A friend of mine is really into the so-called “9/11 truth movement,” which posits that there is a big government conspiracy behind the 9/11 attacks, and that it wasn’t really done by Muslim terrorists. Naturally, I was skeptical. He asked me what the terrorists motivation was for the attacks. I began to answer confidently: “They hate us for our freedom.” But even before I finished answering, I realized that it was a totally ludicrous, absurd thing to say, and that it certainly wasn’t true, and that–at best–it was wild, improbable speculation.
And then, the more I thought about it, I started to think about the Patriot Act, and the warrantless wiretapping, and the secret CIA prisons, and the prisoners we’ve been holding for half a decade now without charges, the insistence upon not outlawing torture against unconvicted and uncharged suspects, the re-classification of decades-old unclassified documents, and the new proposed rules allowing conviction of suspects without having the opportunity to confront the evidence against them.
And it suddenly hit me.
It’s Bush and Cheney who hate our freedom.
On Monday, I woke up and by early afternoon, I was on the 1 train, which I took to the last stop, 242nd Street, where I transferred to the Bronx 9 bus to 262nd Street. I then walked north into Yonkers in Westchester county for about half a mile. Then, I turned around and walked south on Broadway through the Bronx, into Manhattan, all the way to the southern tip, where I dangled my toe over the river, a journey of about 19 miles.
Along the way, I passed by David Blaine in his plastic bubble of water, and somebody handed me a hand-written flier:
On the front it says this:
I sent an email commenting on a remark that was on the second episode of the podcast “Chivalry Today”. On the following episode of the show, the host spent about twenty minutes–more than half of the show–discussing my email!
Here’s the full text of my letter:
Subject: Chivalry and fouls in soccer.
I just listened to the second episode of the Chivalry Today podcast, and I enjoyed it very much.
Your discussion of fouls in soccer, however, left me with more questions than answers. In short, my objection to your analysis is this: saying that “It’s not a foul if you don’t get caught,” is not meant to be a recipe for getting around the rules– rather, it is meant, I believe, to be an accurate description of the rules of the game.
I don’t watch much soccer, so let me change the subject slightly to basketball, with which I am only a little more familiar. In basketball, one generally wants to avoid committing fouls; however, there are times when roughly all players and coaches would agree that a foul is appropriate. For example, if the other team leads by one point, and there is less time left in the game than there is on the shot-clock, then the other team can just hold on to the ball, and not take a shot, and win the game, and this is exactly what any team would do in that situation. Accordingly, the losing team at this point will typically foul the other side–in full view of the officials–in order to take the foul penalty, which stops the game clock, and sends the fouled player to the free throw line, and then gives possession to the fouling team before time is resumed. This isn’t cheating. This is part of the game, and it is how the game is played. In other words, committing a foul and cheating are not the same thing. Point shaving is cheating. Kidnapping an opposing player before the game starts is cheating. But committing fouls is a tool available to every good, smart player.
Further, suppose I know I’ve committed a foul, and the officials don’t see it and don’t call it. Am I supposed to turn myself in? Nobody does that. The rules do not require or encourage it, and doing so would probably get a player severely disciplined by his or her coach. This, too, is part of the game. A foul is only a foul if it is called by the referee. Otherwise, it isn’t a foul. An uncalled foul is just some luck that went in your favor, like a lucky bounce of the ball.
I think the situation is even more clear if we talk about a different game: poker. Now, assuming arguendo that a chivalrous person would be gambling in a poker game (perhaps it is for a charity event), is it unchivalrous to bluff? Is it unchivalrous to deceptively make your hand appear weaker than it is? Obviously not! That’s how poker is properly played. Yet, I think there are quite a lot of people (such as myself) who see a huge distinction between committing a strategic foul or bluffing, and stealing someone’s wallet or lying.
Accordingly, I find myself taking issue with your reply to the coach’s supposed suggestion that players can separate what you do to exploit the rules of a game from what you do outside the game. I think there is a real distinction to be drawn there, and it is not a very subtle one, and it is a distinction that the chivalrous person can and ought to make, in my view.
Suppose, twenty years ago, in the mid-eighties you read a science-fiction book in which the following things started happening.
First, there’s an incredibly warm spring. Then, a record-setting, oppressively hot summer, that seems to stretch all the way into December. Then an unbelievably mild winter. During this time, because of the heat, the hurricane season is so extensive and severe that for the first time, we make it all the way through the alphabet to W, and then through the Greek alphabet through, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Hurricane Epsilon, and then finally Tropical Storm Zeta, shattering the old record by 129%. Then on January 29, 2006 (in our science-fiction story), the lead story in the New York Times reports that the Presidential administration tried to silence NASA’s top climate scientist from speaking out about the problem of global warming. This headline occurring the day after the main character and hero of the story–that’s me, by the way–gets a mild sunburn walking around Brooklyn, New York on January 28th (which really did happen to our hero last Saturday, not incidentally).
The book, titled Hurricane Epsilon, would not have sold well, if it had been written. Why? Because people would have said that the idea of such bizarre weather coming about in only 20 years would have been too outlandish to be believed.
This doesn’t sound like one of those science-fiction stories with a happy ending, I gotta tell you. This sounds more like one of those Soylant Green or Mad Max sort of science-fiction stories.
It’s been running about 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit above normal since the middle of last year. It was at least 25 degrees above normal today in Manhattan, NY, after being 22 degrees above normal on Saturday; 22, 25, and 27 degrees above normal three days the week before; and 21 to 24 degrees above normal three days the week before that (and 13-18 degrees above normal three other days that week, and 9 degrees above normal the other day).
What’s it going to be like when it’s 25 degrees above normal in July? What’s it going to be like a few years later when maybe it’s 40 degrees above normal or more? Maybe that’s never going to happen. But why isn’t anybody talking about how strange and scary the weather has been for the past ten months or so?
I just saw a very bad advertisement on TV.
There’s a cute girl, about 14 or 15 talking. At first we only hear the man’s voice, but as the commercial goes on, you begin to see the guy talking, who turns out to be a good looking guy in his mid-twenties.
Man: Meeting a teen girl online is easy. They’re so desperate for attention . . .
Girl: Attention from older guys is flattering. They get me more than guys my age . . .
Man: Age lets me play the supportive older guy, and that’s inter–. . .
Girl: Interested in the same things. And you get to know someone when you’re chatting . . .
Man: Chatting seems unthreatening to them. Once I talk about how perfect we are for each other . . .
Girl: Other people don’t understand. If you trust someone what’s wrong with meeting . . .
Man: Meeting them is the goal. That’s when things get really interesting.
Woman’s voice: Online predators know what they’re doing. Do you?
Now, I’m all for alerting parents and children about the danger of online predators. But do they really need to teach older men that picking up a cute teenager online is so easy? Do they really have to portray the older guy as attractive and remind kids that his attention is “flattering”?
According to coolnurse.com, the age of consent for women is 18 in only 8 US states. It is 16 or lower in 33 states and the District of Columbia, including 3 states where it is 14. So, in most of the country, a so-called online predator in his 30s or 40s can go to a chatroom, seduce a 16-year-old girl, and be legally accountable to no one. And, aparently, in Hawaii, Iowa, and South Carolina, men can do so to a 14-year-old girl, and brag about to the police if they want to.
Whatever your opinion is about whether sex with a 14-year-old girl should be legal in the United States, I don’t think we can really have an argument about whether it should be encouraged. It should not be. And yet I think this ad encourages men to get online and try to seduce a teenage girl, by making it look like it’s very easy to do, and it glamorizes it to young girls by portraying the predator as an attractive man in his mid-twenties.
I really don’t think that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Ad Council fully thought through the likely effect of this message, at all. I think they should retool their message.
So, the original Star Trek series ended in 1969. And Star Trek: The Next Generation started in 1987, 18 years later. And now it is very nearly 2006, 19 years later still.
In other words, the amount of time in between the end of the original Star Trek series and the beginning of Star Trek: The Next Generation is less than the amount of time in between the start of Star Trek: The Next Generation and today.
Where does the time go?
If you’ve been watching Fox News, you know that conservative pundits have been spending the last few weeks promoting boycotts against companies that say “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
Why are they making such a big deal about this? Do you think they really get offended when someone says “Happy Holidays”? No.
They’re picking this fight because they are trying to frame the left as anti-Christmas, anti-Christian, and anti-religion. They’re doing it by making very poor arguments that are easily countered. And the left is biting the bait, positioning themselves exactly where the right is trying to put them.
Progressives need to reframe the issue properly, and the correct issue is this one: Is it right for the majority to force its religious views on the minority?
I’m pro-Christmas. I’m pro-Christianity and pro-religion (although I’m opposed to fundamentalist extremism). But I’m against the majority forcing its religious views on the minority. Why are conservative right-wingers trying to ruin Christmas by creating a divisive fight by insisting that people impose their religious views upon people who do not share their faith? It’s anti-American.
When you die
And I’m speaking to every single person in this room
When you die
And when you get to Hell
And you’re bent over
And your pants are down
And the Devil comes over
And sticks you with his Pitchfork
In your ass:
What do you think that’s going to feel like?
What is that going to feel like, inside of your head, while that’s happening?
While that’s really happening?
For a hundred million years?
(I’m sorry. That is such an exaggeration. I mean, in a hundred million years, you will just barely have started to be raped in the ass by Satan–forever. A hundred million years is nothing! It is a blink of an eye compared to the length your sentence in Hell.)
I’ll answer my own question
Since you obviously won’t
What does it feel like, to be jabbed with the Devil’s pitchfork?
I’ll tell you what it feels like.
It feels exactly like regret.
That’s what regret is. It’s the devil sticking his fingers into your belly, right here [indicates stomach]. Right here, but in the fourth dimension, and wiggling his fingers all around. That’s what regret is. That’s all it is. And that’s why your regret is so hard to let go of.
And there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.
This is my 500th post. What a shame it’s such a lame one.
Why is the Bush administration attacking the United States Congress while the nation is at war? I think it must be very demoralizing to the troops to make misleading attacks on the United States government, as the administration is doing. If you ask me, “what we’re hearing now is some politicians contradicting their own statements and making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war,” and I wish that Bush and Cheney would stop doing so.
When in court for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta on April 20, 2005, American terrorist bomber Eric Rudolph stated, “By the grace of God, I am still here — a little bloodied, but emphatically unbowed.” (see http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/04/15/schuster.column/).
This is an obvious reference to the poem, Invictus (Latin for “unconquered”) by William Ernest Henley, and which includes the line “Under the bludgeonings of chance / My head is bloody, but unbowed.”
The entire poem also served as the last words of executed American terrorist bomber Timothy McVeigh. The entire poem is as follows:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
“Invictus” is my favorite poem. When McVeigh quoted it a few years back, the lines “I am the master of my fate: / I am the captain of my soul” were usually the only ones included by the media. Whenever this happened I always added to anyone within earshot that my favorite part was “In the fell clutch of circumstance / I have not winced nor cried aloud. / Under the bludgeonings of chance / My head is bloody, but unbowed,” which is the part referenced by Rudolph.
I’m a little disturbed that my taste in poetry is shared by such foul company.
“The belief in the possibility of a short decisive war appears to be one of the most ancient and dangerous of human illusions.” -Robert Lynd, writer (1879-1949)
I don’t usually check out Fox News, but I was thinking about this whole Karl Rove thing in the news, and wanted to see their take on it. So I checked out foxnews.com, and one of the headlines is “Karl Rove Should Get a Medal.” This was under the heading, “John Gibson’s My Word,” but it was not otherwise labeled as an opinion piece.
The article begins:
Karl Rove Should Get a Medal
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
I say give Karl Rove a medal, even if Bush has to fire him.Why? Because Valerie Plame should have been outed by
somebody. And if nobody else had the cojones to do it, I’m glad Rove did — if he
did do it, and he still says he didn’t.
Won’t you take a minute to vote for my friend Jessica Delfino for Best Musical Comedy Act in the 2005 Emerging Comics of New York Awards?
Cick here, and also vote for some of the other great New York emerging comics while you’re there, if you like.
Electric Universe: The Shocking True Story of Electricity by David Bodanis is a nice mix of both science and history and biography, and I liked it. It is impossible to overstate the importance of harnessing electricity in influencing the history of the world, and yet I have seldom seen electricity discussed from an historical perspective, presumably because historians aren’t generally all that interested in science.
The book does a decent job of explaining the science behind modern inventions, but I feel the explanation could have been much deeper, to the point where you’d be able to build your own light bulb or telephone. And it failed to discuss television, which I think is probably the most important invention of the 20th century, in terms of influencing history. And it was a little dry in places. But I did like it overall, and I recommend it.
This show is funny and cute and clever with just the right blend of outrage and self-effacing humor, though some of the jokes do fall a little flat. It’s worth seeing before it closes on March 27.
I’d never been a fan of anything Patrick Buchanan had to say. But his latest book, Where the Right Went Wrong : How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency was gripping and insightful. We’ve all heard the criticisms of the Iraq war from the liberal point of view. But Buchanan very eloquently and devastatingly critiques it from the right, pointing out that it is not in any way “conservative” to start a war with a country that posed no threat to us and did not want war with us, and that by lying in order to do so, we have made enemies of all the peoples of the Middle East, except for Israel.
Where I was sure that I would part ways with the pro-life, anti-gay, anti-affirmative-action Buchanan was the second half of the book, when he discusses social policy. Instead, I was captivated and captured by his well-reasoned arguments against the policy-making decisions of the Supreme Court over the last 50 years. His well-taken point is that it started with the 9-0 decision in Brown v. Board of Education. This case, outlawing racial segregation in schools, was so hard to argue with on policy grounds, that people have been reluctant to point out that the Court exceeded its power in that case. And over the years, the court has gotten more and more bold and more and more specific in inventing rules out of thin air, notably in Roe v. Wade, in which the Court made very specific legislative rules regarding what can be done in which trimester– the sort of policy decisions that we expect to come from a legislature.
I don’t agree with Buchanan’s politics at all. But his book is very interesting and persuasive.
I remember when I was in high school, and we learned that in Victorian times, standards of beauty were so insane, and women were so obsessed with their apearance and so screwed up in their heads and so subjugated by men, that they would have their lowest ribs removed, so that they could have a slimmer waist. Some even died in the procedure, we were told. I remember that my classmates and I were all aghast at this sick, barbaric practice.
That was right around when breast implants started to become popular.
This funny and smart documentary about competitive eating contests maintains just the right mix of reverence and whimsy for the sport. We follow narrator Crazy Legs Conti, holder of a world record for eating the most number of oysters in a single sitting, as he pursues his dream of qualifying for the Fourth of July Nathan’s hot dog eating contest.
I think my favorite moment in the movie was when he Conti meets 131-pound Takeru Kobayashi, who has dominated the Nathan’s contest for the last few years. Conti says that to compare Kobayashi to Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods is an insult to Kobayashi, because Jordan isn’t scoring twice as many points as the next leading scorer in the NBA, and Tiger Woods isn’t finishing tournaments with twice as many shots below par, but Kobayashi is eating 50 hot dogs at the Nathan’s contest, and the second place finisher is only eating about 25.
I went to the Sprint store on 77th and Broadway a couple weeks ago because my cell phone wasn’t working. It turned out to be a hardware problem, and I’d bought the insurance, so they said they’d replace my phone for me, and for me to come back in two to three business days, and that I could call to see if it was ready. So, last Tuesday, I called but they decided that they were not answering their phone no matter what. I called about 25 times to no avail. But on the recording it said that there were special holiday hours until 8PM (they normally close at 7PM). Since they were not answering their phone, I walked over there (more than a mile from my apartment), only to find the store closed at around ten to eight.
I knocked on the door, and they said that they closed at 7. I start to explain that their recording is falsely saying that they are open until 8PM, but the guy, the same technician who analyzed my phone, walks off. I knock on the door again. He comes back, and tells me to beat it. I start to say, “Listen,” but he says, “I won’t listen” and storms off. I knock again, more firmly. He comes back, makes a fist at me through the glass door, and tells me that if I don’t get lost he’s going to “beat me.” I tell him that if he touches me, I’ll call the cops, and he’ll spend the night in jail. He says that he’s going to call the cops on me because I won’t stop knocking on the door. I tell him to go ahead, and I’ll tell the cops about how he threatened to beat me. He calls to someone that they should press the “white button” to call the cops. I say, “Just listen to me for one second.” He walks away before I can finish. I just can’t believe this happening. I’m a customer, and I’m their during their advertised hours of operation, and their treating me like something stuck to their shoe. I’m certainly not going to leave because of a school-yard style threat. So, I knock again, quite forcefully.
The technician comes back with a fire extinguisher. I take a step back. He unlocks and opens the door. I take a step back. He raises the fire extinguisher over his head, and lunges at me, in a way that would make any reasonable person believe that they were about to be fatally struck in the head with a fire extinguisher. “Oh, God! Oh, my God, no!” I shout as I turn and cover my head, believing that these are the last words I will ever utter in my life, because this man is going to kill me. Obviously, he did not do so, and he went back inside, laughing and smirking. I call the police.
The police get there, and I tell them what I have just told you. The people in the store tell exactly the same story that I just told you, with the single exception that they claim that when I was knocking on their door, it was with the intention to break down their door with my bare knuckles. Obviously, this is both absurd and false, and, at any rate, they can only speculate about my private intentions, so they necessarily just making this up. The police tell me that they believe me that I was not trying to break down their door with my bare knuckles.
The police say that, sure, he shouldn’t have come at me with a fire extinguisher, but I shouldn’t have been knocking after they told me to leave. It looks like both of us are guilty of “harassment” and we should just call it a day. I say that, no, I was knocking on their door during their advertised hours of operation, which is what you are supposed to do. By contrast, this man did not harass me, he threatened to kill me with a fire extinguisher. The police man says that I’m exaggerating. I tell him that I am not exaggerating, this man threatened to kill me with a fire extinguisher, and that’s my statement. He says that I don’t know what the legal definition of threatening to kill someone is. I tell him that I’m a lawyer, and I do know. He says he’s so sick of people telling him they’re a lawyer, because he’s on the street doing it every day, and I ask, “what do you want from me? I happen to be a lawyer, and I happen to know that he threatened to kill me with a fire extinguisher.” He asked what he should charge him with, and I said there is a specific statute that outlaws making death threats, and it’s also assault with a deadly instrument. He said that he’d put what I had said in the report, and that he was also going to put what the people in the store said, that I intended to break down their door with my bare knuckles. I said that was fine, and to just call the DA’s office downtown, and they’ll tell you that this man just confessed to a serious felony, and that what I did was not against the law, but they said they didn’t need to do that.
So, this went on for about an hour, between talking about it with me, and talking about it with the other guy, and the time it took for them to take down our information from our driver’s licenses, and so on. So, I’m waiting outside the police car for my license, feeling very upset as the adrenaline rush of having my life threatened starts to fade, and I realize that after having my life threatened I’ve had to deal with two idiot police officers who don’t know what they’re talking about, and have been yelling at me and being very rude to me, right after I’ve been through a terrible, frightening experience. Then, the cop opens his door to give me my license back, and the cop says that he called downtown, and the guy is getting locked up tonight. They asked me not to stand right there, but told me I could watch from the corner. I did, and saw that they’d put him in the back of their car in handcuffs.
So, that was okay, I guess, to win in the end. Except that the very next day, I still had to come back to get my phone. And when I did, I saw the same technician, back at work. How is that possible? Something is seriously wrong with Sprint as a company.
You know I was only being half-sarcastic when I described this as a story of bad customer service. Obviously, this goes beyond just a complaint about bad service. But the truth is, I believe that there is a culture at sprint–which in my experience has horrendous customer service–that views customers as a hindrance to getting through the day, rather than as a resource to be valued. An employee of a company that values its customers and creates a culture of respect for them, wouldn’t even feel the urge to threaten one of them, much less act upon that urge.
What’s with Saturday Night Live jumping on the bandwagon of people making fun of Ashlee Simpson getting caught lipsynching on their show? Let’s not forget that SNL was totally complicit with Simpson’s attempt. There’s no way that she could have had that pre-recorded audio track go out over the air without the knowledge and even the assistance of SNL’s tech people. And it’s not Ashlee simpson who promises that Saturday Night Live is a live show– it’s Saturday Night Live that makes that promise.
Hey, I love SNL. And I do not like Ashlee Simpson. But SNL should really lay off of this, because its hands are very, very dirty.
So a “googlewhack” is a search made by combining two words so that you get a google search result that yields exactly one result (“Results 1 – 1 of 1”). Dave Gorman decided not only to find some googlewhacks, but to visit them in person. The result is an adventure that took him around the world, and is very funny.
In the spirit of the thing, here’s a couple googlewhacks of my own: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0834137/filmokey is a googlewhack for regicide pyrotechnician, and http://sarn.org/vim/.vim/engspchk.vim is a googlewhack for anklets prevarications.
This satire of musical theater, presented as a series of short sketches about various shallow, over-privileged women, is the best show I’ve seen in a long while. It’s funny and touching and extremely well-presented. It’s also only $5 at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater, which also gets you in to see The Sunshine Gang at no additional charge, which is also pretty good. It’s playing this Thursday, November 18, at 8PM. It’s not on the schedule yet for December, so that could be the last show ever, for all I know!
I’m thinking back on all the second terms of US Presidents in my lifetime.
Clinton was impeached.
Reagan was caught up in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Nixon resigned from office in disgrace.
I wouldn’t want to read too much into that, though.
I just bought a building in Greenwich Village! It’s currently being used as three residential apartments plus a retail store. I’m going to leave the store in place, and convert the residential apartments into a townhouse for myself. I’m putting in an elevator, and I’m staying in my old place until that’s in. So, between the place I’m living in now, and my new place, I temporarily have eleven bedrooms.
So come and visit!
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