Seattle comes to a halt

We’re in the middle of what is being described as the most severe cold snap for Seattle in twenty years. Yesterday it was supposed to snow, but downtown escaped because of a “rain shadow” effect. Last night and this morning, however…

The Uwajimaya courtyard in the snow

The Uwajimaya courtyard in the snow

Snow. Lots of it. Soft, fluffy white stuff. And Seattle doesn’t really cope with snow very well. A few trucks and buses acquire snow chains, but nothing really gets ploughed. So most Amazonians are sitting at home, staying warm, logging in via the VPN, and holding meetings via IM or phone. AT&T Wireless got maxed out early on, so I couldn’t call in to Colin’s staff using my iPhone. Instead I scrambled to install Skype on my new Mac Mini and used that instead.
And then after the meeting I threw on my boots and went outside. Because you’re never too old to play in the snow….

Let's hope the corporate travel department doesn't notice this

There’s a new hotel just outside Zurich called the Null Stern. Yes, that’s right, the “Zero Star”. And it’s really spiffy:

For about GBP 6 per night, you’ll get a bed in a former nuclear bunker. The walls are concrete, there are no windows, and there are no decorations. There’s not even any heat. You apparently need to fill up hot water bottles to keep you warm. People have to take turns taking showers and you can only hope they don’t run out of hot water.

(Via BNET.)

Quote for the day

Observed from without, human beings obviously have a natural lifespan and cannot live much longer than a hundred years. A man’s sense of his own experience, on the other hand, does not embody this idea of a natural limit. His existence defines for him an essentially open-ended possible future […] Viewed in this way, death, no matter how inevitable, is an abrupt cancellation of indefinitely extensive possible goods. Normality seems to have nothing to do with it

From Thomas Nagel’s essay “Death”, quoted by Matt Sigl in response to Colin McGinn’s musings about “Why is death bad?”

About to upgrade to WordPress 2.7

As with all major upgrades, a short outage is possible…..
(A few minutes later.)
Well, that was painless. If you notice any issues, please comment here….
UPDATE: Let me just try a couple of plugins to make sure they’re working. I don’t actually use that many plugins ((and those that I do are relatively simple)) so this should be easy.

Who Killed Amanda Palmer?

We went to the Showbox last night to see Amanda Palmer and friends. They’re touring in support of the new album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? I first encountered Amanda’s work with the Dresden Dolls through the Legendary Pink Dots connection, but I haven’t seen her on stage for many years. From her DVDs and YouTube videos, I was prepared for a theatrical experience, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Oddly, the purely musical highlight wasn’t Amanda’s new songs, but the solo contribution of cellist Zoë Keating. She uses a foot-controlled computer to lay down complex delay loops that she can then sequence and play against; her cello becomes a complete string ensemble, with percussion. The effects are quite thrilling.
Other “friends” included The Builders and The Butchers, a band from Portland, OR that would have been excellent if their kick-ass energy and instrumental prowess had been applied to some songs that weren’t so similar (and uniformly depressing), and the Danger Ensemble, who provided theatrical interpretations of many of Amanda’s songs. (There was also a local guy whose name I forget, who improbably wowed the packed house with a drinking song, accompanied on accordion…)
Overall verdict: a bit uneven, but tons of fun. Check out the new album (and use it as an excuse to dig out the old Dresden Dolls stuff you haven’t listened to in a while).

Songs You Like That You’re Pretty Sure No One Else Does

John Scalzi posted a twisted little piece today, entitled “Songs You Like That You’re Pretty Sure No One Else Does”. He chose a track from David Bowie’s Tin Machine side project, which sets a pretty high bar. He also linked to the track on Imeem, which posed a bit of a problem; none of my obvious candidates were available on Imeem. (We’re talking about things like Jon Astley’s “[Let’s Take Off Our Clothes And] Put This Love To The Test”, and Tracy Ullman’s version of “I Don’t Want Our Loving To Die”.) But then I found it: a priceless example of the so-called “Boss-town Sound”. It’s “Mind Flowers” by Ultimate Spinach, from their second LP “Behold & See”. The names, the lyrics, all sound like a satire on the worst excesses of pretentious hippie narcissism – and yet I still like it. Goes down perfectly with a recreational hallucinogen… or at least it did 40 years ago! It takes its place alongside other psychedelic masterpieces from groups like Arzachel, Man, H.P.Lovecraft, and Country Joe & The Fish.
Mind Flowers – Ultimate Spinach

"The Dark Side" reviewed

I recently read Jane Mayer’s brilliant book “The Dark Side”, about the way in which the Bush regime embraced and justified a policy of torture. I kept meaning to blog about it, but now (via Appel, standing in for Sully) I see that Publius has written a review which says pretty much what I would have said (but better).

In reading Mayer, one striking aspect of the administration’s anti-terrorism policies is how completely haphazard and impetuous they were. There was practically no deliberation within the government, particularly among the branches who (1) actually knew something about this stuff; and (2) were, you know, statutorily authorized to do something.
Instead, a lawless cabal of ignorant people – Yoo, Addington, etc. – decided to craft national anti-terrorism policy having basically no experience in the relevant fields (military, terrorism, etc.). The disparity between (1) the magnitude of decisions being made, and (2) the relative ignorance of the people making them is simply staggering.

Please check it out.

Vatican would rather gay people were executed than married

The National Secular Society reports on the increasingly anachronistic and regressive regime in the Vatican:

When France proposed a resolution seeking all nations to decriminalise homosexuality, the Vatican immediately said it would oppose the resolution. This is despite the fact that up to 70 nations still have legal punishments for gay people including, in some instances, the death penalty. In a number of Islamic countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, homosexual acts are still a capital offence.

The UN resolution is due to be proposed by France later this month on behalf of the 27-nation European Union. But Archbishop Celestino Migliore said the Vatican opposed the resolution because it would “add new categories of those protected from discrimination” and could lead to reverse discrimination against traditional heterosexual marriage.

And so, rather than speak out against Islamic states which execute gay people, the Catholic Church insists that its right to discriminate remains “protected”.
But it ‘s not just gays.

Meanwhile the Times has revealed that the “Holy See” also refused to sign a UN document last May on the rights of the disabled because it did not condemn abortion or assert the rights of foetuses with birth defects.

I wonder if the newly-converted ex-PM of Britain has any comments…