Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Let Them Drive Hummers

Fed Chairman Greenspan advised cutting Social Security benefits rather than getting rid of tax cuts in remarks to a House Committee today. Sources say that the Chairman was heard to remark to an aide behind his hand, "Like I really care about Social Security, with my big fat pension and my wealth, I'll be needing those tax cuts..., those idiots who actually are going to depend on Social Security should have chosen to be wealthy in the first place".

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Jermajesty's a Pretty Nice Kid....But I gotta get a bellyful of Jesus Juice

While reading about the latest Michael Jackson hijinx, I read a quote by his brother Jermaine who said that Michael is very family oriented (or something like that). The reporter then wrote that Michael Jackson has never visited his nephew Jermajesty.

Yes, Jermaine's son is named "Jermajesty".

"Jermajesty Jackson".

The man named his child "Jermajesty".

I imagine he'll stew over the next kid's name and he will be called "Jerkmarinade".

Or in a fit of grandiosity and world domination the next one will be "Jermainyuberalles".

Or if the marriage isn't going well during the pregnancy and there is a custody battle he could end up with "Jermwarfare".

But if Jermaine goes the artificial insemination route the obvious name for the child of science and Jermaine is "Jerkoff".

Yup, Teacher Union = Osama

Oh, what a wonderful world.

On the other hand there is only 8 months until Osama is found (late October is probably the best bet) or Kerry's plane is Wellstoned or Martial Law is declared and we can all sleep easier without all that uncertainty and hope making our lives unrealistic.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

A Modest Proposal

It is a melancholy object to those who live in this great country, when they see the newspapers crowded with tales of the female sex importuning allegations about our proud athletic men on our collegiate gridirons. These women, instead of being quiet about their honest privileges are forced to employ all their wiles in crafting lurid stories about their sad plight.

I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of accusing women is in the present deplorable state of the country a very great additional grievance; and, therefore, whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these women sound, useful members of the commonwealth, would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.

As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in the computation. Some will have you litigate against the very men who give us meaning. Others will have you do away with vigourous athletic competition at any cost! It is true that a girl just 18 years old is very desirable to almost all members of the stronger sex. It is also certainly true that these young women are in need of food and raiment while enjoined in the furtherance of their education. I propose to provide for them in such a manner as instead of being a charge upon their parents or their parish, they shall on the contrary contribute to the comfort of the many thousands of virile young men.

There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent these salacious allegations we are inundated with at present, and that horrid practice of gentlemen abasing themselves by requesting intercourse and if not met with appropriate affirmations, then satisfying their appetites with any means at hand. I doubt more to avoid the expense than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast.

The number of young women in a great collegiate town is usually reckoned ten thousands, of these I calculate five thousands to be of proper physical countenance. Of these some five thousands, I calculate two thousands to be of the manner of moral suasion suitable for my proposal.

I shall now humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

I have been assured by a very knowledgable man about town that there are "houses" wherein women parlay their considerable assets in suchwise transactions that are mutually beneficial to the grantor and receiver of their pleasures.

I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that the two thousand young women already computed in a typical collegiate town be offered to the men of quality and fortune on our Division I football and basketball organisations. For intimate services rendered to our competitive men of glory, these young charges will be entreated to education, board and raiments provided it does not interfere with appointments or rendezvous to be desired by their gentlemen.

I think the advantages by the proposal which I have made are obvious and many, as well as of the highest importance. For first, our best young men shall not fritter away their mental and physical energies on procuring the means to assuage their sexual appetites. Instead of gambling on their weekend nights of endeavouring for the "score", their time can be better spent by perforce scoring!

Secondly, with a very favourable ratio of men to women in my plan, our fighting men shall not have to adventure outside the confines of the dormitory or the playing field. This should be met with a resounding Huzzah! by the townsmen of our university hamlets. Petty crime and other unfortunate circumstances resulting from the necessarily high testosterone levels of our athletes will be at a minimum I daresay.

Thirdly, the considerable expense parlayed by our athletic departments in litigating, paying off or slandering the "victims" of our present predicament is assuredly much more than the costs of this proposal. One could surmise that the savings in mental anguish on all sides is enough of a salutory reason.

I can think of no one objection, that will possibly be raised against this proposal, therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients 'till he hath at least some glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.

But, as to my self, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length utterly despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal, which, as it is wholly new, so it hath something solid and real, of no expence and little trouble, full in our own power, and whereby we can incur no danger in disobliging our collegiate Presidents.

I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country, by advancing our football trade and providing for our young women. I have no hope of profiting as I am neither of the college age or qualified for playing any major sports. Additionally, I do not have a daughter nor have plans to produce one.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Marbury RFD

About that promise I made last month about no political posts? I said it was to keep my views away from internet search engines so prospective employers wouldn't have anything I've said here haunt me to deny me a job. (oh that, and when Bush/Ashcroft/Cheney and their brownshirts start exterminating liberals it won't be so ridiculously easy to label me as one). But mostly it was because it puts me into such a foul mood on where this country is. I first finished the previous sentence with "is heading" until I realized that we are already there. Today's reality is very bad. This presidency and the culture it is pushing will be thought of in the future on similar terms as McCarthy and Watergate.

One of the blogs I read is Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World. In a post today on gay marriage statutes and the law it says: "Bush's position flies in the face of common sense, any basic understanding of American history, and a large body of constitutional law. Maybe Bush was AWOL when they taught Marbury vs. Madison, too." Okay, Clinton I could see actually holding an opinion on Marbury vs. Madison and be able to hold forth on it for 2 hours. Here are Bushes possible reactions when asked for his opinions on Marbury vs. Madison:

  • 9-11

  • Mayberry..uh...Marsberry...uh...Saddam Hussein

  • Karl, what's my position on this?

I guess my point is that nobody on this planet regardless of their political views seriously would expect Bush to know anything about constitutional law or precedents. It just isn't important in the circles that he has travelled in and travels in now. He is not expected to know these things. And that is sad.

Warren Harding Was An Amateur and Nixon was in the Minors

I believe that the present White House Administration is the most successful administration in US history. They have delivered the most goodies to the people that run them and got them elected than any other administration I can think of. Maybe FDR and his New Deal is the closest competitor to Bush's Raw Deal (that is "raw" to anyone not in silver spoon class). But of course I am being silly and should be accused of "class warfare" when I cling to the naive notion that a President should be working for all Americans...

Today I read an article in the NY Times which really hit home with me. The Union of Concerned Scientists an "independent organization that focuses on technical issues" issued a scathing report today:

The Bush administration has deliberately and systematically distorted scientific fact in the service of policy goals on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weaponry at home and abroad, a group of about 60 influential scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, said in a statement issued today.
These are scientists, albeit ones with a conscience - which I guess is at odds with the present administration now that I think about it. Another snippet:
...accuse the administration of repeatedly censoring and suppressing reports by its own scientists, stacking advisory committees with unqualified political appointees, disbanding government panels that provide unwanted advice, and refusing to seek any independent scientific expertise in some cases.
Wow. This seems an awful lot like Communist era Lysenkoism. The conversion to faith and corporate based science will be complete when a new Cabinet secretary is nominated to be "Secretary of Creation Science".

Here is the reply from the Press Secretary: "...I can assure you that this is an administration that makes decisions based on the best available science." It doesn't say in the article whether he smirked, laughed, guffawed or was turning beet-red from suppressed hilarity when he uttered the statement.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Books That Have Defeated Me

Last night I stopped reading a book and put it into the "pile that goes to the used bookstore so that they get the chance to be all high and mighty about how little they are giving you for your books and I get the chance to meekly say thanks and squirm away." The book was Pandaemonium by Leslie Epstein. I bought it at the Edmonton Mall last summer, where the only purchases we made were remaindered books and whatnot at the Dollar Store (which in Canada is like the $0.70 store). Lest you get the idea we are cheapskates, we stayed at the The Fairmont Hotel MacDonald where we were in eternal anxiety over how and how much to tip the concierge, bell boys (bell persons? But they were always men...) etc. We both decided that staying at 4 star hotels is too nervewracking for us self-reliant and populist inclined types. From now on it's a good night's sleep at Days Inn for us when we're travelling.

So I bought the book because of the blurbs (some of which are on the Amazon site) and because I am a sucker for certain types of books: Books about Academia, Books about Hollywood, and Books about Books. This was a book about Hollywood. Except that it was an Allegory and a Satire. I have no problems with Allegory or Satire as long as the writing can stand alone apart from its allegorical and satirical points. The writing in Pandaemonium can't. The novel is first-person in Peter Lorre's voice. Except that it isn't. I don't know much 'bout writin', but I would think that if you are going to be writing in a famous person's voice, maybe it should be identifiable as such. Nope, no such luck here. I absolutely never got the idea that it was Peter Lorre except from other characters calling him Peter or Petey... And apparently he smells like almonds when excited. Well, don't we all, I ask you? That was just one of the problems. Too many ill-defined characters which you can't keep track of, you can't keep track of where exactly some scenes were happening, etc. etc. I finally gave up.

And this surrender led me to consider other surrenderings I have done (sorry, I mean only literary surrenderings, details of my many Dunkirks, Munichs and Appomattoxes in other areas of my life are for another, more interesting blog.) Here is a partial but fairly complete list:

  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

  • Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

  • The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro

  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

From this list I can see that I do have a problem with two areas, Allegory and Humor. Gulliver, Unconsoled and perhaps Conferederacy are allegories where I really didn't care about the allegorical content because I was bored by the writing on the page. And it seems that some so-called humorous writing (Confederacy and the above Pandaemonium) leaves me unlaughing if I'm not convinced by the characters or couldn't care less about them - Ignatius Reilly for me was just a boring jerk.

As far as The Bell Tolls and Mohicans, I stopped reading both of them because the writing style got in the way. For Mohicans, I think a cottage industry could be made for diagramming Cooper's sentences to figure out what exactly he is saying. For The Bell Tolls it was like reading Dick and Jane in the Spanish Civil War. Now I liked "A Farewell to Arms" but in The Bell Tolls it was just too much.

Now I am reading Bay of Souls by Robert Stone. While it isn't perfect, it isn't boring, it isn't trying too hard to make me laugh, and has no allegorical aspirations - and it is short, and at this point I'm very happy.

Note Added: I just read some of the reviews of Bay of Souls. It ain't pretty. Two have already admitted reading stoppage and others have been less than impressed. But I think I have enough momentum from it not being Pandaemonium that I'll be able to finish.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Sometimes a Doughnut is Not a Donut

Before we get started today, let's get this out of the way. I subscribe to Gourmet magazine. I am not a gourmet or even a very good cook, but I follow recipes very well and usually things come out edible. I got the magazine because it was the only thing in which I was interested when a friend's child had a magazine subscription fundraiser. Modern Quilter and the two-syllable men's magazines (MAXIM! DETAILS! LUGNUT!) were considered but didn't make the cut.

This month's issue of Gourmet had a letter to the editor which I shall share in its entirety. When reading it, my extrasensory perception allowed me to know what the writer wanted to write but did not. These perceptions are in the footnotes:

I have often pleased my family and dinner guests with food based on your magazine's recipes.1 And coming from an Austrian, this should be considered a compliment.2 However, in your article about Austrian doughnuts ("Kitchen Notebook"), you have made a quite big faux pas.3 I can assure you, and Lillian Langseth-Christensen should have known, that to fill an Austrian Faschingskrapfen with raspberry or strawberry jam borders almost on insult.4 We would never eat such a thing.5 The classic approach to this wonderful delicacy, eaten only between January 1 and the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, is to fill it with apricot jam.6
1. Sometimes when I read your magazine I am reminded of culinary masterpieces that I have created from just reading your list of ingredients. Of course I don't need *your* recipes, my genius allows me to whip up fantastic dishes just based on your meagre attempts.
2. This shall be considered a compliment. You shall lick my boots clean. You vill consider this a privilege.
3. You like my whip? Are you afraid of my whip? Are you going to be gut Jungen und Mädchen? Vill vee zee any more of zese, how you zay, "faux pas?"
4. Charles V invaded Italy in 1527 because Faschingskrapfen were being made with plums. Do you think your puny magazine can withstand Austria!
5 Ah, but you vill eat such a thing. Kneel down before me! Schnell! Schnell! Ja, Ja, das ist besser, yum, yum, yum, you Schweinhund!
6 Ach so, meine Liebe once gave me a Faschingskrapfen on Christmas. Unlike the pastry, his screams were a vunderful delicacy. I enjoy listening to the tape every Advent season.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Cogitate Atypically

Yesterday I read an article in the New Yorker on World Cup downhill skiing. I've always been interested in the sport, and the image of the guy wiping out in the intro of The Wide World of Sports will never leave me - at least until my Alzheimer's gets worse. In some sports it is fairly straightforward to identify why they are so good: Michael Johnson was faster and more efficient than anybody else, Pedro Martinez can throw an unhittable ball better than anybody else, and Lance Armstrong is not human (though I think his tremendous genetic makeup, support team and training regimem count for a lot...).

But in downhill skiing I've always found it difficult to figure out what makes the true champion consistently better than anyone else. Part of that is the incredibly miniscule time differences that separate the winners from the losers and the fact that at the top level everyone has essentially the same equipment. So my thinking was, at some point winning will just be because of luck because all the factors seem to be about the same for everybody. But I think mostly why I couldn't figure it out was because of my ignorance of what it takes. The article presented two very different attitudes and approaches on what it does take.

The first attitude was the Austrian approach to developing their elite skiers of which Hermann Maier ("The Herminator") is their best example. As you would expect from German stereotypes, Maier is not so much a human as an extension of a vast and complicated "factory". When reading about Maier, I thought of Chaplin in the gears of Modern Times. The reporter followed him through a typical training day complete with hourly blood readings, super analyzed diets, and a incredibly weird description of a visualization/relaxation tank with soothing lights etc. An engineer for the Austrians was quoted saying something like "As soon as something is developed for the military, we take it and improve it for our skiers". But all of this doesn't account for the fact that Maier is winning World Cup races two years or so after almost losing his leg in a motorcycle accident. I think I would still be in crutches. The overwhelming sense that I got from the article that all of the behind the scenes stuff certainly helps him, but he wins because of his mental attitude towards getting down the hill as fast as possible - it is a war and he wants to come out on top. I guess this leads him to attacking the gates more aggressively than others and skiing more on the edge than others. It isn't so much that he was a born skier, but that with a little help he has willed and made himself into the best. I also get the sense that if nothing counted on getting down the mountain fast, then he wouldn't care - it is all about winning and what goes with winning. Carefree it ain't.

The other attitude was exlemplified by Bode Miller, an American from New Hampshire. To give you an idea of the difference between the two, imagine you are the father of a daughter going on her first date. You hear the doorbell and answer the door to meet the boy taking her out. If you open the door and you meet a younger Pete Rose on the doorstep - that would be Hermann Maier. You would get the impression that he will go far and that nothing will be able to stand in his way, and that it won't be always very pleasant. On the other hand if you open the door and you meet Jeff Spicoli - that would be Bode Miller.

Miller revolutionized World Cup skiing by doing something that the Austrians probably never would have thought of. He was very comfortable with the way he had developed his skiing - but it seemed that the skies he was using weren't doing the job for him. So he got some new recreational skies that were being marketed for skiers who needed help turning and used them. And whipped some serious butt. The next year almost every World Cup skier was using that type of skis. But what really gets me was the fact that winning wasn't necessarily why he skies, it seems he just wants to get down the mountain faster and do some really good turns. He also has a very intuitive style which has organically grown out of his own experience - i.e. something that can't be taught and is successful because it really only fits him. Speed dictates his style and technique rather than "proper" style and technique giving him speed. Let's just say that the Austrians probably think that kind of thinking is Bolshevism. Additionally, I could imagine that Miller would be just as happy turning in an awesome run outside of competition with nobody watching as he would in the Olympics. If twenty years from now I read a headline that says "Ex World Cup Champion Goes on Shooting Rampage", it won't be Miller that will leap to mind, but perhaps someone else.

So I guess you can tell that I'm more attracted to spiritual visionaries that succeed from within themselves rather than competitive, mechanical and soulless types. It's Miller Time!

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Paging Dr. Johnson...

While perusing a web site for the technology that pays my bills (at least pays my bills until I get tired of my jobs being transferred1 to India2), I ran across a word that didn't seem right - "performant". It reminded me of the business pseudo-speak of which the dotcom era was built out of - remember, if you dare, these words (Warning: The following words have been deemed inappropriate for non brain dead humans, i.e. any non-executive) "monetize", "architecting", "touch base", "win-win", "trending", "solutions", "ramping" and ad fucking nauseum and et goddamn cetera. I wandered through some online dictionaries and did not find a definition. I did find that performant is a French adjective that means high performance (and I thought gigolo was a French word that meant high performance...). Using these words is like moving to a suburb so that you can say that you live in that suburb, it doesn't change essences, but is an attempt to dress up what may in reality be mundane and usually doesn't fool anyone. Madame Bovary would have used "performant" as le mot juste in describing her curtains.

1Yes, I originally used the word "outsourced" until I caught myself using the very thing I derided - a stupid, made up word that obfuscates the reality of what it is describing.
2A syllogism comes to mind

1. Management salaries are high cost.
2. It is a truth generally acknowledged that most management/executives aren't very smart and really get their positions by talking, connections and luck.
3. India has a lot of very smart people who can talk very well, usually in the Queen's English.
4. Salaries are much, much lower in India.
5. Therefore, to save money, management positions should be transferred to India, with the bonus of smart, fluent people doing the job of dim, rock-mouthed jargon-spewing golfers.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Sailing On The Canard Line

One benefit of blogging is I get to write stuff about which I know nothing. Today's topic on which I know nothing is a digression on the term "Liberal Media". To me, this is a redundancy, like saying "Rich plutocrat", "Meat-eating lion" or "Limber contortionist". In a society where published expression is unfettered (in the classic sense, this is a "liberal democracy" of which the United States still is an example), the winners in the marketplace of news over time will be those who best adhere to the dictionary definition of "liberal": "Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry". If people want to know what is happening in their society, they want somebody who gathers and interprets facts and events without an implicit ideology. Now since we are human, this is never actually possible, we never absolutely know our own biases. This is why there are standards of practice for journalism which attempt to present an attitude of fairness and nonbias. The New York Times is the newspaper of record probably because (until the Reign of Raines) it did this better then most.

In totalitarian societies, the "media" are propaganda purveyors - Pravda comes to mind. In freer societies, journalism is treated differently by different societies. For instance in the UK, newspapers have explicit editorial viewpoints and their news coverage is explicitly on one side of the fence. The Daily Telegraph is the Tory paper and The Guardian is the Liberal paper. However, they are not organs of the political parties. The criticism of the Telegraph and Guardian are most pointed when directed at their own side of the spectrum - again this is a liberal state of affairs. In the United States, we expect our newspapers to keep their opinions to the editorial page.

So in essence, my belief is that when you have a questioning frame of mind rather than a dogmatic, know-it-all, traditional state of mind, you are going to be drawn into liberal journalism - not propaganda. In order for a journalist to really do his stories well in journalism, he has got to be sceptical and have the ability to not take things at face value. The propagandist consists entirely of face value. Now, this isn't necessarily a left-right issue. When Clinton was proposing health-care reform, the right were fulfilling their liberal role by questioning it and not taking it at face value. When Bush does whatever Bush does, the left and moderate right are fulfilling their liberal role by questioning it. Now when either side parrots without question OR condemns without reasoned discourse then they are not being stewards of good journalism. And to reiterate, good journalism over time will win over propaganda and biased journalism. The liberal media is "liberal" because market forces over time have forced it to be liberal.