Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Jamie Lynn Spears: Poster Child for "Abstinence Only" Education

Remember a few years ago when famous teen pop star Britney Spears made a big deal that she was going to be a virgin until she got married?

Well, apparently she didn't, but at least she managed to delay a first pregnancy until she was married.

Her younger sister wasn't quite that "smart." I know, I know, putting the phrase "Britney Spears" and "smart" in the same essay seems a tad incongruous. But why are many teens so stupid when it comes to sex?

Currently, the stupidity is caused by a combination of strong hormones and the gutting of sex education programs at the federal level.

Granted, teens have been stupid about sex for a long time. Teen pregnancy isn't anything new. It was a little more common when I was a teenager. But, at least in the '70s, many school systems had at least something approaching sex education. And, between more factual sex education, more girls asserting their right to not have sex before they were ready, and more availability of contraception, teen pregnancy rates gradually started to decline.

However, during the reign of the Bushies, reality-based sex education been systematically removed in favor of the fantasy of abstinence-only education.

It doesn't work. The teen pregnancy rate is starting to increase again, partially due to the federal government's refusal to approach teen sexuality in anything approaching a realistic manner. The teen girls who are having sex without proper education or protection are only living out the fantasy of "waiting until marriage" that the federal government and many religious organizations like to push.

Don't get me wrong - I don't think most teens should have sex. Having a good sex life as an adult is very important. I can only imagine how many teen girl's feelings about her sexuality have been mangled by a teen boy's feelings about his. While I don't advocate waiting until marriage to have sex, I do advocate waiting until you have a potential lover with whom you can discuss sex and birth control before you engage in having sex. If you aren't adult enough to have the birth control talk, you aren't adult enough to have sex either.

Claiming that sex education leads to irresponsible sex is like claiming that driver education leads to car accidents.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Call for a Presidential Debate on Science and Technology

(taken, verbatim, from

Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Health and Medicine, and Science and Technology Policy.


Given that at least one Democratic presidential candidate, Hilary Clinton, has already made a strong statement that her administration would promote scientific inquiry and innovation, I hope the Democrats would agree to such a debate. Most of the Republican candidates are violently anti-science, particularly Huckabee and Romney. It would be something of a joke for the Republicans to engage in such a discussion.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

First Anniversary of Bocktown Beer and Grill

Bocktown from the outside

Jim and I have been regulars out at Bocktown Beer and Grill in North Fayette since we realized there was a non-smoking beer bar in Allegheny county. Owner Chris Dilla threw a first anniversary party for the bar on November 29.

Chris Dilla with her Husband John

Chris Dilla with her husband John at the Bocktown first anniversary party.

Bocktown from the inside

Bocktown from the inside.

The band

The band makes music.

BarSmart Poster

BarSmart Poster for the Beer Poll.

The bouncer

The "bouncer."

Christmas beer selection

Christmas beer selection.

Jim shows off his winnings

Jim won a T-shirt from Stone Brewing! The T-shirt is completely appropriate.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Dick Cheney Has An Irregular Heart

This is news?

And Trent Lott is leaving early. Now, when most Senators leave the Senate early, it's either due to ill health or a scandal. Why is Lott leaving early? To become a high-paid lobbyist. The Senate changed to rules on lobbying this year to add a requirement that a member of Congress had to wait two years after leaving office to become a lobbyist. But the law does not go into effect until January.

Great, just great. This seems to be the meaning of public servant - make as much money as you possibly can.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Decline and Fall of...Sesame Street??

I forget now who pointed me to this New York Times article, but if you ever watched Sesame Street in the '60s, '70s or '80s, it sounds like the show is going downhill rapidly.

I wrote the following letter to the article's author and to the current executive producer of Sesame Street:

To: Virginia Heffernan, New York Times
CC: Carol-Lynn Parente, Childrens Television Workshop

What?? TV from 1969 isn't suitable for today's children? Have people who create programming for children lost their minds?'s happened before.

I was born in 1957, and remember vividly some of the early Warner Brothers cartoons, some with negative racial stereotypes, on frequent rotation on TV by the early '60s. I remember Captain Kangaroo reading "Little Black Sambo." I remember "The Little Rascals" with Buckwheat. These experiences, along with having been raised in a lily-white suburb, should have made me a racist.

But they didn't.

If anything, seeing racism on TV news (lynchings, the white police in the South turning water hoses on black protesters, hearing that black girls around my own age were murdered in a church bombing) made me understand, early on, how wrong racism was. Seeing racial stereotypes treated as "normal" on children's TV made me understand, early on, that these attitudes were ridiculous.

During the '60s, I loved Warner Brothers cartoons because they were always sharper than the other cartoons on TV, even if they sometimes used stereotypes. Early Warner Brothers cartoons were in no way politically correct. But most of them are still funny today, even to adults.

I have a younger brother, who was five the year Sesame Street started. Even though I was twelve, I enjoyed the early Sesame Street episodes. They were wonderfully anarchic. Did we think the fact that the baker carrying the baked goods and falling down the stairs while he was counting objects mean that we should fall downstairs carrying a tray of cakes? Did we think we should all live in trash cans and be grouchy to everyone around? Did we think we should only ever eat cookies? Of course not! I understood that. Even my five year old brother understood that.

The current Sesame Street doesn't sound like it's fun to watch. It sounds way too bland. Older Sesame Street shows had an engaging blend of innocent and more sophisticated characters. That was a little more interesting to the viewers, particularly to the adults who might be watching with their children. Changing with the times is one thing. Many kids shows have had an increase in female and minority characters over the last 20 years, and that's great. But bowdlerizing kids TV to dull any sharpness or originality is a very sad state of affairs.

Laurie D. T. Mann
Pittsburgh, PA

Thursday, November 15, 2007

My Cousin, The Conservative Pundit

A few weeks ago, my mother mentioned that my cousin Debbie's son Justin was a published writer. I haven't seen Debbie in years and I've never met either of her kids. But Debbie and I are the same age and spent a number of Thanksgivings together at our grandparents' house in Vermont. So while we aren't connected in the present, we've had connections in the past.

Anyway, I glanced through the URL Mom told me about, and realized Justin was a self-published writer. Not that there's anything wrong with that; most of us who write for the Web are self-published.

He's also extremely conservative. While his iUnverse bio claims:

Justin Haskins, a political science student at the University of Kansas, is an award winning poet and an up and coming political commentator. Currently the author of two books, his unique opinions and passionate commentating force readers to think outside the box and into the realm of debate. Using strenuous researching tactics and uncommonly known facts, Haskins is quickly becoming a much needed voice for a new generation of voters.

I, frankly, didn't see anything in his essays beyond the Clinton-bashing we've been seeing for over 15 years. I tried giving November in New England a read, but it was mostly too extreme.

I don't know if Justin and I will ever meet. While he was raised in New Hampshire, he's currently in college in Kansas. I know that, aside from my Mom's cousin Alice and my sister-in-law Rachel, I'm the family liberal. Justin is from my Dad's side of the family. My Dad has always been pretty quiet about his political leanings, though he probably generally votes Republican. My Mom has always been much more forthcoming about her distaste for Democrats. But, it is at least a little funny that Justin and I are at all related.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Why Do My Favorite Sites Hate Nearsighted People?

There have always been Web sites that have been triumphs of form over function. The look of the site mattered more than the content.

My favorite sites have always been the ones where the content is the most important thing. I read IMDB, Yahoo and CNN regularly.

Unfortunately, the recent redesigns of IMDB and Yahoo are both hostile to nearsighted people. The basic type is way too small. Some Web sites let the user set preferences for type size and colors, but not IMDB or Yahoo. The user has no control over the display of the page. The only thing the user can do is up the size from the browser View option, but then you have to reset it whenever you leave the site where the text is too small.

I'd sent comments complaining about these problems to both sites when they were in beta. And I can't believe that I was the only one. However, the main font size is still too small.

It's frustrating that companies don't give a damn about Web site readability.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Meeting Up with Other Bloggers

I've missed the last few Pittsburgh Blogfests, but I was at the next one, which was Thursday, November 8 at Finnegans Wake on the North side. It's fun to meet up with the people you read online.

I mostly hung out with my friends Christina and Vanessa. WTAE was there too, and I'm in the background of some of the early shots. Blogfest diva Cindy Closkey was the primary interview.

Sadly, Christina and Vanessa were a bit on the camera-shy side so they left when the video camera started rolling. I talked to Rob from Unspace and Dayvoe from 2 Political Junkies. We were joined by Jennifer Angelo (GermCircus). Cindy Closkey (My Brilliant Mistakes) brought a cake, as we were celebrating the third anniversary of blogfest. I had to leave before they cut the cake, as I had plans to go to CMU to see Golden Boy.

Friday, November 02, 2007

NPR Gives Free Airtime to Bushie Yes Man

I sent the following letter to NPR this morning, regarding its "non-interview" with a former Bush administration employee:

NPR is sometimes chastised as being a mouthpiece of the left, for its slightly fair and occasionally balanced coverage of the shenanigans in Washington. But NPR reporters are sometimes incapable of asking hard questions of members of the Bush administration.

Take Michael Battle, interviewed on Morning Edition on November 2, 2007. He was the director of the Justice Department's Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, but he is now in private practice. Battle was the one whom Alberto Gonzales told to fire the US Attorneys last year. Battle made it very clear that it wasn't his idea to fire the US Attorneys. Battle did not want to do it as he considered many of the attorneys his friends. But he did it anyway.

The second he realized he was being told to fire people over their politics, he should have quit. But, as his the case with most politicos these days, Battle simply did what he was told without further question. Another willing "executioner."

America was not founded by "yes men," it was founded by people trying to create a better government with checks and balances. Too many people in the government think loyalty to the party in power is more important than loyalty to the Constitution or to the public. It's an appalling thing to see happening in America, especially since the Bushies came to power.

So what I fail to understand is why didn't the NPR reporter have the courage to ask this former government employee, "When you realized you were being asked to do something that was illegal (or at least very unethical), why didn't you quit or take the story public?" It's important for the media to shine a light on yes men, and not just gloss them over.

Reporters are supposed to try to get at the truth of a story. It was disappointing that NPR failed to delve any deeper on this story.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bach Choir of Pittsburgh Concerts, 10/27/07 & 10/30/07

I've recently rejoined the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh. We're putting on our fall concerts next week. The music is wonderful. If you like classical vocal music (or want to exposure your kids to one of the great local choirs), I hope you'll consider buying tickets and attending. Here's a complete description of the concerts:

Voices on the Wind
Featuring the Carnegie Mellon Wind Ensemble
Saturday, October 27 at 8:00 p.m., Trinity Cathedral, Downtown
Tuesday, October 30 at 7:00 p.m., Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland

The 24-player CMU Wind Ensemble joins the Bach Choir in a program featuring glorious pieces for wind instruments – including the ultimate wind instrument – the human voice. Come soar with us on the wings of song.

Ave Maria
The Franz Biebl Ave Maria, a beautiful a capella setting of the standard text, is like Bruckner with its thick and expansive harmonies. It has become a gem of the standard choral literature, brought into prominence by Chanticleer.

Meaning "horse" in Latin, this piece was composed from discarded themes and ideas covering four years of the composer Eric Whitacre's life. This rhythmic and exciting piece is a great example of program music, featuring the women of the Bach Choir.

Vincent Persichetti's meaningful setting of the incredible poetry of Walt Whitman features pieces primarily from Whitman's "Leaves of Grass." These settings are thoughtful, spirited and dazzling in their use of colorful orchestration and choral voicing.

Rainland explores the inner landscape of a young woman experiencing deep hurt for the first time. The music is both haunting and mysterious, featuring soloists from the Bach Choir. Rainland is the "place where tears come from" and is the U.S. premiere of the UK composer, Joseph Phibbs.

Tickets are available through ProArts 412-394-3353 or

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

WDUQ (public radio in Pittsburgh) Has Lost My Money, too

WDUQ has shown that it has more loyalty to Duquesne University (which does provide its office space) than to the listening public. WDUQ has been ordered by Duquesne University (a Catholic university) to return a donation from Planned Parenthood.

Well, I figure if WDUQ has to return a donation from Planned Parenthood, it doesn't need my money either. After all, I'm a feminist, I believe in free access to birth control and that abortion in the first three months is purely a medical issue and no one's business.

If Duquesne can dictate to WDUQ which donations to take and reject, what's next? Editing the news? No more stories about priestly pedophiles and the huge amounts of money the Catholic Church has had to pay in damages?

I think it's time for WDUQ to find a truly independent home. Duquesne is not an appropriate venue for public, independent radio.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Great News for Al Gore and Doris Lessing!

I'm very happy that Al Gore co-won the Nobel Peace Prize (with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and that Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Al Gore has had quite a year.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Comprehending that Very Different People May Have the Same Name

I'd like to think people who are online are reasonably able to read and think things through. This isn't always the case.

No, I'm not just commenting on Bush-supporters here.

I have a friend with a slightly unusual name. She got harassing messages in her LiveJournal because she shares the same name as a woman in another state who was involved with a murder.

So the lesson is that harassing people on the Internet is stupid. But it's beyond stupid to not realize that multiple people online could have the same name.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thomas L. Friedman's Useful Reminder: 9/11 Is Over

He had an excellent, succinct editorial on the subject in today's New York Times.

I wrote a letter to the editors. If they don't use it, I'll post it here in about a week.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Randy Pausch, a Hero to Remember

I've never met Randy Pausch, but as I'm both a geek and a movie fan, our paths have almost crossed. Dr. Pausch helped to start Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center. I've done some volunteer work on Carl Kurlander's Pittsburgh documentary project at the ETC.

However, based on yesterday's Post-Gazette article, I'm a huge fan of Randy Pausch, for tackling a difficult, personal subject with intelligence and humor.

Dr. Pausch is taking very early retirement from CMU as he's had a cancer relapse and may only have about six months left to live. As he's only 46 and has three young children, he's chosen to spend the time he has left settling his children in a new environment. His family has just moved to be near his wife's family in Virginia.

He took the time to talk to his colleagues and his students about what was important in his life and about
what he wanted to do and what he accomplished. He's had a very interesting life, and he did accomplish much of what he wanted. I also love the fact that Carnegie Mellon has named the footbridge between the Gates Computer Sciences Building and the Purnell Center for the Arts in his honor. I can't imagine a more fitting honor for such a multi-faceted man.

So I hope Dr. Pausch surprises his doctors and lives longer than the three to six months he may have left. All I could think as I read his story was the old cliche, "Only the good die young." But it doesn't feel like such a cliche in his case.

[[Thanks to NetMouse for mentioning the availability of a video Randy's talk at the Entertainment Technology Center.]]

I've since watched the whole video of Randy's "Last Lecture." It was magnificent. Mostly extremely funny, uplifting and very practical. The last line of his speech was extremely moving. If you have any interest in mentoring students, academia, being mentored or the development of virtual reality, it's worth the 1 hour and 44 minutes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dear Potential Employer...

Are you looking for temporary, part-time or contract Web, writing, Microsoft Office or event help?

Consider this an "uncover letter."

If you're looking for a drone or a yes person, and your only requirement is that they are available 40 hours a week (or more), please don't bother looking at my resume. I'm not the person you're looking for.

But, if you need a contract, occasional or part-time employee who is

* enthusiastic
* friendly
* computer-literate
* flexible

please read my formal resume. Even better, if you give "extra points" for creativity, humor and honesty, you might want to talk to me directly. I have a great computer, loads of software and excellent connectivity from my home, so you don't even need an office for me. I live near Pittsburgh International Airport, and am looking for a job west of downtown. I'd even consider downtown Pittsburgh if I don't have to come in every day.

I'll be blunt--I'm a middle-aged woman with severe insomnia, which means I burn out quickly in a full time job, particularly one that demands 40 hours (or more) a week. But I'm terrific 20-30 hours a week. I can:

* code Web sites
* write anything
* help with customers
* do research
* manage your databases
* help give your Web sites a higher Google ranking
* help with your spreadsheets
* negotiate with hotels or convention centers
* manage your events

I'm even cheerful first thing in the morning. And I make a great chocolate chip cookie.

So if you're looking for reliable, contract or part-time help, or event management, drop me some E-mail and let's talk.


Laurie D. Mann

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Continuing Abuse of 9/11...From All Sides

The neo-cons keep using 9/11 as an excuse to be in Iraq.

Al-Queda (the version run by bin Laden) uses 9/11 as an excuse to try to convert the West to Islam.

Various factions in Iraq don't use 9/11 per se, but use the ensuing American-led power vacuum as an excuse to kill off "infidels" in the other factions.

There's currently a commercial by some neo-con support group in which a wounded American soldier blames 9/11 and terrorism on Iraq. It's such a lie that I want to throw something at the TV whenever I hear it. Yes, more Americans have now been killed in Iraq than by bin Laden's Al-Queda (though, a related group, Al-Queda in Iraq, have certainly killed many Iraqis, Americans and other folks in Iraq over the last four years). Yes, Hussein was a dictator, but we don't go out and topple all dictators. There are dictators in Saudi Arabia and other places who stay in power with American help.

It's disgusting what the neo-con-led American government continues to do.

9/11 is a sad day for America. But, frankly, our government's secondary response, to overthrow a generally uninvolved country, was a horrible thing to do. The American people, generally, have recovered from 9/11. But the Iraqi people may not.

Friday, August 31, 2007

An Actual (and Fitting) Quote By an Appropriately-Named Iowa Anti-Marriage Bigot

"Republican House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, said the ruling illustrates the need for a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage."

An appropriate surname for a bigot.

I wonder if he's been coming on to men in public restrooms the way that soon-to-be-ex Senator Craig did? After all, Craig also opposed homosexuality, at least, for committed couples who wished to marry. Homosexual sex in a public bathroom with a total stranger, that's fine. But, heaven forbid, not part of an actual legal relationship!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Forbes Magazine Reports U. S. Corruption in Iraq

This article was in Forbes magazine recently. No, not Mother Jones or some left-wing periodical. Forbes magazine, a magazine about as absolutely mainstream Republican as you can possibly get.

The key point of this article is that our military (not someone else's army or some group of insurgents) is detaining American citizens who work in Iraq and report fraud. In short, they've been treating some whistle-blowers like terrorists.

Our government has done many disgusting, obscene things over the last few years, but, please tell me, if there are any Bush-supporters left out there, how in the world can you support a government that treats people in this manner? It's bad enough to torture possible terrorists. But there's something so much worse about torturing people who are doing nothing but their jobs.

I wish I could be surprised by this, but I'm not, given the depths to which our federal government has sunk.

Monday, August 27, 2007

New York Times Reports Gonzales Has Resigned!!!

It's probably not time to break out the champagne, but it's good to see that another Republican liar has left the most corrupt administration I've ever seen (yes, W is worse than Nixon).

Some good news at last, however, it's tempered by the fact that many of us thought Bush couldn't find anyone worse for Attorney General than the small-minded Ashcroft. And yet, Rove...err, Bush managed to do just that with Gonzales.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ron Paul's "Libertarian Paradise?"

Jim and I were in Texas last week, and spent last Wednesday night in Galveston. We'd never been to the Texas coast before, and Galveston always sounded like an interesting place to go.

It wasn't quite as interesting as I'd hoped. The downtown is OK, but, unlike many coastal areas, it's extremely hot. Not much in the way of sea breezes at all, unless you're actually on the water. We took a harbor cruise, which was interesting as Galveston is a main shipping harbor. We also saw quite a few dolphins.
We had a good dinner at Fish Tales (I had four kinds of shrimp!) and drove around the island.

So how does presidential candidate Ron Paul relate to Galveston?

Well, it's part of his Congressional district. For a place that has both industry and tourism, the infrastructure is in need of repair.

For example, we decided to take a walk from our B&B that was on a residential street down to the beach at about 9pm (just after sunset). The street had almost no street lights. We should have brought a flashlight with us. Worse, the sidewalks were in poor repair, so we had to walk very slowly and carefully (me a bit more than usual as I'd recently had surgery and didn't want to risk a fall).

But what does that say about crime? Decent street lights are usually a helpful crime deterrent. Luckily, other than running into at least one old guy who was drunk, stoned and/or homeless, we got to the beach area safely.

While I'm not a huge fan of Florida for many reasons, almost every beach area in Florida has benches, where you can sit and watch the ocean. No such luck at the public beach in Galveston. Now, maybe if we wanted to drive down to the pay beach, there might have been benches. Or, if it had been daylight, we could have rented a beach chair and umbrella.

We walked out on a somewhat lighted fish pier. If we'd wanted to fish, it would have cost us money. That's something else I don't remember seeing in Florida. They might charge you money for bait, but charge you to just stand on the pier and fish?

Driving to Galveston from Austin, we'd hit a mess of highways under construction in the Houston area. We decided to avoid that by taking the toll beltway back to Austin. The beltway cost about an extra $4.50, but it was worth it to avoid the construction. It turned out to be a better choice than we expected as a bad accident closed part of 45 in Houston that day!

And speaking of road construction - Texas has bizarre customs regarding how road construction areas are signed. In some states, like, say Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, construction areas are clearly marked and the reduced speed limit is also clearly marked. In Texas, there are signs saying "Construction area, reduce speed" with no info on what the construction speed limit is or how long the construction zone is. These areas can go on for 10 or 20 miles. When you finally do see workers in the road, the traffic is speeding by at 65 or 70 miles an hour. So if you want to do road work in Texas, better be extra careful because the state isn't going to do much to protect you from the nutty drivers.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Armadillocon, Here We Come!

We're going to Texas for about a week in August (remember, we're the same people who go to Massachusetts in December and February). We're going to do some touristing, go to Galveston (if there's no hurricane in the area), and go to Armadillocon. Rene was looking for help, so I'm going to help out with Registration. I was also asked to be on Program, so here's my schedule:

Sa1000PN The Interactive, Sci-Fi Channel Line-Up
Sat 10:00 AM-11:00 AM Phoenix North
LMann*, Caine, Swendson, Miller, JMann, Kosatka
Join this fun panel while our panelists take a marker
and a whiteboard and create the perfect weekly line-up
for the Sci-Fi Channel. Audience participation is

Sa1100PN Patty Wells, We Hardly Know Ye
Sat 11:00 AM-Noon Phoenix North
LMann*, PWells, Bobo, Boucher, JMann, Levine
Fan guest of honor Patty Wells sits on the hot seat as
her fellow fans hit her with the most bizarre
questions they can think of.

Sa2100Dz Women in the SF field
Sat 9:00 PM-10:00 PM de Zavala
PWells*, November, LMann, Mills, Oliver, Davis,
When did feminist become such a bad word in the SF
field? Who are some of the up-and-coming female
authors out there that you have to read?

Sa2200PN Will the best Doctor Who please stand up?
Sat 10:00 PM-11:00 PM Phoenix North
Bey*, JMann, LMann, Osborne, Roberson, Sullivan
Which one was the smartest? Best looking? Most
useless? Worst of all time? Audience participation is
welcome in this light-hearted look at the beloved
British show.

Su1500De Authors and the fans who love them: maybe a
little too much
Sun 3:00 PM-4:00 PM DeWitt
Babcock*, Shinn, LMann, Hogan, Chester, Spencer
Ever wonder why your favorite author looks a little
scared when they see you? The panelists will talk
about the tale-tell signs of a stalker and tell
amusing stories about what has happened to them in the
past. (For instance, did they call you at home during
a baseball game?)

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I Have Returned...

I haven't been posting all that much lately because I haven't felt very well and I've been waiting to have surgery. Due to some various insurance and doctor busy-ness issues, the surgery kept getting pushed off (it was pretty much elective - ovarian cysts).

Anyway, I finally had the surgery on Friday. When I had ovarian cysts previously in 1978, I was in the hospital for at least five nights. This time, I was only in for two nights. However, unlike during my last surgery, I had this surgery at a small, almost empty hospital. I was the only patient on the gynecology ward on Saturday! And while the surgery and post-opt went pretty smoothly, I wound up with a really awful migraine today because the air in the hospital was so dry.

But, I'm home, the migraine is finally over, and I have to spend the next few days resting. I will be at Confluence this weekend, and it looks like I'll be at Armadillocon as planned next month.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Blogswarm for Impeachment

I'm too tired to write more reasons why Bush should be impeached, but I've collected some of the lies of the Bush administration at The Facts Do Matter.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Government Report: Al Qaeda Strongest Since September 11, 2001

The gory details.

We should all wonder what the headline could have been if we had a competent government who focused on fighting terrorism rather than going out after Saddam Hussein. Maybe Afghanistan would be reasonably more stable. Maybe we wouldn't have spent over four years inciting anti-American/anti-Western sentiment around the world, but especially in the Middle East.

I'm not sure this is mere fear-mongering by our fear-mongering government. I think they might be right (for a change).

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sicko is Socko!

I have mixed feelings about Michael Moore, but I've really enjoyed his last few documentaries especially Sicko.

I've been lucky - I really don't have health insurance horror stories. I have been jerked around a little by insurers, and I've had some prescribed drugs denied. But I've always gotten the care I've needed. However, I've heard so many other health horror stories from so many other people that I know Michael Moore is right. It was such a relief to NOT see your health insurance mentioned in Sicko!

I had a very brief interaction with National Health Insurance when in Scotland in 2005. I developed laryngitis and that set off my asthma. As my asthma is usually not a problem, I hadn't thought to bring an inhaler with me and I really needed one. So I went to a nearby hospital under my own speed on a late Saturday afternoon. It took less than an hour to see a doctor. He checked my throat, my lungs and wrote me two prescriptions. It almost took longer to get the prescriptions filled than to see the doctor. The medicine cost somewhere around $10 or $15 total and the doctor didn't cost me anything. Even though I was just a tourist, and even though I certainly could have afforded to pay something.

The most horrifying thing in Sicko (beyond watching an uninsured man sew up his own leg after injuring it) was watching sick, homeless people dumped in Skid Row in Los Angeles near what seemed to be some sort of homeless shelter. It's appalling that we treat sick people like that in the "richest" country in the world. We must be pretty poor in spirit to treat our own people so poorly.

I thought Moore's taking of the 9/11 rescue workers who were getting inadequate health care in America to Cuba was one of the most brilliant pieces of propaganda I've ever seen. In this case, the propaganda was quite accurate - we're so used to seeing false propaganda (particularly from the Bush administration) that we sometimes fail to recognize it when it's true.

While Moore kept pounding away at "free health care," he only briefly mentioned that taxes pay for "free health care" in other countries. Health care is in no way free. However, I suspect if he'd shown a few pie charts that combine the taxes + health care costs for a typical family in America, and compare that against the tax costs for a typical family in England, France, Canada, you'd find those combined costs to be lower for the folks with universal health care.

I think Moore has probably just won another Oscar for documentary.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Scooter's Jail Term Commuted

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Scooter Libby will serve no jail time. Sure, Scooter was not pardoned, he's still on probation, and, in theory, he'll owe around 200,000. Wanna bet "Friends of W" will give him the money for that?

I was not a fan of Nixon by 1973, but I did believe the Nixon pardon was the right thing to do. I cannot say the same of commuting Scooter Libby's jailtime.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Yes, Larry King's "Priorities" Are In Order...

Last night, Paris Hilton was on Larry King. A no-talent girl who'd been sent to jail after ignoring her probation. I didn't watch the show, as I rarely watch Larry King. And now, I doubt I'll ever watch him again.

To have on that no-talent publicity sink on his show last night, Larry King bounced Michael Moore. Now, whether you love Moore or hate him, he's an interesting rabble rouser, and is much more relevant to society than Hilton. Hilton is a nothing, but since she's a cute girl with money, way too many slobber over her. King and CNN ought to be ashamed of themselves, but they probably aren't.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Look at the Duke Lacrosse Case

I have to admit, when I first heard the story back in April 2006 about the alleged rapes by several Duke lacrosse, I thought the guys were probably guilty. How often have we all heard the stories of testosterone-crazed jocks attacking women? How many times have we seen dazed young women stagger out of fraternities, not quite sure what happened to them?

So, yeah, I admit a rush to judgment on my part.

In the weeks after the alleged rapes, both the alleged victim's friends and the alleged perpetrators showed up on national TV, playing their respective parts. Because the friends of the victim always stand up for her, and the alleged perps always, always claim innocence.

As soon as the D. A. didn't release the results of the DNA tests in a timely fashion, it was clear to me that there was no case. DNA testing is based on science, not conjecture. If the DNA found in the alleged victim, did not match the DNA from the alleged perps, that means the alleged perps were not intimately involved with her. It's as simple as that. If a rape happened, someone other than the accused was involved.

Turns out rapes were definitely involved in the Duke lacrosse case, but not of the classic, physical, men against women kind. Instead, the law and the men involved were the ones that were raped.

I'm glad the D. A. was disbarred; it's what he deserved. I'm not sure what should happen to the alleged victim. She lied about a crime. She was not completely innocent in all this.

Rape is a very serious crime which is why so many people reacted in the way that they did when they heard about the alleged crime. The real crime turned out to be against the lacrosse players. I wonder if this incident has made any of them more sensitive towards the issue of rape? I'd like to think so.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Paris vs. Some Gitmo Detainees - What's Wrong With This Picture??

So let's see...

A ditsy American heiress gets four days in jail for breaking her probation (because this was at least
a third strike for her), followed by mansion...errr house arrest.

At least a few people have been stuck in Gitmo for up to five years whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm not saying everyone in Gitmo is innocent, but I expect there are a bunch who are, given our government's overreaching and utter lack of any oversight. Of course, we may never know as the names of most Gitmo detainees are not made public.

So the government (at least the L. A. Sheriff's Office) can show an inordinate amount of...of..."compassion" for
someone like Paris. At the same time, the Federal government is incapable of showing any compassion for some number of Islamic people who have no money and no connections. And besides, they aren't at all "cute."

What's wrong with this picture??

Paris did the quiet equivalent of throwing a tantrum, and, what's worse got away with it. Any parent can tell you that the threat by a child to not eat can be ignored for a couple of days and the kid will not starve. Not even some one as skinny as Paris.

At least she has to go back to court Friday morning. I wonder if she'll decide her ankle bracelet is "too heavy" to wear?

When is America going to be involved in meting out real justice? As in the past, rich people get away with murder, and poor people are stuck in jail. It's disgusting.

Friday, May 25, 2007

30th Anniversaries

Jim and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with friends at a very nice dinner at the Inn at Little Washington.

Back in 1977, a few days after our wedding, we were back in Pittsburgh and attended Star Wars on opening day. Yes, I can prove we were there - we got the original May the Force be With You buttons.

So, in honor of our anniversary and Star Wars', you might want to take a look at:

Honeymooning with Wookiees

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Heroes Meme

I saw this in Norilana's LiveJournal and here are my results for the test:

Your Score: Mr. Bennet

You scored 50 Idealism, 54 Nonconformity, 45 Nerdiness

Are you on the list?

Congratulations, you're Mr. Bennet! You are one mysterious person with mysterious motives. Despite all the mystery, it's clear that you believe what you do is for the greater good, and you are obviously a well-educated person in your field.

Your best quality: Dedication to your work/organization/etc.
Your worst quality: Keeping too many secrets

Link: The Heroes Personality Test written by freedomdegrees on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Now, if I'd gotten these results in late 2006, I'd've been annoyed. But Mr. B. has turned out to be something of a good guy, and seems to be in position to be the leader of the group.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Can't Say I'll Miss Old Jerry...

He was 73 and not in the best shape, so I can't say Jerry Fallwell's death was a surprise.

I'll never forget the way he tried to rewrite science and American history, and that many people lapped it up.

I'll never forget the way he tried to scapegoat minorities after 9/11. In case you've forgotten, here's what Fallwell and Robertson did:

"What is objectionable, what is dangerous, about extremists
is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant.
The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what
they say about their opponents."

Robert Kennedy Pursuit of Justice, 1964

Anti-heroes: Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson Agree with Osama bin Laden - America Is Being Punished by God

Article Quoted from Studio Briefing

Falwell, Robertson TV Remarks Touch Off Anger

On a day in which the nation was being urged to pray for the victims and families of the World Trade Center attack, comments reportedly made by the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson on Robertson's The 700 Club Thursday were igniting debate among the nation's laymen and clergy.

Falwell blamed "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists and the gays and lesbians ... the ACLU, People for the American Way" and groups "who have tried to secularize America" for contributing to what occurred in New York. "I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen'," Falwell reportedly declared on the program, which is carried by the Fox Family Channel, recently purchased by the Walt Disney Co.

Robertson responded: "Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted their agenda at the highest levels of our government."

Asked about the ministers' remarks on ABC's Good Morning America Friday morning, the Rev. Forrest Church, pastor of the All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan, commented, "If we respond with this kind of hatred and this kind of bigotry, we really become abettors to the very sin that we are trying to extirpate."

From the Washington Post (by John F. Harris)

God Gave U.S. "What We Deserve," Falwell Says

Television evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, two of the most prominent voices of the religious right, said liberal civil liberties groups, feminists, homosexuals and abortion rights supporters bear partial responsibility for Tuesday's terrorist attacks because their actions have turned God's anger against America.

"God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve," said Falwell, appearing yesterday on the Christian Broadcasting Network's 700 Club, hosted by Robertson.

"Jerry, that's my feeling," Robertson responded. "I think we've just seen the antechamber to terror. We haven't even begun to see what they can do to the major population."

Falwell said the American Civil Liberties Union has "got to take a lot of blame for this," again winning Robertson's agreement: "Well, yes."

Then Falwell broadened his blast to include the federal courts and others who he said were "throwing God out of the public square." He added: "The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"

People for the American Way transcribed the broadcast and denounced the comments as running directly counter to President Bush's call for national unity. Ralph G. Neas, the liberal group's president, called the remarks "absolutely inappropriate and irresponsible."

Robertson and others on the religious right gave critical backing to Bush last year when he was battling for the GOP presidential nomination. A White House official called the remarks "inappropriate" and added, "The president does not share those views."

Falwell was unrepentant, saying in an interview that he was "making a theological statement, not a legal statement."

"I put all the blame legally and morally on the actions of the terrorist," he said. But he said America's "secular and anti-Christian environment left us open to our Lord's [decision] not to protect. When a nation deserts God and expels God from the culture...the result is not good."

Robertson was not available for comment, a spokeswoman said. But she released a statement echoing the remarks he made on his show. An ACLU spokeswoman said the group "will not dignify the Falwell-Robertson remarks with a comment."

Falwell's "apology"
(if you really want to call it that...)

Commentary by Laurie D. T. Mann

Falwell and Robertson medieval views are much more in touch with bin Laden than with most Americans. Most Americans seem to understand that tolerance and openness are much more important than hate mongering. Views like those of Falwell and Robertson encourage acts of scapegoating and bigotry. What is it about the mindset of the "right" that demands scapegoats?

Comments like these make me very happy to be an agnostic!

I notice that Falwell and Robertson fail to mention the fact that the one plane that did not hit a populated target was the one in which some plane passengers, led by at least one gay man, prevented the plane from becoming a flying bomb. But let's not let any facts get in the way with their foolish remarks

September 11: Gay Victims, Gay Heroes

Later comment (5/16/2007): As I re-examine all this after four years of war in Iraq and after the death of Jerry Fallwell, if you attempt to take Fallwell and Robertson's post-911 comments to their logical extreme, it almost sounds like their "God" is more like the "God" of the fanatic Moslems who would randomly murder civilians. So when I call people like Fallwell and Robertson mullahs, that's why.

911 may have made many people more religious, but it's made a number of us less so. I may have called myself an agnostic in 2001, and I'm definitely an atheist now.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

First Anniversary of the Move to the Country

A year ago today, we moved out of our old house and into the new house. I really enjoy living out here, love the relative quiet and cleaner air, and can put up with the extra driving needed to get anywhere.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Banning the Smoking Ban Again *groan*

In an effort to get Pittsburgh to join the late 20th century, county council passed a law to ban smoking in most public places (especially restaurants and bars). This ban has now been held up twice by a couple of restaurant/bar owners who believe the ban would be detrimental to business.

Now, let's examine for a moment the establishments who are causing Allegheny county restaurant/bar patrons to stay firmly in the smoke of the 20th century.

I've never been to Mitchell's Tavern, and now I never will. I've been to the Smithfield Cafe one time, but the food was mediocre and even the non-smoking section reeked of smoke. I won't go back for any reason.

If every non-smoker who wants clean air in Allegheny county restaurants and bars would boycott places like Mitchell's and the Smithfield Cafe, maybe the completely clueless owners would understand that a smokefree bar could help business.

Most bars and restaurants in most areas that have gone non-smoking have more business, not less. But let's not confuse the smoking ban foes with facts.

In the meantime, I'm going to Bocktown Beer and Grill so I won't have to worry about the smoke. The Bocktown owner has the sense to be in front of the curve about not subjecting her patrons to smoke.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ever Noticed How "I Can't Recall" Is Now Republican-speak for "I Plead the FIfth"?

I've been listening to some of the Senate hearings involving people like Gonzales and reading some of the transcripts of the trial involving Libby. Wasn't "I can't recall" the most common phrase either of them uttered?

My short-term memory is pretty bad, but I feel like I remember more about what went on with the attorney firings than Gonzales says he remembers and he was there!

I've asked Gonzales to resign. Not that it matters. I'm merely a citizen, and, as we know, the current administration only cares about rich citizens who've given them money.

It's been interesting to hear that even some of the Republican Senators have been somewhat hard on Gonzales. But now Senator Kyle is taking Gonzales off on a tangent about Internet gambling. Geesh. What a great use of the committee's time...

Giving Perpetrators a Media Platform Is Part of the Problem...

Is anyone else annoyed at seeing constant photos of the most recent mass murderer all over the media?

The death video of murderers should not be given so much exposure. It's the sort of thing that should show up on YouTube, so if curious members of the public can learn more about this deranged individual, they can.

I have no interest in learning anything about him. Anyone who commits premeditated murder does not deserve any of the public's time.

We live in a society where a person can alarm his teachers and fellow students, who can be temporarily brought to a mental health facility for treatment, and yet can buy a semi-automatic weapon legally. And we live in a society where the media fuels a feeding frenzy about perpetrators. Perpetrators' names and reason for committing heinous acts should only be briefly discussed publicly. Murderers should never be given the kind of publicity they so obviously sought.

I don't care that the WTC murderers thought that Allah would grant them virgins in the afterlife for slaughtering civilians, don't care that the Columbine and VT Tech murderers were disaffected young men with guns. These people should not matter. Society should not care.

What does matter is that these murderers rob society of good people. The focus should be on the murder victims and how to stop such acts in the future.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Guys with Guns Strike Again...

Yeah, I know, guns don't kill people, people kill people.

Tell that to the 20(+?) dead at Virginia Tech and the other 20(+?) injured.

How many do you think this idiot (or these idiots) would have killed without some sort of high-powered rifle??

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Participate in International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day on April 23!

There's been, discussions in various places about how writers should/should not promote their work, mostly centering around whether they should put their writing on the Web for free.

While this particular posting by current SFWA Vice President Howard V. Hendrix did not start the discussion, it's generated quite a bit of comment, particularly by SFWA presidential candidate John Scalzi.

Writer Jo Walton came up with a clever way to respond to this bruhaha: International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day on April 23.

Now, I'm not in SFWA; I haven't written or sold much fiction. I've made a fair amount of money over the years as a tech writer, and some as a free lancer. However, I believe the whole concept of "technopeasanthood" is, frankly, very old-fashioned. If you enjoy participating on the Web, sharing some of your fiction/non-fiction/art/music/photos/knitting designs/recipes - so what? Participating on the Web may help your career or it may hinder it, but it's hardly the business of a writer's organization to disparage this sales/publicity venue in the way Howard Hendrix did.

But this isn't merely a writer's issue - it's a an issue for anyone who sees the Web as something a little larger than a big bulletin board.

So I urge anyone to use the Web to help spread your own creativity on the Web on April 23.

There are also T-shirts available at:

I plan to wear mine the Saturday of the Nebula awards on May 12 (though not to the banquet itself).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Deck Is Done - 4/10/07

We had our deck built by Archadeck, locally represented by Hall Construction:

We'd talked to several different deck builders, but Archadeck gave us the best price for a composite deck, which is what we wanted.

So what's the long distance view from the side of the deck like?

This coal mine has been operational since last summer. The mine is already somewhat filled in. Apparently, some homes may wind up on top of the mine in the future. It's likely that coal was removed from this part of the neighborhood before the houses were built as well.

Luckily, this is the view from most of the deck:

It's so nice to have a back yard with only woods in view, you have no idea. Each of the first two houses we owned had other houses in back.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Daily Deck Blogging - 4/9/07

One of the two builders got sick today. so the deck wasn't quite finished today. However, it's very close!

So tomorrow, it should be finished for sure!

Of course, it's only supposed to reach 46 tomorrow, so it might not matter too much...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Daily Deck Blogging - 4/7/06

OK, so I'm a day late...

Anyway, the contractors came over for a little while on Saturday, trimmed the floor planks and started to put in the posts for the railings.

View from the deck:

View from the driveway:

It looks like they should be finished on Monday.

Yesterday, I had lunch with some local folks from It's a board where everyone is pretty much required to use pseudonyms. It turned out that one of the folks at lunch was someone I knew slightly as she's a local tech writer. One of the other attendees was a former tech writer. Small world and all.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Daily Deck Blogging - 4/6/07

It was again very cold out for April - I think it didn't get any warmer than 35 (over 20 degrees colder than normal). It wasn't quite as windy today as it had been yesterday.

The builders made very good progress. The support beams and floor of the deck are done. I stepped out onto the deck for the first time this afternoon:

Yeah, I know, I didn't walk out that far. But, still, the railings should be up tomorrow!

Now that most of the deck is built, the storage area under the deck is going to be much taller than I'd realized. I'd always imagined the sub-deck area to be very cave-like, and it really isn't.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Daily Deck Blogging - 4/5/07

It was windy and 25 degrees colder than normal today. It reached a high of 31 (and, remember, it's April). The contractors came and worked most of the day. We've been encouraging them to use the garage as much as possible.

But it's starting to look more like a deck now because some of the floor is now in. Here's the view from the sliders:

And here's the view from the back yard:

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Daily Deck Blogging - 4/4/07

The builders arrived early this morning and worked until about 4. Unlike yesterday, when it was sunny and warm, the temperature dropped from 57 this morning to about 40 and very windy this afternoon. They made pretty good progress - it's looking more like a deck now.

View from the sliders:

View from the driveway:

And the supporting posts don't go in until tomorrow. They spent some of the afternoon digging the postholes. Before they can pour concrete, a local inspector has to come out and make sure the post holes are prepared correctly and the frame has been attached to the house properly.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Daily Deck Blogging - 4/3/07

The contractor started on the deck today! We didn't expect they'd start this soon (we thought it might be another 10 days), but I was glad to see them. They expect to be done next Monday (it takes about five working days to build a standard deck).

Deck deconstructed (or pre-constructed), beginning of day one:

View of the deck-in-progress from the sliding glass doors, end of day one:

View from the driveway, end of day one:

OK, it doesn't look like that much happened the first day. Putting in the piece under the door that will help attach the deck to the house takes a while. They also cut a fair amount of wood during the day for later in the week. I expected the posts would be installed first, but they said the post installation is a day two job.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Monday Garden Blogging - 4/2/07

We had a few days of good weather over the last week, followed by some rain.

The crocuses and dafodils in front haven't grown quite as well as I would have hoped. The front gets constant sun, but as it's beside the road, the ground also get more salt from the road and likely visits by dogs.

We're due to have another day of warm, sunny weather, and then it will get cold and, probably, snowy. We'll see if any of the flowers survive until after Easter... *sigh*

Thursday, March 29, 2007

2007 Hugo Nominations

Best Novel

Eifelheim by Michael F. Flynn (Tor)
His Majecty's Dragon/Temeraire by Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Glasshouse by Charles Stross (Ace)
Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge (Tor)
Blindsight by Peter Watts (Tor)

Best Novella

"The Walls of the Universe" by Paul Melko (Asimov's, April/May 2006)
"A Billion Eves" by Robert Reed (Asimov's, October/November 2006)
"Inclination" by William Shunn (Asimov's April/May 2006)
"Lord Weary's Empire" by Michael Swanwick (Asimov's December 2006)
"Julian" by Robert Charles Wilson (PS Publishing)

Best Novelette

"Yellow Card Man" by Paolo Bacigalupi (Asimov's December 2006)
"Dawn, and Sunset, and the Colours of the Earth" by Michael F. Flynn (Asimov's December 2006)
"The Djinn's Wife" by Ian McDonald (Asimov's July 2006)
"All the Things You Are" by Mike Resnick (Jim Baen's Universe October 2006)
"Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter" by Geoff Ryman (F&SF October/November 2006)

Best Short Story

"How to Talk to Girls at Parties" by Neil Gaiman (Fragile Things)
"Kin" by Bruce McAllister (Asimov's February 2006)
"Impossible Dreams" by Timothy Pratt (Asimov's July 2006)
"Eight Episodes" by Robert Reed (Asimov's June 2006)
"The House Beyond Your Sky" by Benjamin Rosenbaum (Strange Horizons September 2006)

Best Related Book

About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, and Five Interviews by Samuel R. Delany (Wesleyan University Press)
Heinlein's Children: The Juveniles by Joseph T. Major (Advent)
James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon edited by Julie Phillips (St. Martin's Press)
Cover Story: The Art of John Picacio by John Picacio (MonkeyBrain Books )
Worldcon Guest of Honor Speeches by Mike Resnick and Joe Siclari (ISFiC Press)

Best Dramatic Presentation

Children of Men (Universal Pictures)
Pan's Labyrinth (Picturehouse)
The Prestige (Warner Brothers/Touchstone Pictures)
A Scanner Darkly (Warner Independent Pictures)
V for Vendetta (Warner Brothers)

Note: Due to a file corruption during electronic tabulation of the nominees, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest appeared on the initial Hugo ballot. A subsequent audit revealed that this was an error; Pirates was removed and Pan's Labyrinth was added to the final Hugo ballot.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Battlestar Galactica, "Downloaded"
Doctor Who, "Army of Ghosts" and "Doomsday"
Doctor Who, "Girl in the Fireplace"
Doctor Who, "School Reunion"
Stargate SG-1, "200"

Best Professional Editor, Long Form

Lou Anders
James Patrick Baen
Ginjer Buchanan
David G. Hartwell
Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Best Professional Editor, Short Form

Gardner Dozois
David G. Hartwell
Stanley Schmidt
Gordon Van Gelder
Sheila Williams

Best Professional Artist

Bob Eggleton
Donato Giancola
Stephan Martiniere
John Jude Palencar
John Picacio

Best Semiprozine

Ansible, edited by Dave Langford
Interzone, edited by Andy Cox
Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, edited by Gavin J. Grant
Locus, edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi
The New York Review of Science Fiction, edited by Kathryn Cramer, David Hartwell & Kevin J. Maroney

Best Fanzine

Banana Wings ed. by Claire Brialey & Mark Plummer
Challenger edited by Guy Lillian, III
The Drink Tank edited by Christopher J. Garcia
Plokta edited by Alison Scott, Steve Davies & Mike Scott
Science Fiction Five-yearly edited by Lee Hoffman, Geri Sullivan & Randy Byers

Best Fan Writer

Chris Garcia
John Hertz
Dave Langford
John Scalzi
Steven H Silver

Best Fan Artist

Brad W. Foster
Teddy Harvia
Sue Mason
Steve Stiles
Frank Wu

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Sponsored by Dell Magazines

Scott Lynch
Sarah Monette
Naomi Novik
Brandon Sanderson
Lawrence M. Schoen

Monday, March 26, 2007

Monday Garden Blogging - 3/26/07

Over time, I've seen Friday cat blogging, kid blogging, et.c. But there doesn't seem Monday Garden Blogging. For employed people, it's a way to show off what you did over the weekend. For those of us unemployed (or underemployed or retired), it's just a day to go out and take some pictures. If you plan put up periodic photos showing how your garden grows, drop me a line and I'll add you to a list of garden bloggers.

As a baseline for my gardening photos, here's the front of my house
on 2/3/2007:

House, 2/3/07

And here it is today, 3/26/07:

House, 3/26/07

As you can tell from the photo, spring is finally hitting Western Pennsylvania. Things we planted last year are starting to grow, and I planted a few new items:

By the Mailbox, 3/26/07

Side of House, 3/26/07

The plant at the bottom is heather. I think it's particularly pretty. I was going to plant it up by the little patio in the front, but the Lowe's garden center clerk warned me that heather attracts bees, so you don't want to sit beside it.

The red flower at the top is another perennial, the fire star dianthus.

I planted a few "ready to go" annuals this morning. I think the larger flowers are begonias (they were simply labeled "annuals" at the store) and the smaller ones are definitely pansies.

Patio, 3/26/07

Finally, here's the spot will the deck will go in a few weeks:

Spot for the Deck, 3/26/07

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bocktown Beer: At Long Last, a Non-smoking Bar!!

When we moved out to the metro West area last summer, one small plus was being close to another Rotelli Pizza (in the Target Plaza at the Pointe, North Fayette), as we were big fans.

Not big enough, apparently, as Rotelli closed almost as soon as we finished unpacking.

Sometime late last year, a new restaurant took over the space, called Bocktown Beer. "Oh great, another smoky bar," we assumed, so we never stopped in.

About a month ago, I did stop in, and quickly regretted not stopping in before.

Bocktown Beer has a huge bottled beer selection (around 400(!) types of beer), very good food, and, most important is non-smoking!.

Don't get me wrong. I have always liked Fat Heads and Sharp Edge and Pipers. I like a place with a varied beer selection and good food. But I can't love a bar that allows smoking as being around smoking gives me migraines. A non-smoking area in a bar is still usually too smoky to be really pleasant (though both Sharp Edge's have relatively smoke-free restaurant areas). I'd like to be able to sit at a bar and have a beer and maybe some pretzels without having to run out for fresh air after a half hour. When I travel to Massachusetts or California, I spend more time in bars there because they're non-smoking (and doing good business, frankly).

While the menu at Bocktown isn't huge, they do fine bar food and sandwiches. There are new specials everyday. And the French fries alone are worth the trip. They do beer tastings every Wednesday
evening, and I think there's live music once or twice a week.

I have three minor complaints about Bocktown:

  • the bottled beer can be a little expensive. I guess I've
    been spoiled by The Beer Store over in Moon, where
    the cost of bottled beer for take-out isn't too bad at all.
    On the other hand, the bar under The Beer Store is so
    smoky I've never even had a drink in there.

  • if only it could be a little larger. There's an empty
    storefront beside Bocktown, and I wish they'd lease it now!

  • I know guys frequent the bar more than women, but there are
    TV channels other than ESPN...

Those minor complaints aside, we're now pretty regular customers. So if you're looking for a non-smoking bar with a great beer selection and good food, Bocktown Beer is for you.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Stunning Performances by the Pittsburgh Symphony and Violinist Julia Fischer

Jim and I try to go to the Pittsburgh Symphony once or twice a year. We bought tickets to four concerts this season and have really lucked out with our selections.

Last night, we heard the sublime violinist Julia Fischer perform the Beethoven Violin Concerto.

We're frankly not up on the current crop of classical performers. We had no idea who Julia Fischer was. We know now. To say she and the symphony were superb last night do neither of them justice.

The Beethoven Violin Concerto is the sort of classical piece we've all heard snippets of. It is a fairly long and challenging piece, for the orchestra as well as the violinist. They were all beyond wonderful last night.

I know that the Brahms piece in the second part of the concert was recorded; I wonder if the violin concerto was because I'd run out and buy that without hesitation once it is released.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ann Coulter: Why Does the National Media Pay Attention to Trolls?

From Wikipedia (as of 3/4/07)

In Internet terminology, a troll is a person who enters an established community such as an online discussion forum and intentionally tries to cause disruption, often in the form of posting messages that are inflammatory, insulting, incorrect, inaccurate, absurd, or off-topic, with the intent of provoking a reaction from others.

In 1996, in the early days of the popularization of the Internet, I attended a journalism conference in Pittsburgh. At the time, I said I thought the lack of editorial control on the Internet was a strength and not a weakness. Let the people do their own content creation and their own filtering.

However, the irrationality of some areas of the Web have been embraced by mass media. If anything, some people now considered part of mass media are nothing more than trolls.

In particular, Ann Coulter.

This woman has had nothing useful or rational to add to public discourse. Yet, she is considered a media celebrity, and when she says something, people pay attention.


The only way to raise the level of public discourse is to ignore the people who only want to shout inanities. If we want a rational, reasoned discourse on the issues, we should ignore the Ann Coulters, the Bill O'Reillys, the Al Sharptons, the Kenneth Engs of the world, and only pay attention to people who can back up their opinions with facts.

Trolls are people who should be ignored in the public discourse. They should not be leading the public discourse. They only want to stir up controversy, not enlighten issues in any way.

As we've said on the Internet for many years: Do not feed the energy beasts. These people are nothing, nothing but energy beasts. Ignore them.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Oscars 2007: Predictions & Commentary

While there were a few good movies in 2006, the overall quality of theatrical movies continues to sink. I've been finding television (with things like Rome and Battlestar Galactica) to be much more interesting and challenging than movies.

For the first time in many years, I've only seen two of the nominees for Best Picture: Little Miss Sunshine and The Queen. I liked both of these movies very much, but The Queen is way too subtle and quiet to win a Best Picture award and Little Miss Sunshine is a comedy, which means it has almost no chance to take Best Picture. I don't like graphic violence so I haven't seen Babel or The Departed. I'm usually not overly fond of war movies, so I haven't seen Letters from Iwo Jima. I regret not having seen Dreamgirls or Venus. The movie that impressed me the most last year, Children of Men only got some technical nominations.

I will note what I haven't seen and will go ahead with my predictions anyway. For the last few years, I've been hedging my bets with a "will win" (WW) and "should win" (SW) before each predicted winner.

Best Picture

  • Babel
  • The Departed
  • (WW) Letters From Iwo Jima
  • (SW) Little Miss Sunshine
  • The Queen

A really uninspiring year. Of the five, I liked The Queen the best, but it's way too quiet and subtle for
a Best Picture win. Little Miss Sunshine was probably the quirkiest and most original in the bunch, so
that's the movie I'll support.

Best Director

  • Clint Eastwood, Letters From Iwo Jima
  • Stephen Frears, The Queen
  • Paul Greengrass, United 93
  • Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, Babel
  • (SW, WW) Martin Scorsese, The Departed

Scorsese is so owed... I'd rather see Stephen Frears win this year because The Departed doesn't sound
like Scorsese's best work and The Queen is a quiet little masterpiece. Still, I'm a realist, and I can't
complain too much if Scorsese wins.

Best Actor

  • Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond
  • Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
  • (SW) Peter O'Toole, Venus
  • Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness
  • (WW) Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

I have always had a soft spot for Peter O'Toole, another person who is so owed. But I would certainly have no objection is Forest Whitaker wins, who probably gave the strongest performance of the year. Still...O'Toole's of an age
where he may have given one of his last performances.

Best Actress

  • Penelope Cruz, Volver
  • Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
  • (SW, WW) Helen Mirren, The Queen
  • Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
  • Kate Winslet, Little Children

There usually aren't too many locks, but this is certainly one of them. Helen Mirren has had such a brilliant
year. She is completely magnificent in The Queen. Judi Dench appears to give a great performance in
Notes on a Scandal, but the movie just seems oh so stupid - I hate it when the trailer gives away
every twist of the movie. Meryl Streep was terrific in The Devil Wears Prada, too.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Adriana Barraza, Babel
  • Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
  • Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
  • (SW, WW) Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
  • Rinko Kikuchi, Babel

This isn't quite the lock it appeared to be a few weeks ago. I think Abigail Breslin could win. But the other
newcomer, Jennifer Hudson, is more likely.

Best Supporting Actor

  • (SW) Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
  • Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children
  • (WW) Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
  • Mark Wahlberg, The Departed

This is another category that might not be quite the lock it once appeared to be. Alan Arkin has had a great career, and, like Peter O'Toole, never won an Oscar. Eddie Murphy is a wildly erratic actor, who keeps keeps making brain-dead movies for the money. It's of course a wonderful thing that Eddie apparently has given a fine performance in Dreamgirls. But, for the Oscar voters to be voting at the same time that they're seeing constant ads for Norbit, one of the most awful movies I've ever seen ads for...gaak. So I hope Murphy might have gotten enough backlash for the award to go to Arkin.

Best Foreign Language Film

  • Efter Brylluppet (aka After the Wedding), Denmark
  • Indigenes (aka Days of Glory), Algeria
  • (SW, WW) El Laberinto del Fauno (aka Pan's Labyrinth), Mexico
  • Das Leben der Anderen (aka The Lives of Others), Germany
  • Water, Canada

While a bit too violent for my taste, Pan's Labyrinth was an incredible visual feast of a movie, with great performances
all the way around (especially from the young Ivana Baquero as Ofelia). There might be a chance that The Lives of Others could sneak in, but I doubt it.

Best Animated Feature Film

  • (SW, WW) Cars
  • Happy Feet
  • Monster House

I don't have really strong feelings about any of these movies. I've only seen Happy Feet, and while it
was a charming little movie, it didn't quite work for me. Cars looks silly, but it keeps winning awards, so it will
probably take the award.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • (WW) Borat
  • (SW) Children of Men
  • The Departed
  • Little Children
  • Notes on a Scandal

Children of Men was the best movie of last year. Clive Owen deserved an Oscar nomination. I'd like to see
it win this Oscar, but I have the bad feeling that Borat (which was simultaneously clever and stupid) will win.

Best Original Screenplay

  • Babel
  • Letters From Iwo Jima
  • (WW) Little Miss Sunshine
  • (SW) The Queen
  • Pan's Labyrinth

This may be the trickiest category of them all. While last year was a rather weak year for movies, the scripts for Sunshine, Queen and Pan were all quite good, and I've heard interesting things about Iwo Jima.
So while I think Sunshine was a little more original (and gleefully subversive), the script for The Queen was
an amazingly restrained exercise in showing and not telling.

Best Music (Score)

  • Babel
  • The Good German
  • Notes on a Scandal
  • (SW, WW) Pan's Labyrinth
  • The Queen

Best Music (Song)

  • "I Need to Wake Up" - An Inconvenient Truth (performed by Melissa Etheridge)
  • "Listen" - Dreamgirls (performed by Beyonce Knowles)
  • (SW, WW) "Love You I Do" - Dreamgirls (performed by Jennifer Hudson)
  • "Our Town" - Cars (performed by James Taylor)
  • "Patience" - Dreamgirls (performed by Eddie Murphy, Keith Robinson, Anika Noni Rose)

I haven't even heard any of these songs, except for, maybe, Love You I Do. So I'll select that one.

Best Documentary Feature

  • Deliver Us From Evil
  • (SW, WW) An Inconvenient Truth
  • Iraq In Fragments
  • Jesus Camp
  • My Country, My Country

So what will Al Gore do with his minute on international television?

Best Documentary Short Subject

  • The Blood of Yingzhou District
  • (SW, WW) Recycled Life
  • Rehearsing A Dream
  • Two Hands

I also have no idea about this one.

Best Visual Effects

  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
  • Poseidon
  • (SW, WW) Superman Returns

It's rather appalling that Pan's Labyrinth is not in this category. The effects in Pirates, like the rest of
that movie - are a bit of a joke. Superman Returns is probably a less objectionable choice.

Best Cinematography

  • The Black Dahlia
  • (SW, WW) Children of Men
  • The Illusionist
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • The Prestige

People are still talking about some of the amazing shots in Children of Men. Pan's Labyrinth probably had
a little more "stylish" photography, but it just wasn't quite as interesting as the photography in Children of Men.

Best Art Direction

  • Dreamgirls
  • The Good Shepherd
  • (SW, WW) Pan's Labyrinth
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
  • The Prestige

I'm sorry to see that The Illusionist, which I felt had a better look than The Prestige wasn't up
for Best Art Direction. However, this award should go to Pan's Labyrinth.

Best Animated Short Film

  • The Danish Poet
  • Lifted
  • The Little Matchgirl
  • Maestro
  • (SW, WW) No Time for Nuts

No Time for Nuts is the only one of these I've seen, and it's quite clever.

Best Short Film

  • Binta and the Great Idea
  • Eramos Pocos (One Too Many)
  • Helmer & Son
  • The Saviour
  • (SW, WW)West Bank Story

Best Costume Design

  • Curse of the Golden Flower
  • The Devil Wears Prada
  • (SW, WW) Dreamgirls
  • Marie Antoinette
  • The Queen

Dreamgirls did the best job at showing the fashions of the time.

Best Make-up

  • (SW, WW) Apocalypto
  • Click
  • Pan's Labyrinth

Apocalypto's make-up is so good that it's painful to watch and convinced me not to see the movie.

Best Sound Mixing

  • (SW, WW) Apocalypto
  • Blood Diamond
  • Dreamgirls
  • Flags of our Fathers
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Sound Engineer Kevin O'Connell is the Susan Lucci of the Oscars. He has now been nominated for the Best Sound Mixing Oscar an incredible 19 times over the last 23 years. He was part of the Sound Mixing team for Apocalypto, and I think his team may walk away with one this year.

Sound Editing

  • Apocalypto
  • Blood Diamond
  • (SW, WW) Letters From Iwo Jima
  • Flags of our Fathers
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

War movies or big action/adventure movies tend to take the sound awards. I expect one of Clint Eastwood's two war
movies to win this one.

Best Film Editing

  • Babel
  • Blood Diamond
  • (SW) Children of Men
  • The Departed
  • (WW) United 93

People consistently praised the editing and direction of United 93, which was probably one of the most claustrophobic
movies of last year. Since Greenglass is unlikely to win Best Director, perhaps the movie will take Film Editing. Still,
I think I'd rather see Children of Men win.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

SouthSideWorks Theater Has Sunk...

To go to SouthSideWorks Theater, you have to pay for parking and pay a little extra for movies. For the first year or two they were open, SouthSideWorks had an advantage - no pre-movie commercials. So it was worth it.

Unfortunately, this is no longer true.

SouthSideWorks now subjects its customers to an excrutiating pre-show barrage of noise called something like Preflix. Preflix advertises Pepsi at you, plays very loud noise and is an awful excuse for pre-show entertainment.

In fairness, SouthSideWorks isn't showing genuine commercials. Once this Preflix thing is over, they go straight to trailers. But, sorry, Preflix is even worse than standard commercials because it's too loud and hideous.

We went to SouthSideWorks to see Children of Men - a brilliant movie that I highly recommend. But I can't recommend SouthSideWorks anymore. I guess we've made our last trip there.