Saturday, April 12, 2003

WHERE IS MIKE BROWN AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH HIM?

Hey, chew on this: for once, the Cincinnati Bengals have no quarterback controversy going into the season. Jon Kitna's the starter, no matter what, according to head coach Marvin Lewis.

Last season the Bengals played "Wheel Of Quarterbacks," using three different starters (Kitna, Gus Frerotte, and Akili Smith) in their first four games. It didn't help. They finished 2-14, their worst record ever, and for the Striped Ones, that's saying something. Frerotte's in Minnesota now, Smith is the #2, and unless the team trades down, Heisman Trophy usurper Carson Palmer will wind up #3.

On the off chance anybody in the Bengals front office is listening: TRADE DOWN. You don't need another QB, but Terrell Suggs is just who you're looking for. I'm sure Arizona would love to talk about a trade.

In my darkest moments I'll cop to being a Bengals fan. I don't love them as much as I love the Chiefs, but I still remember the days of Kenny Anderson and Cris Collinsworth, and when they went to the Super Bowl twice in the 80s. Believe it or not. And I have to say, Mike Brown appears to have done a total personality switch. Before, the Bengals never would have said any quarterback's job was secure. Either things are changing in Cincy, or Mike Brown's somewhere in Syria sharing drinks with a recently-deposed dictator.

Hmm . . . now that you mention it, several of the statements we've heard from the Bengals' front office over the years do have the ring of Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, don't they?

Friday, April 11, 2003

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR

According to the Utah Supreme Court, the Murray (UT) city council will have to let an atheist pray before a city council meeting.

The council had been in the practice of allowing people to pray before meetings, but balked when a local man wanted to offer a prayer that included these words:

Among other things, the prayer asked for deliverance "from the evil of forced religious worship now sought to be imposed upon the people ... by the actions of misguided, weak and stupid politicians, who abuse power in their own self-righteousness."

I dunno, I'm a clergyperson, and that sounds like a pretty good prayer to me.

The court's ruling was that, if you allow prayer before a government function, it obviously cannot favor one faith over another. The Murray council violated the man's Constitutional rights by censoring his prayer based on its content. This upheld a 1993 ruling by the same court regarding prayers before government events in Salt Lake City, where the court held that prayer was fine as long as it was nondiscriminatory--that is, anybody who wanted to pray was allowed to. Salt Lake City saw the writing on the wall and wisely chose to discontinue public prayers. One wonders who was giving Murray its legal advice.

You know, every once in a while, somebody asks me what I think about school prayer. Most people are surprised to hear the truth: I'm against it. Why? Because it will inevitably lead to situations like this. Pastor Bob from the First Bible Charismatic Independent Free-Will Missionary Millenial Baptist Church won't be allowed to do it every day. If school prayer is to pass Constitutional scrutiny, it'll mean that any religion, from atheist to Zoroastrian, has to have the right to offer its invocation, viewpoint, ethos, etc. No thanks. Better you teach Junior how to pray at home--and at school, since it's certainly not against the law. But on the whole, organized prayer in school makes about as much sense to me as organized algebra in the pulpit.
STUPID BLOG TRICKS

Courtesy of the folks at Friday 5, here's my response to the burning questions of today.

1. What was the first band you saw in concert?

Hall and Oates, 1984, Hilton Coliseum, Ames, IA. It was awesome. I'm still a big Hall and Oates guy. Of course, I like soul music regardless of its eye color . . .

2. Who is your favorite artist/band now?

Hall and Oates . . . naah, just kidding. It's hard to narrow it down to just one. Stevie Wonder would be pretty dang high on my list. So would the Beatles, Dylan, Elvis Costello, Uncle Tupelo, the Bottle Rockets, Grandaddy, Can, and a bunch of other obscuro stuff. For recent acts I like Weezer, David Gray, John Mayer, Blinker the Star, stuff like that.

Ahh, who am I kidding? I have two artists who just always do it for me: the Sundays and Cocteau Twins. I'm a sucker for British women with glassy voices, I guess.

3. What's your favorite song?

Ask me tomorrow and it'll change, but today it's "Triste" by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Just listening to the two-chord vamp that introduces it is enough to take my troubles away.

4. If you could play any instrument, what would it be?

I play drums, guitar, saxophone, bass, mandolin, and I sing. Plus I'm trying to learn piano right now. I think that's enough, don't you?

5. If you could meet any musical icon (past or present), who would it be and why?

Antonio Carlos Jobim, for harmony lessons.

This was fun. Thanks!
THINGS MUST BE PRETTY QUIET AROUND HERE

The best local crime story I could find today was this piece about a serial test-driver.

You know, if you're going to risk doing time by stealing cars, why steal a 1990 Jeep Cherokee? As long as you're going to do something wrong, you may as well do it right.

(Long-time friends will note that this is the second automotive-related item to appear today. Yes, this officially marks the beginning of another Gearhead Phase in my life.)
IT'S EVEN MORE THAN MY STUDENT LOANS

We should have no trouble getting Iraq back on solid footing; after all, they're only 383 billion dollars in debt.

I smell a Scott Sullivan clemency deal in the works.
PUSH ME, PULL YOU

Mickey Kaus is talking about the return of the rear-wheel-drive automobile over at Slate. More specifically, about the reason why rear-wheel-drive cars are more fun to drive than front-wheel-drive cars. Five reasons are given:

1. Balance--RWD cars have front/rear weight distribution close to 50-50.
2. Center of gravity--in a RWD car, it's basically in the driver's seat; in a FWD car, it's somewhere in the dashboard.
3. "Torque steer"--this is that annoying phenomenon of FWD cars to make for the ditch or the other lane when you push down on the gas, even if you're not turning the wheel.
4. Weight shift--a car's weight shifts rearward as it begins to accelerate. Since traction is dependent on weight over the drive wheels, this means that RWD cars' traction get better as they start to move--and FWD cars' traction gets worse.
5. Oversteer/understeer--As a test driver once put it, "Oversteer is when the back of the car hits the wall; understeer is when the front does." Because they're nose-heavy, FWD cars tend to understeer. Which is why can they're so hard to park.

Obviously, Mickey's preaching to the choir here. All else being equal, give me rear-wheel drive any day. Oh, sure, I live in Wisconsin where we get snow and ice, and there's no question front-wheel-drive is better on ice. Dear reader, please understand: Telling me a car will make it easier for me to get to work is not exactly a big selling point in my book.

(The Kaus story was discovered at InstaPundit, in case you're worried about such things.)
ANOTHER BLOW FOR SCIENCE FICTION

We still haven't made contact with the Romulans, and now this: According to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, human cloning may be impossible. Seems the very process of extracting the DNA necessary for cloning destroys some of the cellular proteins, thereby preventing the DNA from replicating properly. This isn't a problem for other animals (obviously, since we've cloned them), but every attempt to clone primates has failed.

Hmm . . . we can clone other sorts of animals, but not primates. What are the implications of that with regards to evolution? Time will tell.

Oh, and while I'm on popular science fiction plot devices, chew on this: Time travel will never be possible, since we aren't seeing any time travelers in the present day.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

FALLING OFF THE WAGON

Two months. That's how long it's been since I kicked caffeine. My decaffeinated life just started one day when I realized I was one giant, overstimulated nerve ending who was terribly unpleasant to be around. Even to myself.

I wasn't sure if it was caffeine. I thought maybe it could be work stress. But it's easier to kick caffeine, so I gave it a try, cold turkey.

I never had any physical withdrawal--no headaches, I wasn't tired all the time, I had no trouble getting going in the morning. My transition to a caffeine-free life was going so smoothly I wondered if I really had a caffeine problem in the first place. I started "chipping," which is a slang/technical term for using a substance in small quantities. I would allow myself one cup of regular coffee on Sunday mornings, and maybe a regular soda during the week, but that was it.

And I learned that "caffeine-free" isn't a synonym for "wretched-tasting." Caffeine-free Diet Pepsi and regular Coke are both fine. And there are plenty of high-quality decaf coffees out there, if you know where to look. Since I only live 15 miles from Berres Brothers, who have a dizzying variety of varietal and flavored decafs, that's usually what I drink.

Problem is, last time I was at the grocery store, I evidently took momentary leave of my senses. I bought a cheaper brand of decaf, and it tasted like the water you just used to clean your birdcage. Downing a cup of the stuff in the morning was about all I could do.

I know you're probably thinking, Big deal, call me when you have a real problem, but a good cup of coffee, to me, is one of life's greatest and simplest pleasures. Really, it's a small luxury in the grand scheme of things. But a guy gets used to his habits, and when something's wrong with my coffee, even if it is decaf, something's wrong with me.

So I looked in the freezer this morning and recalled that I still had some regular Starbucks left over from my jittery days. Oh, crimony, Mark, I thought, it's just one pot. What's it going to hurt?

So I brewed it up and I drank it and I drank it in, the rich, almost brothy flavor of a good cup of coffee. And it was good. I had another cup right away, then one in the middle of the afternoon, and one about two and a half hours ago.

I almost feel like I'm going to die.

I am simultaneously dog-tired and wide awake. I am jittery, twitchy, irritable, and generally feeling like I've been shot at and missed. My breathing is off, my fingers can't be aimed reliably, and I can't keep a thought in my head for more than 4 or 5 seconds at a time.

This isn't worth four good cups of coffee, not at all.

Sure, there's tales of "falling off the wagon" a million times more sordid than mine. If "hitting bottom" for me means a night where I didn't even have the attention span to watch Good Eats, it's hard to say that I've got a real problem. But you know what I can't stop thinking about? Two things:

1. I am eminently glad I never got hooked on anything stronger than caffeine, and
2. Realizing the high isn't worth the hangover is frightening when neither the high nor the hangover are particularly intense. What is this like for people hooked on crack?

One thing I know for sure: I'm never cheaping out on my decaf again. I plan to reclassify it as a helth care expense.
AND WHILE I'M ON A ROLL . . .

Remember when I said a good showing in the war would probably lead to an expansion of the Patriot Act?

Well, guess what?

This editorial by Charles Levandosky of the Casper (WY) Star-Tribune explains the situation as well as anything: "What the administration wants is nothing less than undemocratic and unfettered power in the hands of the federal government. "

Kevin at CalPundit, in a post I quoted here somewhere (the archives are all messed up right now; if you can't see a link to my post here, that's because there isn't one), wrote: "Note to all libertarians: please remember this story the next time you say there's really no difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to privacy and civil liberties issues." I'd say you'd better remember this one, too. I'm no overall fan of the Democrats, but I know they never would have proposed the Patriot Act. After all, they've been on the receiving end of some of this stuff.
ASLEEP IN THE DEEP?

There was a meeting today to discuss the clergy sex abuse crisis in the Catholic church. Among the revelations offered up today by Kathleen McChesney, head of the Office of Child and Youth Protection for the US Catholic bishops:

--The church has never tracked the extent of sexual abuse cases on the national level;
--Individual bishops are not necessarily following sexual abuse prevention policies they accepted over a decade ago; and
--According to one law professor, the church is not immune from the laws of greater society.

As I've said before, this isn't going to end until a diocese or two has been snuffed out. This is probably the worst church-management scandal since Judas Iscariot, and no matter what anybody else says, it's all about the Benjamins. That's what prompted the coverup in the first place (fear of "scandalizing the laity," which is a code phrase for fear of lost offerings), that's what's motivating all the wrangling between various church divisions, and ultimately, that's the only thing that will make this whole sordid mess go away: lots of long green.
AND A CAST OF THOUSANDS

CalPundit has an interesting side-by-side comparison of yesterday's statucide in Baghdad. First he shows what you saw on TV: an image that made it look like the square was just full of Iraqis. Then he shows an image from farther back, clearly showing that, in fact, there were only a few dozen people in the square, which was otherwise empty.

Oh well, it made for good TV, anyway.
THIS ISN'T GOOD

Check out this piece from the New York Daily News: "NYPD destroying database of protesters' political info."

Hwuh?

"Police detectives have questioned hundreds of anti-war protesters about their political affiliations, a practice ended this week after civil libertarians complained that it violated the Constitution, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Thursday."

And later in the article:

". . . Kelly called the practice 'a good faith effort to help us determine what resources we needed to police demonstrations in the future.'"

Suuuurrre it was. Unless the NYPD's got studies showing that, say, socialists need bigger handcuffs than envoronmentalists, it's hard not to see this as a cynical attempt at silencing unpopular groups. I supported the war (and still do), but this isn't patriotism. In fact, it's a little like what we just got rid of in Iraq.
IT'S NOT QUITE ALL OVER EXCEPT FOR THE SHOUTING . . .

. . . and that's a good thing, since Brian Lambert is shouting about media triumphalism over at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. I'll admit to some culpability here--when the war was red-hot, I didn't want to hear opposing points of view, either. I guess that's what makes the journalist's task so thankless.

Well, that, and talk radio.
SHEESH

I should just link to James Lileks everyday.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

DOWN GOES FRAZIER!!!

Why are you reading a blog? Get thee hence to a TV and watch history happening in downtown Baghdad!

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

THE SLEAZIEST PIECE OF JOURNALISM EVER

From the Daily Herald of the Chicago suburbs come the information that most sex offenders in a Chicagoland treatment center voted Democrat in 2002.

This bit of "news" raises a number of questions: (1) Who cares, and why?, (2) whose idea was this story?, (3) how is this not an attempt to harass and intimidate voters in this precinct?, and (4) is there nothing else newsworthy happening in the Chicago suburbs?

Nothing but a smear job wrapped in newsprint. For shame.
THE HAWKEYES ARE DOOMED

According to the Daily Iowan, they don't have any running backs.

Monday, April 07, 2003

ANOTHER TOP TEN LIST

Inspired by last week's book review, I give you:

Top 10 'Saturday Night Live' Castmembers of All Time

1. John Belushi. There can be no argument. Belushi was the x-factor that made people tune in every week. Not so much because you wanted to, but because you had to. There was nothing worse than being caught without the latest Belushi bit on Monday morning.
2. Eddie Murphy. Not just the x-factor in the early 80s--the entire show. Murphy was the only thing that kept SNL going during its first period of irrelevance. And the whole "Buckwheat is dead" thing was brilliant media satire, as relevant today as it was in 1982.
3. Bill Murray. He really only played one character--himself--but he did it to perfection.
4. Dana Carvey. The best impressionist ever, or at least until Darrell Hammond. Nobody ever nailed a president better than he nailed George HW Bush. And Garth became an equally indelible icon.
5. Tim Meadows. He should be on this list just for lasting as long as he did (eleven seasons, longer than anyone who's ever been on SNL), but his deadpan comedy doesn't get enough credit.
6. Gilda Radner. Rose far and above her original status as a utility player to become the 70s anser to Imogene Coca. And no, that is not an insult to either of them.
7. Mike Myers. All that kept SNL from slinking back into irrelevance in the mid-90s. Will probably wind up having the best movie career of any SNL alum. Of course, we probably haven't heard the last of Charles Rocket yet.
8. Cheri Oteri. The best, most spot-on cheerleader satire ever, and she was the first female SNL performer who wasn't afraid to venture into the seamier side of comedy. Her bits as a drug-addled harridan haunt me still.
9. Dan Aykroyd. Maybe a bit overrated, but only if you don't know how influential of a writer he was.
10. Tom Hanks. Hey, he's been in more sketches than a lot of SNL cast members over the years. "Mr. Short-Term Memory" still cracks me up. "Hey, this food in my mouth has already been chewed!"
YOU READ IT HERE FIRST

It took some considerable string pulling and a little duplicity on my part, but I managed to get the first private interview with Iraqi information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf since the war started. He graciously consented to an interview with "Hejdin al-Chawkhii" of the al-Jazeera network, unaware that it was your humble correspondent in disguise. In the course of this brief interview, I think I was able to uncover more about how this war is playing out in Baghdad. But I'll let you decide. "HC" indicates my questions; "MS" precedes his response.

HC: Thank you, Mr. al-Sahaf, for consenting to an interview with al-Jazeera. I am sure these are busy days for you with the war going on.
MS: This is not true. Despite the lies of the crusader mercenaries, things are completely normal here in Baghdad. There are no troops anywhere, we have complete control over everything, in fact, I have just returned from my weekly game of "Risk" with the most glorious president, where once again, as always happens, the Iraqi people defeated the warmongering forces of imperialism. By the way, on my way to this interview, I personally destroyed 43 airborne cruise missiles with a flyswatter and the wrapper from a drinking straw.

HC: I see. The world has been seeing images which the aggressors claim are of US troops occupying Saddam International Airport, despite your protestations to the contrary.
MS. This is not true. The Iraqi people, who are totally behind our glorious president, have thoroughly repelled the invaders from our city and, in fact, our country, using the weapons available to them--pistols, kitchenware, and handfuls of dust, which have melted away their devil tanks. We personally have counted over 11,817 destroyed crusader tanks in the past 24 hours. There is no invasion of Baghdad, not at all.

HC: This morning, you also claimed that US tanks were nowhere near Baghdad, when in fact they were less than 100 yards away from where you were standing.
MS: This is not true. This morning, I gave that interview in Syria. As you can see, the foreign devils have no idea that they are not even close to toppling the democratically-elected regime here in Iraq.

HC: Interesting that you made it back here to Baghdad so quickly. How do you respond to US claims of Iraqi war crimes?
MS: This is not true. That pack of dogs led by the little Bush is spreading lies to cover up their own atrocities. We have evidence that their soldiers have been dressing as Iraqi soldiers and jumping out in front of their own tanks to be slaughtered. Over 1,000 US soldiers have died in this fashion. I will be happy to take you out to show them to you, once we get the area cleaned up. I cannot comprehend this military strategy.

HC: There are reports of a looming humanitarian crisis in this country. Is there a shortage of food in Iraq?
MS: This is not true. We have plenty of food, as you can see by the emergency pantry behind me.

HC: Uhh . . . that appears to be a half-empty box of Reduced Fat Wheat Thins.
MS: This is not true. Our brave Iraqi scientists have discovered this to be a lie. Those decadent Western snack crackers have exactly as much fat as regular Wheat Thins. All these things prove that the American food industry is a tool of the Zionist conspiracy to murder Muslims. It's unconscionable, this selling of regular-fat snack crackers under a reduced-fat label.

HC: Some would say that Iraq's level of paranoia has reached the point where you are in danger of being perceived similarly to the villains in a scripted pro-wrestling storyline.
MS: This is not true. The lie that pro wrestling is scripted and its outcomes predetermined are all part of an elaborate American scheme to suppress the Arab people by denying the true success of the Iron Sheikh. It is not well-known that the Iron Sheikh actually won the first three Wrestlemanias, but because this was not acceptable to the Americans, this brave wrestler was edited out of all three programs. It is more proof that the corrupt Bush administration is simply out to kill Arabs. Or would be, at least, if they were here, which they are not. I will be happy to take you around the city to show you they are not here, once we cl . . .

HC(interrupting): Wait a minute . . . that sounds like . . . it can't be! That's the THIRD INFANTRY DIVISION'S music!
MS: THIS IS NOT TRUE! AAIIIIEEEE!

(At this point, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan emerged from behind a secret door, carrying two folding chairs and a two-by-four. al-Sahaf and Heenan immediately dashed out into the street. This reporter concluded the interview was over.)

Sunday, April 06, 2003

SHE GETS A $2.85 MILLION ADVANCE . . .

. . . and still Hillary Clinton can't get her manuscript to the publisher on time. The book is due to be published in August. Clinton's spokespeople do not deny that the manuscript is late.
WINTER WEATHER REDUX

2-5" of snow by tomorrow afternoon, allegedly. Sigh. Since February was one of the nicest Aprils I can remember, I suppose that means April will wind up being a harsh February.
IRAQ WAR: MORALLY JUSTIFIED?

Yes, says Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel, and one has to assume he would know. Still, the fact that Wiesel is making these claims is sure to rile up some on the left. It is almost as if the Holocaust is bad if it happens to European Jews, but OK if it happens to Shi'ite Muslims (among others) in Iraq.

Wiesel was much studied and highly revered at seminary, but this war remains unpopular amongst mainline religionists. I doubt even Wiesel's imprimatur (to mix a metaphor) will be enough to change their minds. They're a little more likely to believe the following:

. . . OR JUST A WEEKLY STANDARD SUBSCRIPTION DRIVE?

That's at least the implied viewpoint in this story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel which details the effect neoconservative doctrine and institutions (specifically the Weekly Standard, called "the house newspaper of the Bush Administration" by Heritage Foundation fellow John Hulsman in this article) have had on the Bush administration's foreign policy.

The neo-cons argue that America, as the world's last superpower, is in a unique position to dominate the world like no other nation since ancient Rome. As long as we have that power, they say, we might as well use it to spread democracy across the globe. Why? This quote is telling:

'The theory behind this, developed by Michael Doyle, professor of international affairs at Princeton University, is that democratic governments are reluctant to go to war because they must answer to their citizens. And the history of liberal democracies, though comparatively short in the grand scheme of history, tends to buttress his point.'

It is essentially true that two democracies (real democracies, not just dictatorships with "Democratic" slapped on their names) have never declared war on each other. Indeed, how could they? Legislative gridlock alone constitutes a powerful pacifying factor.

The article comments on how some see the neo-cons as "incestuous and self-referential" and fear the creation of a new Vietnam--maybe not in Iraq, but somewhere. And it's tough to argue. The last time we tried to engage in global ideological warfare, we got the (a) the first Vietnam, and (b) dangerously close to the brink of extermination with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Of course, the argument goes, that was when there were two superpowers in the world. Now there's only one. Why is there only one?

Because we won the last ideological war, that's why.
SIGN O' THE TIMES

For the first time since the war started, 'Iraq' is not the most popular search term on Yahoo!. In fact, it's dropped all the way to third behind 'SARS' and 'American Idol.'

This probably means something, like a massive switch in public opinion regard the progress of the war, or maybe we're all convinced we're gonna die some other way now.