Thursday, January 22, 2004
The Switch!

I have made the switch. I'm still committed to learning Dreamweaver, but have accepted my short term limitations. However, I want more features than Blogger offers--after six or seven months, they STILL haven't reinstated their premium service, so fuck 'em.

Change your bookmarks, Hyperbole fans:

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Read Nicholas Kristof's column from Saturday and from today in the New York Times, regarding prostitution and sex slavery in Cambodia, and his decision to buy the freedom of two prositutes. Must-read journalism.
Just to follow up a little bit, I highly recommend that anyone interested check out this link:


Partway down the page you can click in the "Related" box under "Audio Slide Show: Candidates React" to see a brief clip of Howard Dean's speech after the Iowa results were announced. (It follows a couple of other short clips).

It seems very clear that Howard Dean is batshit-insane. Obviously, one can't fairly judge a candidate by a speech they give, but my ideal candidate to take on Bush isn't prone to screaming "WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!" on national television.
Tuesday, January 20, 2004

John Kerry won.

John Edwards came in second.

John Kerry won.

John Edwards came in second.

Holy shit.

Dean got less than half of Kerry's support, and Gephardt failed, utterly and completely. Wow.

The polls in the last few days were suggesting that Kerry and Edwards were starting to surge. But I have to confess I didn't believe them. But I'm happy to see it. I'm thrilled, I'll say.

Here are the questions at hand--though this is more of a curious academic exercise between now and New Hampshire's primary, which is in one week.

Q. Is Dean done?
A. No....maybe. But this is a killer. He put a lot of resources into Iowa, and just a few short weeks ago the media was calling the race to the nomination. I certainly fell into that trap. But I'm not convinced now that he wasn't riding momentum. He is still ahead in New Hampshire, but he's facing an extremely tight race, challenged seriously by both Clark and Kerry. Any could win. If Dean fails to win New Hampshire, he is absolutely done for. And he may be done if he doesn't win by a lot. Does anyone seriously think that once attention turns to South Carolina, that someone with no Southern or military cache is going to do the job down there? Nope. If things last for a very long time, his money advantage should help. But he's in trouble.

Q. Can Kerry keep it up?
A. I think so. I like Kerry a bunch, and have from the get-go. I think his military background gives him a lot of immunity from that Northeast liberal thing, despite the fact that he IS a Northeast liberal--his voting record is generally excellent. He's more liberal than Dean--something that few people seem to understand. I worry about his money, but he could get it together fast, I suspect. He's got a lot of substance, the experience, the military background.

Q. Edwards? WTF?
A. I do not know. I read somewhere that this gives Edwards a free pass through the drubbing he will receive in New Hampshire. Probably. He's from North Carolina, so he should have a very, very good chance in South Carolina, though he's been polling behind both Clark and Dean there. But the polls can change fast, as Iowa has shown. Edwards is Clintonian, IMO--quite centrist, smart, likeable. Whether he has the substance to beat Bush--which is hilarious given how utterly substanceless our President is--is a different question. But I'd rather see him than Dean. More on this below.

Q. Wheat from the chaff? Can we separate it?
A. God, please. Gephardt, thanks. Bye. Kucinich? GET OUT. Sharpton? SHUT UP AND GET OUT. Lieberman? GET OUT AND GO AWAY. Gephardt is gone, and I predict Lieberman will get out after New Hampshire. Sharpton and Kucinich are likely to hang around, annoying everyone, for months. But the marginalization of the peripheral candidates has really gotten going in earnest.

Q. Who does Hyperbole support?
A. In this order, here's who I'd like:

Clark, Kerry, Edwards, Dean.

Clark will punish Bush. PUNISH him. This crap about Clark waffling on the war is going to be irrelevant soon, and not because it's false, but because in a general election, the Bushies simply have to hope no one cares about Iraq. Because that situation will be a mess, still, with troops still dying. Clark is everything Bush wishes he could be.

Kerry has substance, military experience. I love his politics, and I respect him greatly.

Edwards is likeable, and if he gets far enough to actually get the nomination, will be a unifying figure.

Dean. Ah, Howard. Here's the thing: I like Dean. I have liked him since I saw him on CNN, talking about Iraq and health care and whatever else, and it's clear that he is a straight talker, smart, determined.

But--and I hate to say this--I don't think he can win. Not because he's "angry" or "negative" or "liberal" or whatever other crap there is. It's because the media doesn't like him. It's unfair and stupid that media spin should determine electability. But it's a fact. And we saw what happened to Gore--a far superior candidate was destroyed by a nasty, personal, lying media machine. They will do it again, and Dean is 2004's media punching bag. Nominating the punching bag will doom us.

I know it is not very idealistic to say that we can't elect a good man because the media has decided it is so. But I am willing to abandon most of my idealism to see Bush out. The practical realities of the Bush presidency are so horrific that the end must come. We have sunk far when we advocate the dismissal of a candidate because of the spin. But lamenting the fact that we've sunk that far will not change the fact that we have, indeed, sunk.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Inertia is my enemy.

There's no question about it. I can't get the things done that I want to get done, because various things sap my will to overcome inertia.

For example:

I would like to have a new website. I have overcome the inertia which was preventing me from actually purchasing the domain name. I have now done that. My very good friend Shasta did me an incredible favor by sending me some outstanding software to design my site. I overcame inertia enough to put it on the computer.

And yet I am now stymied. I have Dreamweaver, but I don't understand how to use it. I get halfway through the tutorial and my will to work saps away. I have a half-finished design scrawled down on some paper. I have attempted to sort out what pictures I want on the site. I fail. And so I soldier on, using this workable but uninspired blogger page.

I want to write more. Yet I do not.

I want to read the Bible. I have gotten through Genesis. That's the first book. I'm thinking about reading Harry Potter again.

I need to get to work on dog obedience. Soon.

I may soon need to begin learning to speak Arabic. How?

I manage to do five things:

1--Care for children
2--Care for dog
3--Play Scrabble and study some
4--Triathlon training
5--Watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I am particularly good at #3 and #5.

Why? Why is inertia so powerful?

I think Apollo has tripled the power of inertia around here, though that's just a rough estimate.

I never thought of myself as lazy. Not exactly a working powerhouse, but not lazy. Yet I feel lazy now. Very lazy.

I've written too much. I need to lie down.
Friday, January 16, 2004
There is no form of life lower than the goddamned housefly.*

*Tom Delay exception applies.
Wednesday, January 14, 2004

I have had no lists in a while. And it's time, people. It's PAST time.

I'm revisiting a list that I did a while back, when we were still situated at Salon Blogs. It's a list of my Favorite Ten Albums. Why the revisit? Because things have changed. I've changed, the music has changed. Two albums I've gotten in the last 6 months have moved solidly, and unquestionably, onto the list. Things change.

To be clear, this is not a list of the ten "Greatest" albums of all time. I'm not considering importance/influence/impact. Pure subjectivity here. My list isn't your list. But your list sucks compared to mine.

Let's roll. These are not in any particular order. And I chose not to duplicate albums by artists--no more than one per artist.

My Ten Favorite Albums
January, 2004

1. A Rush of Blood to the Head by Coldplay. Been whacko about Coldplay since I first heard the single "Yellow", which was on my All-Time Top Twenty Singles list, but has since been replaced by "Clocks". This album is better than the first, Parachutes, by some margin. And that's saying something. One of the new additions.

2. Kill the Moonlight by Spoon. The other brand new addition. People, if you don't know this album, and it' s likely you don't, then you are REALLY missing out. Even if the whole album sucked but it still had the single "Something to Look Forward To" then it would STILL be a great album. Run, don't walk.

3. Grace by Jeff Buckley. Truly a tragic death. What a voice! One of the most influential, and best, albums of the past 15 years.

4. Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen. I think I'd previously included "Nebraska" on this list, and while that's still a mind-boggling piece of work, "Born in the USA" is really more even. I chafe at this a little bit, for two reasons--it's the Boss' biggest commercial success, which makes me feel like a chump. And, like many, I used to think that the title track was a big patriotic anthem, which is like a Toby Keith turnoff. But it's not at all, and is one of the highlights to a classic album.

5. OK Computer by Radiohead. My opinion about the best Radiohead album can fluctuate quickly. I adore them. I think OK Computer is the best, probably, maybe. I listen to it the most.

6. Paul's Boutique by The Beastie Boys. Flip a coin between this and Check Your Head. Today, it's Paul's Boutique. Who can beat lyrics like

Got busy in Frisco/Fooled Around in Fresno/Got over on your girlie 'cause you know she never says no

7. Revolver by The Beatles. Or Rubber Soul, maybe. Or maybe Abbey Road. Or the White Album.

8. Mermaid Avenue, Volume One by Billy Bragg and Wilco. Prior to this, I pretty much thought Billy Bragg was a completely annoying tool. But the two compilations with Wilco put an end to that fast. Not that I'll be buying any Billy Bragg solo albums.

9. Under the Table and Dreaming by The Dave Matthews Band. I liked Crash, too, but after that I just was no longer into Dave Matthews. But Under the Table has like ten songs on it that I can put on repeat.

10. London Calling by The Clash. If I need to explain this to you, you are not my friend.

No women on the list, again. Hmmmm......Norah Jones and Sheryl Crow are great with me. But I guess not elite. I guess I hate women.
Dean wins!

Howard Dean won the literally and figuratively irrelevant DC primary yesterday. Al Sharpton came in second, Carol Moseley-Braun third, and Kucinich fourth. You won't see the names "Sharpton," "Moseley-Braun", and "Kucinich" anywhere near the words "second,", "third," or "fourth" again. Watch for "last" or "out of the running".

What this highlights, again, is the absolute powerlessness of the citizens of Washington, DC on national affairs. I've written about this before, but what the hell.

The voting status of the districts citizenry is an abomination. It is indefensible, completely and utterly. There is literally no argument that can be made to defend a situation in which nearly 600,000 people--more than the population of Wyoming, at least--are disenfranchised. They pay federal taxes, they are subjected to Selective Service as well as National Guard requirements. But they have no voting representation in the US Congress. No argument can be made to justify that. I've never even heard one. It's a travesty of democracy.
Comments, redux

Switched comment servers, which unfortunately means all the old comments are defunct, but I'm hoping to switch sites soon anyway, like in the next six years.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Blogspeak, who handles my comments, is down for some reason--account suspended, according to the website. I'll try and resolve it soon.

Updates and politics

I apologize for the lack of writing lately, but things are really only now beginning to settle enough to be able to spend any time on it. I hope to write something more substantial tomorrow. Apollo is doing well; it's hard to remember sometimes that he's really a baby. Just 3 months old. But he's so freaking big--about 40 pounds--that I am surprised when he acts like a puppy. But things are improving on the maintenance front.

I had intended to take one more day, but I just have to say something about various political items. Don't look for concrete analysis here.

1. Mission to Mars. I've come to believe that, for now, manned space travel is a tremendous waste of money and time. Not that I'm not fascinated by it--space is cool. In light of what's going on with our deficit and everything else, I think Bush's proposal on this is, frankly, insulting.

2. Did anyone read this piece by Maureen Dowd in the New York times last Sunday? I think Dowd is a lousy writer at her best, and a snippety bitch at her worst. I was so angry about this column that I wrote a letter to the editor. The publicity--front page of the New York Times, for god's sake--about Wesley Clark's clothes sends me into an undying rage. Can we talk about something else, PLEASE?

3. The Supreme Court's decision to not hear a case challenging government secrecy on terror suspects is a giant step backward on civil rights. Anyone guess that one was a 5-4?

Big sigh.
Thursday, January 08, 2004

Well, Apollo is here. He arrived this morning, safely and soundly.

He's really, really, really cute. And he's really, really, really big. At 12 weeks, he's comparable to what I've seen in Labs at maybe seven or eight months. And his paws are so big that they barely fit in the house--we have to grease him up. His coloring is just fantastic--sort of a dark grey-silver.

His personality seems excellent. He's very calm, interested but still a little reserved, wagging his tail. Obviously, a move away from his human and dog family, changing climates dramatically, flying on an airplane for eight hours are all traumatic. But he seems to be taking it in stride.

He's sleeping now, as I expect him to do a lot for a couple of days, and beyond.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004
New Website coming

I don't know when I'm going to get my shit together to finish it, but I've bought the domain name www.hyperboleonline.com, and I'll be moving there sometime. I don't know when. I like this site fine, but I want something that will allow me to post pictures and graphics. Inertia, holidays, children, and dogs are the only things holding me back.
Apollo's Arrival

We're at T-minus one day on Apollo's arrival. He boards a cargo plane tonight, and flies direct from Manchester, England to Dubai. We'll pick him up tomorrow morning when his flight arrives at 7 A.M.

It's amazing how many similarities there are between getting a dog and having a child. Obviously, there some pretty substantial differences as well, and those differences are self-evident. But there's still the feeling of adding a member to the family; the preparations of the house, the buying of various necessary items. Like having a child, the feelings are largely positive; it's exciting and emotional and fun.

There are negatives, too. There's the awareness that adding a dog--a Great Dane, no less--will result in even less freedom than parents of a 3 and 1 year old have anyway, and that's not too damned much. There's the financial hit--buying a Great Dane from a good breeder costs A LOT OF MONEY. Not to mention food and supplies. There's the concern that the dog will upset the children. There's the fear that the dog will eat the children. There's the concern that a forty-pound puppy will eat every toy, book, rug, and piece of furniture in the house. Most of all, there's just the vague sense that it's taking on too much. Perhaps way too much.

Our rationalization has been that life is crazy and demanding already, so it can't be that much crazier and demanding. That's absolute foolishness, of course, but it's been working. More or less. And we really do adore dogs. I've always wanted a really BIG dog, and the Dane counts--Apollo will grow up to weigh between 150 and 180 pounds and stand over three feet at the shoulder. I love the way they look, and I love what I read about their personalities. I have little doubt that Apollo is going to enrich our lives in many ways.

Unless he is the straw that breaks the camel's back, and we spiral into bankruptcy, depression, insanity, and ultimately death.

I'm not counting on that. I'm nervously excited. New dog!

I'll put up some pictures once I get the new website up, ASAP.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004
Move On

You may have heard about MoveOn.org's anti-Bush Ad contest. The site is here, and it's worth checking out, believe me. Download some (or all) of the commercials to take a gander. The second ad--"In My Country"--is just fantastic, but all are great. I do have to say that emphasizing the war exclusively would be a mistake, but I hope Move On pays for all of these to be aired.

I also recommend you look at this site as well, but turn the sound down if you're at work. Thanks to Dave S. This one is awesome.
Scrabble Journal 13

I haven't written much about anything lately, and its been at least a few weeks since my last Scrabble Journal. We missed a week at the Scrabble Club around New Year's, and I've just not had it together to write the other weeks, between holidays and family and all that jazz. Things are starting to settle down a bit, though.

A brief update before discussing last night and where things are at.

Two weeks ago I finally won the weekly tournament. We always have a small tournament--just the five or six of us. Minimal financial contribution of about five bucks. No big deal. Just adds a marginally competitive element to the whole thing. Anyway, I'd only come in second until two weeks ago, and then I finally won the whole thing by running through it undefeated. I didn't feel like it was my best night; I played pretty well, obviously, but I was also lucky. In four games I drew all eight possible blanks. So that's a big help. But still, it was good.

Then we had a week off, and I've done virtually no online play or any real studying for a couple of weeks--too busy. And I figure that I know have around 3 months before the UAE qualifier for the Gulf Open; if I can be disciplined about it, I should be able to improve considerably and give myself a real chance. But I do need to work. I've got to get the rest of the threes nailed down, learn some more bingo stems, and make a dent in the fours.

But I can't deny that I'm becoming more optimistic. I'm a more confident player, I'm retaining words, and I'm seeing the board better than I ever have. It's hardly certain--far, far from it--that I can finish in the top seven in the UAE. However--and this is a MASSIVE shift from my initial thoughts on this goal--I no longer believe anyone would consider it an upset if I made it. (Well, properly speaking, no one active in the Dubai Scrabble Club would consider it an upset--the guys who were at the tournament we had in October would be able to prevent themselves from laughing at my previous statement. Oh, but they'll pay. They'll pay! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!)

There's a ways to go. But I'm becoming a very good player.

Last night I went 2-2, but I played better than that: the two games I lost against Selwyn and Aspi were marred by the same problem--in both games I drew three of the four S's all at once. Against Aspi, I then drew the fourth S, so I at one point I had a rack of EIOSSSS. One S is the best thing you can get after the blank. Two S's is not ideal, but it's manageable. Three is flat-out crap. And four is just the worst. Unlike other letters, it's hard to just exchange tiles, because the S is so valuable that you hate to give it to your opponent, or give them the chance to have it rather than you. But dumping those S's on low-scoring words is both literally and--for me--psychologically difficult, because I just KNOW the S should do more. So it's a lingering, multiple-turn problem as opposed to just a one-turn issue.

So I was a bit paralyzed, which is partially my fault, but also just bad luck. I need to draw well to beat Selwyn, but I really ought to beat Aspi most of the time; despite my bad luck with the S's, it was still a very close game. He drew both blanks and the QZXJ, too. But c'est la vie.

I did, however, beat Arvind fairly handily twice. And that was good, because he's good. I saw things well.

I can't overstate the difference I feel in terms of my confidence in these games. I expect to win against everyone but Selwyn. That doesn't mean I will, or even that I will win a majority of the games. But the fact that I go into the games thinking I can and will win means I play better.

This week:

Memorizing more threes
Get ten five-letter words that have JQXZ in them.
Practice a lot

Sunday, January 04, 2004
Reeve's Birthday

Reeve is one year old today. My god, time flies.

A couple of new pictures of Reeve here and Mercedes here.

Happy Birthday Sweet Reeve
Happy Birthday Sweet Reeve
Happy Birthday Reevie T
Happy Birthday to you
Friday, December 26, 2003
Return Of The King

The Return of the King opened here in Dubai on Tuesday for a couple of late showings; after some consideration, we opted to attend the first show on Wednesday morning, despite a barrage of cooking to be done for our Christmas dinner of 15. It was quite strange to go to a movie that began at 10:30 AM; we left the house around 9:30. Needlessly, as it turned out, because the ticket booth didn't open until 10:00, and there were plenty of empty seats in the theater. I guess a Wednesday morning show can't be expected to sell out both of the theaters they had ready.

Everyone in the world despises watching commercials at movies, unless they are commercials about movies. I've never seen anything like this one, though--there were 15 solid minutes of commercials before the previews. Cars, watches, cell phones, malls, amusement parks, jewelry, gold--these are the products I am not interested in hearing about before watching the Movie Event Of The Millenium. Even so, my spirits remained very high, even through ten more minutes of previews for what look to be terrible, terrible movies, including some new fecal matter starring The Rock and Sean William Scott.

And I was not to be disappointed. There are several elements of the film worth discussing, but in general I'll simply say that I found it to be a stunningly great film. And my expectations were VERY high. I was entirely blown away. Nothing I can say can recommend it highly enough.

An interesting phenomenon, looking at the film in retrospect, was that I found myself definitively going through the entire trilogy, as opposed to just the movie on its own. Return of the King, on its own, is one of the greatest movies I've ever seen. That said, I'm not sure it's better than Fellowship of the Ring. But it's hard to separate the film itself--Fellowship, that is--from the incredible sense of awe at the movie as it developed. By Return of the King, I knew what to expect, so while it was awesome, it wasn't surprising.

I need to see it again to firm up my thinking. But here are some thoughts on ROTK--I've you've not seen it, then there will be some spoiler talk below. But I doubt anyone's experience will be affected much either way.

The Coolest Individual Scenes:

--Shelob. My god. I knew the big spider was coming, of course. I was ready for it in The Two Towers, since that's where it appears in the books. It was worth the wait. It was terrifying, awe-inspiring, just incredible. Someone made a comment earlier that Shelob is the best movie spider ever. Whatever, man. Shelob is--seriously--the greatest movie monster in the history of film.

--Gandalf rides out to meet the Nazgul. When Faramir and the others rode back from Osgiliath, they were harassed by the Nazgul on their reptilian steeds. Gandalf riding forth on Shadowfax sent chills up my spine.

--The first sight of Minas Tirith.

--The army of the dead sweeping across the battlefield at Minas Tirith.

--The charge of the Rohirrim.

--The start of the battle at Minas Tirith, when the orcs catapault the heads of the men of Gondor that they had killed. Holy shit! If I was a soldier of Gondor, I'd pretty much have to ask for the brown pants immediately.

--The moment when the trolls come through the door at Minas Tirith. Gandalf is entreating the men of Gondor to fight on "no matter what comes through that door!" And then the door bursts, and the GARGANTUAN cave trolls come through. Incredible.

--The destruction of the ring. That entire scene--in book and film--is just remarkably intense. It's such a shock when Frodo announces he's keeping the ring, and a brilliant depiction of Gollum's end.

Some thoughts on the Arwen plotline:

For non-Tolkienites, Arwen Evenstar is really a peripheral character in the books. She's described in Fellowship as stupendously gorgeous, and then she's not in the Towers at all, and then she shows up at the very end of ROTK as Aragorn's escort. In the movies, Peter Jackson massively expanded the role. The flight to Rivendell in the first film, for instance, was ridden by the elf-lord Glorfindel in the books, not Arwen. And the romance doesn't receive any attention to speak of. I approved of the decision in Fellowship. In the end, though, Arwen's character contributed virtually nothing to the trilogy. Did anyone care that she was dying? Nope. In the end, there were only two real purposes: she made the "Will Aragorn pick Eowyn or Arwen?" question more interesting. And she told her father to remake the blade that was broken. In the books, of course, they just make the damned thing before the Fellowship even heads out. But in the books, Aragorn is a less interesting character because he's less conflicted about his birthright.

Anyway, Arwen was OK, but it's annoying that Liv Tyler is featured so prominently in the print ads and on the cover of the DVDs.

The Down Moment:

I was not at all into the scene after Frodo wakes up to find Gandalf and everyone around him. Too silly and awkward. The only moment in the film that was annoying.

The Denouement:

Much was made in reviews about the length of the movie and, in particular, the denouement after the destruction of the ring. I find these to be silly complaints. It was long, sure, but it would have been terribly difficult to impossible to cut anything out beyond what Jackson already cut. I, for one, would have sat through three more hours, but that's me. As for the denouement, I felt that he length was exactly right. It's much longer in the books, after all; the entire Scouring of the Shire is slashed from the movie. There were many plotlines to tie up, and it was very important that the film highlight the real ambiguity of the quest from Frodo's perspective; this was done extremely well. After all, it's not all giggles and happiness--Frodo simply can't go back to his old life in Hobbiton.

Furthermore, in the context of a ten hour film, which is really what the three movies comprise, a half-hour ending is about right.

The Acting:

Sean Astin, playing Sam, stole the show. Outstanding, heartfelt performance, and in a very difficult role--after all, the last half of the trilogy is really more about Sam than anyone else.

Andy Serkis--Gollum's voice and physicality--again just extraordinary. I assume he played Smeagol in the fantastic introduction to ROTK? I could look that up, I suppose. Either way, Gollum was GREAT.

Dominic Monaghan--Pippin--was really very good. Pippin, like in the books, was damned annoying in Fellowship. But he was far, far better by the end. And great work by Monaghan to portray Pippin's silliness in a decidedly unsilly situation.

Viggo Mortensen. Oh, Viggo. I might go gay for Viggo.

And, of course, Ian McKellan. perfect.

The Books:

I recently started reading Fellowship again, and will certainly reread them all after having finished the films. I must say that I think the movies are actually better than the books, as they are less bloated and have more human feeling. And there are fewer songs. But I'll read them all and see what I think of that.

I could go on. And on. And on. This won't be my last writing on this.

See the movie. See them all. The greatest film achievement--taken as a body of work--in my memory.

Birthday Tribute--Brent Siemers

I started doing these Birthday tributes a while back, and have since missed a bunch of friends' birthdays, most recently Shasta Turner. I'll make it up next year.

This isn't as long as Brent deserves, but time is short and I had to write about Return of the King.

Brent Siemers turned 31 on December 24. We've known each other since college. My last year of college--I took five years due to student teaching requirements--Brent was the centerpiece of my entertainment. Some of my favorite college memories include Brent (and whomever he could gather up) arriving at the local high school at the end of my day of student teaching with a car full of beer and croquet mallets. I'd got straight from being a responsible teacher of today's youth to being a goofy 23 year old drinking beer and playing croquet in the park at 3:30 on a Tuesday. It was awesome. And it personifies how I think about Brent.

There are many facets to our relationship, I think. I don't mean to imply that Brent is a shallow guy that I only have mindless fun with. Not at all. Brent is one of my favorite people for a million reasons, and our friendship has progressed past college and into real adulthood.

But fundamentally, the key thing is probably that there is virtually no one on earth I more consistently have fun with than Brent. Stupid fun, more sober fun, simple fun, whatever. We once attempted to play Trivia Pursuit, one on one, first player to win fifty games wins the bet. The stakes were only a six pack of beer, but we took it seriously. I think we played around sixty games or so before Brent had to concede defeat, but it was touch and go for a while. And awesome. We've also really put away more than our fair share of alcohol. Well, properly speaking, I put away my fair share, and Brent put away the shares of six or seven people and some horses. We've stayed up all night making mixed tapes. We've played a lot of basketball. And I once contributed some money to a fund to encourage Brent to run entirely around the block naked, which was one of the funnier things I've ever seen. There had been some drinking.

I have to put in one more word about Brent's ability to imbibe, which is stunning. I am sure he's lost most of his conditioning over the last ten years. But in his prime, I saw Brent drink a can of beer in less than five seconds--not uncommon. I saw him drink three beers in thirty seconds. I saw him drink a bottle of champagne in thirty seconds--for my money the most stunning feat of alcoholic consumption in history. I saw him sit under a keg, nozzle running in his mouth, for over two and a half minutes. My hero.

Brent is a responsible, extremely bright, politically astute, kind, and thoughtful friend. And a hell of a drinker.

Happy Birthday, my friend.

Monday, December 22, 2003
Hyperbole will be sporadically updated this week--family here and Christmas planning swamping other things. As a matter of fact, that sporadic production is likely to run until just after New Year's, as there will be more family coming and a trip to Oman.
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Headline in the English language Dubai paper Khaleej Times today:


Is that not something right out of The Onion?

Wednesday, December 17, 2003
ROTK again

So today is a big, big day in history. Return of the King opens. I am one of the many millions that have been looking forward to this for two years. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was the singular movie experience of my life. As a mid-level Tolkien geek, it has been extraordinary seeing the brilliant story come to the screen in such a loving and accurate way.

I've confirmed that it opens in Dubai in one week, so I'll see it--insha'allah--on Christmas Eve.

I am certain that I've never seen more effusive praise for a film in movie reviews. There are 92 presently posted on Rotten Tomatoes, and 90 are overwhelmingly positive. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

"No hyperbole or apologies: The Return of the King is one of the best films I have ever seen, and the trilogy it rounds out is the most significant filmmaking accomplishment I've witnessed."

"The final chapter completes The Lord of the Rings series in thrilling style -- and restores faith in the idea that popular entertainment can soar to majestic heights."

"Looking at the sum of its parts, The Lord of the Rings is probably the best trilogy ever made."

"[M]ay well be the transcendent cinematic experience of our time..."

"A staggering work."

A number--a large number--of the reviews are unabashed in saying that LOTR is the finest trilogy ever made. This is an interesting question. There are some who will claim that Star Wars--the first three--were more important or better, but this is laughable, pathetic folly. The trash that was Return of the Jedi end whatever claims George Lucas could make, and the first two movies were far outstripped by Fellowship and The Two Towers.

The only serious competitor has to be The Godfather. The first two films were among the finest ever made, period. The third was, in my opinion, still quite good, but obviously not in the same league as I and II. I'll withhold my own judgement for now, and write more after I've seen ROTK.

There are two people who gave ROTK bad reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.

Look. There is no accounting for taste. No doubt about it. And movie reviewers cannot be expected to agree on everything, nor should they. But when 98% of your peers love a film--and not in the sort of way that people give positive reviews to an above-average romantic comedy or something. They gush about it, they say it's grand larceny if it doesn't win Best Picture, they push hyperbole to the limit, they express sadness that it ends despite being 3 1/2 hours long, and they make statements about its historical greatness. When that happens, and you don't agree, you are wrong. And you are a bad reviewer. I'm not just saying that because I adore Lord of the Rings--to put it mildly. I would say the same about any great film. If you're on the opposite side of the universe as everyone else, you have no business professionally reviewing films.

I'm so excited to watch ROTK next week that I can't stand it. All of you in the US seeing it today, make sure and tell me what you think. But I think I know already.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

I was going to write about politics or some such crap, but I can't. Because Return of the King opens tomorrow. It opens, unfortunately, in another week or two in Dubai, but that's better than seeing The Two Towers six months after it opened.

So I'm too excited to write about anything else, but it's inappropriate to write more about ROTK before I read all the reviews tomorrow. I've read almost all of them presently posted on www.rottentomatoes.com, where it presently has a 100% approval rating, with the average reviewer--the average reviewer--giving it a 9.5 out of 10.

Tomorrow, more.
Monday, December 15, 2003

The capture of Saddam Hussein is just fantastic, fantastic news. One of the most despicable and destructive dictators in history, the Iraqi people have real reason to rejoice. Seeing him poked and prodded like a horse undergoing a humiliating medical exam on camera was the ultimate schadenfreude.

I doubt this changes the calculations in Iraq too substantially--the most important change will simply be that Iraqis can now be confident that Saddam ain't coming back. But the biggest issue--continued violence--is almost certainly unrelated to Saddam. My only speck of a worry is that this may accelerate the likelihood of a premature pullout by the Bush Administration, who can justifiably call this a major victory. But it's not THE victory. I hope it's not touted as such.

The most interesting articles I've read on this have centered on the reaction in the Arab world. While some Arabs have seemingly rejoiced that Saddam is captured, apparently many have felt--in the words of the New York Times headline--"embarrassment." Saddam was a figure reviled for his mistreatment of his own people, but also celebrated as someone who stood up to the west. Here are two telling paragraphs:

"It is a shock to many," said the academic, Mustapha Hamarneh, who is the director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. "They wanted him to at least die fighting, not be caught lying down in some hole like a rat. The image they built of him over the past 35 years was that he was a knight who would not die lying down."

"It is a shameful day in the history of the Arab nation when a prominent Arab president is caught by foreign occupiers and not the Iraqi people," said Abu Khaled, a Damascus taxi driver who gave only his nickname. "Saddam made a lot of deadly mistakes while in power. He attacked Iran and occupied Kuwait, and of course I don't support him, but let's not forget he was the first to strike Israel with dozens of missiles that shocked our enemies."

And Abu Khaled's opinion, seemingly, was common across the Middle East.

Fascinating. I think there are three important observations to be made about this.

First, there are cultural gaps between the West and the Arab world that are wider than the Pacific Ocean. I simply cannot understand--can't even process--how anyone could feel embarrassment or regret or sadness about this, or call Saddam a knight. Here's a man responsible for genocide, mass murder, systemic rape, kidnapping, torture, and whatever other atrocities you'd care to describe. How can simply giving the finger to the US overcome all of those things, or at least significantly mitigate them in the evaluation of Saddam as an Arab leader? I don't understand the mentality. I never will.

Second, from a policy perspective, we have a really long ways to go in overcoming the problems in Arab-US relations. George Bush's simplistic "Them bad guys sure do hate us free folks because we're free and not for any reason relating to US policy and you're a terrorist if you imply that it has something to do with our policy" formulation notwithstanding, our history of coddling dictators and favoring Israel no matter what they do has very real costs. Hearts and minds--as evidenced by the reaction to Saddam's capture--are not on our side. Crudely put, we've just pissed too many people off. Saddam's capture should be a cause for rejoicing, and there should be no mixed reactions to that.

Finally--and my ultra-lefty friends will object to this--there needs to be some cultural change in the Arab world. There are external issues at play here--namely, that Arabs have felt humiliated for so long that anyone who stands up to the perceived (and sometimes real) source of their humiliation will be seen as a hero. But there is also an internal dynamic at play here, that undervalues the importance of freedom. And I'm not talking about freedom of expression, freedom to sing bad songs or the freedom to pee on the Koran and call it art, anything like that. I'm talking about the basics. I'm talking about freedom from torture and rape and kidnapping. Standing up to the Man is important. But standing on people in order to stand up to the man is not OK, and those who are being tromped upon should know it.

I don't know what this means, politically, but that is a question for another day. The key point is a truly evil man has been captured. If anyone deserves the death penalty, it's Saddam, but as a death penalty opponent I hope he doesn't get it. Beyond the normal arguments, I also think it would all the more humiliating for Saddam to have to live out his days as a prisoner.

Friday, December 12, 2003

I finished my first triathlon yesterday. I went into the thing expecting to finish, because it was a short race and I had trained reasonably well. Nevertheless, it was an unknown event for me, and I had no sense of how difficult or enjoyable it would turn out to be.

This was a small race--I'm not sure but I estimate there were around 60 people competing. Just to ruin any suspense, I'll say now that I didn't win. Nor did I get last. Rather, I beat 6 people. So that's not very good. But what the hell?

The start, finish, and transition area for the race were at a hotel and golf resort on the beach, south of Dubai. We drove down, about 20 minutes or so, arriving roughly an hour before the race. As we parked and I saw other competitors, a few things became abundantly clear:

--I had more gear envy that I had really realized. Specifically, I was pretty embarrassed about my bicycle. I don't have a racing bike, or even a low-quality road bike. Instead, I have a decent quality hybrid bike--shaped like a mountain bike for comfort and durability, but with slightly thinner tires so as to be designed less for rugged trail riding. It's faster than a mountain bike, but still significantly slower than a racing bike. I thought I didn't hang-ups about this--god knows I don't have many ego issues about the "racing" that I do--but I did feel sheepish. It marked me at the outset as a less-than-serious triathlete.

--People who do triathlons are really, really fit. The people in this event looked great--healthy, trim, muscular. My main point of comparison is a marathon, and while there are many very fit people who do marathons, the top competitors are actually sort of grossly skinny, and there are a lot more average-joes who do marathons nowadays. Myself included. I was one of only a couple people in this race with a not-too-big-and-diminishing-but-still-extant spare tire.

I registered and set up in the transition area--the place where racers change gear and clothing from one event to the next. It was definitely a testimonial to my expectations that I set up in the wide-open back area of the transition area. Most people set up in the front so they don't have to fight through it to get out. But I knew I wouldn't be fighting anybody. So I set up my bike on the rack, laid out biking shoes and running shoes with socks inside. I set a towel on the bike seat to dry off after the swim, my shirt on the front of the bike. No need for new pants, as I have some quick-dry pants that can be used comfortably for all three events. One water bottle on the bike, another next to the bike to drink while transitioning. Moleskin for the nipples.

Melissa, Mercedes and I walked dow to the beach (we left Reeve at home with Shanthi) to check out the swim course. It was in a well-contained area, with two breakers preventing even a semblance of waves on the course. It was a triangular set-up--out, around a buoy, across, around another buoy, and back to the beach. The course was laid out at 375 meters, so we had to do two laps, coming out of the water to go around a flag on the beach before diving back in for the second lap. It really didn't seem very far, frankly, and the water was so calm that I felt relatively confident.

Good luck kisses and it was time to start. Got the goggles on, took the shirt off, ready to roll. The beginning was highly anticlimactic--the only races I've done as an adult have been big marathons, where the start has several thousand people and a cannon to set things off. I'm usually far enough back in those races that there's no running at all for several minutes; rather, everyone just shuffles forward. And, consequently, people tend to shout and clap and celebrate that the race has begun. ("Yes! Bring the pain! Yes! Now I will suffer! I am ecstatic!") In this case, there was a brief announcement, a quick "OK, ready?", and one of those obnoxious horns. Off we went.

The beginning of the race was CRAZY. I had sworn to myself that I needed to pace myself, as I'm not a very fit swimmer yet. I've improved, and I knew I could go the distance, but I had to hold back. Needless to say, that didn't happen. Everyone got in the water fast, and it was a real crush to make space and try and get into a groove. As a result, I pretty much swam all-out freestyle for the first two minutes or so. I was passing people, which was gratifying. Suddenly, though, I realized that I had made a mistake, because I was getting really damned tired. I had been kicked in the head, and had my ass groped by swimmers behind me as I fell back. But it had to happen. I slowed down, switching to the slower-but-easier breast stroke for a bit, and dropped intentionally behind the first group. And then behind the second group. Then the third group. Soon I was in my own group, which was fine.

The swim was harder than I expected, and I expected it to be hard. The lowest point in the race for me--no doubt about it--was coming out of the water the first time and knowing I had another lap to go. The swim was also disconcerting, actually--the water was murky, and I'm used to lap swimming in a pool where I can always see where I am and where I'm going. To see where I was, I kept having to interrupt my stroke, which was going to hell anyway. I did about 50-50 freestyle and breast stroke on the second lap. Maybe 50-45, and 5 percent some bizarre combination of dog paddle and drowning.

At any rate, I came out of the water tired and with maybe 10 or 15 people behind me, based on what I could see. I did 750 meters--just shy of a half-mile--in 16 minutes, which I guess isn't truly wretched, and is faster than I'd planned on. But I was tired.

Transition 1. If I can digress a bit, I'll say that one of the coolest things about triathloning is the transition. It's exciting to look forward to switching it up, and I found it cool to try and be as efficient as possible while also getting a couple of minutes of rest. Anyway, the first transition is slower than the second, because one has to dry off at least a little, put on socks and shoes and shirt, get the bike off of the rack, and then run the bike out of the transition area before mounting. I took four minutes to do it.

The bike ride went moderately well. I had been thinking I could do the 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) in about 42 minutes or so, and it actually took me 47 minutes. It was an L-shaped loop that we had to do twice. The first length was great, I was well ahead of pace and feeling great, even passing a couple of people, but then at the hook of the L turned into a reasonably stiff headwind on a marginal uphill, and it just knocked me out. With the wind I was averaging about 32 kilometers per hour. Against the wind, about 19 or 20. It was a killer. Wind is not a biker's friend, but it's much, much worse on a mountain-style bike because you're upright and thus create far more drag.

I was, of course, lapped by the leaders and passed by several people who I had beaten out of the water. I was able, on the second lap, to size up who was still behind me--there were four people. It's not a coincidence that three of them were on mountain bikes. That's not to say--in the least--that all of my problems were due to having an inferior bike for a race. I wouldn't have suddenly competed well if I'd had a good bike. But I also have little doubt that my bike added many minutes to my ride.

Actually, I was mostly disappointed with myself on the bike. I just didn't push very hard when I was against the wind. I didn't demonstrate a shred of tenacity. I should have been faster.

The bike-to-run transition was fast--maybe two minutes, tops--but there's not much to it. Off the bike, take off the helmet, switch shoes, go. But the jelly-legs--oh, mama. It's hard to make that transition. Still, jelly legs went away faster than I'd expected, but I was more weary from the swim than I'd hoped, so I was hoping to run a good 8 minute mile and finish the run in 24 minutes, but it took almost 27. A little disappointing there, but I was tired. I did pass two people, and I ran hard on the second half of the run. As I finished, an imam at a mosque in the distance was calling out the evening prayer, which reminded me of where I was. And seeing Melissa clapping and Mercedes jumping up and down was a nice conclusion.

I have a lot of work to do for the March triathlon, which doubles all distances. But I'm sold on triathloning. It was really fun, except for the second lap of the swim. The transitions are exciting. And while it's hard work and tiring, it's not the same level of bone-shredding exhaustion the marathon induces.

Tomorrow, the work on being a better swimmer will begin. Today, rest and relaxation and reminiscence.

Thursday, December 11, 2003
Just a quick note to those who are hitting refresh on their browsers over and over and over and over in an attempt to discern the results of my triathlon, which was this afternoon. I finished, I did not get last, and it was hard but fun. I'll write more in depth about it tomorrow when I'm less tired.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003
The Calm Before The Storm

Things are about to get crazy here in Dubai. We are in the calm.

My mother and sister arrive Sunday, to stay for a couple of weeks through Christmas. We're all very excited to see them, and excited for them to see Dubai.

Then Melissa's parents arrive for about 10 days, which will be great, and will include a driving trip to Oman for all of us. Oman is supposed to be really very nice.

Then, January 8, Apollo arrives. And at that point, we will have moved full-fledged into sheer insanity, adding a Great Dane puppy to the hectic mix of our lives.

I'm 99% excited about the next month. I'm 1% dreading it. There is always that feeling of "why in the world can't things just be normal" whenever the routine is tampered with.

When I think about all the diapers my mother will happily change, though, that 1% melts away.

I'm a day behind in writing about Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean as the Democratic nominee because I was offline all day yesterday. But it's not too late, right? Right?

First of all, this is massive in terms of its impact on the almost-marginal-but-not-quite-marginal campaigns of Lieberman, Gephardt, Edwards, Kerry. Those are the guys who stood the best chance of rising because they could maybe swing the Establishment Credibility Club. But that's over. It's just devastating to them.

Without knowing the details, and having read very little analysis, my conjecture is that this was a conscious attempt by the Democrat establishment--the insiders--to create a rally-round-the-candidate effect for Dean. There has been a lot of criticism leveled against Dems for their inability to come up with a consensus candidate like the GOP is so good at doing. Of course, this is a sad statement about our political system, because no votes have been cast yet. Nevertheless, the fact is that 8 candidates sniping at each other for fifteen seconds each is not doing much to convince swing voters that the Dems have it together. Anointing Dean as the Democratic nominee could begin the process earlier of getting him into the public mind. I think the insiders gave up, decided Dean was inevitable, and Gore is the front man for his acceptance.

Alternatively, Gore could be a rogue.

Clark is still there, though. Even with a sputtering start and some nasty press (and some disturbing press--read the November 17 New Yorker article about him) he's still, on the surface, the most electable candidate.

Melissa and I were discussing yesterday that we believe the Dems have an obligation to suck it up and simply choose the most electable person. If it's not Clark, OK. I just hope anger--and Dean's ability to tap into that--is not driving the choice, because if it is, we are screwed for four more years.

I don't want to speculate. Dean has been blowing expectations apart for months. No one thought this would happen. Anyone calling him the 49 state loser or whatever is seriously underestimating the guy, demonstrably.

And I think Clark will end up on his ticket.

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