27 Aug 2004

Rule-proving exception

The Olympic coverage has been pretty damn mediocre, including if not quite because of the commentary. Tonight, during the pole vault coverage, they had a little sidebar that wasn't a fluff piece on one of the athletes and it wasn't a discussion of who won the last time around and it actually wasn't anything I've seen before in this Olympics. It was a piece on how the pole vault worked. For those of us that weren't track and field stars in high school, it was nice for them to actually talk about some of the mechanics of the event, and the speeds involved.

It would have been even better (thought I) if it or a similar sidebar had talked about pole vault scoring, which I still don't get. And this got me thinking further: with all of the time they waste on inconsequential crap, and especially given that they have this five-to-ten-hour delay between recording and broadcast, why don't they insert a whole bunch of explanatory pieces on all the events? Explain how out of bounds or foul lines work, since it's different for every sport. What's that extra line down there for? How are these five scores and a difficulty combined to make the total score? How come they got away with that US-rules-illegal move? A lot of this stuff could be prepped well in advance of the Olympics, and then just inserted at an opportune moment. Some of it (the more schematic stuff) could even be done on the fly during the excessive time delay, if an exotic point of the rules comes up and turns out to be important.

But no, nothing like that. Oh well, maybe in Beijing.

"Update: Apparently, the secret of traffic is to dis economics professors. J. Bradford DeLong, your mom wears combat boots!" --Michael Kimmitt

Posted by blahedo at 10:42pm | Comments (1)

24 Aug 2004

A memorable Olympic moment

As if there hadn't been enough weird-judging drama tonight already! The high bar competition was going along, some great routines were done, and then Alexei Nemov came up. He did the most spectacular bar routine ever, with something like six release moves, several of them in a row, and all executed beautifully; with only a small one-tenth hop on the landing. The score came in incredibly low, and---get this---the audience booed it. That's actually not that amazing; it happens with some regularity. But they booed, loudly, all of them, for eight minutes!

By about a minute in, it was starting to seem a little odd. Then, the judges started looking uncomfortable. The grand high poobah of the gymnastics meet walked over to the head judge (our friend Sawao Kato again) to discuss things; and then the Malaysian and Canadian judges were called over and questioned about the low scores they awarded. I don't know what was said, but they did modify the scores, which bumped up Nemov by a quarter-tenth. This barely put him into what was then third place, which of course he was bumped out of. I think he ended up finishing fifth or sixth of eight, and he really should have medalled. The audience kept booing, and eventually Nemov walked out on the floor and thanked the audience and motioned them to be quiet, and they cheered when he went out but then continued booing until Paul Hamm was actually into his routine.

Meanwhile Paul Hamm tied for gold (and was tiebroken down to silver) and Morgan Hamm tied for bronze (and was tiebroken out of a medal). I think that there is definitely a big shakeup ahead in men's gymnastics scoring....

'"OOPA!" is actually Greek for "watch out, don't light your hair on fire".' --Eva Sweeney

Posted by blahedo at 12:37am | Comments (1)

23 Aug 2004

More Olympic stupidity

The P-bar competition was totally out of control. I don't really blame the judges; it's the judges' job to, as objectively as possible, count bobbles and steps and violations, each of which takes off a certain number of points. Now that we saw a four-way tie for the bronze, the job of the international gymnastics federation is to re-point the P-bar rule book to make there be a wider spread. They'd also need to redistribute the points a bit so that the clearly cleaner and superior routines will get more points, which tonight they did not.

And the stupid commentator needs to SHUT UP. Seriously. He went on and on about how amazing it was that there would be a tie, especially since they measure scores into the thousandths of a point. If he were typing this he'd be using acronyms like OMG! and WTF!!1. And it's not even true: the precision only goes to eightieths of a point, that is, eighths of tenths. Every score ends in 00, 12, 25, 37, 50, 62, 75, or 87. And the judges themselves only have precision of halves of tenths; the rest comes from averaging. So it's not that astonishing. (This "false precision" problem is also the root of one of my big objections to how the metric system is used.)

I'm also a little sad that Mohini wasn't judged higher on her floor routine, but her start value was only a 9.7, so that's understandable. Ah well.

"I suspect jesus is 100% digestible. What you poop is just non-jesus substrate." --Zach Miller

Posted by blahedo at 10:10pm | Comments (0)

20 Aug 2004

Not recommended

If you're knitting, I do not recommend cutting things so close that you run out of one of your colours. And if you do, I definitely don't recommend cannibalising the starting border for extra yarn in that colour. If you do anyway, I don't recommend it having been a cable cast-on, which does not simply pull out (in the fashion of ripping back rows), but must be unthreaded. If, having ignored all my advice, you have ripped out the cable cast-on (which admittedly has a lot more than one row of yarn tied up in there), and you decide to knit off the beginning and onto the end, I don't recommend any part of the first rows having been ribbed, as this does not pull out backwards. (Only garter and stockinette will rip out from the bottom. Didn't know that, did you? Neither did I.)

So, anyway, I have this really cool topological knot sitting on my couch right now. I'll let you know how it turns out.

"It's all just hot air. The only folks who see [Nader] as a threat are the useless Democrats who bring nothing to the table but their non-Republican status. Everyone else just cracks jokes and moves on." --Jonathan Prykop

Posted by blahedo at 2:58am | Comments (0)

19 Aug 2004

Alan Keyes is a

I'm not sure what to call him; no name I can think of really seems adequate. Much has been made of his "carpetbagger" comment with reference to Hillary Clinton; it demonstrates an inconsistency of thought, but I don't hold his Maryland residency against him. He's a poor choice to represent Illinois, not because he doesn't live here, but because he's way out on the right-wing fringe, even allowing for the rightward movement of the Republican Party in the last couple decades.

Recently he suggested that descendants of slaves should receive reparations from the US government. (He's already played the blacker-than-thou card at Obama, pointing out that Obama's father was African, not African-American, so I can only assume his reparations scheme involves some complicated red tape to only compensate the real descendants of slaves.) His "thoroughly conservative, thoroughly consistent Republican" scheme involves making the reparations through tax breaks. And you know what? He's right, it is conservative and Republican---it keeps the money in the hands of the rich. Nobody else seems to have pointed this out, but if the reparations are in the form of tax breaks, the lion's share will go to those who have already climbed (or been helped) out of poverty into the middle class. Exactly those folks who least need it.

He's claimed that the 9/11 attacks were a sign from God that we should stop committing abortions. Lest this seem like it totally comes from left field (you think?), he claims that both terrorism and abortion show a "disregard for the claims of innocent human life", so when we fight terrorism we should notice this inconsistency and, presumably, ban abortion or something. It's not clear whether Keyes regards the fundamentalist Muslim terrorists of the 9/11 attacks to be actually sent by God, or what---he's avoided answering that question!

I do have to say, though, that when he does choose to answer questions he is fairly articulate. I'm looking forward to seeing Obama and Keyes debate; hopefully they will be able to keep them contentful. We'll see.

"Wiggling is almost always the correct solution to hardware problems." --Zach Miller

Posted by blahedo at 4:10pm | Comments (0)

U-S-A! U-S-A!

If you missed the men's all-around gymnastics competition, go find someone who taped it. It was an incredible show.

After all the hype, it looked like Paul Hamm was out of his gold medal run when he made the most spectacular fall I've ever seen on the vault: he landed off-kilter, took a couple sidewise steps off the mat, still couldn't pull it out and fell right on his keister a few inches from the judges' table. With the gold so tightly contested, his 9.1 shoved him down into 12th place after four rotations, with just two rotations to go.

In the fifth rotation, the two remaining top medal contenders managed to make errors of their own, while Hamm gave a spot-on performance on P-bars that brought him into distant medal contention.

In the sixth rotation, he was to be the very last competitor, on the high bar. Going into the thing it was known that he needed at least a 9.6-something just to medal, with a minimum of 9.825 to get the gold everyone had once thought his due. And there had only been one or two 9.8+ scores awarded in all the qualifying, team, and all-around rounds so far, so that was pretty unlikely.

Paul Hamm jumped up there and did his high bar routine. It was perhaps not the most spectacular routine ever, but he just didn't do anything wrong. His legs were together, he was hitting his handstands, and his dismount was nearly a perfect stick. And he got a 9.837. I was sitting here in my apartment cheering out loud; he didn't even believe it when his teammates told him he got it.

Definitely the most dramatic gymnastics competition I remember seeing!

"I have found that all ugly things are made by those who strive to amek something beautiful and all beautiful things are made by those who strive to make something useful." --Oscar Wilde

Posted by blahedo at 4:08am | Comments (0)

18 Aug 2004

The Da Vinci Code

The only real problem with this book is its claim that it portrays fact.

There were some minor things too, but if it weren't for the big page at the front that is headed "FACT:" and lists a bunch of the stuff that makes up the premise of the book, they'd be fine. It doesn't have to be true to make it a good novel; that's why it's a novel. As several characters point out, "everybody loves a good conspiracy".

As a mystery novel, it is pretty decent. The writing is a bit heavy-handed at times, and there are a bunch of places where one character explains to another what that character should already know; this serves an expository purpose for the reader, of course, but it's a problem if the reader keeps noticing it. A little more worrisome were the times when this reader was immediately able to interpret a symbol, and the symbologist and cryptologist "experts" bang their heads for about four pages before they get it. But, whatever.

The word play was also fun, sometimes. Pretty much whenever Brown stuck to English, he was on solid ground; but when he starts doing the cross-linguistic anagramming (as evidence of a connection!) he really starts to sound like the crank many have accused him of being.

Somehow I had thought that the action of this book would take place over a great deal of time, so I was surprised when I realised it was all in the course of about twenty-four hours. A lot happens in this time, of course, and even as the end approaches, and you think you have things figured out, he manages to pack a few nice punches.

Did anyone else notice in the list of Prieuré Grand Masters the name of Nicolas Flamel? For a brief moment I thought this was a nod to the Harry Potter books before it dawned on me that both books drew him from the same source (i.e. real life). In fact, he was (surprise!) an alchemist tied strongly into the search for the Philosopher's Stone. All of which makes me even more irritated that the American publishers of the HP series decided to change the title; but that's a whole other rant, of course.

In any case, The Da Vinci Code isn't exactly a masterpiece for the ages, but it's a decent read. The people that get all worked up about it not being true are correct, but really shouldn't be getting their panties all in a bunch over denying specific points---this evokes a methinks-the-queen air, which of course is rather counterproductive. Just point out that it's a novel. That should be sufficient.

So, anyone want this copy? I got it from Lee and I believe I'm expected to pass it on to someone else, so as not to give any more royalties to Dan Brown. :)

"If you removed every reference to poverty in the New Testament, the Good Book would be reduced to little more than a Not Bad Pamphlet." --Arianna Huffington

Posted by blahedo at 5:18am | Comments (2)

More gymnastics

The Romanian girls are right-on with their routines; if only their routines were impressive. Their coach, Octavian Bellu, believes that it's better to take a less difficult routine and nail it than to try for the hard stuff. And it certainly paid off, in the event, but it's always nicer to see someone nail the hard routines, even if they don't always manage it. (At the same time, I believe strongly in the Law of Large Numbers and am always a little bothered by the one-shot approach to judging that is necessarily prevalent in the judged events, or for that matter any athletic competition.)

The Romanians did have some really great beam routines, though. The first one to go (Alexandra Eremia) did a lot of impressive acrobatics, and like in the qualifying rounds, came incredibly close to hitting her head on the dismount. Her teammate Catalina Ponor continued with the complicated combinations; I really like the ones where they jump or flip and include a ninety-degree twist---there's just no room for error there. The Russian Svetlana Khorkina took this to the next degree with some of the craziest moves I've ever seen on beam, including a flip around the beam as if it were a high bar and a dismount sequence where one foot dipped past the side of the beam. Wow.

I take back what I said the other day about the US women being unimpressive. They were a lot more "on" today, I thought. And unlike any of the meets I actually attended, nobody fell off the balance beam. In fact, I seem to recall beam falls being a fairly regular feature of even Olympic competition, but they pulled off some nice routines.

I've already raved about Mohini Bhardwaj, and I'm going to continue to do so now. She's like the rock that anchors the team, and tonight, when Courtney Kupets had a sore foot and pulled out of the balance beam competition, Bhardwaj got pressed into service on an event that's not her best and which she hadn't even practiced in a few days. And did great! I couldn't believe it when the commentators interviewed Kupets and Patterson but not Bhardwaj---she's the real hero here. In the event she competed one more apparatus than Kupets and averaged the same despite being a last-minute sub, but the commentators are all fawning over the "star of the team" Courtney Kupets. (Carly Patterson did, of course, actually compete all four and did slightly better.)

This follows on my previous analysis of the commentators being really irritating. While there was the occasional informative comment, mostly they just kept yapping to hear the sounds of their own voices, and then when it comes time to actually interact with the athletes, they ask lame questions that try to force people into the sensationalist boxes the media has created for them. This isn't limited to gymnastics; the folks over at the natatorium seem bound and determined to get Michael Phelps to utter some really rude and egotistical comment, but he's not biting. They're trying their level best, though. Bob Costas back in the studio isn't any better; after the 4x200 free relay team medalled, he started rattling off all the Olympic records that Phelps was set to tie or break (as if we hadn't heard them all about fifty times this week already). On the medals-in-one-event record (8), Costas was careful to point out that the record had been set by a Soviet gymnast in the 1980 Olympics, but---and these are his words here---"they were boycotted by the U.S. and much of the free world." He actually used the phrase "free world"! Not to mention, the US was the only country among the boycotters that posed serious competition in men's gymnastics, and even they were still pretty weak compared to the Soviets and Soviet satellite countries, so the 8 medals were certainly an accomplishment. But anything to make Michael Phelps more of a sensation, you know.

"I was reading the LotR series a while back and I was struck by how every damn sword, ring, hat, codpiece, and brandy snifter had some bad-ass name." --Joe Shidle

Posted by blahedo at 4:46am | Comments (0)

16 Aug 2004

Day Two Gymnastics

The NBC announcing crew are a bunch of uncultured cretins that need to learn the value of not talking. Why do they not shut up. I'm trying to listen to her floor music, here.

In the same vein, NBC has taken to announcing upcoming events with a "bug" in the lower-right corner of the screen that takes up fully 20% of the visual area of the screen. And then explodes into an NBC peacock that takes up closer to 50% before disappearing. Hello? I'm trying to watch here?

The US women's team this year is pretty good but just not very inspiring. The past few Olympics, they had a lot of energy, ranging from bubbly to elegant to quietly powerful. I'm just not getting that this time around, which is too bad. There's really not anything I've seen from the US team that would have looked unusually good at a level 10 meet; I guess that just means I'm spoiled. Maybe next time.

My favourite is definitely Mohini Bhardwaj. She's 25, and first of all it's nice to see an adult out there competing for a change. But more importantly, she goes out there and performs solid, good stuff. It's not the most spectacular stuff, but her variance seems low. She can be counted on to get a score that, under ideal conditions, will be surpassed by all her team members, but when (inevitably) something goes wrong for one of them, will be a perfectly respectable anchor.

At first I thought I really liked the US leotards, but now I'm not sure. I'm really not a fan of the shiny leo that seems to be all the fashion rage in international gymnastics. At least they don't have the raglan sleeve line like a lot of countries do---let's face it, guys, if you're built like a world-class gymnast, a raglan line just emphasises your broad shoulders and makes you look grotesque. :P

"If you're a Democrat, then you win when people think." --Bill Clinton

Posted by blahedo at 5:47am | Comments (2)

15 Aug 2004

Olympics, Day 1

Despite, or possibly because of, my general apathy towards sports, I always love watching the Olympics. I have a number of gripes about the coverage---particularly, the way they jump between three or four sports rather than just covering each one start to finish in a block---but it's generally fine.

My new favourite sport to watch is synchronised diving. Diving in general is generally not bad, sort of enh, but synchro---where two people time identical (well, usually mirror image) dives with each other---takes it to a whole new level. Really, really impressive.

Cycling isn't that interesting to watch, but it's neat when the announcers see a guy launch out ahead of the pack and don't really have any idea who he is. "He's from Portugal, and he's a total unknown..." A lot of who-the-hell-is-he before he finally took silver. I guess next time they'll know who he is. :)

Gymnastics, boy oh boy. I'm not sure who I'd less want to be, this Kato guy or the two American gymnasts he dicked over. Apparently the head judge, a Japanese guy named Kato, notified the American team two days before the start of competition that the rules had changed and their high bar routines were worth less difficulty points than before; this affected two guys' routines, and both of them changed some elements less than 48 hours before the competition. Blaine Wilson did this crazy hard release move, actually caught the bar afterwards but didn't get a good enough grip, and landed on his back. His head made an audible thud on the pad. He finished his routine (with a .5 deduction for the fall, of course). He went on to do a fantastic floor routine, but when he walked off the floor he said he felt dizzy (which makes his exquisite floor routine all the more impressive). He scratched pommel horse and gave an enh rings routine. I hope he's ok and there's no concussion or anything; I'd love to know whose fault it really was about the difficulty points. Did they really change the point values of certain elements just a few days before the Olympics? Did the US coach just miss a memo? I do know that if I were Blaine Wilson (or the other guy whose name I currently forget) I'd be hella pissed.

Massive team player points go to Guard Young, who was not planning to compete pommel horse and had not warmed up or even practiced it in the last few days, but was pressed into service due to Blaine's scratch and walked away with a respectable 9.4-something.

And come on guys, lose the pommel horse already. Every time I watch a men's gymnastics meet I'm once again struck by the awful-ness of this event. In every other event in men's or women's gymnastics, a good routine can be appreciated by the untrained eye as a clear demonstration of power or agility or grace in varying combinations. But you can see a very technically accurate, very difficult pommel horse routine, and it just clunks around up there. There are about three moves that actually look good on the pommel horse, and they look just as good on the floor and parallel bars, so we won't have to miss them when you burn all the pommel horses and throw their unlamented wreckage into the dumpster.

'"But that's bullshit!" Doug says. "Jesus! Haven't you guys spent any time at all around people like Comstock? Can't you recognize bullshit? Don't you think it would be a useful item to add to your intellectual toolkits to be capable of saying, when a ton of wet steaming bullshit lands on your head, 'My goodness, this appears to be bullshit'?"' --Neal Stephenson, _Cryptonomicon_

Posted by blahedo at 4:31am | Comments (0)

14 Aug 2004

Corporate sponsorship gone insane

Apparently, people using, eating, or wearing things made by companies other than the official Olympics sponsors are getting a bit extra scrutiny in Athens right now, to the extent that in the midst of a hot Athenian summer, "spectators are also being asked to leave "unlicensed" water bottles."

As a society, we have gone completely, utterly mad. Good heavens.

"The single most important weapon we have against terrorists is international cooperation, and that's what we so stupidly blew in this case." --Molly Ivins

Posted by blahedo at 8:03pm | Comments (1)

The Mask of Zorro

Tonight I did something I've never done before: I watched a movie.

That is, I watched a DVD by myself. I've never been big on watching movies alone (TV never bothered me, oddly enough). I'm almost positive this was the first time in this apartment, and it probably is at least the first time in several years. But, hey, I was bored, not yet tired, and nobody else seemed to be online. I could've read, but I wanted to knit. ;) I did discover that my sound system is excellent, and my TV is a poor match for it. Watching anamorphic widescreen on a 19" from more than ten feet away is somewhat straining on the eyes. I'll have to bring down my beanbag to get closer if I ever do this again; I don't have the space for a bigger TV at this point. :P

The movie of choice was The Mask of Zorro, which DVD I got for---Christmas? My birthday?---from my parents, and hadn't even opened the packaging yet. It was a good action movie, I thought; there were a number of plot holes that kept trying to worm their way into annoying me, but I didn't let them. The swordfighting and concomitant acrobatics were quite gratifying. At the same time, they get by with virtually no gore and a relative minimum of onscreen violence, considering. And there are some great lines. It's not a constant parade of clever one-liners, but there are definitely some moments. All in all, a fun movie that will appeal to a broad audience.

"Man, I'm glad that people in the profession are much more forgiving than I am. If I ran a clinic, I'd force everyone to sign a statement that they believed abortion ought to be safe and legal before undergoing the procedure. Let 'em go try it in the back alleys with a coat hanger if that's how they want it." --Doug Morrow

Posted by blahedo at 2:39am | Comments (0)

12 Aug 2004

Two homilies

Last Saturday, I drove down to Peoria, as did my mom and sister, to attend a family gathering in honour of a cousin's 50th anniversary. It was exciting to meet all these relatives that I barely remembered or had never even met before; contacts were made and I hope to be able to make plans and see them again.

That's not what this post is about, though.

Prefatory to the dinner, the brother of the couple (well, her brother, his brother-in-law), who is a priest, said Mass in the living room. This was in and of itself pretty neat. He brought in vestments and the necessary props (a chalice, unconsecrated wafers, etc.), and they pulled up a nice endtable with a pretty white doily to serve as ersatz altar. There were a number of liturgical misfires (as in, sitting through the whole thing, except for the Our Father, and skipping other non-optional bits), but hey, it was an unusual setting.

What really got me going, though, was that this priest used his sister's 50th anniversary as an occasion to lecture on the sanctity of marriage. And it wasn't an acceptable "they've made it through and taken seriously what so many today do not", either. Throughout the homily, he kept making totally inappropriate sideways digs at the current gay marriage debate, and the meddlesome government, and people trying to undermine the church's ancient and universal definition, and on, and on, and on.

I very nearly walked out.

Had he been any more direct, I really would have. Mom and Kathy were in a separate car (though Kathy was saying that she, too, was considering walking out, so she might well have come with me). And I long ago decided that I was perfectly able to walk out of a Mass during the homily if the priest or deacon said something ridiculous. Mom asked later (as I was discussing this) if I'd stayed because it was a family occasion, but that really wasn't it. The priest managed to skate just inside the line. And I was gratified to know that the Eucharist is sacramental, and symbolic of our full communion with the worldwide church, even if it was consecrated by an intolerant jackass like this one.

The next day, I went to Sunday Mass at St Pat's, where Fr Bill sermonised on the fraying morality of our society, and all the people trying to pass into law various immoral stances. Oddly enough, though, he spent a lot of time stressing the fact that we shouldn't keep quiet just because we held an unpopular moral viewpoint; he said specifically that we should not throw away the influence we hold within our families and social circles. Fantastic, thought I, because for all his martyr complex, I find that within most of my family and at least the religious social circle, it's my viewpoint (viz, what the hell are we doing trying to legislate on moral grounds) that is the minority. I'm glad he agrees that it's my duty to speak up about it! I feel that I've been a good influence on my young cousins and on the after-Mass coffee-and-donuts crowd, and I intend to continue on that path.

In the meantime, though, this cold weather has just got to stop. It's like it's October or something.

"For Friday's game, Tribune Co. installed safety netting, which, in the event of an emergency, I'm guessing, could fall and trap fans trying to flee the falling concrete." --Burt Constable

Posted by blahedo at 8:36pm | Comments (4)

8 Aug 2004

Cryptonomicon redux

So Friday night, I stayed up until 7:30 in the morning to finish the book. I don't have that much more to say on top of what I said here, here, here, and here. The ending was much in the same vein as the rest of the book, although perhaps slightly rushed (if indeed that can be said about any part of an 1,150 page book). There were a few things that he left hanging, like what was the deal with the guy that died ("onscreen" as it were, not just presumed dead) but was then alive later.

For the most part, though, Cryptonomicon is an incredibly clever, intelligent book, filled with inspired prose about all manner of things. It offers a fairly accessible rundown of cryptography Then and Now, along with some of the sociological motivations and implications thereof. It's a war novel and it's a detective novel. It has an obfuscated Perl script (with typos, beware) that you can figure out before it gets explained in stages later on. It's a word factory, churning out coinages like "Mercato-roentgeno-gram" that never fully explained but make sense in context if, for instance, you know who Wilhelm Röntgen was, or at least what he did.

In summary, people who should read this book include:

  • linguistics geeks,
  • cryptography geeks,
  • computer programmers,
  • WWII buffs,
  • mystery aficionados, and
  • everyone else.

Now starting, not without some trepidation, on The DaVinci Code. We'll see how that goes.

"But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America." --Barack Obama

Posted by blahedo at 11:22pm | Comments (3)

7 Aug 2004

Like the Energizer Bunny...

Nothing like reading a book and noting that the various plotlines are starting to come together, you're nearly done, and then realising you still have more than 250 pages to go. Back in the 70s that would have counted as a whole book by itself. It's like I haven't even started yet.

I love it!

"Several seemed to be privately messaging each other across the table, passing notes, as it were. BlackBerry Nation---where junior high never stops." --Eric Zorn

Posted by blahedo at 12:30am | Comments (0)

5 Aug 2004

Andrea Zinga

Today at 1, the Republican candidate for the 17th Congressional district of Illinois came to speak at the gazebo downtown. Perhaps fifteen people came, including a few members of the press. I was hoping to get her to talk about NAFTA, but her remarks were restricted to two burning issues of the day: abortion rights and marriage rights (she's against both).

Speaking on abortion, she pulls in a clever rhetorical device: she compared the common pro-life/pro-choice stance to an argument on slavery. Apparently, in the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, Stephen Douglas said he was "personally opposed to slavery" but didn't want to impose his views on others. Meanwhile, Lincoln took a stand, etc, etc. She then riffed for a while on humanity and life; her closing statement was, "I stand strongly for this most fundamental of American principles---life." This, of course, is one of the great rhetorical devices of all time, adopted by the anti-choice movement, to state that they are for life, and by implication that their opponents are against it. The whole thing was so vague and fluffy, and failed to state any concrete positions on any specific thing, that it was pretty hard to argue against.

I did at least ask one question, which was: settting aside the legality of the thing, it's certainly good to make abortion rare, and to that end, what was her stance on reproductive education? She said she was for it, but what she actually meant by reproductive education was (I'm not even kidding) programs that put an emphasis on girls' self-worth, thus encouraging them not to get pregnant. She also commented that the teen pregnancy rate was down slightly, and that she thought abstinence was more popular among teens these days.

The second half of her remarks was about same-sex marriage; she took as given that it was bad, of course, so her remarks mostly addressed so-called "judicial activism". She spent quite a bit of time explaining how rarely she thought the Constitution should be amended (which is good), so her way of addressing this issue is to pass one amendment (huh?) which prevents the judicial branch from doing anything unpopular. She calls it the "Checks and Balances Restoration Amendment"; I've posted the whole thing in the 'continue reading' part below, but the gist is that a 3/5 vote of the Senate can overturn any ruling made by the Supreme Court (or any ruling appealed to the SC but denied certiorari).

She claims that she's the first to come up with it, although I could've sworn this isn't the first place I heard of it; in any case, it seems to be carefully crafted to the marriage rights question. She points out that it could not have overturned Dred Scott, or Roe v Wade, or a hypothetical judgement of unconstitutionality of McCain-Feingold, because of lack of consensus. It would (she claims) enable the Senate to overturn the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision that marriage can not constitutionally be restricted to mixed-sex couples. If that's even true, it's due to careful crafting---that's why they'd use 3/5, because I'm fairly sure 3/4 or even 2/3 would not be attainable on this issue.

I really wanted to ask her opinion on the role of the judicial branch in protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majority, but I couldn't formulate the question fast enough. I think she and her handlers realised that the only questions were coming from opponents (one from me, two from the county Democratic Party chair), and they'd better close up shop before they got a really hard one.

Oh, and in related news, the Washington State DOMA has been ruled unconstitutional, pending further review by the state Supreme Court. It's not in the mainstream press yet (I only heard about it when Zinga mentioned it!), but it should be there by tonight, I think.

"With a track record like that you'd think conservatives would be lying low, hoping no one would notice them. But no. They're still out and about, making a lot of noise and telling the rest of us how to live our lives. That's what makes us a free country, I guess, the freedom not merely to make a mistake but to repeat it, endlessly." --Donald Kaul

Full text of the "Checks and Balances Restoration Amendment":

Upon application by a simple majority of the House of Representatives to the Senate, the upper chamber must review any decision by the Supreme Court or any other federal court where appeal has been made to the Supreme Court and denied or given no response within six months after such appeal was filed, or by any state or local court when such decision would bind the whole nation. Once such application has been properly made by the House of Representatives and duly recorded with the Senate, the Senate must schedule the review no later than in the next session in which they sit. If three-fifths of the Senate votes to overturn the ruling, then the ruling is immediately rescinded and the Senate's decision is final. If less than three-fifths of the Senate votes to overturn, the Court's ruling is upheld.
Posted by blahedo at 2:47pm | Comments (3)

That's-a me!

For a long time now, I've been an avid reader of Eric Zorn's blog, and from time to time I send him a comment on it via email. Most recently it was a comment on liberals and conservatives, and, well, why don't you just go read it? It was posted today, scroll down to "Tautology".

"Yes, children, we did used to have blogs. We called them diaries, and they got us into almost as much trouble as yours will get you." --Miss Manners

Posted by blahedo at 12:05pm | Comments (0)

4 Aug 2004

Productivity update

I slept for sixteen and a half hours last night. Jet lag, or sleep debt payment? You make the call.

Anyway, having got up at 1:30pm, I never actually made it in to the office today, what with puttering around and feeding myself. I went on a cleaning blitz at one point, cleaning areas that I hadn't cleaned since I moved in (like my back stair). There was no tidying performed, but at least everything is basically dirt-free now. I really still need to tidy before the weekend, though, since my parents will be in town.

Elsewhere on the productivity front, I finally got sick enough of all the #%^&$# spam that I went and downloaded the Bayesian Spam Filter plugin for MT. It was easy to install, and now I have a convenient interface for flagging comments as spam. Once I've flagged a few, the software will be able to pick them out itself; I'll still have to deal with the spam to actually delete it, but at least it won't make it out to the front page, where it will lend Google karma to people, which is what really most cheesed me off about the whole thing. If ever you post a comment and it doesn't seem to be appearing, that just means the software has erroneously flagged it (but not deleted it)---drop me an email and I'll fix it.

"Root looks taken aback. 'If you're going to tell me that Finns are worse, pound for pound, than the Germans, then I agree with you. But the trouble with Germans is that they tend to be in communication with millions of other Germans.'" --Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

Posted by blahedo at 9:42pm | Comments (0)

3 Aug 2004


Well, there it is, almost 11000 words and 300 pictures (does that therefore total to 311000 words?) about my trip to Barcelona. The kicker is, I'm not even done. I have further notes on three of my excursions: to the Palau, to Sagrada Família, and to the Picasso museum. I haven't typed them up yet, but they're each a full post in their own right.

For now, though, I've put up what I have. They're dated according to when I originally wrote them, not counting subsequent editing (most of which was insertion of pictures and confirmation of spelling).

On pictures: interspersed throughout the travelogue you will see a little text icon that looks like this: (·). If you click on them, they will pop up an image of whatever the text is talking about there. Leave this window open---all the images will be directed to the same window. You're welcome to use "Next" and "Previous" to go through the pics in chronological order, but they're all also linked from the travelogue text, if only in the "other pics from today" section. (Exception: the Sagrada Família pics are not in there, but they'll be linked from their own post eventually.)

On spelling: I've gone over all the foreign words and names to check their spelling (this includes accent marks), but it seems inevitable that I got some wrong. If you find mistakes, tell me---I know how irritating I find it when other people make such errors. :)

So, without further ado, a link to the beginning: Day One.

On politicians: "He can talk all he likes. I'm not listening. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, you're all fucking fired." --Joe Shidle

Posted by blahedo at 5:37pm | Comments (0)