Thursday, November 17, 2005

Did we find an answer?

For want of something to blog about, as well as something to help me avoid programming:

Last week, I posted a serious, important question that frankly needs answering in the next two years: who should succeed George W. Bush as the next president of the United States? Who can restore dignity to what should be the most esteemed of offices? Who is fit to lead this nation to times of peace and prosperity?

To that question, I received a decent amount of feedback. So let's run through the suggested possibilities to see if we've found an answer...

Jeff began the debate by suggesting himself as a possible candidate. Sadly, he's about ten years too young to be constitutionally eligible, but otherwise he is the best option we came up with. In light of that, he further suggested Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. My mother and I came up with this possibility initially, but we concluded that his time in government has been too brief for me to get a sense of his leadership ability. Ben, wisely, pointed out that other untested congressmen from Illinois (Abraham Lincoln anyone?) "did ok" when elected. So Obama remains a possibility.

Jeff also threw out Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. I'm not sure if it was just to work in the "nutsack" comment, but I'll respond anyway. First off, while it's impressive to get elected as a Democrat in Iowa, on the national stage Iowa brings little to the table - but granted, I said ignore election-specific issues. Vilsack's administration seems to have made strides in health care in Iowa, which I like. At the same time, other moves by his administration suggest that he is likely a throw-money-at-the-problem Democrat, which would worry me.

Ben subsequently tossed the name Senator Russ Feingold (Wisc.-D) into the ring. The name has immediate recognition for most because of the McCain-Feingold bill, which also suggests that he is willing and able to work with members of the Republican party, a positive sign. Overall, I don't know enough about Feingold to cast judgment.

From the slightly more conservative end, Bradley* suggested Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee. For me personally, Frist is out at the moment for his politically-charged "diagnosis" of Terri Schiavo and for his support of the Federal Marriage Amendment. Unfortunately, there are certain things I feel very strongly about for a variety of reasons, and two of those happen to be right-to-die and gay rights, so Frist signed two death warrants on his presidential hopes as far as I'm concerned. In a later comment, Jeff concurred, citing Frist's "worthless gay-bashing and quasi-religious posturing."

Jeff further suggested soon-to-be-former Virginia governor Mark Warner, a centrist Democrat who, as Jeff pointed out, is a good leader without any kind of agenda who has proven ability to compromise and get stuff done. An interesting proposal, considering I heard him mentioned as early as last year as a potential candidate for '08. When you think about it, the last few Democratic presidents (Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter) have been southern governors. As I believe most Americans actually are pretty moderate, Warner would be a solid choice, and besides, a move to the center is a move away from the right, which is where we currently stand.

So what have we learned? Honestly, Obama and Warner had both occurred to me. Of the two, I would be most enthused about Obama, though I was thinking 2016 for him. Still, I would not be upset with his nomination. He's probably my top choice at the moment, just for his apparent sense of the big picture (apparent, that is, from his magnificent speech at the Democratic National Convention last year - the one that didn't make me cringe).

Ultimately, I guess we'll have to wait and see. But it's fun to speculate now.

(Incidentally, though for some reason he IMed me rather than post a comment, Aaron stands by his desire for Ahnuld. Fortunately, Aaron doesn't vote.)

Song lyric of the day:
"Try to answer questions forced
Forced inside of me
You were forced across the line
You're not providing me"
- Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Break So Easily

* Link provided with his comment.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

It's about time...

I like to think they would have done it without Congress's involvement, but the point is, it's done.

According to the lead article at, Major League Baseball has at long last adopted a more stringent policy toward steroid use. First time, 50-day suspension; second, 100-day; three strikes, yer out!

The purity of the game has been compromised, and this is a step to getting it back on track. Ousting Barry Bonds will be step 2; hopefully Bradley's web site will receive notice and get that moving. But for now, at least we're beginning to get back on the right track.

I mean, we kicked Pete Rose out for gambling, and gambling (last I checked) does not give you an advantage over other players. The least we can do is extend similar penalties to other cheaters.

Song lyric of the day:
"Dreamt I was dead sleeping in your bed
Floated up from the ground and looked down
Then finally I could see completely
Heard the angels' song"
- Guster, Long Way Down

Monday, November 14, 2005

Taking His name in vain

In a recent blog entry, Jeff writes about how Michael Newdow is continuing his crusade to remove the name of God from public view. This time, he's apparently going after the phrase "In God We Trust" on our currency. (All others must pay cash.) I started writing a response to this in Jeff's comments section, then decided to turn it into a full-on blog post. Why not?

For a while now, Newdow's been after the idea of invoking God's name, first in the Pledge of Allegiance, now in currency. Originally, I was all in favor of either removing "under God" from the Pledge or removing the Pledge from public schools, not just for its violation of the establishment clause, but also because of the initial intentions behind its inclusion. I wrote one of my few Orbis articles about it. (I hadn't read it in a while. Interesting how I predicted the currency thing. I rule!)

Ahem, anyway, I have recently adopted a new point of view. A friend of mine argued vehemently against Newdow, pointing out that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge really has no religious meaning anymore. And I realized he's right. No kid who robotically recites the Pledge gives any thought to the religious connotations of what he's saying, he just can't wait to sit down and start counting down the minutes until recess. We're not indoctrinating our children, because our children just plain don't care. They want to play.

When we argue that God has no place in the Pledge, we're right, but by including Him, we essentially take His name in vain. Because when we say the words, we attribute no meaning to them.

Often we are so concerned about keeping religion out of our government that we forget the flip side of the separation-of-church-and-state coin: keeping government the hell out of religion.

I used to favor removing "under God" from the Pledge. Now I reflect that it is so established there is no point. And I feel sorry for those officials in the 1950s who were so afraid their sons and daughters might lose faith in God that they had to force His name into aspects of daily life. I regret that their faith was not strong enough to not feel threatened by those who happen to believe something different.

And Newdow, if you want to be a crusader, start going after things that are important.

Song lyric of the day:
"He said so much for our gain
But they use his name in vain
Why has my faith faded?
Heaven's on the way, but everything has gone to Hell..."
- Unexpectedly Sober, How We Fell

"Where's the funhouse this year?"

My iPod reminded me this morning of the Counting Crows' song Children in Bloom, and as I listened to the lyrics I realized how much it fits my own life at the moment (granted, I don't know anyone named Nicole, but I can think of a few other names I could fit into that space). When I heard the lyric about rain, it brought up memories of this past weekend. Anyway, in the absence of my own lyrics to post (though "Bethany" and "Catharsis" are nearing completion) I thought I'd throw up the lyrics, just because I feel like it.

"Children in Bloom"

Children in bloom cooking in the sun
Waiting for a room of our own
Leave my sister alone
She don't deserve this
She is a flower and I am a flower
And we are all alone

I gotta get out on my own
I gotta get up from this waiting at home
I gotta get out of this sunlight
It's melting my bones
I gotta get up from this slumber and just get myself home

All these wasted dreams
Just waiting for the sun
To open up my heart to anyone
Bring me some rain
Because I'm dying
And I can't get this damn thing closed again

I gotta get out on my own
I gotta get up from this waiting at home
I gotta get out of this sunlight
It's melting my bones
I gotta get up from this slumber and just get myself home

Where's the funhouse this year?
The fairground's deserted and all the skies don't seem as near
Nicole's my oldest friend
But the altar is empty
And she'll never be a little girl again

I gotta get out on my own
I gotta get up from this waiting at home
I gotta get out of this sunlight
It's melting my bones
I gotta get up from this slumber and get myself home

I can't find my way home
I can't find my way home

Friday, November 11, 2005

Happy Armistice Day

Today used to be Armistice Day. It got changed in the 1950s after a veteran's group lobbied for the day to be set aside to honor all who have served their country. Right intention, wrong outcome. In my opinion, there should have been a separate day set aside for that lofty purpose. While we remain forever indebted to all who serve, there was something different about that day in 1918. Armistice Day should have remained a holiday to reflect on that one moment when the whole world took pause in gratification that the first global war had been brought. Whether such an instant truly occurred or has merely been idealized in the minds of the nostalgic, it remains nevertheless a monumental moment and a historic day.

For your reflection on this day, I offer the following excerpt from the introduction to Breakfast of Champions by Philboyd Studge, a.k.a. Kurt Vonnegut. I am particularly fond of his conclusion.

"I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

"It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one and another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

"Armistice Day has become Veterans' Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' day is not.

"So I will throw Veterans' Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don't want to throw away any sacred things.

"What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

"And all music is."

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Since 10 November 1775...

This morning I was woken up by a hamster singing the Marine Corps hymn. If I could find a way to transmit it over this blog, I would.

230 years ago today, the United States Marine Corps was born. Today, the few and the proud still fight for our freedoms and lay down their lives so that we can enjoy ours.

On this, the birthday of the Marines, I would ask everyone to take a moment to reflect on the brave men and women (entirely too many) who have fought and died protecting the ideals of freedom and justice. God bless them, God bless America, and God bless the whole world.

And answer my question so we can get them a decent commander-in-chief for a change :)

Quote of the day:
"It is well that war is terrible. We should grow too fond of it."
- General Robert E. Lee

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Institutionalized bigotry

First off, if you haven't already (and this is most of you), answer my question! I actually meant it.

Now, on to the actual topic of the day:

Remember when it was acceptable to treat certain Americans like second-class citizens? When it was even acknowledged by state and federal governments that certain people did not deserve equal rights? Of course you don't. Most of us were born long after the Civil Rights Movement all but extinguished institutionalized bigotry. But today, the lead article in today's Houston Chronicle announced that Texas has joined the ranks of 17 other states that want to officially recognize discrimination against a minority.

Yes, Proposition 2 passed with an overwhelming, though not surprising, 76% of the vote. Marriage has been officially defined as a union between a man and a woman. Only a little more than a year after Missouri became the first state to ban gay marriage in its constitution (as I noted earlier), 17 more states, now including my current home, have joined its ranks.

There's so much I want to say, but it seems like I'd just be repeating myself and countless others. I typed up a full response to this amendment, but it just rings empty. No one is listening anyway.

But I do have this to say: one of these days I will meet a wonderful woman, fall in love, propose to her, and marry her. And to the government, I have one request: keep your God damn hands off it.

Song lyric of the day:
"And I wonder where these dreams go
When the world gets in your way
What's the point in all this screaming?
No one's listening anyway"
- Goo Goo Dolls, Acoustic #3

Monday, November 07, 2005

An open question...

Most of my recent posts have been absurdly long, so for today, I have very little to say. In fact, all I want to do is pose a single question to my readership, and encourage them to ask it of others, and so on, until we come up with an answer. This question was initially posed to me by my mother; I myself have been mulling it over for a day without coming up with an answer. So I relay it to the rest of you:

Can you name a single person who is fit to by God lead this country in 2008?

Oh sure, there are the issues of electability and so forth, but I want to ignore those and get to the crux of the matter. Who should assume the presidency? Who should be guiding this country as I enter my 30th year?

As Tom Robbins once wrote, "Answer me that and I will ease your mind about the beginning and end of time."

(Granted, Robbins was referring to the far more important topic of love, but the quote popped into my head, so I figured what the hell.)

Song lyric of the day:
"When I stop the search
The answers always come
And when I help someone
I always help myself by helping"
- Goldfinger, Answers

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Tonight a new set of 4 begins...

Well, the oft mistreated Vanderbilt Commodores started off the season so promising by winning 4 in a row. It looked as if they were going to make a bowl game for the first time since 1982. But then, they lost 4 in a row, and much of the hope went away.

Everyone, I am here to proclaim that hope is not lost! For tonight, a new streak of 4 begins, that will culminate with a bowl victory. You heard it here first.

As for me, I'm off to go watch the game, eat fried food, and drink beer. It's the Vanderbilt way. It's the American way.

Song lyric of the day:
"C'mon, turn this thing around (right now!)
Hey, it's your tomorrow (right now!)
C'mon, it's everything (right now!)
Catch that magic moment, right here and now"
- Van Halen, Right Now

Friday, November 04, 2005

Can't we all just get along?

In his most recent article, Leonard Pitts discusses how the term "liberal" is so often used as an epithet. As his initial example he cites Geena Davis's character on the new TV show Commander-in-Chief, which is about the first female president. Pitts describes an incident where one of his apparently more conservative readers decries her and the show as liberal without citing any particular example. I can only assume he makes this assumption because she is a woman. In fact, though I have only seen the last half of last week's episode, Davis's character appears to be an Independent who used to be Republican (a la Jim Jeffords) before she left for as-yet undisclosed reasons. Hardly the credentials of a liberal.

But I digress. As most of my friends here at Rice are by and large what you might call "conservative", I too have noted the phenomenon Pitts is talking about. But to my friends from Vanderbilt, who are by and large what you might call "liberal", I pose the following question: if we're being truly honest with ourselves, do we not often use the term "conservative" as an epithet in a similar manner? Of course my biased perspective tells me that we don't do it as rampantly, but Pitts suggests toward the end of his article that we may be getting up there.

My point (if I even have one) is this: people who tend to align themselves with one side of the political spectrum tend to lend a certain degree of righteousness to their side while vilifying those at the other end. And thus much of the potential for meaningful political discourse is replaced with childish name-calling. But obviously there must be some sort of common ground. How else could I have friends with whom I can engage in political discussion on both sides? (Admittedly, I tend to avoid the abortion discussion with the conservative side.) I find it hard to believe that we can't talk about issues and reach reasonable compromises instead of labelling each other as the people who are ruining America.

Then again, there's the stubbornness factor, which even I admit I possess with regards to certain issues. So it's probably easier said than done. At the same time I don't want to invalidate the entire rest of my post. So I'll shut up now.

This has been another pointless rant brought to you by Mike.

Song lyric of the day:
"Yeah, I'm really clean if you know what I mean
Except for this recurring dream
Of losing total feeling..."
- Blue October, 2 AM Lovesick

Thursday, November 03, 2005

"Go home, and get stoned"

Why is one of my pet political topics something that doesn't affect me in the slightest?

As I learned from the "Skinny" segment on the Rod Ryan show and verified in an article that Jeff linked to in a recent blog entry, Denver has made it legal for adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. As a law, this means pretty much diddly squat, since state and federal laws win out in this case. However, I see a silver lining, which is that people (at least 54% in Denver) are beginning to realize certain facts:

  1. marijuana is generally less harmful to health than either alcohol or cigarettes
  2. marijuana is not, I repeat, NOT a gateway drug. I would need to borrow several hands to count the number of people I know who have used marijuana and not tried harder drugs, whereas to count the number of people I know who moved to harder drugs I can leave my shoes on.
  3. jailing people for marijuana use and possession is exposing them to other dangerous criminals (thieves, murderers, rapists) incarcerated in the same facilities, and is likely to lead those people down unwieldy paths.
  4. people are more inclined to do something when they are forbidden to do it. Jeff often called this the "Bernard effect", referring to a Trivial Pursuit question that revealed playing cards were not popularized in Europe until St. Bernard began widely decrying them as a form of gambling.

I could go on, but you get the hint. Kudos to Denver. Maybe next an entire state will get some balls and throw this on a ballot. I can see the tagline right now: "The United States has by far the largest prison population in the world. Want to fix that?"

Out of curiosity, anybody outside of Texas get the song reference in the title of this post. It's been a guilty pleasure for me these past few months. However, talking about gateway drugs has led me to a different song lyric of the day...

"Turning to drugs to help you sleep
Will only lead to sleep
And sleeping is a gateway drug
To being awake again"
- They Might Be Giants, Wearing a Raincoat

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

21 years late...

Jeff points out that the Thought Police are alive and kicking and right here in America. Apparently Eric Arthur Blair (a.k.a. George Orwell) was right in 1984, he just got the year wrong. Some kid in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina (yes, the birthplace of manned flight) is being investigated by the Secret Service after Wal-Mart directed them to a high school student who had taken photos of himself denouncing President Bush as part of a school assignment on constitutional rights. Wal-Mart's actions don't trouble me in the slightest, or at least they don't surprise me; I have refused to shop at Wal-Mart for about two years now, in general protest of their numerous deplorable actions. But what is the Secret Service thinking? Surely there are greater threats to our president than some kid giving him the "thumbs down". What's next, are they going to go after Roger Ebert for giving thumbs down to Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo?

In other news, I read a quote in the Newsweek "Perspectives" section that caught my eye. Army Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan said the following in an email to reporters: "The 2,000 service members killed in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom is not a milestone. It is an artificial mark on the wall set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives."

The quote bothers me for two reasons. First, it is extremely callous in its "yeah yeah, so what, someone else died, whoop-de-do" attitude. But what disturbs me more is I absolutely agree with it. The number 2000 is nothing special. It truly is an artificial mark, and a number that can be easily manipulated by war opposers. Personally, I much prefer the number one. As in the notion of each individual death as a milestone. People are dying every day for a cause that seems almost lost, with a purpose that our leaders still have yet to come clean about. The first person who died was a unique human being, the same as the 2000th. As those who oppose the war continue to keep tally of the total number of casualties, they must not lose sight of the fact that these are not just statistics.

On a lighter note, there's a new issue of The Slant out today. Yes, I'm still keeping up with my old humor mag, and yes, they're still putting out quality articles. Some articles are Vandy-specific, but others are good general satire or have national scope. I highly recommend non-Vandy folk check it out.

Song lyric of the day:
"I'll admit I'm full of shit
It's how I know I love you
It's how I know I trust you
You're not sure if there's a right or wrong
But it feels like there is"
- the Arcade Fire, My Heart is an Apple

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Trying to get back to this daily thing

I really want to keep this blog as close to daily as I can, even if it's at the expense of writing anything useful. So most of my posts from here on out will consist of random thoughts, with an occasional post that had some kind of thought put into it when I have the time and inclination.

First, kudos to the Astros for extending Phil Garner's contract. It's pretty hard to deny that Garner has been a fairly major part of two great Astros seasons in a row. With potentially a lot of turnover this offseason (the doubtful futures of Roger Clemens and Jeff Bagwell spring readily to mind) it's a good idea to provide some stability.

And while we're on the subject of kudos, unkudos (or whatever is the opposite of kudos) to the United Methodist Church, who defrocked a lesbian minister yesterday. As many of you may know, I was a member of this church back when I was a) denominational and b) Christian, and as such, this bothers me deeply. The Baptists I could understand, but I always regarded the Methodist church as being reasonable and open. So much for that.

Finally, The Onion offers its explanation of how Sammy Scalito got his Supreme Court nomination.

Well, that's all for now. I should return tomorrow.

Song lyric of the day:
"In your eyes I see a darkness that torments you
And in your head where it dwells
I'd give you my hand if you'd reach out and grab it
Let's walk away from this hell"
- Juliana Theory, Into the Dark