Saturday, September 29, 2007

No ringtones or noodles

Waiting for the bus this evening, a car stopped for a red light at the streetcorner where I was standing. That's not too unusual. What was unusual was that this woman driving was actually eating what looked like spaghetti.

Now, on a long trip and when on an interstate, I've been known to munch. I've even had a sandwich on a few occasions. But this woman was not only driving on Green Street in the middle of campus, where a pedestrian stepping into the middle of the street is a not-uncommon experience, but she was eating food that required the use of utensils. I think it's pretty obvious that, when you have to have one hand on your plate, one hand on your fork, and one hand on the wheel, you're driving distracted.

I couldn't tell if she had garlic bread, too.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why can't conservatives at the DI ever tell the truth?

It looks like the Daily Illini has replaced John Bambenek with Paul Schmitt as one of their resident conservative wingnuts. In today's DI, Schmitt has a rant about Planned Parenthood and the evil they do against women. As usual for these sorts of things, it's full of half-truths and distortions.

Quick summary for the non-locals: Planned Parenthood is trying to open a clinic in Aurora, a Chicago suburb. Because of how anti-choice zealots behaved when PP opened a clinic in Austin, much of the paperwork was in the name of a PP subsidiary Gemini Office Development. The Aurora City Council knew that the permits were for a medical clinic and approved them. When it was revealed that this would be a PP clinic, the Jesus hit the fan, and the crazies came out of the woodwork. Aurora is now suing to stop the opening of the clinic.

Schmitt's column today reads:

In Texas, contractors that were building a new clinic for the organization refused to finish their work upon learning of what exactly they were constructing.

Well, that's not exactly what happened. Schmitt makes it sound like the contractors discovered what they were building and quit the project in a huff of moral outrage. Actually, anti-abortion activists started a campaign of intimidation and harassment, including following workers home and bothering the residents in their neighborhoods. This caused enough of the smaller contractors to drop out that the general contractor did as well. Hardly the implication that Schmitt's piece leaves.

Schmitt continues:

The facilities, which have faced repeated lawsuits by parents of its clients, pro-life groups and others, claim to offer necessary and important services to the communities where they are located. Looking at the situation in Aurora, however, one might easily draw a conclusion that Planned Parenthood advocates nothing more than an abdication of personal responsibility, honesty and self-respect.

You know, I went over to Planned Parenthood's website, and I couldn't find any information about abdicating personal responsibility. I did find information on birth control, avoiding STDs, and even how to care for yourself if you are or want to get pregnant. Nothing about dishonesty. So one also might easily draw the conclusion that Schmitt has no idea what he's talking about.

It's funny that Schmitt brings up the Austin Planned Parenthood clinic as an example of a success. One thing that Schmitt doesn't mention is that another woman's health clinic in Austin was bombed by anti-abortion activists this year. Suddenly, that crowd doesn't seem so "pro-life" after all.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Why Star Trek sucks

Ryan has an interesting post up about whether Star Trek has a heterosexist bias. I think he makes some interesting points, but I think I disagree with his ultimate conclusion.

Star Trek is somewhat biased,but I think it's unfair to say the writers are homophobic. Rather, I think Star Trek has a mainstream bias. I suspect studio executives think so little of their audience, that they are afraid that putting in a gay subplot would either drive away viewers or cause too much "controversy".

The Old Series was somewhat groundbreaking, covering issues like race and feminism. Roddenberry wanted Kirk's second-in-command to be a woman, but the TV execs said absolutely not. So instead, women were nurses, the space telephone operator, and space secretaries. In miniskirts. It wasn't until The Next Generation that we got actual strong women in positions of authority.

I think the reason for this is that Star Trek was really forced to appeal to a mainstream audience. It had to be the sort of thing that audiences could pick up immediately, be entertained for a while, then put away, maybe to watch it next week. It was episodic television in its purest form and entirely plot-driven. By the end of an episode, everything was exactly as it was at the beginning of the episode, with the exception of a disposable redshirt or two. I can't help but attribute some of this to a desire to syndicate the show, where episodes may be shown out of order. No matter the reason, when the goal of your show is to maximize the franchise possibilities of your idea, that's not conducive to telling a story or even deep characterization.

Think about it. Who in Star Trek actually developed as a character? Heck, over the course of one of the series, who even changed as a character? Virtually no one. You might make he case about some of he characters in later series, but not many.

And I think that's due to the need for mainstream appeal in ST. When you get a creator and writers for whom the story is paramount, you can make magic. Buffy is the obvious example here. Hush, where there's absolutely no dialog for most of the hour-long episode, really was TV unlike anything I've seen before or since. The Body, where Buffy's mother dies is heartbreaking. One of he characters even becomes a lesbian, forms what is probably the healthiest of relationships on the show, loses her partner, becomes the evil villain for a season, then is redeemed for the final season.

Instead of getting more TV like this, we get SciFi's Crap Movie of the Week where Stock Male Character fights poorly-CGI genetically engineered livestock/alien/unknown jungle creature before rescuing By-the-book But Brilliant Scientist Love Interest Woman from imminent death before riding into the sunset.

I'm not saying episodic TV is nothing but crap. I really enjoy Star Trek, Farscape, Stargate SG-1, and others. It's just really frustrating to see great shows like Firefly, Buffy, Firefly, B5, and Firefly -- not just enjoyable TV but as close to serious art as anything on television can be -- only get shuffled around from network to network, get given crappy timeslots, and completely ignored where it counts (*cough* Emmys *cough*).

To save the world, Buffy actually damned the love of her life to Hell. All Tony Soprano did was whack a few people.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

At least I got the white powder part right

So Billy is in town this weekend for a short visit. His birthday is on September 11 (not good planning on his part), but since he's here now, I decided to make a cake for our little get together last night. I decided to try something different and was making the All-Purpose Buttery Yellow Cake from America's Test Kitchen. It sounded good, and with that much butter, it couldn't be bad, right?

This recipe does use a lot of butter, about twice what I'm used to using in a cake, but I figure it's supposed to be buttery. Anyway, after letting the baked cake layers cool in their respective pans for 10 minutes, I turned them out. The bottom of each of the layers looked really weird. Translucent, almost. "Uh-oh," I thought and figured they didn't get fully cooked, so put them back in the oven for a couple of minutes.

Then I turned them out again. Still translucent. That's really weird. But since this recipe called for so much butter, I figured maybe some of it melted, sank to the lower part of the cake, and that's what I was seeing. So I frosted it and it waited for the party.

Then we ate it, and it tasted really weird. It was sweet, sure, but very dense. The texture was just all wrong. Very dense. Rubbery, almost. So it didn't go over well.

This afternoon it occurred to me that, once in the past, my baked goods weren't coming out right and weren't as fluffy as they should have been. It turned out the culprit was baking powder that was several years old. I replaced the half-used baking powder, and things started coming out right again. So I opened the cupboard to check the date on my baking powder container.

You know how baking powder (my brand, anyway) comes in those little cardboard cans with a plastic lid on top? It turns out I had two in the cupboard:

You know, from the top, or if you're in a hurry, those look pretty similar. From the side, not so much:

Um, oops.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

FEC rules: Still not notable

The FEC has ruled on John Bambenek's complaint against Daily Kos. They rejected his reasoning. No one was surprised. Here is the Kos post.

Via ArchPundit, Illinois Reason, and IlliniPundit.