Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
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Like my brownhouse:
   Venn diagram of my personal privacy
Wednesday, March 1 2006
You know those bumperstickers with the words "Power of Pride" beside a billowing flag? These came out after 9/11 to convey the idea that we're proud to be Americans and we love our country and no terrorists can scare us into doubting that love. That initial idea actually had a certain logic to it, but most of the people who ended up slapping this sticker on their SUVs were (unlike, say, myself) nowhere near any of the sites that the terrorists attacked and mostly did so as a jingoistic in your face to a world they didn't understand. And with increasing distance from 9/11, the sticker makes less and less sense. After awhile America was just a bullying superpower, invading nations based on lies and intent on "spreading freedom" while ignoring its own constitution and international law. The sticker came to be less about the power of pride than the pride of power. The only thing missing was the word "white."
But we're really just a nation of cowards, from the bottom to the top. Before 9/11 people were freaking out about shark attacks and abductions of pre-pubescent blond girls from wealthy families. These fears are characteristic of a spoiled nation. Osama bin Laden knew it wouldn't take much to throw us into panic, and as a result of his jujitsu not only is America less American (now with with added torture, less due process, and nonexistent privacy!), but Americans are more worried about terrorists than they are about the things that really kill them: cancer and heart disease (diseases characteristic of a spoiled nation). Unlike Ben Franklin, they're all too happy to give up real liberties for what they are told is the diminution of a danger that is, in truth, difficult to tease out of the statistical noise.
And that's just the cowardice of Joe Sixpack American. At the top, the cowardice doesn't manifest as bar graphs; it has real names attached to it. Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Bush all found other things to do when they could have been fighting in the Vietnam War, which they supported. When 9/11 happened, Cheney retreated to a bunker and, with the exception of shooting hand-raised birds and rallying the ultra-reactionary, has rarely emerged since, acting as our nation's troglyditic puppetmaster. Bush, as is well known, flew to Nebraska, away from the smoking craters on the East Coast. His "bullhorn moment" came days later and was done without any prior announcement. Why? Because he was afraid. Subsequently he's been to Iraq to deliver a rubber turkey and today he flew into Afghanistan. On both occasions he did so as a surprise, under the cover of night. Why? Because he's afraid (and also infantile). I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks it's just another indication of the decline of our nation that our president can't schedule a flight to another country and then just arrive like a normal head of state. As a rule, I don't think a superpower has many years left of its hegemony if its leader has to be sneaky about his travel arrangements.

Speaking of hegemony, a couple weeks ago I was forced to install Microsoft Office on my main computer because Open Office was refusing to open Excel documents (a problem I proved unable to solve). So today I used it to export one of my father's documents from the native Word format to HTML. I knew that Word's HTML output was horrendous, but I didn't know quite how. I have a .js script that I use to remove all the unnecessary parameters that Open Office adds to my HTML tags, and I thought it might also be good at removing MS Office's bulky proprietary parameters as well (there are so many of them that the file sizes end up being 30 percent larger than they need to be). But Microsoft must have done something to break javascript in its script engine because it just doesn't behave correctly on my computer, at least not with whatever Word pumps out in its malevolent HTML export. I ended up with all kinds of broken tags that I had to manually repair. Many of them had leaked out noxious Microsoft crap such as style='mso-tab-count:1'.
More creepy, though, was the presence of tags obviously related to the content of the article. Place names and proper nouns had been marked with tags such as <st1:PlaceType> and <st1:PlaceName>. Obviously Word wasn't behaving as one would expect, as the disinterested secretary, but had been paying attention to the content. For what reason? All I could think was that it was so Word could beam a digest of the data back to the NSA. Between Microsoft, Verizon, Chase Manhattan, and the Bush Administration, the Venn Diagram of my personal privacy resembles the remains of a successful car bomb driver.

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