, of course, so I checked it out. And Hobbs' theory -- which he explors over a series of posts -- basically boils down to the notion that the lack of proof that Bush reported for even a single day of duty at the Alabama National Guard post to which he had requested transfer is because the records must have been lost. It's just a matter of spin, he says; there's no proof he didn't show up.

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In short, Bush's word is all the proof Hobbs seems to need. (In that, of course, Hobbs joins legions of conservative bloggers.) Hobbs also dismisses out of hand the notion of any influence Bush Senior might have played. To his credit, Hobbs also points to this post that sums up the arguments on both sides.

Fortunately, Orcinus and Uggabugga are also on the case, pointing out that not only are do several questions about Bush's service remain open, but that much of what we know (failure to show up at a post) would be considered scandalous if applied to earlier presidents.
Bush blew off his commitment to the Texas Air National Guard by failing to take a physical, and thereafter failing to report to his superior officers at his old unit for at least seven months. His flight status was revoked, and he never flew again -- at least, not until the Lincoln stunt.

These facts have never been disputed since they were uncovered, and in fact were acknowledged by Bush's spokespeople.


Of course, throughout all this....well, I'd call it a flap if the So-Called "Liberal Media" was paying any attention...the fact has remained that Bush could clear up any doubts by releasing his service record. So far, he hasn't. Until that time, I'd say that yes, legitimate questions still remain about the nature of Bush's military service record, despite the conservative blogoshphere's obvious wishes that they'd just go away.




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army abandons iraqi wmd hunt


CalPundit pointed to this shocking item in Saturday's Washington Post: The Army has basically given up on its hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, having come up with bupkus since the commencement of hostilities.
The group directing all known U.S. search efforts for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is winding down operations without finding proof that President Saddam Hussein kept clandestine stocks of outlawed arms, according to participants.

The 75th Exploitation Task Force, as the group is formally known, has been described from the start as the principal component of the U.S. plan to discover and display forbidden Iraqi weapons. The group's departure, expected next month, marks a milestone in frustration for a major declared objective of the war.

Leaders of Task Force 75's diverse staff -- biologists, chemists, arms treaty enforcers, nuclear operators, computer and document experts, and special forces troops -- arrived with high hopes of early success. They said they expected to find what Secretary of State Colin L. Powell described at the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5 -- hundreds of tons of biological and chemical agents, missiles and rockets to deliver the agents, and evidence of an ongoing program to build a nuclear bomb.

Scores of fruitless missions broke that confidence, many task force members said in interviews.


Even more disturbing is the fact that several Iraqi nuclear storage sites have turned up looted. If the rationale for this war was to prevent terrorsts from getting their hands on deadly weapons -- say, the components for a radioactive "dirty bomb" -- Bush's incompetence has resulted in a complete failure that puts the US at greater risk.

It's abundantly clear that Bush could not possibly have had the proof he insisted he did about Iraq's WMD capability. Which leaves the all-important question many, myself included, have been asking all along: Is a President justified in taking the nation to war under false pretenses? Sadly, many of the hawks seem to believe he is. As the hawks exult in the "democracy" we're imposing on Iraq, they little perceive -- or care -- how they're undermining democracy here at home by affirming the President's ability to make war on a belief -- or a hunch -- or a whim. Disgusting.

Update: South Knox Bubba reminds us of the many times Bush lied asserted that yes, Iraq had WMDs.




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kiesling speaks


Body and Soul posts the test of a recent speech by John Brady Kiesling, the first (but not the last) US diplomat to resign in protest of the Bush Administration's foreign policy. Here are some great excepts...
The goal of American foreign policy, and of the President, is to safeguard the security, prosperity, and democratic institutions of the American people. Is that more or less difficult to achieve when our traditional friends and allies fear us and think our values and theirs have become estranged? The Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz answer is that it makes no difference. Let them hate us so long as they fear us, as Caligula said. We are militarily untouchable. We will assert our interests as we choose.

The President and his advisors have bolstered this unilateral approach with a rhetoric -- and apparently a world view -- of the American government as the arbiter of good and evil in the world. Our "moral clarity" dictates, for example, that Saddam Hussein was part of an "Axis of Evil" while Ariel Sharon is a "Man of Peace," The logic of good and evil is politically impeccable. It has helped mobilize for the President the populist energy and anger unleashed by 9/11. It has silenced meaningful political debate, helping his party win the mid-term elections, making political pressure for tax cuts and big military spending increases unstoppable. Successfully maintained, it will win the President a second term.

...Even on the most primitive level, it is bad for U.S. interests abroad when an American president adopts a rhetoric of transcendental morality combined with a policy viewed by 90 percent of the human race as brutal, cynical and selfish. Were we to present a view of the world based on rational interests, our world interlocutors would have more hope of finding ground for shared interests. Were we to have a policy whose moral basis was somehow humane, we could hope for cooperation at least from those countries with similar values.


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Ladies and Gentlemen, when I resigned from the State Department I was convinced that America had forsaken a perhaps short-sighted, sometimes lazy but fundamentally decent internationalist foreign policy for a unilateralist one that was manifestly short-sighted, selfish and - dare I say it? -- evil. I had personal experience of enough successful examples of multilateralism to believe America's political and economic security depends on reinforcing, not weakening a multilateral framework of international law. There was no compelling reason for a change. But it is painfully clear that a weak and uninformed president, unglued by the September 11 tragedy and misled by his own rigid and fundamentally unchristian religiosity, has allowed a coalition of ideologues to make irrelevant the traditional diplomatic instruments of U.S. power projection. The war in Iraq, founded on lies and half-truths, was simply a step toward a more complete power grab by one ideological faction, garnished of course with massive and unjustified new resource shifts at the expense of a staggering US and world economy.

...but it's all good; read the whole thing.

Many hawks like to pretend that the bellicose Bushie rhetroic in the leadup and aftermath of the Iraq war has no consequences -- after all, it feels so good! -- but I believe it does, and that these consquences will hinder the perpetual ongoing war on terrorism. Former career diplomat Kieslin obviously agrees, illustrating the obvious contrasts between short-term Administration goals and long-term natinal security.




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web comic of the day


While attending the screening of Cowboy Bebop Friday night, my lovely wife and I saw a commercial for Powerade that riffs on the upcoming Matrix sequel. Today's installment of Penny Arcade has "Questions and Concerns" this commercial.

We also saw a preview for the US release of Shaolin Soccer; it looks like Miramax hasn't stepped on it too much for Stateside consumption (although as I commented over at Destroy All Monsters, it seems they too submit to the temptation of relying heavily on footage from the film's climax for the trailer...). At least they didn't rename it "Kung Fu Soccer," as they reportedly planned to do.

I know I haven't commented on the film itself yet; I hope and expect to do so presently.

Update: Musashi has just posted a review of a fansubbed copy of the flick I sent him over at Destroy All Monsters.





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