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Providing information to unwitting victims on a "don't-need-to-know" basis since 1974.

Monday, September 30, 2002

Well, I’m back at work. Yesterday, I attended a protest march against the war in Iraq but my readers have already sifted through two essays full of anti-war commentary so instead I found the strangest news I could over the weekend and we’re going to have some fun tonight.

But I’m not quite finished with Iraq. Apparently, Saddam Hussein has an evil twin or something. Would Saddam’s “evil twin” be even more evil than Saddam? Or would he be more like “Bizarro Saddam,” in other words, a benevolent ruler? I hope the world’s soap opera writers and comic book creators weigh in on this important issue of international affairs.

While you’re pondering that, maybe you’d like to consult the Colonel.This story emanates from – where else – California. I read this story and am now wondering what the secret word was. “Yeah, I’d like the…um…extra crispy recipe, with the um…special herbs and spices. Yeah, that’s the ticket. I wanna get extra crispy tonight.”

It’s times like this that I wonder if Philadelphia’s newspapers have someone who does for Philly what Dave Barry or Carl Hiassen do for Miami. I don’t know if it’s comforting or disturbing that a Rolling Stones concert can still lead to something like this happening.

Apparently, the Rampant Rabbit vibrators, made popular when praised in an episode of “Sex And The City,” are undergoing a recall. You know – I can’t imagine that many people sent in the little product registration cards that would allow them to be notified of the recall. And this is the about the only time you can ever say “I’d like to return this sex toy” at a store and actually get your money back. It’s not as if there’s a secondary market for previously used marital aids.

Closer to home, it’s nice to know there’s a car repair shop in the Washington area where you can get a lube job on your exhaust pipe. And I don’t even own a car. Roughly along the same train of thought…thanks a lot, Craig. You’re right – I did not need to know this. But now, dear readers, you know too.

Friday, September 27, 2002

And now for the 17th installment in the ongoing series "Tim takes random web quizzes."

quiz created by glitterevil

Which Cure single are you?

I do like this tune – the intro is really cool - though it’s not my favorite Cure song. (I suppose Cure fans would get angry if they knew “Just Like Heaven” was my favorite Cure song, followed by “Fascination Street.” Oops…did I say that out loud?)

“I Can’t Believe He Said That” Lyric #1

Air Supply, “Makin’ Love Out Of Nothin’ At All”

3:23 into the song, lead singer Graham Russell declares “I can make all the stadiums rock.” I submit that Air Supply has never made a single stadium rock. Ever. Let alone all of them. Which you could probably have figured out just based on the name Air Supply, even if you’ve never heard a note of any of their disturbingly numerous soft-headed hits.

Actually, “Makin’ Love Out Of Nothin’ At All” was written by Jim Steinman, also the writer behind all of Meat Loaf’s hits as well as “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. Which I had sort of guessed even before I knew that, since it does sound a lot like “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” His songs are characterized by big production, broad and sweeping gestures, and high sentimentality. If they work, you don’t notice how lame the lyrics are. If they don’t work, they sound like bad parodies of Broadway showstoppers of the sort you might here on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

I suppose he aspired to make stadiums rock in the sense that a lot of the songs from Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” album are intended to sound like early Bruce Springsteen numbers, with varying degrees of success. So perhaps Air Supply was not the act for which this song was written. But it still sounds hilarious.

Thursday, September 26, 2002

I have a weakness for looking at election results, especially if they are broken down into small units. For instance, take this town by town breakdown of the September 17 Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial primary.

At one time, there were five candidates in the Democratic primary for governor of Massachusetts, my once and (possibly) future home; State Treasurer Shannon O’Brien, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, State Senate President Thomas Birmingham (D-Chelsea), State Senator Warren Tolman (D-Cambridge) and former Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Steven Grossman. Grossman quit the race over the summer, leaving four candidates. O’Brien won with 33% of the vote, followed by Reich (25%), Birmingham (24%), and Tolman (18%). Results can be found here.

Shannon O’Brien had a lot of advantages going in:

O’Brien was the one woman in a four-way race. All four are generally on the liberal side of things - all to differing degrees generally supportive of gay rights, all pro-choice, with no one actively promoting capital punishment. (The Catholic-conservative Ray Flynn/ Billy Bulger/ Stephen Lynch faction of the party - generally pro-life, unsympathetic to gay rights, and divided on the death penalty - is unrepresented in this race.) There is a tendency for women in Massachusetts to prefer other women in an election, all else being equal.

Perceived as the most “moderate” candidate in the race by most, she was the default choice of centrist or conservative (fiscally or socially) Democratic primary voters. She is also as a result perceived as the most electable candidate, the one likeliest to defeat Republican nominee W. Mitt Romney.

O’Brien was the only candidate to ever hold statewide elected office, and indeed the only candidate who had run statewide before. Going in, only Robert Reich had comparable name recognition among her opponents. Birmingham was well known in Beacon Hill circles, in his home district just north of Boston, and among avid followers of state politics, but essentially unknown to everyone else. Even Warren Tolman’s own constituents might have had trouble recognizing him. Steve Grossman probably had even lower recognition figures than Tolman, except among party apparatchiks.

O’Brien was the only candidate with a base outside Greater Boston, hailing from Easthampton in the western part of the state. Anyone who was going to beat O’Brien would have needed to either unite Greater Boston or win a convincing victory in smaller power base, say the Merrimack Valley, or the Southeast. With three Boston-area candidates in the race that was a tall order.

No one candidate was able to unify Greater Boston or, really, any portion thereof. No one candidate was able to dominate the Merrimack Valley, which was a three-way battleground. O’Brien took Methuen, Haverhill, and North Andover to compensate for losing big in Lowell to Birmingham and in being beaten in Andover by Reich. Southeast was a two-way race between O’Brien and Birmingham.

Sen. Tolman was initially running as the “reform” candidate. He is the first candidate in state history to run under “Clean Elections” rules (as a result of the 1998 “Clean Elections” ballot question), which gained him some state financing not available to other candidates. It also gained him some respect from reform-minded voters. He was dueling for “outsider” votes with former party chair Steve Grossman; though Tolman is a sitting state legislator, he’s not a Beacon Hill power figure the way Tom Birmingham is. But when Robert Reich entered the race, with his national stature, name recognition, and aggressive campaign, Tolman’s candidacy, already a longshot, was doomed (as was Grossman) to certain failure. Playing by the rules of Clean Elections limited his ability to fundraise, and his anti-Reich ads probably benefited Birmingham and O’Brien more than they did Tolman himself.

It’s hard to figure out what Tolman’s strong areas were. He had no real base; the only towns of any size in the state he carried were the Metrowest communities of Watertown, which he had represented, and Waltham, where he beat Reich despite Reich’s tenure at Brandeis University, located there. (The result could also be a typo for all I know.) His only runner-up finishes of note were Chicopee (borders Springfield and Holyoke) and Marlborough (western fringe of Metrowest area), two smallish cities with almost nothing else in common. In some areas where either Reich or Birmingham did especially poorly, Tolman finished third.

Of the other three candidates, you’d have to think Reich, running on a reformist platform, would have been best positioned to win over Tolman voters. He would have needed to add about half of Tolman’s votes to overtake O’Brien. On the other hand, Tolman was the one out of the four that most people assumed could never win – if these voters’ second choice was Reich rather than either not voting or choosing another candidate, wouldn’t more of them have chosen Reich in the first place?

Birmingham did well in most working-class cities and towns in the eastern half of the state, carrying Lynn, Fall River, New Bedford, and Lowell as well as his own strongholds Chelsea, Everett, Revere, and (narrowly) Saugus. (His district also included parts of Cambridge and Somerville, both of which went for Reich.) Birmingham was also the choice of most black and Hispanic voters in Massachusetts. As could be expected, he was weaker in white-collar suburban communities like Westborough and Hingham. But, outside of Springfield, he did poorly in the center and west generally– even in areas like Fitchburg and Holyoke where union support is a big plus. And he even lost some towns to O’Brien one would tend to think of as Birmingham’s base – Brockton, Quincy, and especially Lawrence. The Lawrence defeat is especially odd considering Lawrence’s large Latino population.

Birmingham ran what the Boston Globe called an “urban strategy,” which might have worked if he could have taken either more Western votes from O’Brien or more progressive votes from Reich or more votes in Greater Boston in general. As Senate president, he couldn’t credibly run on a “reform” platform, but he is well liked among many liberal/progressive activists (contrast with House Speaker Tom Finneran, much despised and loathed by the same activists) and they will miss him whether they know it or not. I wonder why he ran for governor –maybe he thought the union vote would carry him. He gave up a lot when he gave up the Presidency of the state Senate.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich came out of nowhere, mounted a late bit that excited many people, particularly reform-minded liberals, but fell short. Though generally pro-union, Reich supported NAFTA as a Clinton cabinet member and this came back to haunt him. Whether they would back him over O’Brien would be an interesting question, but with Birmingham in the race the union types had what was for them an easy alternative. When Reich entered the race, former state party chair Steve Grossman had no angle to play – Reich took away the “outsider” and “reformer” tags, in addition to preventing Birmingham from access to the “progressive” vote. Grossman then dropped out. Tolman’s campaign ran ads attacking Reich, and there’s no doubt Tolman’s vote cut into Reich’s. Tolman even outpolled Reich in certain areas.

College towns like Cambridge were Reich’s primary source of support. The generally white-collar, affluent liberal suburbs of Metrowest (from Brookline and Newton out to Framingham) also proved a strong source of Reich voters, as “reform” candidates always do well in primary elections there. Reich also did surprisingly well in Western Massachusetts, emerging as the main alternative to O’Brien in nearly every community in the four western counties (except in Springfield, where he finished fourth) and even carrying college towns Amherst and Northhampton, right in O’Brien’s back yard. Greenfield and Pittsfield – places one wouldn’t expect to take to a candidate like Robert Reich - ended up being a virtual draw between O’Brien and Reich. Reich was an issue driver for much of the campaign; he pushed all the candidates to take stronger stances in favor of gay rights, among other issues.

Reich, however, did poorly in Central Massachusetts, which doomed his campaign. Worcester County’s cities and towns, whether blue-collar (Fitchburg) or white-collar (Northborough), struggling (Gardner) or prosperous (Shrewsbury), semi-urban (Leominster) or rural (West Brookfield), largely shunned Reich. I suppose that’s not to be unexpected given the lack of “reform”-minded voters and the higher percentage of moderates and conservatives here compared to the rest of the state. He could, however, have reasonably hoped for a better showing in Worcester itself. Worcester, the state’s second most populous city, has a large number (even for Massachusetts) of colleges and students, and a high-turnout bloc of affluent residents and neighborhoods whose voting patterns more closely resemble those of Metrowest than those of a mill town, including a sizable and influential Jewish population. (Which sounds like stereotyping, but that’s exactly how one would describe most towns in the state where Reich won.) Reich trailed both O’Brien and Birmingham in Worcester.

Reich also did poorly in communities in Bristol and Plymouth Counties across the board, from Fall River and New Bedford on down. But “reform” candidates don’t generally do well down there either, and there’s no obvious source of votes for him there. Moderate to conservative voters, blue-collar union workers, and Latino or Portuguese minorities, three groups squarely behind other candidates, are the main voting blocs there. (Apart from perhaps some of the wealthier communities of the South Shore – it’s perhaps the most Republican part of the state, but Democratic primary voters there tend to be strongly liberal.)

Reich would have needed to find some more support among minority communities, which would have helped him in the state’s larger cities. Such an outreach move if successful would have taken the wind out of Birmingham’s sails and gotten Reich a foothold in cities like Lowell and New Bedford. It’s hard to win a statewide race, even a four-way race, while finishing no higher than third in any of the state’s three largest cities and carrying only three of the state’s dozen largest communities (Cambridge, Somerville, and Framingham, the latter only barely).

O’Brien did well enough in her home territory, outside of the student-heavy towns Reich carried. She managed to win Worcester, overcoming Birmingham’s east-side appeal and Reich’s west-side appeal, and cruised in the rest of Central Massachusetts. She carried often-overlooked, fast-growing Cape Cod (except for the Reich-leaning outermost towns, where a large percentage of Democratic primary voters are gay.) Despite (or perhaps because of) the negative advertising assailing her record as treasurer, O’Brien did not get her clock cleaned in Metrowest, which is often how “insider” candidates lose gubernatorial primaries in Massachusetts. She even managed to carry Boston itself, beating Reich by over 5,000 votes and Birmingham by about 1,000 votes, probably based on her perceived electability and her appeal to moderate voters in neighborhoods like West Roxbury and Hyde Park.

Most importantly, almost nowhere did O’Brien finish below second place. She was the primary alternative to Reich in towns Reich carried and the primary alternative to Birmingham in towns Birmingham carried. With a handful of exceptions, she was competitive everywhere.

So what does all this mean for Shannon O’Brien’s chances of being the first Democrat to be elected governor of Massachusetts since, believe it or not, Michael Dukakis?

O’Brien is a westerner, a rare bird in statewide politics. This will help her out west, obviously, and to some extent in Central Massachusetts as well, which could blunt Republican strength west of I-495. She’s a woman, which helps with women voters. She can count on liberal support, since liberals are suspicious of Romney, a member of the deeply conservative Mormon Church, more so than they were of classic dying-breed-everywhere-else Republicans like Bill Weld, Paul Celucci, and Jane Swift. (For his part, Romney claims he’s no right-winger – he opposes gay civil unions but professes to be pro-choice.)

The towns who backed her the strongest also tend to be the places Republican candidates have fared well in gubernatorial elections in recent years; western and central parts of the state, the North Shore, the South Shore, Cape Cod, and to a lesser extent, the Merrimack Valley. Other than Boston and Springfield, the other places a statewide Democrat counts on to come through in a tough race all chose someone else in this primary contest. Contrast that with the bases of the other candidates – Reich’s college towns and liberal Metrowest suburbs, and Birmingham’s lunch-bucket towns. The only way for a Republican to win a race statewide is if some of those communities don’t turn out for the Democratic nominee. Which sounds like long odds, but it’s worked for the GOP three times in a row and may work again. Though O’Brien is not actively disliked by any of the party factions that backed her opponents, she may have some trouble appealing to what should be her base, more so than her primary opponents would have. She’s been blamed in part for budget deficits, criticized by minority groups for insufficient diversity of staffing in her office, and for the usual patronage flare-ups endemic to the office no matter who’s held it over the years.

This race is the only thing people will turn out for – there are no serious challenges, either to Sen. Kerry or to anyone in the all-Democrat House delegation. The state legislature is firmly in Democratic hands and is not seriously contested. The negative opinion of the national GOP in Massachusetts won’t matter much in this race, either. This isn’t a situation like the 1996 Senate race, where John Kerry bested Bill Weld in large part because the national GOP ticket fared so poorly in Massachusetts that Weld would have had to beat Bob Dole’s numbers by 30 points. Mitt Romney can’t really be tied in any real way to President Bush, who lost the state by a country mile and will lose it by a country mile again in 2004, or to Gov. Swift, who stepped aside when polls suggested she was unlikely to be re-elected. So there are no coattail effects here; the candidates are going to have to win or lose on the strength or weakness of their own campaign.

O’Brien is essentially running even with Romney at present. This race is simply too close to call either way right now. it really is over.

I'm sure at some point I'll write more about this, but I'm tired.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Commemorating my $7.99 purchase of "Big Hits of the '70s." on impulse at Tower yesterday...track by track.

1. The Knack, “My Sharona”
You know, The Knack are one of those bands that keep coming back, and no one seems to notice. Not that this is a bad thing. (That no one notices, not that they keep resurfacing.) These lyrics are quite risqué for their time, at least for something that was this big a hit. (It’s somehow less fun, now that you can drop all sort of stuff into lyrics and no one notices.) I know it’s popular to despise this song, because there are a lot of things wrong with it – the vocals kinda suck, it’s way too long for what it is. The second guitar solo’s impressive at some level but it seems like a tacked-on afterthought and drags. Power pop ditties should not run 4:53. Somehow I have a soft spot for it. I hope it doesn’t have anything to do with “Reality Bites.”

2. Sweet, “Ballroom Blitz”
This one’s even better if you know that the Sweet began life as a pre-fab bubble-gum outfit and then broke loose from their Svengalis. It has undeniable pop charm, but it still sounds like it could have come from a garage. I’ve no clue what most of the lyrics are, since they’re either slurred or screamed. But who cares? Unfortunately, the song also brings back memories of that awful cover Tia Carrere recorded for “Wayne’s World.”
Did the man in the back ever get together with the girl in the corner?

3. Raspberries, “Go All The Way”
Before Eric Carmen had to resort to the hard-to-swallow syrup of “All By Myself,” he came up with, well, syrup that’s much easier to swallow, like this one. Guilty pleasure all the way, with the hooks and chord changes in all the right places. The distorted guitar riff probably even allowed it to stride the musical divide of the early 70s and get airplay on both AM (think Rolling Stones) and FM (think Bread) stations. I suppose if this came from the other side of the Atlantic, they might classify this as “glam rock.”

4. Pilot, “Magic”
The epitome of ‘70s cheese, with the corny lyrics, the la-la-la background singers, the short blasts of horn, the hand claps, and the fact that it’s been used in commercials. I will get this stuck in my head from time to time now. Which makes me wonder if this purchase was such a great idea.

5. Bob Welch, “Ebony Eyes”
No, not the pitcher who won 27 games for the Oakland A’s in 1990. I love this song. I love the opening riff, and so does R.E.M., since they ripped it off for “Begin the Begin.” Welch was a member of Fleetwood Mac just before they were famous, and this has netted me many a trash tossup. The chorus is catchy as the Ebola virus; the weak link is the bridge, but it’s short and ends up being another convenient place to drop the opening riff on us again. An obscure rock classic from 1977.

6. Tavares, “It Only Takes A Minute”
It suppose a compilation couldn’t call itself “Big Hits of the 70s” without including disco. I’m surprised there hasn’t been a cover of this bandied about. About the only notable thing I can think of about this song is that its lyrics make reference to job hunting and unemployment lines, which is odd for the disco genre, and it uses more minor chords than normal. That this song isn’t more famous probably has something do with its 1975 release date, before disco really peaked.

7. Blondie, “Heart of Glass”
Debbie Harry makes her best case for being a pop diva. The original idea Blondie had was to make this song a teary-eyed reggae song at a much slower tempo. Although it might be a better fit for the woe-is-me lyrics, I think this worked much better – an essentially guilt-free disco tune. It also ages pretty well, like much of the Blondie catalog. It takes a bit too long to end, but that’s a relatively minor flaw.

8. Maxine Nightengale, “Right Back Where We Started From”
I’m shocked that hasn’t been brought back by someone in a big way, either via a cover or a high-profile appearance in a movie soundtrack. The chorus is legendary for its sunny infectiousness. One of those songs you know even if you don’t, if you know what I mean.

9. Cornelius Bros. & Sister Rose, “Too Late To Turn Back Now”
The arrangement suggests a sped-up version of Philadelphia soul (Delfonics, Stylistics). The vocals suggest the blue-eyed soul of Johnny Rivers. It’s a winning combination.
I wouldn’t suggest paying attention to the lyrics (if you’re losing this much sleep and calling someone ten times a day, you probably need professional help.)

10. Ike & Tina Turner, “Proud Mary”
“We never ever, ever do nothin’ and easy. We always do it nice and rough.” Another one of those quotations that sounds much more disturbing with some context (i.e. the relationship between Ike and Tina Turner, fraught with domestic abuse.) If I didn’t know, I’d never guess this song wasn’t theirs. Other than the bit about “you don’t need to worry if you got no money – people on the river are happy to give,” you’d also not have guessed that original writer John Fogerty of CCR was a Californian who had never been anywhere near the Mississippi River when he wrote this.

11. The Sylvers, “Boogie Fever”
Second-tier disco, again from the comparative early days of 1975. There’s very little distinctive about it, and I don’t think the Sylvers had any other major hits. It’s one of those songs that you can hear a Muzak version of and not miss much. One would think they were too cheap to get higher-level disco product, but the next track is…

12. A Taste of Honey, “Boogie Oogie Oogie”
This tune netted A Taste of Honey the Best New Artist Grammy, over the likes of Elvis Costello, which turned out to be the kiss of death it nearly always is. Their only other hit came a few years later with a cover of “Sukiyaki.” (Why that song keeps coming back is beyond me – it’s nearly as hard to keep down as Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees – or “MacArthur Park.”) The bass line and guitar fills are appealing enough, but 7:17 is way more Boogie Oogie Oogie than anyone will ever need in their lifetime.

13. Hot Chocolate, “You Sexy Thing”
Thank the movies for the resurgence of this great tune. It seems invented to strip to, and that’s not by any means a bad thing. And of course was used very effectively in “The Full Monty.” It sadly has not led to a broader revival for Hot Chocolate. (Not that the movies tend to do that anyway – it’s not as if the re-emergence of “Stuck in the Middle With You” ignited any further interest in either Stealers’ Wheel or the solo output of Gerry Rafferty.)

14. Al Green, “Let’s Stay Together”
In the musical canon thanks in large part to Pulp Fiction (I still love Tarantino’s soundtracks – they age better than his films.) This song does speak for itself, and Al Green is a bona fide soul legend. If you want your woman (or man) back, you can’t do much better than dedicate this one. I’m surprised they were able to get the rights to this one, since it’s listed as being “under license from Hi records,” and nearly everything else on here can be traced to issuer EMI-Capitol.

15. Nick Gilder, “Hot Child In The City”
Gilder, who not only sounds androgynous but looked that way in 1978, muses about a young prostitute, probably a runaway teenage girl, in Los Angeles. Some of the lyrics are clever – for some reason the double entendre “So young to be loose and on her own” is in some way impressive. Although generally teenage prostitutes aren’t attractive, their clientele generally isn’t “young boys” but dirty old (or at least middle-aged) men, and the narrator might want to think twice before “making love” to this person. (Why do I deconstruct lyrics to pop songs so much, anyway?) Love that riff. Reminds me a little of the electrified version of “Sweet Jane” by Lou Reed – come to think of it, the subject matter reminds me of Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” (ObPointlessTrivia: Gilder also wrote Scandal’s “The Warrior.”)

16. Blue Swede, “Hooked On A Feeling”
This one baffles me. The base song, by B.J. Thomas, is OK, nothing to write home about. Doing a cover of it a scant three years later, as the age of multiple versions of the same song charting in a short span was essentially over, seems like a strange idea, even if the horns and wood blocks seems like a better arrangement to go than the strings and sitar of the original version. And that’s before you even mention the “ooga-chaka-ooga-ooga” business.

17. Sugarloaf, “Green Eyed Lady”
Maybe it’s because its release date was in 1970 (essentially the peak of the epic-jams-as-pop-hits era) Or maybe its the flower-child lyrics, the noodling organ and guitar solos, and the bizarre intro, but this song seems to last much longer than it actually does (3:37, believe it or not.) As a kid I used to think the song was about a three-eyed lady. Either way, I’m not sure how this was such a big hit or why it’s anything but ultra-obscure today.

18. The Hollies, “Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)”
They don’t have access to actual Creedence, so instead we have a Creedence cover and this song, which sounds for all the world like a CCR tune, in particular “Green River” and “Born on the Bayou.” Something of a fluke, this tune was a hit in 1973, long after any of the other Hollies hits and after the departure of its most famous member, Graham Nash.

19. Dr. Hook, “Sharing The Night Together”
It’s hard to take anything Dr. Hook does seriously. I wonder if that’s the point, sort of a soft-rock, low-rent version of Warren Zevon. But this tune, a lame stab (complete with bad whispering background vocals) at being for out-of-the-loop white people what something like “Just the Two of Us” would be for the R&B crowd, seems much closer in spirit to, say, “Chevy Van” by Sammy Johns than to either “Cover of the Rolling Stone” or anything by Zevon. If you hate Steely Dan, this could pass for Steely Dan; if you like them, you’re now throwing things at the screen. There’s no reason to listen to this; anyone you could lure into bed with this isn’t worth the trouble.

20. Little River Band, “Lonesome Loser”
Yum. Australian country music, with a heavy influence from REO Speedwagon. I think I’ll pass. This was a hit around the same time as “Queen of Hearts” by Juice Newton, and as a kid I always wondered if there was a connection there, since the title character of “Lonesome Loser” gets “beaten by the Queen of Hearts every time.” I wish this collection had included “Reminiscing” instead. It’s catchier, and has the easy-on-the-ears quality you’d expect from songwriter Barry Mannilow without any his unctuous voice.

Well, there you have it, dear readers. Off to enjoy the last day of sunshine before tropical storm Isidore drops some much-needed rain on the Washington area…

This morning, I noticed that Bill Simmons has already written a eulogy for this years' edition of the Red Sox. And yet they're still alive, even if they're hooked up to a respirator. I was actually ready to write my own eulogy for the team before I saw what Simmons wrote. And I'm going to hold off, since I am not a copycat, and well, I'm not into burying people alive.

Yeah, whatever, Tim. It's over. Time to watch football.

I really wish that little voice would just shut the hell up already.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

In other sports related news...

The Red Sox remained alive in the race for the AL Wild Card thanks to a 15-inning win over the Orioles last night.

With six games to go, the Sox and the Seattle Mariners have won 90 games, six games behind the Anaheim Angels. Any Angels win from here on out clinches at least a wild card for them. If the Angels went 0-6, though, the Sox or Mariners could force a tie by running the table. The Red Sox are in Chicago for three and then close out the season at Fenway against the Devil Rays. The Angels play Texas for three and finish the season against...Seattle. That could be one heck of an interesting series.

The odds on all of this are astronomical, of course. But if any team has a better claim to a "choke" label than the Red Sox, it's the Angels. You don't even have to go back to Donnie Moore and Dave Henderson in the 1986 ALCS; the Angels' 1995 down-the-stretch collapse by most measures was a more dramatic choke job than even the Red Sox' infamous 1978 belly flop.

In addition to rooting for the Rangers, I think a Red Sox fan has a duty to pull for Seattle to sweep Oakland - it's easier to imagine the Mariners pulling off a sweep if they have something to play for. Even if it means a three-way tie.

Yeah, whatever, Tim. It's over. Time to watch football.

At least the Patriots are overachievers, perhaps to compensate for the underachieving Red Sox, hard as it as to call any baseball team that is on pace to win 94 games "underachievers."

You know what I hate more than Hank Williams, Jr?

Going into Monday Night with a good lead in fantasy football (both of my leagues) and then have the final drive of the 4th quarter result in you losing both games.

Monday, September 23, 2002

I still hate Hank Williams Jr.

I got some solicitation mail from the American Civil Liberties Union this afternoon in the mail. The envelope wasn't sealed. Which I found hilarious. For a moment I wondered whether John Ashcroft and his people were snooping on me. It's fun to imagine that you're important enough to be spied on.

What the heck, here's the 16th installment in "Tim takes random web quizzes," a little early.
Will Answer Guy Survive A Pit Match Against Clinton And Bush?

0% chance Bush would kill you.
0% chance Clinton would kill you.
0% chance he would sexually harass you.
100% chance you would kill them.
Enter Combat

Now they're really spying on me, I suppose. The big problem with this quiz is that I have about as much chance of being in a steel cage match with U.S. presidents alone as I do of bedding Anna Kournikova. They'd have Secret Service goons around them, I'm sure. That, and the idea of assasinating the president under these sorts of circumstances is scary. It would lead to a Cheney presidency (and here come the jokes about how there already is a Cheney presidency) with all sorts of sympathy popularity boosts. And that's before even thinking about what would happen to me personally. That is so not what I want to be famous for. Is it illegal to state or imply you could kick Dubya's ass in a steel cage match?

And now for the 15th installment in an occasional series.. Tim takes random web quizzes!

Ten Reasons Why This New Iraq War Is A Terrible Idea:
1. Tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi people will die without any obvious benefit.
2. Thousands of American servicemen and women will also die, also without any obvious benefit.
3. Billions of dollars will be wasted, which would be better spent on clothing, housing, and feeding this nation's people, not to mention fighting actual terrorism.
4. This war with Iraq will inspire and encourage more terrorist acts directed at the United States, Israel, and the West in general, than it will deter, preempt, or thwart.
5. In an age where international cooperation will become ever more important in matters military, economic, and sociocultural, this would be yet another middle finger aimed at the rest of the world by this administration.
6. Any Iraqi leader, while it is hard to imagine a worse one than Saddam Hussein, would pursue obtaining weapons of mass destruction. Two main regional adversaries are pursuing nuclear weapons - Israel is likely an undeclared nuclear state, and Iran is known to be working on a nuclear weapons program. Not to mention a highly unstable Pakistan being a declared nuclear power.
7. Iraq will likely try to draw Israel into the war.A war that involves Israel is a terrible idea in the current climate there. It will lead to more brutal crackdowns on Palestinians, which will breed ever more desparate suicide bombings.
8. Even if Iraq's attacks on Israel don't precipitate a "clash of civilizations," ethnic tensions in Iraq spilling over into Turkey and Iran - and creating refugee crises in those and other Middle East states - should give the U.S. much more pause than it presently does.
9. Installing a compliant client state in Iraq would as a matter of a necessity be a militaristic despot. (A theocratic state would not work given the Sunni-Shi'a split, a monarchy is not likely workable in such a multiethnic state.) Is there any reason to believe either this despot could be toppled or that he could become essentially another Saddam?
10. A U.S. economy already in recession should not be inviting a shock in oil prices for the questionable benefits of "regime change" in Iraq. And that's before you consider what oil shocks would do to other petroleum consumer states and trading partners in Europe and Asia.

And all of this assumes the war with Iraq is more cakewalk than quagmire, and that Saddam falls in about a month or less.

And yet few in public are speaking out against this war with Iraq that now seems all but inevitable. I'm just bewildered. The politicians, I suppose, are afraid of ending up like many of those who opposed Desert Storm. Democrats in particular are afraid of being painted as the anti-war party. Which reminds me that most of America's worst foreign policy blunders came when would-be opponents were afraid of speaking up for fear of being soft on communism or soft on terrorism or soft on something.

Blind rage is something ascribed to radical Islamist terrorist cells. But there's more than a little of it in America's latest Middle East policy declarations. It is not only unbecoming of a bedrock member of the world community; it is ultimately unproductive.

Friday, September 20, 2002

I know I've been scarce lately, dear readers. I've been putting in time at a yuppie sweatshop, and at night am seeing my mother and stepdad, who are visiting Washington.

Tomorrow evening I'm going to see the Red Sox play the Orioles in what sadly is a meaningless game for both teams. Camden Yards, however, is a nice park to go visit and a great place to see a ballgame. I'll continue to go there once or twice a year even if Washington gets its own baseball franchise.

I'm so exhausted I can barely even form coherent thoughts, much less anything fit for public consumption. It's funny how you never miss sleep until it becomes scarce...speaking of which, zzzzz....

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

And now for the 14th installment in an occasional series..
Tim takes random web quizzes!

Which Animaniacs Character are You?

Talkative, huh? Perhaps sing-ative would be more appropriate, actually. When people don't understand something, it usually drives you to cutting, sarcastic remarks. Your other extreme is bursting into song with almost no prompting, often to explain complex ideas. No one knows quite what you are, exactly. You have made many "special" friends, and there's baloney in your slacks.

Great. Now I have that song that lists all the countries in the world stuck in my head. "Spanish Sahara is gone...."

I was going to write some Monday Night Football-related observations. Blogger saw fit to kill them. So I'm just going to get this one out. If Bill Simmons does not mention the Steve Spurrier face from the 3rd quarter of tonight's game, while his Redskins were getting an old fashioned whuppin', I'll be severely disappointed in him. In what will soon be a legendary soruce of ridicule, Spurrier flapped his mouth like a fish against the glass of an aquarium - that's about as close as I can come to describing this.

Anyhow, bedtime calls, dear readers....

Monday, September 16, 2002

Warning: Unlike Matt Bruce, I don’t have a separate blog for “TMI.” You never know when I’m going to drop some TMI goodness onto this blog. Unless of course, I decide to warn you about it first.

Speaking of Matt, I agree with Matt on something. Make sure you know the location of the nearest fallout shelter, since the apocalypse is coming. Look for the entry called “An American’s Statement To The World” on this blog. It is extraordinarily well written, vaguely along the lines of the tail end of my September 11 blog (the part in italics) but better and with more humor.

Hey, Kristin: Rude people suck.

Just a thought…anyone else disturbed that fewer and fewer of well-educated people in the future will have ever had to work a “regular” job? It’s harder in my opinion to be rude to a waitress, or a cashier, or a janitor, if you or someone you know was one. It’s easier to identify with people who have to do menial or manual labor for a living if there was a time where you had to do so. I wonder if the widening gap of life experiences won’t be a defining cultural phenomenon of our times. Not to mention being a root cause of ever ruder and nastier behavior towards those “little people” stuck waiting on people not used to taking “no” for an answer.

Hey, Dwight: Don’t worry about the bunnies.

Keep in mind the following:
1. Men have among the largest penises among mammals in proportion to our body. Current biological thinking suggests the more sexual partners a female of a species can be expected to have over her lifetime, the larger the male genitalia should be from an evolutionary standpoint. Since humans can mate year-round, (yes, even during football season) have comparatively long lives, and have fashioned for ourselves various contraceptive devices, one would expect relatively high rates of promiscuity. Not to mention that if all that spam e-mail in my inbox is any indicator, genital size is apparently a mate-choosing criterion these days.

2. A man my size (6’0”, between 175 and 180 pounds depending on what I eat today) couldn’t get a 100% erection without passing out if I were blessed/cursed with an endowment of more than about 12 inches. Now imagine the limits on size faced by a cute little bunny rabbit. Feel better yet?

3. For many mammals, what humans “premature ejaculation” might a major reproductive asset, and “staying power” a disadvantage. After all, it’s harder to escape a predator (or hunt for needed prey) locked in coitus. The ladies in the abstract would might love the idea of cuddling up to bunny rabbits until they realize that, well, their lagomorph lotharios have been naturally selected over eons to be two-pump chumps.

Now I bet you feel better. If not, well, you can’t say I didn’t try.

First things first: If you had told me that of last season's NFL final four, only one team had won a game in the first two weeks (yes, I know the Eagles haven't played their second game as of yet) there's no way I would guessed the Patriots were the one team. And yet there they are, after a 44-7 thrashing of the Jets in the Meadowlands.

As a Patriots fan, as befitting all Boston sports fans, I have concerns. Before I go there, though, I will mention there was a dread they'd be 0-2 at this juncture and all that stuff they're saying about the Rams now would be said about the Pats instead. The more wins like this they get, the less likely they end up where I predicted them to go into the playoffs - having to win in Denver.

Anyhow, here are things that worry me...

Drew Bledsoe. There are teams starting Rodney Peete, Gus Frerotte, Shane Matthews, Jim Miller, Quincy Carter, Trent Dilfer, and Jake Plummer. Some of these teams (OK, two of these teams) are even popular playoff picks. And that doesn't count the rebuilding teams (Baltimore, Detroit, Houston) that are throwing completely green rookies to the wolves. And this list is giving Brad Johnson, Kordell Stewart, Jay Fielder, Tim Couch, and Michael Vick the benefit of the doubt. You couldn't get more for a guy who could throw 300 yards in his sleep than one draft pick from a team in your own division? Granted, his first two games for Buffalo were in September against a decimated Jets defense and a weak Minnesota defense. But the Pats have two dates with the Bills, and there's concern Bledsoe and company will be particularly up to playing them.

The schedule. Every other division in football has a gimme, a team would-be playoff contenders have no business ever losing to. The Steelers, down as they are at 0-2, should be able to pencil in five wins out of six games against Cleveland, Baltimore, and Cincinnati; the Rams and Niners should have little trouble with the Cards and Seahawks; Tampa and New Orleans get Carolina and Atlanta, etc.

And of course, are they peaking too early?

Other NFL-related observations...

Hey, Craig, now that your team not only lost to Rodney Peete but got lit up by Rodney Peete in humilating fashion, I guess dead last is really where the Lions belong in the power rankings. Then again, the Ravens did themselves (not to mention my fantasy squad) no favors by putting goose eggs on the scoreboard against Tampa Bay. There's so much competiton at the bottom of the standings this year. (And it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Carolina proceeded to lose their next 14 games. Counting on Peete to be any good, on Lamar Smith to be consistent, or Mushin Muhammad to be healthy is usually a good formula for long losing streaks.)

Monday Night Football this week is Redskins v. Eagles, a division rival pairing with strong playoff undertones. Here's where someone gets to say "I told you so," whether it's Redskins coach Steve Spurrier or his detractors, critics, and naysayers. (Speaking of which, when people say "Hate to say I told you so," they are lying. There are very few things people enjoy saying more than "I told you so." One of those things happens to be "I hate to say I told you so.")

Answer Guy's Fantasy update: Looks like both my teams are on their way to winning Week 2. La Package Totale can go to 2-0 if Duce Staley doesn't go to town; good thing, too, because thanks to an idiot autodrafter, literally half my team has a bye week in Week 3 - I had to make a desparation grab for Rodney Peete, for crying out loud. The Regulators have a clinched a move to 1-1. Woohoo!

Saturday, September 14, 2002

And now for the 13th installment in an occasional series..
Tim takes random web quizzes!

Take the What Type of Friend are
quiz, and visit

Seven Easy Steps
1. The United States invades Iraq.
2. The Iraqi military collapses.
3. Saddam Hussein is driven from power, and ends up either dead or on the run.
4. A new, U.S. friendly regime is installed in Iraq.
5. The Iraqi people are united and happy.
6. Iraq’s neighbors rejoice.
7. The whole Middle East becomes one big lovefest.

There is a small group of people, influential in the U.S. government who apparently think that the above will summarize (albeit in crude fashion) what’s going to happen when Bush and company stop being coy and just go ahead and invade Iraq, regardless of international opinion or the legalities of a mandate from Congress, or, for that matter, common sense.

Can the U.S. military defeat the soldiers of Iraq? Certainly the evidence from Desert Storm suggests they could, although urban warfare is much dicier than anything that transpired in 1991.

Could the U.S. drive Saddam from power? One would have to conclude they could, though the cost to do so and the consequences of doing so are far from certain. There would likely be an Arab oil embargo with the consequent shock to the economy. There would be international outrage. There would be a lot of money spent on this adventure – remember that Europe, Japan, and Saudi Arabia put up much of the money to fight Desert Storm, and they won’t be contributing to this effort – which would drain the money and resources for education, infrastructure, and health care, not to mention domestic security and continued efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere to stamp out al-Qaida, who, by the way, have no links to Iraq.

Not that I’m expressing any doubt that Saddam Hussein as bad as everyone says he is.
He is a despotic ruler with big dreams of being a regional bully. Yes, he’s known to have chemical weapons, which the U.S. helped him obtain so that he could fight Iran with them.
Although his human rights violations (torture, secret detainment, ethnic cleansing) are egregious, they are sadly not too far from the norm in that part of the world – you can find some of the same behavior in other nations, both hostile (Syria, Libya, Sudan) and friendly (Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia) to the United States. All else being equal, it can be said fairly that America and the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein.

However, all the evidence suggests that Saddam loves power above all else. He is not, metaphorically speaking, a suicide bomber. Any attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction on America (or, for that matter Israel) on his part would essentially be an act of suicide. It’s the sort of thing someone would do if he was going to die anyway, and would likely refrain from doing if there were a better option, such remain in power, however diminished. If the “Satan” view of Saddam were true, you’d think he’d have deployed at least chemical weapons in Kuwait, or against coalition forces during Desert Storm. It doesn’t make sense for Iraq to sponsor an act of terrorism on U.S. soil. It will not get him what he wants, and it will only ensure his demise. The only way the equation changes, ironically, is if “regime change” is imminent. A boxed-in Saddam is far less dangerous than a scared, cornered Saddam.

OK, now let’s suppose Saddam is toppled. There is no guarantee that what replaces Saddam would be sufficiently superior to the status quo to justify the expense and the casualties on both sides to force regime change, however hard it may to be to imagine something worse.

The installation of a U.S friendly regime in Iraq would require an American presence on an essentially permanent basis, an odd position for a president who sneered at the idea of “nation building” to advocate.

And while I believe the U.S. could find a way to install a provisional government post-Saddam, keeping them in power is another matter altogether. There will be pockets of rebellion, some of it pro-Saddam, some of it from Islamic radicals.

Not to mention secessionist movements. One would think the Kurds would want their own country – they have a good deal of de facto autonomy as it is with the “no fly” zone in northern Iraq. Except that Kurdish irredentism and secessionism would likely deeply trouble Turkey, Syria, and Iran. Turkey is a key ally, the only Muslim member of NATO, the closest thing to a real democracy in the entire Islamic world. Iran is certainly no friend of the United States now, but it’s not heard to imagine, given how badly the strict Islamist regime in Iran has run what by all rights should be among the most prosperous non-Western nations in the world into the ground, a future Iran on much better terms with the U.S. It’s hard to blame the Kurds for not wanting to be subject to Arab rule again given what has happened to them under Arab rule over the years. Likewise, the Shi’a Arabs of southern Iraq would likely be less than thrilled at the prospect of another Sunni-dominated regime. And while they did not, as Iran expected, help Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, it’s not hard to imagine heavy Iranian influence in southern Iraq and in Iraq as a whole. Which is not, from an American standpoint, a good thing as long as the theocracy in Iran is still in power.

Saddam had held dominion over these minority peoples within Iraq largely through fear. While a U.S. backed post-Saddam Iraqi government could do the same (it would be far from the first U.S. backed regime to govern in such a fashion) that would mean the United States did essentially nothing to improve the Middle East situation, and did so at a great cost.

Worst of all, it will not make America safer or more secure. This war isn’t going to make America safe. And the next war won’t either. Terrorism is at its root an idea, and specific acts thereof are manifestations of the idea. Killing terrorists themselves will be of limited utility – as evidenced by the fact that many of them are busy killing themselves, sparing us the trouble of doing so.

Terrorism feeds off of hate. Everything the United States does in the Middle East, it seems, generates more hate. Whether it’s giving Israel a blank check to engage in settlement and displacement policies not easily distinguishable from those of, say, Slobodan Milosevic, or sustaining rotten, autocratic dictators (military and otherwise) and monarchies both in the Mideast and elsewhere, America has generated for itself image problem. (Compare with China, an officially atheist state that savagely persecutes Muslims within its borders in ways the U.S. would never dream of doing, but doesn’t throw its weight around the Mideast much.) While there is no love lost for Saddam Hussein within most quarters in the Arab world, news footage of thousands of Iraqis dying due to an American invasion will not exactly help the situation. Not to mention the fact that you don’t see many Iraqi suicide bombers at present, which might change once there’s a war on Iraq.

It feeds off of poverty and lack of economic opportunity, though not in a strict, direct fashion. The 9/11 hijackers were comparatively educated and middle-class compared to most of the Arab world, and so are most of the Palestinian suicide bombers. However, these are societies that by and large waste intellectual talent (if they don’t drive them away entirely) and deny citizens a meaningful role in shaping a civil society. The Arab governments must shoulder much of the blame; they have largely failed to provide opportunity for their people, have squelched dissent (all popular unrest is cynically channeled towards the U.S. or Israel) and have squandered the region’s oil wealth. The people there look for answers, and the only answers available center on religious radicalism.
And this is as true in states the U.S. supports as well as many of those hostile to American interests.

You’re already thinking, “Who cares?” Well, if there is ever going to be a successful war on terrorism, it needs to be a total war on terrorism and not simply a war on terrorists or terrorist organizations.

How do you win a war against an idea? Cut off its fuel, deny it the power to sway people to kill themselves so that they might kill the supposed enemies, infidels, and traitors. Create a climate of hope. Not an easy or a simple thing to do – it doesn’t work in soundbites to sell to voters quite so well as an invasion of Iraq might – but the future of the civilized community of nations depends on it. Every new war creates new Osama bin Ladens, new Abu Nidals. As long as there is anger and no hope, killing people in the name of stopping terrorism only breeds more terrorists.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

OK, so those won't be my last words. All in all, a good thing, I'd say. The odds are good my last words will be about something frivolous, like handicapping the odds of dying celebrities, dying pennant drives, or dying television shows, or what exactly the nature of my last words will be.

Thank you for all the links and references, friends. Although it's hard for me to take credit for that writing. It was almost like the words were choosing me rather than the other way around.

Speaking of last words, while I'm in a strangely morbid mood, it's time for the 12th installment of...Tim takes random web quizzes!

How Will You Die?

The other night I had a dream where I was in a car crash in the Bronx. I, however, lived through both the crash and the dream. Eerie. I was still driving my old Buick Skyhawk station wagon, from DC to Worcester, and I was for some reason on a wide street in the Bronx, I think almost out of New York City entirely, when I blacked out within my dream. Next time I gained dream consciousness my car was mysterious damaged, I was hobbled, and I was outside a gas station with old soul music playing.

But I didn't die. How strange it would be, dear readers, if these turned out to be my last words.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Code Red. Code Red.

The whirring of helicopters above, the flashing lights of police cars, the cordoning off of large chunks of the city for presidential motorcades. All this security, and yet no safety. All this inconvenience with no apparent payoff. Do you feel safer? I don’t.

Code Red in the air. (OK, technically it was Code Orange, but walking two miles uphill twice this afternoon was no fun.) It hit 90 degrees downtown, and I felt the sun mocking my efforts to get through a busy day. The air was a mass of ozone, volatile organic compounds, and who knows what else as my lungs worked a bit harder today to filter for life-giving oxygen.

Code Red on the streets. Waiting for the next shoe to drop, for the next vague hint of the latest threat, the next reassurance that everything is under control, the next blunt force trauma to our national nerve centers.

Code Red across the globe. Who will pay for the next massacre with their lives? Who gets to be the country of the week on the evening news next time?

It’s hard to hold my breath ; I want the pleasure of every last breath, a tiny gift to an insignifcant speck of dust tethered to a slightly larger insignificant speck of dust hurling its way through an indifferent universe.

And tomorrow will be a mountain of memorials and monuments and mementoes, piled on like the wreckage of fallen skyscrapers. Its indelible images will suffocate our psyches all over again.

Every time I watched the Twin Towers collapse, or the wreckage at the Pentagon, or the burned, debris-strewn open field in Pennsylvania (Where was that plane going, by the way – what if they had brought it down only two miles from the White House rather than two-hundred? You might not be reading this.) on a television screen, or in my mind, it is as if I were watching it for the first time.

This time it was not a test-marketed, special-effects laden summer blockbuster from Hollywood; at first, I wanted to believe it was, that no one really died, that the cackling villains would be caught in 94 minutes in a spectacular car chase through the narrow streets of a neighborhood teeming with outdoor markets to gleefully destroy, adrenaline-stoking alleys to race through, and an empty factory at the end of the road where the evildoers would fall into a vat of acid or molten steel or be electrocuted to death, in any event something gruesome that feels like righteous justice.

We were reminded in the cruelest and starkest possible fashion that life does not work that way, and those movies aren’t the cheap pick-me-up they once were. The search for easy answers turns up ever more intractable questions, about the nature of evil, the value of life, the value of death, the powerlessness of power, the power of powerlessness, about ancient religious squabbles and shifting patterns of ethnic hatred.

We’ve seen Andy Warhol’s famous dictum that everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes manifest itself in horrific fashion in the geopolitical arena. Anyone can be a global menace for 15 minutes. They may not get to heaven, but they will achieve their own symbolic immortality. It’s hard to bear the thought of having to get used to this.

I wonder if I’ll ever get used to life in Code Red.

I could go on and on, forever, dear readers. But just in case this should happen to be the day my life is taken from me, let these, however melodramatic, apocalyptic, self-indulgent, self-absorbed, and pretentious, be my last words…

You may have murdered me, but there are millions of us in this country and the world over who will carry my values of respect, tolerance, and coexistence. Your efforts to kill us will serve only to show humanity that your way is a dead end and can only lead to ignorance, hatred, suffering, and death. No God worthy of your lavish praise would smile at your wicked deeds.

The madmen who have brainwashed you into sacrificing your life to indiscriminately murder innocent souls will pay dearly for having done so. The price may be paid in blood at the hands of the civilized nations and peoples of the world, or in the hereafter.

Your otherwise innocent mothers and fathers and cousins and countrymen will suffer – at the absolute minimum, they will have to live with the horror of knowing one of their own is a cold-blooded killer whom they will never see alive again. Perhaps they themselves will be killed as the friends, family, loved ones, and countrymen of your victims will lash out in a crimson blaze of vengeance and fury. I do not ask for such killing in my name, but now there is nothing I can do to stop them. I cannot raise my voice or my pen in protest, for you have forever silenced both. I cannot weep for them, for my eyes give now give no tears.

I know not what rewards or punishments, if any, are forthcoming to me. I will take pity upon you, however, for if I am certain of anything, I am certain there will be no rewards for you.

Come get me. Either way, you will fail.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Once again, the New England Patriots have confounded me, and I couldn't be happier about that. I said their offense was unimpressive, and as if by magic, the yards and points pile up. As do the shots of Patriots players wearing white pants. Very nice, if I do say so myself.

The final score of 30-14 doesn't quite accurately describe how much the Patriots dominated this game, particularly in the third and early fourth quarters.

The prediction I made of Pittsburgh winning the Super Bowl looks pretty bad (on the heels of my NFC pick, the Eagles, going down in Week One as well) right now. The broadcasters noted that only one out of every four teams who drops their opening games ends up getting into the playoffs. Although keep in mind the following:
• The Pats opened the 2001 season with a loss to the lowly Bengals, and started off 1-3. A tough loss to the Rams left them at 6-5 and well in the background of the playoff picture. The rest, as they say, is history.
• The Steelers last year lost to Jacksonville, a worse team than the Pats, 21-3 in their opener. They nonetheless clinched home field throughout the playoffs and made it to the AFC Championship game. Cowher's Steelers have made the playoffs after losing in Week 1 in five different times.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see these teams meeting again sometime in January.

Monday, September 09, 2002

Well, at halftime, it's 10-7, Pats. I'll take that, considering how unimpressive the Patriot offense has been.

Someone should tell the Patriots' coaching staff that they have running backs - after 16 pass plays in a row, you'd think the defense would get wise.But despite the TD drive by the Steelers that capped off when Hines Ward faked out Ty Law to make the end zone, the defense has done pretty well, getting two early picks and a good stand (albeit aided and abetted by Steeler penalties) to keep the Steelers at 7. Adam Viniateri is once again The Man.

I hate Hank Williams Jr.

Update: The campaign of Rev. Willie Wilson has yet again seen fit to give me an automated phone call, this one from columnist Julianne Malveaux, one of the few nationally syndicated columnists on the left who comes anywhere near the shrillness of a whole host of right-wing columnists.

Her own Ann Coulter moment came shortly after Justice Thomas' confirmation, when she expressed the hope that Thomas' wife fed him lots of fattening, unhealthy food so he'd die at a young age. As most of my readers know, I am no fan of Clarence Thomas; nonetheless, this remark was in extraordinary bad taste. Since it was so long ago, people have largely forgotten about her. In all fairness, a look through her more recent work turned up nothing like that comment, although there were potshots a plenty about George W. Bush.

In this phone call, Malveaux touts herself as an economist (which she is, actually, a Ph.D. from MIT in economics) upset that the Williams administration has failed to balance the city's budget. Fine, but she's plugging Rev. Wilson, whose campaign by and large is predicated on a whole host of promises that will inevitably involve government expenditures to an extent that there's no way he could balance the city's budget either without a large tax increase, which he has also disavowed.

I do have to hand it to the Wilson campaign on one score - Malveaux, being relatively obscure, won't engender the sort of negative feelings a phone call from Marion Barry would among many D.C. residents. And the "economist" angle might impress the easily impressionable. I am curious if this phone call was made citywide or not.

In other news, the Patriots' title defense begins in a few short minutes, dear readers....

And now for the 11th installment in an occasional series..
Tim takes random web quizzes!

You are "Kraft Macaroni and Cheese". You cost a little more,
due to your promotional shapes and packaging, but the kids
won't stand for less. You try and be individual in
spite of this though. You prefer to be called "Cheese and
Macaroni" thank you very much.

Meet my new links, dear readers...

Carey Clevenger
From Pittsburgh, PA, like all my links a fellow quiz bowl player. Funny sense of humor, and promises to be entertaining.

Victoria Rubin
Victoria, in the vicinity of Atlanta, GA. I don't know her that well, but we have met multiple times. I really like what she writes (sure, it helps that I agree with a lot of it) and it never fails to make me think.

Rick Terpstra
Rick, in Clifton Heights, PA (near Philadelphia) is one of my best buds. He's a former GW player and a frequent teammate of mine both in collegiate and masters/trash competition, and an all around good guy to have around. He just started this blog thing (figured it was only a matter of time before he took this up) and I'm sure he will produce some fine writing, if he finds any time from his busy schedule as a 1L at Temple Law School. (I tried my best to stop him, for the record.)

Stephanie Walker
A Cleveland, OH native and resident, this U. Chicago player is a lot of fun to be around, as Allison M. can attest to. It was something of an oversight not have her on here before.

Matt Weiner
Another quizbowl guy, from Richmond, VA, his writing also gets my gray matter thinking, even if I a disagree with him a lot (sometimes in substance, sometimes in style).

Well, there you have it, dear readers. In the meantime, I'm off to sleep. Good night...

Ooooh...a question! Finally I get to live up to my name, dear readers!

Mike asks:
> Hi! Justice John Paul Stevens has written the most
> dissenting opinions for this court and is the most
> frequent lone dissenter. Why do you think his
> record is such? I was just curious to see what your
> opinion is. Thank you, Mike

I can give this a stab off the top of my head.

(Note: I didn't verify the truth of the statements, but they certainly sound plausible.)

Supreme Court rules say that the most senior justice on each side gets to decide who writes the opinion for that side, except that the Chief gets to decide who writes the opinion for whatever side he/she is on. (Chief Justice William Rehnquist is also the most senior justice on the Court at present, so there's effectively no difference right now.)Stevens is the court's second most senior member apart from Rehnquist. So when Stevens differs from Rehnquist (which is often since Rehnquist is so conservative) he gets to decide who writes the opinion, which would give him more of an opportunity to write dissenting opinions more often if he's on the short end on all or part of the Court's holding.

That would explain the frequent dissenting opinions he writes.

As for more lone dissents....

A Ford appointee, Stevens represents a sort of liberal strain of Republicanism based in the Northeast and Midwest that's sort of died out politically as the South became more Republican and the GOP more Southern-oriented. The court is going through by and large a fairly conservative period, with a rock solid base of Rehnquist/ Antonin Scalia/ Clarence Thomas on most issues usually joined by Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor. (To be fair, this Court has a conservative record in the truer sense of the word also; it has shown little interest in "judicial activism" on behalf of right-wing causes or in undoing older decisions unpopular with right-wing interests, refusing to overturn _Roe_ or _Miranda_ when given an opportunity.)

Of the four justices on the liberal/moderate side of things (Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer, sometimes joined by O'Connor or every once in a while Kennedy), Stevens tends to be the most idealist-oriented. The other three (Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer) are more likely to look at things from a more pragmatist viewpoint, especially Breyer. Stevens is the one likeliest to be bothered by what he sees as any deprivation of civil liberties - the other three are somewhat more inclined to balance interests or overlook what they might see as de minimis intrusions on civil liberties.

Well, that's my best explanation, Mike. Got a question? Ask me and I'll try to fashion a response as best I can, in as entertaining a fashion as the subject matter permits.

Sunday, September 08, 2002

Just got back from the Adams-Morgan Day Street Festival. As I write this, there is still powdered sugar from funnel cake on my face and I don't care.

Update: Today, I received yet another automated phone call from the camapign of Rev. Willie Wilson, featuring former Mayor Marion Barry. This mayoral campaign is ranking higher and higher on the Unintentional Comedy Scale every passing day.

Update: The U.S. team lost yet again at the World Basketball Championship. I guess this isn't shocking anymore and really takes the air out of the mafia jokes.

Update: I pick the Eagles to make the Super Bowl. Then they lose their first game of the year to Tennessee. (I did pick the Titans, by default essentially, to make the playoffs, but I feel less good about the results.) Apologies to Rick, although I don't think my blog jinxed them.

A few choice quotations somehow deemed germane to city politics by their respective speakers:

Osie Thorpe: “I’ve been here forty years, and I haven’t had a job since I’ve been here.”

Rev. Douglas Moore: “I have a cousin who is married to a German woman. I’m an art collector. I speak French.”

Faith: “Having been on the mayoral ballot six times, I have studied the dysfunction of our government…for the last quarter of a century.”

James Clark: “White man’s degree makes blacks slaves…Clark as mayor will get on my knees with my [police] and search for black missing children with the same zeal and effort that [Police Chief Charles] Ramsey did in Rock Creek Park for Chandra Levy.”

Ladies and gentlemen, these are your four candidates on the ballot in the Democratic ballot for Mayor of the District of Columbia, discussing their qualifications for the city’s highest office and/or what they would do if elected. (Quotes are courtesy of Washington Post and Washington City Paper.)

As you may or may not know, the campaign staff of the incumbent, Mayor Anthony Williams, messed up the nominating petitions so badly that he has to run as a write-in. Which in turn prompted the write-in campaign of Rev. Willie Wilson, a preacher at Union Temple Baptist in Southeast, who is attempting to use the endorsement of former mayor Marion Barry to bolster his campaign.

If you’re curious, there are literally no candidates on the Republican ballot, for that tiny minority of registered Republicans in the District. Williams’ troubles have prompted an effort to draft City Councillor and perennial mayoral also-ran Carol Schwartz in a write-in campaign. For the DC Statehood-Green (the two parties merged a few years back) Party, Steve Donkin, an educator from Shaw, is running unopposed.

Of the four actual ballot choices, only Moore has meaningful city government experience, having been a city council member from 1974 to 1978. His political career was torpedoed after some brushes with the law, most notably an incident in which he picked a fight with a tow truck driver during which Moore bit the driver. Faith, a former Broadway singer and dancer who does not use her last name, was an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in my own neighborhood of Adams-Morgan (in fact, I was briefly an ANC constituent of hers.) ANCs do precious little as far as I can tell, and I’ve attended multiple ANC meetings in my neighborhood out of a sense of duty and sometimes boredom; there are some hard-working ANC Commissioners, but I can’t think of anything Faith did while she was one. I don’t know a lot about the other two guys, but Thorpe has essentially been invisible and Clark’s blurb in the Post is an embarrassing sequence of Whitey-bashing in the form of incomplete sentences and non-sequiturs. Look for yourself if you dare.

City Councilor Kevin Chavous (D – Ward 7) has got to be kicking himself for opting not to challenge the mayor. If he hadn’t ducked the challenge this time (he finished second to Williams in the ’98 primary, carrying Wards 7 and 8) he might be D.C’s next mayor.
He’d be trying to tap into the same pool of voters the Wilson write-in campaign (not to mention the other campaigns) is trying to reach, namely, voters in lower-income, mostly-black neighborhoods where the mayor is least popular and the residents long for a Barry-esque populist. I actually don’t think he’d be a bad mayor, either. (Whether he was energize that bloc of voters, who are normally unlikely to turn out in high numbers, is an open question.) He certainly doesn’t have the negatives of a Barry. Or a Rev. Wilson, for that matter.

(Pointless aside: I would like to give a few bucks’ worth of free advice to Rev. Wilson’s campaign. Three automated phone calls in one day urging me to vote you for is a bad idea. Having one of them be from Marion Barry is an especially bad idea. Of course, there’s no reason to necessarily assume that I’m white (which would lead one to guess that I have a highly negative view of Barry and do not remember his leadership fondly, which is true in my case) based on where I live (no one group is a majority in this neighborhood in particular or Ward 1 in general), but if his campaign is doing this in neighborhoods like Georgetown or Cleveland Park, it’s only going to backfire on him.)

The polls have Mayor Williams running at about 50%, with Rev. Wilson at around 15%. Moore and Clark are in the low single digits, with Faith and Thorpe barely registering. Undecided runs at around 25%.

Keep in mind, though, that writing in a candidate involves two distinct steps; writing the name in, and then checking off the write-in box. I wonder how many votes for Williams and Wilson will be invalidated due to a failure to remember check off the write-in box, and whether it will be enough to make a difference. It will cause days of delay in counting ballots, and therefore we won’t find out the results for days.

My guess is Williams will still win, although by how much is anyone’s guess. And he’ll beat Schwartz and Donkin handily. How appropriate that this big petition controversy will turn out to mean nothing in the end, like so much else in this city’s politics.

I am upset because I don’t really want to be this cynical or apathetic, Cynicism and apathy on the part of voters help the lunatic fringe get control of the instrumentalities of government. Even worse, they sap our belief in communities, public service, and their value. Outrage may not always be productive, but in this case I’ll take it.

If I have more time to kill, I might even write about the incredibly dull City Council races. You’ve been warned, dear readers.

Friday, September 06, 2002

Now with a long weekend off...a couple of loose ends, neatly tied up.

Remember the people with the guns in the rental car headed for the White House? Turns out they were not only stopped in my neighborhood, they were stopped on my block, essentially in front of my house. (For what it's worth, I was at work.)

OK, this is getting ridiculous.The U.S. is now out of medal contention at the World Basketball Championships. The worst (and most embarassing) part about all this is that most of the small crowd were Yugoslavia fans. Apparently, the mob was not happy with one big payoff.

When I made my NFL prognostications last night, I neglected to pick Super Bowl teams and winners. I'm going with an all-Keystone state Superbowl. The week following, Mayor Murphy gets a big, heaping cheesesteak courtesy of Mayor Street. Pittsburgh over Philadelphia, 24-17.

Here's how I think it'll shake out on the AFC side. The Steelers get home field throughout thanks to a weak division. The Pats can't beat Denver in Denver, and Cleveland falls to Tennessee in Nashville. The Dolphins beat the Titans at Pro Player, while the Steelers take down Denver in Pittsburgh. And we know Miami isn't going to win at Heinz field in January.

Now to the NFC. San Fran and Philly get the byes. The Saints get crushed in Lambeau, but the Rams manage to outscore the Bucs despite being on the road. The Rams then avenge their divisonal loss in San Fran, setting up a rematch with the Eagles, who beat Green Bay at home, for the NFC titles. The difference - this time it's in cold-weather Philly, and this time the Iggles prevail.

Anyhow, time to get outside and enjoy the fresh air, dear readers.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Answer Guy Playoff Picks for 2002 NFL Season:

AFC East: Miami (New England, NY Jets, Buffalo)
AFC North: Pittsburgh (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore)
AFC South: Tennessee (Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Houston)
AFC West: Denver (Oakland, Kansas City, San Diego)
AFC Wild Cards: New England, Cleveland
Outside Looking In: NY Jets, Indianapolis, Oakland

NFC East: Philadelphia (Washington, Dallas, NY Giants)
NFC North: Green Bay (Chicago, Minnesota, Detroit)
NFC South: Tampa Bay (New Orleans, Atlanta, Carolina)
NFC West: San Fransisco (St. Louis, Seattle, Arizona)
NFC Wild Cards: St. Louis, New Orleans
Outside Looking In: Chicago

And now, with the anniversary of the September 11 attacks looming, a lighter look at the news...

Argentina defeats U.S. in World Basketball Championships
In a related story, several men with flashy grey suits and dark sunglasses were seen leaving the arena shortly after the stunning conclusion of the game.

I can't begrudge the Argentines too much, however. They lost to England at the World Cup and failed to make the draw. They've had something like seven different presidents this year. (I exaggerate only slightly) Their pretensions of being a quasi-European country have been shattered by an economic crisis. And their idea of a game show prize these days is a janitorial job. (Life really is becoming more and more like The Onion every day. )Maybe they're entitled to something that will make them feel good about themselves for a few fleeting moments, even if there was point shaving - or maybe it was point waxing - involved.

Powell Jeered At Earth Summit "The U.S. is taking action to meet environmental challenges, including global climate change." It was widely assumed by the crowd that he was lying and therefore they booed him. However, if by this he meant "action to bring about global climate change," he was actually being honest. The language of diplomacy can be funny sometimes.

Man With 16 Guns Arrested in Washington
This article doesn't say it, but this was in my neighborhood of Adams-Morgan. What's sad about this is that I imagine there are still street gangs in the city with consierably more firepower than this guy had. And another thing: the biggest difference between New Hampshire and Vermont is that if this guy was from Vermont, the car would have been a Saab, and there would have been guitars and boxes of cheese instead of guns. I know they look the same - little skinny cold states with granite hills and pine trees and people who talk funny - to everyone outside New England. But trust me, they're not the same.

Well, dreamland is summoning me, dear readers...gotta go....

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

And now for the tenth installment in an occasional series...
Tim takes random web quizzes!

You are 37% geek
You are a geek liaison, which means you go both ways. You can hang out with normal people or you can hang out with geeks which means you often have geeks as friends and/or have a job where you have to mediate between geeks and normal people. This is an important role and one of which you should be proud. In fact, you can make a good deal of money as a translator.

Normal: Tell our geek we need him to work this weekend.

You [to Geek]: We need more than that, Scotty. You'll have to stay until you can squeeze more outta them engines!

Geek [to You]: I'm givin' her all she's got, Captain, but we need more dilithium crystals!

You [to Normal]: He wants to know if he gets overtime.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at

Once again, fellow grizzled quizbowl veteran Mike Burger has graciously taken the time to run an uproariously fun contest called the Allison LaPlaca Open, which is like a dead pool, except for television shows. All of the morbid fun of a dead pool with none of the morbid guilt over wishing that Pope John Paul II or Ronald Reagan or Marlon Brando or Bob Hope would just get it over with and kick the bucket already (depending on who you picked). Here are my picks, explained briefly, followed by some things I sort of wish I had picked.

"Dinotopia" - Not screened for critics. These four words should strike horror into the hearts of viewers. If you don't believe me, I have two words for you: Pluto. Nash. Dinotopia may have worked as a miniseries. If this were WB or UPN, it might get two seasons or more. I'm betting on it getting no ratings against Survivor and Friends. And, I mean WWE, which doesn't sound like tough competition, but when your target audience is children....

"Meet the Marks" - Sounds like a complete train wreck. This show has a better chance of being "You're In The Picture" than anything I've seen come down the pike in a long time.

"Bram and Alice" - Reminds me a little of "Stark Raving Mad." And we all know how long that show lasted.

"Less Than Perfect" - This looks generic even for an ABC sitcom. It faces difficult cometition and won't have much of a lead-in in "Life With Bonnie," which I almost voted for. (I figured perhaps critical acclaim, which I suspect the show may get some of, might be enough for ABC, which has a zillion new shows, to give a second season.)

"Good Morning Miami" - All I needed to hear is "You can't fire me! I'm a friggin' nun!" That, and the fact that this show from the creators of "Will and Grace" has a "will they or won't they" premise and probably won't match the numbers "Just Shoot Me" put up in the time slot last year. Besides, it's Thursday night; NBC loves to put Thursday night shows out of their misery. The 8:30 Thursday NBC slot ("Inside Schwartz," "Jesse") is generally a good pick in the LaPlaca but they moved "Scrubs" there. So instead I'm going with their 9:30 offering.

"The Grubbs" - On the one hand, right after "Malcolm in the Middle" is a good place to put a "Malcolm" clone. On the other hand...if it's not as good, and I'm betting it won't be, it will look really bad by comparison. Plus, by 9:30 the little kids are supposed to be in bed, and the bigger ones will be watching "Alias."

"Hack" - Bad name. Bad timeslot. More than any other network, CBS can cut shows. I thought the same thing about the incredibly generically-titled "Robbery Homicide Division," but that looks like a better show. Oh, yeah, and a bad premise too. This might have worked on ABC in the early 80s but not now.

"Charmed" - They moved it to Sundays at 8, against "The Simpsons." Its fans are outraged, and it's already lost its most famous actress. Two signs that I think mean "Charmed" is cursed this season.

"Firefly" - At first I was thinking that Fox would, a la "Dark Angel," give this show from "Buffy" creator Joss Whedon two seasons. But then I heard the bad buzz , all the last minute changes, and the silly premise and figured that this "Firefly" is headed for the proverbial bug zapper.

"Friends" - I've heard rumors that Matthew Perry and Courtney Cox in particular are tired of doing the show. It got phenomenal ratings last year, but they've squeezed everything they can out of the baby plot at this point. I'm thinking they want to go out on top.

Things I wish I'd voted for:
"American Dreams" - This really does look bad. I was thinking "Wonder Years" when I passed it up, and all I've heard is negative things. Early buzz suggests the kind of saccharine levels that cause cancer in laboratory rats.

"Hidden Hills" - I already hate the show from the ads. But I conceded that there is a chance that a show with this sort of edgy humor might work better than the ads.

"In Laws" - Looks very blah and not funny. Then I reminded myself that I feel the same way about "Accoding To Jim." And damn near every sitcom CBS has ever produced, up to and including "Everybody Loves Raymond." I don't.

"Watching Ellie" - I was afraid NBC would just conveniently forget about putting it on the air again.

"30 Seconds To Fame" - As incredibly dumb as this looks, I had to give it pass because I imagine it's cheap and inexpensive gutter television is Fox's first love.

"John Doe" - Looks like it belongs on UPN. It's not on UPN. Therefore I should have voted for it. Although there are a lot of "UPN shows that aren't on UPN" this year, and I couldn't vote for all of them.

"The District"/ "The Agency" - I figure one of these is going. I kept vacillating between choosing one or the other.
If I picked one of them, it would almost certainly be the other one.

"Do Over"/ "That Was Then" - Same principle, only on two different networks. I didn't think both would surivive; I just picked neither because if I chose one of them, it'd be the other one that survived. Plus I tried to avoid picking new shows from the WB or UPN because those networks are slow to cancel all but the most obvious flops in Year One. And, for that matter, ABC, which has four "Millionaire" spots to replace in addition to having dispensed with "Dharma & Greg" and "Spin City,"

"The Drew Carey Show" - It's been on forever, it's running on fumes and it just lost a major cast member. But, as I said, this is ABC in a down year, and it in effect has a reverse-lead in of "Monday Night Football." I wanted to vote for it but I just couldn't. And that's not because Cleveland rocks, either.

But, hey, I only had ten choices. I took a couple gambles, betting this was the end of "Friends," that Fox would be stingy with "Firefly" rather than "Fastlane" and "The Grubbs" rather than "Oliver Beene," and that this is it for "Charmed." We'll see.

Oh, well, time to sleep, dear readers...

Monday, September 02, 2002

It's Labor Day today. At first I figured I'd write something about the future of work and the lopsided relationship between labor and captial, but then I realized that would So instead, a random number of random observations about food...

•It's damn hard to get good food, served quickly, and for a good price. You can usually get two out of three, but all three is a rarity. And when you get those three, the food's not going to be good for you.

•There does not seem to be a type of snack food out there that Little Debbie does not make an inferior version thereof.

•There may not be four tastes anywhere on earth that go together as well as tomato, basil, mozzarella, and balsamic vinegar.

•Lots of oregano can hide too much garlic. Sadly, nothing I know of can hide too much oregano.

•Crayola should have a color called "government cheese." Why people selling cheese would color their cheese the same color as government cheese is beyond me. There's no other food on earth I know of that color, and it's not an especially appetizing color.

•Everything, no matter what it is, somehow tastes worse when eaten with a spork.

And now for the ninth installment in an occasional series..
Tim takes random web quizzes!

I am 21-40% Ghetto

I WISH I was ghetto. I need to take them gold plated teeth and get some REAL gold teeth.

I guess I picked up some "ghetto" tendencies by osmosis. Those of you who have seen where I live will know what I mean. I have always been, and remain, hopelessly a whitebread boy, which is made more obvious by my current surroundings.

Repressed Memory #1…

“The world is hierarchy. Deal with it.”

I don’t recall the exact wording of this comment, which probably means it wasn’t especially important or memorable in and of itself. It inspired me to muse this evening and into the wee hours of the morning my refusal to "deal with it" and its ramifications. Allow me to indulge myself, dear readers.

It was freshman year (1992) at Dartmouth, in my dorm room. Sometime midway through fall semester, I was listening in on a conversation in my vicinity. It involved one of my roommates, a guy who lived upstairs, and a woman we all knew from down the hall.
The background music, as for so many other things that transpired freshman year, was the soundtrack to the film “Singles.” (The soundtrack to the writing of this blog entry was random tracks from “Led Zeppelin: The Definitive Collection.”)

This woman (whose first name I do recall, but it’s not important) was having a ball recounting random hazing perpetrated by what I think was her ex-boyfriend, who was in a fraternity. (Again, which one isn’t really all that important here.) The pledges had a demeaning nickname, and I do not now recall what it was. I was otherwise occupied, playing one computer game or another, and for some reason I tossed in an offhand, sarcastic remark, mostly to see what would happen. I remember thinking whatever I said must have been witty, but it probably just came across as spiteful, and since I don’t recall what exactly I said (it was something along the lines of “Now that is enlightened behavior befitting such a fine institution.”)

Her response, well, is Answer Guy history for some bizarre reason.

At least for the boyfriend’s sake, I hope that was her ex-boyfriend and not her then-current one. This woman, a sophomore, a bit on the chubby side with long, flowing blonde hair, was friendly with some of the guys in my dorm. I’m fuzzy on the details of “friendly” here. (I was astute enough to figure out something was going on but not astute enough to ascertain everything; I was curious enough for idle private speculation but not sufficiently curious to actually ask anyone or take up efforts to actually find out.) I remember vaguely moral objections to this suffered in silence, and yet, well, while I saw nothing terribly attractive or appealing (sexually or otherwise) about her, well, I also wondering if I was ever going to get to be, er … “friendly” with a member of the opposite sex.

From time to time I wondered if I’d have had a chance with her if I only hadn’t been so darned nasty to her that evening, since, well, it wasn’t exactly common for a sophomore girl to go after freshman guys. I had some pretty bad body image issues then, being maybe two inches shy of my current body height (making me about 5’10” then) and weighing something like 140 pounds. I felt very scrawny and weak on a college campus that, especially from the point of view of a freshman, was dominated by jocks and frats.

This woman left at the close of the term (not an unusual event at Dartmouth, since its essentially on the trimester system) and went somewhere. I can’t say I missed her, though I suppose some of the guys did. And yet, ten years, two degrees, thirty-five pounds, four mailing addresses, seventy-two quiz bowl tournaments (playing only), one conversation with Rep. James Traficant, one change in sexual identity, and a few dozen “friendly” encounters later, something this woman said lives on in my memory longer than almost anything many of my close friends have ever said to me.

I have always had a strong distaste for ordered hierarchies. Cruel and demeaning efforts to enforce hierarchical relationships (fraternity hazing being an obvious example) are irrationally difficult for me to tolerate, and nearly impossible for me to endure. Not because I’m physically incapable of doing most of that stuff. (Though I have some sort of thing with breathing that makes it impossible for me to chug beer.)

I could never be a practicing Roman Catholic again, for similar reasons. (No, they don’t make you chug beer, silly) I don’t write about them (or the pedophile priest scandal) in part because anything I did write about them would offend lots of people I have no interest in offending.

The best way to be sure I’ll do something is to get it in to my head that I’m not allowed to do it without supplying a good rationale for why I shouldn’t. I’ve changed over the years, but that principle has remained a constant; I can’t change that and I’m not sure I want to.

It has occurred to me that is one reason I’m probably a poor fit for trying to climb a corporate or government ladder. I’m about the least adept person at brown-nosing you’ll ever meet. I’ve felt grossly overqualified for nearly every job I’ve ever had. I’m horrible at begging people for things I want, and have been as long as I can remember. I can get education, I can get credentials, but what I can’t acquire is the propensity to be a lackey.

America likes to think it rewards people like this, since we tend to see things in a unique fashion, more creatively than people more inclined to just go along to get along. I don’t think that’s the case as much as people think it is. It’s a far more comfortable life as a yes-man I think. (Of course, the grass is always greener and such…)

Which got me to thinking….

If there was a pill that made me more compliant/docile/whatever, would I take it? Should I take it? What sort of incentive would I need to take it? Money? Power? Sex? Would it be a good thing for some people – for instance, sociopaths - to take? Who would get to decide who had to take it and who didn’t; who gets to decide who’s a sociopath? There’s probably been science fiction written about this topic.

Heck, a lot of the drugs being pushed on us are at least a little like this. Ritalin. Prozac.

Perhaps the pain of an unjust society is strong in some of us, stronger than in others. Perhaps the drugs some of us take to make us more like everyone else are like painkillers of the soul. Perhaps that is how we deal with the world as it is, since, just as in the medical world, it’s often easier to dull the symptoms than with the root causes of the disease. If things are really getting more unjust, or in ways that are easier to see as our world becomes smaller and smaller, perhaps this is the way those who would prefer it to stay that way have chosen to deal with it since it is no longer so easily hidden.

Full disclosure: I am not on anything at present, and have never been on any sort of mental-health-type medication. The above paragraph is not meant to judge those who do take such medicine, since I cannot know to what extent they can function effectively with or without it. I have my down days, but I can function day-to-day even at my worst to an extent that perfect strangers are unlikely to tell what sort of day I’m having.

Well, there you have it, dear readers. Maybe this project will eventually help me exorcise strange personal demons that dwell in the deep inner recesses of my psyche. But for now, sleepytime awaits.

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