Begging The Question

Friday, September 30, 2005

When in Rome...
Surviving the Nazi reign of terror doesn't give you carte blanche to drug and rape children. And making a movie about hope and redemption doesn't actually redeem the director of his crimes, especially when the movie is just the millionth iteration of Oliver Twist. But you know, great directors will be great directors. He's just misunderstood. Sigh...the "burden" of Roman Polanksi, "cinema's enfant terrible."

I will leave the obvious (and tasteless) jokes about Polanksi "simply want[ing] to make a movie for children" to others.

Fitz-Hume: Buy, Sell, or Hold?
(for an explanation, and to read Milbarge's responses to my questions, go here or just scroll down to the next post)

Tom DeLay

Sell. Dump your stock like a Senate Majority Leader dumps all his shares in the family hospital company, but be man enough to admit that you know this one's been headed for the crapper for a long time and you just didn't want to lose your shirt. Take the SEC fine and be happy that you're through with this loser.

Peter Jackson's King Kong

Kong says Hold!

Iowa's pink locker rooms for visiting football teams

Strong buy. Who doesn't like a little psy-ops with their pigskin?And if pink locker rooms don't work, why not start a rumor about a ghost in the locker room?

U.S. troops in Iraq after 2008

Buy. How many? I can't say, but I am sure that there will be at least a token force in Iraq. I suspect that many of the troops that have been more or less permanently stationed in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia will instead move into permanent bases in Iraq. The better to deal with Iran and Syria - which, let's face it, need to be dealt with.

President Hillary Clinton

Sell. To neutralize her "I'm a woman" schtick, the GOP can run Dr. Rice against her. What exactly does Hillary bring to the table otherwise, except the novelty of Bill as First Partner? Now Bill as Governor of California? That I could see.

Britney Spears's comeback

Sell. The Titanic has a better chance of a comeback.

New Orleans's comeback

Hold. The Crescent City will be rebuilt, but I suspect that it will hardly resemble the New Orleans of old. Whether that's a good thing, I don't know.

Milbarge: Buy, Sell, or Hold?
Fitz and I were both having trouble coming up with something to blog about, so I got the bright idea to steal from others' bright ideas. Taking a cue from legendary blog-interviewer E. McPan's audioblog with Fitz, we're doing some Buy, Sell, or Hold predictions. The gist is that we suggest items for the other, and then remark on whether we're bullish or bearish about it. (And what would that make "hold"? Some kind of bull-bear hybrid, like a zeedonk or beefalo? Oh, the horror!) Anyway, these topics were selected by Fitz, but the "advice" is all mine. Likewise, I provided the topics in his post. As always, caveat emptor, not all investments make money, your mileage may vary, and objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

Bill Bennett

Sell. Oh my goodness, sell. I want to scream this like the Duke brothers at the end of Trading Places: "Sell, for God's sake, get in there and sell!!" Look, I even agree with the larger point I think Bennett was trying to make -- that we shouldn't use abortion as social engineering. But his statement was built on an assumption or a stereotype about blacks and crime. And even if he really believes that, he ought to know better than to say it in public. In America, you can't really recover from that. I'm not saying Bill Bennett's going to end up destitute or anything; America is the land of second (and third) chances. But he'll never get all the way back. Cut your losses.

Everybody Hates Chris

Hold. I like this show. I think it has some very funny moments. It could be the funniest 15-minute show in television history. Unfortunately, it's scheduled to run for a half hour. I think some of the moments are weak or thin, and just seem like filler. I worry about the writers falling back on traditional sitcom tropes to flesh out Rock's stories of growing up. And I worry about Rock getting bored with this after a season or two. (Paging Dave Chappelle.) It's amazing what kind of ratings success this upstart has had, and that could energize the show. And like I said, some parts are laugh-out-loud funny. So it's a hold for now, to give the show time to find its stride. But I'm not sold yet.

Land for Peace

Hold. I'm no expert on this, though. Before Arafat died, I would have said "sell," because he had his chances for peace and walked away. I don't know if anyone in Palestine is capable of guaranteeing the "peace" end of this agreement, though. The real problem is that a trade of land for peace is skewed because only one is a finite resource. Too many people say, "We'll be at peace when you have no more land." On the other hand, I don't know of many better solutions than land-for-peace, at least as something of a Missouri Compromise for Israel, putting things off for a while. In the end, I see this one getting to "sell" sooner than it gets to "buy," but I guess "hold" for now.

President Geena Davis

Sell. This Johnny-one-note rip off "West Wing" leavings won't last the season. Probably enough material for a made-for-tv movie, at best. And suggesting that this series matters because it "paves the way" for "acceptance" of the idea of a female president makes about as much sense as suggesting that Commander Uhura paved the way for acceptance of Sally Ride. Plus, everyone knows that the best tv show about the presidency is still "That's My Bush!"

The future of Abercrombie & Fitch

Sell, or buy, or whatever. Wow, I found something I was less enthusiastic about than the President Geena Davis show. Do whatever you want with A&F. Just hand over the catalogue and leave me alone.

Tom Brady

Sell. Tom Brady is a great quarterback, probably a Hall of Famer, but he'll never win another Super Bowl (in large part because he keeps losing teammates from the championship teams). And he doesn't put up the kind of stats that make him worth having on your fantasy team. Note that saying you should sell now doesn't mean he was never worth buying. But I think his value has peaked, even if it plateaus for a while before dropping off.

Baghdad's comeback

Buy. Mostly because I felt like I had to suggest buying something on this list. I don't know how long it will take, though. And we may end up seeing Baghdad turn into something like West Berlin, an island of U.S.-occupied enforced calm amid insurgency elsewhere in the country. Apparently, the Green Zone is already like that, to an extent. So maybe they can just expand the Green Zone to the city limits or something. So, don't buy Baghdad if you're looking for short-term gain, but treat it like a T-bill or something and sit on it for a few years.

Can I borrow your tent?
I'm working on a couple of projects at the office that will consume most of my time today and for the next couple of days. In my limited free time, I will continue working on the post suggestion submitted by Mr. P ("Do they use cranes to build cranes? If so, how did they build the first crane?"), THFB's woodchuck query ("Let us hypothesize a woodchuck has the ability to 'chuck' wood..."), Sebastian's dilemma ("...what activity should I cut out to make more time for reading?"), kmsqrd's shorts question ("Why do people wear shorts when so few of them look good in them?"), and LQ's food interrogatory ("How about the secret to a perfect burger? Alternately - the best places to get a burger (or BBQ) wherever you've traveled.").

Thanks again, guys, because without your help I'd really have nothing to write about. Most of my, let's not call them "good" but rather "not completely horrible," posts are derived from stories from my past or rants. I've just about exhausted my stories of growing up, or at least recently I've not been reminded of any good stories to share. As for rants, there's nothing at present that really gets me fired up. Life is good. Work is slow for the most part, I'm progressing nicely at the gym (though it has dried up as a source of amusement and post fodder), and things with my girlfriend are very good. For those of you keeping score at home, she's real and she's spectacular. To break it down mathematically, let us say that:

"G" represents The Girl in all her smart, funny, sexy, gorgeous real life glory


"I" represents your collective fantasies of her gleaned from blog posts and wild speculation


G > I

which in English means, that The Girl is greater than all of your fantasies about her multipled by a factor of infinity (and for the Aggies out there it means "She's hotter than you ever imagined!").
So you see? Not much to complain about in the life of Fitz-Hume. I suppose the only thing to do at this point is to take up Mr. P's challenge: "Peter Cetera, or fire ants?" I'm pretty sure that either choice is a death sentence for yours truly, but dying would give me a personal story and something to rant about. And if I die, then I can at least blame the lack of posts on something other than writer's block!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

How Does the Defendant Plead: Hot or Not?
So I'm trying to catch up on blog-reading I missed over the last few weeks. If your readership has been down, maybe you can make yourself feel better by blaming it on me not visiting. Anyway, one of my favorites, the PrawfsBlawg, had this thought-provoking post by Brooks Holland. It notes a white-collar criminal getting a moderately (as opposed to exceedingly) long sentence, and discusses the possibility that the sentence will seem much longer/worse because it will be served in a state penitentiary as opposed to a "club fed" federal prison. A few thoughts.

First, there are low-security federal prisons, but there are also a lot of high-security federal prisons that are no fun even to visit. I know Professor Holland wasn't trying to create the impression that federal prison time is all doilies and linen bedsheets, but it's worth noting that the Martha Stewart experience isn't a typical one (even assuming her time was "easy" only when relative to other federal prisoners).

Second, I strongly abhor any argument that prison violence or sexual assault should be considered part of a prison sentence. It demeans our humanity to suggest that the proper punishment for criminals is to set them at each other in blood sport. However, we can't turn a blind eye to the fact that it goes on. How we address that is a tougher issue. Even assuming that the proper way to address it is via the length (or location) of prison sentences, we're left with a bunch of difficult questions. Should prison sentences be on a sliding scale, with the tougher defendants pulling more time? Should it work in only one direction; that is, only a downward departure for probable victims, as opposed to an upward departure for probable perpetrators?

Even if this is a factor we should consider, who should make that decision, and when should it be made? By prosecutors, in charging decisions? By negotiations between state and federal prosecutors about which has the harsher prison facilities? By juries, in convicting for lesser offenses, or acquitting altogether, when they feel the defendant couldn't handle long sentences? By the sentencer, be it judge or jury? (As a sidenote, consider that some juries consider time in isolation on death row to be better than a life sentence in the general population, so we might have to come to an agreement on just what constitutes an easier sentence.) If the decision comes at sentencing, should it be left to the decision-maker's discretion, as an intangible factor, or set by, say, a sentencing commission with mathematical precision (e.g., blond hair equals six months' departure)? Also, without getting too deep into it, I'll note that, empirically, "white collar" often equals "white skin," and there could definitely be a racial disparity if something like this were implemented based on offense.

Third, as comments in the PrawfsBlawg post note, there are some cases approving sentencing departures because the defendant is unusually susceptible to prison violence or sexual assault. I'm sure these will come as great comfort to the attorney for the attractive 24-year-old Florida teacher accused of sleeping with one of her students as they head to trial later this year. Along with an insanity defense, the lawyer has suggested, in essence, that the teacher is "too pretty for prison." His exact words: "To place Debbie into a Florida state women's penitentiary, to place an attractive young woman in that kind of hell hole, is like putting a piece of raw meat in with the lions."

First, what woman doesn't love being referred to as "a piece of raw meat"? Second, I look forward to seeing how this plays out. I'm sure many people will be offended by this argument, and others sympathetic. I don't know how it will get before the jury, though. I would think that evidence or arguments about prison conditions would be irrelevant during the trial. Once the jury convicts, it's probably too late to make an argument for no prison time (I'm assuming the laws there call for at least some prison time -- the news reports say the maximum sentence is fifteen years per charge). Even a short sentence would be long enough for the "lions" to get at the woman, after all. One other notable aspect of this is that male defendants convicted of sex crimes against minors are often seen as targets of violence in prison. I wonder if the teacher's attorney would have better luck arguing that his client was in danger based on her (alleged) offense, rather than her attractiveness. Do female inmates target female sex offenders? Anyway, we'll see what happens when the issue isn't white collar crime versus violent crime, but rather young and pretty versus old and ugly.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Oh, We're Halfway There
From time to time, people will ask me about my most embarrassing moment. I have a hard time answering. There are probably some things I've buried so deep in my psyche that I don't even dream about them. But my usual criteria are these. I exclude anything I'm not embarrassed by now. For example, at the time I was embarrassed that a girl rejected my offer for a date, but now I'm glad I at least asked. Also, I exclude anything I wasn't embarrassed by then. I really did think that was a cool outfit; I can't base my most embarrassing moment on the vicissitudes of fashion, can I? My thinking here is that we often do things that seem dumb at the time, but in hindsight, aren't. And likewise, we often do things that are dumb, but that we don't see as such without the benefit of hindsight.

So, I need to come up with something that both embarrasses me now, and embarrassed me then. I had to have recognized its dumbness while I was doing it, and I have to have never been able to contextualize or rationalize its dumbness in the intervening years. I'm sure plenty of events in my life fit this bill. But here is one that I recalled this weekend, and has been gnawing at me all day.

I think I was in the fifth grade, maybe sixth. A group of us had gone over to a friend's house to spend the night. There were probably five or six guys there. At some point, one of the guys got the brilliant idea to call up a group of girls who were also having a sleepover that night. For a good chunk of the evening, the phone was passed around among us all as we talked to the girls. It was kind of like that sweet scene in The Virgin Suicides where the boys and girls play records over the phone to each other.

Actually, it was a little too much like that scene. One of the guys, whom I'm lost touch with, for good reason, had another brilliant idea. He told the girls that we weren't having a sleepover. No, this was a practice session for our "rock and roll band." One of us was the singer, and others played guitars or keyboards. I don't know if I was supposed to be the keyboard player, because I had a few years of piano lessons, or the drummer, owing to my instrument in the school band. Whatever; all the pieces of the ensemble were represented.

Here's where it got even worse. The "lead singer" volunteered to let the girls listen to us "play a song." The title of this post might have given you a clue what number we picked out of our "repertoire." It was probably the biggest song in the country at the time: Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer." Oh, how the bile rises in my throat to type those words.

What happened was that somebody popped the Bon Jovi cassette tape into the one-speaker mono boombox laying around, and we held the phone up to the speaker. So as to really sell the charade, the guys sung along. Perhaps if one believed that ten- and eleven-year-old boys were able to rock out as capably as professional "musicians," and if the listener perhaps placed the phone inside a running blender, our voices overlaying the instruments might have fooled someone.

Of course, it was a debacle. When someone pulled the boombox cord from the wall, the excuse of "broken guitar string" was hastily assembled. The worst thing was that none of them knew all the words to the song. Anyone who knows me knows how much I hate Bon Jovi, and I didn't like them back then, either. Alas, Gentle Reader, I am ashamed to say I knew the lyrics and chimed in at times. Curse my mighty memory! (Of course, to be fair, it played on the radio and the MTV a lot that year.)

I was truly and utterly embarrassed at the time. I thought it was a ridiculous ploy, and not executed well enough to be worth it anyway. I'm sure the girls were bright enough (read: not brain dead) to catch on. I don't even recall their reaction. I'm sure they had a good laugh at our expense. I told the guys how stupid I thought it all was, but I went along because I didn't want them to look even stupider.

Now, I'm embarrassed about this on several levels. One, for joining in. Two, for having friends this idiotic. Three, for knowing the words to the song. And four, because it's symbolic of, and possibly the nadir of, lame attempts by guys to impress girls.

Anyway, recalling this train wreck of an evening has put that godawful song in my head. Perhaps writing about it will relieve me. If not, you'll recognize me once I rip my ears off in agony.

Fitz-Hume 411: You've been the only thing that's right in all I've done
What I am doing at work: Filling out the bar exam application (ugh) and drafting regulations for various state agencies

What I am doing away from work: I bought some meat from Omaha Steaks. I haven't sampled any of it yet, but I hope to grill some filets this weekend. I'll let you know how they turn out.

What I am watching: Breaking Bonaduce (he is a goddamned train wreck - Lindsay Lohan trapped in a 45-yr-old man's body) and Curb Your Enthusiasm (thoughts so far? Meh.). Also, I am planning on seeing Lord of War this weekend. I love me some Nicolas Cage!

What I am listening to: On the advice of The Hot Librarian, I am listening to Snow Patrol's Final Straw (and for anyone who gave her a hard time for recommending Tommy Emmanuel - do not count me in that crowd, as I enjoy Tommy E's skillz on the guitar - Snow Patrol more than redeems her musical tastes). I've also been enjoying a bit of Journey, Franz Ferdinand, and Coldplay lately.

What I am reading: Pornified (on Milby's recommendation) and Female Chauvinist Pigs (inspired by the side-by-side reading going on at Slate). I'll probably have more to say about the books once I've finished Pornified, but let me just put it out there for Ariel Levy, the author of FCP, that I agree that "slut chic" and the notion that stripping and porn are really about female empowerment are stupid concepts that women have bought into for some bizarre reason (allegedly it's because they want to "be like men" but then they choose the lowest form of maleness to emulate). But - and this is important - I don't buy for a second that they are the fault of George W. Bush, his (foolish) support of abstinence-only sex ed, and the (read it breathlessly with me now) "dramatic, horrifying, shocking, crazed, and recent" shift to the right in this country. That is especially the case when you cite statistics that pre-date the Bush presidency and when one of your primary arguments is based on the fractures in the feminist movement that occurred back in the 1970s. Furthermore, why does Congress get a free pass? And further furthermore, what is this "recent" shift to the right? Recent in geologic terms, yes. But as far as our attitudes about sex are concerned, this country was already far to the right back when "GGW" meant George Gone Wild, not Girls Gone Wild. At lot of things are his fault, but hurricanes and drunk chicks flashing their breasts can't be blamed on W. Blaming it on W weakens an otherwise decent book.

What I am thinking about: My brother called from Iraq yesterday to report that his unit has not encountered any resistance in their area of responsibility (which includes part of Baghdad), they've taken no casualties, and they are living large and eating lots of good food.

What I am not thinking about: how many miles I will need to run to burn off the 2 pints of Ben & Jerry's I ate this weekend (answer: a lot)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

This Old House
I have a furniture problem, and I thought I would toss it out there to see if I could find a solution James Surowiecki-style.

I have a nice armchair that was a graduation gift. It's a solid wood like cherry or something, with a black finish in most places, and the seal of my alma mater on the headrest. Anyway, some time back I placed a cushion in the seat, because as nice as the chair is, I'm not going to treat it like a showpiece, but it gets a tad stiff if you sit in it for a while. Well, the cushion had little rubber gripper things on the bottom, so it wouldn't slip. I know now I should have gotten one of those that you tie off, because the rubber grips seem to have left a bit of a residue on the seat. There's a nice little ass-shaped pattern now. The one good thing is that the rubber leavings are black, too, so they don't show up too badly. But if I rub them off, they streak a little, and I end up with smudges that look like I was using a pencil eraser on it.

I want to restore the chair to its original condition, but I don't want to make the finish look any worse than it does. I'm willing to test some products on the bottom and see what the result is, but I was hoping someone had a better idea, or a favorite product for cleaning wood. Thanks in advance.

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    Milbarge Recommends

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    The views presented here are personal and in no way reflect the view of my employer. In addition, while legal issues are discussed here from time to time, what you read at BTQ is not legal advice. I am a lawyer, but I am not your lawyer. If you need legal advice, then go see another lawyer.

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