Begging The Question

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Songs My Classic Rock Station Plays Way Too Much
The radio stations I listen to most are the local public radio station and the local classic rock station, especially after the '80s station changed formats. Some of these songs are fine, but I just don't like hearing them as often as they get played. In other cases, I just think there are better songs from that band they could pick. Anyway, my list:

1. Anything by Bon Jovi. As far as I'm concerned, these guys are the suckiest bunch of sucks who ever sucked. How they didn't die off with the rest of their hair-band ilk is beyond me. They don't get played too often, but when they do, I literally lunge for the "off" button because I would rather sit in silence than listen to one of their songs.

2. Anything by Pink Floyd. I don't mind Floyd, but they are apparently some kind of "signature" band for this station, so they get played a lot, like every few hours. It just gets old.

3. (Tie) "Rag Doll" or "(Dude) Looks Like A Lady" by Aerosmith. I really like Aerosmith, and Permanent Vacation was a good album, but there are way too many better Aerosmith songs for these to be the two that my radio station is in love with.

4. "Desperado" by The Eagles. When I hear this one, I'm like Elaine in that episode of "Seinfeld" where the guy she dates adores this song. I don't get the attraction at all. It's decent, but not stellar by a long shot.

5. "Edge of Seventeen" by Stevie Nicks. Joan Cusack rocking out to this in School of Rock was funny, though.

6. "Locomotive Breath" by Jethro Tull. Not as good as "Aqualung," although that one is close to making this list too.

7. (Tie) "I Drink Alone" and "Move It On Over" by George Thorogood. His version of "Move It On Over" pales in comparison to the Hank Williams original. "I Drink Alone" is just interminable. I don't mind "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer" or his version of "Who Do You Love?" or even "Bad to the Bone" occasionally, but those two clunkers get all the airplay.

8. "Turn the Page" by Bob Seger, with "Old Time Rock And Roll" in a close second. I like Bullet Bob, and he has many better choices than these. Fortunately, my station plays quite a few of the good ones, but they ought to go ahead and retire these two.

9. "I've Seen All Good People" by Yes.

10. "Karn Evil 9: First Impression, Part 2" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer (a/k/a "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends..."). These last two may just be on the list because I'm not much of a prog rock fan, I suppose.

I like listening to the radio. I like not knowing what's next and cranking it up when it turns out to be an old favorite. But I hate that "This again?!" feeling that I get when it's one of these songs (and a few others). I know it's sort of a finite universe, because they're not making any more classic rock songs. But still, there's so much good stuff out there, I see no reason to recycle the same stuff over and over again. By the way, in case you're curious, it's an Infinity Braodcasting station, which isn't as bad as Clear Channel, but neither is it ideal. As far as I know, all the deejays are local, but I don't know where the program director is. But every time I hear one of these tunes, I start thinking seriously about getting an mp3 player or something so I can be my own deejay.

I know this post didn't have anything to do with anything; I just wanted to vent after I heard "(Dude) Looks Like A Lady" for the second time in about five hours. I added the other songs in about five minutes -- they play these songs so often that the list was easy to compile.

Quick Legal Question
In all the fuss over the decision to marry several hundred gay couples in San Francisco, I saw that anti-gay-marriage groups were suing to stop the nuptials from happening. My question is, How could these folks possibly be able to establish standing? It's been a while since I have had to delve into the intricacies of standing doctrine, so maybe I'm missing something. The linked story (and considering the source, who knows how accurate it is) only says that the groups sued the mayor and clerk responsible, but the claim was only that they were "violating California state law on marriage and the issuing of marriage licenses." Best I can tell, the court refused to grant an preliminary injunction, but it doesn't look like the court got into the standing thicket. A SacBee story says that the groups were suing on behalf of the state representative who authored the 2000 ballot initiative outlawing gay marriage. So maybe they're going for some kind of "legislative standing" argument like the Line-Item Veto case (?).

I'm too tired to look up Lujan or any of those other standing cases now, and maybe I'm forgetting something from law school (if I ever learned it in the first place), but I can't even begin to make the standing argument for these groups. At best, they seem to have a "generalized grievance" that the city officials are acting contrary to law. They can't get standing to sue over that. Their remedy is whatever political process California law provides -- impeachment or recall or throwing dice or rock/paper/scissors or whatever goofy scheme they have out there. If conservatives are so upset about people rushing to the courthouse in hopes of discovering new rights all the time, why are they bringing a lawsuit here instead of trusting the political system in which they claim to have so much faith?

Many opponents of gay marriage have been saying that the mere availability of such arrangements will "harm the institution of traditional marriage." But I simply cannot see that rising to the level of "injury-in-fact," even if you assume causation and redressibility here. If anyone wants to make a standing argument for these groups, I'd love to hear it.

Where's My Social Safeway?
As I mentioned in the post below, my big Friday night plans were a trip to the grocery store. Weird things seem to happen there. The last time I was in there, I was asked two questions I have never been asked before in my life. While perusing the salsa options, a guy who was spending way, way too much time on that choice asked me, "Which one is in the middle -- mild or medium?" And as I was putting the bags in my car, a guy stepped out of a car near me and on his way inside asked me, "Do they take food stamps?" I won't speculate about why he expected me to know the answer.

Anyway, tonight, I noticed that they had one lane converted not to an express lane but to a "Lover's Lane." It was set aside specifically for last-minute Valentine's Day gift-buyers. I see how it is. You're buying your V-Day gift at the supermarket, but at least you're not spending a lot of time doing it. Nice. Needless to say, I didn't go down that aisle.

I've started going to this new grocery store. It's closer to my place, which is good, but it's not really near anything else, so it can sometimes mean making more trips if I have to do something like run by the Target. But one reason I switched to this branch is that it's right beside a local state university. I expected plenty of college girls, and haven't been disappointed so far. The problem is they tend to travel in groups, and I'm not a skilled enough predator to be able to steer the weak one away from the herd.

Case in point tonight. There was a posse of five young women shopping together, and I thought two of them were very cute. Note that one of the other three was wearing a "Miss [my city] Pageant" t-shirt, and I didn't even think she was in the top two of this group. (Of course, maybe she was on some kind of planning committee for the pageant and not a contestant.) You know how it is in the grocery store -- as you walk up and down the aisles, you see the same people over and over because they start from one end and you start from the other and you cross each other.

(Aside: By the way, this supermarket has an interesting set-up. The lot it's on is somewhat narrow, so the buidling is more elongated than most of the chain's other stores. So the aisles are a little longer. To avoid long walks down the aisles, they have run an aisle perpendicular to the others, bisecting the long aisles. So you can cut across the middle. I find it to be a very helpful innovation, and it was as much a factor in my choice to switch to this store as the women were.)

Anyway, I knew nothing was going to happen with any of these ladies, but it's still nice to see attractive humans in person from time to time. But at the check-out, I was glancing at the tabloid headlines and the gang of women were in the next lane. I looked up and one of the women I thought was the cutest looked up too. We actually shared a nice few seconds of eye contact, and I tried to affect my best I'm-smiling-because-I'm-a-nice-guy-and-not-because-I'm-a-psycho smile, and I really wished I had bothered to shave today. Not that I looked bad, it's just that I could have looked better. And by "better" I mean "less like a psycho."

Well, I very quickly realized why she was looking my way. She turned back to her friends, and called down the lane to the member of the group who was at the end of the checkout stand and placing bags into a shopping cart. They were a good ten feet apart, all her friends were chatting, and it's noisy in a grocery store anyway, so to be heard she had to speak pretty loudly. She said something like, "Hey, Jen, did you take the....I was going to pay for that."

She trailed off in the middle there, and Jen (or whatever her name was) looked a little confused, but eventually she caught on. I'm not 100% sure on this, but this is best CSI-style reconstruction I can put on things as I perceived them. Apparently this group of women was out buying a lot of stuff for all of them, and somehow some items were mixed up, and Jen took and paid for and bagged up something that was supposed to go with the girl I made eye contact with. Now tell me if I'm crazy here, but what I think happened was that she looked at me for a second not because she found me attractive or intriguing or anything. I'm pretty sure she looked my way because she realized she was going to have to ask Jen about the location of some feminine hygiene product in a loud voice, and was looking around to see who would overhear her discuss it. Like I said, I can't swear to that, but that's the vibe I got from it. And it would explain why she might be reluctant to say the name of the missing product out loud two feet away from me. I did not get the vibe of "Oh, I don't want to talk about this in front of this cute guy...ack!" I would have gotten that vibe if she had ignored the missing whatever and given me a little not-a-psycho smile herself. But nope.

All of which, in combination with the "Lover's Lane," made me wish that I was shopping at the famous Social Safeway. DC folks know what's up, but the short version is that this store, near Georgetown, is renowned as a site for singles to meet and greet. Alas, the two summers I worked in Washington, I lived in Arlington, and I wasn't going to cross the Key Bridge for groceries. (I had a car but no parking spot both summers -- try looking for free parking on the street in Arlington in the summer before schlepping groceries back home.)

My understanding of the protocol at the Social Safeway is that anyone who goes inside is fair game to be hit on. It's like the international waters of sexual harrassment. (Yes, lawyers, I know that a single instance of asking a stranger out will almost never qualify as sexual harrassment. I'm using it in the colloquial sense, so stop spoiling the fun for everyone else.) The etiquette as I heard it was that if someone starts to chat you up, and you're not interested, you can simply reply, "I'm just here to shop," or something that would indicate you're not playing the game. DC folks can correct me if I'm wrong, but the details are beside the point. It's the concept of a Social Safeway that I need.

And I don't want to get all postmodern here, but it's almost as if they invented the Social Safeway because that's what they needed: a safe way to be social. I realize there's nothing really preventing me from ambling up to a pretty girl in the supermarket or book store or wherever and chatting her up. But there's just something in my nature that convinces me it's simply impolite to talk to people, much less hit on them, when they're not looking for talking or flirting or whatnot. And I find it hard to be rude, even in service of (ahem) the greater good. I am aware that the propogation of the species will slow to a trickle if people stop talking to attractive strangers, but there it is. I don't know whether it's shyness or lack of confidence or what, but I just can't do it.

I know that women put signals out there. Sometimes they go to the supermarket or bookstore or wherever hoping to be hit on. Maybe one of those college girls wants to shock her parents by calling and saying, "Guess what? I'm dating a lawyer!" But so help me, I cannot read the signs. Which is why it's so great to know in advance that they're open to flirting. Hence, the beauty of the Social Safeway concept. The green light is always on.

This reminds me of a column from the Washington Post's excellent relationship advice columnist, Carolyn Hax. The gist of it was a guy asking Carolyn if women liked persistence -- if they wanted a guy who kept asking them out even after rejection(s). Carolyn's answer was essentially, "Yes, if she thinks he's attractive." That, friends, is the fine line between being "persistent" and being a stalker. I know of several couples where the woman could say, "He asked me out so many times before I finally gave in and went on a date with him...and we fell in love." But if she's not attracted to him (and not just physically, there's more to attraction than looks), it's "Hello, restraining order."

The point of that is, I guess, that I don't trust my perception of the signals I get from women. I'm not in danger of stalking anyone, but neither am I one of those guys who thinks he's God's gift to women and assumes that every women wants his attentions. I don't assume that because a woman makes eye contact with me, she wants me to ask her out or even talk to her. Sure, sometimes I do -- because it's rude to ignore people too. But honestly, I'm not sure I would even be able to recognize it if a woman were flirting with me.

I have to pass along a wonderful post from the brilliant IA at Patent Pending. Unfortunately, because he doesn't permalink (!), I'll have to include the whole post, even though I'm wary of upsetting an intellectual property lawyer. Anyway, it's the February 11 post if you're looking to comment on his blog:

One Ring to Rule Them All

A young female associate joined the firm about a month ago.

A partner asked me if I thought she was attractive. I said I didn't really feel comfortable talking about it.

He mentioned to me that she had no rings. I said that I didn't notice.

The associate and I are on a team together. The team has been meeting twice a week for the last three weeks. Others on the team also noticed the lack of rings.

Last night the two of us alone had to meet to talk about some documents. She showed up with an engagement ring and a wedding ring.

Relax. Don't flatter yourself.

You see! She knows -- clear, understandable signals are helpful, even when you don't like the message. They save time and trouble for everybody.

All right, I'm going to stop whining in circles and go to bed. I'm afraid this is starting to sound like a rant, "I wish I could read women's minds!" It's not; mystery is good too. And I probably don't want to know what most women think about me. My problem is that I am too analytical about something that defies analysis. All I'm really saying is that I like the idea of occasionally being in a situation where everyone is on the same page. Like the Social Safeway.

Oh well. The day was not a total loss. I knew there was a reason I still read The Corner, and tonight Jonah Goldberg proved it by providing a link to online versions of several classic video games from the 1980s. Looks like I've got plans for the long weekend after all!! (Okay, just so you don't write me off as a complete and utter loser, I was just kidding there. I'm not a huge video game fan, and I'm not going to play them on a crappy laptop anyway. I just wanted to pass the link along, and I'm not going to judge anyone who clicks on it. Enjoy!)

Friday, February 13, 2004

Subterranean Homesick Blues
I was walking to my car tonight to go to the grocery store, and as I put the key in the lock, I realized that a box of cassette tapes and a book on tape I keep under the passenger seat were laying on the driver's seat. Here's how confused I was. My first, immediate thought was, "Oh. I must have left my car unlocked [I do that sometimes], and one of my thoughtful neighbors placed these items here and locked my door to warn me of the bad things that can happen if I'm careless." Yes, I realize that is very illogical. But until I looked into the back seat and saw that it was full of glass, I did not know my car had been broken into. The back window on the passenger side was broken -- not the main one, but the smaller triangular one in the back.

I have no idea when this happened. I last drove my car Tuesday night, I think. But I have to walk past the passenger side of my car every day when I go to work, albeit about fifteen feet away. And I don't usually examine it as I pass. And all the glass was inside the car, so I wouldn't have seen a pile of it on the ground. Still, even given my general obliviousness, I think I would have noticed it. So, I'm thinking it happened either last night or today sometime. Plus, even though the car is in an alley behind my apartment, there's enough traffic that someone would have noticed if it had been broken for several days.

Nothing was taken, thankfully. But whoever did it rifled through everything. As noted, my tapes were pulled from under the seat -- and I leave them there specifically to deter theives. The dozen or so non-book cassettes are in a black box (an "opaque box" for you Crim Pro nuts), and I feared it would be tempting to some. The glove compartment was closed, but a few pieces of paper had been pulled out of it, so I knew it had been rummaged through. I'm a little surprised that nothing was taken. Maybe the pilferer was surprised or otherwise prevented from carrying anything away, The tapes aren't valuable, but I'm really glad none of my driving mix tapes were gone -- they would be a pain to reproduce. My cell phone car charger was still there. And, strangest of all, the change in the console was still there -- and there's at least a few dollars, including several quarters. For some crackhead, that might be enough to break into a car for all by itself.

So, hassle ensues. I called my dad and told him to talk to our insurance guy -- they're good friends. And then I called the police to file the report. I was going to just call the non-emergency number, but I didn't want to go back inside and look it up. So, I called 911 for the second time in my life.

(Lengthy aside: Funny enough, the other time I called 911 was also to ask to be transferred to the non-emergency number. That is part of [Milbarge]'s Definitive Story. It was in San Diego, at about 2:00 a.m., in a neighborhood so bad a cab driver told me "Don't walk around in this neighborhood." That's my Definitive Story -- out of thousands -- because it's epic and engrossing and highlights all my skills as a story-teller. Plus, no one who knows me well has not heard the story. And I'm not necessarily saying that you will know me well after you hear it, but you probably can understand all the essential elements of my existence. When I tell the full version, the over/under on the time it will take is about an hour. Anyway...)

The 911 operator wouldn't transfer me, so she took my number so an officer could call me back. I waited about a half hour or so. And here's a good example of how naive I am about how law enforcement works in the big city: I actually chose not to move anything or start to clean up the window -- in case they wanted to dust for prints. I'll give you a moment to mock me.

The officer finally calls, and while loudly smacking his gum in my ear, takes down the essential information. Let's just say we had to guesstimate the time of the incident. I was a tiny bit nervous that this would have been done in person, because I still haven't put this year's county registration sticker on my car, so I probably deserve a ticket. But no, it was all done over the phone. He knew all I really needed was something official for my insurance, so it wasn't any big deal for either one of us.

So then I had to clean up a bit -- lest this turn into a flat tire as well as a broken window. Now, just like those NASCAR boys, my car is adorned by duct tape. Still, I am very thankful that this was so minor compared to Sherry's recent car trouble (and I'm thankful she's okay).

Here's the reason for the title of this post. All day long, I've had a lyric from that classic Bob Dylan song stuck in my head. The whole song's great, but it's just been that one lyric over and over. It's the last line of the song: "The pump don't work/'Cause the vandals took the handles." I didn't realize the cosmic convergance until the cop said, "So what you're sayin' is somebody vandalized your car?" Trust me, I am not going to try to do another parody song about my little police incident to the tune of "Subterranean." But since what I really wanted to do was go take a nap, I was thinking about something like, "Can't go pass out/'Cause the vandals broke the glass out."

Wait a sec...I'm getting something....

Johnny's in the basement, goin' through my mix tapes,
I'm on the pavement, glass upon the landscape.
The man in the cop car, badge out, gum smack,
Says he gonna call back, talk about a ransack.
Look out kid, it's somethin' you did,
God knows when, but you're doin' it again.
You better duck down the alley way
Lookin' for a new friend.
The Man gonna send you down to the big pen
Wants eleven fingerprints,
You only got ten.

Or something like that... Anyway, it looks like, as usual, everything's coming up Milbarge!

Supreme Court Trivia Question
I'll provide a quote. You provide the speaker and the subject. The hint is that at least one of them is or was a Supreme Court Justice. I'll reveal the answer Monday or so. The first person to submit the correct answer (via our comments function) wins a prize of my choosing (but don't expect much).

The quote:

"No one was more dedicated to the rule of law or more painstaking in the execution of his responsibilities."

Good luck, trivia fans!

UPDATE: Jim, from Taunting Happy Fun Ball, wins but has graciously declined a prize. It was Scalia talking about Blackmun. He said it when Blackmun retired, and I saw it when he repeated it in a letter for the dedication of the Harry Blackmun Rotunda at the courthouse in St. Louis. I just thought it was funny that Blackmun, author of Roe, would be cited by Scalia, hater of Roe, as a lover of the rule of law. Thanks for playing!

An Appropriate Title
Fitz and I were discussing Wesley Clark's endorsement of John Kerry today. Clark said, "Sir, request permission to come aboard."

My response to that was that it's about as lame as I could possibly imagine. Not only is it not clever, since when does a soldier suck up to a sailor? Fitz's answer is so priceless I thought I would share it with everyone: "My god, the shame. A sailor AND a junior officer AND a yankee. He's a triple threat. Clark may commit suicide."

Noting that Clark was a general and Kerry a lieutenant reminded me that I recently read the derivation of the word lieutenant. I had not realized that "lieu" meant place, and so it is a combination of lieu (place) + tenant (holder). Literally, a place holder. Accordingly, the lieutenant is a junior officer who can take the place of a senior officer when necessary, the same way that the Lieutenant Governor takes the place of the Governor sometimes (like Howard Dean did).

I'm not trying to make this sound like the wrong man endorsed the other. I'm no Clark fan, and I have early and often stated my preference for John Boy Edwards. But has a title ever been more appropriate for anyone than lieutenant is for John Kerry? He is simply filling the place of statesman/person of principle/front-runner/nominee until somebody better comes along.

And this is not meant to denigrate all the lieutenants in the military serving well in that position. I'm sure Kerry even did what was required of him back when he was in the Navy. But as a generic term, it seems to fit. As far as I'm concerned, he is strictly junior varsity, and will never be more than a Lieutenant Leader.

Really, I'm Not Bitter. I Promise.

That always cracks me up. For a full-size version, go here. For an explanation, go here.

Anyway, I'm really not bitter or anything about Valentine's Day this weekend. (When it falls on Date Night, that's a little thing we like to call synergy.) I'm to the point now where I don't even really think about it that much -- it's kind of on the level of trying to remember that I don't have to go to work on Veterans' Day. I'm aware of it, but I don't go through a lot of introspection about what it means to me. (To clarify, I don't feel any worse about my life on Valentine's Day because it's Valentine's Day -- it's just another verse in the same old song.) As proof, consider the gaffe about this weekend I almost made. (more on that later) I thought about attempts to sabotage it for others. Stuff like calling all the restaurants in town with fake reservations, so everyone else would call and find the places booked. Or going to a really fancy place by myself, maybe with a girl's picture in a frame, and loudly sobbing and generally making a scene about how miserable I am so fellow diners would not be able to enjoy a romantic evening. But I just don't care that much. Let all the cute couples have their fun while it lasts.

But, since Valentine's Day is in the news, I thought I would share a story of the last time I was dating someone on Valentine's Day. I was a freshman in college. My long-time high school girlfriend, Angie, was going to New York University, and I was at Duke University. Even with the distance, we were still able to see each other about once a month. I flew up there in February, and I think it was the weekend after Valentine's Day. That wasn't the impetus for my trip, and we didn't do anything special because of it (I'm sure I got her something, I just don't remember), but that's just how the calendar fell.

Anyway, one evening she wanted to go to her regular meeting of the Women Students Association. I don't know if that's the official name, but that's what it was. In my head, I pictured a large room full of women. I was honestly expecting an auditorium with dozens of women and maybe the occasional weird guy. I mean, this was NYU, after all. Women who go there are precisely the kind of women who join campus organizations devoted to women's causes, right? I assumed that I would be able to slide down in a chair and sit through the speeches and programs and planning and whatnot without attracting much notice or being expected to do anything. Angie assured me that, not only was it not an hour of man-bashing, there might even be some other men there. So off I went, self-assured and unruffled.

So we eventually get to the scene and Angie swings the door open. And I do not walk into an auditorium. I step into a walk-in closet. I'm here to tell you, folks, I can barely open the door to my current office, and it is downright palatial compared to the room in which this meeting was held. I think there was a desk and a filing cabinet and two or three chairs. And about four women. Plus Angie and me. Good times!

It turned out that all my assumptions were wrong. They told me that the largest students groups were those like the College Republicans, because they were the ones who felt the need to organize at a place like NYU. The women didn't need to agitate; they had already won! I think Angie may have joined to meet other women. (I don't mean it that way, but that issue is for another post.)

The women in the meeting were most accommodating to me, and very friendly. There really wasn't any man-bashing. But here's the funny thing, and how this all ties back into Valentine's Day. The leader of the little group announced that for their meeting that week, they were supposed to have a guest speaker come in to demonstrate advanced masturbation techniques.

I swear to you I am not making that up. Unfortunately, she went on to say, the guest had not been able to make it, so they would have to reschedule. There was a joking reference to how relieved I must be. Me: "Yeah, that's right. Relieved." So, in lieu of that topic, because Valentine's Day had just passed, we spent an hour or so talking about how the holiday was some kind of heterosexist institution designed to suppress individuality because it defines you in terms of couplehood. Or something; it's not like I was giving it my full attention by then.

So that's what I think of when I think of Valentine's Day. Sitting in a broom closet with five women, not demonstrating anything. (And that's why I am celebrating Scheherazade's proposed holiday instead.)

Long-time readers already know how I feel about long-distance relationships, and I can probably trace that back to difficulties I had with Angie all those years ago. I did the LDR thing for the whole school year, eagerly awaiting May, when we could spend the whole summer together. Apparently, her expectations were different, because the day she flew home she drove over to my house and dumped me. Nowadays, when I think about her, I wonder how different things might have been if we had cell phones with unlimited long distance back then. Kids today don't know how lucky they've got it....

And of course now I can't even get myself into a short-distance relationship. I've still got the profile up, but that has been a bust. The thing is a total scam, of course. The only thing you can do for free is, after seeing a profile that interests you, send a "wink" to the user. The user gets a message that someone likes him or her, but that's not always accurate. You can't add any context to the "wink," for example to let someone know you also breed dachshunds, or whatever -- the person is free to assume anything from the most innocuous motive to "please marry me." The only way to say anything more is to pay for it -- and the rates are exorbitant. And if claims that it merely moves to cyberspace the meetings that could happen anywhere, that's crap. Sure, I can narrow my search down as much as I want, and this increases the odds that the women I find have a lot in common with me. But in the real world, no matter how much I have in common with someone, is it socially acceptable to shoot a wink at a total stranger and offer no explanation? Clearly, the answer is no.

Accordingly, I've been reluctant to send "winks." I think this post is pretty good evidence that I like to add as much context to things as I can. Besides, what winks I have sent have gone unrequited, so even if the recipients are taking the "right" message from them, they aren't too impressed. As yet, I have not given into the shakedown and paid to be able to send emails. As for what's been incoming, the answer is very little. So far, I've gotten one wink and one email. Not only were these women not even close to being attractive to me, I can't figure out why they chose me. Given their profiles, we had nothing in common, I didn't have what they said they were looking for, and they didn't have what I'm looking for. So all in all, it's been a largely pointless exercise.

Which is why I had to laugh when I saw this story from last week's Sunday Washington Post magazine. The author recounts her adventures in dating via, complete with tales of dates good and bad. My favorite part:

After two days I had a dispiriting total of three e-mails, all of them far out of my parameters and to the tune of "I don't believe in sending pictures, it's what's in the soul that counts."

Awww, maybe I was being too picky.

Naaaah. Delete, delete, delete.

Fortunately, before he was deleted, one of my trio of suitors alerted me that my profile was not showing up completely (but that he "felt a connection between us" anyway).

I tweaked the profile and was up and running the next day.

Suddenly the floodgates opened. I received too many e-mails to count. (Later I found out that's fairly common. Bummer.)

Me: "Yeah, that's right. Too many to count." Or, maybe too few to count. What's the difference? Bummer, indeed.

In other news, if you're wondering if there's any follow-up to the story of my almost-date for Valentine's Day, the answer is, sort of. New-Kate and I chatted for a few minutes earlier this week. It was mostly just catching up, but she said twice that she was glad we were talking again. I'll send her an email wishing her a happy Valentine's Day -- I don't have her (physical) address, so I can't send something tangible, and I usually hate those cheesy e-cards. I said in the original post that I intended to stay in touch with her, and that's still true. We'll see how that goes, but there have been no real changes since the original post.

So, couples (or groups, if you're into that), enjoy your holiday Saturday. I'll be busy winking.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Apparently, That Was the Only News Story of the Day
Yeah, I know...light posting lately. Sorry for that. Fitz hasn't been in front of a computer much because of car troubles (and spent what time he has had writing a wonderful "You've lost me as a customer" letter). I have been doing Kerry-esque flip-flops on a case I've got, and that's tied me up. I wrote five pages yesterday, got within two paragraphs of calling it finished, and decided (*sigh*) that I was reaching the wrong result. So now I have to start all over. Not all of those five pages will be lost, but they're going to have be re-worked a good bit. Anyway, that's kept me from blogging. And I'm still having computer problems at home, so it looks like I'll need to spend some time today shopping for a new one.

Also, something happened yesterday at work that has got me fired-up mad. It's this picayune little work procedure thing, but I've been gnashing my teeth over it for a day. I don't really feel comfortable talking about it publicly while I'm still working here, so maybe I'll write up my rant and set it to post after I leave. Then, in a few months, I will probably have forgotten about it, and I'll see the post, get reminded of it, and get angry all over again.

I'm trying to think of an analogy so you won't think this is some ruinous calamity for me. For now, I'll try this. Suppose you've been using the same route to commute to work for a while, and you've got it all figured out. It's convenient for you, safe, efficient, fits your schedule and that of your family, etc. And then all of a sudden, one of the streets you use is closed. There's no reason (like construction or repairs), it's just closed and you can't use it. So now you have to change your whole routine. Your commute is longer, you have to leave home earlier, you have to travel a more circuitous path, it's less safe because there's more traffic on the new roads, it's less convenient for your family, etc. And worst of all, there's no reason for it! There's no underlying rationale by which you can justify it and say with resignation, c'est la vie. It's not like this is some terrible hassle for you -- let's say a twenty-minute commute is lengthened by five minutes -- but it is a hassle to some degree.

Well, my problem at work is kind of like that. It's not like it's a major inconvenience, and soon I probably won't even notice anymore. But it's frustrating to change a system that works well for me, bothers absolutely no one else, and all without any good reason. Fitz knows what my problem is, so he can suggest a different analogy if he thinks it would work better.

Anyway, I tend to stew over things like this for a day or two until it's out of my system. So, between work and computer problems and some television I've needed to watch and taking time to rant about my new frustration at work, I haven't been doing much blogging. But, check back often because I'll have some good stuff up soon.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The first news story of my day

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

In Line Or On Line?
A few minutes ago I heard somebody on TV say something that always peeves me, and since this is (half) my blog, here it is. Why do people say they were waiting "on line" for something like, say, movie tickets? Was there a line painted on the ground on which you all were standing? I assert that you were standing "in line," because you were part of the line itself -- you were in the line, not on it. I don't know if I'm in the minority on this, or if it's just a North v. South thing, or what. But it makes no sense to me to say you were waiting "on line," whereas waiting "in line" makes perfect sense. I suppose one could argue that the invisible line beneath the feet of all the people in the line constitutes the line you were on, but that doesn't have the same intuitive appeal to me. If I am standing behind someone, I am in line behind him or her. And you can say, "I am in the line for tickets," but it doesn't make sense to say, "I am on the line for tickets" -- because there's no line you're on, there's only the line you're in!

I was really hoping, like ten years ago, that the Internet would rid us of this problem. I think that soon, given the overwhelming pervasiveness of the net, when someone says, "I was waiting on line [or online] for tickets," the assumption will be that he or she was sitting in front of a computer. (OK, in context that assumption won't hold sometimes, when it's something that people don't do over the computer.) And even if the assumption isn't true all the time or even most of the time, it's true enough -- and will be getting more true every day -- that we need to make it official now.

From now on, here's the way we should do things. If you are standing in a queue to do something, you are waiting in line; and if you are using a computer to do something, you are waiting online. There's no confusion between "on line" and "online," saying you're "in line" makes more logical sense for that activity, and there's no good alternative for "waiting on the computer" besides "waiting online."

And it's not just "waiting." It's "getting" too. "I got on line [online?] to get groceries." Did you do what millions of people do every day, or are you one of those weirdos who buys groceries over the Internet? "So I got online [on line?] for tickets and had to wait four hours." Did you freeze to death camped out in front of the box office, or did you get finger cramps from hitting "refresh" a thousand times?

See how much easier this works with "in line" for the real world and "online" for the net. "I got in line to get groceries, and then I got in line for tickets, and got better seats than my friend who waited online for four hours, but at least she was able to get online for groceries."

Now don't go throwing "go online" and "stood in line/stood on line" at me. I know that, in context, that makes the meaning clear, even though I continue to reject the logic of standing on a non-existent line when you're actually standing in one. And I'm not one of those language-fascists who gets all upset because someone uses "since" to mean "because" or splits an infinitive. What irks me is those situations when it's not clear from context, and people who say "on line" referring to the real world are defying both sense and the inexorable advance of history. All I'm complaining about are those instances where a simple rule, grounded in experience with computers and the laws of physics, would obviate all confusion.

Yes, I'm using a bit of hyperbole here. But it still peeves me, and I'm convinced this is the better way. So do as I command, people of Earth:
"Online" = Computers
"In line" = Real World

My work here is almost done
Alternative post title: Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos!

From Ryan Lizza's Campaign Journal on TNR, I have received the first real hint that my vote against Wes Clark in today's Democratic primary could be the straw that breaks the back of his campaign. Lizza reports that yesterday he caught the former general talking about his own campaign in the past tense. Finally, something Clark and I agree on.

UPDATE: The Hobbesian Conservative (about whom, I am ashamed to admit, I know very little) has written a song to commemorate the departure of Wes Clark. The Bonnie New Dem cracks me up - a modern twist on The Bonnie Blue Flag for the modern McClellan.

The Hobbesian Conservative was hoping for a plug on Southern Appeal, but it looks like he may have to settle for a plug on BTQ. We all want to fly first-class, but sometimes you get stuck in coach.

"Fan" Is Short For "Fanatic," After All
From Arizona comes this disturbing story about a high school basketball player who was injured when fans stormed the court after a victory. The player (who has a volleyball scholarship to Stanford) was overtaken by the mob after he punctuated the win with a slam dunk. Somehow, in the throng, he suffered a fractured jaw and a torn carotid artery. The tear in the artery caused a stroke, and now the poor kid is partially paralyzed.

This looks like a tragic acident, rather than anything malicious. But I don't understand the mentality of fans who feel a need to rush the court or field after a game. One time, when I was in college, my team won a thrilling comeback over our big rivals, and a host of students poured out of the stands onto the court. I was happy, and went with the crowd (note also that, to leave the stands, one had to walk on the court anyway). We jumped around for a few minutes, but I didn't see anything that magical about actually standing on the court. And we sure didn't tackle anybody -- from our team or theirs.

I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade. I was as fired up about those games as anyone. But it's not like I felt like I had a "right" to storm the court. We cheered for a few minutes, and then realized that the beer was back at the dorm, and left. After all the other games, when we simply filed out of the building, I didn't feel like the victory was any less satisfying.

In general, though, it's probably a bad idea to allow crazed yahoos to get on the court or field. At best, there's some minor frottage and everyone goes on home. And leaving aside the not-inconsequential chance of damage to the playing surface (or goalposts), consider the other risks when the scenario isn't so rosy. Accidents like this can happen, obviously. Minor injuries (and not-so-minor ones) seem common. And, of course, there's the chance of injuries as a result of criminal wrongdoing, on the part of players and fans.

Like most other things, it's my tendency to put this into a legal framework. Consider the liability this kid's high school potentially faces because it didn't protect him from the spectators. My guess is Stanford will do the classy thing and honor the scholarship whether he ever plays there or not, but that's far from a given when you consider that volleyball is a non-revenue sport and scholarships for it don't grow on trees (although they might find the money elsewhere). But, whether because of this incident or another -- worse? -- one, schools will have to change things. The risk will be too high not to. But also consider that sports teams do take steps to protect fans -- nets behind home plate in baseball stadiums, and the nets now required in hockey arenas after the death of a fan hit by a puck are obvious examples. Why shouldn't they also take steps to protect athletes from fans?

UPDATE, Wed.: According to this story, the injured student's parents, both of whom are attorneys, say they don't plan to sue over what they see as a freak accident.

See also, the Simpsons Quote O' The Day for today:
"Whacking Day"
Homer: "Just squeeze your rage into a bitter little ball and release it at an appropriate time. Like that day I hit the referee with a whiskey bottle. Remember that, when daddy hit the referee?"

More Music Stuff
A while ago I mentioned that I was pulling for the song "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" from A Mighty Wind to win the Oscar for best song in a motion picture. Would I settle for a Grammy? Well, maybe. Last night, the title song from that movie won the Grammy award for best song written for a movie. The song "A Mighty Wind" is a funny, pseudo-folk song, written by Eugene Levy and Michael McKean, and I'm pleased to see it won. So, come on, Oscar!

In other Grammy news, Warren Zevon picked up two posthumous Grammys -- one more than the also-dead Johnny Cash and as many as also-also-dead June Carter Cash. Zevon's final album, The Wind, won for best contemporary folk album, and a song he did on that disc with Bruce Springsteen, "Disorder in the House," won for best rock vocal performance. (I'm not going to get into how a folk album can have a rock song on it.) Anyway, The Wind is a great album, and I highly recommend it to all Zevon fans. Even if all you've done is sing along to the "Aawwwoooooooooo" howls in "Werewolves of London," you should at least consider it. Springsteen's guitar solo on "Disorder" is fantastic; "Dirty Life and Times" (with Dwight Yoakam and Billy Bob Thornton) is as good a country song as I've heard in years; "The Rest of the Night" (with Tom Petty) is a rocking ode to rocking as long as one can; and the final cut, "Keep Me In Your Heart," really gets to me when I think that Warren was dying when he wrote and sang it -- it's his goodbye.

Any Zevon fan knows what a wonderful lyricist he was; I'll share my two favorites from the album. From "Dirty Life and Times":

And if she won't love me then her sister will,
She's from Say-one-thing-and-mean-another's-ville.
And she can't seem to make up her mind,
When she hears about my dirty life and times.

And from "Keep Me In Your Heart":

Sometimes when you're doing simple things around the house,
Maybe you'll think of me and smile.
You know I'm tied to you like the buttons on your blouse,
Keep me in your heart for a while.

I won't make any cynical comments about what the female population of the town of Say-one-thing-and-mean-another's-ville might be, but that always cracks me up. And it's that "for a while" that I love from the other one. He's not asking to be remembered forever, he just wants to stay in your memory for a while. I'm glad the Grammys kept him there for a little longer.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Meat Loaf On Traditional Marriage
So I was driving to the mall tonight (a trip during which I missed not one, but two, exits -- ugh), and I heard on the radio the epic Meat Loaf song Paradise By The Dashboard Light. I guess it just shows what a dork I am, not only that I was listening to a Meat Loaf song, but that I was thinking about the message in it about "traditional marriage."

If you're unfamiliar with the song, it's the tale of a horny boy and girl getting busy in a car. ("Ain't no doubt about it, we were doubly blessed/ 'Cause we were barely seventeen and we were barely dressed.") The boy is quite pushy, and the girl acquiesces for a time. But, when he tries to "steal home" (Phil Rizzuto does a wonderful baseball play-by-play interlude, although apparently he was unaware of the sexual double entendres of phrases like "first base"), the girl shuts him down:

Stop right there! I gotta know right now!
Before we go any further --
Do you love me? Will you love me forever?
Do you need me? Will you never leave me?
Will you make me so happy for the rest of my life?
Will you take me away and will you make me your wife?

The boy wants to "sleep on it," but eventually he breaks down:

I couldn't take it any longer, Lord I was crazed,
And when the feeling came upon me like a tidal wave,
I started swearing to my God and on my mother's grave
That I would love you to the end of time,
I swore that I would love you to the end of time!

Well, we all can figure out what happens next. But, for present purposes, I'm interested in the denouement:

So now I'm praying for the end of time to hurry up and arrive.
'Cause if I gotta spend another minute with you,
I don't think that I can really survive.
I'll never break my promise or forget my vow,
But God only knows what I can do right now.
I'm praying for the end of time, it's all that I can do.
Praying for the end of time, so I can end my time with you!!!

See? Meat Loaf doesn't believe in easy divorces and leaving a girl high-and-dry after finding "paradise by the dashboard light." He would rather live in misery and pray for death than break his vow. What a powerful statement in support of traditional marriage! Warms one to the cockles (no double entendre intended, however, sarcasm intended).

If it's any relief for Mr. Loaf, the next song on the radio was Another One Bites the Dust by Queen.

Sullivan on Bush on Meet the Press
I won't link to all the commentary going around about the Presiden't appearance on Meet the Press yesterday. NRO has had plenty of stuff, as has the gang at SA. But one of the best takes I've seen was Andrew Sullivan's on The New Republic. Sullivan's mention on his own blog is here. (I'm not sure if a subscription is required to read the link via Sullivan's page or not. From the TNR site, it is.)

Anyway, Sullivan discusses the President's statements on fiscal policy. His conclusion: "The president doesn't know what he's talking about, or he's lying, or he trusts people telling him lies. But it is undeniable that this president is not on top of the most damaging part of his legacy--the catastrophe he is inflicting on our future fiscal health."

Some of this is based on flat-out misstatements, such as when Bush said his budgets have not increased federal spending over those of his predecessor's. Some of this is based on pie-in-the-sky-ism, such as when Bush stated that the budget can be cut in half in five years "if Congress is wise with the people's money." As Sullivan (and others) point out, Congress has been far from wise to this point, and yet the "veto" stamp gathers dust.

It is foolish (at best) of the President to hope that Congress gets religion, and even if it did, the Medicare bill is a huge budgetary train-wreck for which Bush will bear responsibility. I agree with Sullivan that, on the economy, the President appears to be out to lunch not only in word but also in deed.

So now the White House predicts the creation of 2.6 million new jobs this year, which would mean more jobs would be created this year than have been lost during the first three years of the Bush administration. Would that it were so. But, given his apparent lack of understanding of what he is doing to the economy, how can we trust any numbers spouted by our MBA President?

Say It Ain't So, Willie!
A week or so ago, I discussed the fortunes of one Willie Williams, one of the top college football recruits in the nation, as he tried to decide which college would get the benefit of his services. Williams was the subject of a hilarious series of stories in the Miami Herald as they followed him on his recruiting visits. Well, one thing they didn't mention from his trip to Gainesville to visit the University of Florida is that Williams may have violated his probation. In fact, I don't recall them even saying he was on probation.

It turns out that Williams has been arrested ten times since 1999. His probation was from a 1999 arrest (tried as an adult; it is Florida, after all) for burglary. During his trip to Gainesville, Williams "allegedly hugged a female student without her permission, hit a man at a bar and set off three fire extinguishers in his hotel -- all in span of five hours during his recruiting trip that began Jan. 30."

Here is the story from the Herald, with a great quote from Florida coach Ron Zook: "When asked if something could have been done to prevent the incidents, Florida coach Ron Zook said 'Yeah, not brought him in.'"

I'm not going to pre-judge Williams here, or even try to turn this into a broader comment on bad behavior by elite college athletes. I note that the state's attorney in Florida is trying to charge Williams before his probation runs out, so that any new charges would also constitute a violation of the probation. If that's the kind of thing that office would do for any probationer, I don't have a problem with that. I won't try to argue that this kind of thing is more endemic to athletes than rock stars or the general population or whatever, because it's a problem no matter who is doing it. But it does highlight the huge investment colleges are making in these kids who quite often lack a basic understanding of how to handle themselves. The folks at Miami (the school Williams picked) must be reeling. I hope they recruited another linebacker.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

The BTQ Review: Positively Fifth Street
As part of our sporadic review feature, I'd like to present Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker by James McManus (paperback available next month, I think).

McManus was a writer and amateur poker player when, in 2000, he scored a gig with Harper's magazine to cover the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas (specifically, to cover the women who were now competing with the best of the male poker players), and the murder trial arising out of the death of Ted Binion, black sheep of the family whose casino hosts the poker event, Binion's Horseshoe. In a bizarre congruence, the trial of Binion's ex-stripper ex-girlfriend and her new lover took place at the same time as the 2000 WSOP. McManus, struggling in his conscience between "Good Jim" the family fan and "Bad Jim" the gambler, uses his advance from Harper's and a future mortgage payment or two and joins the tournament.

And while McManus might have merely thought it would make for a better story to go Gonzo and try to bluff some of his subjects, he ends up outplaying almost all of the 500+ entrants that year (there were over 800 this year) to wind up at the final table. In the midst of this phenomenal run for an amateur (hell, for anybody), he tracks down the sordid story of Ted Binion and his killers. The book begins with McManus's reconstruction of the murder, and the reader is immediately drawn into the alternate universe that Vegas seems to be. People just go there and lose their minds, or, for the unlucky ones like Ted Binion, their lives. And despite the family-friendly image the Vegas tourism folks have been painting recently, it becomes quite clear that parts of that town are still squarely in the Wild West.

Over the course of the book, McManus (as "Bad Jim") starts to identify more and more with Binion, and he realizes how easy it would be to let the demons of the psyche loose for a night on the town. Of course, success in poker is all about not "going on tilt" and keeping oneself calm when one is in the midst of a euphoric victory or a crushing defeat. There's a lot of interesting stuff in the book about the psychology of playing high-stakes poker, and the psycho-sexual-sadism that's a little bit necessary for the game, or at least accompanies big successes and big failures much of the time.

I'm not much of a gambler; I'm a pretty risk-averse person. I spent a day in Vegas once and quit after losing six dollars. I've played a little poker, and understand the basics, but not the many nuances one must master to win even one hand against the pros. But Positively Fifth Street is still enjoyable for the novice or (I think) even the non-player. McManus explains the basics of Texas No-Limit Hold'em, the biggest game in the WSOP, with multi-million dollar purses. The book includes a glossary of poker terminology if you get lost, and there's an extensive bibilography if you're looking for more about the game.

But even without following all the details, anyone can understand when a player gets lucky after raising when he shouldn't have, or gets unlucky when he had the best hand until the last card fell. You understand when Bad Jim takes over and raises with nothing against poker legend T.J. Cloutier, and gets the card he needs, prompting the even-more legendary Amarillo Slim Preston to declare that McManus "has the heart of a cliff-diver."

Well, I won't say that Positively Fifth Street takes you to the top of the cliff with him, but it's a very enjoyable read. A book that would have worked pretty well either as a tale of a poker tournament or as the story of a love gone bad leading to murder works very well exploring the confluence of the two. And its publication was timed perfectly to ride the wave of popularity that big-money poker is on now. (Although, given that there was a skit tonight on Saturday Night Live parodying Bravo's celebrity poker tv show, perhaps it has jumped the shark....)

A quick word about the play on words in the title, in case you didn't get it. "Fifth Street" is the colloquial name for the final card played in a hand of Texas Hold'em. Positively Fourth Street is a Bob Dylan song, and I wonder if McManus was thinking about this lyric when he coined his pun:

You got a lotta nerve
To say you are my friend.
When I was down
You just stood there grinning.

You got a lotta nerve
To say you got a helping hand to lend.
You just want to be on
The side that's winning.

The players get friendly, and there is certainly a great deal of respect for each other's ability. But the smart poker player knows a smile can hide a bluff, and the most popular guy at the table is the one who just lost.

Look, this book has money, cowboys, murder, lap dances, and a Sicilian judge presiding over a trial in the desert. What more could you want? I had so much fun reading it, I'm going to give it our highest rating, a full six-pack.

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