Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Americans Too Sleepy for Sex, Poll Finds

I know, I'm on a break. But how many days do we get headlines like this?

Here's what I found most remarkable:
What is to blame? The survey of more than 1,500 adults found that 87 percent usually watched TV in the hour before going to bed, 47 percent usually had sex and 64 percent read.
If you think about those numbers for a minute, you'll be led to a few odd conclusions. First, there are apparently some people who are watching Jay Leno, reading a book, and having sex at the same time. Who are these incredible folk? Second, half the country claims that it "usually" has sex before falling asleep. Is half the country currently on its honeymoon? Just about everyone I know would consider "usually" a pretty significant uptick in activity. Maybe rampant sexual activity is the reason everyone's so tired!

If you're worried that your sex life is causing you to lose sleep, by the way, you could do worse than watching The House of Sand and Fog, which is very good but also so disheartening that it will sap from you not only the desire for intimate contact but also, perhaps, the will to live. Despite this, I'd recommend it for some great performances and a story that, while tragic, is also believable and thought-provoking.

Back to my break...

Monday, March 28, 2005

Spring Break

A lot of people are on spring break this week--empty offices and cubicles abound at work and the roads are just a tad less busy. But I've got no such break--in fact, my vacation a few weeks ago has left me running behind. So I'm taking a break from one of the few things I can drop at my leisure--this site. Maybe there will be a book review later in the week when I finish Eleanor Rigby. But something's gotta give, and I'm getting a bit of Schiavo-related burnout anyhow.

So enjoy Idol without my comments, and cheer for an all-male bottom three of Nikko, Scott, and Constantine. Enjoy the brief spring-like blossom of weather we're enjoying. I'll be back next week.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Justice and Confusion

Mikalah Gordon Knocked Off 'American Idol'

Let this be a lesson to you, Nadia--pick better songs. Fantasia dabbled with the ax before emerging as the winner of last season's contest, but she had the luxury of a cast of also-rans that included John Stevens, JPL, Jasmine Trias, et. al. Is there any question that at least half of this year's field would beat out Diana DeGarmo for last year's runner-up position? You've got to turn it on--now. Otherwise, as Simon warned, you're not going to last.

While I wasn't pleased to see Nadia in the bottom two, I was thrilled by the exit of Mikalah--and I wasn't alone. The AP called her demise "inevitable," while the Daily Herald faulted the show not for mixing up the phone numbers but for stuffing one more helping of Gordon's lamentable vocals down our throats. (Not mine--I skipped Wednesday's "encore.")

What will happen now? Based on my predictions, we should see Costantine and Scott in the bottom three soon, but it's really hard to predict who will depart next. Worse, for me, I don't know who I want to see leave. My least favorite performers are Constantine and Jessica, and I've never warmed to Scott's sway-singing. And Anthony, in trying to look like some version of cool he's misappropriated from frat boys, is not only looking silly but hasn't sounded very good of late. Here's hoping they're the next four to go, though I doubt Nikko will outlive all four of them and don't know if he should.

One thing's for certain--it may sound like hyperbole, but this is definitely the best top ten the show has had.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Done Deal

Poll: Evangelicals Oppose Gov't on Schiavo
US Top Court Rejects Request in Brain-Damage Case
In light of the headlines above, can we just call this matter settled and move on? Do we have to wait for a judge in Florida to tell Jeb he can't take Terri Schiavo into his custody? The whole point of this fiasco has been to pander to the evangelical base of the Republican Party. If that isn't happening, can't we just let Terri die with a shred of dignity?

Creative Solution

First Thing We Do, Kill All The Old Folks

"Joe Klein" at Wonkette finds the glimmer of hope buried in the new estimates on Social Security and Medicare:
Paying all the Social Security benefits the government owes to old folks over the next 75 years will cost $4 trillion, and with a growing elderly population, payroll taxes won't bring in enough cash to cover it. But the trustees' report also had a hidden silver lining: Medicare will run out of money almost 20 years sooner than Social Security. Which means, we've solved the problem already! No money for Medicare means no health care for seniors. No health care for seniors means... no seniors! And no seniors means no Social Security problem. Shit, that was easy.
That's all well and good, but maybe I should up my 403(b) contributions...since I'll be turning 65 three years after Social Security blinks out and more than two decades after the Medicare insolvency date. If this is all a ploy to get people to stop relying on government to take care of them, you've got to admit it's a pretty effective one.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


'Idol' Producer Defends Show's Integrity

OK, it's not about the ratings, but isn't this language from executive producer Ken Warwick a bit extreme?
Thursday's additional half-hour (paired with the debut of the new Fox comedy "Life on a Stick") will displace the low-rated "Point Pleasant," which is drawing about 4 million viewers versus up to 30 million for "American Idol."

Warwick said there had been no discussion of whether "American Idol" would perform better in the ratings than the drama and said it was inappropriate to discuss it.
Inappropriate to discuss it? Is "Point Pleasant" a small child whose feelings will be hurt?

At least we got an answer to what "encore" means:
All the results were tossed out and a new vote was to be conducted after the filmed performances were re-aired Wednesday in an expanded hourlong show.
Gee, I think I'll skip West Wing for that. Or maybe not.


Till Death—or Tom DeLay—Do Us Part
The "sanctity of marriage" is suddenly negotiable.
By Dahlia Lithwick

Lithwick's opening paragraph really nails the irony of the Schiavo situation and the grandstanding from Republicans it has inspired:
Of all the ironies at the heart of the Terri Schiavo case—alleged federalists who scoff at federalism; the fact that Schiavo, who's in a persistent vegetative state, has lived off the winnings in the same kind of medical malpractice suit that Republicans in Congress seek to limit—the most astonishing is this: Congressional Republicans who have staked their careers and the last election on the "sanctity of marriage" have turned this case into a mockery of that very institution.
I'm not married, so I can't vouch for Lithwick's reaction to Tom Delay's statement:
"I don't know what transpired between Terri and her husband. All I know is Terri is alive. ... Unless she has specifically written instructions in her hand, with her signature, I don't care what her husband says," snarled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay the other day. Can this be true? In DeLay's worldview, is my grocery list more binding than promises made to and by my husband about our deepest wishes? Can Bill Frist and Tom DeLay and George W. Bush really be attempting to shred up the very institution they most want to protect?
I'm not married, but that's partly because Bill Frist and Tom Delay and George W. Bush don't want me to be. I DO know that, while I love my parents very much, each passing day makes it far less likely that they would know what I want in a given situation and far more likely that the person who lives with me day in and day out would. What kind of funeral would I want? In what circumstances would I prefer not to be kept on life support? These are not things you discuss with your parents, for one obvious reason--you don't expect them to outlive you. A life partner, no matter what the law calls him or her, is the person who should be asked these questions--and that's exactly what every court that rules on this case has said and done. If DeLay and Frist and Bush really believed in the sanctity of marriage, they would say so, too. This situation exposes them for what they really are: exploiters of fear and panderers to the lowest common denominators within their political base. This time, I think, their exposure may be too obvious for them to return to hiding.

Try, Try Again

Error Leads to 'American Idol' Revote

Can't they just send Mikalah home and get it over with?

Last night was filled with strong performances and strong statements, including Simon's bizarre assertion that Carrie, who I like but who has underwhelmed lately and whose vocal imperfections last night were masked by a mix that amped up the background singers, will not only win the competition but will sell more records than any previous Idol. What on earth will they do for an encore tonight? I suppose if any show could come up with a way to fill an extra hour, this is it. Almost makes you wonder if this mistake was an intentional ratings grab...

Speaking of intentions, it looks like I was right and it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide whether Michael Schiavo has the right to determine those of his wife. Every day that passes leaves less chance that Terri's parents will succeed; the folks who want to keep Terri alive so her parents can imagine that her reflexive movements are actually forms of intentional communication are running out of both time and venues. If the Supreme Court actually rules on the case rather than simply dismissing it, I look forward to a scathing Scalia dissent that derides the majority (which will side with the Florida courts, I predict) as both killers and soldiers of evil in the culture war. It's that kind of respect for your peers that will make you a great Chief Justice, Nino!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Extremely Odd and Incredibly Great

Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Without a doubt, this book is weird. The cover is almost like a suitcase; crammed inside are all sorts of items from each of the book's three narrators. Together, these items reveal a family whose fabric has been torn twice by tragic events--first the firebombing of Dresden and, much later, the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. In both cases, a character in the book experiences a loss that makes carrying on with a normal life impossible; in both cases, it is left to another character to suffer much of the fallout despite the fact that she, too, is pained by the original event.

In weaving a tale with such symmetry (not to mention emotional heft), Jonathan Safran Foer resorts to all manner of tactics, from pictures to blank pages to pages crammed with type. These, combined with the fact that the principal narrator is a precocious nine-year-old, have led some critics to call the novel a gimmick. They are hard-hearted folk, dear reader. This is a moving and redemptive novel and, while there will surely be numerous other novels that ponder the impact of 9/11, rest assured that none will approach it from quite this angle or with quite this impact. Read this, and then go back and read JSF's Everything is Illuminated as well. Both are excellent and highly recommended.

Feeding Frenzy

Talking Points Memo

Ed Kilgore raises an interesting question in the wake of this morning's ruling:
having framed the Schiavo case as "murder" and "barbarism" and "medical terrorism," does Tom DeLay now just say, "Well, the family had its day in court," and forget about it? Or will the culture-war implications of the case make it escalate?
If no court will go along for the ride, what else can Bush and Congressional Republicans do? We may be on the verge of finding out. It will be interesting to see how the American people react...

Monday, March 21, 2005

Free Fiona!

fiona apple

This link isn't a petition--it's the entire Extraordinary Machine album, available for download right now. Am I OK with this? I faced a similar ethical dilemma with the "stolen" Dave Matthews Band album in college, and my solution is this: Take it now, promise yourself you'll buy it when it's finally for sale. (For the record, I did buy Busted Stuff the day it came out, only to find it inferior to the raw stuff to be found on The Lillywhite Sessions.)

Isn't finding interesting new music by a great artist more fun than talking about a dying woman all day?

Justifiable Vehemence

Activist Legislators - The boundless overreaching behind Congress' new Schiavo bill. By Dahlia Lithwick

You can feel the fury that must have been pouring out of Dahlia Lithwick's fingers as she typed her piece on the legality--or lack thereof--of the bill President Bush signed this morning to force the Terri Schiavo case into a federal court. Angry or not, though, she's exactly right:
Let's be clear: The piece of legislation passed late last night, the so-called "Palm Sunday Compromise," has nothing whatever to do with the rule of law. The rule of law in this country holds that this is a federalist system—in which private domestic matters are litigated in state, not federal courts. The rule of law has long provided that such domestic decisions are generally made by competent spouses, as opposed to parents, elected officials, popular referendum, or the demands of Randall Terry. The rule of law also requires a fundamental separation of powers—in which legislatures do not override final, binding court decisions solely because the outcome is not the one they like. The rule of law requires comity between state and federal courts—wherein each respects and upholds the jurisdiction and authority of the other. The rule of law requires that we look skeptically at legislation aimed at mucking around with just one life to the exclusion of any and all similarly situated individuals.
That a party obsessed, until recently, with keeping government as far away from as many facets of life as possible would be the one to perpetrate such a fraud is both sad and ironic. When the judge gets around to ruling, the only decision he should be able to reach is to declare that the hastily-made law that put the case in his lap in the first place is unconstitutional. That would put this in the hands of the Supreme Court, no? I'd love to see how Scalia teases legality for the Schiavo bill out of his interpretation of the Constitution!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Sacred Institution

The time has come to let Terri Schiavo die
Bush Signs Bill That May Let Schiavo Live

I feel sorry for a lot of people involved in the Terri Schiavo situation. I feel sorry for her--no matter what instructions she did or didn't leave before she slipped into this vegetative state 15 years ago, they surely didn't include a legal battle that inspired Congress to get involved. I feel sorry for her parents and siblings; they're clearly suffering from denial as a result of their grief. I feel sorry for her husband; he's proven by now that this isn't about the money (he refused huge sums, well in excess of any money he might gain when Terri dies, to step aside) and that he simply wants to do right by the woman he married and prevent her from existing in a way that she didn't want to exist.

But today, I feel sorry for the judge who will have to hear this sob story and render a verdict knowing that Congress came into session on Palm Sunday to force the case into a new court and tried to write the outcome into the bill it passed. It will take courage of conviction for the judge to look at the facts and see what everyone else who has judged the case has seen: Terri is never going to "get better" and her husband is the only person who can decide, in the absence of written instructions from Terri herself, what should be done. Arthur Caplan is quite convincing on this point:
Remember the recent debate about gay marriage and the sanctity of the bond between husband and wife? Nearly all of those now trying to push their views forward about what should be done with Terri Schiavo told us that marriage is a sacred trust between a man and a woman. Well, if that is what marriage means then it is very clear who should be making the medical decisions for Terri — her husband.
Courage, judge. The House GOP may want your head if you refuse to reinstate the feeding tube, but you'll have the American people behind you, for once:
70 percent of Americans say Congress' action was inappropriate and 67 percent thought the elected officials trying to keep Schiavo alive were doing so more for political advantage than out of concern for her or the principles involved.
I realize that the 30 percent in that survey are probably much more motivated to act if the decision doesn't go their way, but it's helpful to remember that all of this is happening because a vocal minority has grabbed this as a cause and demanded action. If a similarly-sized group decided it wanted action regarding something of actual national significance, like extending the sacred bond of husband and wife to same-sex couples, imagine what could happen...

Opportunity Knocks

Target Weekly Ad

This week, Target is selling the new Bright Eyes album, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, for only $6.98. Right now, it's my number one album of 2005. They've also got the Arcade Fire album, Funeral, for only $9.98. That album will be in my revised 2004 top ten; the only question is how high it will go. Oh, and for those of you who like something a little softer, they've got Ray LaMonagne's debut, Trouble, for only $7.98. Perfect for Easter baskets. Go get 'em!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Movin' Out

House panel OKs gay marriage amendment vote

That would be the Minnesota House, not the U.S. version. You've got to love that they did it in Grand Rapids, hours away from the Twin Cities, as if they wanted to get as far away as possible from most of the state's gay population. Is this all Republicans plan to do from here on out--run to wherever they can find a fawning audience even if their proposal isn't popular? I'm thinking of President Bush's Social Security events, which can be attended only by those who already agree with him. If the idea is to convince rather than compel, why not open up the floor to debate?

There's hope yet that the state Senate will ignore this amendment--it's controlled by the DFL, while the House is run by Republicans--and even a chance that if voters in Minnesota had the "opportunity" to vote on it, they wouldn't approve it. But the specter of such a debacle makes me glad I got out when the getting was good.

In an odd bit of serendipity, I just booked a hotel room for a wedding in Minnesota next month. Two men, one room, one king-size bed. You do the math, Minnesota House!

Let Down

The West Wing

Only three episodes remain in this season of The West Wing, and after watching this week's episode on tape last night I was a little worried about how they're going to be handled. The tease for next week doesn't help:
RELIGION BECOMES A DOMINANT ISSUE WITH THE CANDIDATES - Vinick (Alan Alda) wins the Republican nomination for presidency and begins working on his campaign. He gets political advice from Bruno (Ron Silver) about choosing a vice president and how to deal with the latest controversy of Vinick's church attendance, or lack thereof. Meanwhile the Democrats are stuck in a three-way race for enough delegates to win the Democratic nominations; Russell (Gary Cole) barely leads Santos (Jimmy Smits) and Hoynes (Tim Matheson) is a distant third. Bartlet (Martin Sheen) tries to show unity in the party by wrangling the candidates. Also starring Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Joshua Malina, Janel Moloney.
First, this description is unrealistic. No one would win the Republican nomination without some churchgoing bona fides. Second, I smell a Josh fest. By imploding, Hoynes has turned himself into a kingmaker; I'm guessing his votes at the convention will be the ones that decide which candidate (and we all know it will be Santos) will get the nomination. And who has Hoynes known longer than anyone else? That would be Josh, who just happens to be the campaign manager for Santos. Will the outcome of the entire convention and election swing on Josh's charisma? Bet on it.

But how will Donna feel about this? She's working for Russell, getting her first real experience as a powerful gal. Is she going to land on her feet in the Santos campaign when this is all over? How will she feel about losing to Josh even though her campaign got more votes? Will they ever give in and admit they're in love?

At least any of these intrigues will be more interesting than this week's non-starter of an episode. Leo's little mission to Cuba, and the startlingly unrevealing reveal of him with Kate Harper back in 1995 at the episode's end, were almost boring. We were strung along for an hour, waiting to find out how Kate and Leo were connected, and it turns out to be another "Remember when Leo was a drunk?" moment. Thank goodness for the campaign episodes this season. The ones that focus on the White House are useful as mirrors on some of the characters--Margaret's little foibles and Debbie's exchanges with the President always tickle me, for instance--but the plots themselves have been pretty dull.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

No Alarms, No Surprises

I'm at the end of a long day that didn't involve going to work. Clothes have been washed, mirrors have been cleaned, banana bread has been baked, and a man from Nicor has replaced the gas meter.

I could have spent some of the day off on the phone with my friends, but I have a small problem. When my former cell phone joined me in the waters of Austin's Town Lake, it panicked more than I did (a feat for which it should be given some sort of drama award) and, trying to lose weight and stay afloat, jettisoned both its call-making ability and all of the phone numbers it had stored like a grand piano on the Oregon Trail. While I have quite the memory, I'm drawing blanks regarding the numbers of a great many of my friends. So, if you think your phone number belongs in my phone, please either call me, e-mail it to me, or put it in the comments if you're comfortable sharing with all the folks who come here looking for "At last my love has come along" lyrics only to find a post about the release of the first three seasons of Seinfeld on DVD.

Speaking of music, I was right about Lindsey, no? I had Mario finishing sixth, however; his departure screws up my list and alters the dynamics of the show. I'll have to ponder how Nikko will fare as his replacement, but in the meantime, I'm feeling good about my picks. What did Simon say to Vonzell last night? That if she doesn't do something to stand out from the middle, she'll last five more weeks. And how many weeks do I have her lasting in my projections?

That would be five.

More substantial thoughts tomorrow.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Glad Tidings from New York City

American Idol finalist withdraws

I never was a Mario Vazquez fan. I hope his "personal reasons" for leaving are nothing serious, but I'm glad to have Nikko back.

Don't bother trying to call me these next few days: my phone was submerged for about ten minutes when Brad and I flipped our kayak yesterday afternoon, and thus far it has not recovered. We have, albeit with some sore muscles, a few scrapes, and bruised egos. Today is the Alamo and the Spurs game; tomorrow is the rodeo and, oddly enough, Maroon5. I'll tell you all about it soon.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Mental Lapse

History for Dummies - The troubling popularity of The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History

I have the Go-Go's song "Vacation" running through my head right now. For that reason, I'm not going to bother with a lengthy explanation of why the piece above is interesting. But if you read it, and then read this piece from the Columbia Journalism Review, entitled "Let’s Blame the Readers," I think you'll get the general drift of what I've been thinking about this afternoon. I can sum it up with one question: Why are people so damned unwilling to think? And a second question: Why do they also feel suspicious about anyone who does bother to think?

I've been asking that pair of questions for almost nine years now. They were the central questions behind the monthly newspaper column I wrote in high school and the column I wrote in college. I still don't get it.

But in less than 24 hours, I won't be asking such questions. I'll be tilting my seat back into a comfortable position, eating a tiny bag of pretzels off a tray table, and watching the snow disappear as my flight travels south, toward 80-degree temperatures, the brand-new house of a pair of good friends, and some incredible food. You'll likely have to go without my random commentary and American Idol observations for a week. Enjoy the break--I know I will.

Lindsey Cardinale leaves Wednesday.

Sorry, I couldn't resist. See you soon!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Rocker Shocker

The 'American Idol' Final-12 Party

Our long national nightmare is over. Janay Castine is going home, and Idol returns to twice-weekly broadcasts next week.

The show will do so with a final 12 that includes at least one surprise. Two for four with a dark horse isn't bad, right? But the fact that both Constantine and Scott Savol survived comes as something of a shock to me--and perhaps an omen of bad things to come, especially as their survival came at Nikko Smith's expense. Is this going to be another year when boring white guys with "interesting" back stories advance well beyond the level their talent would dictate? It happened last year with Matt Rodgers, John Stevens, and JPL--could it happen again with Scott and Constantine?

I'm betting not. Here is my prediction for the order in which the finalists will be eliminated (note that this is not necessarily the order in which I would eliminate them myself):
Lindsey Cardinale
Scott Savol
Constantine Maroulis
Jessica Sierra
Mikalah Gordon
Vonzell Solomon
Mario Vazquez
Anthony Federov
Carrie Underwood
Bo Bice
Anwar Robinson

Which means your winner is...Nadia Turner. (Note that this is who I think should win.)

Think I'm wrong? Way off? Let me know below--but please, suggest your own order.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A Modest Proposal

Can we just move to the top six right now? I'm ready to let Anwar, Bo, Anthony, Nadia, Vonzell, and Carrie duke it out.

I'll stick with my picks from last week: Tonight will be the end of the road for Janay (please!) and Amanda, with Lindsey the dark horse to leave and Mikalah the one who really should accompany Janay in the limo to the airport.

Tomorrow: My prediction of the week-by-week vote-off order of the top 12!
Coming Friday: Farewell, cold! We're off to Texas.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Don't Let the Door Hit You

Cronkite: Rather Stayed Too Long in Job

Hmm. When Tom Brokaw left the anchor chair at NBC, the media feted him and everyone talked about how much he would be missed. When Dan Rather leaves CBS, we get stories about how he should have left a long time ago, how Walter Cronkite thinks Rather's interim replacement, Bob Schieffer, is a better choice for Rather's full-time job, how Donald Trump would have fired him like an Apprentice contestant.

Maybe Rather should have written a book that lionizes old people.

Boys, Boys, Boys

After last week I said Constantine and Scott would be the last two guys eliminated before American Idol puts the two sexes back together. After last night, I'll add a third possibility into the mix: Travis Tucker. His choice of "Every Little Step" was, well, not a good one. He sounded out of breath. I've liked Travis up to now, so I still hope Scott and Constantine get the boot, but don't be surprised if Travis gets sent packing on Wednesday. Be shocked, however, if Bo, Anthony, or the phenomenal Anwar leave anytime before the top six.

Monday, March 07, 2005


Illinois' Bid for a Perfect Season Ends

All season, I've been a very casual observer of the Illini, checking in on them through box scores and the occasional sports page article but never watching a game. I still remember how much it hurt to cheer them into the Final Four in 1989 and watch them lose. But when Meet the Press ended yesterday, I had Brad flip over to CBS while I made our Sunday morning bacon and eggs. That's right--for the first time in 30 games, I wanted to watch this vaunted, undefeated team beat up on the opposition.

And beat up they did--it was 18-8 rather quickly--but in the end I found myself shouting, stunned that the Illini were 0-1 while being watched by me. I promise not to watch their first-round NCAA game.

Things did go my way later in the day, as Tiger Woods reclaimed the number one ranking in golf from my least favorite player, Vijay Singh. But even in watching him win, I felt like a jinx: I turned on the TV as he and Mickelson played the 13th hole, one after Tiger's eagle that gave him a two shot lead. Immediately after I started watching, Tiger started slipping and Phil caught up. Thank you, Tiger, for holding on; thank you, Phil, for barely missing the chip shot that would have allowed you to hang on. If things had gone differently, I might have had to give up watching sports.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Missing Idiom

Not the Queen's English

As I spend the day playing with the sounds of English words, others, in other countries, are spending it learning English. As this article points out, English is now a world language, the first in history to be spoken by more people as a second language than as a native tongue. Carla Power questions what this will mean for the language:
Researchers are starting to study non-native speakers' "mistakes"—"She look very sad," for example—as structured grammars. In a generation's time, teachers might no longer be correcting students for saying "a book who" or "a person which."
As a grammar stickler, I'm loathe to see these changes, but this article also brings out a rare moment in me, one in which I concur with folks with whom I usually disagree. Those who want to make English the official language of the United States and offer government materials in only that language generally aren't my ideological allies, but you've got to read this article and then ask: Why are people around the world--more than 2 billion in a decade, Power says--interested in learning and using English, while people who come to the United States--where English is the dominant if not official language--often seem to shun it? Wouldn't it be a scary and strange thing if a higher percentage of residents of China than the United States spoke and understood English?


Amazon.com: About Richard Nelson

I told you it was a good day. After explaining my weird fascination with March 4th, I checked my Amazon reviewer rank. It's up to 3,959! Onward and upward!


Another year, another series of puzzled looks when I explain why I love this particular day better than any other.

March 4th. Say it out loud. Say it to someone who's in your office and won't go away. Shout it! Notice anything? (They should be running away.)

Today is the only day that is also a sentence. And that sentence is appropriate for the time of year: As winter's grip begins to loosen, this day commands us to get moving and enjoy the improving weather. "March forth!" Go outside, take a walk, notice the soon-to-form buds on the trees.

If I'm ever the first openly-gay president of the United States, this day will be a holiday.

(I realize that every day in March could be interpreted as a sentence--as in, march first, second, or third in a line. But today's homophonic phrase, march forth, is the only one that has a real, expressive meaning. Who's going to get excited about marching twenty-ninth? That just means your last name starts with "Z" in a too-large first grade class.)

Thursday, March 03, 2005


Highway 290 Revisited: Idle Predictions

I got three out of four right last night, with the fourth being my dark horse, Aloha, and none of my projected top 12 leaving the show. I hereby project that next week will be the end of the road for Janay Castine, Scott Savol, Constantine Maroulis, and Amanda Avila, in order of confidence. I'll pick dark horses after the performances.

Speaking of the "End of the Road," the Boyz II Men song of that name features prominently in the episode of The O.C. that will air on Fox tonight at 7:00 CST. I haven't followed the show, but I do know that this episode, which was on last week, really is, as the commercials are saying, one of the best episodes of series television ever. Plus, it ends with a Matt Pond PA rendition of the Oasis song "Champagne Supernova." Definitely worth watching!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


The Hassle Factor - But I don't want to manage my own Social Security account!

Thomas Geoghegan makes exactly the point I've made in arguing about Social Security in the past--people don't WANT to be responsible for their own retirement. This is a government program because, despite the current national conservative mood, it's something that people generally feel the government should handle: ensuring that, no matter what, every citizen will have a minimal standard of living in retirement after a lifetime of labor. People like not having to worry about how this safety net money is invested:
This is my gripe against the Bush plan: I've already got enough to do.

Millions of Americans, I'm convinced, are against it for only that reason. We don't want to have to think about Social Security. "But people worry about it now," you might say. Oh, sure, at these presidential drop-in discussions in Fargo, N.D., a cop or cook will say, "I worry Social Security won't be there for me." But come on, they don't really worry. If they did, they'd open a damned savings account.
I love Geoghegan's willingness to get into the dirt on this issue:
I hate to personalize things, but since Mr. Bush's reform is his personal obsession, I think I will. It galls me that a president who has never had to dig is handing us a shovel. Look at all the freedom that George W. Bush had because Bill DeWitt Jr. and Mercer Reynolds handled all his investments. Early on, they told him, "You just worry about coming up with funny nicknames, and you will never have to worry about money." And he came into the White House with his brow unlined.

Social Security is our little taste of this freedom. The world adds and adds. Social Security subtracts. It simplifies life. Social Security is "Social" and "Secure" instead of "Individual" and "At Risk." That's what is so maddening to people on the right, the Ayn Randers, the libertarians.

They look down on the rest of us. They think of us as slugs. We aren't living authentically until we worry as much as they do.
Fortunately, Bush's plans look to be doomed. That doesn't mean some of the problems he's allegedly seeking to solve will go away--America, and Americans, are going to have to learn to survive in a more competitive world in which our economic dominance is not assured--but won't it be nice to have one less thing to worry about again?

Idle Predictions


I should have started this last week, but for the record, I predicted the first two people (Jared and Melinda) who got the boot and didn't even guess on the other two. How many of the remaining 20 can I correctly guess? I'll be happy with half...

I think tonight will be the end of the road for David Brown, Joseph Murena, Janay Castine, and Celena Rae. Dark horses: Scott Savol and Aloha Mischeaux.

If I had to guess the top 12 now, I'd say: Anthony Federov, Anwar Robinson, Bo Bice, Mario Vasquez, Nikko Smith, Travis Tucker, Carrie Underwood, Jessica Sierra, Lindsey Cardinale, Mikalah Gordon, Nadia Turner, and Vonzell Solomon. I feel more confident about the boys than the girls, by the way--especially Lindsey and Jessica, whose songs so far have done nothing for me.

Anyone else who still watches this show--which I swore off after last season but continue to watch despite the pressing obligations of grad school--is welcome to quibble with my predictions.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Due Date

Beyond Miscarriage

Bet you weren't expecting a link to that article, were you? Well, today is the day I was supposed to be born 26 years ago (and, oddly enough, also the day the family dog was born 11 years ago) and, anyhow, this article is a great example of exactly what journalism should do: Tell people something they don't know that can make the lives of individuals and the processes of institutions better. You can't tell me this isn't useful info to any woman who has suffered through a miscarriage:
A close reading of the scientific literature and interviews with the world's leading miscarriage researchers have convinced me there is hardly anything a woman can do to cause her own miscarriage.

Studies have yet to find solid evidence that smoking, quaffing a few glasses of ale, cranking up your engines with a grande Frappuccino, living near a chemical dump, drinking tap water, working at a computer terminal, flying on an airplane or even snorting cocaine causes miscarriage.

That's not to say that pregnant women should blithely smoke, drink, do drugs or hang out at chemical factories. All of those environmental factors can harm babies, they just don't seem to lead to losses. That should give comfort to any woman who has blamed herself for a miscarriage.
It's not that you weren't careful enough, or didn't sleep enough, or ate the wrong food--it's just nature's way. The author, whose own wife suffered four miscarriages before bearing a second and third child to term in her forties, points out that studies of miscarried fetuses have turned up an interesting fact: a lot of them have "chromosomal abnormalities" that leave them with almost no chance of surviving. It's a grim reality, certainly--but it also confirms what people often say anyway, that while a miscarried pregnancy simply wasn't meant to be, that's no reason not to try again.

Not that there aren't plenty of reasons not to try again--an overpopulated planet, the rising cost of raising a family, a dangerous world, Senator Ted Stevens--but at least those determined to have a family can know, thanks to Jon Cohen's fine article and willingness to share his own experience, that if they want to have a family, a miscarriage shouldn't stop them.

The Hell They Should

Senator: Decency Rules Should Apply Pay TV, Radio

Is Sen. Ted Stevens out of his fucking mind? He and his pals in the Republican Party can foist their fucking moral qualms about swearing and sex (but, notably, not all the fucking violence on TV) on programs broadcast on the public airwaves because they're just that--public. I may not like it, but there's something to be said for trying to adhere to publicly-accepted standards of fucking "decency" when you're using public property.

But cable TV and satellite radio don't fucking use public property. People fucking pay for them. If fucking Sen. Stevens had his way, Howard-fucking-Stern and Bill-fucking-Maher would be off the fucking air tomorrow. The Sopranos would probably still be just as fucking violent, but you can bet Tony would use gentler language and visit fewer goomahs. This is not the fucking world in which I want to fucking live, fucking Sen. Stevens. Leave my HBO the fuck alone!