July 2008 Archives

Colorado and Three-Letter Words

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My new home state has just added "WTF" to the list of three-letter combinations that are prohibited from appearing on license plates. The list now stands at 261.

Here's and interesting and annoying article about it, which discusses some of the other verboten combinations. In addition to typically offensive words, Colorado also bans animal words from license plates for some reason. I mean, WTF?

I Need to Stop Deleting Comments


As I've mentioned before, this blog, along with perhaps the entirety of Cementhorizon, is under constant assault by Russian spambots who litter the comments sections with nonsensical links to God-knows-what. Every once in a while I'll go in and delete them, and lately I haven't been able to do that without also accidentally deleting legitimate comments.

So, if you've seen your own comments disappear in recent weeks, don't be offended. I'm just an idiot.

I'm going to live with the clutter of unapproved Russian comments in the interest of keeping legitimate comments on the site.

As part of our ongoing effort to "get out there" and see what's going on in our strange new environs, Dr. M and I swung by the Arapahoe County Fair today. We had previously been to the Los Angeles and Alameda County Fairs, though not this year of course, and we were curious to see how the mile high version would compare.

The first thing we saw once we got past the admissions booth was a whole bunch of sheep:

It turns out that these sheep would later be used as part of one of the most bizarre spectacles either of us had ever witnessed. More on that later. For now, more animals!

Here's a pig lounging adorably in his own filth, blissfully unaware of his delicious destiny:

This next pig, judging by his attitude, had a better idea of what was going on. But still cute:

Here's a cow that was peeking at us from behind some kind of curtain, or at least she was staring at us until we tried to to take her picture:

This bird, I'm sure, could make quite a name for himself in East Palo Alto before being razored to death by another bird:

But this cock wasn't the cock of the roost by any means. No, that honor went to this guy:

It should come as no surprise that I felt compelled to take that picture.

The last animal was saw was this adorable baby goat. Though as we got closer the cuteness diminished and the sinisterness increased:

There were also camels available for riding purposes:

The girl who was next in line when I took this picture was wearing a shirt that said "I [Heart] Nerds." A shot of her on the camel would have made for a much better picture. But I had to hurry and get back to...

The tractor pull!

Now, having done absolutely no research into the subject and having now attended exactly one tractor pull, here's what I was able to piece together as to how the event works. The yellow thing (which is hooked to a much larger tractor not visible in the picture) has a giant piece of metal that drags on the ground (visible in the picture). On top of the yellow thing is that green and black thing that says "MSE" on it. As the small tractor pulls the apparatus, the MSE thing moves along the yellow thing toward the small tractor, steadily increasing the downward force on the metal thing, effectively making it heavier. At some point, the metal thing gets too heavy to move, at which point the small tractor can go no further and the judge comes and measures how far the small tractor got before stopping. Whoever goes the farthest wins. Tractor + driver has to be 1,000 pounds or less. It's all very riveting.

This was an officially sanctioned event, not surprisingly. The announcer (in the red hat) sounded like a Phil Hendrie character:

Of course, it's not all about mechanics. You need to bring your mental game as well. This guy gave his tractor a scary face and a rotating police car light to intimidate the other contestants:

He performed well, but I don't know if he won.

Another competition was "Dock Dogs," in which people competed to see whose dog could jump the farthest into a swimming pool.

We observed this event from precisely the wrong angle, sadly.

But the best competition, by far, was "Mutton Bustin'," which can only be described as a bullriding competition where the bulls have been replaced with sheep and the cowboys have been replaced with little children (contestants had to be six years or younger and weigh sixty pounds or less). This was at once hilarious and tragic, and we ended up getting into a debate as to whether we will allow our children to Bust Mutton when they're old enough (the youngest contestant we saw was three).

This was the first kid we saw. She did very well:

The older kid in the loud outfit was responsible for helping the riders up after they fell off the sheep. Some riders didn't make it that far:

The little flailing limbs. I just can't not laugh.

Once again, the mental game is important. Sometimes you need to overcome the force of gravity and the pressures of your own dignity and cling sideways to a goddamn sheep:

After losing their respective kids (which often involved falling down with the kid still attached), the sheep all congregated at the other side of the arena and calmly awaited their next humiliation:

In the final analysis, this wasn't nearly as big of a production as the other fairs we've been to, but we still had a great time, due mainly to the opportunity to watch small children fall off of sheep. We missed out on the demolition derby, unfortunately. Perhaps next year.

Also, here's a picture Dr. M took of a really pretty cloud formation. Colorado is good at those:

Shooting Fish in a Barrel / Bidi Bidi Bidi

Until tonight I thought the phrase "shooting fish in a barrel" referred to firing a gun into a barrel full of dead fish, not a barrel full of water with live fish in it.*

Also, Dr. M tonight told me that I remind her of Twiki from Buck Rogers, because every now and then I'll begin a statement with a string of very deep nonsense syllables before forming any actual words, a la Twiki's "bidi bidi bidi" verbal tic. I've never seen Buck Rogers.

When I was a young boy my grandfather bought me a four foot tall replica of Twiki, that was an inflatable robot on a set of motorized feet. It scared the everliving shit out of me and I never played with it. This is not representative of my grandfather's gift-buying acumen.

* According to an episode of Mythbusters we're watching right now, it is not actually clear which type of barrel-of-fish this phrase is meant to refer to. Good to know.

Here's an Op-Ed I wrote earlier this week about the Third Circuit's recent reversal of the FCC's fine arising from the Janet Jackson boobie incident. I'm posting it here because it doesn't look like it's going to be picked up by any of the newspapers I submitted it to. The Op-Ed format accounts for the colorful language and the lack of in-depth consideration of the contours of administrative law.

The recent federal appeals court ruling striking down the FCC's fine for Janet Jackson's exposed nipple is certainly welcome news. The infamous "wardrobe malfunction" at the center of the dispute came to symbolize the hypersensitivity of government censorship and the excesses of the FCC's indecency enforcement, and the court's ruling confirms what many have been saying all along: The exposure of a woman's breast for a fraction of a second is not the sort of thing that should unleash government attack dogs.

The court's determination that the Super Bowl fine marked a radical departure from the FCC's prior practices should come as a surprise to no one -- including the FCC. As the FCC launched its fanatical crusade against "indecent" programming in 2004, the Commissioners acknowledged that they were changing the rules. But this did not stop them from levying massive fines and extracting unprecedented "settlements" from bewildered broadcasters who were terrified of increased government scrutiny.

It is important to remember that the Super Bowl incident was only the symbolic epicenter of a year-long struggle between the FCC and broadcasters in which the FCC consistently came out on top, often in ways that circumvented judicial review. Much of the FCC's so-called regulatory activities focused on securing record-breaking settlements from networks in exchange for "clean slate" dismissals of all pending complaints. Even Viacom, the parent company of CBS which has been fighting the Super Bowl fine in court for the last four years, paid the FCC $3.5 million in late 2004 to clear all complaints except those arising from the Super Bowl. And even as networks were writing checks to placate the FCC, broadcasters imposed independent restrictions on their own content, terrified of portraying something that might re-ignite the FCC's ire. Fear of FCC reprisal prevented ABC from airing Saving Private Ryan on Veteran's Day, led CBS to cancel a third installment of the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, and drove Howard Stern off the terrestrial airwaves. The court's ruling that the Super Bowl fine was improper did not, and cannot, remedy the year of censorship at the hands of the FCC.

The networks can hardly be blamed for bowing to the FCC's pressures. Networks are in the business of making money for their parent companies, not waging expensive legal battles over free speech rights. Even CBS's court victory illustrates the predicament in which networks found themselves. It took CBS four years to secure a reversal of the half million-dollar fine levied in 2004. Facing the prospect of protracted litigation with uncertain outcomes as additional fines are levied by an unrestrained FCC, it makes sense that the networks would simply pay up rather than stand by their content. Nor can Congress be relied upon to reign in the FCC. In the midst of the FCC's crusade, Congress overwhelmingly increased the maximum indecency fine by a factor of ten.

Ultimately, the FCC's fervor died down and broadcasters began to push back, restoring edgy and envelope-pusing programming to the airwaves. But there is nothing, not even the recent court ruling, to stop the FCC from launching a similar campaign in the future. The FCC's crackdown in 2004 arose from an unapologetic disregard of established rules and regulations. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, in responding to the recent court ruling, lamented the fate of "families and parents" rather than acknowledging the Commission's responsibility, as a government entity, to respect the rule of law. In order to meaningfully restrain the FCC and limit government censorship going forward, the FCC must be subject to clear, rigid standards governing not only what constitutes "indecent" material but also when the Commission can change the landscape of its own regulations.

Some Denver Photos


By popular demand I'm uploading a handful of photos from our first week and a half in Denver. First, the view from my office:

I'm pretty sure I only got this view because someone left right before I got there, and this was the only available office. But catch as catch can.

Since we figured my five-speed Honda Civic wouldn't do very well being driven in the snow by someone who has never driven in snow before, we sold the Civic in California and started shopping for a used four-wheel-drive car when we got here. Dr. M found a great deal on a 2007 Subaru Forester, which a local Dodge dealership was selling at substantially below Bluebook value just to get it off the lot (apparently Dodges don't cotton well to foreign interlopers). When we got to the dealership there was another couple looking at it, but they passed because they didn't like the color. I don't mind the color, which is officially called "champagne":

If you look closely you can see the Colorado plates on Dr. M's CRV (or perhaps you can't in the shrunken photo). We're doing our best to assimilate quickly and start pouring our moneys into the Colorado coffers rather than California's.

Last weekend we participated in a photo scavenger hunt based in Berkeley, taking a bunch of photos downtown. I wasn't expecting the 16th Street Mall to be quite so jumping on a Saturday, but I was wrong. It was lively as all get-out. It was nice to see some trappings of San Francisco -- anyone who has spent any time at Fisherman's Wharf or the Powell Street trolley stop is familiar with people pretending to be robots for money:

Though I should say that this woman was technically a statue, not a robot, but it was the same basic idea. We made the makeshift flag so we could enter her into the "Robot Fourth of July" category. The sassy pose was her idea.

Other aspects of downtown were less familiar. For example, there are Scientologist recruitment centers disguised as stress test sites all over downtown San Francisco. In Denver, there was a large group of anti-Scientologists like this guy, dressed in similar outfits and handing out anti-Scientology literature:

There were also these two people, which I don't know what to make of:

They weren't preaching or prosthelytizing, they were just standing there menacingly with their Bibles, like two crocodiles watching a herd of zebras cross a river.

As for the cats, they've adjusted well to the move, though I'm still keeping them on their toes by pretending that I have superpowers. I convinced Pepe that I could control gravitational fields:

This picture was taken eight days ago and he's still sitting there.

Dr. M and I have been residents of the state of Colorado for about a week now, and last night we went out for our first proper social outing, i.e. an adventure beyond the walls of our temporary condo that wasn't geared explicitly toward the gathering of food or some other tedious errand. Okay, well, technically we went out and did a photo scavenger hunt on Saturday, but that was a Bay Area-based event so it doesn't count.

Anyway. Dr. M has been researching things to do in the area and came across Geeks Who Drink, a bar trivia operation that hosts events all over the Denver metro area (and is also available for private parties, as it turns out). Last night they had a trivia contest at an Irish pub-themed bar in Aurora, so we decided to check it out. Bar trivia veterans by no means, our experience had been limited to serving as dead weight on various teams at Berkeley's Albatross trivia nights, where the questions are so difficult that no normal human being who doesn't do bar trivia every week should be able to answer them.

The bar itself was in a very elaborate outdoor mall in Aurora that was reminiscent of Bay Street in Emeryville except that it was larger and we were able to drive there without wanting to kill ourselves afterwards (the roads leading there tended to be in straight lines, signage was manifestly adequate, turning lanes gave more than about ten feet worth of notice, etc.). There were about ten or eleven teams playing, including one group of folks consisting of a few over-served women headed by a very loud man who decided to sit right behind us and make his feelings known on every conceivable issue (more on this later).

The bartender carded me and seemed a bit flummoxed by my California ID. It turns out his flummoxment was more directed at the East Bay address on my license, as he himself was an East-Bayer (which is almost "Easter" in Piglatin) who had been living in Denver for twelve years. The trivia questions were a more digestible mix than I was used to at Albatross and at the first scoring break we were actually tied for third. At the next break we were holding third and going into the final round we were standing alone in second place. We ended up getting fourth place and here's why.

The answer sheet for each round has a joker head on it that you're supposed to circle if you want your points for that round to count double. The first seven rounds were all worth about the same number of points (most questions were worth one point), so we used our joker on a later round on which we thought we had done well. Well. Round eight was a hodgepodge round in which point values for each question ranged from one to four points, and the whole round was probably worth over twenty points. Almost nobody had used their joker before round eight, so everyone except us got double points for the final, giant round. A newbie blunder on our part, to be sure, and one that will not be repeated. Still, we (or at least I) felt soured by the experience and we didn't stick around for the photos.

Over the course of the evening the loud guy behind us took a shine to us for some reason and we ended up chatting with him. He ended up being a nice guy, who also has a home in Northern California and whose wife grew up in my Southern California hometown. He also had a Starbucks insulated coffee mug full of wine, which I feel is worth mentioning. He told us he was really pulling for us to win it at the end and was sorry we didn't.

On our way out I went to settle up at the bar and the bartender said it was on the house because we were from the East Bay. Very nice.

So, during our first (sort of) social outing we got niced up by a couple of folks from California and screwed over by a Denver-based trivia operation. I'm sure things will turn upward from here.

Moving to Colorado, BRB


I know everyone is dying to know what I think about the fact that the Supreme Court rejected the death penalty for kiddie rapers, that Justice Scalia thinks the Constitution got words in there we don't even need and that Justice Kennedy is going to kill us all, about the dreadfully uninteresting Kozinski pr0n clusterfuck and about any other legal tidbits I may have missed over the past week since I quit my job and AT&T shut off my Internet ten days earky (this post is being typed on. Blackberry and damn it all if I'm going to go back and poorfread it).
It took me so long to type that that I don't remember what the point of it was and I can't see it anymore so I suppose it will have to remain a mystery. Anyway, here's what I'm here to say: I'm move to Colorado in three days anbd regular blogging will resume at some point soon thereafter. I don't anticipate my relocation having a drastic effect on the content of this blog, but don't be surprised to find me writing more about snow, mountains, granola, dogs, the telecommunications industry, quality public schools, or affordable housing. I'm just letting you know.
Also, if you never hear from me again it probably means I succame to altitude sickness somewhere near the Donner pass and drove my wife, two cats, and unborn child off a cliff. Please don't give up the search, because we'll have my laptop with us and there's all kinds of cool shit on there.
See you on the other side of the Rockies.

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