Monday, January 31, 2005

This Could Make College a Living Hell

Bartender, Pour Me Another Cup

Because it wasn't bad enough having to wait until 3 A.M. for the drunken idiots across the hall to pass out back in college--now there will be no stopping them!
At first, beer with caffeine sounds like a terrific idea. With caffeine in your beer, you can stay awake longer and do many delightful things, such as drink more beer. It's a beer-drinker's vision of heaven. Homer Simpson would love it. Kallman certainly does.

"It's a wonderful feeling," she says. "Sometimes beer makes you sleepy or sluggish, but with Moonshot, you feel alert. You can go out and dance and have fun instead of falling asleep on the couch."

Alas, there is a potential downside to this great breakthrough. Drinking too much beer sometimes makes people do stupid things, such as fighting with strangers. Or sleeping with strangers. Or calling your ex-girlfriend at 3 in the morning to tearfully beg her to come back -- a supplication frequently accompanied by a dubious promise to stop drinking.

Until now, beer guzzling was a self-regulating activity. Sure, drinking too much made you do stupid things. But drinking too much also tended to make you fall asleep before you got into trouble. Passing out is nature's way of saying you drank too much, and it has saved many a beer drinker from acute embarrassment. But with caffeine keeping beer drinkers cranked up, there's no end to the fun. Which could get ugly.
I have a feeling this new drink could mean the end of my beloved college home:

If tired, drunken college-aged boys could rip a urinal off a wall and cause a flood, imagine what wide-awake, drunken college-aged boys will do?


Just found more numbers from the survey I mentioned last post, in which students said they don't care about the First Amendment. The teachers and principals who are so worried about this should take a look at themselves: While 70% of students felt that "musicians should be allowed to sing songs with lyrics which others may find offensive,” only 58% of teachers and 43% of principals agreed. And while 58% of students said that "students should be allowed to report controversial issues in their student newspapers without the approval of school authorities," only 39% of teachers and a measly 25% of principals concurred. Yes, among these kids there are some dunces--like the 17% who don't agree that "people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions"--but what kind of example is being set for them when the same authority figures who profess fervent belief in the First Amendment--and shock that their feeling is not shared by their students--want to censor the music those students can hear--and, worse, the words they can write for their fellow students? Maybe these teachers and administrators are part of the problem?

Or maybe they give these answers because they know that foul rap lyrics and controversial stories in the student newspaper only make their already difficult jobs more difficult. Maybe they'd be able to handle such concerns if they weren't forever teaching to a test or dealing with the unique problems that arise when classes are too large and students too poorly equipped for even the "rigors" of a high school education. Maybe this survey, in all its glory, is just a symptom of a far bigger problem with education in this country.


First Amendment no big deal, students say
Study shows American teenagers indifferent to freedoms

I tell you, this makes me feel like walking outside and burning a flag.

OK, not really. But how can people--even teenagers--be so unconcerned with freedom of speech? I mean, how scary is this:
...when told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes “too far” in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.
I'm so glad I started my master's program in journalism this weekend.


'Collapse': How the World Ends

I'm nearly done reading Collapse, which has been "on the nightstand" for a few weeks now. Gregg Easterbrook's review this weekend strikes me as a bit unfair; he accuses Jared Diamond of writing fascinating books with incorrect conclusions.

Diamond argues, based on past collapses of other societies, that we're endangering our world by using up its resources on a grand scale. Many of his examples are islands, as Easterbrook points out. He would use this against Diamond, but in fact it makes his point stronger: in a global society, the Earth is an island, and when its resources are depleted, the same catastrophes that took place on a micro-level will go macro in a hurry.

Easterbrook can afford to take such a view, though, because he believes it's all irrelevant:
Though Diamond endorses ''cautious optimism,'' Collapse comes to a wary view of the human prospect. Diamond fears our fate was set in motion in antiquity -- we're living off the soil and petroleum bequeathed by the far past, and unless there are profound changes in behavior, all may crash when legacy commodities run out. Oddly, for someone with a background in evolutionary theory, he seems not to consider society's evolutionary arc. He thinks backward 13,000 years, forward only a decade or two. What might human society be like 13,000 years from now? Above us in the Milky Way are essentially infinite resources and living space. If the phase of fossil-driven technology leads to discoveries that allow Homo sapiens to move into the galaxy, then resources, population pressure and other issues that worry Diamond will be forgotten. Most of the earth may even be returned to primordial stillness, and the whole thing would have happened in the blink of an eye by nature's standards.
Some people just can't wrap their heads around the idea that we need to learn to sustain ourselves on what we have here, can they? Forgive me, Star Trek fans, but there's a difference between sending a boat halfway around the world to collect oil and sending a starship to another galaxy to harvest resources or plant human colonies. If Easterbrook thinks we're close enough to doing so that it will solve our pressing problem of dwindling resources, I think he may have watched a few too many science fiction movies.

Friday, January 28, 2005


Michael Moore Fails to Make Cut with Writers Guild

Quite a headline, no? Makes it sound like the Writers Guild rejected Michael Moore, doesn't it? And so does this lead:
Two days after being snubbed when the Oscar nominations were announced, Michael Moore was left off the list Thursday when the Writers Guild of America unveiled nominees for its first documentary writing award for a feature film.
But here's the fourth paragraph of the article:
WGA officials said Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" was eligible but Moore elected not to submit it. Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" won the WGA Award for best original screenplay in 2003, the first time that a documentary had ever been nominated in that category.
Elected not to submit it. That means the WGA didn't snub Moore; they didn't even have the opportunity. Yet the article throws around words like "fails" and "snubbed" and "left off" before getting around to mentioning that, oh, wait, none of that is true because he wasn't even in the running. We just wanted to reiterate our "Nobody much likes Michael Moore--except the People's Choice Awards voters--all that much."

Some days I understand why people hate the media.


Wal-Mart redefines "immediate family"

It's corporate America day! Wal-Mart has changed its definition of "immediate family" to include same-sex partners recognized by state or local law through marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership.

Right now all this means is that the same prohibition on trying to get a straight partner a job with a Wal-Mart vendor applies to gay partners, too. But progress is progress. And whenever a red-state beacon recognizes gay couples in any way, that's a good thing. Indeed, the phrasing of Wal-Mart's policy appears to apply the term "spouse" to any partner, of the same or opposite sex, to whom the employee is legally hitched. To a person who believes that language matters, that's the good word for today.


Hoffman Estates sets sights on hunting, fishing retailer

I thought I escaped ever having to see a Cabela's again when I stopped driving I-35 through southern Minnesota. That would have been fine with me; their see-how-many-dead-animals-we-can-shove-into-a-single-diorama decor doesn't really do it for me. Now my town is in talks with Cabela's to build one of their stores--a bigger one than most--along a road I often take to get to my parents' house and will soon take to the new Super Target.

I don't know what's worse about this: The potentially nightmarish traffic or the fact that this makes my town the equivalent number in Chicagoland to Rogers, Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where Cabela's plans to build a similar store.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Catch Conor

Indie Rock's Dark Prince

I'm not ready to review this week's dual releases from Bright Eyes--the alt-country I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and the self-categorizing Digital Ash in a Digital Urn--but I am ready to tell you that if all the media hype regarding the group's leader, Conor Oberst, has made you even a little bit interested in hearing more, both CDs are at Best Buy this week for $7.99 each. Reviewers seem to like one or the other--the Washington Post called Digital Ash an early album of the year contender, while the Los Angeles Times called I'm Wide Awake a "simmering masterpiece"--so why not get both and decide for yourself?

Snap Judgment

MPR: Radio Listening: 89.3 The Current

I finally tuned into Minnesota Public Radio's new station, The Current, online about ten minutes ago. Verily I say unto thee, this is the greatest radio station ever known to man--they played Arcade Fire, then Patsy Cline, then The Postal Service. And you can listen to it on your computer at work--click above to find out how. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Sight Unseen

77th Annual Academy Awards

I have a pretty good track record with the Oscars; over the past ten years, out of 50 Best Picture nominees, I've seen 44, including all 25 the last five years.

This year, I've seen only The Aviator. I'll see Ray next week or the week after on DVD, I'm sure, and Million Dollar Baby and Sideways have been on my must-see list for months, but for some reason I'm just not the cinemagoer I once was. Part of it involves moving to the suburbs, of course; in Minneapolis I lived a mile from a theatre that I could walk to for limited release films, whereas now some movies don't make it to Woodfield for weeks after I've read the reviews. That cooling-off period can be brutal on the sense of urgency needed to push me into the theatre rather than waiting for the DVD.

With that said, I am disappointed not to see Kinsey up for anything but Laura Linney's supporting nod, and a bit stunned that Alan Alda stole Peter Sarsgaard's supporting nomination out from under him and that Clint Eastwood knocked Paul Giamatti and Javier Bardem out of the Best Actor race. But the Academy skews old; we all know that. I shouldn't be so surprised that where critics choose younger, up-and-coming performers, the Academy goes with two vets, or that a movie about sex loses out to a movie about Ray Charles. Hopefully the Grammy voters won't show Charles the same love rather than honoring Green Day. Time will tell...

Monday, January 24, 2005

We've Got a Problem...

Key Lawmakers Cast Doubt on Social Security 'Crisis'

But not a crisis. Thank goodness more and more folks in Washington, even Republicans, are standing up and saying so. We need to have a discussion about Social Security in this country--and about the national debt, and about our obligations to children, seniors, and the less fortunate. But we don't need to have those discussions in a state of panic or a climate of fear. Shame on Bush for trying to create those things to push his Wall-Street-enriching, social-contract-breaking plans through.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Animated By Desperation

U.S. Christians Issue Gay Warning Over Kid Video

I haven't missed this news, by the way; I just think it's so silly as to be beyond comment.

But here's something to ponder, I guess:
Christian groups however have taken exception to the tolerance pledge on the foundation's Web site which asks people to respect the sexual identity of others along with their abilities, beliefs, culture and race.
Here's the thing: if there's anything objectionable in that list, it's "beliefs." No one chooses to be disabled; you don't have much choice about what culture or race you're born into; and I can assure you that you don't choose to be or not to be gay. There was no Hamlet-like monologue; the realization was not without struggle, but fundamentally, I just am what I am. But beliefs? Those you can choose. You can choose to believe in the teachings of Christianity, or in the teachings of James Dobson and Focus on the Family--note that they're not really the same thing--or you can choose not to believe in them. Perhaps some of this is culturally determined for you: The odds that I would end up either a Catholic or a former Catholic were exponentially increased by my family's Catholicism. But surely one can choose whether to swallow the messages of the Church whole or not; if not, there would be a lot more Catholics, because none of them would be using birth control and they'd be having kids like crazy, just like the old days.

I hope some of the folks who have been following Dobson's lead notice how nutty his latest crusade is and jump off the bandwagon. Their religion may tell them--or they may think it tells them--that I am a sinner. But unless they also think it tells them to stone me in the public square, Dobson's objection to a message of tolerance rings quite hollow. And if Dobson and his followers do advocate my public stoning, they should come out and say so. I'm sure that will win them a great many friends among ordinary Americans.

They're just doing this because they're desperate; they want to make permanent their temporary victory in a single battle of a war that they know they're losing in the long run. It's just not going to happen, Dobson. Find a new place to pour your derision. This one makes you look like a cartoon character.

Revealing Life | The sex is gone -- why should I stay?

Today's Cary Tennis column has a slightly misleading title: That is the basic topic of the letter he answers, but his response turns out to be rather autobiographical. If you ever read his "Since You Asked" column on Salon, you'll find today's edition illuminating.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


Ailing Chief Justice, Looking Frail, Swears in Bush

Kind of a loaded headline, don't you think? I guess AP decided their first choice--"Rehnquist, Looking Like Death Warmed Over, Holds Bible for Horseman of the Apocalypse"--was inappropriate.

Palatable Richard Nelson: At a Glance

It's so close now I can taste it. On the steam of a review of Diana DeGarmo's CD that apparently hit a nerve with readers yesterday, my 65 Amazon reviews suddenly have 350 helpful votes--and I'm suddenly ranked 5039. In practical terms, that means that my next bump will put me in the top 5000.

I'm not "asking for your vote"--unlike a certain someone who I'm trying to ignore today--but consider this post notice that there are some new reviews from me up at Amazon--of the aforementioned DeGarmo, the last Bright Eyes CD, and the movie Collateral, among other things--if you're interested.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Do Not Go Gentle

Senate Panel Approves Rice as Secretary of State

Well, a few Democrats aren't rolling over in the face of the new Republican steamroller. Rice was approved by the Foreign Relations Committee by a 16-2 vote, but at least Barbara Boxer and John Kerry refused to give her the nod.

If only Kerry had such a record of voting based on a clear set of beliefs before he ran for president, we might be in the midst of his Inaugural festivities, not this rent-a-minor-celebrity excuse for a corporate convention. Don King! Frasier Crane! 3 Doors Down! Kerry would have had Springsteen, R.E.M., Bob Dylan...heck, U2 would have probably come if invited. Such a fabulous waste of resources our campaign turned out to be...

Which is why, when the Democratic Party called last night begging for money, I said no.

And then yes. Just like John Kerry. They may lack backbone, but the Democrats are still the only game in town for anyone who doesn't hate gay people or believe in starting senseless wars. Dean for DNC Chair!

Train Wreck

Welcome to another season of ‘Delusional Idol’

Man, that was bad.

Really, really bad.

Last night's opening episode of American Idol had a few moments of honest pleasure--good singing by people who seemed to be worth cheering on. But in a two-hour program liberally stuffed with commercials, that's not enough.

Most of the "appeal" of last night's show was predicated on laughing at bad singers who thought they were good. But how were we supposed to laugh? One bad singer was clearly in need of mental help, hearing voices and shouting to herself as she departed. Another went from his audition directly to panhandling. And even those who made it through to the next round of torture sometimes battered viewers in the process, as was the case with wedding-ring-selling Regina. We want to sympathize with the singers, yes. But I was scared for Regina--that she wouldn't make it and would thus deeply regret selling her ring, that she would make it and it would ruin her marriage, that she doesn't have perspective if she thinks she'll die if she can't try out for the show.

Indeed, the show seemed to be mostly a parade of unbalanced people. Clearly, Fox has gotten word that people enjoy the humiliating aspects of the show, but they've taken it too far. Where are the people I'm supposed to care about in the next round? That heavy metal guy? Not likely. The dancer who could also sing? Sorry, no. Regina? I'm too conflicted to let myself think about her.

I knew there was a reason I swore off this show. If only Brad didn't want to watch it again this year...

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Slam Dunk

That Magic Moment

It's been a good day for the New York Times. Paul Krugman has a good look, above, at the similarities between the way the Bush Administration sold the Iraq war and its current manufacturing of a Social Security "crisis." In it, he references a great piece from this weekend's NYT Magazine in which Roger Lowenstein provides a detailed history of the program and an explanation of its actual condition and prospects for the future. The bottom line, anyone who reads the article would conclude, is that the crisis is a political one, not one based on the reality of the program. Bush is trying to change the nature of Social Security from something in which I believe deeply--the idea that those who work should be guaranteed a baseline level of comfort in their retirement no matter what happens--to a fundamentally different system in which the benefits and misfortunes created by capitalism flow haphazardly to different people based on factors well outside their control. Where's Bill Clinton when you need him?

In light of all of this, and the desperate need to stop Bush from achieving his goals, David Brooks provides an interesting--and deeply flawed--rendering of the current plight of the Democrats. He posits that Democrats are in trouble because the American people disagree with the party on the issues. I'm willing to bet that on this particular issue, which is the lynchpin of his column, he's dead wrong. Ask the American people if they believe that those who work hard and play by the rules should be guaranteed a comfortable retirement, and if they believe that ensuring that retirement should be the job of government, and listen to the chorus of "yes" echo from red and blue states alike. If we were having that debate, discussing the merits of the current Social Security plan and alternative schemes, I have no doubt the American people would oppose Bush. Indeed, even a subterfuge campaign by Bush isn't helping his numbers: 55 percent of American disapprove of his handling of Social Security. Will he listen? Will he talk honestly about the real problem--the deficit his tax cuts have created--rather than focusing on boogeymen fifty years down the road? And isn't it ironic that a president who can't be troubled to think about the environmental consequences of his policies ten years down the road is obsessed with a trust fund that is projected to last well into the 2040s before it runs into problems?

Monday, January 17, 2005

Career Change

49ers Pick Mike Nolan to Be New Coach

No real comments from me on this article, but those who went to Augustana with me will find the headline amusing. I know an English degree is supposed to equip you to do anything, but football coach? I had no idea Dr. Nolan was so versatile.

He probably picked more than two of the four games this weekend correctly, too...I'm off in a few minutes to treat Brad to Stir Crazy after incorrectly predicting a Colts victory. Oh well; there are worse ways to honor the memory of Dr. King than a Thai Curry. Probably not many, but...
Here's a bit of recompense, in the form of his words that I continue to try to live up to:

"It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important."
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
"When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative."
"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

Friday, January 14, 2005

Million Dollar Man

Heisman Winner Matt Leinart Staying at USC

I think he's a bit daft to pass up guaranteed millions for another shot at the college title he's already won twice, but you've got to applaud USC QB Matt Leinart for knowing what matters and realizing that once you leave the college experience, you can't go back. I hope his linemen next season play their hearts out for him and he doesn't get sacked--and thus face the threat of a career-ending injury--even once. To see a class act pay a multimillion dollar price for making the classy choice would really be sad.

Speaking of sad, I wonder how players and coaches at every Division I program that isn't USC are feeling right now? Oh, and Archie Griffin can spend another year wondering if his club of one is about to be joined, but he may as well start making room; unlike Jason White, last year's threat to repeat a Heisman win, Matt Leinart can actually throw the ball, and the fact that he passed up a shot at being at the top of the draft--something White really didn't have going for him--will make him a more sympathetic choice, as will his demolishing performance against White in the title game. White started this season with a leg down because he played badly against LSU; Leinart will start next season with both legs up on the rest of the Heisman field. It should be fun to watch.

Late Debate

Bush: 'Sometimes, words have consequences'

The pre-Inauguration attention to President Bush has been hard to ignore, but I suppose that's good; after two months of mourning, it's time to get used to the idea that this guy is going to be running the show for another four years.

I find it interesting that Bush is now willing to admit that he may have made a mistake by telling the Iraqi insurgents to "bring 'em on" and by calling for the capture of bin Laden "dead or alive," but it's more interesting to me that the press are actually putting these admissions into context, as this article does:
During his second debate last year with presidential challenger Sen. John Kerry, Bush was asked to name three instances in which he had made a wrong decision.

At the time he declined to identify any specific mistakes.
Oh well. If he's learning, even this late on the job, some of the basics, that's good for America and good for the troops who pay the price for his errant statements. If we're to survive the next four years, we'd all better hope Bush gets a lot better at running the country--and a lot worse at ramming bad legislation through Congress.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

As Predicted

Curry, Bulls show no signs of slowing down

I flipped on the Bulls game last night after The West Wing and watched them demolish the 76ers. As the Daily Herald notes this morning, "This is not a misprint: If the NBA playoffs started today, the Bulls would be in."

And the Timberwolves would not. The world has turned upside down, and everything I said the other day needed to happen for this scary scenario to come true did: A Chicago win, a Minnesota loss, a Houston win, a Boston loss. I've enjoyed being right more often than wrong these last few weeks, at least regarding the outcome of sporting events, but this is hard to relish.

Maybe I'll be wrong this weekend, at least. Steelers, Colts, Rams, Eagles, in order of my confidence in the pick. You heard it here first.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Change of Heart

Gays applaud discrimination ban

I'm pretty hard on Republicans, but today I'd like to applaud two. First, Rep. Suzie Bassi, who represents me in the Illinois House. She voted for the non-discrimination bill, and in fact faced a primary challenge because of her support for it in the past. To be a Republican facing a primary challenge from the right and stick to your guns on an issue that enrages your base takes courage.

Second, I'd like to note the actions of Rep. Joe Dunn:
Naperville Republican state Rep. Joe Dunn also supported the legislation although he said he'd fully planned to vote against it. Dunn said he was so put off by the tone of his fellow Republicans' opposition that he cast a "yes" vote.

"Politically, for me this is a horrible bill. A 'no' vote would have been so much easier," said Dunn. "But I think I would have just been copping out and I didn't come here just to always take the easy vote."

Dunn's predecessor, state Rep. Mary Lou Cowlishaw, also a Naperville Republican, voted against such legislation, so Dunn's move gave supporters an unexpected vote.

"I just can't tolerate discrimination and hatred and intolerance and, really, I was prepared to vote 'no' when I walked onto the floor today," said Dunn. "But when I listened to the arguments of why we should be voting against this bill, they seemed to be so intolerant of people."
Dunn's words provide a good reminder: those who oppose equality are often their own worst enemies. Their irrational hatred turns off two people for every wingnut to whom it appeals. I'm glad--and grateful--that Dunn and Bassi have chosen not to be associated with the vile spewings of many of their Republican colleagues.

Consider this my "nice" post about the G.O.P. for the year.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Illinois House Passes Gay Rights Bill

The story has gone national. The voting is done. Unless Rod pulls a fast one on all of us--not likely, considering his sister-in-law, Deborah Mell, is a lesbian and has lobbied hard for this bill--Illinois has just become the 15th state in the nation to outlaw discrimination in the workplace and in housing on the basis of sexual orientation.
[UPDATE: Blagojevich says he'll sign, and calls this "a landmark day for Illinois." Indeed.]

My thanks to all of you who e-mailed or called your legislators to help this bill pass. I've been waiting five years to see it happen; many have waited a lot longer. I feel a little bit more like a full citizen this afternoon.

One Up, One Down

NBA Standings

Here's something scary to ponder as the Timberwolves train wreck continues: With their loss to the Lakers last night, the Wolves are only one loss and one Houston or Clipper win away from being outside of the playoff picture. With their fourth straight win last night, the Bulls are one win and one Boston loss away from being IN the playoff picture.

Of course, the Bulls play in a conference where .500 ball can get you a division title--just ask the Knicks. But Chicago is 7-3 in its last ten games; Minnesota is a pitiful 2-8 and has spiraled below the all-Kobe, all-the-time Lakers in the standings. This is not looking good for my beloved Wolves. Maybe it's a lucky thing that my sports page is covered with news about Eddy Curry every morning rather than Kevin Garnett. (I never thought I'd say that.) Right now, it appears that Curry has the better team.

One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church

Bill protecting gays clears state Senate, nears passage

The Chicago Tribune ran the passage of the gay rights bill as its front page headline this morning, but you have to synthesize its article with the one above from the Sun Times to paint a full picture of what happened yesterday. From the Trib:
In trying to persuade other senators to vote in favor of the measure, Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago) took issue with social conservatives who say it would be supportive of the homosexual lifestyle.

Cullerton, a Roman Catholic, quoted a priest who made what he found to be a convincing point: The real immorality, he said, is in discrimination.

"[What if] somebody says, 'You know what? We just don't rent to people like you.'" Cullerton said. "It's wrong."
Makes sense, right? Now from the Sun Times:
Behind the scenes, Cardinal Francis George lobbied Roman Catholic legislators to vote against the bill. But Sen. James DeLeo (D-Chicago), Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Cicero) and Sen. Louis Viverito (D-Burbank) bucked the church amid a counterpush from the governor and Senate President Emil Jones.
Having been raised Catholic, I keep hoping to see even the narrowest of openings in the mind of the institutional Church. Once again, I'm disappointed--and this time the Church's position really doesn't make sense. How can the world's largest employer of gay men object to a bill that bans discrimination against us?

Monday, January 10, 2005


Illinois General Assembly - Bill Status for SB3186

I just watched it happen live on Windows Media Player. The Illinois Senate has passed the Non-Discrimination Bill, 30-27. Assuming that the House passes it again and Gov. Blago signs it, Illinois has just taken the leap into the 21st century.


Send a Message to God - He has gone too far this time. By Heather Mac Donald

The first two lines of this article read thus:
In the wake of the tsunami disaster, it's time for believers to take a more proactive role in world events. It's time to boycott God.
Mac Donald is blaspheming, yes, but doing so in quite entertaining fashion.
Where is God's incentive to behave? He gets credit for the good things and no blame for the bad. Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is fond of thanking God for keeping America safe since 9/11; Ashcroft never asks why, if God has fended off terrorist strikes since 9/11, he let the hijackers on the planes on the day itself. Was God caught off guard the first time around, like the U.S. government? But he is omniscient and omnipotent.
Mac Donald suggests that God has grown accustomed to adulation and thus become inattentive and even contemptuous. "So, let the human race play hard to get," she says. If we stop giving God the adulation he wants based on current conditions, Mac Donald says, he'll be forced to make things better to earn our attention and affection.

Again, blasphemous; I'm hardly a hardcore believer and I'm looking over my shoulder for lightning bolts as I type. But Mac Donald has a point: If God gets credit for the outpouring of charity in the wake of the tsunami, isn't he just as surely due a bit of flak for allowing the damned wave in the first place? Even if you don't agree with her, you've got to admit she raises a concern worth discussing in the wake of any tragedy: Why do we credit God with every good thing and ignore his role in every bad one?

Three for Four

Vikings stun Packers 31-17

Not to brag, but how many people can say they called three of this wild (card) weekend's four football games? The Jets surprised me--though Marty Schottenheimer's refusal to throw for the end zone in OT is what really lost the game for the Chargers--but everything else fell into place, including the victory of two 8-8 teams that I predicted last Monday.

It happened because Culpepper is a better quarterback, now, than Brett Favre. Culpepper's days of making bad decisions are behind him, while Favre's days of being able to play himself out of his momentary lapses of reason are in the past. The combination was too much for the Packers to overcome. In a fair world, that's where the focus is this morning, not on some silly celebration dance. (You'd think Moss actually dropped trou rather than merely miming it.) Culpepper flat-out beat Favre. He did it with his arm. He did it with his legs, leading his team in rushing yards. And he did it with his head, never throwing the sort of errant passes that allowed the Vikes to pick Favre off four times.

Not that any of this will matter. The Vikings have only the third-best shot at emerging from next weekend as an advancing wild-card winner, after the Colts, who I think will finally take the Patriots despite the weather, and the Rams, who could benefit from the fact that the Falcons play in a dome. Sorry, Jets, but the Steelers are just too much for you, or probably for anyone.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Sea Change

New York Times Mulls Charging Web Readers

This could be the beginning of the end, folks.

I'm a writer; I understand that the money paid to me for creating content has to come from somewhere, and I also get that I'm lucky to work somewhere where that revenue is generated not only by advertising but by a membership fee that includes a non-optional subscription to the magazine for which I write. The Times and other papers have to get the money to pay their staffers from somewhere.

But consider this:
In a statement, Dow Jones' president of electronic publishing Gordon Crovitz said his company "would be delighted" if the N.Y. Times began charging online subscription fees.

"We have never understood why a publisher would charge for its news in one medium, such as print, then give it away for free in another medium, such as online," he said.
For one thing, because print costs money, Gordon; paper isn't cheap. By comparison, publishing something on the Web is quite cost-efficient. What you're worried about is what happens if people get comfortable using the Web and no longer want the paper version.

Here's what I wonder: If all the eyeballs now glued to the printed page were instead looking at articles online, how would that not be a better situation from an advertiser's standpoint? A piece of paper doesn't know your interests, but a Web site can learn them quite quickly and target you for advertising. Instead of running an ad that reaches everyone for a certain price, the Times could charge that same price for putting the ad in front of a certain swath of the audience that has demonstrated an interest through preferences, reading habits, prior ad-clicks, etc. (And don't start fretting about privacy. If Google can pick ads for you based on a robot reading your e-mail, and Amazon can figure out just what CDs you should listen to, the Times and other papers can pull this off.) Surely that ability to target would make it possible for a "paper" to generate ad revenue similar to, or even higher than, what it currently generates. And the savings on printing costs would make it even more feasible for a paper that had high online "circulation" and lower print runs to remain free on the Web.

I know, I know: Slate takes all of this to the max and it doesn't generate a profit. But Gordon Crovitz's concern only matters if people abandon print and get their news online, and my point is, if that happens, the number of eyeballs viewing online content--and online ads--would skyrocket, while the amount of content generated would remain the same. Hello, profitability!

All of this is to say: Please, New York Times, don't turn the Web into a for-pay experience. Don't ruin a good thing--find a better way to pay for it by taking advantage of the vast number of people who enjoy it the way it is.


Worse Than Fiction

Speaking of the lack of ambivalence some of us feel, Paul Krugman neatly sums up how many liberals feel right now in his new column. He notes something I've been thinking for a while, especially when trying to talk to people of the opposite political persuasion:
How did we find ourselves living in a bad novel? It was not ever thus. Hypocrites, cranks and scoundrels have always been with us, on both sides of the aisle. But 9/11 created an environment some liberals summarize with the acronym Iokiyar: it's O.K. if you're a Republican.

The public became unwilling to believe bad things about those who claim to be defending the nation against terrorism. And the hypocrites, cranks and scoundrels of the right, empowered by the public's credulity, have come out in unprecedented force.
We may have lost for a lot of reasons, but I think this is a big one: a lot of people just weren't willing to open their eyes and see what a bad president Bush has been. My own father said before the election that he approves of everything Bush has done except the marriage amendment. Accepting that he was engaging in some degree of hyperbole, I still have to ask: How is that possible? Do you approve of torture? Of deceit? Of unwarranted war? Of tilting the playing field to favor the very rich while pursuing the tearing-up of the social contract that has endured since the 1930s? I hope not. But most Americans, including my father, have turned a blind eye to most of this. Bush is just an upstanding man who speaks his mind, not a composite of all the horrible decisions he has made as president. We should all be held to such account for our actual on-the-job performance. 50% merit increases for all! (And if we're following the Bush plan, ten weeks of paid vacation, too!)

Enjoy the Krugman column.


AP Poll: Americans Ambivalent About Bush

I think the headline of this article is misleading. If the American public were in fact a singular entity, then yes, being divided into two camps regarding a topic would make it "ambivalent"--or perhaps schizophrenic. But Americans as individuals are not "ambivalent" about George W. Bush, at least not as a rule. When 49% of the people approve of someone and say things like "I very strongly support what he's been doing," and the other 49% disapprove and prompt jokes like last night's on Will & Grace, when a staffer told Will there was a catastrophe and Will responded, without thinking, "He got elected. We need to get over it," that's not "ambivalence."

The headline should speak the truth: "Americans deeply divided over Bush." It may be less pleasant, but that's the reality. AP, of all organizations, should be more interested in getting it right than playing nice.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

For the Sake of Argument

2004: The Year in Movies

It's not a snow day, but it feels like one. (My workplace opened "late" this morning, but it turns out "late" and "the time Richard normally starts work" mean the same thing.) So enjoy the link above, which leads to three (so far) days of spirited argument about movies from a group of interesting movie critics.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


USC No. 1 From Start to Finish in AP Poll

A quick update to yesterday's BCS post, in light of recent events: I'd still like to see USC play Auburn. I'm also pretty sure USC would annihilate Auburn--maybe not as thoroughly as they thrashed Oklahoma, but convincingly. Take the money and run, Matt Leinart. If you stay in college, next season won't have any suspense at all.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Interest Conflict

Cosmetic Procedures Are Gaining Among Men

OK, I work for most of the nation's dermatologists, so perhaps I shouldn't comment on this story, but isn't this comment from a plastic surgeon for an article on cosmetics a bit troubling?
Dr. Darrick Antell, a leading plastic surgeon in New York City, said women patients tell him they have always compared themselves to the models they see on fashion magazine covers. But now men are making the same kind of comparisons.

"From Calvin Klein ads for underwear to GQ, I think the media have made men more aware of how good they should look," Antell said. "They see an ad and say, 'I don't have abs like that.'"'
How good I should look? Listen, I'm all for exercising for your health, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and eating a balanced diet. I'm eating a pear while I type this! But doing those things to meet the standards of a model in a magazine--a person whose job is to spend his or her time endeavoring to look the way he or she looks--is patently absurd. By thinking such things are possible, we devalue the things about living a real life--one with a job more meaningful than pursuing one's own aesthetic beauty--that we should appreciate. No, I don't have the abdominal muscles of a porn star or the chest of a body builder. Maybe I could, if I really tried--but what would it profit me or society at large? Shouldn't I worry more about how good I should be than how good I should look?

To me, the fact that cosmetic surgery is growing at such a rapid pace is a sign of a significant shift away from substance and toward style. You can see it in any number of ways on any given day. The Bush Inauguration will cost $40 million; it's said to be meant to honor the troops and their families. As Wonkette noted this morning, though, saying that supporting the troops is the theme of the inaugural isn't the same thing as, well, actually supporting the troops. Why cancel the balls and send the $40 million to the troops in the form of, I don't know, the armor they asked Rumsfeld for? Why use the money to help military families in America who are struggling to make ends meet because their primary provider is on an extended tour in Iraq? Why back up your words with actions?

Why, indeed. Why appreciate the inner qualities that develop as we age when we can use the miracles of modern medicine to revert our appearance to an age more appropriate to our stunted inner development? Why do the hard thing--take action to help the troops, or age gracefully--when we can do the easy thing--paper over the first with words and plasticize or Botox the second?

According to the article on cosmetics,
"Cosmetic surgery is more negatively viewed by Americans because it is threatening to become so commonplace," said Pepper Schwartz, a University of Washington sociologist. "People feel pressured to look a certain way if everyone you know who is 50 is having surgery to look 40."
That's not our main trouble, America. Yes, it's troubling that people can't accept aging. What's more troubling is that we judge our politicians and public figures by the same standards as our porn stars. The latter should be pleasing to the eye and willing to say whatever we want to hear, and need not concern themselves with the truth and deeper meaning of their statements. But the former? Right now, we seem not to distinguish. Which is why there's no answer to my questions above. We'll accept the ridiculous answers the Bush administration gives to questions like "Why not spend the inaugural money on armor, or helping the families of the troops, or helping tsunami victims?" so why should they change? They say what we want to hear--"We support the troops." And we assume that they mean it, that they do something about it. You can't tell me that all the folks on the road with those yellow ribbons on their cars believe the words of the president to be as empty a gesture as putting a magnet on a car. But empty they are. Saying his inaugural is "about the troops" does as much to protect the men and women serving in Iraq as a magnet on your car does. If Bush is a better man than those he represents--those who spend the money from their tax cuts on facelifts rather than the faith-based charities Bush insisted would benefit from them--he'll lead by example and donate his entire inaugural fund to either the Red Cross, to help disaster victims in Asia, or to a group that helps military families in the U.S.--which would be more appropriate because he, not a tsunami, caused much of their plight.

In our cosmetic society, that would be one move that would both look and actually be good.

Better Change the System

Forget BCS — Auburn is No. 1

OK, college football fans: Tell me, honestly, that you wouldn't pay to see Auburn play the winner of tonight's Orange Bowl. Tell me that the notion of two 13-0 teams, both champions of their conferences, playing for all the marbles doesn't seem both fair and exciting.

Last night, even the ABC commentators called for a playoff. ABC is one of the primary beneficiaries of the BCS system; it broadcasts the biggest games of the year. Somebody upstairs is probably quite unhappy with the crew that called the game last night, but they were right. The time for a playoff is now.

Auburn didn't blow out Virginia Tech, and so even a tight win by Oklahoma tonight probably won't be enough to vault Auburn into the AP's number one slot. Isn't that a shame? As Mike Wise says,
The pathetic thing is, voters (and computers) will actually hold the close victory against Auburn, because that's what they do -- penalize character.

The notion that the two-touchdown favorite is supposed to emasculate the underdog -- that teams actually accrue votes for blowout wins -- is the worst measuring stick of the BCS system. Forget the arcane sportsmanship ideals, that the system encourages coaches who run up the score and play to embarrass instead of win. No, the real problem is that such a system does not gauge resilience, the attribute most becoming a champion.
Did you see Auburn's defense literally flip Va. Tech quarterback Bryan Randall as he headed for the end zone? That's a team that plays to win.

Yes, tonight's game will feature some of the premier talents in the college game. Joey Johnston rightly hypes the game as one of the most interesting and important colllegiate contests ever played, featuring four Heisman finalists, two 12-0 conference champs, and the two programs that have so far dominated the decade. But imagine if USC had played Utah last week, and Oklahoma had played Auburn, and both had prevailed. Wouldn't tonight's game--still featuring four Heisman finalists and two dominant programs, but now with the added spice of the only two undefeated teams, both 13-0--be a truly historic event?

This is what the bowl system is denying us--games that we can all agree are for all the marbles and all the glory, with no one left whining, "It should have been us out there." If the BCS can't provide a true number one team, it's time for a new plan. Attention, college presidents: It's called a playoff. If you'd like to see how it can make money for you while becoming a popular tradition, please direct your attention to "March Madness."

Monday, January 03, 2005

Partnered Up

Calif. Law Gives Benefits to Gay Couples

As Illinois tries to decide whether gays and lesbians can be fired for their sexual orientation or not, and Cook County offers a symbolic but legally meaningless domestic partnership registry, California is moving forward. With the new year, thousands of same-sex pairs will have many of the rights of married people.
Same-sex couples in California for the first time will have access to divorce court for dividing their assets, seeking alimony and securing child support. They also will have automatic parental status over children born during the relationship and responsibility for each other's debts.

[The law] guarantees domestic partners a say over what happens to their loved one's remains at death and means they cannot be forced to testify against each other in state courts.

"It won't be as good as marriage because we are talking about a thousand-plus federal benefits that won't be covered," Cornell said. "But a start's a start, progress is progress."
Indeed. What starts in California often spreads east. Here's hoping lllinois legislators who are about to vote on Senate Bill 3186 are paying attention and realize, if California can make this kind of progress, surely Illinois can outlaw employment and housing discrimination.

If you live in Illinois, and you'd like to help the Non-Discrimination Bill pass, please click here to visit Equality Illinois.

Asleep at the Wheel

Late-season woes makes playoff berth bittersweet for Minnesota

Happy New Year!

Owning an HDTV has made me the last thing I thought I'd become: an NFL fan. Anyone who's seen a football game broadcast in high definition understands why. Sports, particularly football, look so good in HD that it feels wrong not to watch. Heck, I flipped on a boxing match last night just to see the incredible detail. You've never seen sweat like this, I tell you.

Anyhow, all this football watching and my former Minnesota residence make me feel qualified to comment on the spectacular collapse of the Vikings this season. My comment is this: Don't count them out. Yes, they've played miserable defense as they've found a way to lose seven of ten after a 5-1 start. And yes, the Packers have twice beaten them 34-31 and have home-field advantage next weekend. But the Vikings have the tools to outscore Green Bay, and a franchise history of embarrassment this decade to motivate them to do so. There's no reason to think that Culpepper and Moss and Burleson won't choose this week to put it all together, or that Culpepper wouldn't like to take out the fact that his stellar season was ignored (he led the league in passing yards and threw for 39 touchdowns, not that anyone noticed) on one of the other quarterbacks whose record breaking (for consecutive starts) distracted fans and the media.

I'm not saying this will be a blowout, but don't be surprised if, come next Monday, it's the Vikes headed to Philly and the Rams headed to Atlanta despite the fact that they're on the road. In this crazy year for the NFC, what could be more fitting than two 8-8 teams advancing in the playoffs?