Open Letter #41

Dear Blockbuster Video,

You probably don’t remember me, but I remember you. For many, many years of my life — more or less your entire tenure in Canada, as a matter of fact — I quite happily devoted a non-trivial portion of my disposable income to buying your services. We used to have a fantastic relationship: I’d pick up lots of good movies, and you’d rent them to me in exchange for money. I was happy, you were happy. Everyone was happy.

But something has changed in our relationship in the last few years. I think I noticed this about four years ago, when I could no longer locate the “foreign film” section of your store. Then I noticed that titles were being filed inappropriately. Then I noticed that more and more of your shelf space was being devoted to the top-10 new release market.

This weekend, however, you reached a new low, one that I fear may be the last straw. I was searching for a copy of Goodfellas — one of the seminal classics of the Mafia crime genre, by Martin Scorcese (you may have heard of him, he won some kind of award recently after being tragically overlooked for many years), starring notables like some guy named Robert De Niro, and a weird-looking dude named Joe Pesci (who also won some kind of award for this movie). There are moments in a man’s life where he really needs to see Scorcese get his virtuoso on, and this weekend was one of them.

You, however, did not have a copy of Goodfellas. Not “we have a copy but it’s out.” Not, “we have a copy but it’s file away in some strange place.” No, this was, “We don’t carry a copy of Goodfellas.”

Now, this might have been tolerable if this was the sole incident I encountered this weekend. Amusing, even, in a pathetic way — you know, man thwarted by giant multinational in quest for crime drama perfection, etc. Except that in the space, in your drama section, where Goodfellas should have been resting, were…

… five copies of Glitter. Yes, that Glitter.

This is inexcusable. I understand that you are, as part of a corporate strategy, trying to shift your brick-and-mortar business to the top-10 hits, and deliver the rest by mail. That’s fine. But stocking five copies of one of the worst movies ever made while at the same time having zero copies of one of the best movies of the 1990s is completely outrageous.

Accordingly, I feel that I must inform you of this sad news: You won’t be getting any more of my money anytime soon. I’m sorry, Blockbuster, but it’s over.

Dr. Hazmat

Updating the list

I note, in the wake of Monday’s carnage, that there are a number of things the Blogosphere has magically become an expert on:

  • Wound ballistics
  • Weapon performance
  • Urban/close-quarters battle tactics
  • Unarmed self-defense against armed maniacs

Will wonders never cease? I have this image in my head of Dick Cheney having another jammer and the merits of the various treatment options suddenly becoming politicized and everyone having an opinion on whether primary PCI is better than facilitated PCI is better than a thrombolytic strategy alone, with certain blogs who shall remain unidentified talking about the economics of each and..

Oh, screw it. This makes my head hurt.

On related notes:

  1. Anyone who says that a .22 is a nothing gun

    And even if hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage—your chances aren’t bad.

    — is a total idiot and knows absolutely nothing about wound ballistics. I know that the .22 LR is not anything near a sexy round, nor does it possess anything close to the ideal amount of that mythical thing called stopping power, but unless you’ve had to chase one of those projectiles around the body, you don’t get to say that “your chances aren’t bad.” A .22 that gets into the body is in there for the grand tour, unlike a 9mm that’s likely to mushroom and expand, or a rifle round that’s going to go flying through leaving a nice, clean wound track. Projectiles are projectiles — throw it fast enough and it’s dangerous. Guess what, kids? .22 is plenty dangerous. (I should hope that the fact that a .22 needs to find something important to do damage crossed with the fact that the round is in there for the grand tour is not something you would take solace in, but that’s just me.)

    I’m going to totally ignore the rest of that masturbatory post. The crack about the .22 is enough.

  2. The comments from Old Jarhead need to be tattooed on everyone’s eyelids. I like guns. I’ve owned guns. I’ve fired a lot of rounds in my life. I feel very comfortable around firearms. I do not want a concealed carry permit and I do not want a firearm for defensive purposes in my house because of this fundamental truth: I am not 100% convinced I could drop the hammer. That makes me a liability, not an asset, when it comes to dealing with armed maniacs. It’s not manly of me, but it is who I am, and I’m not willing to lie to myself to say otherwise. What’s the point? We all want to be Rambo; almost none of us are. There’s no shame in this.
  3. I think the whole gun issue would be a lot saner and less idiotic if the people who were seriously trying to argue one position or the other had been to the Lethal Force Institute, or at least read about Massad Ayoob. Chris Wright wrote a fantastic article about LFI and Ayoob for the Boston Phoenix a few years back, and some of Ayoob’s ideas about guns and self defense seem far too rational to come from this world:

    The 51-year-old Ayoob is something of a celebrity in the gun community. In 1980, he published In the Gravest Extreme, a book that quickly came to be known as the definitive study on the tactical, legal, and ethical issues surrounding the use of lethal force by civilians. Twenty years after its publication, the book has sold about 300,000 copies.

    In all, Ayoob has written a dozen books — The Truth About Self-Protection, Stressfire, Hit the White Part — plus countless articles for gun periodicals. He has been an expert witness in about 70 criminal trials. He has taught in Switzerland and South America, England and Africa. He has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the National Enquirer. He has appeared on Frontline, 20/20, and the Today show.

    “He’s a celebrity among thinking gun owners,” says Miami criminal-defense lawyer Jeffrey Weiner, former president of the National Association of Criminal Lawyers and an LFI grad. “He’s not a celebrity among macho types.” …

    Following another burst of laughter, Ayoob’s deadly serious again. “There are no first-place winners in a shooting situation,” he warns us. “When it’s over, believe me, you haven’t won. Deterrence is the only victory.”

    In many ways, LFI isn’t a class in killing people. It’s a class in not killing them. Ayoob finds himself in the curious position of believing the best way to prevent gun violence is to teach people how to commit it. His entire lethal-force philosophy hinges on a single principle: the more prepared you are to kill an assailant, the less likely you are to have to.

    This may sound a bit nutty at first, but perhaps the only way to get to the heart of a matter as complex as gun ownership is through paradox. In an issue that many people view in black-and-white terms, Ayoob’s pacifism-through-violence philosophy has made him as many enemies as it has friends.

    “I’ve found myself caught in the middle of a very polarized debate,” he says. “On one side I’ve got the hard-core anti-gunners. To them I’m a crypto-fascist because I tell women that if a rapist attacks you, killing the son of a bitch is absolutely one of your options — legally and morally. On the other side there’s the hard-core right-wing ultra-gunnies, who consider me a crypto-commie because I tell them, ‘No, as a matter of fact, you don’t have a God-given right to carry a loaded gun in shopping malls where there are kids walking around. It’s a privilege, and you need to be able show society that you know how to use it and when to use it. That you’re not going to shoot at a perpetrator and hit a kid by mistake.’ I think that’s a reasonable request.

    “In the history of polarized debates,” he adds, “anybody in the middle find himself in a very lonely place.” …

    “Civilians chasing criminals are like dogs chasing cars: they have no idea what to do with them when they catch them.” That is: if they run, let them go. If it’s a robbery, give them the money. If you’re armed and someone comes up and spits in your face, walk away. If you hear a noise in your house, hide yourself in a safe room and call the police — never go looking for intruders.

    When in doubt, don’t shoot.

    “I can’t believe I spent $600 for that ugly little Ay-rab to tell me I can’t shoot anyone,” says Ayoob.

    It’s weird and it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and yet it makes all kinds of sense. Help me out here.

Network Nostalgia: Cutting One's Teeth

I was there at the dawn of the third age of mankind…

One of the more interesting side effects of the commercialization and popularization of the Internet is that those of us who can legitimately claim to have been around In The Beginning are becoming an ever-shrinking percentage of the population. Nobody listens to us, because there aren’t enough people to form a critical mass on any given problem — yEnc is a good example where old hands were ignored for a variety of reasons.) The Network, through its growth, is beginning to forget its own roots — witness the recapitulation of most of the major problems as new technologies evolve. (Off the top of my head, one could easily argue that comment trolls and impostors on blogs are merely a revision of the age-old Usenet troll problem… with roughly the same solution — moderation. Moreover, private Web-based fora continue to suffer from all kinds of issues that were well-documented and mostly solved prior to the development of things like uBBS and phpBoard; how much simpler things would be if we could just shift stuff over to NNTP and be done with it. As Matthew says, “These problems aren’t caused by being on the Web; they are caused by failing to learn the lessons of the pre-Web history of electronic discussion fora.”)

Here’s the thing, though. Lots of us can claim to have upwards of two decades of Internet time behind us (holy crap!), but many many more lay claim to a much different kind of network history: The BBS. Remember those? Yeah, I do. I remember all kinds of things: How I never managed to get RemoteAccess to work for me, how much I loathed QuickBBS, how Maximus seemed to offer some kind of relief, how thrilled I was the first time BinkleyTerm successfully passed a connection from the front-end to the back-end system, how I ended up playing a fairly important role in the development and growth of a fairly robust FTSC network (MetroNet) that would ultimately shape my views about how voluntary networks should operate together. (That this network ultimately imploded shortly after I left probably doesn’t mean anything interesting — it was concurrent with the proliferation of cheap Internet access, and everyone who cared about the thing was moving over to Internet-land — to name@host.domain addresses, rather than, say, 201:5500/100.)

I don’t miss this era of the network, exactly — it was populated by very strange people and the small user base made the very strange seem much larger than they really were, and the phone bills could be atrocious if you ended up as the NEC — but it is a part of our history and as such it does deserve some special place in all of our hearts. I don’t miss fighting with badly-documented software (heck, I can get all that and more whenever I screw around with my Linux box), but I do miss the way it made me feel. You could spend quite a while wandering around this category on Wikipedia spotting familiar names and old favorites — perhaps the best example of “painless nostalgia” you’ll find in this area.

Siddown and shuddup

I came home early Monday morning after an eventful night that never seemed to end, only to fall into a fitful sleep punctuated by frequent phone calls from Scheduling. In between, I had my first baseball dream of the season. I don’t really remember what it was about, but I do remember waking up in the early afternoon with this strange, giddy feeling: Two hours to first pitch!

This was not a good winter to be a Mariners fan. The team made some dumb, dumb moves. I don’t want to re-hash them now. For the first time in a long time, I let my subscription to Baseball Prospectus lapse, didn’t buy the book, didn’t read the papers, didn’t entertain the notion of going to Arizona in February or March. Why would I? It was only going to depress me, and the team wasn’t going anywhere at all. I tried to tell myself that opening day was going to be just another day, a post-nights day, and that I’d pretend not to care — so that the inevitable collapse and impending season-of-doom (does Ichiro leave? does Sexson’s shoulder implode again? do Joses Vidro and Guillen stink up the joint? will Bloomquist get a starting job?) wouldn’t hurt as much as it might if I were with it from the very beginning.

And yet, there I was: 1535, glued to my XM receiver, listening to that asshole Rick Rizzs ramble on and on about the pre-game festivities. This is going to be a long, long summer.

Then Felix threw a strike.
Then he threw another one.
He’d go on to throw 75 more.

I listened to most of this game on the radio and saw some bits and pieces on TV and my god! every time Felix threw that ball I could feel shivers going up and down my back. Like it was some kind of history in the making. It wasn’t, of course, but as Dave says, there were only a handful of pitching performances in the AL last year that were better than the one we just saw.

Baseball’s a funny game. You think you’re OK without it, you think you don’t really need it, and then suddenly opening day is here, with your favorite team stepping in for the first time, and you think, “they’re gonna suck again this year, I’m not gonna pay attention.” And then some 20 year-old kid, the future of the franchise, puts up a line like this: 8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 HR, 2 BB, 12 K.

And all you can think is, “Sweet Zombie Jesus the baseball gods know how to get my attention.”

Baseball’s back. I couldn’t be happier.