The Answer Guy Online

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

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Faster President! Kill Kill Kill!

Only hours after listening to President Bush's State of the Union Address last night did I realize what bothered me the most about the man.

Consider this passage:

All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. And many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.

OK, fine, we're fighting al-Qaeda. I obviously have no problem with that.

While Bush discussed his domestic agenda, he seemed barely interested at times. (To be fair, everyone was waiting to hear about Iraq and the war on terrorism.) But when he delivered the above-quoted line, he sounded like a gangster gloating about putting a hit on an informant.

Now I'm not so naive as to think that sometimes governments kill people. Sometimes they arguably have to. I'm not saying they don't. War is not pretty, nor do I operate under an illusion that it can be. I'm certainly not asking for sympathy for dead terrorists. (Although extrajudicial killing of foreign nationals itself isn't going to win you many friends, particularly if you go around bragging about it.)

But would at least a little regard for the gravity of the power of life and death over people be too much to ask?

For someone who routinely uses "sanctity of life" rhetoic to talk about restricting and outlawing abortion, and about outlawing any form of human cloning, this president seems to have a profoundly cavalier attitude about killing people. No governor in modern American history has presided over more executions than Bush did in Texas, and he almost seemed to take delight in state-sponsored killing. (I've written before about his mocking of Karla Faye Tucker in an interview before allowing her execution to proceed)

He seems at his most enthusiastic not when paying lip service to "compassionate conservatism," whatever that might be, but when proclaiming that he will rain death on someone, whether it be a death row inmate or Osama bin Laden. For someone who compulsively invokes Christ and the Christian Deity and never lets you forget for a second what a man of God he professes to be, he seems awfully eager to dispense wrath of a sort most forms of Christianity look down on.

Now there's a lot of that kind of mentality in this country, so it might be only natural to have leaders who reflect it. Maybe I'm naive or idealistic, but I'd prefer leaders that aspired to something higher. I'm kind of embarassed that we seem to have a leader instead who reflects our baser instincts.

I for one find this a lot more disturbing than an inability to keep one's genitalia in one's pants.

Oh, yeah, and one more thing:

PS: Thank you to any potential terrorists out there who chose not to attack the Capitol during last night's State of the Union Address. Apparently, Attorney General John Ashcroft was the designated Cabinet member who stayed away from Washington last night in case anything catastrophic happened. The idea of being governed by a "shadow" government led by President Ashcroft is just too horrifying to contemplate.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Hey, Barbie, Let's Go Party!

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Mattel in their trademark suit against the Danish group Aqua and their label MCA for the song "Barbie Girl." Mattel claimed that the song disparaged Barbie's wholesome image with its suggestive lyrics.

My favorite part of the story is that Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit told the parties to "chill." Almost as funny was when lawyers for MCA claimed Aqua's incredibly inane and annoying song represented "relevant social commentary."

In other Aqua related news, "Barbie Girl" advanced to the second round of Jukebox From Hell, defeating Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy Wit' It." It is due to face Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me" in the second round.

Sadly, Aqua has since broken up. What a shame.

Sunday, January 26, 2003


Kid Video

New feature, mostly since I can't write about politics or law all the time.

I'm going to recommend movies worthy of renting, should the latest box-office hit be out of stock by the time you get around to going to the video store.

I'm going to eschew obvious classic movies that everyone already knows about. You don't really need me to tell you that "The Godfather" is a great movie, or that "This Is Spinal Tap" or "Caddyshack" is a very funny movie. I'm also going to stick to things that might be in your video stores.

I'll start with comedy, my favorite genre to rent movies in. I like to laugh. I'll laugh at some pretty dumb things.

But anyway, without further ado, here are three movies you may not have seen that might be worth a rental.

"Office Space" (1999) - If you've ever worked in a cubicle, you need to see this movie. From a big picture perspective, it's almost absurdist, but no one scene in the movie is especially outrageous. It's directed by Mike Judge, of "Beavis and Butthead" and "King of the Hill" fame. It didn't do especially well at the box office and got mixed reviews from critics, but it's gained a cult following on video, and it's easy to see why. It even survives the "Curse of Friends" by having Jennifer Aniston and still managing not to suck.

"Clue" - Based on the popular board game. Given the horrible barrage of movies based on video games we've been subjected to over the years ("Super Mario Bros.," "Street Fighter," "Resident Evil") you'd think that'd be a bad sign for a movie based on a board game. But you would be mistaken. It's a riot of a movie with a wide array of comic performances. Tim Curry is especially funny as the Butler. Or is he the butler?

"CB4" (1993) - Sort of a "This Is Spinal Tap" of rap music circa 1993, with a significant nod to "Wayne's World." Critics mostly disliked it, but there's lots to like about this Chris Rock vehicle. It's far better than most other SNL-related projects of the last decade. From Chris Rock as a gangsta rapper to Allen Payne as his black militant siedkick to Phil Hartman as a right-wing politician, it'll get you chuckling.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Fearless Super Bowl Prediction:

Oakland 27, Tampa Bay 20

Note: Listen to this prediction at your own peril; after all, my NFL picks, like many people's, didn't turn out so great. The Answer Guy makes no claims that his answers are actually correct answers.

Ah, The City of Brotherly Love

The following was not written by me, but was in fact written by my good buddy Rick, who hails from Philadelphia. If he had more time, he'd have his own blog, but since he's a first-year law student, we'll excuse him. Anyhow, enjoy, and I should back in time to make my all-important Super Bowl predictions.

Some have written that the birth of the sterotypical “Philadelphia Fan,” the beer-swilling boo-bird of a cynic who always expects his team to lose, was born in September of 1964. In that infamous month the Phillies had a six game lead in the National League with twelve to play. All but a lock, right? Wrong. Instead, Gene Mauch’s bunch frittered that lead away and the Phils limped weakly into the off-season, getting an early start on the tees that year.

My father was 19 that year and he experienced that pain first hand. Ever since I’ve been cognizant of the sports world I’ve known him to be a boo-bird and a cynic while I was always the optimistic and hopeful one. He would always get up and leave the TV room in frustration with two minutes left on the clock and I would stay and watch, hoping for a miracle that would never come.

I suppose I grew up ignorant of my sporting heritage because those losses always hurt badly. I wept inconsolably in 1987 when my beloved Flyers lost the Stanley Cup in game 7 to Gretzky’s Oilers. Mitch William’s grapefruit to Joe Carter still hurts to this day. While watching a game at the SkyDome in Toronto last June I literally had to turn my head when highlights from seasons past flashed on the Jumbotron. It was hours before I could speak after the Flyers (again!) completed their collapse against the Devils in the conference finals just two seasons ago. Each time my father would simply smirk, let out a chuckle, and say, “Typical.” Finally, I may be joining him in that opinion. We just can’t win.

There was something different about tonight’s NFC title game because all week there was something unusual pulsing through the streets of Philadelphia: hope. We had the Bucs’s number. This in our house in frigid cold against a team who could not solve us. The game even began in out favor. But then we all learned a cruel lesson that the history between these two teams was nothing when compared to the overall history of the city. In fact, it was as if Fate had set all of this up, the Bucs, the last game ever at the Vet, the high stakes, only to spit in our collective faces.

Indeed, something was very different this time. As the score moved further out of our favor I never felt panic or anxiety, but certainty. We were going to lose. There was no need to watch even the second half of that game to know it. And I finally began to understand my father. I didn’t take him to task for being negative as I once would, instead I joined him in deriding the team. And while I admit that McNabb’s final drive with three minutes to go began to stir that small part of my soul that had not given up entirely, Ronde Barber’s interception-touchdown was not the stake in my heart that it once would have been. With 1:47 left in the game I had to chuckle as I heard the music playing in the background at the stadium: “Jaded” by Aerosmith. Indeed, that was what I had become.

This loss, I think has been particularly damaging for me even if it didn’t “hurt.” See, after the aforementioned Flyers collapse I had to stop watching them, I could no longer care. I couldn’t take the pain of watching the team do so well and then dash my hopes in the playoffs like clockwork. I fear now that the Eagles may have done the same thing to me. For a kid who doesn’t like baseball much, the Phillies are my only remaining hope at remaining a die hard Philadelphia fan. [I’ve never cared much for NBA or the Sixers thus explaining their absence in this piece].

Of course, Philadelphia teams have won titles in the past and a few have even been won in my lifetime, but none have occurred in my memory. The last team to win any title here were the Sixers 20 years ago. The Phils won in 1980, when I was three. The Flyers? 1975. My beleaguered Eagles? 1960, when my long-suffering father was only 15. There are other cities that might try to claim they have suffered worse. I beg to differ. While Boston had to endure 80-plus years of Sox futility, they have the Celtics dynasty and a recent Super Bowl to fall back on. Chicago might be the home town of both the Cubs and White Sox, but Michael Jordan’s Bulls have put six banners in the rafters in recent years. Maybe only Cleveland has it worse.

The titles in this town do not come in bunches, or even by the decade, but by the generation. But the hope that things will change, that there is always next year, pervades. We always seem to put out teams that can compete and get us close to the brass ring, but typically, painfully fall short. Philadelphia it, always seems, is the perfect embodiment of the title character in Rocky. We are tough, we are gritty, we are always in it, but, like our cinematic counterpart, we lose the big one. We leave with our pride intact, but never with the hardware.

At the close of the Eagles game today my father said he hoped he was alive the next time the Birds were in this situation. In the past I used to think he was kidding. Now I’m not so sure.

Hmmm...sounds suspiciously like the Red Sox.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Bills, Bills, Bills

Gotta pay them. That's why it's good that I'll be working again. So I'll have a little less time to rant about stuff for the forseeable future.

So tomorrow in the space will be a guest column about the agony of being a Philadelphia sports fan from my good buddy Rick, who's an expert on the subject.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Oh, Mickey, You're So Fine

Reason Online decides to go "interview" Mickey Mouse.

I damn near busted a gut laughing.

Back Into Hell

Jukebox From Hell, the Answer Guy's effort to figure out what people think is the worst song ever is operational once again.

We begin by finishing off the first round of competition, with Set #27 in a series of 32. Then we will be down to our final 128, and the second round begins. It should finish during March Madness sometime, which is a nice time to wrap it up.

In a related story, if you're not doing so already, join the Modern Rock song tournament, run vaguely along the same lines, being run on Craig Barker's blog.




State of the Union

I don't necessarily endorse this, but damn this is funny.

Of course, if our various security agencies haven't already been monitoring this site, they probably will be now.

(Note: If there are any conservatives reading this, feel free to notify me of anything similar involving Bill Clinton. Then we can have a poll about which one is funnier.)

Monday, January 20, 2003

Happy Birthday

I know it’s not Martin Luther King’s real birthday and all.

But in recognition of the holiday named for him, I figured I would get a few things off my chest, dear readers. Three short, semi-coherent thoughts await…

I

I seem to vacillate between optimism and pessimism when it comes to the future of race relations.

I think to myself that people my age are generally carrying a lot less prejudice baggage than people older than me. And that kids growing up now are carrying even less. (I’ll talk about my particular baggage in a future essay.) Many urban and suburban areas nationwide are becoming less segregated. Taboos against interracial dating are slowly but surely eroding, particularly among the young.

On the other hand, schools are in many places as segregated as they were at the time of Brown vs. Board of Education.

And all it took was something like the O.J. Simpson trial to polarize everything all over again for a while. For one group, it was about the corrupt Los Angeles Police trying to railroad another black man and not getting away with it for once. For the other, it was about a predominantly black jury setting a killer free in part because of his race (and in part because of his celebrity status.)

Racial tension over gentrification in Washington, DC rages on. There are a lot of issues involved, all of them carrying the overtones of a culture clash. Race gets injected into the most mundane local neighborhood issues, from zoning overlays to parking restrictions. And I have to wonder: If it can’t work here, where can it work in this country?

II

I have thusfar not weighed in on affirmative action. I made a brief reference to it in an essay where I explained why I was opposed to the reparations movement. But now that it’s front and center in the political landscape, I figure I ought to say something about it.

It’s more than a little unfair to refer to the scheme employed by the University of Michigan as a “quota,” ungainly as it may be. The fact is that there are a lot of criteria on there that don’t relate to “qualifications” as conservatives portray them, not just racial/ethnic criteria. If we’re going try to legislate some “perfect meritocracy” of college admissions, then U of M is going to have to get rid of its preferences, for instance, for residents of the Upper Peninsula, or the preference for legacies. It arguably has to get rid of preferences for athletes as well.

We all know that’s not going to happen, and I’m far from certain that it would be a good thing if such a thing were to happen.

There are certain things about the experience of being a “disfavored” minority that I’m never going to be able to fully comprehend. I’m not going to get pulled over by police on account of my race. I’m not likely going to have as many assumptions made about me in general.

But, between middle school, high school, college, and law school, I met a lot of people from backgrounds very different from my own, some of whom have been through these very life experiences. And I’m not sure without that cultural education that I’d be anywhere near as well-rounded a person as I have become.

It’s my opinion that dialogue involving these life experiences is an important part of a modern education. For many, college is the best, in and at least some cases the only, such opportunity to absorb such differing perspectives. And if that means a few people, many of whom have been given many advantages in life, don’t get into their first choice school, I think it’s worth it.


III

I was pretty silent about the Trent Lott mess, mostly because I didn’t really have anything that unique to say about it. True, he kept his Senate seat, and got a cushy chairmanship, but at least it can be said he paid a price for his remarks.

On the central human rights issue of most of the 20th century, conservatives (now represented by the Republican Party in nearly all cases) in general and Southern conservatives in particular were clearly on the wrong side of it. For obvious reasons, they don’t like being reminded of that, and they especially don’t like it when one of their own inadvertently does the reminding.

I won’t belabor the point about just what Strom Thurmond ran on in 1948. The Dixiecrats, led by Thurmond, defected en masse to the Republican Party, who welcomed them with open arms. That original crop of Dixiecrats are dying out and/or leaving office, which, the Republican Party would have us all believe, ushers in a totally new era in American politics.

But if things have changed to such a degree, why are there so many people on that side of the aisle expressing nostalgia for the Confederate flag, the Confederacy and the antebellum South? Why, of all the college admission criteria they could go after, did they choose the one (other than possibly basketball or football ability) that disproportionately benefits non-whites? Why have they targeted spending programs designed to help the urban poor, as opposed the to massive farm subsidies that generally go to large agribusiness concerns? Why do Republican operatives engage in voter suppression efforts in minority neighborhoods?

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that nearly all their fiscal, economic, and social policy stances come down disproportionately hard on non-whites, that it’s all about “small government” or “self sufficiency” or some other principle. It’s not as if being against social spending could be said to be racist per se.

It’s just that conservative politicians from coast to coast – Democrats as well as Republicans - for the last 50 years have been using racially coded rhetoric – states’ rights, welfare queens, Willie Horton, crack babies - to sell their various platforms about “law and order” and “personal responsibility” and such. History suggests that this approach has brought its purveyors some measure of success.

Conservative talk radio, from Rush Limbaugh on down, to this day regularly demonizes non-whites, usually in the name of “humor.”

There’s still a well of racial prejudice out there to tap in this country; it’s only natural that there would be politicians willing to pander to such feelings. We expect that in a democracy. But we shouldn’t let such politicians get away with pretending that they aren’t doing so.

That’s all for tonight.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

The Mouse That Roared

Today the US Supreme Court in Eldred v. Ashcroft handed down a 7-2 ruling in favor of the constitutionality of the Disney Giveaway…er…Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998. You can also read this Washington Post article on the subject.

What this means for Mickey Mouse is that he’s still going to be copyright protected for 20 more years – at least. (He could still be protected by trademark if his copyright ran out, but that’s a whole other story.) Since the first appearance of Mickey Mouse as a character, in 1928’s Steamboat Willie, was due to expire this year until Congress stepped in back in 1998 to extend the copyright term an additional 20 years.

I wrote about this case in October and my mind hasn’t changed. I’m disappointed by the ruling but not surprised by it in the least. I was slightly surprised, however, that the blogging community mostly seems to agree with my slant on the case, even people who don’t normally agree with me on much.

As I had written in October, the First Amendment arguments petitioners made went nowhere. The majority dismissed them out of hand, and the two dissenting opinions did not address any First Amendment-related claim.

A footnote in the opinion makes reference to the recognition that, yes, perpetual copyright would be unconstitutional, and the legislative history suggests that decision makers in Congress were aware of such constitutional limitations. Of course Congress is generally not going to pass something that is obviously unconstitutional on its face. If you were a lobbyist for Disney or AOL, or a sympathetic Congressman, would you propose something you know would get struck down? Of course not. But the majority predictably gave no hints as to what a de facto perpetual copyright might look like, or even if one could exist at all. Could Congress extend the copyright term another 20 years? Another 50 years? How about a million years? Others suggested that an extra 20 years would be “a good start.” Is it the case that Congress can extend the term as far into the future as it can contemplate, just as long as it doesn’t make the mistake of using “perpetual” or “permanent” or some similar magic word anywhere in a copyright extension statute?

Heck, there is at least some legislative history that suggests that perpetual copyright is exactly what Congress intended. The man for whom this latest extension is named, the late Sonny Bono, wanted the copyright term to last forever. Another Southern California Congressman with ties to the entertainment industry, Howard Berman, suggested a “permanent moratorium” on copyright expiration.

There is some indication that the majority found increasing the harmonization of American copyright law with that in Europe to provide a sufficient “rational basis” for the law. This of course doesn’t provide much guidance for what to look for with regards to future changes to copyright term, either prospectively or retroactively. This is not unusual behavior for the Supreme Court, especially since any “bright line” rule in this case would smack of “judicial activism.” But there’s nothing in here that suggests they would pay any attention to the basis of any future statutes along these lines. (On the other hand, looking on the bright side, there’s nothing here that would serve as iron-clad precedent against judicial review the next time Congress gives away another chunk of the public domain in exchange for campaign money from the entertainment industry.)

The key phrase of the enabling constitutional clause “to promote science and the useful arts” that expresses the purpose for intellectual property protection is important to keep in mind. The majority seems to regard it as little better than surplus verbiage. On the other hand, Justice Stevens duly notes that “ex post facto extensions of copyright result in a gratuitous transfer of wealth to authors, publishers, and their successors in interest” that could not possibly have any effect on the incentive to create what has already been created. In short, they are getting something for nothing. Justice Stevens also made the argument that a retroactive copyright extension affects the rights of parties contracting to trade in public domain materials by in effect snatching material due to enter the public domain and handing it back to copyright holders without any consideration.

The majority argued that it made more sense not to “punish” an author for having sold a work a week too soon (i.e. a week before the extension was passed) and that Congress had regularly granted retroactive copyright extensions every time it amended copyright laws. This argument would carry more weight if copyright law weren’t already written in such a way that no author would ever live to see his or her work pass into the public domain. If there is any “punishment” related to timing, it’s minimal at best. And, of course, “we’ve always done it” is not necessarily dispositive, as the dissenters pointed out by citing INS v. Chadha.

I spent a good deal of time on the political science angle of this debate in my previous essay, and while analyzing a court decision is a different matter, I took note of something. Justice Stevens remarked that “only one year’s worth of creative work, that copyrighted in 1923, has fallen into the public domain during the last 80 years.” The majority opinion approvingly quotes language saying “it is not our role to alter the delicate balance Congress has labored to achieve,” but I don’t detect much balance here. I see only one extension after another. No one’s standing up for the public interest here.

There are certainly worse injustices that have befallen our nation.

However, there are consequences. Our schools and libraries will be deprived of valuable educational and cultural resources. This decision will mean no new songs for youth or community orchestras or church choirs to perform without having to track down and pay off an entity that has monopoly power over their distribution and reproduction. This will mean no new plays for school or community theater groups to put on without having to track down and pay off an entity that has monopoly power over their distribution and reproduction. This entity isn’t going to be the author, and probably isn’t the author’s children either.

Furthermore, as Justice Breyer notes, “the older the work, the less its likely commercial value,” and the more trouble people will have to go through to find the copyright holder. Works old enough to be protected only by virtue of the 1998 extension dates from the 1920s and 1930s, and the vast majority of it lacks commercial value. Wouldn’t it be better if anyone could take the initiative with regards to bringing a long-forgotten book, photograph, song, or film back from the dead, rather than reserving that power to one entity alone? (You could make the opposite argument, I suppose, but if the work in question has vanished from the public eye, what good does it do to allow the holder who has allowed it to vanish thusly to be able to sit on it another 20 years?)

It’s not that I don’t recognize the value of protection of intellectual property. However, American law has always been suspicious of monopoly power. Common law dating before America was even founded feared “dead hand” control of property. (In a line of reasoning that will amuse only law students and lawyers, Justice Breyer suggests that Congress has created a system of copyright that, if applied to real property, would violate the infamous “rule against perpetuities.”) I don't see any reason to change those fundamental principles of law, and I fear they are threatened here.

As always, there’s lots of stuff on this case at How Appealing, Howard Bashman’s blog dedicated to appellate litigation. Whenever a decision is handed down anywhere, you can count on his site to have lots of stuff about it. Thanks to my friend Edmund, for giving me the heads up on this decision. I’m sure you won’t need to look far in cyberspace for a discussion of it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

The Emperor Speaks

So, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) has declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President.

So, dear readers, I present to you this exclusive Answer Guy interview with Senator Lieberman.

ANSWER GUY: So why are you throwing your hat into the Presidential ring?

LIEBERMAN: The Republic is not what it once was. The Senate is full of greddy,squabbling delegates who are only looking out for themselves and their home systems. There is no interest in the common good- no civility, only politics.

ANSWER GUY: So, Senator, how enthusiastic are you about running for President?

LIEBERMAN: It is with great reluctance that I have agreed to this calling. I love democracy... I love the Republic.

ANSWER GUY: What do you think are your chances of prevailing in a crowded Democratic primary field?

LIEBERMAN: I promise you there are many who will support us. Everything is going as planned.

ANSWER GUY: So, what do you think your chances would be against President George W. Bush should you get the Democratic nomination?

LIEBERMAN: The republic will soon be in my control. Everything is proceeding as I have forseen.

ANSWER GUY: OK, we should get down to important issues. Regarding foreign policy. What would you do about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?

LIEBERMAN: Soon the rebellion will be crushed.

ANSWER GUY: What if the Israeli government explicitly repudiated the Oslo accords and attempted to re-occupy all Palestinian lands?

LIEBERMAN: There is little chance the Senate will act on invasion.

ANSWER GUY: I see. On the issue of Homeland Security. Where do you stand on the issue of allowing government broad new powers to snoop on its citizenry?

LIEBERMAN: I realise all too well that additional security might be disruptive for you. The power you give me I will lay down when this crisis has abated, I promise you.

ANSWER GUY: Now about prescription drugs, that might be a big issue in the 2004 campaign.

LIEBERMAN: Patience my friend. There is a question of procedure, but I feel confident we can overcome it.

ANSWER GUY: That’s good to know. What’s your position on reproductive choice?

LIEBERMAN: I will make it legal.

ANSWER GUY: How about trade policy? What is your stance on the Free Trade Area of the Americas?

LIEBERMAN: I want that treaty signed!

ANSWER GUY: So what would you have to say to an undecided Democratic primary voter?

LIEBERMAN: It is unavoidable. It is your destiny. You, like your father, are now mine

ANSWER GUY: Um…I think my Dad’s gone Republican on me, actually.

LIEBERMAN: This turn of events is unfortunate. We must accelerate our plans.

ANSWER GUY: How would you assess the Clinton presidency?

LIEBERMAN: Mired down by baseless accusations of corruption. A manufactured scandal surrounds him.

ANSWER GUY: Looking to the next two years in the Senate. Do you see many positive things coming out of Congress in the next couple years, or do you think Democrats will be playing defense?

LIEBERMAN: Be patient…let them make the first move. I will see to it in that in the Senate things stay as they are. Enter the bureaucrats, the true rulers of the Republic.

ANSWER GUY: Do you plan on joining your colleagues’ threat to filibuster President Bush’s controversial conservative judicial appointments.

LIEBERMAN: I am mild by nature and have no desire to destroy the democratic process.

ANSWER GUY: How would you describe your campaign apparatus?

LIEBERMAN: Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station.

ANSWER GUY: OK…Well, Senator, thank you for your time…

LIEBERMAN: Young fool...Only now, at the end, do you understand...

ANSWER GUY: Huh?

LIEBERMAN : Excellent.

(Yes I spend too much time watching movies.)

Seriously, millions of people have seen the Star Wars movies. Do they expect any one of us to vote for someone who looks so much like the Emperor?

Disclaimer : Though I have interviewed presidential candidates before, this interview never actually happened. It’s a product of my sick, twisted imagination. Sorry for any confusion.

The Frog Prince of Georgia

I wonder if I’m the only person in the blogosphere who read this article about the plight of Georgia’s newest governor and was starkly reminded of this children’s fairy tale.

Although I would advise Sonny Perdue against throwing a secessionist against the wall, since I don’t think that’s going to turn him into a princess. Or a prince, for that matter.

Monday, January 13, 2003

Banned In China

Wow. I have just been informed that The Answer Guy Online and Jukebox From Hell are both, like everything else on Blogspot, being blocked in China.

Wow. Banned in China.

So I guess that the oppressed Chinese masses won't be hearing about what I have to say about Dan Aykroyd or Chevy Chase. Kinda sad, I think.

We Are The World

Doesn't this bring back memories?

Yes, we are the world. We, rich pop stars, are the world. Everyone else, well, you're not the world. Or whatever.

"There's a choice we're making. We're saving our own lives." I never got that line either.

I know the standards shouldn't be that high for group charity recording, but the words to the Band Aid song "Do They Know It's Christmas" make a lot more sense. And they didn't claim to "be" the world.

The song (words and music) was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. OK, say you've got all this songwriting talent on hand. You've got Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, and Billy Joel. And you've got Lionel Richie working on writing the song they're going to sing? This is like having Phil Rizzuto batting cleanup on an all-time Yankees team.

Supposedly, Waylon Jennings left over a lyrics dispute. This is one of those times that I'm not sure I need a punchline here.

And another thing. Dan Aykroyd? What was up with that? What was he doing there? Why do people pretend he's a real singer? Although I guess if Jennifer Lopez can get away with it, I can't begrudge Dan too much.

(Pointless aside: I think I'm going to pit Aykroyd against Chevy Chase the way that Bill Simmons pitted DeNiro against Pacino. Which one of those guys approved more bad scripts, made more painfully unfunny comedies, turned in more lame performances? I think this would be a great late-night drunk-guys-in-a-college-dorm kind of argument. You have been warned, dear readers.)

The allmusic.com blurb on USA For Africa says that the above singers, plus numerous others, were told to "check their egos at the door." My memory, however, is of numerous performers trying to steal the show by hamming it up. I'm thinking especially of the Michael Jackson-Huey Lewis-Cyndi Lauper-Kim Carnes section on the bridge. I still have painful memories of Lauper's "whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa" screaming in particular, and then coming back to drown out poor one-hit wonder Kim Carnes as the song moves into the final chorus.

Remember the record album that came with this? The other songs, aside from the Canadian analogue to "We Are The World," "Tears Are Not Enough" by Northern Lights, where throwaway tracks by other artists. I didn't remember much about that song, except that it featured the high-pitched squeals of Rush's Geddy Lee. Click here for more info on them. It would figure that some Rush fanboy's website would be the place to find info on this. I just can't picture people being nearly as obsessive about, say, Anne Murray. Wow, Bryan Adams, multiple members of Loverboy, Anne Murray, and Gordon Lightfoot in the same place. Blame Canada indeed.

The original USA For Africa album also contained a worthwhile version of Jimmy Cliff's "Trapped" performed by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band.

There. Now maybe that damn song will get out of my head.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

The Gilded Age?

OK, I’ve managed to avoid ranting about anything political for nearly a month now.
Blame my long train ride on inspiring another one. (If my archive actually worked, I could point you to an essay I blogged in October vaguely along the lines that inspired this one.)

Among the books I read while riding the rails southbound from New England to the nation’s capital was Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America by Barbara Ehrenreich.

In this book, the author tries to find out what it would be like to try to get by as a member of the working poor, working a variety of low-wage, low-prestige, “unskilled” jobs and trying to feed, clothe, and shelter herself on what she earned at these jobs in three different areas - Key West, Florida; Portland, Maine; and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I recommend the book despite the shortcomings of the experiment. The author was clearly pretending to be poor and there was something condescending about her attitude. Every time she revealed herself to be an upper-middle class educated writer, it’s as if she expected them to genuflect to her or be utterly fascinated by this woman who dared spend any of her precious time associating with the likes of them. The bias of someone slumming pervades the book, particularly as she spends more time on her own mental state and less time with the situations of her fellow working stiffs as the book progresses. I think her denunciations of low-wage workers being subjected to indignities were blunted a bit by the fact that she often seemed to see the work itself as an indignity. And of course, she wasn’t really poor at all, she had an easy escape valve – if she wasn’t cutting the mustard in one month, she moved on.

Of course some of these criticisms miss the main thrust of the book. You can’t get scientific method precision in social studies anyway. I give her props for even trying something like this, no matter how contrived it might have been. I can assume most people in her position, no matter how left-wing their sympathies might lie, wouldn’t want to attempt something like this. And with regards to the indignity problem, well, I’m sure she wouldn’t be alone among her middle-class peers in seeing much indignity in this work and in getting it – lectures about “time theft,” silly personality tests, invasive drug testing that does little good, etc.

She went into the experiment, as I would have had I ventured to try something similar, whether there’s some coping mechanism the poor have that people who’ve never had to worry where their next meal was coming from have never needed to develop, some secret economy that makes things somehow better than they might seem on the surface.

But she uncovers no such thing. Indeed she is confronted frequently with the fact that, as James Baldwin once said, of how expensive it is to be poor. You’re less credit-worthy so banks either refuse to deal with you or gouge you to the point that those check-cashing places I take pride in refusing to support aren’t demonstrably worse. (Though Ehrenreich never brings it up, anyone ever do the math on rent-to-own arrangements? It boggles the mind.) It’s hard to find work without an address, and even more difficult to secure housing without a job. In some places, the housing market is so bid up that even with a job it’s difficult to find regular housing, the result being that rat-trap motels are filled with the working poor.

Every medical problem, no matter how minor, becomes a big deal. People work until they drop, since their health care situation is such that they can’t afford not to. So of course when one person at a low-wage workplace catches something, all of them do.
And nagging health problems are of course not tended to until they prevent work entirely and are much more expensive to fix.

Interestingly enough, the act of finding a job in and of itself, at least when the economy was as generally as strong as it was during the time Ehrenreich was conducting her experiment, was not the problem. (Whether that would be as true for non-whites in her situation, or during tougher times, is an open question.)

I sort of had an idea of what people at the bottom end of the work force go through before I read it, but now I’m more convinced than ever that most Americans living comfortably haven’t got a clue. As if on cue, this article shows up.

So much contemporary thinking about the plight of the poor is grounded in a whole set of ill-informed beliefs and opinions. Namely, that people can support themselves with low-wage jobs, and to the extent they don’t, it can be traced to laziness, drug or alcohol addiction, or some other failing of personal character. So our policies in this regard are increasingly designed to kick those who are already down, either because they deserve to be punished, or because maybe some “tough love” will transform them into productive citizens.

When I walk by a homeless person (not uncommon in this city) it’s in my nature to think “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

We’re seeing less and less of that thinking, in no small part because the poor are increasingly invisible and faceless to the affluent and the media outlets geared towards them. Because to those us making out in the new order, our neighbors and everyone we come in contact with, are mostly like us. Everything (and everyone) around us, the thinking goes, seems to be doing well. Out of sight, out of mind.

Children born to affluence get no window into the existence of their less fortunate peers, since they live in different communities and are kept in different schools. If they take jobs, they’re generally of the office internship variety, not the menial labor variety. (Of course there were always spoiled rich kids, but it seems far more common now, especially in Washington.)

I suppose I can only blame them so much for not being sufficiently inquisitive.

I don’t like where I think this is heading, for two Americas, on opposite sides of gates, with ever bigger police forces, ever higher prison walls, and ever more expensive security. On one said there is ever more misery and anger, on the other, ever more anxiety and suspicion. I don’t even ask for the proverbial Rawlsian “veil of ignorance” here – would you really want to be on either side of this?

But if there’s a better future for us than the above, than inquisitiveness would actually be the first think I’d ask for, even before I’d ask for compassion. Since if we don’t care enough, than we deserve our fate.

After all, if you don’t care where you’re going, you can’t really be lost.




Wednesday, January 08, 2003

The Class of 2003

The Baseball Writers Association of America voted in Eddie Murray and Gary Carter into the Hall of Fame. Results can be found here. As one might expect there's a lot of discussion of the results on Baseball Primer.

Random observations:

Eddie Murray got selected. Steady Eddie was a no-brainer, although looking at his career, it's almost weird how he didn't really put up gaudy season totals often. But 500 homers and 3000 hits have each been automatic selection criteria by themselves, and Murray is one of the very few players with both.

Gary Carter made it in. I'd guess the issue was Carlton Fisk. Fisk deserved to get in first, and when he did, there was no reason left to leave Carter out. I give the BBWAA credit on this one. (Carter of course didn't miss the 75% threshold by much last year at 73%.)

No one else came especially close.It wasn't as if Murray or Carter took that many votes from everyone else that I'd expect there not be some near-misses. Bruce Sutter at 54% and Jim Rice at 52% were as close as anyone else came to reaching the 75% threshold for induction.

Ryne Sandberg failed to get 50% of the vote. I'm sure some of this has to be the "first ballot" factor, where enough people decided Sandberg was not worthy of being a "first ballot" Hall of Famer. Unlike a lot of sabermetrics-literate baseball fans, I don't necessarily have a problem with the distinction. Given how many questionable selections - some of them clear-cut mistakes - have been made for Cooperstown (admittedly, most of them did not come in the main BBWAA vote) I understand the desire of some to create an "inner circle" of selections. Much has been made of the fact that Gary Carter is the first BBWAA selection since Billy Williams to get in after having a year on the ballot where he fell below 50% support. I still support Sandberg's induction and I think he will eventually get in, since the next few years (2004-06) do not have many especially strong first-time candidates. 2B is among the most underrepresented positions in the Hall, and Sandberg's a good place to start. (In a related story, things are not looking good for Alan Trammell.)

Relief pitchers continue to be by and large snubbed by the voters. I figured the other shoe would drop with all-time saves leader Lee Smith. It still has not. Dennis Eckersley will be on the ballot in a couple years, but he's also got 197 wins to his name, which sets him apart from guys like Smith and Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage who were relievers most or all of their career. I'm also curious as to the thought process behind why Sutter got more support than Smith or Gossage. I'm afraid that if the BBWAA is too stingy on relievers, the Veterans Committee will step in and start picking them by the truckload.

I can't believe how many people got votes. It happens every year for a variety of reasons, but I still never cease be amazed by some of the people who got votes. I suppose the 7 sympathy votes for Darryl Kile shouldn't be a surprise. But who were the two voters who picked Rick Honeycutt? Or the lone Danny Tartabull voter? Or the Mark Davis voter? (BTW, you were right, Anthony, Vince Coleman did get more voters than Brett Butler, 3 to 2.) And Fernando Valenzuela actually got enough support (just over the 5% threshold) to clog up the ballot another year with 31 votes, one more than the (marginally) more deserving Keith Hernandez.

Bert Blyleven is gaining support. Thanks in part to sabermetrics buffs, Blyleven seems to be gaining steam, picking up 22 votes. He's still a ways away, but if he can get a majority by his last year on the ballot he has a chance to make it in through the Veterans' Committee back door. Jim Kaat not being on the ballot will help a bit.

Don Mattingly lost support. My fear is that we're going to see a Yankee Nation all-out Rizzuto-style propaganda blitz once his nomination is kicked to the Veterans Committee. And I think his support will rebound a bit next year with Murray off the ballot. (Although Steve Garvey won four new converts this time around, even with Murray on the ballot.)

Dale Murphy and Dave Parker are going nowhere, while Jim Rice and Andre Dawson have strong support. I already said (partially as a partisan Red Sox fan) that I'd vote Rice in first, but the differences between these four is not big enough to justify the huge differences in voter support between Rice and Dawson on the one hand and Parker and Murphy on the other hand.

Here is a list of probable future candidates by year.It's entirely possible 2004 may not have any inductees, since Molitor and Eck may run into the dreaded "first ballot" syndrome. I'm almost perversely looking forward to the anti-Joe Carter screeds on stathead web sites - and my annual Hall of Fame analysis will obligate to add to the din in this blog. (I don't think he's getting in either, though in part for the wrong reason, the same one dogging the Rice/Dawson/Parker/Murphy group - his numbers just don't look good when so many active players, the beneficiaries of a better era for offense, are blowing his numbers out of the water. The correct reason to keep Carter out is that, well, to put it bluntly, he wasn't very good.) Molitor and Eckersley will join Sandberg and Lee Smith (both now free of the "first ballot" syndrome) along with Sutter, Dawson, and Rice as the only viable candidates for 2004.

Yeah, as Primer/Prospectus fans go, I'm in the "Big Hall" camp. I expressed support for nine people this year. In my mind, it's too late, for better or for worse, for a "small hall." New generations of baseball fans are growing up, and we should consider (albeit with more accuracy and precision) the stars of yesterday, today, and tomorrow in equal measure. Tightening things significantly I think would increase the "wax museum" factor of the Hall and detracts from its ability to appeal to baseball fans of all ages.

Well, that's all from here. Good night, or rather, good morning.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Sleeping With The Television On

I'm not sure I'd pay for cable television back in Washington.

I used to make a big stink over the fact that DC's main cable company didn't carry Comedy Central. But they show the same SNL reruns over and over again (and so does E! now) and censored versions of the same lame movies over and over again. As far as their original programming, well, "South Park" has clearly jumped the shark (I'm glad I'm not the only person who just doesn't think Mr. Hanky is terribly funny, certainly not worthy of being featured prominently in multiple episodes.) Hearing slightly-less-bland standup routines from stars of bland sitcoms isn't worth the money.

MTV is a totally self-contained universe now. It seems like half their programming is "Best of MTV," consisting of the same programs that fill the other half of MTV's schedule. They had to create another channel (M2) just to show music videos, since even VH1 doesn't show many of them. We don't get M2 here, sadly.

ESPN2 is kinda unecessary, since odds are one of the two ESPN channels is showing something unnecessary and stupid, like "World's Strongest Man" or boat racing or some such thing.

There's a channel devoted to auto racing. If I wanted to see cars drive fast, I'd look down from a freeway overpass.

And a channel devoted to golf. I think I'd rather pluck my eyebrows out one hair at a time than watch golf on TV.

I wonder if holy rollers took over the local cable company or something. The local cable system replaced both the cheesy porn channels, and the Hallmark channel (i.e. 24 hours a day of squeaky clean dreck) replaced one of them. That and there seems to be more channels devoted to religious programming every time I turn the TV on. And no Cinemax, and therefore no Skin-E-Max late nights. Where am I going to see Shannon Tweed now? (And Shannon Whirry - has anyone ever seen them in the same room at the same time?)


Saturday, January 04, 2003

Year Of The Cat

Well, time to add another candle to the ol' birthday cake, dear readers. In a few short hours, I'll be exactly 29 years old.

Next year I'll be old enough to run for U.S. Senate. Of course, I'll have to move, since D.C. residents don't get to run for or serve in the Senate. Or the House. There are no gay men in the Senate. (That we now about.) There may or may not be lesbians in the Senate - if I had a dime for every innuendo about Barbara Mikulski.....

Of course there are a few gay men in the House. I'm already old enough to serve in the House. Heck, I think I'm older than at least one House member. What a depressing thought.

On that note...didn't it freak you out when you first realized that there were celebrities (pro or even college athletes, rock stars, big-name actors, political types) younger than you are? It makes me stop to think what might have been sometimes. Derek Jeter. Allen Iverson. Paul Pierce. Leonardo DiCaprio. Dale Earhardt, Jr. Tiger Woods. Drew Barrymore. Kate Winslet. (I can't think of any pundits off the top of my head, but there must be at least one.)

I was relived to find out that upon double-checking, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Nomar Garciaparra, and Eminem are all older than me. And always will be. Heh. Nomar was born on the same day as Monica Lewinsky. Which means she's older than me too.


Friday, January 03, 2003

Happy belated New Year.

I say good riddance to 2002. Even if I'm that much closer to 30.

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