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Friday, August 31, 2007

Two Quick Things

First, I'm working on a long piece that I couldn't stop myself from writing. Unfortunately, it is a complex subject and more than I could get done this afternoon. I will get it posted as soon as possible.

Second, I just have to take a moment and talk about Sen. Larry Craig.

I have read a number of items concerning this nearly nonscandal (had this come out a month from now, he probably would have been able to get a way with it), and there is one point that I would like to put a slightly different spin on. It seems to be generally assumed that Sen Craig must be a closet homosexual in order for him to go poncing about men's restrooms looking for a bit of anonymous fun, however, I think that current researches into sexual habits and the attitudes toward sex exhibited by many of our citizens shows this assumption to be outdated.

When Sen. Craig says that he is not gay, he should be believed. (I'm not, by the way, excusing his abysmal record in the area of gay rights. His opinions there are as foolish and thoughtless as his habit of reaching under men's room stalls looking for whatever might find him.) To people of this ilk, the gender of their "partner" (and I use the term loosely, because the idea of two people being partners hits an existential wall when you're talking about a glory hole) is meaningless. The experience is the whole point.

People like Sen. Craig are, to my mind, simply obsessed with trying to drown the pain of their lives in the pursuit of an orgasm. The other participants in the act are more object than subject, a means to an end, if you'll pardon the expression. Love and humanity and compassion are irrelevant and almost quaint. They get caught up in the fantasies of pornography and become convinced that what they do is reasonable and not immoral. They are the great rationalizers, people who convince themselves that it is not adultery if intercourse never occurs or if they pay for it. They are sad and deluded people. But not necessarily gay.

I'm Sorry

Lately I haven't felt much like blogging. There doesn't seem to be much point.

In fact, this morning, I had intended to write one of my lengthy political essays, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it once I was faced with the blank screen. It's not the thoughts involved; I think I have some interesting points to make. It is simply that I've begun to question the value of spending hours--and my best posts take me all day--writing essays that few will read and fewer care about.

The situation is not really as bathetic as that last sentence might indicate. In terms of mood, I'm doing better than I can ever remember, thanks mostly to this great mood elevator called a multi-vitamin. Apparently my lifelong struggle with depression was a vitamin deficiency. Go figure.

In fact, it has been in the time that my mood has improved that my blog productivity has slacked off. I now find that I'd rather spend my writing time working on the novel or writing something that might be published someplace for--I don't know--money than I would in pontificating on social questions that my bloviating will never affect.

Were my platform more elevated, had I an audience big enough to bring my opinions to the ears of those who control us, perhaps blogging would be worth the time and trouble.

I will not be deleting this blog, and I don't know that I won't pop off from time-to-time. What I am describing is the situation at this moment, and moments have a way of morphing on us. Today's truth is tomorrow's delusion and tomorrow's delusion is next week's pleasant memory.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Michael Drayton, Detective Guy Blog Redux

I have revived the Drayton novel blog in a cynical attempt at increasing its marketability. And just the fact that I used the word "marketability" makes me want to go take a shower.

Anyway, in the future, for all your Michael Drayton, Detective guy news, head back to the Michael Drayton, Detective Guy blog. It's free, and, who knows, it might even increase your marketability.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Just in Case You Miss the Sopranos

This is my favorite piece from the demo for the Next in the Series radio show.

It's All Thanks to Tidiness

I found the following cartoon I had drawn while clearing off my desk this morning:

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You just never know what you'll find.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Back in My Day

And, from At Last the 1948 Show:

Everything You Know Is Wrong

More Firesign Theatre courtesy of Youtube. It's stealing, but at least I'm stealing from somebody I like.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Debating Debating

As the number of preprimary presidential debates has risen into the low hundreds, I've been thinking about the utility of this fairly recent and television friendly institution.

The problem with the debates is this: They are stupid. And pointless. And not debates. They are joint press conferences, and uninformative ones at that. The candidates easily sidestep saying anything that means anything and instead stick to the fricking talking points that dominate current American politics. This goes for all debates involving candidates from either party or both together.

The format is such that, even when a candidate slips up and says something that might give a glimmer of what they actually think, the other candidates and the moderators are so focused on their scripts that they can't do anything to explore the implications of the slip up. For example, in the second debate between Mr Bush and Mr Kerry in the last general election, the town hall-style one, Mr Bush was asked what Supreme Court decisions he thought had been decided correctly. Well, this question fell clearly outside what he had rehearsed, and, since he knows nothing of history or law, he was left grasping for the name of a case. The one he came up with was Dred Scott.

Now, for those who have forgotten their junior high school history class, Dred Scott v. Sandford was an important Supreme Court decision that occurred just before the Civil War. Dred Scott was a slave who sued to obtain his freedom based on tenures spent living in free states. The Supreme Court found that black people had no rights to citizenship according to the Constitution and found that Scott was not a man with standing to sue, but a piece of property without it.

This is the decision that Mr Bush thought was well-decided.

The amazing thing to me was that no one called him on it. Kerry, instead of jumping on that like a hamster on a pellet, ignored it. Bob Schieffer ignored it. The papers ignored. Everyone ignored it. Here he was, saying, by extension, that he thought slavery was a good thing and no one said anything. How could they? It wasn't in the script.

What I would rather see is a series of discussions. Match up candidates in a round robin of discussions. Make them sit across a table from one another and make them say things. Instead of asking questions, which can be phrased in prejudicial and misleading ways, offer topics. Iraq. Healthcare. The budget. Trade policy. Cuba. Whatever. Make 'em slug it out.

(Just for the record, true debates do not feature questions being asked of individuals. They start with resolutions, such as "Resolved: The national speed limit should be lowered to 55," not "What would you think of the death penalty if your wife was brutally raped and murdered?" These things aren't really debates.)

In order to have a discussion, you have to have an exchange of ideas. One person has to listen to the other. Since you can never tell what direction a conversation is going to go in, the answers can't be prepared in advance and memorized. And when the other person says that he thinks that Dred Scott was a good decision, you can take his measure, look him in the eye, and say, "Do you really?"

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Coffee, Coffee Everywhere

Again I've commented on a post of Stanley Fish's--a critique of Starbuck's and other such emporia--in The New York Times Select pages. It came out so good that I couldn't help but post it here. Sorry.

As I've let this controversy sit for a couple of days, I've had to modify my initial support for this column (#12). The fallacy of Mr Fish's argument is that he forgets that, even during the good old days, the consumer was always responsible for his own cream and sugar. (Except, of course, at Dunkin Donuts. In Rhode Island, for example, ordering a "coffee regular" gets one a cup that has already had a few splashes of cream and several shovelsful of sugar added. That's livin'.)

The legitimate point he raises concerns the shifting of labor in many venues of the American economy from the vendor ("May I help you?") to the consumer ("It's on aisle five.").

I'm no fan of the modern coffee shop. (My wife vehemently disagrees with me on this.) I agree with Professor Fish concerning the waiting--no matter how simple the beverage--with no comfortable area in which to wait. It would be a fascinating experiment to set up a camera in a Starbucks and document the intricate fandangoes people go through while waiting for their brew. It usually begins somewhere near the ill-defined slot in the counter where the drinks are delivered and ends somewhere near the Mens Room door.

He's also correct when it comes to the tiny counter with the myriad of substances with which one is supposed improve a drink a team of baristas has already labored on with an effort that would have done Sisyphus proud. For anyone with any manners or any sense that other beings exist in the world, it can be a test of patience. For anyone else, it must be like digging for the puck in the corner at a hockey game.

The ultimate thing that I have against Starbucks and many other such outlets has to do with the coffee itself. It's bitter. So bitter that it needs all these other ministrations just to make it drinkable. When all's said and done, give me Dunkin Donuts's coffee every time.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Drayton Update

I should have posted this about a week ago, but I've finished revising Chapter 13.

In other news, the university I work at is sponsoring a novel writing contest, and I think I'm going to submit. It's not a big deal, and the deadline isn't for months yet, so I should be able to revise the remaining chapters in the meantime.

In regards to that, I am brushing up the first several chapters quickly since the opening salvo in the contest is a 30-to-50 page chunk. I think I'm improving it, making it less jokey and more in Drayton's true voice.

Of course, the rewriting never stops, not until some publisher makes you.

After I finish this brush-up, I'll start on Chapter 14.

I might actually end up adding a chapter. I'm not 100 percent sure yet, but I had an interesting idea. It's just a question of whether or not it really belongs or if it's something I'm trying to force. We'll see.

Ain't It the Truth?

While watching Malcolm in the Middle over the weekend, we were treated to the episode ("Reese Joins the Army, Part 2") in which Hal gets put on trial for conspiracy to commit fraud at the company he had been employed by for many years. He is, of course, only a patsy, framed because he was unwilling to frame others.

He is saved from prison when Malcolm, who is a mathematics prodigy, realizes that every date that the prosecution has given for some allegedly nefarious incident engineered by Hal falls on a Friday. It turns out that Hal hadn't been to work on a Friday in 15 years.

And now to the point of this post. Once on the stand, as Hal starts to give his testimony, he says the following:

You know those nature shows where a wasp paralyzes a caterpillar, then injects it full of larvae? It stays alive for weeks, completely aware, feeling every little bite as the larvae devour it from the inside. I sat in a cubicle every day envying that caterpillar--'cause at least he got to be on TV. I hated that job. I was a crappy employee.

This is at once, to me, one of the funniest and truest things ever said on TV. I know I've lived it, to varying degrees, in the many jobs I've had over the years.

Some people are lucky. They make their living in ways that they love. I've found this to be almost unerringly true of engineers, for example. These are people who do what they do because they love it. If they don't like their job, it's the employer's fault, not theirs.

Most of us, however, make do. We get what jobs we can in order to make some money, no more, no less. As we've turned our colleges and universities and grad schools increasingly into trade schools, this has become more and more true for the so-called professions, as well. Most lawyers and, sadly, doctors today got in those lines of work simply because they were ways of making a comfortable living, not out of a desire to serve the community or a feeling of being called to it. If you take a quick gander at our current legal and medical industries, you can see how helpful that is.

I was lucky in feeling my call. However, I wasted many opportunities I had to pursue that calling through my own foolishness and pride and by putting earning a dollar too much ahead of following my own path. I've also envied the caterpillar.

Now, I'm not quitting my job or advocating that anyone else do so without the proper preparation. I am trying to get back on the path, one I diverged from many decades ago, and trying to do it in such a way that I do not ruin my family and bring more misery than peace. I don't know whether I'll ever make it. I just know that it is worth the trying.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Wholeflaffer Curve

I was reading the post on The Social Atom today, and he presented the following graph, which was taken from The Wall Street Journal:

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This is a representation of the Laffer Curve, sacred idea to every supply-side economist. Their idea is that taxes after some mystical point become a drag on the economy and actually inhibit the collection of tax revenue by limiting growth. As you can see on the above example, plotting points on this curve is more of an art form--somewhat akin to seeing an archer in the nighttime sky--than it is a science.

After reading Mark Buchanan's post and agreeing with him on it, and having artistic proclivities, I have taken the liberty of reconnecting the dots. I have named the result The Wholeflaffer Curve after Art Wholeflaffer, a character from The Firesign Theatre's Everything You Know Is Wrong, and renowned for being the best damned nudist trailer park manager in the Southwest.

It actually looks more like the Outer Banks of North Carolina than a curve to me, but let's see what you think:

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