Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ich habe die Schweinegrippe!

German is an awesome language because "swine flu" in German is "Schweinegrippe," and there is no word in English nearly so awesome as that. "Ich habe die Schweinegrippe!" sounds far more awesome than "I have swine flu."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Why class-action lawsuits are a ripoff -- for everyone but the lawyers

I've been using Norton Anti-Virus from Symantec ever since the day I got my first computer (1995). I've always been satisfied with it -- except for one thing.

When you buy the software, it comes with a "subscription." That means you've paid for "free" updates for (usually) one year. This is essential with this kind of software, because it's reactive -- new viruses come out, and new updates address them.

So if you bought the product on April 29, 2008, for example, your subscription is good through April 28, 2009. And when your subscription expires, you can renew and upgrade over the internet, so you're never without up-to-date anti-virus protection.

Sounds good right? But here's the thing: buy a Symantec product on April 29, 2008, and renew/upgrade over the internet on, say, March 29, 2009, and that's when your new one-year subscription starts. Not April 29, 2009. See, Symantec doesn't wait until your old subscription runs out before renewing; it just starts a new subscription.

So if you renew a month early (and Symantec starts sending you renewal notices well ahead of time), Symantec takes away a month of service that you've already paid for. The sneaky bastards.

That happened to me once. I lost a whole month of service that I'd paid for. I thought about switching to McAfee or AVG after that, but I was otherwise satisfied with the product and I hate change, so I still use it. I just wait until the day my subscription's expired before renewing. ("Fool me once...") And, obviously, that experience absolutely killed any goodwill I'd felt towards Symantec, the sneaky bastards.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and Symantec got sued for ripping off its customers like that. Apparently, enough people sued for the case to morph into a "class-action lawsuit."

A couple days ago, I received an e-mail telling me that Symantec had settled the case. Here are the main terms of the settlement.

1. Each ripped-off person gets either $2.50 in cash or a $15 voucher towards purchase of a Symantec product.

2. The three main plaintiffs (and don't ask me why they're the lucky ones) get $5,000 each.

3. Symantec has to put up a statement on its subscription renewal pages saying that upon upgrade the old subscription ends and a new one begins. Note that A) they don't have to phrase this in terms of people losing something they already paid for and especially B) they don't have to stop ripping people off, they just have to sort of tell them that's what they're doing.

4. The law firm that "represented" us ripped-off people gets up to $2,275,000 in costs and fees.

Lovely system, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Good reads/random cool sites (4/28/2009)

If there was ever any doubt that Michael Jackson is a complete nutter...
(H/t: Murketing)

Princess Unicorn: Her horn can pierce the sky!

Excerpts from No Regrets: The Best, Worst, & Most Ridiculous Tattoos Ever (heavy on the "worst" and the "ridiculous" -- the psychotic laughing Jesus is my favorite)

Uncomfortable Plot Summaries. For example,
GLADIATOR: Convict murders head of state.
LOLITA: Man encourages step-daughter to take chances.
PREDATOR: American military-industrial complex ruins first contact with alien life.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nothing Wavering -- well, OK, Wavering a Little Bit, no, A Lot, When It Comes to Being Nice to Those People

First, some background. There are about a gazillion Mormon blogs on the internet. These include blogs about being Mormon or just by Mormons. There are also several Mormon blog aggregators that compile some of these blogs according to various principles. My favorite is Mormon Blogosphere, which aggregates pretty much any blog with any connection at all with Mormonism. To Try a New Sword on a Chance Wayfarer is in that one. There's also Outer Blogness, which is blogs by former Mormons, non-believing Mormons, and so on. To Try a New Sword on a Chance Wayfarer is in that one too.

The Big Important Mormon Blog Aggregator is called Mormon Archipelago. It aggregates the Big Important Mormon Blogs that are collectively known as "the Bloggernacle" ("blog" + "tabernacle," you see). The primary criteria for inclusion seem to be being a devout Mormon and being a friend of the people who run it. To Try a New Sword on a Chance Wayfarer is not in that one.

The big Bloggernacle blogs are run by mostly devout Mormons who also tend to be well-educated intamallectuals. Like intamallectuals everywhere, they tend to think they're smarter than everybody else, which many people seem to find annoying. (I don't, since I'm also an intamallectual and thus think I'm smarter than everybody else -- including them.) Also like intamallectuals everywhere they question 'most everything, even -- and I know this will shock you -- sometimes the LDS Church. I mean, they don't question that it's true, fergoshsakes, but sometimes they kind of wonder if maybe sometimes the Church doesn't make a mistake now and then.

That's entirely too much for some other Mormons, who can't understand why people don't just get out of the Church if they're going to sometimes kind of wonder if maybe sometimes it doesn't make a mistake now and then. One such Mormon, some guy who does that pretentious first initial followed by middle name thing and wears a beret silly hat in his internet picture, decided he'd had enough of those heathen sinners pretending to be devout Mormons and started his own aggregator, which he calls Nothing Wavering. By "wavering," of course, he means things like sometimes kind of wondering if maybe sometimes the Church doesn't make a mistake now and then, because that's something the people who write those blogs say they would never ever do. And that (along with not making fun of his initial or his beret hat) is the primary criterion for inclusion. To Try a New Sword on a Chance Wayfarer is obviously not in that one either.

So that's roughly the state of Mormon blogs, or at least of their aggregators. (There are, of course, lots of other blogs by Mormons -- apparently including some of the biggest "mommy blogs" -- but I don't know much about them.) Now on to the real topic of this post.

A Mormon missionary was recently arrested while trying to board a plane. He was arrested because he is an undocumented immigrant -- an "illegal alien." His parents brought him to the US as a child. He grew up here; it's the only home he knows. Now he faces deportation to a strange country where he has no home, no family, no friends, no possessions, and no prospects. But the everyday travesties caused by US immigration policy aren't really the topic of this post.

The real topic is how Mormons are reacting to the incident. Because, for reasons that could only interest a sociologist (in other words, I don't know the reasons), most American Mormons are very conservative politically, and that especially seems to describe the Nothing Wavering kind of Mormon. Bloggernacle type Mormons, on the other hand, are less likely to be conservative, since most intamallectuals recognize that reality has a strong liberal bias, as a great American political philosopher put it.

The LDS Church as an institution tends to be quite conservative as well. For example, as most people know, it recently led the way in taking away the right of gay people to marry each other in California. So there tends to be a comfortable coincidence of Church policy and personal philosophy for Nothing Wavering type Mormons, while Bloggernacle type Mormons sometimes have to struggle to reconcile Church policy with their personal convictions.

But immigration policy is an exception. Since one of the cardinal tenets of American conservatism today is "Be mean to people who aren't like us," most American conservatives hate the Mexicans favor strict immigration policies and want to deport the Mexicans undocumented immigrants and never do anything to help them. The LDS Church, however, has a different policy. Its policy is basically, "We don't care about immigration status." And it has no problem with calling undocumented immigrants into service as local leaders and teachers, etc., or as missionaries. And as the article about the arrested missionary says, the Church even looks out for its undocumented missionaries and thinks of ways to make it less likely for them to get caught.

Of course, one can ascribe the Church's policy to entirely cynical reasons, but I think that's rather unfair. Credit where due, I think it simply got it right this time. A church's job is to minister to people's "souls," not to check up on their immigration status. So it should feel free to assign undocumented immigrants to volunteer positions in local leadership or as missionaries. (It's perfectly legal, by the way, as long as the people are unpaid, as all Mormon missionaries and local leaders are.)

A discussion of this case and of the Church's policy regarding immigration status in general has ensued on one of the big Bloggernacle blogs. And learning of this policy has been quite shocking -- mind-boggling -- head-exploding -- to some of those conservative Nothing Wavering type LDS, who had so much fun stopping the gays from getting married but can't understand why the Church won't be mean to the Mexicans the illegal aliens too.

The result has been a sudden outbreak of -- dare I say it -- wavering on the part of the Nothing Wavering crowd. Suddenly it's the conservative LDS who are questioning the Church and its leaders, saying a policy is inexplicable or even wrong, or using the same kinds of arguments they've always decried when coming from Bloggernacle types: it's not "official," it's not "doctrine," it's not "binding" on the members of the Church. And it's been a hoot to watch.

'80s Monday: The Psychedelic Furs

The Psychedelic Furs were an English band that was somewhat popular in the US. All their albums during the '80s at least made the top 150. They're probably best-known for "Pretty in Pink," which they re-recorded for the Molly Ringwald movie of the same name. (I don't think it's one of their best songs, though, so I'm not including it here.)

Like most of the bands I listened to in the '80s, they had a distinctive sound -- I especially like Richard Butler's raspy, weary, sardonic vocals -- danceable tunes, and thoughtful lyrics. Anyway, here's some music.

"Love My Way" (1982) is a nice "us-against-the world" love song.

Love my way
It's a new road
I follow where
My mind goes
They'd put us
On a railroad
They'd dearly
Make us pay
For laughing
In their faces
And making it our way
There's emptiness
Behind their eyes
There's dust
In all their hearts
They just want to
Steal us all
And take us all apart
But not in
Love my way
It's a new road
I follow where
My mind goes
So swallow
All your tears my love
And put on
Your new face
You can never win or lose
If you don't
Run the race

"Goodbye" (1982) wasn't even released as a single, so there's no music video that goes with it, but it's probably my favorite Furs song. If you've ever been caught up in a group of people who you don't really like and who don't really like you, you'll know what this song is about.

Hello to you, hello to me
Ah yeah, I really care
I'll see you all around sometime
I hope that I'm not there
Hello to you, hello to me
And yes, I really care
I'll see you all around sometime
If I ever go back there
Goodnight to you, goodnight again
I've somewhere else to be
I'll see you all around sometime
I hope you don't miss me
Goodbye to you, goodbye to you
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye
Goodbye to you

"Heaven" (1984) was their biggest UK hit, but inexplicably it wasn't released as a single in the US. It's another side to the Psychedelic Furs, less angry and sarcastic and more romantic. I think it's quite nice.

Heaven is the whole of the heart
And heaven don't tear you apart
Yeah heaven is the whole of the heart
And heaven don't tear you apart

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I actually agree with a Fox News guy

I've noticed Shep Smith before. Once in a while, he rocks.

It's not that hard. Torture is always wrong. Period. But even if it wasn't, it's against the law. It's a crime. And America is party to war crimes treaties (and ratified treaties are the highest law of the land, they're not "suggestions") that require the investigation and prosecution of possible war crimes.

Conservatives, I would have thought, should be all over this. They're supposed to be in favor of law and order. They're supposed to believe that no one is above the law. There are some honorable exceptions like Shep Smith, but it seems that for far too many conservatives, the highest law is It's OK If You're A Republican.

Update: And on the question of whether torture "works," I'll let Smith speak for me again (language not safe for work/children/prudes):

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Unexpectedly good news

I don't know who any of the British reviewers mentioned in this note are, but they seem to love the new Star Trek movie.

The Star Trek enterprise is back in business. British critics (the latest sequel premiered in London Monday night) and U.S. trade reviewers have greeted it with rapturous applause.

I would have seen it on May 7 anyway, but now I have much higher hopes than I did before.

Read the right vampire book

A vampire book should be horrifying. It should have scenes in it that make you cringe -- not cringe because they're so badly written, cringe because they're so repulsive and frightening.

Because vampirism is disgusting. Vampires must drink human blood to survive. They are murderers. They maim and kill. They do horrible things to other people. Some do it just to survive, others because they like it.

Vampires have a terrible infection, and they infect others -- innocent others. Those others then have a choice: kill or die. Kill horribly to live, or die horribly rather than kill.

Sunlight and stakes through the heart are the only way to kill vampires. Vampires burn up in the sun. They literally catch on fire and burn to death. They don't sparkle like a gay boy wearing too much glitter.

That's the world of vampires that most of us know and love. Drop a pair of 12-year-old kids into that world, and you have Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (trans. by Ebba Segerberg).

One of the kids, Eli, is a vampire. Eli didn't become a vampire because some kind-hearted and lonely Beautiful Sparkly Vampire Wise Leader didn't want the child to die, nor was Eli adopted by a Motherly One. No, Eli was turned into a vampire in a more terrible way than you imagine, and has survived by exploiting adults who exploit Eli in turn.

Nor is Oskar, the other child and the story's protagonist, some overgrown adolescent's wish-fulfillment fantasy. He's not popular and adored by everyone who meets him except those who are either evil or jealous of him, he's a bit of a dweeb. He's unpopular and bullied. He's also cowardly, vengeful, and, perhaps, a nascent serial killer.

In other words, Eli and Oskar are two damaged children who are understandably drawn to each other. The reasons they're drawn to each other are obvious and natural, because they act like real people, not like cardboard cutouts. And so do many of the other people in the story. Even the minor characters generally seem to have actual feelings and motivations and personalities, and not just to be caricatures like in that other book.

The characters in this book feel, they suffer, they love, they hate, they sorrow, they rejoice. In other words, (given a world that has vampires in it) they're real. And so we feel along with them.

Which is not to say that the book is grim and humorless. Yes, we learn what it's like to slowly realize that you're a vampire and there's nothing you can do about it except to live or die, and yes, we learn what it's like to realize that your best (only real) friend is not what she seems in more ways than one, but we also learn what happens to a vampire that has its head smashed into a pulp and is autopsied, but never has a stake driven through its heart. And I wouldn't have missed that part for anything.

So I highly recommend Let the Right One In, but remember that it's a vampire book and thus not for the squeamish. And that's as it should be.

Monday, April 20, 2009

'80s Monday: X

An American band for a change: X. They were punk, but kind of had a tinge of rockabilly and maybe even blues to their sound. Really they were roots rockers, post-punk before punk was even over. Critics loved them (so did do I), but they were never very popular.

On a "meta" note, the idiots at the record companies are taking down YouTube videos like crazy -- can't have people giving them free advertising by playing their bands' videos -- so it's getting hard to find videos for this series. I have a list of 85 bands I want to do, but if things keep going in this direction there won't be much point.

Anyway, here's X, maybe the best American band of the '80s.

"Los Angeles": the images are priceless. That was L.A. in the early '80s. Also note that this is a song about a racist, not a racist song. And watch out for a pretty clear n-word and s-word if you're sensitive, or around sensitive people, when you watch this.

"Soul Kitchen": a Doors cover. The guy with the glasses is Ray Manzarek.

"White Girl." Sorry about the sound and video quality. Blame the record companies.

This is about as much mainstream success as they ever had: they played Letterman in 1984. They did two songs, "Hot House," which is pretty good, and a cover of Jerry Lee Lewis's "Breathless" (from the Richard Gere movie of the same name) which is all kinds of awesome.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


The anti–gay marriage group National Organization for Marriage, or NOM (which, if you think about it, sounds more like a better acronym for a lesbian group -- nom-nom), issued a very peculiar commercial about "a storm coming." Not to be outdone, Stephen Colbert made his own anti–gay marriage commercial on the same theme.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Colbert Coalition's Anti-Gay Marriage Ad
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (4/14/2009)

A poll shows that most Americans -- even Republicans -- like San Francisco, New York, France, and Europe just fine. Except in the South.

How hard was it for Navy snipers to simultaneously shoot three pirates bobbing up and down in a boat 100 feet away?

The marriage-go-round:
One statistic that stunned me: take two children, one growing up with married parents in the United States, and one growing up with unmarried parents in Sweden—which child has the higher likelihood of seeing his parents’ relationship break up? Answer: the American kid, because children living with married parents in the United States have a higher probability of experiencing a break-up than do children living with unmarried parents in Sweden. That’s how high our break-up rates are.

Apparently, there's some sort of movement among disgruntled conservatives to protest the idea of slightly increasing the marginal tax rate on income above $250,000. In the spirit of the Boston Tea Party, which involved protesters stealing crates of tea to protest taxation without representation, these brave conservatives are purchasing teabags to protest taxation with representation. Unfortunately, they've decided to call their movement "teabagging," a word that is already taken. (Click at your own risk. Seriously. I'm warning you.) Fortunately, this is leading to great hilarity, including this double entendre fest by MSNBC's David Shuster.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Who's watching the Watchmen's Easter eggs?

'80s Monday: Squeeze

Squeeze is -- you guessed it -- another British band that was much more popular in the UK than in America during the '80s. They did make the Billboard Hot 100 three times, with "Tempted," "Hourglass," and "853-5937." "Hourglass" was their biggest American hit, but "Tempted" is the one that still shows up on the radio once in a while.

As a rule, I never link to a video for which embedding is disabled. I figure if the geniuses at some record company don't want me advertising their product by embedding it in my blog, I'm happy to oblige them.

But I have to make an exception for "Cool for Cats," because I couldn't do Squeeze without it. This is the first Squeeze video I ever saw, and it remains one of my all-time favorite videos. It's not "high concept" or anything, it's just the band and two backup singers/dancers playing in a sound stage. What makes it special is the dancers' enthusiasm, and the fact that they're wearing what appear to be red spandex catsuits, the most awesome black leather jackets (I ask you: How many bands are so cool that it takes two jackets to spell their name?), and red sunglasses.

The song is also awesome. It's not really the typical Squeeze sound. That's not their usual lead singer, but he delivers the song with this great cockney accent so the lyrics come out as "They ge' a gang of villains in a shed ou' by 'Eafrow" and so on. And "Give the dog a bone" has been one of my favorites euphemisms ever since. Here's "Cool for Cats (1979).

"Another Nail in My Heart" (1980) was more typical of their sound.

Of course, I have to include "Tempted" (1981). It's really a great song.

"Black Coffee in Bed" (1982) might actually be my favorite Squeeze song.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

That won't happen now

"I always wanted to go home with you. That won't happen now." -- Broken Sword's dying words to Flying Snow in Hero.

There are several great scenes and great images in Hero. The scene that I've always found most moving, though, the final one between the lovers Broken Sword and Flying Snow, doesn't usually gain mention among people's favorites. But it brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it because of four words: "That won't happen now." All of Broken Sword's hopes and dreams of a long, peaceful, happy life with Flying Snow are gone in an instant. Yet he doesn't need to give a long speech to express every bit of the sorrow he feels. All he needs are those four words, among the saddest I know. "That won't happen now."

Some of you may have noticed my absence from our shared online worlds for the past week. (Although I did manage a couple of blog posts through the magic of post-dated posting.) I was visiting my mom in California.

Since the last time I wrote about my mother, she's been diagnosed with stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer. So Mom now has, in no particular order, congestive heart failure, emphysema (COPD), asthma, osteoporosis, advanced breast cancer, severe anemia (caused by the cancer), and a hernia.

Her cancer diagnosis is not "terminal." Her oncologist has planned a year's course of treatment, so he at has least some hope that she'll be around that long. But thanks to the internet, I know the odds. I'll never say them, though, not even to myself.

I've gone round and round on what kind of post to make this. I've thought of titling this post "Never tell me the odds"; I've thought of calling it "Giving up." I've thought of making this a rant against my sister, who's been taking no better care of Mom than before.

I've thought about trying to explain what's been going on, with more detail on how and why I've tried to convince my mother to move up here with us, and how and why I've failed. But I've decided to do this instead. I've decided to just say what I wanted for her. (Feel free to make your own inferences about what that means about what she doesn't have now. Your inferences will likely be correct.)

We -- and by "we" I include my wife, who is fully on board with everything and God how I love her for it, and my children, who agree to the extent of their understandings -- wanted Mom to come live with us. We wanted her to live with us so her living conditions would be hygienic, she'd always be clean and well-groomed, and she'd get as much good-tasting, nutritious food as she could handle.

We wanted Mom to live with us so she'd always feel secure that she could ask for anything she wants or needs, and no one would ever try to make her feel guilty for being sick, or argue with her, or shout at her. We wanted her to always feel certain that her every need would be met with cheerful help in a timely way.

We wanted Mom to live with us so she could feel secure that she would always have a family member nearby and she would never be left alone for two nights (or one, for that matter) while her (so-called) caregiver took off for a weekend vacation and left her home alone with her congestive heart failure, emphysema, asthma, osteoporosis, advanced breast cancer, severe anemia, and hernia.

We wanted Mom to live with us so she'd be with people who would never make her feel like a worthless old woman, people who would value her life and want to know her stories. We wanted to love her, to cherish her in her old age.

When the end comes -- not too soon, we hope, though we'd prepare for that too -- we wanted it to come in Mom's own bed in our home, where Mom would be surrounded by people who feel, or at least express, nothing but love for her, empathy for any pain or fear she has, sorrow at her passing, and hope that perhaps something better awaits her.

Those are the kinds of things we wanted for Mom. That won't happen now.

Monday, April 06, 2009

'80s Monday: XTC

XTC is another great band that was moderately popular in the UK and well outside the mainstream in the USA during the 80s. They only had one single make the Billboard Hot 100, although they did manage a couple of Top 50 albums. They're probably best known for their anti-religion anthem "Dear God."

"Dear God" (1987). I know some people consider this song blasphemous, but I think it's one of the most moving songs ever written. What makes it beautiful rather than a mere rant is the sincerity with which the song is addressed directly to God. It takes the form of a letter to God, in which the writer states why he can't believe in Him (i.e., "the problem of evil"; how can a good God exist if he allows so much evil to exist?).

Not all their songs were so dramatic though. This is "Senses Working Overtime" (1982). It's a celebration of the senses. Watch out, because it's got a serious earworm hook in it:

And I've got
Senses working overtime

"Generals and Majors" (1980) was a very catchy and danceable anti-war song. With XTC, if the lyrics weren't necessarily deep, the subject matter usually was.

Usually I only plan to do three songs for 80s Monday, but I couldn't decide between "Generals and Majors" and "Making Plans for Nigel" (1979), so here's an extra one. I think everybody knows somebody like Nigel. Other people plan his life for him, and he just goes along with it. Poor Nigel.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Car Chase Friday: The French Connection

This week's chase is from the French Connection (1971; Best Picture winner, BTW). Gene Hackman is a cop chasing a suspect who's hijacked an elevated train. Hackman follows the car on the roads under the train. What this chase added to the movie car chase vocabulary is the front-bumper point of view. This adds to the sense of speed and the scene's frenetic energy.

And Hackman's reaction shots add a lot. Unlike the unflappable Steve McQueen in Bullitt, Hackman is flappable. Very,very flappable indeed. The best part is the baby carriage sequence about 1:12 in, which is edited at a frantic pace that was really rare in 1971 -- seven cuts in about six seconds, I make it. It works really well.

I couldn't find the whole chase, except for one version with background music added, so this is just a clip. It includes the best parts though. What it leaves out, though, is that Hackman commandeered the car from a random civilian. It's not even his own car that he's demolishing! Enjoy.