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..... 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.