Monday, December 29, 2008

The end

I am finding myself strangely compelled by this. Not so much for the visuals, but because it had never occurred to me before that the music of the Apocalypse might actually be just as soothing as this suggests.

Things I think about. Pt. II

I realize this month something that I have probably always known, but have never been able to articulate:

I hate bullet points.

Bullet points are to writing what a plain cinder block wall is to architecture: functional but an affront to style.

Ok, sure, writing is about communicating clearly, and bullet points are a fiendishly efficient way to communicate information. But they're just so damned ugly. It is not an accident, I believe, that the really great writers of history don't use bullet points.

Where would this country be today, for example, if our Founding Fathers had access to the easy Bullet Point function in MS Word?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with the following unalienable rights:
- life;
- liberty;
- the pursuit of happiness.


Not cool.

Friday, December 19, 2008

This is just to say...

I have gambled away our nest egg

And sold the children

Into servitude

Even though

You were probably

Going to take them

To the park this afternoon

Forgive me

They were being annoying.

Oh, and I

Burned down the house.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Truth in Advertising

I ran across this on a discussion group recently and I immediately thought of my college friend Patti. Long ago, she was involved in an escapade that I I will not detail since she is now a respectable woman of the world with real prospects, such as a seat in Congress or a cushy judicial appointment. But suffice it to say that it ended with the marquee of an innocent hotel reading "Our Shower Leak Pee." (If you know her, ask her yourself - she'll probably be happy to share the story, complete with photos).

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Dave for president

Ok, so he's often old and stale these days, but once in a while, David Letterman still rises to genius...



Friday, September 05, 2008

Not so silly

Brother Geode asked a question on my post about Obama's citizenship status that deserves an answer, but it's taken me a while to get around to it. So here goes.

Geode writes "C'mon man, what about the McCain/Panama controversy? Where's your fair n' balanced? When that tempest comes a-blowin', you gotta show BOTH SIDES of the teacup."

I don't know whether he means to suggest that the McCain controversy is equally silly as the Obama one, but for the sake of something to type about, I will assume he does.

Turns out, McCain's birthplace is an actual issue, one in which I have something of a personal interest.

The New York Times had a nice piece about this a few months ago, but here's the essence of it:

The Constitution doesn't set the bar very high to qualify to be president - you have to be at least 35 years old, have lived in the United States for at least 14 years, and be a "Natural born Citizen." Easy, right?

The problem here is that "natural born citizen" doesn't have any particular legal meaning. So right from the start people were arguing about what that should mean. Clearly it means you must have been a citizen from birth - no naturalized persons need apply. But could it also mean that you must be physically born inside the United States?

Congress quickly tried to settle the issue with a 1790 law that said that yes, anyone who was a citizen from birth was considered "Natural born" no matter where in the world they were born. But that law was eventually repealed and there has never been a legal test - a few nominees, including Barry Goldwater and George Romney, were born outside of the actual United States (Goldwater in Arizona when it was just a territory and Romney in Mexico, where his parents were working), but none of them won.

So now comes John McCain, whose father was an admiral who happened to be stationed in the U.S. controlled Panama Canal Zone in 1936, when young John was born. So although he is clearly a citizen from birth, he was born outside the 48 existing states at the time.

It seems likely that should McCain win, someone somewhere will try to challenge his eligibility. And that's good, because it seems to be unlikely that any court would actually entertain such a lawsuit for very long and the issue would be settled once and for all.

And that's a good thing for me. Not that I want to be president, but because it is a question that has interested me since I was a child. It happens that I was born in Canada, where my father was a diplomat. Because my parents are both Americans, I am a U.S. citizen from birth. And because my father was a diplomat on an official mission, I cannot claim Canadian citizenship under their law (The U.S. has the same law for diplomats posted here). It causes me occasional headaches when I cross the U.S. border because the Border Patrol takes one look at my passport and demands to know when I was naturalized as a U.S. citizen. But it also allows me to irritate bureaucrats who demand my birth certificate - I have a birth certificate, of course, but I like to produce my official "Consular Report of Birth Abroad," which by law has the same effect as a birth certificate in terms of proving citizenship. It's fun to watch some clerk frown and squint and try to figure out what this document represents.

But the question still lingers for me - am I considered a "Natural Born Citizen" under the Constitution? Should McCain win, I may finally have my answer.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Such a fine line

It is perhaps surprising that one of the greatest nuggets of philosophical wisdom comes not from some Greek thinker or revered English playwright, but from the 1984 Rock-N-Roll spoof "This is Spinal Tap." In it, the addled philosopher-rocker David St. Hubbins observes "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever."

I will hazard a guess that John McCain has never seen the movie.

In picking Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate, McCain has done what seems to be an astonishingly clever thing. Palin is successful and bright, by all accounts personable, vivacious, and energetic. She's the kind of woman that any man would like to have as a mother, wife or daughter. She's the kind of woman that any other woman might admire and aspire to be.

And yet, McCain may have veered dangerously close to David St Hubbins' dreaded line.

For one thing, he has neatly kicked a rhetorical leg out from under himself. Never again will anyone be able to listen with a straight face when he accuses Barack Obama of bring a naïve, inexperienced lightweight. Palin is just 44 years old and has been governor for just two years after serving as a small town mayor. In terms of heavy-weight national and international experience, or even just life experience, she and Obama are roughly tied. If she's ready to be president in the event of McCain's death, then Obama is ready to be president in the event of McCain's defeat.

But perhaps even more seriously, McCain has made the one mistake that neither candidate should have made (and yet both did). He picked a person who highlights his most serious perceived weakness. There are few people in the country that could have highlighted more painfully McCain's age and frailty, or thrown into sharp relief his status as a grey-haired Washington insider. Perhaps only Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal could have done more to make McCain look like a feeble and aging veteran senator.

Of course, Obama has made roughly the same mistake. By picking Joe Biden, Obama has tied his fortune to a serious, respected, graying elder statesman with a lengthy Washington career. The choice of Biden doesn't remove a rhetorical weapon for Obama, as McCain's choice did for the GOP, but it will still make it painfully clear that Obama is young and relatively inexperienced. Perhaps worse, Biden is lively, funny, and irreverent (if excessively verbose at times), likely to charm the press and voters. This will be a painful contrast with the dour, distant, and slightly disapproving demeanor that Obama has projected so far.

Unfortunately, it may not be so easy for voters to decide in November which side of David St. Hubbins' line they are standing on.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Silly Season

A friend of mine back in Washington used to call election time the "Silly Season." And he was right. A sign of how silly things have gotten this year is an article that appears to be causing great interest and jubilation among Right Wingers, in which political gadfly author Steve Miller writes that Obama is not a "natural born citizen" of the United States, as required by the Constitution in order to become president.

The article says, in part:

Barack Obama is not legally a US natural-born citizen according to the law on the books at the time of his birth; a law that was in effect between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986, when the law was changed.

However, the new law did not preempt the former law in the cases of those born between the above listed dates when the old law was in effect.

Therefore, Senator Obama may very well be disqualified as the Democratic candidate in the upcoming Presidential campaign.

Presidential office requires the person elected to be a natural-born United States citizen if the child was not born to two US citizen parents.

US Law very clearly stipulates: “If only one parent was a US citizen at the time of your birth, that parent must have resided in the United States for at least ten years, at least five of which had to be after the age of 16.”

Barack Obama’s father was not a US citizen, and Obama’s mother was only 18 when he was born, which means although she had been a US citizen for 10 years, his mother fails the test for being so for at least 5 years prior to Barack Obama’s birth.

In order for her child to have been a natural-born US citizen, his mother would have had to be 21 at the time of his birth.

In essence, Mrs. Obama was not old enough to qualify her son for automatic US citizenship.

His mother would have needed to have been 16+5 = 21 years old at the time of Barack Obama’s birth for him to have been a natural-born citizen.

Barack Obama instead should have been naturalized, but even then, that would still disqualify him from holding the office of President under current law.


This would all be terribly interesting, of course, except it is wrong. Obama was born in Honolulu, which even the most hardened Wingnut would have to admit was part of the 50 United States in 1961. And the 14th Amendment, passed slightly less than a century before Obama was born, makes one thing clear up front, in its very first sentence:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.

UPDATE: It appears that Miller simply lifted a bit of Internet mythology that has been circulating for several weeks and has been attributed to various authors (but frequently with significant details altered), making it unclear who came up with it first.

It has become so common, the great Urban Legend Reference Page has weighed in.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My new political orientation

I don't know where this comes from, but I shamelessly stole it from some guy who was using it as a signature line on a discussion group.


Saturday, July 05, 2008

Things I think about, pt. 1

Would it be correct to think of the woman who gave birth to the world's foremost cellist as "Yo Yo MaMa"?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Things my five year old has learned

Frogs come from eggs.

Caterpillars become Butterflies.

Plants grow from seeds.

Saying fuck in the school gym is a bad idea.

Calling your camp counselor "gay" is also a bad idea.

It is possible to be expelled from summer camp.

Singing the Indiana Jones theme as loudly as possible is great way to make Dad start yelling.

Sometimes it is necessary to deal with an overbearing older brother with a controlled application of violence.

"Unbreakable" plates aren't.

Dirt tastes good.

Batting your eyelids in an adorable and apologetic way sometimes gets you out of real trouble.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Thanks for nothing...

My friends at Paste magazine cheerfully acknowledged their mistake recently and returned my check...


Monday, May 12, 2008

Every Homeowner's Nighmare

Oh my god, there's a leek in my bathroom.


Damn. Now there are multiple leeks.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Fine dining poetry

Two Cornish game hens;
We will eat the small chickens,
And remain hungry.

Ok, so this is really old, but...

I know this is all ancient and stuff, but I am still amused by my impressions from the Live 8 concert in Philly, which I helped cover for People magazine back in 2005. So now purely for my own amusement, my debriefing after the event:

Here, in no particular order, are the things that I know today that I did not know yesterday:

1. Will Smith has really astonishing pale brown eyes. Rather hypnotic.

2. Jaida Pinkett Smith is really, really short. I mean, really short.

3. The Rev. Al Sharpton is a shameless media whore who will maim and kill to get into pictures, but he is really goddamned funny.*

4. Sarah McLachlan is dazzlingly, heartbreakingly beautiful in a way that pictures cannot capture.

5. Anna Nicole Smith is crazy,** though she looks great these days and her breasts are still enormous, particularly when displayed under the "shirt" that she was "wearing" to Live 8.

6. Rob Thomas is a really nice guy, particularly when he is extremely high.

7. Jimmy Smits appears to be developing a beer belly.

8. The Kaiser Chiefs are really cool. Nobody's ever heard of them before today, but I can tell I am going to be a fan.

9. Dave Matthews is an inarticulate, boorish asshole.***

10. Natalie Portman's body is so small and delicate and her head is so freakishly large that she resembles a giant Pez Machine.

11. Jennifer Connolly is too thin, but still sexy.

12. Chris Tucker is a really funny guy. But his eyes are big and buggy, which is distracting.

13. Kanye West believes some really freaky conspiracy theories and generally makes Oliver Stone seem well adjusted and stable.

14. Rita Marley may be 60, but she is still hot.

15. Don Cheadle is really, really dull. I mean, really dull.

16. If this music thing doesn't work out, Alicia Keys should look into becoming a diplomat. Or a congresswoman. Or maybe president.

17. Hollywood publicists should be killed. Painfully and publicly.

* Actually, I did already know this.
** I strongly suspected this already.
*** Ok, so I knew this already too.

UPDATE: yeah, I know Anna Nicole isn't looking so good anymore. That's what you get for waiting three years to post an item. The rest I will have to assume is still true.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I'll get right on it

God, how I hate getting past due notices. I try to keep up with the bills but, you know, sometimes things happen. Sometimes the paydays don't fall neatly into sync with the billing cycles. Sometimes things get lost on my desk. So I was terribly distressed to find this in my pile of bills I paid today:



So naturally, I immediately settled up:

Friday, April 25, 2008

Narodnik

One of the more interesting things to me about Russian history is how big the Russians tend to think. Whatever it is, the Russians...



You know what? I started typing this post a few days ago, got interrupted and never finished it. So I came back to it today and I cannot remember what the hell I was talking about. But I guess it was really profound and important. I hope you enjoyed the first sentence and a half, 'cause that's all you're ever going to get.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The only evidence I have a job

Here's what I spent the week preparing - a video poll for Time, asking voters who they voted for. What a strange new world. I used to write actual words about politics, but now I sweet-talk voters into talking to us on camera. Strange.

Lest anyone doubt I was at work today, here is the only existing evidence...


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Join my evil cult

I am not sure how these people saw through my clever plan, but clearly my cover is blown. My hopes of becoming a world-dominating God-like cult figure are at an end. Now that my lifetime crusade is in ruins, I shall have to simply throw in the towel and become one with my cover story - that I am an average, generic white Yuppie with two kids and a BMW. Oh, Crap.

Seriously.



Actually, I think someone did try to recruit me into some kind of religious group once. It had something to do with Buddhism and it involved getting me and a whole bunch of other slacker college kids to help out on the inventory of a natural foods store. The people there were creepy, though oddly healthy and good looking, and the work was incredibly tedious. Then they took us out for a big lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. They seemed to expect us to be terribly grateful and kept waiting eagerly for something to happen. I never did figure out what. Of course, they made an elemental mistake. Being that they were some sort of demented Buddhist splinter cell, they only ordered vegetarian food and hot tea. The lack of meat or beer was pretty much a deal-breaker for college students in terms of joining some kind of cult. Had they been smart, they would have plied us with burgers and Moosehead. If they had, I might be their leader today.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I can't decide

This is either the coolest tank nerd thing I have ever seen or it is kind of sad:



The one thing that does annoy me is that he refers to it as a "Panzer Tank," which is wrong, or at least completely unnecessary. It's like saying a "Tank Tank" Or "Armored Vehicle Tank." But other than that, this is an act of geeky genius.

What worried me, though, is that when I did some research to find the right code to embed this video here, I discovered that there is an entire subculture of paintball-based tanks. Look what happens when you search for "Paintall" and "tank" on the video site Liveleak or Google "Paintball Tank."

Alarming, no?

Call me a geek, but...



I just find this irresistibly cool. It is a sand dune field on Mars, in the kind of detail you'd get if you were in an airplane flying over it yourself. I always thought it would be cool to go to Mars, but as that became progressively less likely, I had to accept that I would be stuck on this planet for life (a truth I had to embrace at around 12 or so). So now, 28 years after swallowing that bitter pill, I can at least look at really cool detailed pictures and imagine that I am 10 years old again, planning my future as a Mars-bound astronaut.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

April Fool's Day

I hate April Fool's Day. In fact, I hate pranks and practical jokes of all kinds. Perhaps this is because for a guy who is so cynical, I am surprisingly gullible. That makes April Fool's Day a confusing and irritating ritual.

So in honor of April Fool's Day, I am going to undertake one last, great practical joke, this one of an existential kind. I am going to play a prank on April Fool's Day itself. I will pretend that everything I do is a practical joke and yet, in reality, I WILL NEVER PLAY ANOTHER PRANK EVER AGAIN.*


* This is part of my ongoing series of meta lifestyle choices. In about 1999 or so, for example, I made a New Year's Resolution that I would never make another New Year's Resolution. And I have been completely successful to date.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sigh...

I am just glad I didn't turn up in this movie.

I worked for five years at The Washington Times. I must say, they treated me well, gave me lots of interesting opportunities and generally tolerated the fact that I was neither particularly politically conservative nor particularly fond of Rev. Moon. The editors rarely (with a few spectacular exceptions) attempted to meddle in what and how I reported on anything. I found that most reporters there by the time I got there, particularly on the smaller desks, like Metro and Business, were there because they wanted good jobs in Washington, not because of any ideology or affinity for Moon's church. And yet, unfortunately, much of what John Gorenfeld reports here is true. I suppose I'll wind up having to read his book.




Online Videos by Veoh.com

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why Cheney didn't run

Geode asks a perfectly resonable question that I actually, surprisingly, know the answer to. This is in part because I was covering the Bush campaign at the time and had occasion to cover Cheney a bit as well. It wasn't an awful lot of fun, largely because Cheney and his people hate the press and make no effort whatsoever to do interesting things or be nice.

Geode asks, in a comment on my Cheney-as-the-Penguin post:

How come Cheney's not running, Sean? I was trying to ask myself that the other day. I thought the veep of a 2-termer ALWAYS gave it a go.

Cheney actually said he wouldn't run back in 2000 - that was part of his agreement with Bush to start. The idea was that Bush could count on a loyal lieutenant who wasn't hamstrung by his personal agenda and by calculations about his political future. That seemed to appeal to Bush at the time. I think Cheney recognized that his medical history made him unlikely to win the White House. And really, I am not sure he wanted to be president, or at least to go through all the campaign crap that would be necessary. He's not a very enthusiastic campaigner. I even wrote a story about it.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

This guy is my new hero

In the never ending quest to evade paying work, this guy is some kind of visionary. From the AP this morning:

PASCO, Wash. (AP) - What happened to faking a cough? Sheriff's detectives in Franklin County said a man had his friend shoot him in the shoulder so he wouldn't have to go to work.

When he first spoke with deputies, Daniel Kuch, of Pasco, told them he'd been the victim of a drive-by shooting while he was out jogging Thursday. But detectives told KONA radio that Kuch later acknowledged that he asked his friend to shoot him so he could get some time off work and avoid an upcoming drug test.

The friend, Kurtis Johnson, of Burbank, has been arrested for investigation of reckless endangerment. Kuch was booked into the county jail and is expected to be charged with false reporting.

Detectives declined to say where Kuch works, or whether he still has a job. It wasn't known if he had obtained a lawyer.


Why didn't I think of it first?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Less is More

I never have liked Garfield. He does nothing for me. Like Alf, but more terrestrial. And no less unfunny.

So it is with considerable amazement that I find out that some clever person has realized that by removing Garfield completely from his own cartoon, the strip becomes a surrealist masterpiece:



Garfield Minus Garfield

Friday, February 15, 2008

We've all been there

Potentially bright lad, I'd say. Learning early to deal with Customer Service...




It is this sort of thing that has led me to DirecTV. I have never had to say a single bad word to them.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Burn the bridges

Here's a lovely series of email memos, by way of The Arkansas Times blog, touched off by a blunt newsroom email sent to employees of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette by State Editor Marilyn Mitchell, who promptly walked out. This has got to be among the all-time winners in "take this job and shove it" memos:

From: mmitchell@arkansasonline.com
Subject: Fuck the glass
Date: February 14, 2008 8:36:31 AM CST
To: to-all-Systemwide@arkansasonline.com
Cc: to-all-LR@arkansasonline.com, to-all-NW@arkansasonline.com
All I wanted to do at this newspaper is to do a good job. I came here because I thought it was a good newspaper. But, it's not. It's a good ole' boys club made up of old white males. Nobody else has a voice. This is a newspaper in which: The city editor can verbally abuse another editor in the presence of the managing editor and nothing is done. The managing editor in a news meeting slugs a potential 1A story as blonde bombshells - a story in which bombs were strapped on two retarded foreign women and sent into a crowd. Male editors are allowed to talk about penis size during news meetings. Editors call Hispanics wetbacks in news meetings Editors are proud to call blacks niggers in news stories. A city editor gets his feelings hurt over coverage of a story and I'm penalized for it. The managing editor is a bald face liar and the executive editor doesn't give a damn. So to "the glass," I resign effective immediately. Marilyn Mitchell

From: Bill Simmons
Date: February 14, 2008 10:11:20 AM CST
To: Marilyn Mitchell , To-All-systemwide
Cc: To-all-LR , To-all-NW
Subject: Re: Fuck the glass

As an old white male, let me offer a few thoughts for perspective (and not
to set off an onslaught of similar missives):

1. In my dozen years here, I have NEVER seen anybody (editor or otherwise)
"proud" that the "n-word" was used anywhere. I can't say nobody was, because
I can't be everywhere all the time, but I can say I NEVER saw anybody
manifest any such attitude when I was around.

2. The reference to "wetbacks" has a history -- a history of disagreement
over whether the term is acceptable in any usage, with most editors here
believing it is not. Sometimes the term is used in derision of the view that
using it is acceptable, not in furtherance of its use.

3. I suppose some males will discuss penis size in the news meetings (boys
being boys), and I have heard in long ago meetings some remarks that were
offensive. But this hasn't happened in any recent news meeting that I
attended and it is not appropriate to convey the idea that this is standard
practice in the meetings.

4. The "blonde bombshells" complaint omits the fact that every day some
quipish summary of each leading news items of the day's leading is posted on
the board. When the governor makes a speech, it may be "Beebe's lips move."
When an Al Quaida leader was blown up by a car bomb, it was "Bad Guy Goes
Boom!" And political in-fighting in Pakistan will become "Pakitics." And so
on. The reference to "blonde bombshells" had no sexist nuance that I
perceived, any more than "Econ Tanks" (a summary of a downturn in the
economy) was expressing approval of a recession or anything else. Practicing
humor has its risks, and one of them is being misperceived and distorted.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The truth is hard to swallow

I guess we'd all like to fancy that we're Han Solo, all Devil-may-care and cool, or Obi-wan, a sage and patient mentor. But somehow I wound up being Luke Skywalker, who is, to be brutally honest, a bit of a wanker.

Which Star Wars Character Are You?
Your Result: Luke SkyWalker

You are a noble and loyal person who is always looking after the welfare of your friends, even if your hand gets cut off trying to save them. Just stop kissing your sister and everything will be fine.

Princess Leia
Jar Jar Binks
Yoda
Han Solo
Boba Fett
Jabba the Hutt
Darth Vader
Which Star Wars Character Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The end is nigh

I think it must be some sort of portent of the End Times when I find myself 1) reading Pat Buchanan and 2) nodding along and making agreeing sorts of grunts as I do so. Don't get me wrong, Pat and I would last five minutes in a policy discussion group before we began slapping one another like angry little girls, but still, sometimes it worries me how often lately he seems to make some sort of sense.

An example: Subprime Nation

Have things gotten so bad that the only people making any sense are the crazy ones?

My poor choice in careers

I coulda been a chef. I coulda gone into radio. I coulda gone to law school. But Nooooooooo...





Update: Oh, crud. The video has been removed, presumably by some copyright stormtrooper. So it goes.

The upshot was that it was a clip of a Simpsons episode featuring a candidate's debate and people, including bad-boy Nelson (the "Ha-Ha" kid) were ruthlessly mocking a print reporter on the moderator's panel, saying he was a relic in a dying industry. Principal Skinner then scolds Nelson for being mean, even if what he says is true. Believe me, it was funnier than I make it sound.