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

Saturday, November 30, 2002

Well, I’ve been catching up on reading other people’s blogs, and I note that both my “real life” friend Brian and my “in cyberspace only” friend Nick have both taken on the topic of discussing religion at the dinner table.

I think they basically have it right.

I prefer to argue ideas, since arguing about beliefs generally gets people nowhere. Thousands of years of civilization rest on arguments about ideas. (Never mind that it’s probably easier to get people to kill and die for beliefs than for ideas.) If you can't argue ideas with someone, it's hard to talk about much.

Philosophical arguments about religion can provide some basis for discussion, but faith (both general and specific) largely exists outside of the "prove/disprove" continuum in which I feel most comfortable carrying out discussion. You can't really make "points" in arguments based on faith, since such arguments lack parameters in which to operate. The usual ends of such a discussion are that either one party or both are offended or that each party simply ignores what the other has to say. (Of course this happens in political arguments as well, but I suppose people with legal training in particular know how to make arguments that have some basis in generally-recognized reality that have some chance of persuading others. There are plenty of people I know with whom I refuse to discuss anything remotely political.)

Some people treat their political beliefs as some kind of religion, as an article of faith, and in other cases, it's hard to know where one ends and the other begins. So many people shun all political discussions on that basis.

The interesting thing is that I'm much more comfortable treading on matters of aesthetics than on matters of morality. Having someone mock your deeply held religious convictions (or lack thereof) is far more unsettling than having your favorite band or television show mocked. (Well, maybe not, but if you take your favorite TV show that seriously...)

Moral arguments in general don't work in the legal world because everything then becomes about the decision maker's value system, and no one's particularly comfortable with that. (It does happen, sometimes, but we'd prefer it not happen.) Obviously there are moral roots to our body of laws (and, indeed, every body of laws that ever existed) but they are largely centered on conduct between individuals or between individual and society. In Western societies, we have largely decided that there are inherent epistemological problems with divining the will of the Supreme Being(s) in deciding individual cases.

And of course there's a certain discomfort among many, myself included, for making moral judgments of others, particularly given our imperfect knowledge of their specific situations. But even those who argue that civilization is worth naught if it is incapable of making universal moral judgments are challenged to provide a basis. All of the proposed ones thusfar have been found lacking.

Aesthetic arguments, when they occur in the legal world, are generally decided on matters of economics, a somewhat more concrete set of criteria on which to operate than aesthetics. Obviously there are differences between value and price, and such a fine distinction often eludes our dealings. (It may indeed be the great failing of the market economy, to conflate price, easily quantified, with value, not easily quantified.)

I’m sure my rambling has bored some of you, dear readers. Another reason I don’t discuss philosophy at the dinner table.

Yeah, I guess when it boils down to it, it’s a lot easier to talk about nothing.

Friday, November 29, 2002

And here, a few hours late, is a partial list of things for which I am thankful, in recognition of our Thanksgiving holiday.

I am thankful that a friend's family welcomed me to dine alongside them with open and kind arms when I had no other plans.

I am thankful that I did not have to try cooking a turkey myself.

I am thankful that there was no contstruction downstairs this morning. This meant that I missed the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade entirely and woke up just in time to be finishing my shower as the Patriots-Lions game began.

I am thankful that I live in a time and place where people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, religious beliefs, and sexual orientations can peacefully coexist. It's far too easy to take this for granted.

I am thankful that Joey Harrington, in his zeal to not get sacked, ever, threw interceptions instead.

I am thankful that I stuck with the Dallas defense in fantasy football this week.

I am thankful for having all my Christmas shopping done, so I have no need to visit any shopping malls in the forseeable future.

I am thankful the heyday of boy bands seems to be fading.

I am thankful that "Episode II: Attack of the Clones" had far less and more judicious use of Jar-Jar Binks than "Episode I: The Phantom Menace," and that Episode III is likely to feature even less of him.

I am thankful there are bands out there, mostly from Great Britain, that do a decent job of making me feel less ancient when I describe my musical tastes to college students.

I am thankful that I have so many entertainment options, very few of which have anything to do with Anna Nicole Smith.

I am thankful that "Baby Bob" is not on television. I am further thankful that commercials for "Baby Bob" are not on television.

Most importantly of all, I am thankful that I have my health (lingering cold notwithstanding) that I can afford food and shelter, that I have many friends and family who care about me, and that I am, by any measure, one of the most fortunate human beings to walk the earth.

Good night.






Thursday, November 28, 2002

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Phew...finally, I have Thanksgiving plans. It would have sucked trying to cook a turkey all by my lonesome.

Speaking of which...what do you make the night before Thanksgiving? Not turkey. Not chicken. Hmm..I guess I'll go with pasta.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Random web quiz #23..because it's so much damn fun...

NINJA
Why Will You Go To Hell?

brought to you by Quizilla

Random web quiz #22...




What
lesser-known Simpsons character are you?


Brought to you by the good folks at sacwriters.com.


Four Things I Happened Upon Today

Amazing what you'll find if you root around the basement.

This would really suck.

Jerry Falwell, pure comedy gold. As usual.

From our crazy neighbors to the north, yes, any a**hole can make art.

Monday, November 25, 2002

A Patriots fan looks at the NFL and takes stock of Week 12. The good news, the bad news, and the neutral observations.

The neutral news:

• Eagle fans smile at their good fortune as the Texans hand the Eagles some breathing room with their upset of the Giants. Even if the 49ers beat them tomorrow night, Philly will still keep the NFC East lead. And they might have Donovan McNabb back for the playoffs after all. They’ll need to go at least 3-3 in the meantime, though.

• San Fran fans have to be happy as well. All that stands between them and a three-game NFC West lead is a Philly squad deprived of their #1 weapon, McNabb. The Eagle defense is of course tough, but the Niners have so many ways to win on offense it’s scary.

• The Redskins’ win over St. Louis may have been the final nail in the coffin of the Rams, who are now two games back of the Saints in the wild card race and may fall three games (and a head-to-head loss) behind the Niners in the NFC West. They did catch a break as the Saints and Giants both stumbled. New Orleans, however, has an easy schedule remaining, which can’t give Giants, Skins, or Rams fans very much hope.
If you’re a Rams fan, your praying for Koy Detmer, and it’s never a good thing for your team to be praying for a quarterback named Detmer.

• I just noticed the Giants were 6-4 going into this week. How did this happen? This is a little like that time Bill Simmons reminded me that Richie Sexson hit 50 home runs one year. They still have a winning record despite losing to both Houston and Arizona. And scoring no touchdowns against Seattle. I think a decent coach could get eleven men off the street and score a touchdown against Seattle. I think this tells you how weak, or least how top-heavy, the NFC is right now.

• The Bears finally catch a break, in the form of Detroit handing them the ball in overtime due to the prevailing wind. But I guess all of this Chicago/Champaign bad karma was payback. Last season, they had to be the worst and luckiest 13-3 team ever; this year they’re the among the best 3-8 teams of all time.

• Why does Hank Williams Jr. annoy me so damn much?

The good news:

• It wasn’t pretty, but the Pats won. They built a 21-0 lead, which forced Minnesota to change their game plans in midstream. While the Vikings’ offensive adjustment (mostly changing to no-huddle) by and large worked, it resulted in some awkwardness when, with combined with the home crowd noise in Foxboro, forced the Vikes to burn time outs in such a way that they were without them on the final two drives when they really needed to be able to stop the clock. They forced the turnovers that were key to building a first-half lead and forced Minnesota to play catch-up the entire game, limiting their ability to exploit the New England weakness against the run. The Pats’ pressing defense blocked one field goal attempt, helped thwart another and generally did a good job of containing Randy Moss. And hey, a win is a win – there are no points for style.

• The Patriots at 6-5 have now put Jacksonville, Kansas City, and Buffalo behind them and have pulled even with Tennessee in the Wild Card race, and are now only looking up at two teams (San Diego and Oakland) in that race. (In addition, Cleveland and the Jets kept pace.)

• Though it meant staying behind the Dolphins for now, the Chargers got taken down a notch. If the Patriots are using the Wild Card route to the playoffs, at least one of the three teams ahead of them in the West is going to have to fold down the stretch. The Chargers, new to playoff contention, are probably the best candidates to do so, although an aging Raider squad and a Steve Beuerlein-led Bronco team have some collapse potential as well.

• Indianapolis pulled off the upset in Denver. This loss prevents the Broncos from running away from the conference. (If there’s anywhere I really don’t want a playoff road game, it’s Denver.) It does put the Colts as 7-4, but I’m not really worried about them. Their defense is suspect and their offense, while potentially explosive, is turnover-prone. In the last month, they got manhandled by the Titans and beaten convincingly by the Redskins. In other words, they’re good candidates to blow a game or two, even if their remaining schedule on paper looks to be largely free of big roadblocks. (They might also make a good opponent to draw in the playoffs.) Besides, even if Indy locks up the AFC South, it’s not really a central concern.

• Buffalo seems to be receding as a playoff threat. They’ve lost three in a row, and their next four opponents are all playoff contenders. They would need to beat Miami at home and the Pats in Foxboro to stay in the AFC East hunt.

• The Jets, fortunately, have a very tough schedule down the stretch, with trips to Foxboro and Oakland looming as well as home dates with Denver and Green Bay.

• The Dolphins are still in the drivers’ seat, but if things stay the same going into the final game in Foxboro, I like my odds. A Pats win there would give the Patriots the tiebreaker on divisional record, unless both the Jets and Bills beat the Patriots at home, since Miami already has two costly divisional losses.

• With Denver falling to Indianapolis, and San Diego falling to Miami, there is no team in the AFC more than one game ahead of New England. Which means the Patriots, if they win out, have at least a shot at getting home field advantage throughout the playoffs. (Although given who they’ve lost to and how the tiebreakers would break, it’s not likely even if the Pats run the table.) Odd considering they’d still be on the outside looking in if the season ended today.

• The Browns are even with New England, but have a tough row to hoe with Indianapolis and Atlanta on tap along with a road game at Baltimore they can’t be looking forward to.

• Their next opponents are a weak 3-8 Detroit squad, who are just coming off their third straight defeat, a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Bears. Detroit QB Joey Harrington is even more mistake-prone than Daunte Culpepper, the Detroit defense has been mostly unimpressive, and the Lions rushing attack, the Pats’ #1 vulnerability, is nothing to write home about. Sure, the Pats have only three days rest before this game, but so do the Lions. On paper, this game looks like a mismatch.

• It looks like Green Bay, with the loss to Tampa Bay, will have something to play for down the stretch – home-field advantage. It would be a Bad Thing from a New England perspective if the Pack felt it could afford to phone in games late in the season against the Jets or Bills. While they’re not getting a challenge from the NFC North, after two losses there’s suddenly a messy struggle for home-field brewing in the NFC. If Green Bay prevails in that struggle, it’s hard to picture any of the warm-weather contenders of the NFC (Tampa, Atlanta, New Orleans, San Francisco) winning a playoff game at Lambeau.

The bad news:

• The Patriots couldn’t put a weak Vikings team away. For almost an entire half, the second-worst defense in the NFL (especially weak against the pass, which is New England’s forte on offense) managed to bottle Tom Brady and company up. Antowain Smith struggled yet again. Receivers kept dropping passes; defensive backs kept dropping interceptions in the second half. When opportunities came to seal the game arose, the Patriots by and large did not capitalize on them. The Vikings’ running backs didn’t do much damage, but Daunte Culpepper ran rampant on them. Minnesota responded to the heavy emphasis on covering Moss by using Kelly Campbell and D’Wayne Bates effectively. The Vikes were done in, in large part, by not having time outs when they needed them in the final minutes; I have to wonder if the Patriots would have prevailed were this game not played in Foxboro.

• There are six AFC teams with better records than the Patriots, and four of those teams have already beaten them. (The one team on that list the Patriots beat was Pittsburgh; the sixth team, the Colts, is not on the schedule.)

• Because there are so many playoff contenders, one loss is costly and two are fatal. While no one’s more than one game up on the Pats, only Cincy and Houston are more than one game behind them in AFC.

• The Jets’ surge is worrisome. One would have to concede they’re playing better football than the Pats right now. With that, it’s hard to feel confident about the upcoming rematch at Foxboro. (Even if there’s a decent chance of two of Denver, Oakland, or Green Bay holding them in check.)

• The Dolphins are still in the lead, have won two in a row with Ray Lucas at the helm, and are getting Jay Fielder back.

• Tennessee is also in the running for a wild card spot. They host the Pats on December 16. Their remaining schedule is three road games against the Giants, Jaguars, and Texans, and a home date with the Colts, who they’ve already beaten convincingly in Indy. With this schedule, there is at least some chance they could run the table and steal a Wild Card berth from the Pats.

• The Lions may be 3-8, but they’ve proven to be much better at home than on the road, and they are used to playing on Turkey Day. (We’d all rather forget what happened the last time the Pats played at Detroit on Thanksgiving.) The Lions beat the Saints at home, and almost beat the Packers at home. It would be a mistake to look past them.

Yes, I’m still angry. Not inanimate-object-throwing angry, or splitting-headache angry, but angry nonetheless.

Is it better to make strategic capitulations to the point where you’ve compromised nearly everything you stand for to win power? Or is better to go in, with guns blazing, standing firm, and getting wiped out? I couldn’t tell you, but I can certainly tell you that either one is preferable to rolling over and playing dead, and then getting killed anyway.

In the bleak winter of 2001, there was a line all of us Dems bought about the 2000 elections, to whatever extent we thought we were robbed of the White House.

The line went something like this…
The American public was hoodwinked by a bait-and-switch Republican campaign that did everything it could to blur the differences between the candidates, albeit aided and abetted and an incompetent Democratic campaign. Or at least enough voters were fooled into thinking there was no real difference between the candidates to make Ralph Nader and all the Florida shenanigans the difference. The polls showed most of the issues were on our side. Surely at the next opportunity, things would change.

As we all know now, things instead – from our perspective – have just gotten worse.

Now, it’s easy to exaggerate the meaning of this month’s elections, and many pundits have already done so – it was only a few races in a few states, each with its own pet issue.
It’s easy to talk about how the September 11 attacks changed things, but enough electrons have been manipulated on that topic already, and besides, it’s not as if there were no issues (lax corporate management, the recession, the environment) for Democrats to campaign on.

However, when the game ended this time around, our side lost.

So the second-guessing begins, and hopefully will subside as the sobering task of developing some sort of blueprint for rebuilding a majority can commence. Were the Democrats’ tactics poor? Obviously, although their whole emphasis on “tactics” was itself problematic. Did the GOP run an adept campaign? Yes. Did Democrats like myself underestimate the administration and its popularity? Certainly.

If this were an RPG, I’d just leave it there and say something like “Well, my character got killed, time to roll a new one and start back at Level One, though I’m going to miss Bill Clinton’s 16 dexterity.” If this were my favorite team losing a playoff game, maybe I’d mutter a few curse words under my breath, ruminate about it in one short blog, and get on with my life. No one likes a sore loser.

Except that this is no game. The press treats it like a horse race, idle cocktail party conversations in this town treat it like a well-publicized chess match, but it’s not a damn game. There are real consequences to these results.

Now I know that it’s very dangerous for a politico to blame the voters, even in part, for an election result. (Especially if you consider how small a percentage of registered or eligible voters actually bothered turning out to the polls.) It’s hard to curry favor with the electorate if you’re standing there calling them idiots for not supporting your candidates of choice. So Democrat-types found themselves in a quandary, having to be careful about how to spin the results.

You can say you were outplayed, outfoxed, and such, babbling on and on about fundraising methods, campaign tactics, and such. You can, either publically or secretly, credit Karl Rove and his minions for masterminding this history-defying victory. You can’t say that Americans prefer the conservative policies of the other party, since that’s kind of embarrassing. And you especially can’t say that voters were hoodwinked.

I, on the other hand, do not need to bear such a burden.

So here goes…the electorate, frankly, showed themselves to be idiots. Now whether that’s because they believe in the Bush crowd’s bad ideas, because they were sold on those ideas, because they couldn’t recognize a clear alternative, or because they were baited and switched into voting Republican anyway is, for the moment, immaterial.

Americans like to think they don’t like nasty campaigns, but as long as they reward their perpetrators with high office, they’re just going to get more dirty tricks. (The voters of Georgia deserve special scorn for rewarding the dirty, chicken hawk, chicken**** campaign of Senator-elect Saxby Chambliss.) Voters like to think they don’t like vapid campaigns, but as long as they reward worthless campaign rhetoric, they’re going to get ever more vapid campaigns, by Democrats and Republicans alike.

The bottom line? Well, maybe we now have the government we deserve.

Maybe we deserve to have a small class of well-heeled, clever, enterprising plutocrats rob us blind while the people in charge of watching them are ordered to look the other way. Maybe we deserve to have to shell out more in income or payroll taxes or to pay for all the giveaways to the super wealthy the Republicans are about to inflict on the nation. Maybe we deserve to have out national government adrift in a sea of red ink. Maybe we deserve to have our lives pored over by shady characters like John Poindexter of Iran-Contra fame. Maybe we deserve to have drug companies continue to gouge us in a way they don’t dare do anywhere else on the planet. Maybe we deserve to breathe dirtier air, to drink more polluted water, to eat more hazardous food. Maybe we deserve to be surrounded by ever more desperate people, both at home and abroad, fueling a desire for bigger and better fences and gates and walls, more guns, and ever more security precautions. In a general way, maybe we deserve the scorn of the rest of the world for our arrogance and recklessness and don’t really have a right to be shocked at how popular anti-Americanism is becoming around the globe. Oh, yeah, and more stuff named after Reagan. How on earth could I forget about that?

I hope we’re happy with what we’ve done.

There will be some “Hate to say ‘I told you so’” coming due down the line. (Except that no one truly hates to say “I told you so,” and that “Hate to say I told you so” is indeed one of the few things people enjoy saying even more than saying “I told you so.”)

And of course, much of the rest of the world doesn’t really deserve to suffer for the consequences of what we’re doing. Nor do our children or grandchildren. But oh, well. Our nation’s wholly conservative leadership has plenty of rope with which to hang themselves. I feel bad for some, if not all, of the people that are going to hang with them.

The best thing I can say about this is that every two years, the deck gets reshuffled.
A lot can change in two years nowadays.

There, that felt better. More constructive observations may follow.

People with blogs worth reading that I found today:

Nick Daum - Yale Law student, very thoughtful and on the ball.
Chuck Olsen - Not sure what he does, but interesting thoughts on pop culture.
Brad DeLong - Economics prof at Berkeley.

There's a good chance all three of them are smarter than I. Humbling, really.

Sunday, November 24, 2002

Well, less than an hour to kickoff.

This is simply a game the Patriots must win, at home against the Vikings. The Vikes are not a good team, and there just aren't many games that should, on paper, be easy wins on the Pats' schedule. They have to take advantage of the few such games thrown their way, and this has to be one of them. The Pats offense has taken full advantages of the teams they've faced with suspect defenses (Buffalo, NY Jets, Chicago) and the Vikes are squarely in that category; even better, the Vikings don't have the sort of marquee running back that's been doing a number on the Patriots all year long. The Vikings are also 0-4 on the road so far this year.

I'm sure a lot of people saw the result in Oakland last week coming and adjusted accordingly. Thankfully, due to the dramatic finish in Chicago (well, in Champaign, but you get the idea) the Oakland loss didn't put them on the brink just yet.

To really retain control of their own destiny, the Pats need to run the table, although it's hard to ask a team to do that over the final six games (although that's exactly what they did last year) of the season, although all six games are certainly winnable.

From an AFC East perspective, defeating Miami in December in Foxboro is essential. The Dolphins have a history of not playing well down the stretch, not playing well in cold weather, and especially not winning in Foxboro in December, although you hate to have to count on that to save you. The Jets seem to be resurging, though they have a tough road remaining. The Bills have not only the Jets, Pats, and Fins left on the schedule, but San Diego and a date in Lambeau Field left on the way.

From a Wild Card perspective, they are looking up at three teams in the AFC West, all of whom have beaten them. They're looking up at Tennessee for the moment, which makes an upcoming date with the Titans crucial.

Should be interesting. Oh, well, game time calls.


Thursday, November 21, 2002

This morning I read Dwight’s analysis of why there are fewer current events questions in today’s quizbowl packets. I agree with most of it, but I wanted to add my two pence.

I too like current events questions (the idea as well as the questions themselves). I too have seen them become a smaller and smaller share of quizbowl in general. And Dwight had a lot of cogent things to say on the topic.

The quality control factor I think has been the #1 reason for the disappearance of current events questions in quiz bowl. It’s hard to write the questions well – many of them are either answered on the first clue or get blank stares from players at the end. They tend to heavily lean towards the biographical, a category of question out of favor with current standards. And of course there is the repeat factor, where the number of significant world events in the weeks that lead up to the tournament is finite in some sense that the answer universes in the other categories (including pop culture) are not.

I think the proliferation of trash tournaments has also led to a notion that academic quizbowl needs to be more explicitly academic, and that current events was tossed out along with popular culture, general knowledge, and sports. While there is something to the idea that academic questions ought to dominate, I don’t see current events questions (or geography questions, also seemingly out of favor) as detracting from an academic atmosphere. It’s a tricky line to draw sometimes, but I think of it this way: current events and geography are still undisputed staples of high school academic competition, where coaches often express annoyance whenever general knowledge or popular culture come up at our high school tournaments.

There’s also a slight bias, particularly in the world of ACF, to write questions designed to archive well. Most current events questions have generally made infamously poor archive questions. I don’t think there’s a QB player out there who hasn’t come across an extremely stale current events question and chuckled while playing on an old packet at practice.

I don’t know how to address this fully, except to note that what little CE there is in more recent packets has generally been of higher quality and more archive-friendly. I’m not as worried about this as the more ACF-inclined, and I’d rather see questions skipped over in practice as stale than have CE pushed more to the sidelines.

As for people opening Newsweek or www.cnn.com, well…the laziness problem was always there, and therefore the repeat problem was always there. Dwight seems to operate under the assumption that in the good old days, people never submitted packets under deadline pressure (whether on time or late). He should know better, as he began running tournaments in 1995, and submitting packets in 1992. Now maybe there’s something to the fact that we have less tolerance for repeats in tournaments than we used to, but it’s not as if there was ever a time when people didn’t complain about repeats, whether in the CE realm or elsewhere, at invitationals.

The way I dealt with this as a TD (when I had the time) was that I wrote a small bank of CE questions to insert into packets to replace repeats. I like to think I was a good writer of current events questions. (though Dwight is correct when he cites Eric Tentarelli and Pat Matthews as the masters of such questions) If a host has directors, editors, or staffers who excel at such questions, then it might be better to have them handle of larger share of the questions in that category. If not, then asking for more CE questions might be an alternative, if imperfect, solution.

I don’t dispute that the various campaigns for other categories and sub-categories (non-operatic music and non-Western literature and/or history, to name three) have helped push current events (and pop culture, come to think of it) to the sidelines, although I think this is minor compared to the other reasons I listed above. Maybe it’s time for a campaign for its restoration to importance, for the same reasons Dwight cited.

Maybe if I have time and influence, I can start the effort at tournaments run here at George Washington, an ideal locale for such an experiment, given the heavy representation of international affairs majors here.

Hilarious Mail of the Day:
Based on my being a Dartmouth alumnus, I got a fundraising solicitation from a fellow alumnus, Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL).

Yeah, Pete. Whatever. Yeah, like I'm going to give your right-wing, gay-bashing ass any money. Especially when the letterhead for your fundraising committee has Don Nickles on it.

I wish I hadn't ripped it up in a fit of whimsical, sardonic rage now. It would have been funny to quote.

I think I'm going to give money to whoever runs against him now.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

London Calling – Part Two

They don’t charge you money for the baggage carts at Heathrow. In fact, they kind of leave them around. (Compare with Dulles, where the carts are $2 each.) Being the cheap bastard I am, I was lugging my heavy baggage around Heathrow until my travel partner told me that the carts were complimentary.

“Not everything here is like America. Yet.”

I was reminded of an essay an Englishman wrote about trying to save the red squirrel. Red squirrels, often associated with Beatrix Potter and all that is genteel about Britain are threatened with being overwhelmed with grey squirrels, which generally came from – you guessed it – America. Grey squirrels are, or were at least depicted as being, more aggressive, more vicious, and more of a pest than red squirrels. (Having not seen any red squirrels, I wouldn’t know myself.)

You hear little whispers in the dialogue over across the pond. No, we don’t throw people out onto the streets the way they do in the States. No, we don’t sell everything to the highest bidder like they do over there. No, we don’t deny health care to those who can’t afford it, the way they do over there.

Why don’t they charge for those carts? They probably could. An economist would say they should, perhaps. I had assumed there was a charge, so I didn’t take one.

Sometimes, and it wasn’t in the article, I wonder if British and European culture are a little like the red squirrel to the grey squirrel of America.

The grey squirrel can get more nuts, more efficiently, and is predisposed to prosper. In one sense, the red squirrels can’t compete. The welfare states of Europe and the way they take care of those less fortunate is a weakness by these terms. Indeed, it some ways, it’s unsustainable in its inefficiency.

It’s hard enough for the U.S. to compete with its high wages and environmental protections against nations where you can dump anything and everything and pay virtual slave wages without worrying about what happens to our poor. I can’t imagine how hard it would be for Europe.

Soon, perhaps all we will have are grey squirrels. A globe of efficient, grey squirrels. Vicious, aggressive grey squirrels. Evolution doesn’t take no prisoners, you know.

Perhaps if we get efficient enough, we can match such legendary efficient organisms as the Ebola virus.

Random Web Quiz #21...

I play quiz bowl for Ravenclaw.

Your sharp mind likes making connections between unlikely topics, and if there's humor to be found, all the better.



Hmm..OK.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

London Calling – Part One

I returned to the U.S.A. yesterday afternoon, and almost immediately had to fight off the urge to sleep. Here are my strongest memories:

The rush of energy that came from seeing Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament for the first time, even though I had been up 30 hours in a row at the time.

The way every building made me want to snap a picture. In some areas, nearly all the buildings were more beautiful and older than any building found in nearly any city back in the States.

Wandering in the wee hours of the morning through the streets of Hampstead with a guy I just met at a club on the fringes of Soho, neither of us really knowing the way, just two young men in their own ways new to London and its magic.

The breathtaking views from the bridges over the River Thames.

If you haven’t been, you owe it to yourself to see London at least once.

Friday, November 08, 2002

OK, going away for the weekend. Although the idea of sitting in I-95 Northern Virginia rush hour traffic...*ugh*

And on Monday...my first ever overseas flight. Woohoo!

I was working on a rough blueprint for what people horrified by one-party Republican rule in America can do so that it doesn't last long. But I decided it was more important to write questions for Trashmasters, since that's due earlier.

Time to get outside and enjoy the nice weather. And wish my brother a happy birthday.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

OK. At least I'm not alone. There are others out there. Like him.

And what on earth are they going to bitch about here from now on? Does this mean Rush Limbaugh is finally going to be out of a job?

And since I'm not capable of writing long (by my standards) screeds right now, I'm forced to say things like, yeah, what he said.

Still grumpy. Not in a mood to give answers. This has as much to do with the construction crews starting early this morning after it took me until nearly 4 A.M. to get to sleep as it does with anything else. My country has let me down. My party has let me down. Some of my friends have let me down. But enough about that for now...

I saw the IMAX version of "Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones." At first I was concerned when I heard that 20 minutes were trimmed from it, only to find out that it was the right 20 minutes that was axed. Namely, political babbling better explained by actions in the movie. Painfully stilted dialogue between Amidala and Anakin.
I didn't need to know someone's opinion about the Geonosians. Much better to demonstrate why the Jedi have a low opinion of the Geonosians via their actions (they were the ones fleeing the arena when they weren't going to get to watch a grisly execution) than to waste screen time in a movie like this on it, especially when the dialogue itself wasn't very interesting. We didn't need to hear Anakin talk politics in a grassy Naboo field either; there was plenty in the movie that served to make us believe that this was the future Darth Vader, both in words (and more importantly, the tone of those words) and especially actions. Lucas needs an editor, and it was lucky for us that the movie was enhanced by having some of the fat trimmed.

That said, it was somewhat disappointing to see Yoda on IMAX. That lightsaber fight looked better on a smaller screen.

My opinion of Episode II is generally pretty positive, and overall seeing the IMAX version augmented my positive impressions. I still didn't like Portman in this movie (after liking her in Episode I) and wished a script doctor could have punched up some of the Anakin-Amidala dialogue. But I liked everything else about Hayden Christiansen's portrayal of Ani (just the right combination of a conflicted soul who wants to do right but with enough weak points to make you believe the Dark Side will get to him) and the other characters were generally drawn well. The showcase action sequences were better blended into the central plot than, say, the pod race in Episode I, which felt tacked on.

I look forward to seeing the next installment of the saga.

The new Coldplay album when played at a high volume actually drowns out the construction noise downstairs fairly well.

I am in a bad mood. I don't have answers tonight. If you want answers to anything, please ingore this.

There will be a sober post-election analysis here tomorrow. Or Thursday. Or maybe Friday morning. I promise my next column will be about something frivolous and fun. Like Loverboy. Or the BCS. Or some movie. Or maybe some observations on the Jukebox From Hell. I think I'll take a few of those web quizzes so this will scroll down quickly. Anyhow...

I'm stunned.

The idea that anyone would trust John Ashcroft with their civil liberties, or Harvey Pitt with assuring that our markets run transparently, or Gale Norton with protecting our natural resources, frightens me.

The idea that the foreign policy of our country is being set by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and the rest of that scary cabal in the Pentagon scares me. At the risk of repeating myself, we are about to start a stupid, reckless, cowboy war in Iraq that is essentially guaranteed to cause more harm than good even if Saddam Hussein is driven from power easily. That this aforementioned war is wildly popular and without effective opposition in this country suggests that perhaps it is now the United States that is the single biggest obstacle to world peace.

The idea that so many of our policies are written by religious fanatics who would be laughed at almost anywhere else in the world, save the most backward Islamic theocracies, irritates me. I bet if you took the speeches of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson or Pat Buchanan even Bill Bennett, took out any references to the Bible, Christ, or Christianity, replaced those with references to Allah, Islam, and the Prophet Muhammad, and translated them into Arabic, one would find it hard to distinguish them from al-Qaida anti-American propaganda. If these self-appointed guardians of virtue were merely tiresome and boring, I wouldn't much care, since beyond the ocassional abortion clinic attack, they're not committing terrorist activity. But they insist on trying to give their own prejudices and hatreds and interpretations of religious dogma the force of law. And even if it's not necessarily fair to blame everything they say or do on Bush or his adminstration, well, they have a lot of pull with him as Bush fills our judicial benches and scientific panels and little-known regulatory boards with people who's main qualification is acceptability to the tent revival crowd.

The notion that government needs to do more on behalf of special interests to this degree annoys me. They want to revamp the tax code in a variety of interesting ways and - surprise - every last one of them in effect raises taxes on folks living paycheck-to-paycheck in order to line the pockets of the sort of people and corporations who lavish fat campaign contributions on politicians. It started with an intellectually dishonest (and that's putting it generously) campaign against the "death tax" but it will not end there. (Remember all those competing schemes for "flat taxes" and "consumption taxes" and other efforts to saddle working and middle class Americans with a bigger burden while letting the plutocrats off the hook that followed the 1994 Republican landslide and were quickly forgotten about two years later? They're back again, apparently.)

The idea that Americans have seen what it looks like to have the foxes guarding the henhouse for two years, and then deciding what we really need to do is to give the foxes "the tools they need to get the job done" or some nonsense like that, by removing any checks on their power, frankly, flabbergasts me.

And yet the voters are rewarding this*? It boggles the mind.

Or perhaps they haven't really seen it and need to see in order to comprehend it.

Well, there is a silver lining, if you want to call it that, in all of this. The country is messed up and the Republican "solutions" aren't going to improve anything for most folks. In two years, like clockwork, there will be another set of elections. The Republican Party will not have anyone else - Democratic Senators, Bill Clinton, al-Qaida, Saddam Hussein - to point to when the question "Who messed all of this up this badly?" comes up.

I can't believe I'm still awake.

I'm taking my first trip overseas next week. I'm sure I'll have at least one conversation with a non-American about some of this stuff. And I wish I could say I was an American without feeling at least a little embarrassed about our leaders, our worst impulses, and most of all about what is being done, in part, my name.

*Yes, I know - it's a few random races in a few random states. But it's a reward nonetheless.

Saturday, November 02, 2002

Risking making a fool out of myself here with the following Senate election predictions....
Senatorial Races:
NH - Shaheen (D) def. Sununu (R) (D pickup)
NJ - Lautenberg (D) def. Forrester (R) (D hold)
NC - Dole (R) def. Bowles (D) (R hold)
TN - Alexander (R) def. Clement (D) (R hold)
GA - Cleland (D) def. Chambliss (R) (D hold)
LA - Landrieu (D) forced into runoff (??)
AR - Prior (D) def. Hutchinson (R) (D pickup)
TX - Cornyn (R) def. Kirk (D) (R hold)
MO - Carnahan (D) def. Talent (R) (D hold)
MN - Mondale (D) def. Coleman (R) (D hold)
IA - Harkin (D) def. Ganske (R) (D hold)
SD - Thune (R) def. Johnson (D) (R pickup)
CO - Allard (R) def. Strickland (D) (R hold)
OR - Smith (R) def. Bradbury (D) (R hold)

If all this happened, the Senate would be (counting James Jeffords as a caucusing Democrat) 51-48 pending the outcome of the Louisiana election.

Friday, November 01, 2002

Minor Pet Peeve of the Day: The attempt to refer to "suicide bombers" as "homicide bombers," or alternatively, as "suicide murderers."

"Homicide bomber" is a redundancy. Presumably all bombers, whether they kill themselves in the process or not, intend to commit homicide, unless they're one of those people seeking only to destroy property, which - let's face it - you're not finding many of in the Middle East these days.

"Suicide murderer" is technically more correct but isn't as clear. When I hear "suicide murderer," I think of the guy who goes into the office where he's just been fired and kills his boss before turning the gun on himself and pulling the trigger. Which is a completely different phenomenon from terrorism. Or the Columbine killings, which share some elements in common with terrorism, but the very important "More of us will come and kill your people until you give our movement what we want" element is missing.

"Suicide bomber" tells us something useful about the nature of the act and how it differs from the old school "plant the bomb, set it to go off, and don't be there when it detonates" type of bombing. It's harder to stop someone willing to sacrifice his or her own life from killing people than it is someone whose goal is to get away unharmed, or at least alive. It tells you something about terrorist tactics that needs to be taken into account - namely, that they are willing to forsake, for whatever reasons, any chance of survival in exchange for a better chance at killing others.

I imagine advocates of the change in terminology are afraid that by calling them "suicide" bombings, it somehow ennobles the perpetrators, that they gave their lives for the cause and somehow this makes them honorable. I doubt, however, the terminology used by Western newspapers or politicians makes a dime's worth of difference to anyone, whether they support the terrorists' particular cause, whatever it is, or their tactics.

This whole thing reminds me of the efforts of the Clinton administration to change the term "rogue state" to "state of concern" because it was somehow less offensive to some people. Or maybe it was just embarassment that the United States (both the Clinton and Bush II administrations) has taken some positions on international cooperation that place it more in line with so-called "states of concern" than with the rest of the international community.

There, now that I have that off my chest...have a good weekend, folks.

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