2/23/2002

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.

2/22/2002

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.

2/21/2002

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.
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".
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.

2/20/2002

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.

2/19/2002

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.

2/18/2002

Evil twin located This is really scary. A coworker just pointed me to the Houston Curling Club homepage. If you go to their Snapshots page and click on the photo on the top right, the guy crouching on the lower left is a dead ringer for me. Even worse, he's wearing a T-shirt, shorts and white tube socks, which means he even dresses like me. Thankfully, the picture in the lower right makes it clear that he's not actually me - his hair is too dark, and he's not wearing glasses. Whew!

Guess this is my punishment for mocking Fritz Schranck. Lesson learned: Never annoy a web-enabled district attorney.
Received an email today with the subject "Save over 300% on Medication". Nice to know that Andy Fastow has found something to do in his spare time.
That Takes Guts Dept. I work for a large multinational corporation, the kind of place that the anti-globo folks hate. It's actually a rather progressive place to work, and has a fairly strong record of emphasizing diversity.

Today we had a diversity activity in honor of Black History Month. The activity, sponsored by a black employees' networking group, was karaoke singing in the cafeteria. I just heard a report that one of my male coworkers dressed up as Gladys Knight to sing "Midnight Train to Georgia". He had four other coworkers singing backup for him - after all, what's the point of being Gladys Knight if you don't have any Pips? I am truly sorry that I missed this, but I'm consoling myself on rumors that photos were taken.

Any more questions about why celebrating Black History Month is a good thing?
More on the annoying pop star/bad movie connection Duncan Fitzgerald adds a nice coda to my post about how Britney's movie may be a bad career move. The relationship between movies, music, and (of course) marketing is a complex one. I suppose we should just be grateful if Britney doesn't make any movies that feature her parachuting onto a beach.

Reading Duncan's post reminded me that we both overlooked one of the seminal movie/music/marketing crossovers, Can't Stop the Music, which not only helped kill the Village People, it also strangled Bruce Jenner's movie career in its crib. Hell, this movie may well have been the death knell for disco itself. Truly, we owe director Nancy Walker and her cast and crew a debt which can never be fully repaid.

2/17/2002

Gonna be a busy week... We have tickets for two shows at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo this week. Monday is Lyle Lovett, and Wednesday is Bob Dylan. (What, you thought it's only country/western music at the HLSR?) Friday I'm meeting some friends at a local pub to see the Asylum Street Spankers, who are briefly touring with original Spanker and badass bluesman Guy Forsyth. Saturday we've been invited to a champagne-tasting party. Oh, and Tuesday's my 36th birthday.

So this means I may be light on the postings this week. Things should be back to normal by week's end.
The Sunday Chron has a longish feature about racial tensions at Texas A&M University. A&M is a unique school. Its students and alumni are zealous about its history and traditions. Sometimes, that zeal and those traditions lead to conflicts with students who don't feel included by them.
Stroke! Stroke! Stroke! From BBC Sport's Funny Old Game:

The question of what exactly Scottish men keep under their kilts has long been a source of titillation and mirth for folk south of the border.

Now a team of hardened celtic rowers have left nothing to the imagination - by practising in the nude.

The Robert Gordon University rowing team has never beaten Aberdeen University in the seven-year history of their annual race.

So this year, ahead of the race on 2 March, the Robert Gordon team have decided to toughen themselves up by rowing naked on the River Dee.

A spokesman for the team told the Daily Record: "The Aberdeen University team have been wearing the trousers in this race for far too long and we are absolutely determined to put an end to their winning streak.

"We thought we'd go back to nature and find out exactly what natural assets we have for rowing.

"However, I'm not sure this will be a regular fixture on our training schedule for this time of year. We have been very cold."