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Thursday, July 31, 2003

Samuel Johnson, I Ain't

I got a curious e-mail from Mom a couple of days ago. We had just engaged in an e-mail correspondence in which she had tried to cheer me up, and she finally explained that the source of her concern was my blog. But she quickly added that she hoped she hadn't acted inappropriately by referencing my blog, because one should never read another person's diary and then comment on it.

It was a curious comment on the nature of blogging, and it reminded me of the thoughts that went through my own head when I decided to start writing this blog. I decided that it would be a good lesson for me to (a) keep a diary, and (b) make it public, because one of the great recurring problems of my life is my unwillingness to be open about my thoughts and emotions. God only knows how many things I have screwed up by being unwilling to admit what I was feeling or thinking. In a lot of ways, blogging is against everything in my nature, which is precisely why I should do it. Thus the subtitle of the blog, about private words being spoken in public. That was the final line of a love poem written by T.S. Eliot to his wife, which took the form of the introduction to a book.

I also enjoy thinking that I am writing so that Jonah will someday be able to meet me; that is, he will be able to glean a little insight into a 31 year old lawyer with a fledgling career and an even more fledgling baby. To that end, I can offer insights like this:

- Yes, your mother and I were always this weird. In fact, we have in-jokes so "in" that the rest of the world would scratch its collective head. We sing to you, but we sing to each other, too -- often using commercial jingles as the tune.
- Yes, I used to be young. I don't feel young, but by the time you read this, I will have realized how young I am right now.
- Yes, you scared the ever-lovin' sh-t out of me. But I also loved the ever-lovin sh-t out of you, and it worked out.

But at the same time, I have to recognize this: though it may help me to think of Jonah reading this someday, I don't want to fall into the trap of thinking that I am doing it for Jonah. He's free to read it or not; there will certainly be a time when he doesn't want anything to do with it, and probably another time when he will be curious to read it. And if he never reads a word, it will have nevertheless served its purpose. Thus, I'm not necessarily writing so that Jonah can meet me, as I am today. I am writing so that I can meet myself, as I am today.

Which is why I am often disappointed with my own blog. I personally don't much care for blogging that is nothing more than "me too" essays, spouting pre-formed opinions about politics, and so on. Yet I report each new irritation with the Bush Administration as if it were worth reading. They're not, particularly. My links to weird news are better than my political opinions, because weird news links are at least entertaining. But, to the extent that I am a person that dwells on my irritation with the current regime, I suppose it makes sense to include that in the blog. "Hi. I'm a guy who lets politics get the better of him."

It's just a shame that I tend to fall back on political griping when I don't have anything more interesting to say. It's the precise situation that developed between me and my father during adolescence. Looking back, I think that the reason we argued politics as much as we did was so that I could really feel like I was talking to him. He got agitated, I got agitated, and we talked. It was better than the complacent silence that often happened otherwise. But it was hollow. Arguing about politics is probably better than not talking at all, but not by much.

The better stuff -- the stuff that I think is at all worthwhile on my own blog -- is the stuff that follows in the steps of Pepys or Samuel Johnson, however poorly. That is, it is the sort of "this is what it was like to be here" narrative that the protagonist of "84 Charing Cross Road" so adores. I think that's the only thing that actually adds "content" to the Net; that is, makes a blog worth more than merely a series of links to other content. It also is the only really worthwhile material that makes something worth reading day after day, the only way to communicate with friends and strangers, and the only way to keep a "diary" worthy of the name.

So I aspire to write truly worthwhile material, when I can force myself to be honest enough to do it. And the rest of the time, I'll just simmer about politics, weird news, and movies.

 5:57 PM

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Breaking News

Bush admitted today that he is responsible for the words that come out of his mouth. That isn't as remarkable as the fact that it has taken reporters two weeks of solid pressure to even get him to admit that he should shoulder any responsibility at all for the speeches he delivers.

I'm now interested if he will "take responsibility" for (1) claiming that we invaded Iraq because Saddam refused to admit UN weapons inspectors, (2) alternately admitting that there is no Iraq-Al Qaeda link and intimating that there was, and (3) cutting funding for airport security even as his own administration's intelligence reports suggest that Al Qaeda will use airplanes to strike again.

 11:23 AM
I propose a new reality show based on the runaway success of Bravo's Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, called "Straight Dudes For the Total Prude." It would feature a group of five straight men that give a straight woman a complete life makeover.

On the pilot episode, the Straight Dudes would:

1. Throw out her underwear drawer and replace it all with Wonderbras and thongs
2. Get rid of her uncomfortable antique furniture and replace it with La-Z-Boys and a 73" TV set
3. Teach her that a long dress is one that is hemmed 4" above the knee
4. Persuade her of the merits of NASCAR, PlayStation 2, and toilet humor

I think this will be a big, big hit. Perhaps we can get it on Spike TV.

 10:18 AM

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

So what's so weird is not that Bob Hope died, but rather that the New York Times obituary was written by a man who died in 2000. The weirdest is that the Times admits that it's far from the first time that has happened -- a real testament to the ghoulish necessity of pre-written obituary files.

 5:19 PM
A Political Triptych

I. Make a Run For the Border

The Texas Dems made another run for the border, this time when Lite Guv Dewhurst announced that the second special redistricting session would suspend the usual rules that had prevented the R's from steamrolling their psychedelic redistricting map through the Legislature. The D's apparently feared that Gov. Goodhair had plotted to unexpectedly announce the second special session, at which time the Lite Guv would order the Senate doors locked to prevent anyone from leaving.

The thing that really gets me is the Houston Chronicle's repeated use of the word "dissident" to refer to the absent Democrats. The Chronicle used the same term during the first walkout; their only other recent use of the word "dissident" is to refer to those who opposed Saddam Hussein while in power. I'll take that comparison any day.

II. I'll Take Armageddon for $400, Alex

If you think that you have a good handle on the carnage to come, try your hand at the Policy Analysis Market. It's the U.S. Government's own fantasy baseball for worldwide carnage. It allows you to buy futures contracts that pay off if you are correct in your prediction that, for instance, the Jordanian monarchy will be overthrown in the fourth quarter of 2003, or that Iran will use a nuclear device against U.S. forces on its border in 2004:

"'For instance,' Mr. Wyden said, 'you may think early on that Prime Minister X is going to be assassinated. So you buy the futures contracts for 5 cents each. As more people begin to think the person's going to be assassinated, the cost of the contract could go up, to 50 cents.

"'The payoff if he's assassinated is $1 per future. So if it comes to pass, and those who bought at 5 cents make 95 cents. Those who bought at 50 cents make 50 cents.'"

The biggest problem with the PAM, which the Bush administration has sought to fund with $8 million through 2005, is that no one believes that it's serious. But it's in deadly earnest.

"One of the two senators, Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, said the idea seemed so preposterous that he had trouble persuading people it was not a hoax. 'Can you imagine,' Mr. Dorgan asked, 'if another country set up a betting parlor so that people could go in — and is sponsored by the government itself — people could go in and bet on the assassination of an American political figure?'

"After Mr. Dorgan and his fellow critic, Ron Wyden of Oregon, spoke out, the Pentagon sought to play down the importance of a program for which the Bush administration has sought $8 million through 2005. The White House also altered the Web site so that the potential events to be considered by the market that were visible earlier in the day at www.policyanalysismarket.org could no longer be seen."

Sigh.

Just as some people play lottery numbers that have great personal significance to them, such as their child's birthday, I wonder if there will be a massive influx of people trying to play the straight Dispensationalist-Revelation view from "Left Behind." The bidding on a One World Religion Headed By A Man Who Survives A Head Wound will skyrocket.

III. So If Bush Posed In Speedos, Would That End The Controversy?

As usual, a good column from Paul Krugman in the Times today -- this time about the different fates that have befallen Bush and Blair as a result of the belated realization that our stated justifications for invading Iraq were false:

"But while Mr. Bush's poll numbers have fallen back to prewar levels, he hasn't suffered a Blair-like collapse. Why?

One answer, surely, is the kid-gloves treatment Mr. Bush has always received from the news media, a treatment that became downright fawning after Sept. 11. There was a reason Mr. Blair's people made such a furious attack on the ever-skeptical BBC.

Another answer may be that in modern America, style trumps substance. Here's what Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, said in a speech last week: 'To gauge just how out of touch the Democrat leadership is on the war on terror, just close your eyes and try to imagine Ted Kennedy landing that Navy jet on the deck of that aircraft carrier.' To say the obvious, that remark reveals a powerful contempt for the public: Mr. DeLay apparently believes that the nation will trust a man, independent of the facts, because he looks good dressed up as a pilot. But it's possible that he's right.

What must worry the Bush administration, however, is a third possibility: that the American people gave Mr. Bush their trust because in the aftermath of Sept. 11, they desperately wanted to believe the best about their president. If that's all it was, Mr. Bush will eventually face a terrible reckoning."

 8:55 AM

Monday, July 28, 2003

Apropos of my last post, my continuing reading of G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy" has led me to another fascinating passage. Chesterton argues that human happiness requires a balancing act, not the triumph of any particular extremist view:

"The perfect happiness of men on the earth (if it ever comes) will not be a flat or solid thing, like the satisfaction of animals. It will be an exact and perilous balance; like that of a desperate romance. Man must have just enough faith in himself to have adventures, and just enough doubt of himself to enjoy them."

 1:30 PM
I spent most of Saturday at the courthouse, engaged in a mock trial set up by my firm as a training exercise for young associates. The time and effort to prepare for that mock trial did not in any way alleviate our normal billing expectations, so it was just another d*mn thing that took me away from my family for a block of irreplacable time, and it was all I could do to avoid feeling bitter and resentful about it. I was particularly angry that I was going to have to give my Saturday away for this game of play-pretend, because free time is worth more than diamonds to me. Shannon knew all of this; once again, her disappointment at my absence was tempered by her realization that my own disappointment and frustration matched or exceeded her own.

When I got home from the mock trial, I told Shannon that I had done very well and that I had received many compliments about my performance, and that I felt that people in the firm would hear good reports. She expressed her congratulations, paused for a moment, and then mused "Just imagine if you were happy being as ambitious as you are." She then backpedaled a bit, for fear that I would understand the statement as an encouragement to spend more time at work. But I understood that it wasn't meant that way; it was an expression of the paradox at the center of my life.

I've been ruminating on that paradox ever since, and will be for quite a while, I suspect.

 9:48 AM

Saturday, July 26, 2003

I have been thoroughly enjoying G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy," a peculiar book in which Chesterton explains how his atheistic thought-experiments about the nature of the universe eventually led him to accept the orthodoxies of Christianity. I could not summarize his dense, evocative prose without doing violence to it, but I was particularly taken with a passage I read today. It comes from Chesterton's chapter addressing the inherent paradoxes of Christianity, which he regards as a strength and not a weakness -- that is, Christianity should be praised for the fact that it encompasses both extremes of passivity and action. He then turns to the passage about "the lion laying down with the lamb":

"But remember that this text is too lightly interpreted. It is constantly assured, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is -- Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? That is the problem the Church attempted; that is the miracle she achieved."

Again, I can't summarize his intricate arguments, but it's a thoroughly challenging and rewarding read.

 4:27 PM

Friday, July 25, 2003

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm:
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit's carnal ecstacy,

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost.
All the dreaded cards foretell.
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought.
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find our mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

-- W.H. Auden, "Lullaby," 1940



 5:38 PM
For sheer disgust, this site takes the cake. It's simultaneously hypnotic and nauseating.

 1:18 PM
Music

I've become an enthusiastic fan of XM Radio, which is a subscription-based satellite radio service for people that realize that FM radio sucks. Houston, for instance, is utterly beholden to Clear Channel Communications, which plays the same ten songs over and over and which crams just shy of 30 minutes of advertising per hour into their programming. For those of you in Austin, you just have no idea how bad radio can be, because Lady Bird is fighting a read guard battle against the very Forces of Darkness. For more on the evil of Clear Channel, see this and this and especially this, which contains a handy method of searching to find out which radio stations in your area are owned by the Death Star.

For $10 a month, XM radio offers 101 channels of radio, organized by type of music or talk. It was originally rolled out in car stereos, but has taken on a new life outside the car as Delphi has created a portable unit. The sound is better than FM but not quite CD quality, the screen shows you artist and song title at all times, and the selection of music is a hell of a lot better than anything I ever heard on FM. And though about ten of the most-popular channels have ads on them, those ads are never longer than one minute long, and total no more than eight minutes per hour -- which I regard as acceptable. The coolest thing about XM for me is that I find a new group that I like every day. The second coolest thing is the channel "Special X," which is a repository of totally random stuff. I have heard Russian folk songs, Lee Marvin warbling show tunes, surf music, bizarre kids' music from the 50s, and parrot training records.

In other record news, I continue to regard Fountains of Wayne's new album "Welcome Interstate Managers" to be one of the best pop albums I've heard in a long, long time. Radiohead's "Hail to the Thief" may be the best album of the year so far. I am also really digging the new album by Broken Social Scene, "You Forgot It In People." And the new Manitoba disc "Up In Flames" is starting to grow on me, though it's been a slow process.

On the other hand, the critically praised "Neon Golden" by The Notwist started strong but has left me cold. And I continue to regard the White Stripes as fun, but not addictive.

 10:20 AM
The Friday Five
Top 5 Things That Make You Wake Up In The Middle Of The Night In A Cold
Sweat


1. Debt. Of which I am carrying a lot. Hey, I've got an idea! Why don't I go to school one more frickin' time!
2. My job.
3. The realization that I will never meet my own expectations.
4. Someone sent weapons-grade anthrax spores through the U.S. mail to try to kill liberals, and murdered several people in the process. The FBI has absolutely no clue who did it, that individual is still at large, and America has completely forgotten about it.
5. There are individuals in this world that like to pretend they are furry cartoon characters, and dress up in elaborate costumes to that end, all for purely sexual purposes.

 10:00 AM

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Daunting Test

6th Circuit Judge Danny Boggs gives his clerkship applicants a trivia quiz to test the limits of their knowledge. ABC News has printed last year's test, which I highly recommend that everyone take. Sit down, try to answer the questions as well as you can, and check your answers.

For my own part, I have never been so humiliated in all my life.

 10:59 AM

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Fascinating article in the New York Times today about an IBM conference call that was secretly recorded and "outed" by an organization that seeks to unionize IT workers. IBM executives were speaking frankly about the fact that service jobs -- not merely manufacturing -- will have to be sent overseas so that the company can compete. The notion that IT workers are looking at "outsourcing" in the midst of a job slump in the States has the Bush administration worried. It can't help that IBM executives speculated openly that the government would have a cow.

I can't help but imagine the bitter laughter from Americans who have lost their manufacturing jobs, whose problems were ignored by the politicians rushing to implement NAFTA. Of course, now that white collar jobs are endangered, it's worthy of the Bush administration's attention. I keep thinking of Richard Pryor's comment that "They say drugs are an 'epidemic.' That means white kids are doing it -- the next time you see the ghetto suffering, you'll sit up and take notice, won't you?"

What makes this really interesting is that the loss of white collar jobs was always inherent in the notion of "globalization," but has been heretofore ignored because the only people losing jobs were well outside of the elites. Now the problems with conservative economic line about the free market start to become clearer.

And yet, I have no idea what the solution is. I keep thinking back to a political cartoon I saw a few years ago. Clinton is shopping in a department store, and has come across a table with two stacks of identical sweaters. One stack is labeled "Made in the USA" and costs $80. Another stack is labeled "Made by Chinese slave labor" and costs $30. The caption was "Clinton's Problem."

We like prices to stay low, which requires outsourcing. But at some point, the hidden costs of outsourcing will become too expensive, and it will be very hard to turn back the clock.

 9:10 AM

Monday, July 21, 2003

Transmetropolitan
Part 1 in an irregular series of deconstructions

I finally picked up the first in the Transmetropolitan series, now defunct but currently being gathered into trade paperbacks. It's a curiously harsh bit of futurism, set in a violent city of the future where people have been tinkering with their own DNA and the omnipresence of communication and advertising is taken to an irrational extreme. In one clever aside, we discover that people from our own era (or close to it) chose to cryogenically freeze themselves to be awakened in "the future" -- but when they're awakened in the City, they go insane the minute they look out a window.

The superhero (and he is a superhero, complete with ridiculous explanation for his uncommon attire) is a thorougly-tattooed newspaper reporter named Spider Jerusalem, whose dominant characteristics are his prediliction to violence and his leftist politics. I say leftist, but that isn't exactly right. He has utter contempt for the weakness of the downtrodden, but he has even greater contempt for the restrictions imposed by the shadowy and repressive government, which means that he reluctantly comes out on the side of the Left. He's Hunter Thompson on cyberpunk: a strange combination of "The Punisher" and Rick from Casablanca. And I can't help but think that he represents some sort of dark empowerment figure for fed-up liberals who want to Fight The Power and who dream of taking out security guards with a cigarette to the eye. It's for everyone who suffers from a split personality, one half of which pays lip service to Jesus or Gandhi, while the other half secretly dreams of the Two-Fisted Fightin' Jesus!

You know how in The Matrix, people look like they think they look, not as they actually are? Spider Jerusalem is Adam Lipscomb when he's in The Matrix.

Anyway, one charming example of how Jerusalem represents the dark fantasies of the Left is the climax of the first book, in which Jerusalem manages to "do good" by doing nothing more than writing an op-ed piece that gets carried live on the communications network. It's not actual reporting, mind you, because he has absolutely no proof of his central accusation. It's the ultimate fantasy of every leftist blogger -- "as I was blogging about the Bush administration, Bush himself was reading my words, with a lone tear silently coursing down his cheek."

Anyway. It's primal entertainment for the Left, and I liked it very, very much. I just wish that I knew someone that would enjoy reading it.

 2:46 PM
And the beat goes on...

This is an interesting development. The Bush administration, eager to prove that it didn't lie about the uranium claims, has declassified portions of a pre-war intelligence report. But the report explains in no uncertain terms that U.S. intelligence believed that Saddam Hussein would be a much greater danger if deposed than if he was left in office. It also shows that U.S. intelligence believed that Saddam Hussein would not attack the U.S. for fear of triggering war. So, let's review the bidding. The Prez shouldn't be blamed for what he said in his own speech because he carefully vetted everything with U.S. intelligence. But U.S. intelligence was telling him the exact opposite of what he wanted to hear.

Which leads me to this: the "The CIA Did It" claim falls apart with regard to the "Saddam can launch in 45 minutes" allegation. The White House just threw it into the speech without clearing it with the CIA. So, there are fewer options for the Bush administration to dodge the obvious questions. There will be no opportunity for George Tenet to "fall on his sword," nor can the blame be passed to the "bowels" of the intelligence organizations.

I've always thought that the "45 minutes" allegation was the real smoking gun here. It was the reason given for why we couldn't wait for inspectors to finish their work, as our European allies were asking, but it was immediately disproven by the front guard of our troops. And now it turns out that the White House is going to have to take responsibility for it.

And, in other news, Bush is livid over his administration's inability to pick one story and stick to it. Which makes sense: the administration's mealy-mouthed unwillingness to say "The Buck Stops Here" is finally getting some serious questioning from the press corps.

 12:07 PM
And while I'm thinking of it, here's a good story from the AP's Jennifer Loven. She essentially gives a brief history of the "shifting" White House credibility defense. Here's hoping that this story has the paint-by-numbers simplistic quality that will finally get the press herd interested.

 9:20 AM
Pat Robertson has begun praying that three liberal members of the Supreme Court will step down, in the wake of the 6-3 decision in Lawrence v. Texas. That's fairly brazen, but no more so than his claim to have diverted two hurricanes (1985 and 1995) from his TV transmitter through the power of prayer, or his warning in 1998 that Disney World would be hit by hurricanes, a meteor, and terrorist attacks because of their support for Gay Day.

No, what really gets me is this quote from Robertson's letter to his supporters:

"One justice is 83-years-old, another has cancer and another has a heart condition. Would it not be possible for God to put it in the minds of these three judges that the time has come to retire?"

I don't know what amuses me more -- the fact that Pat Robertson is now praying for other people to die, or the Clintonesque wording that was necessary because it would be unseemly to let people know that you were actually praying for other people to die.

And we must remember that Chief Justice Rehnquist's persistent, excruciating back pain should not be seen as a sign from God. He gets to stay.

 9:09 AM

Sunday, July 20, 2003

It's late on Sunday night, and I'm sick as a dog, and I keep thinking about Peter. I blogged a little while back about how I found a lot to think about in Christ's pre-betrayal forgiveness of Peter, but since then I've been thinking about Peter's reaction to the risen Christ in John 21.

It was three days after the Crucifixion, and the disciples were standing around, not sure what to do, not sure what to feel. Christ had told them that he would come back, but they didn't quite understand it -- and who can blame them? No matter how hard Christ tried to explain that he would be coming back, it's still a hard pill to swallow. I imagine that Peter was laboring under the memory of his ignominious cowardice at the moment of crisis. Christ had predicted that very thing. Yet Christ had told him that he prayed that Peter would recover and provide support to his brothers. What support could he give? He, who betrayed the man he loved most in the world? Even though he had already been forgiven, what was the point of that forgiveness?

Peter sullenly muttered that he was going fishing, which was bitterly ironic in light of Christ's announcement that he would become a "fisher of men" at their first meeting. Yet, I suspect that it would have been a good opportunity for Peter to get some time to himself to reflect on what had happened, and on what Christ had said to him. Unfortunately, the disciples annouced that they were coming along too, uninvited. Sometimes you feel more alone in a crowd than when you're physically alone. The uninvited attendance of the others makes me think of two things. One, given that Peter was trying to deal with his own shame, the constant presence of the others probably reminded him of his inability to hide his shame from God. Two, it foreshadows the role that he would soon play as the leader, encourager, and nurturer of his brothers. The fact that everyone else wanted to hang around Peter in this time of confusion shows his natural leadership and important role in the future. So Peter and his unwanted guests went fishing.

It was a dark night, and a long one -- they caught nothing.

And then day broke.

From their position about a hundred yards off shore, they saw a man standing on the beach. He shouted "Children, you don't have any fish, do you?" This had to seem like a condescending and irritating statement to the men; they were tired and cranky after a long night of wasted time, they were scared of their future and what would become of them, and it must have been perfectly clear to this critic on the shore that they didn't have any fish. And who was he to call them "Children"? They shouted back "No," which was probably the minimum possible response; they weren't exactly interested in engaging in a conversation. But the man told them to throw their nets over the right side of the boat, and -- for whatever reason -- they decided to give it a try. I suspect that this reminded them of the first time that Christ met Peter and his business partners James and John, when he told them to throw out their nets one last time after they had already given up. Here again, they had the nerve to give it a try. (But can you imagine the embarrassment if they had come up empty, just because some passing weirdo told them to try again?) This time, as with the first, the nets were full to overflowing. (Side note: in the first miracle, the nets started to break. In the second miracle, the nets held -- which shows the perfection of the risen Christ.)

John was the first one to understand what had happened; he shouted "It's the Lord!" (He was the clever one, after all, and the one who would write the really emotional book.) But even though he was "the one whom Jesus loved," he stayed on the boat and helped the other disciples row to shore. Of course, like idiots, they held on to the huge catch of fish, which had to slow them down considerably. And how often do we try to hold on to earthly things that hold us back, at the very moment when Christ calls out to us?

But this is what has been buzzing in my fevered brain tonight: Peter -- the betrayer, the liar, the one who said he would go with Christ to death and then turned away at the first sign of trouble -- Peter wasn't content to be so slow, nor was he going to let himself be bogged down with the catch of fish that was completely unimportant now. He leaped straight out of the boat and flailed across the hundred yards to shore as fast as he could.

I am in awe of this unhesitating enthusiasm; the pure, childlike joy in his exultation. It reminds me of when we went to a pond with Bailiff, and the ecstasy with which she ran through the shallow water after the ducks that honked and slowly flew away. It was as if God had chosen to suspend the law of gravity so that Bailiff could transcend this world for one soft moment. Her pleasure demonstrated God's pleasure. And I'm starting to think that God sees us in that way, or wants to see us that way. We're so blind down here that we can't see what's really going on, can't see how the fibers of our choices twine and spin and break and make a patterned cloth, but we don't have to know any of that. It's not for us to know, any more than it was any of Bailiff's business how the laws of physics permitted such ecstasy. All we have to do is recognize our Master's face and run like mad towards him.

I am also stricken by the contrasts between this scene and the last time that Peter got out of a boat. During the storm, he was bolder than the rest of the disciples because he had the guts to ask permission to walk on water. But he was also so nervous that he asked permission first -- and when he realized that his faith didn't make logical sense, he started to sink. This time was different; there was no hesitation, no permission, no recognition of the limitations of this world. He tucked in his garment (so he wouldn't be naked, a big no-no when approaching the Divine under the Law) and let his heart take over.

A last thought. Christ later asked Peter three times whether Peter loved Him; each time, Peter said "You know that I love you" and Christ responded by urging him to his ministry of caring for the flock. But on the third time, Peter understood that Christ was echoing the three denials, and his feelings were hurt. Peter's response was the only sensible thing that he (or we) could say: "Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you." Before, during the Last Supper, Peter had presumed to proclaim to Christ what the future would hold. He boldly announced to Christ that he would be brave and strong, and follow Christ to the grave. Christ slashed Peter's puffed ego by telling him that the future held things that were contrary to his every intention: he would betray the man that he loved.

This time, Peter was wise enough to answer correctly. The only response we can make to God is to open our hearts to him, and recognize that He already knows us, and indeed already knows what we will do and where we will go. All we can do is ask Christ to recognize the love we feel for him. Peter's openness demonstrated that his false bravado was gone, and that he understood his limitations as a man.

That was what prepared him to receive the very next piece of information. Christ told Peter that he would be crucified; that, in fact, Peter would get the chance to make good on his rash promise he made a few days earlier. He would follow Christ to the grave. And making matters worse, Christ explained to him that John would not have to suffer the same fate, which meant that Christ had chosen a particularly bitter and "unfair" burden for Peter to carry. But Peter was now ready to hear the words. If Christ had told him about the future before the Crucifixion, it would have matched Peter's own self-delusions and would not have made the right impact. Now, Peter understood that the task set for him by Christ was the very task in which he had already failed.

But this time Peter succeeded. He ministered the Gospel, he wrote to the believers in their time of greatest doubt and suffering, and then -- just as his Master told him he would -- he boldly gave his life for his faith. And I think that the reason that he succeeded this time, where he had failed before, was because he finally understood how weak and frail he was. He understood that his greatest asset was not his strong shoulders or his bold confidence. His greatest asset -- maybe his only asset -- was his willingness to open his heart and declare his love for the man he called Lord.

 11:10 PM

Friday, July 18, 2003

The Friday Five
Five People, Real or Imagined, That I Would Like To Have Dinner With
The Hyperliteral Answer

1. Louis XIV. The man really knew how to throw a dinner party, so the food would be fantastic.

2. Jesus. That was a pretty influential Passover meal he hosted, and the loaves and fishes thing sounds pretty impressive also.

3. Esau. The man was so contemptuous of his birthright that he sold it for some red stew. (Gen. 25:29-34) I wonder how good that stew tasted. I mean, really.

4. Alferd Packer. I always wondered what human flesh would taste like. Of course, if you're Catholic, see #2 every time you eat one of those wafer thingys.

5. Sandra Day O'Connor. Specifically, I want to go back in time and be at the black-tie dinner where NFL superstar John Riggins told Sandra Day O'Connor, and I quote, "Sandy baby, loosen up."

 6:21 PM
I start to emerge from my work-induced hypnosis and I discover that I have started a brush fire that threatens to SWEEP THE BLOGOSPHERE!

Well, no, but it got some harsh words from the three or four friends that actually read this blog. And I couldn't help but think that it sounded a lot like the very same AM radio grousing that I had posted about.

Distinctions can be drawn between Dean and McGovern, sure -- though I don't agree with half of the assertions about Dean (since when is anything from Vermont "centrist"?) -- and there are probably many more that weren't even addressed. But the issue is not to literally lay McGovern next to Dean and do a compare-and-contrast essay on them. The issue is this: What can we learn from the McGovern campaign?

McGovern's op-ed was wrong, because he didn't learn the message of his own campaign. (For a nice contrast, you should listen to Ann Richards explain sometime exactly how Dubya beat her. It's very cold and clear-headed.) The Left was fed-up with all the puffy, old-guard Big Labor leaders. They were also fed up with the fearmongering Nixon administration, and feeling full of piss and vinegar about the Vietnam War. So they rejected Big Labor in order to vent their spleen against Nixon. The result was an intellectually satisfying campaign that stands as one of the most ignominious losses in recent American electoral history; it drove the union members right into the "law and order" camp that Nixon was building. McGovern sees that as the great time in American history when people finally spoke their minds. But the Left should see that as a time when they failed to recognize the need for coalition-building, which directly resulted in more Nixonian madness. And the fact that Nixon and Agnew were out of office in two years had nothing to do with the McGovern campaign and everything to do with their own stupidity.

So, here we stand. We're already getting mired in a hateful and stupid war halfway around the planet, and we have a President who lies and dissembles. (By the way: did you catch his non-response response to the reporter who asked if he would take responsibility for the falsehood in the State of the Union speech? Long answer: "I take responsibility for sending the troops to stop a madman," etc etc. Short answer: no, I will blame George Tenet for not preventing me from knowingly telling a falsehood.) There's a substantial part of the Left that is steaming mad about this. They're also fed up with the mealy-mouthed moderation being sputtered by the nominal Democratic leadership in Washington. So, they're ready to call shenanigans on the Bush administration and get down and dirty.

But it would be error to strike the wrong balance. The Dems can't decide to run a campaign on the theory of "let's say whatever the hell we want and let the chips fall where they may." They have to run a campaign that says "We have a candidate whose opinions match those of the leftmost 51% of the American public." That is, they have to be uniters, not dividers. Karl Rove understood this, and we have to give the Devil his due. He carefully crafted a plan that would take advantage of the electoral college's bias toward rural America in order to appeal to the rightmost 51% of America. He managed to bring that last 1% into the tent, and in doing so he managed to satisfy everyone else in that tent, no matter how much farther to the right they were than the "undecided" voters.

Dean seems to be a good man, and a smart man, and a man who is different than George McGovern in many ways. But it is my impression that Dean does not now, and cannot ever, command the votes of the leftmost 51% of the voting American public. He will repulse the mushy center "undecided" voters and persuade them that they should keep Bush. And in thirty years, Dean will write a self-serving op-ed about how he was the candidate willing to "stand up and say what he thinks, regardless of the consequences." Meanwhile, Dubya will have written history.

This brings me to another touchy subject. Gore lost. He lost. The fact that he won the popular vote doesn't matter under the U.S. Constitution, so it doesn't matter at all. So any attempt to continue harping on the "popular vote" thing sounds like someone complaining about the designated hitter rule after the game has already been played, and it doesn't help any analysis of strategy for the 2004 election. Moreover, Gore lost the election all by his own self. It's true that the newspaper coalition's recount concluded that there was one scenario under which the ongoing recount could have led to a Gore victory by six votes. I am unpersuaded that the Florida courts would have applied that fairly extreme standard to the recount, though, and personally conclude that the infamous Bush v. Gore was an outrageously wrong decision that nevertheless had no practical effect. I say all this to reiterate the same points as above: (1) Karl Rove knew how to play the game, and we should learn from him; (2) Gore lost the far left and the middle, and that failure to build a coalition resulted in a loss.

And that's why I say that Dean is like Nader in kind. He's different in degree because Dean already has far more support than Nader. But supporting Dean is the same as saying "we should stand up and say what we think, regardless of the consequences," which was the rallying cry of the Naderites in 2000. Just remember that in 2000, the "consequences" were violations of civil rights, a White House sold to corporate interests, and lies spread to justify needless wars.


 9:57 AM

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Good post by Melissa regarding the similarities between a certain sort of patriotism and being a fan of a sports team. The only thing that I would add is that it explains the nature of most American political "debate." For many people, dissent should remain cabined to the sort of grousing that you hear at a sports bar or on AM radio -- "Geez, when is Bagwell going to learn he doesn't have to swing?" or "I can't believe he ran it up the middle that time." There's a unspoken boundary to that kind of talk, though, and it comes from the idea that at the end of the day we all have to rally 'round the flag.

I particularly remember overhearing a conversation between some Aggie fans that were grousing about A & M's poor record. They were having a good time, and the tone of matters was "Hey, we can all complain because we're all on the same page here" and so on. But then one of them said that R.C. Slocum should be fired, and it was as if someone had hosed them all down with cold water. The very suggestion created the grave concern that this guy wasn't a real fan, and the conversation turned nasty. And yet, five minutes earlier, they were all talking about how the team was stagnating under Slocum.

I see that going on with American politics. Sure, we can grouse about how the economy is stalling, and we can grouse about how things suck in Iraq. But when we start talking about firing the coach, it is as if we had betrayed our implicit contract with the team.

And all of this brings me to George McGovern's editorial in today's Houston Chronicle. McGovern's thesis is that the Democratic candidates for President should not heed the growing warning "Don't be another McGovern." That is, he flatly says that it was better for him to call Nixon a liar who was mired in Vietnam than to have a decent chance at winning: "Give me a presidential candidate who speaks the truth as he sees it and I'll show you a candidate whose campaign, win or lose, will be good for the nation." And here's the sentence that really makes you stand up and take notice: "The point I'm making is that we should not evaluate a presidential campaign entirely by who gets the most votes." Of course, Karl Rove hears that and he laughs so hard that the buttons pop off his Brooks Brothers shirt. Karl is right and George is wrong, because Karl is in the White House and George is writing op-ed pieces that try to justify his political flameout thirty years ago. McGovern's theory is no different than the "sports fan" theory -- that some things are more important than winning, such as loyalty to the old guard or an ideal of what the "team" stands for. It's just the Democratic version of the same baloney.

If you agree with McGovern, Howard Dean is your man. He is currently supported by the wing of the Democratic party that loved McGovern back in '72, and his form of "straight talk" is just the sort of thing that gets many headlines and no electoral college votes. And frankly, I really like him and I believe in everything that he says. But supporting Dean is different from supporting Nader only in degree, not in kind. It would unequivocally have been better for the Greens to support Gore, because we are living in an America where black clouds are gathering. America doesn't need a noble loss; it needs a victory.

 9:20 AM

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

And the winner is...

This year's winner of the Bulwer-Lytton contest has been named, and it's Mariann Simms of Wetumpka, Alabama. Her winning entry for the opening sentence of the worst of all possible novels was:

"They had but one last remaining night together, so they embraced each other as tightly as that two-flavor entwined string cheese that is orange and yellowish-white, the orange probably being a bland Cheddar and the white . . . Mozzarella, although it could possibly be Provolone or just plain American, as it really doesn't taste distinctly dissimilar from the orange, yet they would have you believe it does by coloring it differently."

My stunned silence testifies to the greatness of this achievement.

Yet, to my tastes, it still doesn't plumb the depths of my favorite Bulwer-Lytton grand prize winner:

"She wasn't really my type, a hard-looking but untalented reporter from the local cat box liner, but the first second that the third-rate representative of the fourth estate cracked open a new fifth of old Scotch, my sixth sense said seventh heaven was as close as an eighth note from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, so, nervous as a tenth grader drowning in eleventh-hour cramming for a physics exam, I swept her into my longing arms, and, humming "The Twelfth of Never," I got lucky on Friday the thirteenth."

-- Wm. W. "Buddy" Ocheltree, Port Townsend, Washington (1993 Winner)


 10:28 PM

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

So Mad I Can Hardly Frickin' See Straight

I've been working really hard to complete a project on a tight deadline, so there hasn't been much blogging lately, but I simply can't let this one pass. It's got me too damn mad. I got it from Joe Conason's ."blog on Salon (subscription may be required).

According to the Washington Post, George W. Bush now claims that the reason we went to war in Iraq was that Saddam Hussein wouldn't allow UN weapons inspectors into the country.

I quote: "We gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in."

And this is the excessively delicate response from the Washington Post:

"The president's assertion that the war began because Iraq did not admit inspectors appeared to contradict the events leading up to war this spring: Hussein had, in fact, admitted the inspectors and Bush had opposed extending their work because he did not believe them effective."

If we had a goddamned independent media in this frickin' country, this would be on the front page of every newspaper in America. George W. Bush just flatly lied. Nakedly lied. Lied, lied, lied. None of this crap about whether it "counts" that the CIA didn't insist that the Niger lie come out of the State of the Union address -- Bush flat-out told a known falsehood. What is worse is the fact that he just spouted it -- this man must be the most bald-faced liar on earth, or the most deluded.

He's a dissembler and a liar and a deluded twerp unworthy of America's trust.

Oh, and here's the cherry, from IMDB's Studio Brief, which has no permalink:

"A substantial segment -- 46 percent -- of the American public believes that the news media are becoming too critical of America and that such criticism is weakening national defense, according to findings by a Pew Research Center poll. The vast majority of those surveyed -- 70 percent -- also believes that the media ought to take a more pro-American stand in its reporting of the U.S. actions in Iraq and the war on terrorism. The Pew survey further found that those who are the most critical of the media are likely to be devotees of the Fox News Channel."

 12:34 PM

Friday, July 11, 2003

By the way, a giant black ring has been spotted in the sky.

I see two possibilities:

1. It's the same wheel within a wheel that Ezekiel described in chapter one of his book, which I never really understood was a UFO until I read this site. And for those that think it's a real hoot to sing about hallucinatory UFO appearances, here's the folk song that they sing out at Camp Loowit. What fun!

2. "Before you die, you see The Ring."


 7:57 AM
The Friday Five

Five Ways You're Becoming Your Parents

1. I hate to sound like a stand-up comedian, but I really do worry about my lawn these days. And my flowers. Years ago, I thought this was meaningless folly, but I understand the allure now. It's the joy of striding around your "spread," even if that "spread" is a tenth of an acre in suburbia.

2. I call Jonah "Bud," just like my parents called me. The first time I did this, Shannon was fascinated.

3. I work more than I want to, and as a result, I'm tired during those few hours that I do get to spend at home. Some part of me wants to protest that this behavior isn't like my father, because I'm not really like that -- I have every intent to be talkative and active in the evenings. Of course, now it occurs to me that Dad was no different.

4. I read "Consumer Reports," just like dear old Dad. In fact, when I was a kid, it appeared to me that Dad's sole source of reading material was the newspaper and "Consumer Reports."

5. Through some sort of weird mix-up, my father appears in every mirror I look in.

 7:31 AM

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Thank you David, for making us laugh... all over again.

My greatest gratitude to Dave, who e-mailed the link to this photo tonight. It has cheered my mood immensely.

If only that conversation were recorded...

 10:20 PM
I learned something new recently. I already knew that house foundations are primarily poured concrete, but they have a small amount of steel rebar in them to improve their strength. What I learned for the first time is that the reason these two materials are combined is because they bring different advantages. Concrete has tremendous ability to resist pressure; it can carry the weight of a house and its contents until doomsday. But concrete lacks shear strength: the strength necessary to resist breaking when twisted, lifted, or moved. In contrast, steel has tremendous shear strength but is not as good with compression strength. When the two are combined, their strength of one compensates for the weakness of the other. The point is well illustrated in the problems bedeviling Fallingwater, where the concrete cantilevers are finally crumbling under shear forces. If Wright's engineering firm hadn't snuck extra steel into the design behind his back, it would have collapsed long ago.

Now, there are a lot of ways this fact can be used as a metaphor -- a good marriage springs to mind -- but my mind is elsewhere. The upheavals in our life in August and September, and then again in December and January, were sudden jolts that tested the very limits of our shear strength. It was tremendously difficult, but we survived it. In times of upheaval, our steel held out. And I thought that would give me confidence in the strength of my personal foundation.

What has suprised me, I think, is that steel isn't enough. You have to have the concrete that can withstand the daily pressure: the unwavering, droning force of gravity. It just never lets up, never gives you a break, never ends. And I don't know that I have the strength of concrete.


 4:12 PM

Monday, July 07, 2003

Spare the rod, and get hit by a thousand-pound log

Great story today. I think it's probably the best argument yet for disciplining your children. As it says in Proverbs:

Discipline your child, that it may go well with him all of his days.
And also because you'll get hit by a big-ass log if you don't.

 9:33 AM

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Perfection

I finally have enough experience with brisket to offer some thoughts on the proper way to prepare it.

1. Start with the cryo-vac package of brisket straight from the meatpackers. Don't pay the exorbitant price for trimmed brisket; you actually want the additional fat for the smoking process. 1/8 inch of fat is the minimum; 1/4 inch or more is ideal. And if you want a more lean brisket later, you can trim off that top layer of fat.

2. Rub the meat with a spice mixture at least eight hours before cooking. A good mixture is 3 T kosher salt, 3 T chili powder, 2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper, and 1 tsp ground cumin. (You may need to double or triple these amounts depending on the amount of brisket you're preparing.)

3. The minimum amount of cooking time is one hour per pound of meat. (If cooking more than one brisket, measure from the weight of the largest brisket.) That will result in the ideal Texas meat-market style brisket: the collagen will have given up the fight, leaving only a firm meat that keeps its shape when sliced. But I have decided that I personally prefer to double that amount of time, cooking until the brisket will barely hold together when you try to lift it off the grill. This is the sort of brisket praised in a recent Houston Press article about the racism of Texas barbecue: black Texans prefer soft, falling-apart brisket and think that white people eat their barbecue too damn raw, while white Texans are obstinate in their insistence on firm, sliceable brisket in their barbecue contests. If soft brisket is the mark of black America, then I'm black and I'm proud.

4. There is one way to achieve good brisket: low temperature. The only way to get the tough collagens in brisket to give up the fight is to subject it to temperatures at or below 200 degrees for the above amount of time. Even fifty degrees above that can be completely counterproductive. Given this limitation, there are two ways to cook a brisket for that long at that low of a temperature. Each has its benefits.

a. You can make a "tray" of heavy-duty foil, put in the brisket, add about half a beer, cover the "tray" with more foil, and seal the edges tightly. Then put it in the oven at 190 degrees for eight hours or so. This has the advantage of convenience, because you don't ever have to attend it. It just steams itself in the package. (Braising a brisket is similar to this process.) The other advantage of this system is that it retains the juices from the meat, which are a real treasure. You can save them for a soup, or (my preference) add them to the barbecue sauce to give it a fuller flavor. But the downside of this system is obvious: there is no smoke to flavor the meat.

b. You can make a charcoal fire, piling the coals to the sides of the grill, and let the coals burn until they are at about 250 degrees. Put the brisket on a foil "tray" in the middle of the grill. Add a handful of soaked woodchips to each pile of coals, close the lid of the grill with the vents on medium, and let it alone. When the coals cool to about 200 degrees, add another ten coals to each side. (By the time they catch fire, the grill temperature will have dropped even farther, making the average temperature about 200 degrees.) The more chips you add, the more smoky the meat will be -- I have actually "oversmoked" a brisket before by being too enthusiastic with the chips. One handful per side per hour should be plenty. The advantage of this method is undoubtedly the flavor of the meat. But you have to attend the fire while it's going, which means that you can't do it overnight.

5. This past Fourth of July, I found that a combination of these systems worked well for me. I used the foil method overnight, then smoked the brisket for an additional five hours. The result was a convenient cooking method and a flavorful slab of meat. It was, all modesty aside, the best brisket I've ever eaten.

I don't know everything there is to know about brisket; but I know enough now that I feel like I understand the process. So it's time to share the love.

 8:18 PM

Friday, July 04, 2003

Five Possessions or Habits That Identify Me As Part of a Marketing Demographic

1. Apple Powerbook. Buying an Apple is a statement of identity, because it proves to the world that I "think different." Indeed, people often whisper, "Hey! He really thinks different." I recognize that Apples are just the beginning -- the road to Land Rovers begins with Apples, even if you never get that far. Of course, I'm just investing in quality. But some people can be so pretentious about it.

2. Woven jute rug. From the Pottery Barn, of course. I could walk into the Pottery Barn, say "I'll take it," and be perfectly happy with the result. If I could afford it, that is. There's something so 2003 about using a rough-woven, third-world-looking rug in front of a wall of home theater electronics.

3. Jonah. We get the damnest catalogs now, each containing a thousand and one valuable "tools" (gadgets) for raising a baby. Of course, if one doesn't drop $500 a week on gadgets, one's baby will be carried off by wolves and it will be all YOUR FAULT because you didn't want to spend the money. And isn't Jonah worth it?

4. Coffee. At 3:00 every day, I get a craving for an espresso-based drink and a pastry. And -- what are the odds? -- there's this little coffee stand in the lobby of our building called "Starbucks" that somehow has exactly what I want. You wouldn't believe it -- it's like their entire ordering system lets you "identify" yourself through your order. And when I want a coffee mug, they always have just the type I'm looking for.

5. Seventeen bookcases' worth of books. I can always identify "my kind of people" when I walk into their house and it becomes apparent that their number one decorating concern was book storage. We have umpteen bookcases and umpteen boxes of books just waiting for a space to open up. We also have a whole bookcase devoted to movies and a 20GB MP3 player overflowing with music. In short, I am personally responsible for Amazon.com's success over the past few years.

So, Adam -- this isn't my best, it's just more than you can handle.

 9:48 AM

Thursday, July 03, 2003

News Update

The "world's longest french fry" sold for $202.50; fast food workers are now scanning the fries so that they can contest the "world's longest" claim.

In other news, Cthulhu just washed up on a beach in Chile. It's the first sighting of one of these things since 1896, unless you count my personal sighting on the 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea ride at Disney World.

And finally, as pointed out on This Modern World, you need to do this:
1. Go to Google.
2. Type in weapons of mass destruction (no quotes).
3. Click "I'm Feeling Lucky."

 10:01 AM
I highly recommend Margaret Talbot's article in this week's New York Times Magazine. (Registration may be required.) It's about the difficulty of implementing the Supreme Court's Atkins decision that prevents the execution of the mentally retarded.

This was the passage that really jumped out at me:

"When you tell a story like Terrell Yarbrough's, you face a choice. You can start with the crime, and if it is a capital crime, it's a horror story of some kind. Or you can start with the story of the criminal's life: he was born here, and his mother was a this, and his troubles started when, and so on, and almost as often it's a horror story, too, of a different sort. And either version is true, in its way, but the one you choose has implications."

It's an unforgettable -- and remarkably balanced -- attempt to tell the horror stories from two men on Ohio's Death Row. And it's also the best argument for Scalia's dissent in the Atkins case, which criticized the majority for being "nice" without understanding the full extent of what they were doing.

 9:02 AM

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

There's something very daunting about signing your own will. It's a certificate of the infinite; a formal admission to the Universe that you will be departing. It reminded me of the feeling I had when I formally made the appointment for the movers to come to the house in Austin, but on a dread scale. To that bristling feeling is added the irrational fear that you're jinxing yourself by admitting that it will all come to an end someday. I try to calm myself by thinking of Murphy's Law: if you're a fatalist, you're sure that the best way to forestall disaster is to insure against it.

It was a very technical ceremony for me. (Less so for Shannon, who felt very concerned for my well-being if she should die untimely.) It felt like every other legal document I've signed in the last few months; carefully reviewed and duly executed with all necessary formality. Yet I kept thinking of Jonah in the back of my mind. It's strange to sign a will with your six-month old son next to you. All of a sudden, his newness and dependence remind you of all the transient aspects of this life. You were that small once; you are now a 31-year-old lawyer and father; and someday you will be gone and all that will be left are that baby's memories and this hollow document.

Now I keep thinking about something that I heard recently (it was said by Ravi Zacharias, but he was quoting someone). The speaker was noting how peculiar is the human habit of commenting on the passage of time: "You're getting so old!" "It's been so long!" "Where did the time go?" Time is a constant sensation, like air, so it should hardly deserve so much comment. It would be equally odd for a fish to constantly comment on the existence of water -- unless, of course, the fish was meant for dry land. In that sense, humanity's inane commentary reflects the fact that we were meant for eternity, but the infinite within us is constantly being chafed by the rough passage of time.

Some people that lose a limb say that they feel phantom sensations from that limb for the rest of their life; I wonder if Eternity is the same way. When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, what will it feel like to know there are no less days to sing God's praise than when we'd first begun? Will we even remember what it was like to live in a temporal world, and be able to compare that with infinity? And if we do feel something, what if that was the point of our time on earth? What if one of the distinguishing characteristics of humanity (as opposed to the angels) was that we will experience eternity as a sensation like weightlessness? Or maybe it's a never-ending "second wind" -- that feeling that kicks in when your body shifts from burning blood sugar to fat, and you begin to feel like you've released a great weight that was holding you back?

I've felt that sensation, and there is no other sensation on earth like it.

 5:45 PM
News of the World

Houston is celebrating the announcement that it is no longer the most polluted city in Texas, after a 13% reduction in its pollution tonnage. Houston environmentalists have protested their hometown's comeuppance, arguing that organic pollution should be considered -- which would definitely put Houston back on top.

Gov. "Goodhair" Perry has added to the agenda for the special session of the Texas Legislature; he wants the power to hide the numbers the governor's office uses in arriving at the state budget.

And best of all, Bush's taunt to the Iraqi guerrillas killing American soldiers: "Bring It On." In an "impromptu" press conference, Bush literally dared the guerrillas to keep attacking, saying that "we've got the force necessary to deal with the security situation." (That thundering sound is Americans slapping their foreheads simultaneously.) Bush also stated that nothing would deter him from staying in Iraq as long as it takes. His comments were immediately praised by Lyndon Johnson.



 12:59 PM
The Long Drive Home

It started with the stupid damn infographic on The Onion. As I was winding up yesterday at work, I finally got around to reading "The Onion." The infographic this week is on Harry Potter, containing a series of modestly humorous cracks on "Order of the Phoenix." (Let's face it: "The Onion" has been churning the same ten jokes for two years now.) And then I saw the last line:

"Hagrid dies on page 684... sorry, kids!"

Of course, I haven't had the time to read "Order of the Phoenix" yet, though I had heard the persistent rumor that one of the characters dies in this one. And there it was -- ruined for me merely days before I got the chance to read the book over the holiday weekend. (Shannon has already read it, and is already eager for me to read it so that we can discuss various and sundry plot points.)

My first reaction was that it couldn't be true. No one would actually do something as annoying as revealing a key plot point of a recent book, would they? And then I remembered the most shocking thing I had ever seen on television -- not naked bodies on "NYPD Blue," not the flood of profanity on that "South Park" that took advantage of "sh*t" becoming acceptable, but the scene on "The Kids In The Hall" when Kevin was doing his pathetic "evil wizard" routine. Sir Simon Milligan is introducing his "manservant Hecubus" (an especially fey Dave Foley in black eyeliner) and is trying to illustrate how EVIL Hecubus is. Will Hecubus pick a card so Simon can do a card trick? No! He's evil! Evil! And then comes the final illustration: the wizard picks up a newspaper and looks at the movie listings. "Have you seen the movie 'Presumed Innocent?'" Hecubus responds [13-YEAR OLD SPOILER AHEAD!] "Yes I have, master-- and his wife killed her." The live audience let out a collective gasp -- the movie was in current release at the time, and this was... it was... "Evil!" shouts Kevin. "Evil!" Of course, "Presumed Innocent" was a New York Times Bestseller, so the cat should have already been out of the bag, but the joke was as audacious as it was funny -- it was the perfect illustration of why this mid-level "servant of Satan" was every bit the tepid evildoer he was made out to be.

And in a flash I realized that "The Onion" could very well have thought it would be "funny" to reveal the biggest secret in the book world right now, especially since it would really tweak the science fiction fans that were the butt of most of the other jokes.

I was ready to be furious, but not quite certain enough to allow myself to become furious, so all during my commute home I wrestled with my thoughts. I composed a hateful e-mail to The Onion bashing their repetitive, overlong, unoriginal jokes. I decided that I couldn't send an e-mail because that would be exactly the overwrought response they were hoping to get. I decided that I would send a casual e-mail to explain why I was hip to the joke but that it still wasn't funny. Then I decided that it would be even more pathetic to send an e-mail like that. Then I decided that my own uncertainty was enough -- the fact that I wasn't sure that it was a giveaway would allow me to maintain my distance and enjoy the book. And then I started feeling sorry for myself. The problem wasn't "The Onion," it was my damn job. I didn't have time to read the book already because I work too much.

It was a long drive home.

When I walked in, nearly the first thing I said to Shannon was "I know someone dies in 'Order of the Phoenix' -- is it Hagrid?"

Shannon looked at me curiously, assessing me and wondering why I would ask. "Do you really want to know?"

My mind raced for a second: this was my last chance to let "reasonable doubt" allow me to enjoy the book. If she confirmed the news, then I would absolutely not be able to enjoy "Order of the Phoenix" as much. But if she didn't confirm the news, I wouldn't be able to write "The Onion" the nasty letter they deserved. That certainly wasn't a good reason, was it? Why risk diminishing the enjoyment of the book just so that I could give in to my anger? Was I truly so afraid of being had that I would give up part of the pleasure of reading this book so that I could have the chance to strike back? I absolutely shouldn't know, I concluded.

"Yes, I want to know," said my mouth.

"No -- Hagrid doesn't die" she said.

A wave of relief washed over me. All was well -- and my dumb decision to ask about the truth came to naught.

And then I considered the careful way in which she was addressing the situation -- arising almost certainly from her desire to not give away anything important -- and it occurred to me that she might be doing me a kindness. After all, if she said it wasn't Hagrid, that would restore to me the "reasonable doubt" I would need to enjoy the book. But once again, why should I care? Reasonable doubt had been restored to me, and I would be able to enjoy the book. I certainly wouldn't make the same mistake twice, out of a misplaced fear of being tricked.

About two minutes later, I grabbed our copy of the book and read page 684. It's a scene involving a living, breathing Hagrid.


 9:33 AM

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Asinine Concepts In Law, Part I

It's become such an established part of the landscape that it doesn't even draw attention anymore: signs advertising "Pre-Owned Cars." This isn't just an overacting marketer trying to hide the obvious; this is a term with a precise legal definition. A "pre-owned" car is a used car that was has been leased to someone. Because the title remained with the car dealer, it was never "sold" and thus has not been "used." Somehow "pre-owned" sounds better than "used," even though I suspect that people don't quite take care of a leased car as well as they would take care of a car they planned to keep for more than three years. It's a precise legal definition being used to muddy the waters, not to clarify them.

Enter the logical extension of that notion: web site privacy policies. They proudly trumpet that they "will never sell your information to anyone," and indeed they don't. But they do "rent" your information; that is, they will send the ad themselves on behalf of a company that pays them for the privilege. And websites are "renting" their lists as fast as they can, because it's one of the few profitable things they can do.

This just makes me tired and sad. Every time I see "Pre-Owned Cars" or "We will never sell your information to marketers," Atticus Finch seems even farther away.

 5:53 PM
70% of Americans believe that the Bush administration said that Saddam had links to al-Qaeda, even though Bush admitted that there were none. And 52% believe that we have found "clear evidence" to support such a link.

I don't know what to say, other than to pass along the bad news.

 2:51 PM
Where's the Outrage?

British film magazine Empire just conducted a poll to determine the worst film accents of all time. The "winners" were:

1. Sean Connery, "The Untouchables" (1987)
2. Dick Van Dyke, "Mary Poppins" (1964)
3. Brad Pitt, "Seven Years In Tibet" (1997)
4. Charlton Heston, "Touch of Evil" (1958)
5. Heather Graham, "From Hell" (2001)
6. Keanu Reeves, "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992)
7. Julia Roberts, "Mary Reilly" (1996)
8. Laurence Olivier, "The Jazz Singer" (1980)
9. Peter Postlewaite, "The Usual Suspects" (1995)
10. Meryl Streep, "Out of Africa" (1985)

Now, I can't disagree with any of these choices, though I might reorder them (Heather Graham : Cockney accent :: Ed Wood : special effects). But this UK poll exhibited a clear ignorance of the greatest travesty of them all! How is it that Hollywood believes that a Southern accent is not all that different than the effects of massive cerebral hemorrhaging? It's more than a flagrant bias; it's a personal insult.

To the above list MUST be added the Hall of Southern Shame:

1. Dan Ackroyd, "Driving Miss Daisy"
2. Vanessa Redgrave, "Ballad of the Sad Cafe"
3. Kevin Costner, "JFK"

Each of these three attempts sounds nasal, over-enunciated, and aggressively offensive to even the most untutored ear -- that is, no different than an average person's attempt to do a bad Southern accent. Of course, there could be many more bad accents that should eclipse these three, but I tend to avoid Hollywood's fumbling attempts at depicting the South. Thus, I can't vouch for "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" and the like.

 1:52 PM
Blog Law

The Ninth Circuit handed down a decision last week that properly interprets the Communications Decency Act, which provides libel immunity to those that merely forward information "provided by another information content provider." A listserv operator, for instance, probably isn't liable for libelous statements in an e-mail that he allows onto the list, and the same would be true of a blogger who links to other sources. I think that "Blog Law" would be a great subject for a law school class, and I'm going to start working on a syllabus. Topics will include "The Consequences of Scorched-Earth Flame Wars about Religion, Politics and Video Games," "Discussing Your Cat: Legally Safe, Totally Boring," and "Is It a Defense to Prosecution That No One Has Ever Read Your Blog Except Your Mom?"

Note that the protection only extends to the link itself, and not to any commentary on the linked content. So Adam's occasional spittle-flecked jeremiads may still be fair game, and indeed represent my greatest hope for future legal work. Jim Adler may call himself the "Texas Hammer," but I'm the "Texas Screwdriver."

 10:08 AM
Breaking news of earth-shattering importance: get in now on the world's longest french fry auction on eBay. Bidding is at $102 and rising.

For those of you seeking more details on this offering, you might check here. Culver's conceded that this may indeed be the longest french fry that they have heard of, but the Potato Grower's Association was unimpressed.

The saddest thing about this auction is that it is such a Johnny-come-lately. Ridiculous food auctions on eBay are so four months ago. The eBay cheeto was an amazing piece of performance art that led to legitimate commentary, if not the full artistic analysis that it deserved. And the ass-kicking was a ground-breaking exploration of the intersection of contract rights and practical jokes, which deserved to be on the cover of Time magazine. (I'm not being facetious.) But the "french fry" is just warmed-over copycatting. This is the "2 Fast 2 Furious" of eBay auctions. It's Justin Timberlake. It's not even weird; it's diet weird -- like stealing a line from a tired sequel and passing it off as your own.


 9:35 AM

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