Getting over a cold. It’s an extremely minor cold, but a cold nonetheless.
The lousy thing is that just last week, I was bragging to my sister, my
brother-in-law, and my parents about how I hadn’t gotten sick in over two
years, blah blah blah. Pride goeth before the fall.

At least Pat and
were kind enough to stop by last weekend and see me in my dire condition:

(phone rings at 10pm)
Me: Hello?
Pat: Hey, it’s Pat. Me and Walkingstick want to come over.
Me: Umm, great! Hey, where are you calling from?
Pat: Sam’s house. We stopped by, but he’s not home.
Me: So what am I, Plan B?
Pat: Don’t flatter yourself.

So the two of them stopped by to hang out for a few hours. Not only did
they leave plenty of cans and bottles behind, but they were cans of
Diet Pepsi and bottles of O’Douls. I mean, cripes, they trash
the place and they don’t even have the decency to bring
real beer. I think I must have the worst friends

Anyway, I’m fighting off this cold with clean living and an all-orange juice diet.
I think it must be working, because last night at poker I actually won a dollar. I
think that constitutes clear evidence that my clarity of mind and body is
improving. However, M’ris suspects that my poker buddies were
just afraid to take my germy money. Shows how much she
knows — I could soak my wallet in untreated Ebola-infected monkey blood and
my poker buddies would still be falling over themselves
to take my money. But really, that’s a whole ‘nother story.

1. Julius Caesar excepted, of course.

Irony, or Lack Thereof

I was out this morning listening to Forum on the car radio. The topic of the hour was the nascent Gray Davis recall campaign. One angry caller, a self-identified Democrat, said he was fully in favor of the recall. After ranting a bit about Davis, he softened his tone and ended with a wistful, “The recall will help us heal the soul of our politics.” Now any ordinary mortal is sure to go into involuntary spasms of laughter upon hearing the words “heal”, “soul”, and “politics” coupled with the word “recall” — and I am proud to report that I am no exception. It was a good thing I had just finished parking the car. Whoever said talk radio isn’t dangerous?

Now the reason I was parking the car was in order to pick up Jedediah Purdy’s new book, Being America. I had read about this book a few days ago, and that triggered some memories. Hey — wasn’t that the young guy who wrote that book a few years ago about how we are too ironic and cynical and lazy, and that we really need to, like, knock it off? Why, yes, it was. I had remembered that at the time I had really wanted to buy Purdy’s first book (For Common Things), but I never got around to it and I eventually forgot all about it.

However, now I was a bit torn on whether or not to shell out for the book. Just a week ago I got burned on The Spooky Art. I had figured that if Norman Mailer at the age of eighty can’t tell me something interesting about writing, then who the hell can? Well, the book had a few nice bits here and there. But for the most part it was arrogant and crusty and — in the words of my mother when she glanced at the teaser-quotes on the back cover — clichéd. (Frankly, Steven King with his On Writing beats the pants off of Norman Mailer, both in the about-writing area and in the irrelevant-personal-fluff area.)

So, not quite sure what to do, I started looking for reviews of Purdy’s first book. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go further than this irredeemably nasty review to settle the issue. Anyone who can work the poseurs at into such a frothing latter has got to be a Force for Good. I rushed out to the local bookstore and got a copy of For Common Things. And a copy of Being America — in hardback. Just for spite.

Killer Instincts

Back from Florida, and Grandpa’s (headstone) unveiling ceremony. Hard to believe it’s been a year since he’s been gone.

The good news was that instead of the incompetent-beyond-belief rabbi we had last time, my little sister the proto-rabbi took the reins. She did an awesome job. I asked her where she had gotten the various elements for the ceremony — the songs and prayers, that sort of thing — and she said that she had simply consulted the “magic rabbi book”. No, not the Torah. Apparently there is a recently-written book of poems and songs and prayers with clearly delineated recommendations for usage in various situations, and every modern rabbi has a copy. Seems kind of like cheating to me. On the other hand, the ceremony my sister put together was short and to the point. So I don’t think anyone can argue that she doesn’t have killer rabbinical instincts.

Anyway, the flight back was uneventful, although I did have to wake up at 1:30am PST to catch it. I even made my weekly poker game that evening. The guys didn’t even know I had been gone. “You were where this morning?” they asked. That’s right — I’ll travel 3000 miles just to play poker. Although to be honest, I dont recommend travelling 3000 miles to play poker to the public in general. Nor do I recommend playing poker on three hours of fitful sleep. (A corollary to this rule: when your opponent is showing for a full house, don’t try to bluff him out when you’re showing for a straight — even if you “know” that he doesn’t have the full house. Because if you’re jetlagged, you can rest assured he does have the full house… if not a four-of-a-kind.)

Hopping Mad

My MOTWM class is pretty interesting these days. This quarter we’re spending much of our time focusing on fifteenth-century Italian politics and art. It seems that at the end of the fifteenth century, the Italian city-states were caught unawares by the rising power of the new political order. Florence, Venice, Milan, Naples… all thought they were just as important and powerful as the newly consolidated nation-states of England, France, and Spain. Then came 1494, King Charles VIII, and the beginning of the Italian Wars. Fascinating stuff.

Of course, I’m sure that studying ancient moldy history like this has no relevance to modern politics whatsoever.

So there I was this morning, minding my own business, when Nancy sent me an email about Howard Coble and his idiotic statements about why interning Japanese-Americans during World War II was a dandy idea after all.1 Coble’s pathetic non-apology apology is just the icing on the cake:

“I regret that many Japanese and Arab-Americans found my choice of words
offensive because that was certainly not my intent,” Coble, R-N.C., said.

Gosh, silly us for being so sensitive.

I remember years ago, my Mom telling me that when she was a high school student in Florida, one poor brave teacher tried to teach the class that the internment camps had actually happened at all, and an outraged coalition of parents rose up to prevent their dear children from being scarred by this information. So maybe we’re making progress? At least it’s being discussed in the open, even by the troglodytes. Feh.

The really scary part is that Coble is… drumroll… chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.2 I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I am not a big one for petitions. I occasionally get well-meaning letters asking me to sign an online petition for X, or copy-and-paste a Statement on Y and email it to my Representative, the President, whoever. My usual response is skim-and-delete. But this one is different. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be sending out three letters in the mail. One to Anna Eshoo (my representative), one to F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (chairman of the Judiciary Committee) and one to Dennis Hastert (the Big Cheese — in theory, anyway). Their addresses, by the way, are:

Anna Eshoo Dennis Hastert James Sensenbrenner
205 Cannon Building
Washington, D.C. 20515,
(202) 225-8104
235 Cannon HOB
Washington, D.C. 20515
(202) 225-2976
2449 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-4905
(202) 225-5101

Who knows, if enough people write in, maybe that asshole Coble will get thrown
off the subcommittee. It’s worth a shot.

1. I’m something of a news junkie these days, and so I’m really not sure how this one slipped under my radar for over a week. (Smacks forehead)

2. While poking around, I learned that Coble had until recently been on the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property. Good thing they gave him something more important to do. And yes, that is a Frontpage-manufactured website that our former Grand Poobah of the Internet has got there. I like the kewl waving flag GIFs, myself.

3. Speaking of Coble’s website: should you visit it expecting any statements on this particular issue, as of February 13, 2003 you will come away sorely disappointed.

Cultural Divide

Ze üpgrade vas a success! Ahem.

Brian Montopoli thinks that NPR is too homogenous. Once assimilated into the NPR Collective, even poor Tavis Smiley cannot avoid taking on the dreaded NPR Voice:

As we waited in the hallway, some of us tried to make small talk; others found a quiet corner where they could go over their lines. But we were all thinking about the same thing: The Voice, the NPR Voice, and how the hell we were going to pull it off. The Voice is tough to describe, but you know it when you hear it: It’s serious, carefully modulated, genially authoritative. It rings with unspoken knowledge of good wine and The New York Times Book Review. We were terrified of it.

Although not everyone finds it terrifying:

It is an extremely appealing Voice–to a certain demographic. About 20 million people tune into NPR each week. Their mean income is $78,216, and their average age hovers just below 50. Nearly 90 percent of those who shared their racial information are “non-Black/non-Hispanic,” according to NPR survey data. In other words, the people whose Zeitgeist Edwards et al., have been extraordinarily effective in catching are affluent, middle-aged white liberals, who tune in to the drivetime shows on their way to work and sometimes continue listening for the rest of the day. This demographic just adores NPR, and NPR gives the love right back.

I think Montopoli is giving NPR real short shrift in the diversity department. Yes, NPR sponsors a great many shows that appeal to affluent white coastal liberals. But c’mon, let’s be fair — it also sponsors shows that appeal to affluent white Midwestern liberals. For example, take A Prairie Home Companion (please!) I suppose the show does have a couple of redeeming features (“Guy Noir, Private Eye”). But that’s not enough to save it. Honestly, how many Sven and Ole jokes can this California boy be expected to take?1

Perhaps there are some cultural divides that can never and should never be crossed.

Addendum: the above should not be construed as saying that Midwestern humor consists solely of “Sven and Ole” jokes, or even that A Prairie Home Companion constitutes canonical Midwestern humor.2 Not a value judgement — it’s just different, kind of like saying I like vanilla, you like chocolate.3 PHC is just a bit too deadpan and understated for my tastes. I’m usually thinking, “Wait… was that a joke? I think it was… or was it? Should I laugh or what?” Now sure, I like Wry and I like Understated, but PHC is too much for me. Or, rather, too little. Put another way: between Garrison Keillor reading the news from Lake Wobegon and Steve Martin running around in circles banging pots together and shrieking, “Oklahoma-Oklahoma-Oklahoma-Oklahoma!”, I’ll take Steve.

Anyway, one last thing on NPR. Montopoli sets up a rather strange distinction between NPR (staid liberal white boomer programming) and PRI (“hip cultural programming”). Now I’ll grant you This American Life, but The World (a co-production with BBC News)? Marketplace?? Who are we kidding here?4

1. The worst thing is that A Prairie Home Companion is on all the freakin’ time on weekends. You can’t get away from it. This weekend is their Valentine’s Day Special show. Help!

2. Let alone that all Midwesterners should think it’s hilarious. Heavens.

3. Actually, that’s precisely backwards: I like chocolate, and statistically speaking, you like vanilla.

4. Of course this assumes that we go so far as to accept the premise that any public radio program could be hip and edgy. At this point we’ve probably gone off the deep end anyway.

Scruffy and Dangerous

So I haven’t been shaving on a regular basis recently. This became a problem on my last Poker Night. The guys chided me, “You’re probably getting up at noon too! We warned you about this! I tried to explain that A) I was getting up at 8:30, not noon, and B) that my facial hair indicated that I was actually Evil Evan, from the alternate evil universe (just like Evil Spock). But they weren’t buying it. I was Scruffy Evan, at best. That’s all I rate? Scruffy?? I can’t pull off “evil” even when I try.

And I have to say that it would be helpful to look evil at Poker Night. We have a couple of catchphrases we use to coerce our fellow players into taking actions that they ordinarily wouldn’t. One of our favorite catchphrases is “Satan says”, said quickly and in a low pitch. “Satansaysbet.” “Satansaysraise’em.” Or in a game like 7-27, “Satansaysdraw.” In theory, an evil goatee would make my subliminal messages just that much more effective… but if you can’t pull off an evil goatee in the first place, then what’s the point?

In Other News: I bought Mac OS 10.2 (“Jagwyre”), and I plan to install it today. Now the smart thing to do would be to wipe the hard drive completely, install the OS clean, and load all my applications and data back. But that’s haaard and a lot of wooork. It would be much easier to simply back up the most critical files (in case of disaster) and and try to upgrade straight from 10.1 to 10.2. On a Windows box I would never dream of doing this, ever. But a Mac? It might be robust enough to handle it. Then again, it might not. Maybe the “quick upgrade” method will leave me with an unstable OS. But on the other hand, the “clean install” is more work… all that reinstalling of applications… I dunno…


Well, alrighty then.

One-Track Minds

For about thirty seconds on Saturday, I thought there was some kind of Challenger retrospective going on. Then I understood. I caught some of the news on the radio, some on the web… but honestly, Saturday was one of those days that I’m glad I don’t have a TV.

This morning on Forum they devoted one hour to Shuttle. No “experts” this time, just an hour of listeners calling in. Now I live in the Bay Area — the Left Coast — and so I certainly wasn’t surprised to hear caller after caller chime in with, oh dear isn’t it sad about the families, but what about the murderous US plans for hegemony and world domination, blah blah blah? Still, it got a bit monotonous after a while.

Some thinkers like to speculate about whether human mind is like a computer. If this line of thinking is true, I wonder, are some people just not given enough RAM at birth? Are they simply unable to handle more than one resource-intensive process at once?1

Finally near the end of the show a young man called in and said (paraphrasing), “I’m an anti-war activist. I’ve been in all the local marches. I’ve written my Congressman. I vote… And the thing is, I believe war represents one of the worst things human beings can do, while space exploration represents one of the best. Let’s not confuse the two.”

If the anti-war movement had more folks like him… well, there’d be an anti-war movement worth speaking about.

1. Addendum: M’ris informs me that Timprov says, “And some people are given those original Pentiums with the floating point problem.” Too bad that this sort of problem can’t be fixed in the next rev.