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February, 2002:

O Stephanie, where art thou?

I’ll add my name to the growing chorus of folks who’ve greatly enjoyed Stephanie Dupont’s extended guest-hosting of Brian Linse’s blog. I haven’t seen anyone else say this, so I’ll say it: Brian, when you get back to LA, do whatever you can to convince Stephanie to start her own blog. I guarantee it’ll get permalinked all over the place (except maybe by the Samizdata folks).

Dark clouds may be looming, however. Via the Insolvent Republic of Blogistan, we find that the Illuminated Donkey is questioning Stephanie’s existence. C’mon folks – just because someone can’t be tracked down via Google doesn’t mean he or she is a ghost. I admit, at first I thought Brian might be pulling a joke on us, but no more. I believe in Stephanie, and so should you.

UPDATE: Kathy Kinsley has also suggested that Stephanie get her own blog when Brian returns.

UPDATE: Gary Farber and Bill Quick are also insisting Stephanie is a hoax, most likely Brian in drag. They cite Brian’s friendship with Kinky Friedman and the fact that “Stephanie Dupont” is a character in some of the Kinkster’s novels. Well, from one good American to another (*), I say why can’t this merely be a nom du blog? If it turns out Brian has hoaxed me, I’ll admit it and congratulate him. In the meantime, I say viva Stephanie.

* – See here and scroll down a bit.

UPDATE: I met Brian (and Ann Salisbury and Kevin Drum) when I was in Anaheim in October. I asked him about Stephanie, and told me flat out that she’s a real person. So there.

Teaching intolerance

There’s been a fair amount of bloggage regarding this article in the WaPo about Islamic schools in America. I’m as alarmed as the next guy, but not because gasp we’ve suddenly discovered such things in our midst. No, my discomfort about these schools is the same as my discomfort about many religious schools. The problem I have with these schools is that they teach a distorted and frequently intolerant worldview. The fact that these specific schools are Islamic makes no real difference to me.

Here’s an example from the article:

[T]hey file into their Islamic studies class, where the textbooks tell them the Day of Judgment can’t come until Jesus Christ returns to Earth, breaks the cross and converts everyone to Islam, and until Muslims start attacking Jews.

It’s not the particulars that bother me as much as the us-versus-them underpinnings. I still remember a tale from my Catholic school days in which a “Moslem” king threatens to kill all Christians in the kingdom. At one point, he calls his staff into the throne room and demands that all Christians step forward. Fifteen people do so. “And do you wish to remain Christians?” he demands. “Yes” they say, at which point the king orders their executions. It was presented as a story of heroic martyrdom, where the best thing we little Catholics could do was die for our faith. The rather unflattering view of “Moslems” it gave us was left unspoken, but nonetheless it was pretty clear. Admittedly, we weren’t exhorted to become suicide bombers, but the bottom line message is the same: We’re right and they’re wrong, and you’re better off dying than becoming one of them.

I guess I see a lot of religious schools as being inherently isolationist, and I believe that isolated people are more likely to be xenophobic. Of course every parent should teach their children morals and values, and every parent should want to shield their children from inappropriate aspects of our popular culture, but at what point do you cross over into demonizing values and cultures that are not your own? At what point do you become like the people of a small town who can’t understand why some people don’t want to be forced to pray like the rest of them do.

I don’t want to make the same mistake that I’m accusing others of here and demonize all religious education. Religious education is generally a good and healthy thing, and even if I don’t much care for it, it’s as American as the First Amendment so I can take my dislike and stuff it. Besides, as I just pointed out in the links above, one doesn’t have to go to a private school to be isolated from Others. But I will always worry about people who grow up never knowing anyone who isn’t like them, for it will be easier for them to believe whatever they are told about those people.

You may be starting to suspect an ulterior motive on my part. You’re right – I mean this as a defense against that bane of right-wingers known as “multiculturalism”. The multi-cultis deserve a lot of the criticism they get, for their excessive relativism and their own peculiar brand of demonization, but the vision of multiculturalism is a good thing. It’s a reminder that there’s more than one valid viewpoint out there and that not everyone has your experiences and perspective. In short, The World Is A Big Place. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this was what the multi-cultis originally intended to teach us.

I had the good fortune to eventually get into an excellent public intermediate school (that’s “middle school” for some of you) and then into Stuyvesant High School, which was an incredible melting pot in addition to being a damn fine place to learn. Once I figured out that not everyone was Catholic – my first year in public school I gave Christmas cards to a fair number of Jewish kids because I didn’t know any better – I did fine. Going to college in Texas was further exposure to different perspectives and backgrounds.

I like to think that I’m a better person for the experience. I like to think that more people could benefit from similar experiences. That, in a nutshell, is the discomfort I have with sheltering children in overly controlled environments. The particulars of the environment don’t make much difference.

It’s Official

The Ballpark Soon To Be Formerly Known As Enron Field is now officially The Ballpark Formerly Known As Enron Field. Enron will get some money back in the bargain. As long as none of it goes to Lay, Skilling, or Fastow, I’m OK with that.

I don’t particularly care if stadium’s name is bought and paid for. For $100 million over 30 years, I’d have gladly called myself “Charles Kuffner, brought to you by Enron”. But would it kill anyone to leave the name as “Astros Field”, or deity forbid, “The Ballpark at Union Station” for this season?

Speaking of bought and paid for

According to this story in the Chron, “[a] $100,000 donation from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez’s bank in 2000 helped fund Republican efforts to retain control of the U.S. Senate”.

You know, I’m as desperate as any Texas Democrat to get a few of our folks back into state office. I just have a hard time believing that Tony Sanchez is actually one of us. I’ll still vote for him if he wins the primary – I really dislike Governor Goodhair, and I’m that big a tool – but I’m not gonna like it. I really wish Dan Morales had thrown his hat into this ring a bit earlier, instead of flirting with the Senate race. Alas.

At least Texas isn’t the only state with questionable gubernatorial candidates. Read about Ginger’s adventures with California’s Spammin’ Secretary of State, Bill Jones. Hey, all you LA Bloggers – what do you know about this guy?

Road fees

Fritz Schranck has some good stuff about how we pay for roads. Check it out.

I Am Not A Crook

Jeff Skilling denies all in his testimony to the Senate. What a scuzzball.

This is my favorite bit:

In Tuesday’s hearing, Skilling clashed with senators over his stock sales, repeatedly blamed auditor Arthur Andersen for signing off on questionable accounting transactions, and told disbelieving lawmakers he could not recall receiving $5.6 million in bonuses from Enron.

Compare this to the redoubtable Stephanie Dupont:

Now for my one political thought that the whole world can click on. I once won $1000 in a Super Bowl pool. God bless the Cowboys! I remember that like it was yesterday. How come Jeff Skilling can’t remember getting 6 million dollars?

You said it. Hell, when I was 10 I won a football helmet in a neighborhood raffle. That was over 25 years ago, and I still remember it. Skilling lies like a cheap rug.

Coming to a neighborhood near you

Wendy’s International has bought a 45% interest in Houston restaurant chain Cafe Express. Cafe Express is a “fast-casual” restaurant. Watch that phrase, I think you’ll be hearing it again.

Cafe Express is Wendy’s first investment in the fast-casual restaurant business. The term “fast-casual” refers to a growing market in the industry, combining the casual dining of a restaurant like Chili’s or Friday’s with the self-service, walk-up concept.

Robert Del Grande, president of Cafe Express, said he was told by Wendy’s CEO Jack Schuessler that the fast-casual market is “just beginning. It’s teeny now, but it’s going to be huge, and he expects it to grow exponentially.”

I’m actually surprised that there isn’t more of this already. I don’t know if Houston is a trendsetter here, but we also have Eatzi’s for high-end takeout, and the Amazon Grill, a single-location competitor to Cafe Express in the “fast-casual” market. Good food, low prices, quick service – hey, Virginia Postrel, is this The Future or what?

Trying to understand Amy

Last night Tiffany and I watched Judging Amy, the Amy Brennerman vehicle on CBS. T has seen a few eps, but I’d never watched it. It wasn’t bad – decent writing, good cast, and Tyne Daly’s a hoot – but I was scratching my head at the ending.

Amy spends the episode in a funk, partly because the guy she most recently went out with (and apparently slept with, though this wasn’t clear) hadn’t called for four days. She mopes and makes with the man-hating and then at the end of the episode (and two more days have passed) she gets a large bouquet of roses from this guy. Reading the card makes her very happy.

Are you kidding me? Sending flowers after being completely incommunicado for six days isn’t sweet and romantic, it’s manipulative. Other than being comatose, what could this guy have been doing that he couldn’t pick up a phone and say “Hi, I just wanted to let you know that I had a really good time and I want to see you again”? There’s a word for people who fall for this sort of thing: Sucker.

I did a lot of stupid, pathetic things when I was single, so maybe this is just too close to home for me. Still, I don’t understand it. If I were Amy, I’d sure like to know what he’d been up to and why he thought this was better than just calling after a day or so.

Tribute to The Bear

No, not Bryant. I’m talking about Don Haskins, the longtime coach at UTEP (formerly Texas Western), who made history by winning the 1966 NCAA men’s basketball championship with an all-black starting lineup. The team they beat was Kentucky, coached by Adolph Rupp. Rupp was, to put it charitably, behind the times on racial matters – it would be three more years before Kentucky featured a black player.

Anyway, Jerry Izenberg wrote this nice tribute to Haskins. It’s not true that UTEP has never competed for any other championships – their track and field team is a perennial power – but no matter. Go read and enjoy.

UPDATE: In this entry, about the death of Texas Western guard Bobby Hill, I was going to make a stronger statement about Coach Rupp being a racist, but a Google search on him led me to this page, which argues that he’s been unfairly labelled as such. I report, you decide.

Dog emergency

Had a minor dog emergency this afternoon while taking Harry for his afternoon walk. He usually walks on my left, and sometimes when the leash goes slack his right foreleg will step over it, making it necessary to untangle him. I must have pulled on the leash while it was like this, and somehow the clip that holds the choke chain got attached to his paw. It’s the kind of clip that you push in at an angle to release, rather than the vertical kind, which meant that any attempt to remove it made it worse. I tried, but the pain made Harry resist.

I wound up having to carry him to the car (he’s only 45 pounds, but it’s harder than you think to carry a dog that weight, especially when he whines and writhes when he gets jostled) and off to the vet we went. They had to give him a sedative/painkiller to remove the clip. He’s walking without a limp, but has been less active than usual (a hangover from the sedative) and whining more than usual. He’s even refused a Milk-Bone, which is like Tom DeLay turning down soft money. He must really be out of sorts.

Poor Harry. I guess today wouldn’t be a good day to trade places with him.

More woes for the 55 MPH speed limit

Governor Rick “Goodhair” Perry is asking pollution officials to look for alternatives to lowering the speed limit. This just gets more and more entertaining.

One thing to keep in mind is that average speed on Houston highways during peak hours is nowhere near 55 MPH, let alone 65 or 70. Take a look at the historic freeway travel times on the Texas A&M Realtime Traffic Map of Houston and see for yourself. I know that lowering the speed limit is only part of the solution, and it’s one that’s easiest to implement, but let’s not lose sight of where the real action is.

If you care about your kids, you’ll read my blog

Today while at the bank I heard a political ad on the radio which began “I want the best for my children. That’s why I’m voting for…”

Is it too late to stick an amendment in the Shays-Meehan bill that makes it a capital crime to imply that a vote for the other guy makes you an unfit parent?

The Andrea Yates trial

I’ve avoided commenting on Houston’s other big story, mostly because I’m conflicted about it. What Andrea Yates did was horrible, but I don’t believe that killing her is in the interests of justice.

I think we can all agree that Andrea Yates is ill. Her attorneys are going for an insanity defense, but this is a tall order. According to Texas law, you must “at the time of the conduct charged…not know that [your] conduct was wrong”. However sick Yates is and was, revelations that she considered using a knife to kill her children don’t make it easy to conclude that she didn’t know what she was doing at the time.

I think what really bothers me about this whole thing is how polarized discussion of it has been from the beginning. Wanting to understand how this could happen and how we could prevent it from happening again does not mean wanting to absolve Andrea Yates from all blame. Questioning the appropriateness of the death penalty in this case does not mean that one wants to see Yates walk out of the courtroom with her freedom and a lifetime supply of Zoloft.

There’s a difference between what Andrea Yates did and what, say, Susan Smith did, and it’s not in the number of dead children. Ask yourself this question: If Yates’ erratic and ultimately lethal behavior had been caused by a brain tumor, would you feel differently about her? If the answer is yes, then why is postpartum psychosis and schizophrenia not enough to mitigate your emotions?

In The New Republic, Michelle Cottle proposes sterilizing Andrea Yates as part of her sentence. This is a can of worms in a tar baby on a slippery slope, but it’s hard to argue that another Yates pregnancy would be in any way a good thing. I’m having a hard time resisting the urge to say “And while you’re at it, let’s fix Rusty Yates, too.”

Like I said, I’m conflicted. I’m sure glad I wasn’t called to be on this jury, though I daresay they’d have voir-dired my butt out of there. It will be interesting to see what the jurors have to say after the trial, regardless of the verdict.

There’s a cheap West University Place Police joke in there somewhere

Justin Slotman says that the IRoB is still ranked for the Google searches on “Jaime Sale nude”. Well, I was getting a lot of Google hits on “Elena Berezhnaya nude”, but alas, I seem to have dropped out of contention.

On the other hand, I’m still getting hits on “Robert Gordon University naked”, thanks to this post. It’s good to know that I have such a high quality readership.

Suburban smut smackdown!

Some time ago I wrote about the hapless Chief of Police in West University Place and his suspension for having surfed to smut sites on the Web. Seems the loss of pay is the least of his worries, as the West U Soccer Mom Mafia is calling for his resignation.

As Michael recently said about a New Zealand judge in the same predicament, one wonders if these suburban paragons of virtue are all huffy because the police chief was neglecting his duties (for a total of 20 minutes, as the original story makes clear), or because they think people who look at nekkid pictures are icky and should go back under whatever rock from which they first emerged. Would they still be out for his scalp if it had come to light that he had similar tastes at the video store as Clarence Thomas? How does this make him unqualified for his job? The West U Police Department doesn’t even have a vice squad.

The fact that this story was reported by a society columnist should tell you all you need to know. Good luck in your next job, chief.

Satire takes another body blow

Cleveland Indians pitcher John Rocker, best known for his sensitive commentary on racial and sexual relations, will portray a crazed killer in a new movie. The film, called “The Greenskeeper”, is the type of film that also features a Playboy model and a radio “personality”, so I don’t think they’ll be on any Oscar short lists. The producers are looking for a national distributor, otherwise it’s straight to video.

UPDATE: Here’s the IMDB page for this movie. Alas, no one has offered a review of it as yet.

Satellite subversion

Glenn Kinen points to this excellent article in the NY Times Sunday magazine about NITV and its subversive pro-American broadcasts to Iran. I sure hope they can find a sugar daddy to help them keep up the good work.

Slobogoogling: Sonja Myers

Matt Welch has been all over the Free Slobodan Milosevic petition which has been signed by over 1300 people. He suggested that bloggers start Googling these folks to see what else they’ve said and done.

Well, David Janes has put up a more detailed list of the signees, from which I see that a few call Houston home. I thought I’d check out a couple of my more interesting neighbors to see what history they have with Slobo.

First, there’s Sonja Myers. She apparently likes writing letters to the editor. Here’s one she sent to the Ottawa Sun. I’m personally fond of this quote, regarding the NATO bombing:

The jury is still out on the intent and consequences of NATO’s war and history would doubtless make the adequate judgement

Would that jury have anything to do with the OJ verdict? I’m just asking.

Here’s an unpublished letter to the NY Times. Guess it wasn’t fit to print.

Sonja has been an active opinion writer to the Houston Chronicle. A search of the Chron archives showed three letters in 1993 and two op-ed pieces in 1995. Most recent was a letter from December, 2000. Chron archives require registration so I can’t easily link them. I’ll quote from them instead.

Letter to the editor, 5/5/93:

The conflict in Bosnia is largely the result of outside interference in the internal affairs of Yugoslavia. Germany in particular greatly contributed to the present problems by encouraging Croatia and Slovenia to declare their independence and then pressuring the European Economic Community and the United States to support the move.

Those darned outside agitators. Serbia would’ve been such a peaceful place had it not been for them.

Letter to the editor, 8/16/93:

Taking sides in a three-way civil war is the worst thing the United States can do. Someone should tell our government that, among other things, bombing of the Bosnian Serbs will:

Not help but ruin the peace negotiations in Geneva.

Not bring peace to the region, but incite a long-term war.

Damage and close the existing humanitarian supply routes.

Bring about more killings of innocent civilians — the Croats, the Muslims and the Serbs — due to their close proximity to the front lines.

Cause a permanent rift between the United States, its NATO allies in Europe and the United Nations.

Upset the delicate balance in the U.S. relationship with Russia.

Here’s Chuck’s Sure-Fire Handy-Dandy Never-Fail Advice For Prognosticators: Always wait until after the event you’re forecasting has occurred before you make pronouncements about what will happen. It’s less embarrassing that way.

Letter to the editor, 12/3/93:

Thanks to […] the media, we are led to forget the fact that the people of Serbia are innocent. Compassion for human suffering, if genuine, is not limited to any particular nation or group of people.

We should ask ourselves why is the Bosnian Muslim population more deserving of the sympathy of the world then the suffering peoples of any other nation including Georgia (in the former Soviet Union) or Serbia.

Um, maybe because they were being ethnically cleansed? Just a guess.

Sonja started writing op-ed pieces for the Chron in 1995. She wrote one on 3/16/95 which, for some odd reason, I couldn’t find in the Chron’s archives. There were a couple of links in the Google search that seemed to point to this article as well, but they were all dead. Coincidence? You decide.

Anyway, the first op-ed piece drew four letters in response, three of which were critical. Here’s one letter in response, dated 3/21/95 by Zvonimir Milas:

In her March 16 Outlook article, “Bosnian Serbs, too, have vowed: “Never again,’ ” Sonja Myers attempts to justify the genocide committed by Serbs on Croats and Muslims during the last four years of Serbia’s aggression on Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

She depicts Serbs as victims of Croats and Muslims during World War II. She distorts the WWII statistics, in a similar way that the former communist-dominated Yugoslavia had done for nearly 50 years to justify Serbian dominance over all other nationalities in that country.

In that war, however, there were massive exterminations of Croats and Muslims by Serbs which continued after the war ended. But in that totalitarian, communist Yugoslavia ruled by Serbs, even to mention the Serbian actions resulted in imprisonment, exile or worse.

Her next op-ed article was on 6/10/95:

Contrary to the current popular belief, there is a solution to end the civil war in Bosnia. It is the same solution that could have prevented the war. It requires applying the same moral principles and affording equal treatment to all sides, including the Serbs. A short trip to the library would reveal that the Serbs in Bosnia have a case: their legitimate rights and concerns to be heard, acknowledged and respected. This would open the way to meaningful negotiations and secure necessary Serb concessions for a long-term political settlement and peace in the Balkans. The alternatives are too awful to even contemplate.

Sometimes, as Dogbert once said, no sarcastic remark seems adequate.

Her most recent letter to the editor was on 12/5/00. I quote it in full because it’s a bit bizarre:

My entire family in Belgrade demonstrated for days demanding that Slobodan Milosevic accept the results of the presidential elections and concede defeat to his opponent, Vojislav Kostunica.

The ruling party used election officials, courts and the media – all run by Milosevic’s political party – to deny victory to Kostunica.

The main weapon for manipulating public opinion was to call the people of Serbia “traitors, bandits and mobsters,” and swear that the “will of the people,” the “fair and accurate vote recount” and the “rule of law” should prevail.

Many Serbs and those who followed news reports on the Yugoslav elections probably had a strong sense of deja vu regarding the 2000 U.S. presidential election as they watched the “ruling party” and its operatives manipulate public opinion, pressure the courts to change existing laws, harass and threaten election boards to do all they could to change the bad outcome for their Democratic candidate, Al Gore.

History has a weird sense of humor, but in my wildest dreams I could not have imagined that the actions and intentions of the power-obsessed Milosevic could have been matched up exactly to the last dirty trick by America’s Democratic Party and its candidate for the presidency.

What can I say?

There were not that many results in Google for Sonja Myers. Most of them point back to the Free Slobo petition or refer to one of her published or unpublished editorials. The Houston Chronicle archives were the most useful resource.

Slobogoogling: Stan Goff

Stan Goff, as nearly everything written by or about him always says, is a retired US Special Forces Master Sergeant. He’s written a book called Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the U.S. Invasion of Haiti. I’m not qualified to comment on this book, but surely someone else out there is. (Paging Sgt. Stryker. Please pick up the white courtesy phone.)

Stan has apparently been busy in the antiwar camp since 9/11. Here’s the text of a speech he gave at a “teach-in” (oooh, coopted 1960s rhetoric!) at the University of North Carolina on 9/17/01. You can read this in HTML here. We see that whatever talent Stan may have as a military historian, he’s pretty lousy as a pundit:

“Since the attacks of September 11th, we have seen the unfolding of a national ritual denunciation of this crime that is much more than an expression of outrage and sadness. A disciplined military-financial-industrial press is harmonizing us in this ritual, and the orchestra director is theBush regime. Failure to participate is being constructed as heresy.

Heresy includes:

  1. The failure to call for war or support out leaders when they call for war
  2. The denial that this can be reduced to a test between good and evil
  3. The refusal to accept official explanations
  4. The temerity to suggest that our own rulers have committed equally offensive actions
  5. And finally, that our own financial, political, military, and intelligence establishments bear a portion of the blame.

There is a new McCarthyism emerging here, and a new loyalty oath along with it.”

Yeah, yeah, we know, the poor oppressed antiwar demonstrators. Been there, done that.

Next up is an article from 10/20/01, in which Stan discloses the real reason for the attacks and the US response. I’ll give you a hint: it’s all a Big Conspiracy! Involving oil! Which we’re running out of! So we need to control the supply!

“The left, if it has the capacity to self-organize out of its oblivion, needs to understand its critical roles here. We have to play the role of credible, hard-working, and non-sectarian partners in a broader peace-movement. We have to study, synthesize, and describe our current historical conjuncture. And we have to prepare leadership for the decisive conflict that will emerge to first defeat fascism then take political power.”

Too bad you didn’t do any of these things. I’ll give the man props for vocabulary, though – he actually used the word “klavern” to describe President Bush’s senior leadership team.

Here’s an interview conducted on 11/5/01 with someone named Mike McCormick. All I have to say is someone needs to explain the concept of “paragraphs” to whoever transcribed this.

Here’s an excerpt from and plug for his book, Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the U.S. Invasion of Haiti (ISBN: 1887128638; only two left in stock at Amazon, so hurry up and order). It’s in a Marxism-Feminism list archive at The joke is left as an exercise for the reader.

I searched the Chron archives but found no matches for “Stan Goff”, “Stanley Goff”, or “Hideous Dream”, so either he’s not from the Bayou City or he’s not a letter-writer like Sonja Myers. There were quite a few pages’ worth of results in Google on Stan, but I think this gives the basic gist of who he is.

Officially Recognized Religions

Gary Farber has a nice piece about John Ashcroft’s recent remarks, in which our breastphobic Attorney General says

“Civilized people — Muslims, Christians and Jews — all understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the Creator. Civilized people of all religious faiths are called to the defense of His creation. We are a nation called to defend freedom — a freedom that is not the grant of any government or document, but is our endowment from God.”

Ashcroft groups Christianity, Judaism, and Islam under the “civilized faith” umbrella a few more times in the prepared statement.

I find it very interesting that people like Ashcroft now seem to be going out of their way to include Muslims when speaking positively about religion and people of faith. Anyone else remember when the watchword among the religious right was “Judeo-Christian”? Well, apparently Muslims have made the big leagues. I’m willing to bet that while this lexical change began before 9/11, it’s really become noticeable since. One can take this as sincere outreach by people who have traditionally had a very narrow view of morality, or one can take it as crass pandering to a group of voters that generally went to Bush in 2000. Either way, it’s interesting.

Righteous show

Went and saw the Asylum Street Spankers last night with some friends. What a totally kickass show that was. Having Guy Forsyth play with them helps get them back in touch with their bluesier side. It’s worth the price of admission just to hear Guy and Christina Marrs sing “If You Want Me To Love You”, which featured different (but still hilarious) lyrics from what’s on the Nasty Novelties CD.

We were joined at our table by Ted Barlow and his fiancee Leslie. They were excellent table companions. There’s no reserved seating at Rudyard’s so we all arrived around 8 PM to ensure we could sit (wise decision – it was standing room only well before the band started playing at 10). We had plenty of time to enjoy chatting and getting acquainted. Turns out they live fairly close to me. Since Ginger is also my neighbor, I guess that means there’s an Axis of Left-Leaning Bloggers here in the greater Heights area.

All in all, a rousingly good time. The Spankers rock. Chuck-Bob says check it out.

UPDATE: Here’s a more thorough review of a Spankers concert, this one also featuring Guy Forsyth.

Ask me a hard one next time

Craig at Page Fault Interrupt asks: If there really were such a thing as reincarnation, would you rather come back as a Saudi woman or as an American dog?

Dude. Anyone who could ask that question isn’t a dog owner. There are plenty of days when I’d happily trade places with my dog. It’s no contest.

Many naugas died to bring you that chair

Earlier this week Tiffany attended the ninth annual Houston Heritage Society Attic Sale. It’s basically a big garage sale thrown by Ladies Who Lunch as a fundraiser for the Heritage Museum. While at said sale, Tiffany found and bought an easy chair/ottoman set. Not just any easy chair/ottoman set, mind you, but a lime green naugahyde easy chair/ottoman set.

One of the differences between Tiffany and me is that despite three-plus years of marriage, I’m still comfortably in touch with my Inner Bachelor. If I found a lime green naugahyde easy chair/ottoman set at a garage sale for a good price, I’d happily put them in my house. I’m pretty much impervious to irony and rolled eyeballs from my mother in matters like that. Hey, it’s a comfy chair, I got it at a good price, and it fits in my living room. And it came with an ottoman – bonus!

Tiffany, of course, being a person of Style and Taste, plans on recovering them with fabric that will go with the overall motif of whatever room we wind up putting them in. This will, we hope, be after we move into the new house as there’s no place for them in the current house. I’m not sure what she plans on doing with them in the meantime, but I’m sure she has something in mind.

As far as the new house goes, we’ve settled on a price and will go forward with signing another large wad of legal documents. The inspection is next, which may yield an additional bargaining chip or two. Stay tuned.

Good news and bad news

Ginger talks about the sad state of computer documentation, and wonders how one can redirect mail in Outlook. I have good news and bad news for you, Ginger. It looks like it can be done, but as if often the case with Microsoft, it depends.

I dinked around in my Outlook 2000 client at work, and in the Rules Wizard there is an option to “redirect” mail (as opposed to “forward” mail) to another person. I didn’t finish off this rule – more on that in a minute – but it seems to me that this would do what you and David Pogue would want, as it seems like the equivalent of setting an alternate recipient on the mailbox via Exchange Admin.

The bad news is that this can only be done as a server-side rule. Most of the rules on my profile say “client only”, and when I tried to add a rule to test this out, it refused since I was apparently trying to add a client-side rule. Of course, with Outlook, it’s impossible to tell how and why rules are client- or server-side. I do have one server-side rule on this profile, so I know I can test this out, but I’ll probably build a new profile and test it out on that instead. I’ll let you know if I succeed. And you do need Outlook 2000 – a warning popped up when I picked the “redirect” criterion to make sure I knew that. You’d think the software would know its own version…oh, let’s not go there.

Unsafe at any speed

Matt Welch recently pointed out a bizarre interview in the Chicago Tribune with Ralph Nader. I don’t normally do this sort of thing, but I think this deserves some deconstructing. I’m going to quote selectively, so go to the link above if you want to see the whole thing.

Q. You write that people who accused you of merely taking votes away from Gore missed the point. What was the point?

A. The point was to build a broad-based political movement that transcended any single election. […]

Call me Mister Obvious, but in order to build a broad-based political movement, one must have a political platform with broad appeal. How many moderates and conservatives found Ralph and his merry band of WTO-protesting kiddies to be appealing? Ralph was skimming from the left end of the Democratic party. There’s no broad base in that.

Q. Did you accomplish your goal?

A. The first stage, certainly. When was the last time any progressive party got 3 million votes? […]

It’s a bit disingenuous of Ralph to proclaim success here, since before the election the Greenies were talking big about getting 5% of the vote and qualifying for federal funds in 2004. They wound up with 2.7% of the vote instead. That’s one out of thirty-seven. I’m willing to bet that if you rounded up thirty-seven random voters, you could find at least one who believes that Elvis is alive, that space aliens are being autopsied in Nevada right now, or that God planted dinosaur bones around the globe to fool us into thinking the earth was more than 6000 years old. Or perhaps that Ralph Nader was a viable Presidential candidate.

To answer his question, I suppose that depends on one’s definition of “progressive”, but allowing a subjective response would be 1996, when Ross Perot and the Reform Party got 8 million votes. In 1992, Perot got nearly 20 million. And, for your beloved young people who’ve probably never heard of him, in 1980 John Anderson got 5.7 million votes. (Thanks to David Leip’s excellent US Election Atlas for the data.) In case you’re curious, Ralph, they all got more votes than you because they had broad appeal.

Q. What is the biggest impediment to the rise of a progressive third party in this country?

A. One is the winner-take-all mentality. If people don’t think you can win, they won’t vote for you. […]

Yes, it’s shocking how people would rather vote for someone who has a chance of actually acheiving office, where they might be able to do some good. How much better it is to vote for a surefire loser who is pure in heart. After all, someone who never gets elected will never disappoint you by compromising or making decisions with which you disagree because it’s in the greater interest. Noble failure is so romantic, isn’t it?

Q. Would you rather Al Gore had won?

A. The similarities between the two towered over dwindling differences, so I was indifferent to whether Bush or Gore won. […]

Ralph’s thing all along has been how Bush and Gore are essentially the same. Let’s check a few issues and see if they’re the same or not, shall we?

  • Abortion? Different.
  • Gun control? Different.
  • Huge tax cuts which skew towards the upper income brackets? Different.
  • Privatizing Social Security? Different.
  • School vouchers? Different.
  • Drilling in the ANWR? Different.

I could go on, but this point has been made many times before. Even if you minimize all of these things, let’s not forget that if Gore had won, John Aschroft would be just another talking head on Fox News. ‘Nuff said.

Q. Would you have made an effective wartime president?

A. This war would never have happened had I been president, because for 30 years we have had an aviation safety group, and we have been urging the airlines to toughen cockpit doors and improve the strength of the locks, and they have been resisting for 30 years.

Ralph, do you honestly believe that in the nine months between January 20 and September 11 that you could have forced all domestic airlines to fit all their planes with stronger cockpit doors? I don’t believe this could have been fully accomplished in nine months even if the airlines had wanted to do it. Even putting that aside, before 9/11 pilots and crew were trained to accede to hijackers. They were taught to get the plane safely to the ground and let the authorities there deal with the situation. In other words, the hijackers very likely would have been given access to the cockpits by the pilots as part of their training on how to handle hijackings. This is nothing more than Monday morning quarterbacking of the worst kind.

Q. But could a president from the Green Party, which advocates non-violence, wage war?

A. Non-violence does not mean that you let people destroy you, because that encourages violence. In other words, we wouldn’t foment aggressive war, but we would certainly have a very strong defense. The Green Party stands for health and safety, and safety means security. But we’ll do it in a smarter way. The key in the Green Party is to foresee and forestall, and one way you do that is to put meat and potatoes on what Don Rumsfeld and Colin Powell said: that this kind of terrorism is tolerated and bred by poverty, injustice, dictatorships, destitution and human suffering.

Yes, but how would you have dealt with the situation? Harsh language? Ralph sounds like he’s taken the Tom Lehrer song Folk Song Army way too seriously:

We are the Folk Song Army.
Everyone of us cares.
We all hate poverty, war, and injustice,
Unlike the rest of you squares.

Look at this transcript of Nader with Bill O’Reilly. I’m no fan of Dubya, but thank God he’s surrounded by people who had the guts to do what needed to be done.

There was a time when I had respect for Ralph Nader. I even briefly considered doing one of those vote-swaps for him, since my vote in Texas wasn’t gonna count. I eventually rejected that on principle, and I’ve not regretted it a bit. He’s a pathetic shadow of what he once was, and he has no realization of the depths to which he’s fallen. Sad.

Fuzzy math

In today’s Chron, there’s an ad for the new movie Super Troopers. This ad contains the following pull quote from critic Lou Lumenick of the New York Post: “An Amazingly High Joke-to-Laugh Ratio!”

Um, you do know that this means the movie contains way more jokes than laughs, right? Lumenick did in fact give this movie a good review, so I guess this is just another case of what John Allen Paulos calls “innumeracy”.

One stupid white man, anyway

According to his regular newsletter, Michael Moore is calling for President Bush to resign during the 7th inning stretch on Opening Day at Enron Field, which will be on April 2. I quote from the letter, to which Amy was kind enough to point me:

Finally, I want you to know that I will be looking forward to only one thing during this entire book tour — Opening Day of the 2002 Major League Baseball season! Why? Because that is the day I am asking George W. Bush to resign. And I want the resignation to take place right in the middle of Enron Field in Houston during the 7th-inning stretch of the Astros-Brewers game. I’ve asked if I can throw out the first pitch at 4:05pm CT.

I mean, can there be a more perfect way to end the madness — Bush, Lay, Mike, Texas, America’s Favorite Pastime, and the visiting team from a Blue State owned by the Commissioner of Baseball (who will hand over his job to the ex-“president” as the fans sing “Da Do En-ron-ron Da Do En-ron”)?

C’mon, George, are ya listening? Just step up to the microphone and go out like Gehrig! Opening Day, April 2, 2002. Yoooou’re Ouuuuuuuut!!!

Putting aside the fact that Moore and his minions did their best to help Bush win in the first place, I have to ask what normally would be a stupid question: Doesn’t Moore realize that this would make Dick Cheney President? How, exactly, will this end the “madness” that he refers to? I’d guess that Moore is fondly recalling the good old pre-Twelfth Amendment days, when Al Gore would’ve been Vice President, except that (oops!) Moore doesn’t like Gore, either.

Ah, who cares about such details when you’ve got a book to pimp. Way to market, Mike! You’re a good little capitalist, aren’t you? By the way, the link to his latest and greatest provided here is straight from Amazon rather than the one that refers to his site, from which Moore presumably gets a kickback. Just my little subversion for the day.

The last thing I’ll ever write about Can’t Stop The Music

Karin sent me a note about an upcoming homage to Can’t Stop The Music at the Austin Drafthouse by local comedy troupe Mr. Sinus Theater 3000. I have to say, I’m just sick with jealousy that I won’t be able to see this. It’s just wrong that Houston has nothing comparable to this.

I suppose I’ll have to console myself by going to the Sing-Along Sound of Music while it’s here in town. Wonder where I can find a nun costume…

House update

The owners of the house we want have come back with a counteroffer. We’re still apart on price but I think we’ll be able to meet in the middle. We’ve given a new offer to our real estate agent to take back to them.

In the meantime, maybe we should have looked for a self-cleaning house like this one.

Religion and the court

Dahlia Lithwick discusses Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s reasoning behind his recent claims that Catholic judges who believe the Church’s teaching that capital punishment is wrong should not be on the bench. Scalia, who is a devout Catholic, is not arguing for his own resignation but is advocating his position of originalism, or strict constructionism, as a means around this dilemma.

Originalism (colloquially known also as “strict construction”) requires interpreting the law based on the principle that the Constitution means only what it meant to the framers who adopted it. For Scalia, capital punishment was constitutional at the time of the framers, so it is constitutional today. Period. Since the framers had no intention of protecting the right to choose, he can oppose abortion as a constitutional matter while purporting to be morally neutral on the issue. As he said at the Pew conference: “[M]y difficulty with Roe v. Wade is a legal rather than moral one. I do not believe – and no one believed for 200 years – that the Constitution contains a right to abortion.” By following the flame of originalism, Scalia can lead his flock of tortured Catholic judges out of the constitutional wilderness. Their personal morality and even the dictates of the church are immaterial. Their only judicial task is to follow the intent of the framers. This method of interpretation allows Scalia to look value-neutral, even when his own writings often belie that neutrality. As he told the Pew conference while defending the death penalty, “That is not to say that I favor the death penalty. I am judicially and judiciously neutral on that point.”

This is, as Lithwick points out, quite convenient for Scalia, as he believes the Founders views coincide nicely with his own. If you know and follow the intent of the Framers, you have a clear way to rule on any given matter of law.

I have two basic problems with this. One, of course, is that it’s easy to say that one knows the intent of men who have been dead for two centuries. We have their written words, but to say that there is One True Way to interpret those words strikes me as being rather presumptuous. Hasn’t the email revolution taught us that it’s often easy to misconstrue written communications? The Framers aren’t here for us to ask them what they really meant, so why is Mr. Justice Scalia’s interpretation of their words any more correct than, say, Barbara Tuchman’s or Arthur Schlesinger’s? Or mine or yours, for that matter.

Further, while Scalia dismisses the idea of interjecting modern mores into Constitutional considerations, he has no problems with using old ones. If the Framers would have considered abortion to be unconstitutional, might it be in part because they also considered women to be unworthy of the right to vote? Or that certain people could be owned as slaves? In other words, if these intelligent and well-educated men existed today instead of in the late 18th century, isn’t it at least possible that some of them might view the abortion question differently? If so, then why must we deny ourselves 200 years of extensions and improvements to the ideas that they acted upon at that time?

Which leads me to my second objection. It seems to me that the Framers themselves recognized that what they were writing down in 1787 was unlikely to be perfect forever, since after all they did build in a mechanism for amending their work. I believe there are two basic reasons why we have done so: To respond to situations which the Framers could not have foreseen, and to fix their mistakes.

An example of the former is the 20th Amendment, which changed Inauguration Day from March 4 to January 20. Originally, several months were needed for the transition to a new administration – it took weeks just to get everyone to DC. By 1932, when the 20th was ratified, advances in transportation and in communications – which were clearly unknown and presumably unknowable in 1787 – made the long transition period awkward and necessitated the change.

The rest of the amendments, however, were more or less corrective in order. Nothing fundamentally changed about women (#19) or blacks (#13, #14, #15), or the Senate (#17) that necessitated their Constitutional change in status. This was the country recognizing that what the Framers had intended originally was wrong, and that it should be fixed.

If you accept that, then it follows that the original intent of the Framers is not sacrosanct. By all means, it should be considered and weighed heavily, but surely someone with Scalia’s intellect is capable of deciding when the original intent is not in the best Constitutional interests of the United States in the 21st century. Again, why shouldn’t we be allowed to use what we’ve learned in the two centuries since ratification to interpret our laws?

Antonin Scalia’s approach to the Constitution is certainly a valid one. It’s logically consistent and is useful for approaching practical problems. He claims it’s the best approach. I disagree, but that’s a matter of opinion. If he says it’s the only approach, however, then he’s wrong. Our history clearly says so.

They say it’s your birthday

It’s my birthday, too, yeah. I’m exactly the same age as Justine Bateman, and exactly one day older than Cindy Crawford. Here’s what else has happened on my birthday. Nice of the Senate to celebrate my 20th by outlawing genocide, doncha think?

And for a present

I finally got a Blackberry wireless email device. With my pager and cellphone, this means I am now officially a triple-threat geek. Tremble in my presence, mortals!

There’s a campaign finance reform joke in here somewhere

Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune lauds Tom DeLay for all his help to the airline industry after 9/11. There are many ways that one can be snarky about this sort of thing, but I’ll settle for the one that’s closest to my heart: Why is it that funds for rail require a local referendum, but funds for all other forms of transportation can be freely given?

Rodeo Report, Night 1

We showed up at the Dome a bit before 7 last night in anticipation of the Martina McBride/Lyle Lovett double bill. I, having never actually been to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, expected that the “7 PM” time listed on the concert page meant that McBride would start at seven, play for an hour or so as most opening acts do, then Lovett would take the stage for up to two hours.

Wrongo. First, we got the Catalena Cowgirls, followed by a wagon-train introduction of the rodeo head honchos and various special guests. The most notable special guest was former Oilers head coach Bum Phillips, who got a rousing ovation. Ask any longtime Houstonian, they’ll tell you that the beginning of the end of the Oilers in Houston was the day Bum got fired.

We then got about two hours of actual rodeo. As this was all new to me, it was interesting, though probably about an hour more than my attention span could handle. We saw various competitive events plus the calf scramble, which has to be seen to be believed. I don’t mean to make fun, here – the rodeo is very much about scholarships for kids, and the scramble is one way kids can get scholarship money.

At long last, it was music time. First up was McBride. I don’t follow pop country, so I’d never heard any of her stuff. She has a very good voice, and can really belt them out. She’s also a babe, which never hurts. She’s from Kansas and told about how her family would make a big event out of the annual airing of The Wizard of Oz (note to Mikey and any other obnoxious young’uns reading this: Some of us are old enough to remember life before VCRs), then launched into an excellent rendition of Over the Rainbow.

Next was Lovett and his Large Band. If your only impression of Lyle Lovett is “that guy with the funny hair who was married to Julia Roberts for 30 seconds”, I suggest you learn more about him, as he’s one of the most original voices in music today. If you countrified the 60s group Blood Sweat and Tears you’d have something close to Lovett’s sound.

I only wish there had been time for more music, but at least now I know not to get there too early on Wednesday for Bob Dylan. Here’s the Chronicle review of last night’s show if you want more details about it.

On a side note, this is the 37th and last year that the Rodeo will be in the Dome. Next year it moves to the new Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans football team. (Yeah, I think that’s a lame name, too.) The Astrodome is now officially called the “Reliant Astrodome”, but I’ll call it “Harris County Domed Stadium” before I call it that. I can accept “Enron Field”, and I can (barely) accept “Compaq Center”, but “Reliant Astrodome”? Never.