Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Foo Fighters

Saw the Foo Fighters show in Wilkes-Barre, PA last night. They rocked ass. If you get a chance to see them, do. It's well worth it.

That is all.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Rewriting History

Now playing: Ben Folds - The Last Polka
via FoxyTunes In a recent ghost-written essay for the journal Foreign Affairs, Rudy Giuliani said the following:

"America must remember one of the lessons of the Vietnam War. … Many historians today believe that by about 1972 we and our South Vietnamese partners had succeeded in defeating the Vietcong insurgency and in setting South Vietnam on a path to political self-sufficiency. But America then withdrew its support, allowing the communist North to conquer the South. The consequences were dire, and not only in Vietnam: numerous deaths in places such as the killing fields of Cambodia, a newly energized and expansionist Soviet Union, and a weaker America."
The whole essay has already gotten all of the criticism it deserves from people much more knowledgeable than I am on foreign policy. But I wanted to point out this excerpt from Giuliani's ridiculous essay in light of a speech that our illustrious President gave today at the VFW convention:

"Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left," Bush told members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, at their convention in Kansas City, Missouri.

"Whatever your position in that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens, whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 're-education camps' and 'killing fields,' " the president said.

There are differences, of course. Giuliani says "Many historians say," while Bush chooses "[T]here is a legitimate debate." Giuliani speaks of dire consequences while Bush speaks of an unmistakable legacy. But they're really saying the same thing, and that thing is utterly insane. It leads me to only one conclusion.

Bush and Giuliani both have parts of history that they'd love to rewrite. Giuliani has been trying desperately (and, depressingly, successfully) to rewrite the history of 9/11, positioning himself as a hero who did no wrong, and who in fact stood proud guard over Ground Zero until the last rescue worker had left. Bush has been trying to rewrite the history of why we went to Iraq, why we stayed in Iraq, why we escalated troop levels in Iraq, and why we should be there indefinitely. Both of those revisions are bound to fail. So what do they do? Simple. In a classic Rovian move, they start to revise history that had nothing to do with them.

Remember in 2004 and 2006 when Rove had the GOP start spending all kinds of money in solidly blue states to make everyone think that the swing states were already locked up for the Republicans? It worked in 2004, but failed miserably in 2006. Well, Giuliani and Bush are doing the same thing. In talking about the controversy that exists over Vietnam (ed. note: it really doesn't exist), both Giuliani and Bush are taking their own revisions of history as givens. They're allocating their rhetorical resources to something that makes no sense, to make us think that they've already won their own battles.

In Giuliani's case, that 9/11-fresh sheen still hasn't worn off, so he's unlikely to be called on his lies and revisionism. But if this is an example of the Bush we're likely to see in the post-Rove era, trying badly to employ Rovian tactics, then if I might borrow a phrase, I hope he bring[s] it on.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Atheism Redux

I wrote a post about my self-identification with an atheist/agnostic worldview, but I realize now that I didn't really get into any specifics about why I identify with that particular philosophy. What I'll attempt to do now is to fill in at least a few of the blanks.

The Early Years

My extended family, on both sides, is quite religious. When young, living with both of my parents in California, I didn't attend church very often. Pretty much only when we were with the grandparents in Pennsylvania, as I remember. I was baptized at 12 days old into the Lutheran Church, and I went to a Lutheran school for my first year of first grade (held back because I was too young, they said). When I was 8 my parents divorced, and my mother and I moved to Connecticut. We didn't start attending church regularly until mid-1994, though, shortly before my mother got remarried.

When I was in 8th grade, I didn't have many friends. I got to know one kid a couple of years younger than me from the bus, and I stayed over at his house one Saturday night. His mother was a churchgoer, so on Sunday morning I saddled up and went to the Methodist church with them. I noticed, among the congregation, the girl on whom I had the biggest crush of my young life. Upon returning home, I began pleading with my family to start attending that church, if only so I could have more cause to be near the object of my affection. It didn't occur to me then, but it's struck me as odd on several occasions since, that we didn't start attending that church because of the strength of Methodist doctrine. Rather, we started attending that church (where my stepbrothers were baptized, my mother became financial secretary, and my stepfather became president of the trustees) because of the awakening of my adolescent hormones.

I attended that church through the entire course of high school. I was confirmed there, I attended church retreats, I sang faithfully (pun intended) in the choir, I even wrote a half of a sermon for Children's Sunday one year. It was the whole shebang, as they say.

And then, I went to college.

But college wasn't a big turning point for me, at least in terms of my views on religion. All that happened when I went to college was that I stopped going to church. Sure, I went when I was home, but I never went to church once while under my own recognizance at college, and I never once missed it. This wasn't because of some deep-seated resentment toward religion or anything. It was more because of a not-quite-realized complete ambivalence toward religion. I didn't realize it in those terms at that point, but everything that I could do at college on a Sunday morning was more alluring than going to church. Sleeping until 2 pm, eating a bowl full of crushed Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (Freshman 15? Try the freshman 30!), playing video games, watching TV, anything. Church didn't even occur to me when there were suddenly an infinity of other options.


After I graduated from college, I taught high school for a year, and then I went back to graduate school for mathematics. While at graduate school, I decided, with the 2004 Democratic Presidential Primaries coming up, that I should make an active effort to be politically engaged. Up until that point, I didn't even know where I really stood on almost any issues. So I dove into research on issues of the day, quickly discovering that I identified quite powerfully with the liberal/Democratic Party side of most issues. At the same time, I began examining my religious beliefs. Religion and politics sort of went hand-in-hand for me at the time, as they were both things that I'd never really bothered researching in depth before.

By early 2004, I was still calling myself a Christian. I still had a presumption of belief in Jesus, and in at least some of the Bible. I'd go into internet forums and get in pointless fights with atheists who I thought were being too harsh in their rhetoric. They could believe what they wanted to believe, I'd assert, but did they have to be such dicks about it? But as often as the maxim that internet debate never changes any minds is true, I found my position subtly but inexorably shifting. I was never a biblical literalist or anything, but I was trying to come, at least at first, from a presumption of the existence of the God. Of the Christian God. A lot of the questions posed by those ornery atheists, though, were like brick walls to that presumption. I couldn't get around them.


The first concept to go was faith. In watching conversations between atheists and the faithful, I began to see that common thread appearing. When asked why they believed in the face of evidence that pointed otherwise, believers inevitably cited faith. But what is faith? The more I thought about it, the more it started to seem like nonsense to me. There soon seemed to be no difference between "faith" and "wishing really, really hard that it were so." My perspective, I realized, was starting to become explicitly based in science and logic. If an extraordinary claim is made with no evidence, it's not unreasonable to ignore that claim as unlikely until some evidence is presented. Leprechauns? Mermaids? Fairies? The existence of these mythical creatures is an extraordinary claim, yet nobody is ostracized for choosing, as a default, to believe that they're nothing more than stories. So it began to seem to me with religion, and claims of the knowledge of God.

Other questions started popping up, and I didn't see any satisfactory answers. These, in large part, were the standard questions posed by atheists to believers. Why does God get credit for prayers answered, but doesn't get blamed for prayers unanswered? I had a cousin in Iraq, and when he came home safe, the family was abuzz with talk that God had heeded his family's prayers and brought him home safe. But I'd be willing to bet dollars to donuts that every single soldier in his unit who died in the desert had people praying for him back home. God didn't answer those prayers. Were those people not praying hard enough? Could God only save a certain number of people? All of a sudden, "God has a plan that we can't understand" seemed like more and more of a cop-out. I wanted to scream at people, and ask them why this twisted version of logic only applied to religion, but to nothing else in their lives.

After some time, I began to self-apply the label of atheist. It just felt more comfortable. And I realized that I had come to it fairly easily because in the back of my mind, I'd probably been somewhere near there all along. But all it took to push me over that edge was a conscious and rational look at the various claims out there.

I became (and remain) convinced that of the vast percentage of those who claim to be religious people in our country, and those who claim to believe that the Bible is a literal historical account, there is a sizable percentage that is at the place where I was before I sat down and took a good, hard look at my own beliefs. I think that there a lot of people in the United States who look at their religion as they look at their race or nationality. They view it as something that they were born with. They were told that the Bible is true, and even though they don't go to church or think about religion any more than twice a year, they feel fine filling in the bubbles on polls that coincide with a full-blown belief in that religion.

This is supposition, of course. But it feels right. If I'm wrong, I'll freely admit it. But I really, really think that there are a lot of people who are but a lengthy bout of self-reflection away from atheism.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Better Living Through Blogging, Parts 8 & 9


Breakfast: Sesame seed bagel w/ cream cheese, green tea w/ honey and lemon juice

Lunch: 3 soft tacos with shredded beef and cheese (had to try the new Qdoba Grill near work), glass of lemonade.

Dinner: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich


Breakfast: Bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on English muffin, green tea w/ honey and lemon juice

Lunch: Late breakfast, so I just had some snacks at the mall (free samples at Le Gourmet Chef)

Dinner: Bowl of vegetable beef soup, peanut butter and jelly sandwich

I promise I'll get another post up later this week, and hopefully a pretty lengthy one. I know what I want to write about. I've just been kinda busy with my new blog venture. Y'all can check it out if you want, but I warn you, it's quite different from what you'll find here.

Don't Judge Me.

Also, just for the hell of it, here's a new picture of me with my scraggly facial hair looking slightly more like a beard:


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

No Atheists in Foxholes?

Lt. Wayne Adkins, an atheist, was offended at a General's use of the phrase "no atheists in foxholes." He submitted a complaint, and the official response has been pretty revealing: It's OK to discriminate against atheists. The claim is that since atheism isn't a religion, that atheists aren't protected against discrimination on the basis of their being atheists.

As Adkins points out, this is the very definition of discrimination on the basis of religion. Just because it's going the other way doesn't make it OK.

Better Living Through Blogging, Part 7

Forgot to do this last night:

April 30, 2007

Breakfast: Sesame seed bagel w/ cream cheese, 16 oz. orange juice, green tea w/ honey and lemon juice

Lunch: Coffee cake and some Wheat Thins (I had a meeting that ran over lunch, as I do every Monday), and a couple of cans of Diet Coke Plus.

Dinner: Polpette Rustica (Meatball) sandwich on whole grain bread, little bag of baby carrots

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Better Living Through Blogging, Part 6

Breakfast: Turkey bacon, egg, and cheese on a toasted bagel (Steve made breakfast)

Lunch/dinner: Turkey, bacon and cheddar sandwich from Cosi with kettle chips. I was gonna wait until I got home from tutoring, but my co-workers suggested it and I had an hour off.

Also, in between breakfast and lunch/dinner, I had a 24 oz. coffee from Wawa (I have to get one when I'm near that place), and a big Powerade.


Better Living Through Blogging, Part 5

Saturday's food: Too much. All around. I hadn't really thought through the ramifications of trying to limit my intake, but then going to Steve's for wings and beer. Anyway, I don't need reader scorn to know that I ate & drank too much yesterday, so I'll get back to this feature later today, for today's stats.


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Better Living Through Blogging, Part 4

Way past bedtime now, so here goes:

Lunch (I woke up too late for breakfast): Peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Dinner: Buffalo Blue sandwich from Cosi, with kettle chips, a side order of chicken noodle soup, and a 16 oz. mixture of lemonade and raspberry iced tea.

That's all for now. G'nite.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Better Living Through Blogging, Part 3

OK, not much time/will to post, so here's the vitals:

April 26, 2007

Breakfast: Bacon, egg and cheese on a poppy seed bagel (Yeah, I know, but it was so damn good yesterday), large green tea with honey and lemon juice, 16 oz. Apple juice.

Lunch: One (1) slice of pepperoni pizza, small hot chocolate, one (1) Reese's Peanut Butter Cup with caramel (verdict: not so much)

Dinner: One (1) Yuengling, One (1) Sam Adams, One (1) Harp, One (1) Smithwick's

I may well have some of the leftover rigatoni before I go to bed, though.

Yeah, beer for dinner is terrible, but so is genocide. Are you going to criticize me for my dinner before you criticize what's going on in the Sudan? Priorities, readers.


UPDATE: That rigatoni ended up in my belly, too.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sectarian Violence Down in Iraq?

General Petraeus recently told reporters that the troop surge in Iraq is working. As evidence, he presented them with the undeniable fact that sectarian murders are down:

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, told reporters that sectarian murders in Baghdad have been reduced by about one-third since the beginning of the year.

"That is an important development, because sectarian murders can be a cancer in a neighborhood," he said after separate briefings in the Senate and House on Wednesday.

In addition, "progress in Anbar is something that is breathtaking," he said of the vast Sunni-dominated province where many U.S. troop deaths have occurred, including one Monday.

Huge inroads have been made, he said, in regard to learning a "great deal more" of the "nefarious" Iranian involvement in the war in Iraq. He did not elaborate on whether he meant the Iranian government or outside factions.

Well, undeniable except for this one pesky, nagging fact:

U.S. officials who say there has been a dramatic drop in sectarian violence in Iraq since President Bush began sending more American troops into Baghdad aren't counting one of the main killers of Iraqi civilians.

Car bombs and other explosive devices have killed thousands of Iraqis in the past three years, but the administration doesn't include them in the casualty counts it has been citing as evidence that the surge of additional U.S. forces is beginning to defuse tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

Well, McClatchy's just trying to stir up trouble, right? If they're excluding car bombs from the statistics they're using to prove their point, it must be because there haven't been very many people killed by them, right?

Bush administration officials have pointed to a dramatic decline in one category of deaths - the bodies dumped daily in Baghdad streets, which officials call sectarian murders - as evidence that the security plan is working. Bush said this week that that number had declined by 50 percent, a number confirmed by statistics compiled by McClatchy Newspapers.

But the number of people killed in explosive attacks is rising, the same statistics show - up from 323 in March, the first full month of the security plan, to 365 through April 24.

Oh. So there still are a lot of bombings going on.

To be fair, deaths are down in Baghdad since December.

Overall, statistics indicate that the number of violent deaths has declined significantly since December, when 1,391 people died in Baghdad, either executed and found dead on the street or killed by bomb blasts. That number was 796 in March and 691 through April 24.

Nearly all of that decline, however, can be attributed to a drop in executions, most of which were blamed on Shiite Muslim militias aligned with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Much of the decline occurred before the security plan began on Feb. 15, and since then radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his Mahdi Army militia to stand down.

But if this is true even with the bombs included, why would the spokespeople for the war not include them? I don't get it. While it's good that civilian deaths are down in Baghdad, there seems to be something deeply dishonest about not including one of the major killers in the official statistics.


Texas House Rebukes Governor

The Texas House recently voted strongly against Governor Rick Perry's attempt to make HPV vaccination mandatory for 11 and 12 year old girls in the state. The vote was 135-2 in the House, and 30-1 in the Senate. Doesn't get much stronger than that.

Here's what had been at issue:

He said he would sign an executive order directing the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to adopt rules requiring all 11- and 12-year old girls entering the sixth grade to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, starting in September 2008. The order allowed parents to let their daughters opt out of the program.

Here's the Wikipedia page on Gardasil, which is the HPV vaccine being discussed. Looking through the list of proposals about the vaccine in various states, one thing sticks out to me:

Allows parents to opt their daughters out on religious grounds.

Really? A vaccine that prevents 70% of cervical cancer, and parents are allowed to point to the Bible and let their child be subject to the whims of fate? It seems to me that if there's a moral argument to be made here, it's that it's dead wrong to oppose a public health initiative that has the potential to save thousands of lives just because your religion doesn't agree with it.

I'd heard about this story before, and this is the exact thing that stuck out to me in the first place. Religious parents in Texas were afraid that if their daughters were vaccinated against HPV and were at significantly lower risk for cervical cancer, that they would take it as a license to have premarital sex all over the place.

Newsflash, Texas: people have been having premarital sex for years. This vaccine would only serve to save lives, not to significantly change behavior. Chances are, if they're human beings, most of these girls are going to have premarital sex with or without the vaccine.

Of course, I guess that's not an argument against those who would view cervical cancer as some sort of divine wrath executed against those who disobeyed God's will and had sex out of wedlock.

So it goes.


The Justice Department Strikes Back

Stories like this really should surprise me, but they just don't anymore. I guess that's indicative of how bad things have gotten.

The dispute is the latest and perhaps the most significant clash over the role of lawyers for the detainees. “There is no right on the part of counsel to access to detained aliens on a secure military base in a foreign country,” the Justice Department filing argued.

Under the proposal, filed this month in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the government would limit lawyers to three visits with an existing client at Guantánamo; there is now no limit. It would permit only a single visit with a detainee to have him authorize a lawyer to handle his case. And it would permit a team of intelligence officers and military lawyers not involved in a detainee’s case to read mail sent to him by his lawyer.

The proposal would also reverse existing rules to permit government officials, on their own, to deny the lawyers access to secret evidence used by military panels to determine that their clients were enemy combatants.

Many of the lawyers say the restrictions would make it impossible to represent their clients, or even to convince wary detainees — in a single visit — that they were really lawyers, rather than interrogators.

Did you catch that? Not only do the detainees lack basic human rights now, but the people who would represent them lack the right to visit them to do their job. I assume the Justice Department thinks it's being cute with this proposal. If asked, they'd probably say that they're being quite generous in allowing any visits at all, based on the premise that "There is no right on the part of counsel to access to detained aliens on a secure military base in a foreign country."

It seems to me that there's a Supreme Court decision that's relevant to this, isn't there?


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Better Living Through Blogging, Part 2

OK, part 2 of my self-indulgent blogging-as-personal-accountability experiment is upon us. I don't have much to say tonight, so I'll be concise.

Breakfast: Bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on English muffin, 20 oz. Green tea with lemon.

Snack: Bagel with Cream Cheese (office celebration of Administrative Assistants' Day), Hot Chocolate with whipped cream at the mall (Turns out this Snack was my lunch, so, you know, not so bad.)

Dinner: Big plate of Rigatoni, tomato sauce, and beef.

There were also a couple of Fruit Roll-Ups in there somewhere. Yeah, Fruit Roll-Ups. You read that right. I got a hankering last week and wondered if they still make them. Turns out they do.


Edwards Responds to Rudy

After Rudy Giuliani's asinine statement this morning about how 9/11 will happen again unless we elect a Republican President in 2008, Kevin Drum had a lot of criticism for what he saw as the tepid response of Hillary and Obama. I didn't feel as strongly about it as he did, and frankly, I was glad that they said something rather than being afraid to go after "America's Mayor" (Obama referred to Rudy by this nickname in his statement, although from the context it seemed as though it was sarcastic at best). Here's Kevin's take on what should have been said:

Whining just reinforces the message that Democrats are wimps. The real way to be "hard hitting" is to explain why Giuliani is wrong and what Democrats would do instead — and why the average Joe and Jane would be safer and better off without guys like Giuliani bumbling recklessly around the globe leaving a stronger al-Qaeda and a weaker America in their wake. Until they do, Rudy and the Republicans are going to win every round of this fight.

I share Greg Sargent's skepticism on whether that's entirely true, but Kevin does have a point. If this is the kind of combative rhetoric that we're to expect from now on from the Republicans, then we shouldn't be afraid to use strong language in return. In that regard, Sargent noted Edwards' response to Giuliani's idiocy. Here's the money quote:

As far as the facts are concerned, the current Republican administration led us into a war in Iraq that has made us less safe and undermined the fight against al Qaeda. If that's the 'Republican' way to fight terror, Giuliani should know that the American people are looking for a better plan. That's just one more reason why this election is so important; we need to elect a Democratic president who will end the disastrous diversion of the war in Iraq.

Good. Hit him on the substance of the statement, rather than on being too divisive. I feel like nobody wants to hear, at this point, divisive arguments about who's being more divisive. It's like having an argument about whether we're having an argument.

As a post-script, I enjoyed the DNC's official response to Rudy, as well:

How can the man who failed to prepare NYC for a second attack after the first one, quit the 9/11 commission because he was too busy raking in money from sketchy business deals, can't assess if the surge is working or if Iran and North Korea have nuclear weapons claim that he will keep America safe?

I like that they're not ceding 9/11 to Rudy anymore. Hit him where he lives.


Bobbin' in the Float...

Via Danger Room (another blog you should probably be reading if you aren't), a story of a problem in Iraq. There's no one part that sums it up, so do yourself a favor and take 10 minutes to read it. Sometimes it helps cement how horrible it really is over there to look at some specifics. Numbers can get numbing. I guess that's why they're called numbers.


Random Links

Here's a few links to things that are noteworthy, but wouldn't generate a post of their own.

  • Kevin Tillman and Jessica Lynch testified before Congress today about the falsehoods told about by the military, exaggerating the heroism of Jessica and of Kevin's brother Pat. You know, it's a sad day when the stuff that would formerly have been considered the province of conspiracy theorists turns out to be true.
  • If you haven't seen it, and you have the capacity to watch video on the computer, check out Jon Stewart's interview with John McCain from last night's Daily Show. I can't help but comment on how much Stewart's grown into his role at The Daily Show, and how fearless and articulate he's become. Two and a half years ago, when Stewart delivered his now-legendary performance on CNN's Crossfire, he was visibly nervous. Almost shaking. Today he's strong, confident, and not afraid to look a man like John McCain in the face and tell him exactly where he's wrong.
  • There's a few of blogs that I love, that have provided outstanding commentary on all sorts of things. If you're not reading them, you should. They are, in no particular order, Talking Points Memo, The Carpetbagger Report, and Political Animal. TPM is particularly valuable in getting all relevant updates in the ongoing Prosecutor Purge scandal. The Carpetbagger Report and Political Animal give thoughtful analysis of a large variety of political issues, both from a left-leaning perspective, of course. While I'm at it, I'll throw a link to the one right-leaning blog that I read: Mark Coffey's Decision '08. Most of the time I don't agree with him and his analysis, but he's thoughtful and well-written and has a thriving comment section where reasonable discussion from all sides is encouraged. Good stuff all around.


I'm not always in agreement with Andrew Sullivan, but he's nothing if not thoughtful, and a wonderfully expressive writer to boot. That's why I suggest that you read his piece on Obama in full.

But in case you don't, here's the gist of it:

But this much we can already say: Obama brings something no one else does to this moment. By replacing one of the most globally despised and domestically divisive presidents in American history with a young leader half-Kansan and half-Kenyan, America would be saying something to the world: Bush-Cheney is not who we are. America is not what it has come to appear to be. This country is among the most culturally and racially and religiously diverse on the planet. America has long been a powerful and vital beacon for human rights - not, as recently, the avatar of torture, rendition and executive tyranny. The simple existence of Obama as a new president in a new century would in itself enhance America's soft power immeasurably, just as a clear decision to leave Iraq would provide much greater leverage for diplomacy and military force in a whole variety of new ways. Obama would mean the rebranding of America, after a disastrous eight years. His international heritage, his racial journey, his middle name: these are assets for this country, not liabilities.

I couldn't agree more.


Taxi to the Darkside

Via Andrew Sullivan, here's a link to a trailer for a movie called Taxi to the Darkside. It's about the American use of torture over the last 5 or 6 years, which is an issue about which I am very passionate. I'd seen the clips of President Bush used in the trailer before, but they still give me chills. At the very end, a man says, "If they think so very little of life, and clearly 9/11 exemplified that, screw them. Anything goes."

And so it has.


My Opponents Want You Dead

Rudy Giuliani, who is still leading in the preposterously early polling for the Republican candidacy for President in 2008, has thrown down the gauntlet:

“If any Republican is elected president —- and I think obviously I would be the best at this —- we will remain on offense and will anticipate what [the terrorists] will do and try to stop them before they do it,” Giuliani said.

Translation: We'll fight the terrorists over there so we don't have to fight them over here. If by "terrorists" you mean "Iraqis," and if by "remain on offense" you mean "we're never leaving Iraq. Ever."

“But the question is how long will it take and how many casualties will we have?” Giuliani said. “If we are on defense [with a Democratic president], we will have more losses and it will go on longer.”

Translation: I know you're thinking that if we pull our troops out of Iraq, we'll lose less of them, and it will not, in fact, go on longer. I know you're thinking that this is a contradiction to my assertions that we need to stay in Iraq as long as it takes. But I was Mayor of New York on 9/11. God Bless America.

“I listen a little to the Democrats and if one of them gets elected, we are going on defense,” Giuliani continued. “We will wave the white flag on Iraq. We will cut back on the Patriot Act, electronic surveillance, interrogation and we will be back to our pre-Sept. 11 attitude of defense.”

Translation: If the Democrats win, they'll usher in a pansy agenda like not spying on Americans, or not torturing people. And I say to you good people, if there's anybody who loses more from a pre-9/11 attitude, it's me, who gained everything from 9/11.

“This war ends when they stop coming here to kill us!” Giuliani said in his speech. “Never, ever again will this country ever be on defense waiting for [terrorists] to attack us if I have anything to say about it. And make no mistake, the Democrats want to put us back on defense!”

Giuliani said terrorists “hate us and not because of anything bad we have done; it has nothing to do with Israel and Palestine. They hate us for the freedoms we have and the freedoms we want to share with the world.”

Translation: The Democrats want you dead because they're latte-sipping freedom-haters! And that's what the terrorists are! Freedom-haters! Please ignore any other reasons they gave for anything they've done, because I have the inside line on why they do what they do, and it's because they hate freedom!

Honestly, do we have to listen to this nonsense for another year and a half? Or is it going to get worse? Are the Republicans going to try to outdo each other at fearmongering? Will they rush to smear each other as weak on terror?

The thing that immediately struck me about these quotes from Rudy's speech has to do with movies. Relating everything to movies is a fault of mine, I suppose. But anyway, in movies set in a dystopian future, isn't Rudy's speech here the kind that would be filmed from skewed camera angles, with sharp, discordant string music behind it, underscoring just how wrong it is? Think V for Vendetta. Think The Dead Zone. Stuff like that. Leaders who talk like Rudy in movies are presumptively the enemies. There's no question about it. It seems to me that Americans, at least in their art, embrace hope over fear.

Why is it different in the voting booth?

UPDATE: Statements from both Obama and Hilary on Giuliani's childish scare tactics.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Better Living Through Blogging, Part 1

You probably think it's horribly self-indulgent, and you're probably right. But too bad. This is the beginning of my experiment in holding myself accountable for my personal habits via blog.

Here's what I had to eat today:

Breakfast: Plain bagel w/ cream cheese and 24 oz. green tea, both from Dunkin' Donuts

Lunch: 6-inch turkey & cheese on wheat w/ mayonnaise and lettuce, Baked Lays and 20 oz. Diet Coke. Also an Auntie Anne's pretzel, and 2 Diet Coke Plus (it's new, I had to try it)

Dinner: One peanut butter and jelly sandwich, on wheat bread, with Skippy Natural Peanut Butter (no trans fat)

As far as exercise, it wasn't much, but I played probably 15 minutes of Dance Dance Revolution with Jason around 9:00. Scoff if you want, but that game can get pretty damn strenuous. Also, it helps me channel my inner Asian child. Actually, interestingly enough (or not, depending on who I'm asking), I have a picture of me and Josh playing Dance Dance Revolution in front of a bunch of Asians in China:

Yeah, a couple of crazy white guys playing DDR at an arcade in China. I think it was, like, 11:00 am on a weekday, too. It's OK, because we were on vacation.

Anyway, here's what I look like right now. Maybe I'll give y'all some periodic updates.

Maybe I'll shave sometime, too.


For My Own Edification

I've been thinking for a while that I should get down to the nitty gritty and start losing some weight, but I've lacked the motivation. Sure, I know that fast food is no good for me, but somehow when I'm coming home after working a full day at work and tutoring for 4 hours afterwards, the convenience of McDonald's or Burger King wins out easily over waiting a half hour to go home, figure out what I have, figure out what of that I want, and then take the time to make it.

Need I explain how easy it is to not bother to factor exercise into a day when I leave home at 7:30 am and get home at 8:30 or 9:30 pm?

These are, I understand, excuses. They're my pathetic attempt to rationalize what's really been my following the path of least resistance for too long. What I need is a way to realize my own motivation. Reinforcement, if you will. I used to go to the gym when I had a friend (Nick) who was on a schedule similar to my own, where we could reinforce one another. We ate healthier, we got exercise, and we lost a lot of weight by helping each other out.

So this afternoon I had the idea that maybe I could use my blog as that reinforcement. Maybe I could hold myself accountable to my readership, meager though it may be. It may be boring to read what I had for breakfast and how much exercise I got in a day, but I think there's a good chance that it'll help me call myself to task.

The pleasant side-effect for my readers, I think, is that if I could get myself into this habit, I would find it easier to jump-start my blogging, which I've tried and failed to do for quite some time now.

So what do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? Do you think my idea of using the blog in this way is a sound one, or do you think it's flawed in some way? Lemme know what you think.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

An Important Question

I stumbled across this article this morning, and it's too important not to pass on. Basically, the author, Robert Dreyfuss, considers the conventional wisdom (If we leave Iraq, it will erupt into unimaginable violence) and asks the pertinent question: how do we know?

I won't belabor the point, because he says it better than I could, but the main point underpinning the whole thing is that the falsely optimistic conventional wisdom underlying the start of the Iraq War (greeted as liberators, Iraqi oil will pay for it, etc.) turned out to be wrong. Why is it simply assumed at this point that the extremely pessimistic conventional wisdom is right?

But if it was foolish to accept the best-case assumptions that led us to invade Iraq, it’s also foolish not to question the worst-case assumptions that undergird arguments for staying. Is it possible that a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces will lead to a dramatic worsening of the situation? Of course it is, just as it’s possible that maintaining or escalating troops there could fuel the unrest. But it’s also worth considering the possibility that the worst may not happen: What if the doomsayers are wrong?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

China Highlights

While I was in China, I brought around a pen and a Moleskine notebook everywhere I went, and I wrote little notes here and there. Here's a couple of them (and I'll put up links to pictures when I get home and am able):


5/29/2006 - 12:08pm - Standing on the Great Wall of China. My legs might die from the climb up.

1:09pm - We made it down to the tourist area from the unimproved area where we started. We were somehow able to avoid paying, though we had to finesse some guards for a bit. Josh had a little accident sliding down the rail at the end. Final verdict? I think the Great Wall is awesome. We're going to get some food now, and then we're going to go to the Ming Tombs.

5/30/2006 - 4:42pm - Driving back to the hotel from the Lama Temple, which is an active Buddhist temple. Nick and Josh didn't come because they were tired, but Eli, Johan, Maurice and I went, and it was quite interesting. There's a Buddha statue 18 meters tall, carved from one tree trunk, which was pretty awe-inspiring. There were lots of people praying and burning incense at the feet of the Buddha statues. It's starting to rain now, which means hopefully it'll be clearer tomorrow for the Summer Palace than it was today.
Another thing I should mention is that there's a distinct feeling of taking your life in your hands every time you get near a road in Beijing. Whether on foot, on a bike, or in a car, recklessness seems to be the rule rather than the exception. There are fences between the two sides of every road and between every road and the sidewalk, and I get the feeling they're there out of sheer necessity. Lane markings seem to be nothing but suggestions, and quick lane changes with little space and no turn signals don't even make drivers mad, because they're so very common. When going to the Ming Tombs, we were passed on the left while doing maybe 35mph on a blind corner on the edge of a cliff. This is the kind of mentality we're talking about. Pedestrians and cyclists differ from drivers only in their personal level of risk on the road. They're just as reckless, and it's not uncommon to see pedestrians walking in the middle of the road with cars speeding by on either side, or to see people on bicycles casually drift out in front of traffic, fully expecting (and in general rightly so) that traffic will stop for them. I don't know if it's like this throughout China, or if it's just in the major cities, but I guess we'll find out soon enough. (By the way, this entry was written while in a taxi, and mainly as a distraction from everything suicidal going on in the road around me)


5/31/2006 - 4:35pm - We're on the train to Xi'an now. We're leaving in about 15 minutes. It feels a little bit like a Harry Potter movie, minus the magic, or the ability to understand what anyone's saying. At least it's air-conditioned.

19:56 [at this point I'd adopted the 24-hour clock] - We've been having an amazing adventure of a train ride. After dinner, we explored the train a bit, and I was grabbed by a very, very drunk, very friendly Chinese man. I couldn't understand anything but "Hello," "OK," and "NBA." He gave us cigarettes, talked about Yao Ming, and rarely talked below a shout. Later, our friend Arnold translated a bit and told us that the man wanted to teach us about Chinese culture.
Turns out that Arnold and his boss are motivational speakers (we got his boss's card, which is pretty funny). Arnold showed us a Tony Robbins video, which is his inspiration. Also, Arnold chose his English name because it started with A, to symbolize a new beginning, and [because of] Arnold Schwarzenegger, to symbolize strength.

6/2/2006 - 20:29 - Eli and I bought a bottle of bai jiu [Chinese liquor], knowing full well what it was. We're pretty damn retarded, in retrospect. I mean, it's hard to convey in words how mind-numbingly terrible this stuff is. Tequila is but an aspiring cousin to the absolute horror of bai jiu. But we bought it, so we have to drink it.

20:40 - Usually I wouldn't write back so soon, but I feel that I haven't explained clearly enough how bad this drink is. I say this after drinking a half glass of it with Eli, and as I write, I can feel my gorge [only] slowly receding. Every belch carries a new wave of nausea with it. Really, truly, if you can live your life without ever tasting it, your existence will be at least ten, maybe twenty times happier. I can't stress this enough. Stay away from bai jiu.


6/4/2006 - 19:39 - Out at dinner. Josh had spaghetti, Eli had steak, I had rice out of a bamboo tube. The real special part, though, is the dessert, which has yet to come out. Josh got "Salted Egg Superman," and I can think of three reasons why the name should warn him off of that dessert. But I ordered "Love Sickness the South," and that's admittedly no better. A couple of bucks to feed curiosity is worth it, though, I guess.


6/5/2006 - 22:24 - Back at the rooftop bar of the hostel, having some beers. Josh hates Shanghai, Eli doesn't seem to feel well, and I just want to meet some people and find something to do. It's true, Shanghai is very, very flashy, and comparatively expensive, but I'd kind of like to still have a good time, since we're here.

6/6/2006 - 12:16 - Breakfast and such, and then we went on to the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. Cool view of a huge-ass city from 350m.


6/8/2006 - 00:41 - We're at a dive bar in Yantai called Havana. Played some pool with folks who speak little to none of our language, but I guess they could also say the same. Good times, though. Go China.

6/11/2006 - 07:39 - I should be sleeping, but I'm not. A car is going to come in less than an hour to pick us up, and then a little more than a half day later we'll be back in the States. I should be sleeping, but I haven't all night. Instead I stayed up (with Nick, for the most part) and watched the sun rise.
There are things about this trip that I can't express in writing. I can't describe the beauty of the sunrise on the ocean. I can't describe the feeling of watching a foreign city shake off the reins of slumber and wake up. I can't describe the awe and admiration I have for the fishermen up before the sun. I can't describe why, sitting here right now before the gleaming sunlight, the sight of the water brings a tear to my eye.
I have nothing to report that would make anyone think this was the most amazing trip ever. I had lots of fun, but no one thing stands out. But still, knowing that we're leaving in 40 minutes is bittersweet. Maybe it's the sea. Maybe it's the new friends I've made. Maybe (and I suspect this one is it) it's traveling itself that I'll miss. I've been thousands upon thousands of miles in a short time, traveling a foreign land by train and plane, and I've never felt more at home.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Everyone's a critic

Apparently editorializing on pictures of food is more common than I thought.


Next time you're at the

Next time you're at the diner, sing your order to the waitress. Research shows it will make you laugh and she won't even notice.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Tomato's Are Gay

If it's written on the wall at Subway, it must be true (just try to ignore the grammatical error).


Update: As I was writing that post from my phone, I couldn't expound that much. But I thought that I should say that Eli and I have engaged in a number of thought experiments about how to make the above graffiti grammatically correct. In all instances, it presupposes the existence of a person named Tomato. Here's a hypothetical exchange:

Eli: My brothers aren't married, but they're straight.

Fargus: My brothers are straight too, but Tomato's are gay.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

My Office Is So Cold.....

.....how cold is it?

I wish there was a punchline. There's not. My office really is that cold. I wore a hooded sweatshirt to work today so that I could wear my jacket over my legs while I sit at my desk. I had a failed experiment yesterday in typing with gloves on. I've taken to going to the bathroom every once in a while just to run my hands under hot water and verify that they've still got feeling (except for the pinky finger on my left hand, which is a different story altogether).

I think a lot of it just comes through the wall, but I'm also pretty sure that the big vent directly above my head is none too helpful.


Monday, February 05, 2007

The Ol' Ball & Cheney

I don't have enough for a long post. More an observation, really.

The Bush Administration has often been quoted as saying that success in Iraq is crucial to the future of our country. They're putting all their eggs in the Iraq basket in the hopes of getting people on board. It's that serious, right? If we don't achieve "victory" in Iraq, then we do so at our nation's peril. More than that, we jeopardize the very foundation of our nation.

So when Dick Cheney tells reporters that the main problem with Iraq is that the American people lack the stomach to see the job through, it's understandable, in a way. Sure, it's disgusting and repulsive to have the Vice President slander a clear majority of the country in that way. But on the other hand, to say anything else would be to admit that we've entrusted the foundation of our country, if you believe their other rhetoric, to the Iraqis. If we believe that there's nothing more we can do in Iraq, and that we're just getting in the middle of a civil war, then you believe that we have no control over what the Administration has framed as the decisive conflict of our time.

So while I certainly don't agree with almost anything that the Vice President says, I can understand that his position has been shown so many times to be wrong that he's got no choice but to lash out at us.


Friday, February 02, 2007


The diner makes my friends uncomfortable.


Here's the Post...

...I'd hoped to be making. Haloscan is back, so I apologize to Johan and Lauren. Their comments were lost, but they were good, and they deserve to be added into the current Haloscan environment. If they could come back and do it, I'd love them forever. If not, I wouldn't hate them, but it's cool.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Who's Gay Now?

Oliver, on posting to my blog directly from my phone: That's really gay.

No, my friend, you are.


We're Huge in China

For those of you who never saw it, we ended up in the newspaper when we were in China.

I might end up doing some posts reflecting on my trip to China soon. Stay tuned.


Layout Issues

For all of those who posted comments yesterday or today (OK, all three of you), I'm trying to figure out how to get Haloscan working. For now, just use the Blogger comments (it's subject to text verification, to prevent spam).

Hopefully in a day or two your old comments will be back, and I'll be apologizing for your Blogger comments being gone.


Surge Protectors

No, not those kind of surge protectors. I'm talking about President Bush's "surge" of troops to Iraq (12/1/2006):

President George W. Bush admitted this morning that “mistakes have been made” in Iraq and “the responsibility rests with me” but insisted the only way out of the dire situation was to send 21,500 more troops into the country.

So two months ago, the President said we needed to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq. But today, we hear something entirely different from that:

The administration's estimate of approximately 21,000 extra troops only counts combat units, according to the analysis, and because combat units require support forces, the actual number of additional troops who will be in Iraq will likely exceed 35,000.

The way I see it, troops is troops is troops. Whether they're combat troops or support troops, they're going to the mess that is Iraq. It looks like we can add "21,500 troops" to the list of falsehoods that have been told to support the disaster that is the conflict in Iraq.

The real question, though, has to do only tangentially with Iraq. Our rhetoric against Iran is becoming increasingly inflammatory, and we're sending between 35,000 and 48,000 troops into Iran's direct neighbor. Anybody else see where this is going?


Wherein I Become a Comic Book Geek

Those of you who know me know that The Dark Tower by Stephen King is one of my obsessions. The series consists of seven books, published between 1982 (as a novel) and 2004:

The Gunslinger
The Drawing of the Three
The Waste Lands
Wizard and Glass
Wolves of the Calla
Song of Susannah
The Dark Tower

I started reading this series in 1992, right after The Waste Lands came out in paperback. I remember it vividly. I was eleven years old, and I picked up all of the first three books at Otto's, a bookstore in downtown Williamsport, Pennsylvania. I sat myself down on Grandma Fargus's couch for four or five days and just plowed through all three books, and from there I was hooked. Unfortunately, the fourth book didn't come out until 1997, so I had a lot of reading and re-reading to do during those five years. Thankfully, a lot of King's other books tie into The Dark Tower, so there was a wealth of information for me to incorporate.

After Wizard and Glass came out in 1997, at the beginning of my senior year in high school, there was another dry spell. A six-year dry spell. By the time the summer of 2003 came around, only one book had come out in my favorite series over the course of eleven years. But the news was good: not only was the next Dark Tower book coming out; the last three books were coming out within the next year!!! By September, 2004, the series was done.

There was a lot of consternation in the fan community about the ending of the series, and I can absolutely see why. For my money, though, it was about as fitting as it could have been. My favorite book of the series is still easily the fourth, Wizard and Glass, but I enjoyed the rest of it as well.

So why the title of this post? What gives with the comic books? This gives:

NEW YORK – World Fantasy Award-winning writer Stephen King, long acknowledged as the master of modern horror, and Marvel Comics join forces this spring to launch a ground-breaking new comic book series adapted from King's magnum opus, The Dark Tower.

I've never been a big fan of comic books in general. I like a lot of the movies based on them, and I've been a closet fan of Smallville since its inception, but I've just never been able to force myself to get into the format of comic books.

Well, that's about to change.

See, while I wasn't disappointed with the ending of the series, there's still a part of me that aches for Dark Tower information. To know more about that universe and the people who populate it. To know more about what motivated its characters, and what happened in the shadowy reaches of their past. So I'm guessing I'll be able to get by the issues that I've historically had with comic books, in the name of getting more Dark Tower story.

That doesn't really make me a comic book geek, I guess, but the fact that I'm most likely going to go get the inaugural issue next Wednesday at its midnight release...I think that clinches it.


Another Nomination for Gore

Al Gore was recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by a Norwegian member of Parliament. Boerge Brende, the man who nominated Gore, cited Gore's extensive environmental work, including last year's Oscar-nominated documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

"A prerequisite for winning the Nobel Peace Prize is making a difference, and Al Gore has made a difference," Conservative Member of Parliament Boerge Brende, a former minister of environment and then of trade, told The Associated Press.

Brende said he joined political opponent Heidi Soerensen, of the Socialist Left Party, to nominate Gore as well as Canadian Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier before the nomination deadline expired Thursday.

"Al Gore, like no other, has put climate change on the agenda. Gore uses his position to get politicians to understand, while Sheila (Watt-Cloutier) works from the ground up," Brende said.

This made me think about efforts being made by some folks on the left side of the aisle to persuade Al Gore to run for President in 2008. A lot of people think that Al Gore is the most qualified person in the country to be the President.

I agree. But I don't think he should run.

Don't get me wrong. If he were the nominee, I'd vote for him, and I'd do it with a smile on my face. I think he was wrongly maligned by his opponents in 2000, I think he was portrayed as stiff when he's really not, and I think that he's a strong, able and intelligent leader.

But Gore's found his niche. He's eloquent, passionate, and most of all effective as an advocate for climate change awareness. I can't help but think that another Presidential campaign, if unsuccessful, would set his work back at a time when it really can't afford to be set back.

Others would counter that if elected, Gore could reach much more with his message. But could he? With the other pressures of the Presidency, could Gore devote as much time to this pressing cause as he can currently? And could he really reach more people as the President than he has as the maker of the third highest-grossing documentary of all time?

I'd love to see a Gore Presidency. More than that, I'd love to have seen a Gore Presidency. I think he'd make a good President. But I think the work he's doing now is more important, and I think he sees that.


Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Stuart Saves the Senate

Nothing formal's been announced yet, but MSNBC's reporting that Al Franken has decided to run for the United States Senate.

A lot of folks over at TPMCafe were debating whether or not this was a good idea, and whether or not Franken actually stands a chance at winning the election. Personally, I really like the guy. I've got one of his books up on the shelf (Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right), and it was really good. Good enough for there to be several right-wing sites established to try to debunk him.

What's more, I think he stands a real chance at winning the election. He's going to be running in Minnesota, and he's actually from Minnesota originally and lives there currently. He was very close friends with the immensely popular Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash in 2002 during his Senate re-election campaign. He's consistently been an articulate and passionate progressive voice, especially since Bush's election in 2000.

So, in conclusion, in Minnesota's 2008 U.S. Senate race, I'm throwing the full endorsement of The Fargus Report behind Al Franken.


Hillary, Be Not Proud

Through Decision '08, the only conservative blog I can bring myself to read anymore, I found this incomprehensible criticism of some statements that Hillary Clinton recently made (I apologize for the length of the excerpt, but there's really not that much content to cut. Just tough it out):

In essence, Senator Clinton declared: The war in Iraq is Bush's mess, and it is his job to clean it up before I become President and have to do it myself.

More precisely, Senator Clinton argued that it was Bush's "decision to go to war with an ill-conceived plan and an incompetently executed strategy." That is, the Iraq war is Bush's mess. "We expect him to extricate our country from this before he leaves office." That is, we expect him to clean up his mess. Bush has said that this cleaning up the Iraq mess was "going to be left to his successor," namely, Senator Clinton herself, a prospect which explains the Senator's final outburst, "I think it is the height of irresponsibility and I really resent it." (Italics mine.)

And why shouldn't she resent it? Would you like to wake up one day, find that you are the President and that it is up to you to bring stability and order out of the chaos and bloodshed in Iraq?

The moral punch of the Senator's underlying analogy is obvious. We can all grasp it just as readily as Lincoln's compatriots could grasp his conceit about swapping horses in the middle of a stream. If someone else has made a mess, it's his job to clean it up—not yours or mine. For example, if mom comes home one day and finds that her sons have been playing paintball in the dinning room, it's their duty to clean up the mess they've made—not mom's. Nor could we blame mom for being resentful if, despite the obvious right and wrong of the situation, she ended up, as she often does, with the task of removing the splattered paint all by herself. Indeed, it is possible that Senator Clinton's analogy will have an especially potent appeal to women voters, since women have traditionally been assigned the thankless task of cleaning up the mess their men folk and boy folk leave in their wake. What woman can't say, "Been there, done that?"

There is, however, a problem with Senator Clinton's analogy—a problem so serious that it forces us to wonder if she genuinely understands the nature of the office that she is currently seeking, and to see what I mean let us go back to the case of Mr. Lincoln.

When Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as President, he inherited a mess in comparison with which Iraq pales to insignificance. The states in the Deep South had already left the Union. The previous President, James Buchanan, had not lifted a finger to keep the vast majority of Federal forts and arsenals from falling into the hands of the new Confederacy. Buchanan's position was that the Constitution did not allow for states to secede, but at the same time, neither did it allow the Federal government to use coercion to keep them in the Union against their will. So what to do, except to do nothing?

The biggest mess of all, however, arose from the fact that the newly inaugurated President's government was still in control of two remaining military outposts in the Confederate States, Fort Moultrie in Florida and Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Had Buchanan given the order to evacuate both forts while he was still President, then Lincoln would not have been faced with the dreadful decision of whether to abandon them or to re-supply them when it was his turn to be President. By abandoning these forts, Lincoln knew he might avoid a civil war; by re-supplying them, he knew he would almost certainly begin one. Yet by abandoning the forts, Lincoln also knew that he would be abandoning the Union. Thus the choice that confronted Lincoln on obtaining the office of Presidency was the hideous alternative of disunion or civil war—in short, the mother of all messes.

Historians have, by and large, been exceedingly harsh on Buchanan. He should have done something decisive, the way Lincoln did. Yet Buchanan himself had no more choices than Lincoln did. Yes, Buchanan in theory could have acted decisively: he might have decisively let "the erring sisters" go in peace, or else he could have decisively started the blood bath that became known as the American Civil War. But in either case, Lincoln would have inherited the horrific consequences of Buchanan's very decisiveness—a raging civil war already in progress or a Confederacy of Southern States whose legitimacy had already been recognized by the North. In other words, no matter what Buchanan did or didn't do, Lincoln was bound to become President with an enormous mess on his hands. But that, we must remind ourselves—and Senator Clinton--is the nature of the American Presidency. If you become President, the chances are very good that you will have to start by taking responsibility for someone else's mess.

There are myriad reasons to dismiss comparisons of the current conflict in Iraq to the American Civil War, but only one really matters in this case: the complete disparity between the events leading up to the American Civil War and the events leading up to the current conflict in Iraq.

The author refers, near the end of the piece, to the fact that it was inevitable that Lincoln would have to clean up some mess, because no options that Buchanan had before him would have made for a tidy resolution of the conflict before Lincoln took office. Fair enough. I don't know enough about Civil War history to make a pronouncement on this, but I have no problem accepting it as given. It fits well enough into whatever historical narrative I have been taught over the years.

The problem, though, is that for the analogy to hold, all of the events that precipitated the mess that Buchanan handed to Lincoln would have to have been Buchanan's fault directly. The current conflict in Iraq is and always has been George W. Bush's conflict in Iraq. After 9/11, he pushed the war with Iraq. He shifted the focus from Afghanistan, and the people who actually attacked us. He's owned this "war" from the get-go.

In contrast, any student who wasn't asleep during U.S. History in high school could tell you that the events that precipitated the American Civil War had been brewing for over 50 years. Indeed, upon passage of the Missouri Compromise, Thomas Jefferson penned the following lines to John Holmes*:

"...this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed, indeed, for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper."

You may notice that I bolded all of the references to "Senator Clinton's analogy" in the article above. That was just to point out the fact that Senator Clinton made no analogy. The author of the article did, and it's a pretty easy one to dismiss as fatuous. But Senator Clinton made a statement about resenting the fact that George Bush got our country into the mess it's in now in the Middle East. No analogy there.


*Maybe it's indicative of the fact that I'm depraved, but when I saw the name "John Holmes," my immediate thought wasn't of a 19th century politician.


Epic Movie

Last night I got home from work around 5:00, and my roommate Jason told me that he and Darren were going to the movies at 5:40, and that I was welcome to go along.

"What are you going to see?" I asked.

"Epic Movie," he said. I groaned. "Well, you don't have to go if you don't want to," he said.

"No, I don't have anything better to do. I'll go. I'll just bring a book along."

At this point I should explain to my reader(s) that we have a deal through our cable company that allows us to get two free movie tickets at the local theater every Tuesday. So does Darren. The only reasons I would consider going to so transparent a piece of crap are because it was free, and I didn't want to sit holed up in my room all night.

"Jason, isn't there anything else playing?" I asked.

"Smoking Aces," he replied. "But we're probably going to save that for next week."

"Why?" I pleaded. "For the love of God, why?"

"Well, from the reviews, Epic Movie is bad enough that it probably won't be in the theater by Free Movie Tuesday next week, but Smoking Aces will probably still be there by then."

I shit you not.

Jason's reason for wanting to see this movie actually hinged on how bad it was.

But again, I didn't have anything to do, so I packed a book in my pocket and set off for the theater.

* * *

I've seen a lot of bad movies in my time. I know this, and I've reconciled myself to the fact. One of the most recent movies I saw in the theater (again, with Jason and Darren on a Free Movie Tuesday, thank God) was Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj. I'm not exaggerating when I say that that movie didn't even make me smile, let alone laugh. I don't know why I keep doing it, except that I may be predisposed to enjoy having something to complain about.

Epic Movie comes from the proud tradition of such incomprehensible spoofs as Scary Movie, Scary Movie 2, Not Another Teen Movie, Scary Movie 3, Date Movie, and Scary Movie 4. I use the word "incomprehensible" because I simply can't figure out why some of the subjects of these movies' "satire" (I use the term very, very loosely) make it into the movies. For instance, a significant portion of Scary Movie 3 was premised on a spoof of 8 Mile. There was an extended bit in Scary Movie 2 that was a spoof of a Nike commercial.

If you're scratching your head, then I'm right with you.

Armed with the knowledge of how bad this movie was going to be, and with the knowledge of how stupid its forebears had been, I was still a bit taken aback at just how revoltingly unfunny this movie was.

First of all, as Darren and I were quick to note, it mainly spoofed The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which I loathed. That didn't really help it, I guess.

Second, and I think most importantly, Narnia was arguably the only really "epic" movie that it spoofed (I guess an argument could be made for others, like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and X-3: The Last Stand). Let me expound a bit. Scary Movie was made primarily because there had been a glut of new horror movies, and it directed its "satire" at those movies and their own silly conventions. Juvenile, but the first one worked (at least a little). Hell, even Not Another Teen Movie, though it didn't choose subjects that were all completely current (spoofing Sixteen Candles in 2001? Come on now), kept its subjects to ones that were relevant to its ostensible premise.

Epic Movie, on the other hand, spoofed such things as MTV shows Cribs and Punk'd (making fun of Ashton Kutcher for wearing trucker hats is so 2004), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Casino Royale, Harry Potter, Nacho Libre, and The Da Vinci Code (I probably missed some during the part where I took a nap). Maybe nearly everybody else takes a more expansive view of the word "epic" than I do, but seriously, I'd think they could have come up with some better candidates (Lord of the Rings and The Matrix trilogy come immediately to mind).

Third, it just wasn't funny. I forced some laughs, just to try them on, and to try to fool myself into having a good time, but it just didn't work at all. I could see where the writers and director wanted the audience to laugh, but my usual reaction at those points was to mutter a disinterested, "So that happened." In addition to the complete lack of humor, I had one major gripe with the structure of the film. Nobody expects these things to be marvels of continuity, but I get a bit frustrated when I watch two characters violently killed (beheading and having her heart cut out, respectively) only to reappear with no ill effects mere seconds later.

It's not worth telling you what this movie was about. It'd be too painful for me to recall, and too painful for you to read. Suffice it to say that about halfway through the movie, I consciously balled my coat up into a pillow and went to sleep for about 15 minutes.

Never, ever see this piece of crap.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Wii had our first Wii-Wii-lated casualty tonight. Is it going to get annoying if I keep typing "Wii" for every "we" and "re-"? I don't Wii-ly care.

Jason and I were playing Wii Sports tonight. For those of you who aren't in the know about these things, the Wii is the next-generation Nintendo console, played with wireless motion-sensing controllers. So when you're bowling, for instance, you stand up and make motions as though you were actually bowling. There's some sensitivity issues on some of the games, but when it's good, it's great. With bowling, it's accurate down to different spin velocities you choose to put on the ball as you release it.

Anyway, Jason was playing tennis and getting really into it. He was jumping all over the place and swinging madly. Finally, as I suppose was inevitable, one of the jumps coincided perfectly with one of the mad swings, and instead of connecting with the virtual ball, Jason's hand, clutching the Wiimote, connected solidly with the light fixture hanging off of the ceiling fan in our living room.

I guess these things happen.