The Musings of

Something full of magic, religion, bullsh*t.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Maybe this'll learn ya'

A couple of weeks ago I was on a business trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma. While they hotel I was staying in was nice, there was one thing that really bothered me. On the nightstand was a cutesy little advertising standup that had a picture of a tornado over the words "Ya'll picked a great time to visit Oklahoma" or something similar. What disturbed me was the patent misspelling of the word "y'all."

For some reason, Yankees and others feel that "ya'll" is right. Why would this contraction be the only one to defy convention? The rule is simple -- the apostrophe replaces the missing letter/s in a contraction. Therefore, you get "don't," not "do'nt" and "should've" and not "shou'ldve."

When I was naught but a pup, my father warned me against falling for the "ya'll" trap. He explained that it was all a Yankee plot to make the work look ridiculous. So, whether you are Southern or not, please don't maul "y'all."

On another note, "y'all" is not singular. I was in New Hampshire a number of years ago, and a few people noting the Southern dew drops in my voice would say something like "Where a y'all from?" in an attempt a humor. My response is always thus, "From a place where you'd get your ass kicked for using 'y'all' inappropriately."

Look, if this is too hard, you can always fall back to you'uns.
Centinel 4:04 PM # | |

May I have ten thousand marbles, please?

UVA finds a way to use grant money to justify its students' behavior. Brilliant.

In other news, no Duke student has ever shoplifted, smoked, or committed vandalism.
Centinel 3:36 PM # | |

Revelations 3:15

I have made no secret that I believe that John McCain and his fellow mushy moderates in the Senate are as big a threat to Conservative principles as any Democrat. Brendan Minter has a brilliant piece in today's WSJ noting that, due to the nature of majoritarian politics, McCain has had some legislative success by parlaying the few leftist Republicans. However, Minter observes that McCain's "maverick moderatism" encompasses the very political ideas that are causing the Democrats to lose votes.

Definitely worth a read because the defining struggle for the soul of GOP won't be with the Democrats, but with those who wear the Republican mantle without having the shoulders for it.
Centinel 3:11 PM # | |

Where are we going, and why am I in this handbasket?

My three favorite quotes overheard this weekend at a bar:

  1. "I once got lost in an eight ball for hours. Of course, I was on, like, four hits of acid."

  2. [From a flat-out stoned, skinny black guy] "American generals ran all of the drugs and prostitution in Vietnam. And they know I know."

  3. [Guy talking on cellphone] "Look, just because I work in a gay bar, it doesn't mean I'm gay."
Centinel 1:05 PM # | |

They talk about saving the world, but all they do is smoke pot and smell bad.

In a further attempt to chew the hard hitting political issues of the day, I give you . . . the Spice Girls. According to the Mirror, Bob Geldorf has released the lineup for Live 8, the "Live Aid" concert to take place in London. The Spice Girls had evidently planned to make this event their dramatic return to the stage -- a moment eagerly anticipated by music aficionados around the world -- but Geldorf, clearly not recognizing the Spice Girl's contribution, nay, contributions, has refused to include them in the lineup.

Look, I know you really don't care (of course, that doesn't explain why you read every salacious detail of the Posh Spice/David Beckham debacle marriage, you cheeky bastard), but there is a pot o' gold at the end of this meager rainbow. Geldorf, in explaining his decision, stated that he ixnayed the ailtay because, drumroll, they didn't fit with the deep political message of the event. Some BBC spokeshack stated, "It's a political rally to put pressure on world leaders and their kind of pop act didn't seem right for this kind of event." That's right, this is a convergence of hardcore bands with a message. These people are out to change the world, and they can't afford to have some eye-candy, fluff pop act water down their vital message.

Well, that makes perfect sense. I mean, music has the power to soothe the savage breast and, apparently, to provide Third World debt relief, so why force children in Tunisia to starve to death just so the rest of us can thrill to the sounds of the world's greatest girl band? Well, OK, maybe we would have had the sound muted, but we would have thrilled nonetheless as we observed the bounce in the young ladies', uh, stride during their performance. Be that as it may, Geldorf has the foresight to recognize that he needs bands with gravitas. He needs this generation's Bob Dylan and Jefferson Airplane. He needs . . . Linkin Park? Eminem? Destiny's Child?!? Are you effing kidding me? These are the winds of change? How can there be true harmonic convergence and how can we bring about the oneness of all creatures when Robbie Williams is singing?

This has totally thrown off my chakra, dude. I need a hug.
Centinel 8:16 AM # | |

Monday, May 30, 2005

A guy shows up at a public beach wearing nothing but a hot dog bun and relish, what am I supposed to charge him with?

My new definition of abuse of judicial power: 8 a.m. hearing on the day after Memorial Day. Isn't this the kind of thing our forebears fought against?
Centinel 3:27 PM # | |

Friday, May 27, 2005

Friday Spies ©: Show Your Work Edition

From the BTQ Newsdesk (Now with 36% more Milbarge):

1. What is the best thing about the city in which you live? What is
the worst?

I suppose answering "me" to the first part would be too obvious, so I'm going to go with "Dallas is a big, somewhat-Southern city with friendly people that's easy to get around in and doesn't have any state income tax." Actually, I think that's, like, 3 or 4 best things in one sentence, but what do lawyers know about math.

The second part is easy: Texans. This place is lousy with them. What's weird, however, is how many of them are proud of being morons Texans. They remind you all the time, saying things like "Oh, you wouldn't know about Mexican food, you're not from Texas" and "That's right, you're not from Texas, so you can read." I'm all for people expressing their individuality, but where I come from we don't celebrate mental illness.

I also hate the fact that this place is flatter than Kate Moss. Seriously, a topographic map of Dallas is just a blank sheet of paper. You could take a leak anywhere in this town and it won't run anywhere. It will evaporate in the heat within 3 minutes, but it will stay right where it is.

Of course, no matter how bad it gets, at least I don't live in Houston.

2. Describe an idea or invention of yours that you would like to see
turned into reality.

Personally, I'd like to have a TiVo for personal conversations so I could skip past the redundant crap, but even with my woefully limited scientific knowledge I know that we are at least 5 years away from having the technology to pull this off. As it is, to accomplish the TiVo effect you have to use a pistol and the rolling "move it along" hand motion, but I've found that when you point a gun at someone they begin forgetting the important information.

If you're looking for a good, practical, and feasible invention then sod off. First, even if I had a good idea like, say, putting CDs in vending machines, I would be out digging up venture capital. I'd would be camped out of Mark Cuban's lawn. I would be doing everything I could to make it my "jump to conclusions" mat. What I wouldn't be doing is telling you about it, you talentless hacks. Second, I couldn't come up with a good idea if you tied one around my neck and gave me a map, a flashlight, and a trained bassett hound.

3. Name an overrated author, musician, and movie. Name an underrated
author, musician, and movie

Overrated author: Anne Rice. I've only read one of her "novels," but if you'd edited all of the unnecessary words out of the damn thing it wouldn't have even made a novella. Really, can someone take away her adjectives before she begins formulating more homoerotic schlock? Damn goth porn.

Overrated musician: I would say pretty much every group/person on the Billboard Top 40, but a lot of those are singers, not musicians. If someone like Britney Spears, who doesn't write her own music or play an instrument, is a "musician," then I'm a Dixieland band. If we are talking honest-to-God, I-can-play-this-thing musicians, then I'm going with Pearl Jam. I remember when "10" came out and for months you couldn't take a leak without the strains of Evenflow coming out of the toilet. Hell, it took me several weeks to figure out Evenflow and I'm Alive were two separate songs. Then Jeremy came out, and I wanted to shoot the whiney bastard. God, how did these douchebags ever outlive grundge?

Overrated movie: The Austin Powers movies. I didn't see the first one until it had been out for a couple of years and it was a real letdown. I'm not saying the movie was a suckfest, but the character just got so damn annoying. After about 5 minutes the goofy English twit gag was played, yet I had to endure another hour-and-a-half of "YEAH, BABY" and bad teeth jokes. Honorable Mention: Most of the Oscar winners over the past decade.

Underated author: Thomas Wolfe. The man was one screwed up puppy, but he could write like a sumbitch. He was as good as anyone writing in the early part of the 1900s, but has become overshadowed by hacks such as Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald. Ironically, he is a wordy as Rice, which therefore proves two things: (1) that good writing can be verbose and (2) that I a big, fat hypocrite.

Underrated music: So, so much of it. Off the top of my head, Bob Schneider should be huge (as well as his "late" band, the Ugly Americans). The Frames are probably the best band in Ireland. Rilo Kiley should be getting regular radio airplay.

Underrated movies: Hundreds. Thursday is a really good movie that didn't get the release it deserved. I can't figure out why Vanishing Point isn't on TV at least once every weekend. Others: Mallrats, Miller's Crossing, Big Lebowski, Fletch, Unbreakable, Buckaroo Banzai, All the Pretty Horses, Dark City, etc.

4. If your life were a sitcom slated to air in the fall, what would
the show be called? Who would you cast in the starring role? And for
extra credit, give us a brief treatment of the show.

What's in a name? Well, since G-String Divas is already taken, I'm going to go with Beach Justice. Just kidding. I'm going with my old standby And the Horse You Rode In On. And to play the role of me, we would need some one tough, yet sensitive, handsome yet manly; smart yet willing to get drunk and taunt large rednecks. I'm thinking a young Clark Gable. Unfortunately, I looked into it and Gable is no longer acting. So my for my second choice I'm going for Christian Slater. Let's face it, they guy really needs the work and, as they say, charity begins at home. What would it be about? It's sort of Cheers meets L.A. Law meets Dallas meets James Bond, you know? But with nudity.

5. When is the fun supposed to start?

Fun? What could be more fun than this? I mean, if you are a gay male receiver. If you're not, I suppose it's just forcible sodomy.

UPDATE: Can I pick 'em or what?
Centinel 3:14 PM # | |

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Where all the white women at?

Evidently, wearing a mask or hood in public is punishable by a $500 fine in West Virginia.

Someone might want to alert Sen. Byrd.
Centinel 4:26 PM # | |

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Does democracy really sound like Clay Aiken?

I have never watched American Idol for the simple reason that I am not impressed with the "talent" of the contestants. As I understand the concept, the A.I. folks are in the business of creating pop stars. Toward that end, they pick a group of regular people who can sing and bring them together to see who can sing the best. People watch, people vote, and, voila, you have a bona fide pop star or two at the end of every season. To win the show they don't have to play an instrument or ever write a song; they just have to sing.

Boiled down, A.I. is nothing but a huge karaoke contest with the contestants singing lifeless, warmed-over songs. After a season ends, each winner (or perceived winner) is pulled into the studio by the A.I. production company where they get to pick out a group of songs that are written by other people, played by other people, and specifically tailored to a particular niche in the music market. Kelly Clarkson? Girl pop. Clay Aiken? Adult contemporary. Fantasia? R&B. It is cookie-cutter music production for unsophisticated listeners, from performers who have not been forced to work their way up from obscurity. It is music stripped to its lowest common denominator. It is Celine Dion covering AC/DC. It is the essence of uncool.

Mind you, I'm not saying that the contestants are not talented. They can sing. But can singing alone make you a musical talent? Sure, there are stars in theater and opera whose voices are so refined and whose and range are so impressive that we view them as "first tier" talents -- singers who are also actors who can fill their voices with emotion and power. But can Ruben Stoddard be compared to Pavarotti? Hell no. The voices on A.I. are pop star voices. They are what I think of as a "second-tier" talent. The American Heritage Dictionary has two useful definitions of "talent": (1) "A marked innate ability, as for artistic accomplishment," and (2) "Natural endowment or ability of a superior quality." I'm sure there is a guy out there who has ridiculous accuracy when he spits. He can nail a dog between the eyes from 15 feet almost every time. Under most definitions of the word, this guy has a talent, but can we compare his talent with that of F. Scott Fitzgerald or Irving Berlin? Once again, hell no. It does an injustice to the "first tier" creatively talented people to compare them to pop artists. The trillions of people who voted for the latest A.I. winner need to recognize that the talent on A.I. is just a more popular form of a "second tier" talent such as juggling or performing magic tricks.

When I first heard about A.I., the question in my mind was, can a Bruce Springsteen ever come from such a format? No. A.I. is grading for technical proficiency, not real musical talent, and Springsteen's singing isn't a technical matter. It's his stories sung in a personal and emotional way. To my mind, really talented musicians -- whether you're talking Rush, Aimee Mann, or Lyle Lovett -- write most of their own material. They practice it over and over until they can perform it in their sleep. They don't memorize someone else's song for a week and then go out and succeed because they can hit a high C.

I know I'm being a bit of a curmudgeon and a music snob, but there are thousands of hard-working, talented musicians who are playing clubs and bars for little to no money every weekend, writing their songs, paying for their own beers, and setting up their own equipment, while A.I. grants instant credibility on some girl who passed an audition by singing a Cher tune to some middle-aged British egomaniac.

Isn't there something inherently wrong with that?
Centinel 11:32 PM # | |

Baseball was made for kids, and grown-ups only screw it up.

In case you missed the memo, John McCain is a BIG GOVERNMENT Republican who is trying to expand government power into professional sports. I strongly suspect Barry Goldwater is spinning at a few extra RPMs these days.

Look, I don't like the idea of professional baseball players taking steroids (personally, I could care less about the other sports), but if the problem becomes endemic, then I will quit going to games. The math is simple: When enough fans quit supporting sports, then things will change; if fans remain loyal to their teams, then there is not a serious problem. Hell, this isn't worldwide starvation or rampant poverty, it's sports. I know a lot of people tend to think that sports is important like, say, health care, but a lot of people are idiots. That's no reason to pull out the regulating stick.

So, what's next, John? Federal government standards on pine tar? If you are itching so badly to regulate sports, couldn't you have at least proposed a constitutional amendment banning Astroturf and the designated hitter?
Centinel 1:46 PM # | |

10 minutes with : These things write themselves.

Today I had the joy of listening to another story on stem-cell research -- this one being spurred by the House's passage of the current stem cell legislation. This is one of those issues that makes me wonder what it's like to be a reporter. There is a lot of legislative action and judicial action on issues such as stem cell research and abortion, but the arguments themselves never change. I have a feeling anyone who follows the news could write the commentary for the next story on the issue and just fill in the blanks when the time comes. So in the interest of assisting the working men and women in the press, here is a handy dandy form for you to use:

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Despite strong (support/opposition), (President Bush/Sen./Rep._____________ ) called on the (House/Senate/___________ Committee) to (support/reject) attempts to pass legislation calling for the end to the restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research.

The legislation in question would end restrictions made by President Bush nearly four years ago that limit federally funded research to already existing embryonic stem-cell lines. It would allow federal money to be used for research on stem cells extracted from frozen embryos donated by couples who no longer need them. Stem cells have the potential to greatly assist researchers in ending a variety of diseases, but many are concerned that the only available source for such cells is from human embryos.

The contentious bill is currently before the (full House/Senate/Committee) and is expected to (pass/fail) if brought up for a vote. Both sides of this issue have recently stepped up their war of words.

"This legislation is (necessary to bring hope to millions of American/nothing more than an attempt to desecrate emerging human life in the name of science,)" stated (President Bush/Sen./Rep._____________ ), a vigorous (supporter/opponent) of the legislation. "As a country, we must (do what we can to end the suffering of those who might be cured through research on embyonic stem cells/reject attempts to allow human beings to be dissected for medical experimentation.)"

However, (supporters/opponents) of the legislation have been equally vocal. Replying to the argument that embryonic stem-cell research (could bring about the cure to many diseases/is a moral abomination), (President Bush/Sen./Rep.____________) stated, "[FILL WITH UNUSED QUOTE FROM ABOVE]."

Should this legislation receive the full support of the (House, Senate, Committee) it is still doubtful that it will be enacted, due to the veto promised by the President.

While the above is hardly a thing of beauty, forcing something like this on reporters would likely prevent partisan editorializing like that which took place at the end of the otherwise-rote NPR story. Wrapping things up, the reporter noted that Sen. Brownback (R-KS) had called on his colleagues to take every avenue to stop the legislation from passage. With irony in her voice, the reporter stated that this was a call to use the filibuster if necessary, and closed by noting that it was these very Republicans who were seeking to end the filibuster.

I'm no supporter of the "nuclear option" with regard to judicial nominees, but at least I know that the discussion is limited to nominees alone. No one is discussing ending the filibuster as it relates to legislation, and there is nothing remotely hypocritical about supporting the end of nomination filibusters and supporting the continuance of legislative filibusters. To suggest otherwise is nothing more than ignorance or a deliberate attempt to be obfuscate the issue.

But, hey, this is NPR.
Centinel 7:00 AM # | |

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

10 minutes with : Student advocacy

This morning I caught a more Texascentric slant on the usual morning drive-time NPR. The local affiliate, KERA, evidently held some sort of high school student essay contest regarding school funding here in the Lone Star State. Today they let the winner of said contest read her editorial on the air.

Disclaimer and Disclosure: I really do not know much about school funding here in Texas. I know the legislature is currently working on an overhaul of the system, but I just haven't taken the time to look into it. Also, I don't give a damn, as long as they're not raising taxes. Fortunately, ignorance of an issue has never stood in the way of me formulating and defending a position.

I actually do have very strong opinions on public education -- some of which are not shared by a majority of the public at large. For example, unlike most people, I have no great respect for teachers; I believe that the teachers unions care about children about the same amount as baggage handler unions care about luggage; and I firmly believe that, within reason, there is no direct correlation on how much money is spent on education and the quality thereof.
All of this said, this essay contest thing bothered me, not so much for the subject matter, per se, as how politicized the whole thing was. If you can't tell, here's my problem in a nutshell: It appears that KERA is sponsoring a political advertising campaign against school finance reform under the guise of a non-partisan essay contest. How many essays do you think they got on this issue that said something like: "The State should get out of school funding and return the issue to where it belongs, the localities"? Check out a few sentences from the well-written winning essay:

Perhaps the most grievous fault of the bill is that it harbors inequity among students under the guise of lower taxes.

We are getting rid of Robin Hood because it steals from the rich, but we have replaced it with a plan that essentially robs the poor.

Rather than slicing property taxes as House Bill no.2 proposes, Texans will have to pony up the money to invest in our kids' future.
This isn't an essay on how funding works, this is a political polemic, pure and simple. This "contest" is clearly cut from the same cloth as teachers who use children to advocate higher teacher pay. This isn't the Peoples' Weekly World it's National Public Radio, but I think in this case such may be a distinction without a difference.

The obvious goal of the creators of this "contest" was to get children involved in their political drive to raise taxes. This issue isn't about dollars in the classroom, it is about increasing spending -- a fine but important distinction. This is about more cash for teachers and administrators -- not about better education. To believe otherwise is to fall for the old canard that more money equals better schools. It simply isn't true. For example, a recent analysis of state funding shows that Red Lick Independent School District has the second lowest per student funding in the state at $4,649 but is ranked as "exemplary," while San Vicente Independent School District is spending over six time as much per student ($28,432) and is only rated as "recognized."

My point is not that school funding should be cut or even remain stagnant, but that despite the complex and contentious nature of the issue, public radio has decided to use my tax money to push an agenda that isn't mine, by having a child who doesn't pay taxes and who is the major beneficiary of public education spending lecture me on the issue and my moral responsibilities.

I do, however, look forward to the next contest in this series: Student Voices: The Legal Drinking Age.
Centinel 12:25 PM # | |

Friday, May 20, 2005

Friday Spies ©: "Would You Rather?" Edition

BTQ asks, I answer. It's that simple. Today's questions: Would you rather . . .

1. Live alone on a deserted island for 10 years or be paid handsomely to live at Neverland Ranch with the King of Pop for one year?

OK, this is a no brainer for several reasons. True, I'd have to deal with MJ, which has got to be tremendously annoying, but I'm not overly concerned about his advances considering that I'm twice his size and 3 times as old as his, um, target audience. I can't see what would be the downside here -- free rides, animals, creepy Peter Pan-like pedophiles -- just like home. And I get paid! Sweet.

Now, about that deserted island, while it would be nice to get away from everyone for a year or ten, I imagine that the whole "balancing on the edge of survival" thing would get rather old. Not only that, but it's got to be a lot of work, and I'm relatively lazy. Finally, I wear contacts, and therefore I'd be seriously blind if stranded a thousands of miles away from a good no-rub solution. Which segues nicely into the next question . . .

2. Be deaf or blind?

Also not close. I adore my hearing, but it's a matter of functionality. You can effectively function without hearing, but if you're blind, you're severely limited in your activity. You can't watch TV, or run and play like the other children. No more sports. No more porn. And, if I were deaf I would finally be able to date Fran Dresher.

If my wife lets me, that is.

3. Have skin which changed color depending on your mood or visible sight lines?

Can I have both? I'm gonna go with color shifting, although that's a pretty craptastic power. Of course, I hope that each time I get happy I don't turn purple and then have to rely on the Oompa-Loompas to take me to the juicing room.

4. Spend a year in prison or a year on tour with Celine Dion and John Tesh?

Yet another reason to prefer deafness to blindness. While I certainly don't enjoy their "music," I strongly suspect that I would enjoy potential sphincter stretching even more. Once again, an easy call. Especially when you consider that Connie Sellecca might be hanging around. Hubba-hubba.

5. Have threesome with your close friends or with total strangers?

I don't play golf.

I guess it all depends. Are they perfect strangers? Because I always had a man crush on Cousin Larry.

6. Question that should have been asked: Would you rather spend a year in prison or have a threesome with Celine Dion and John Tesh?
Centinel 2:07 PM # | |

Thursday, May 19, 2005

10 minutes with : Nuclear blogging

Today NPR hit on a subject near and dear to the hearts of all: blogging. Specifically, the discussion revolved around a blog that's being run by the some egghead out at Los Alamos and how no good deed goes unpunished.

Evidently, the whole Los Alamos thing has become a complete Charlie Foxtrot, what with Chinese agents buying up every piece of information at wholesale and scientists having the same respect for safety regulations that Courtney Love has for personal hygiene. With morale bottoming out on the Kelvin scale, one of the slide-rule sniffers decided during a meditational trip to Burger King last December that the solution to the human equation was to create a blog where the others in Los Alamos's polyester pants community could anonymously voice their comments and concerns. Thus was born the LANL: The Real Story blog. Intended as a electronic comment box, it rapidly turned into a bitch session focusing on Los Alamos's director, Pete Nanos, who had the temerity to shut down the lab due to the fact that information was flying out of the place quicker than WD40 though a goose.

To the blog's credit or not, Nanos stepped down last month. Unfortunatly, before the doinks could begin celebrating, their little online bitch board got noticed by some members of congress, who didn't find it to be quite as useful as intended. Liberal attack poodle Rep. Dianne DeGette (D-CO) noted during a hearing that the gripes closely resembled those of high school students. Another congressman, Bart Stupak (D-MI), commented on how it appeared to him from reading the blog that perhaps things were so far gone that Los Alamos should just be shut down. Clearly some congressmen are shocked, shocked, I say, that people would actually use a computer to bitch about their jobs. This is clearly a violation of the U.S. Constitution, the Yalta Treaty, and the Hornswaggle-Vermouth Act of 1874. After all, the people working for Congress would never blog about how much they hate their jobs -- they would stick to the important issues, like how many other hill rats they are nailing.

The blog creator doesn't know how things have gone so terribly wrong, or why the Dems on the Hill seem to be just picking out a few bad apples and not reading the many thoughtful and eloqent posts. What, Dems cherry picking information that supports their positions? Well butter my toast and call me Nancy. Next you'll be telling me that goats and rhinos will be laying down together and that Bart Simpson will have a successful career in politics. Well, then. Perhaps our best and brightest should find other ways to relieve their stress than posting on the internet. Aren't their some Star Trek conventions they can attend?
Centinel 3:51 PM # | |

Monday, May 16, 2005

That's just #$@% great.

A minor brouhaha is making the rounds regarding the Discovery Channel's "100 Greatest Americans" special. Professor Bainbridge has done a nice job vetting the list, which is, to be kind, pathetic.

Not to total it all up, but the following people made the list:
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Barack Obama
Barbara Bush
Brett Favre
Christopher Reeve
Clint Eastwood
Donald Trump
Ellen DeGeneres
George Lucas
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Jimmy Carter
John Edwards
Katharine Hepburn
Lance Armstrong
Laura Bush
Lucille Ball
Martha Stewart
Michael Jackson
Michael Moore
Pat Tillman
Dr. Phil McGraw
Tiger Woods
Tom Hanks

The following individuals were left off the list:
John Adams
James Madison
George Marshall
Andrew Jackson
John Marshall
Milton Friedman
US Grant
Daniel Webster
Henry Clay
Omar Bradley
John J. Pershing
James Monroe
Earl Warren
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
Joseph Story
Thurgood Marshall
Louis D. Brandeis
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
Robert E. Lee

I'm not positive as to the exact methodology behind the making of the list, but it appears that AOL worked with Discovery Channel to allow people to nominate great Americans, and then tallied the final one hundred based on total nominations. Whatever the case, it is clear that "we the people" compiled this list.

There's really no way to quibble with anyone who thinks the list blows, but in doing so, we must recognize that the American people blow. To me, this list is not so much about who the greatest Americans are/were, but what current Americans define as great. Why is it that we live in a country where Ellen DeGeneres' contribution is seen as greater than Eli Whitney's? What is it about Lance Armstrong that could cause average Americans to rate him higher than Ernest Hemingway?

Several things I've noticed:

  1. It's clear that America is illiterate. How else can you explain the presence of so many actors and directors, and yet only ONE great novelist (Twain) and one poet (Angelou). No Poe, Whitman, or Faulkner?

  2. Americans have some screwed up priorities. Tiger Woods? What type of person thinks the ability to drive a golf ball is somehow a trait that should propel one to the pantheon of greatness? Look, I can see Babe Ruth being on the list, because he was a larger than life phenomenon. I can see Jackie Robinson, because what he did forever changed regular America. But as much as I like to hear that Lance Armstrong put it to the French again, I just don't think that qualifies him to beat out the man who wrote the U.S. Constitution. Call me crazy.

  3. Americans need to pick up a history book. This list is entirely weighted to people who are still alive. How else can you explain picking Dr. Phil over Clara Barton. Or nominating Ray Charles but not Irving Berlin? Come on, Barack Obama? He doesn't even make the 100 greatest people in Congress right now! Of course, the phrase "greatest congressman" is a bit of an oxymoron.

  4. I knew that Americans are more interested in paying attention to sports than law, but it chills me to think that a group of them actually believe Brett Favre has made more of a contribution to our country than John Marshall.

  5. Americans prefer form over substance. Thus, they celebrate Rosa Parks and not Thurgood Marshall, and we laud Madonna but not Emily Dickinson.

  6. Americans allow ideology to cloud reason. The Right insists on the greatness of Rush Limbaugh and Colin Powell, while the Left harps on Hillary Rodham Clinton and Michael Moore.

  7. Americans don't think much of their military leaders. Audie Murphy was a brave man, but did he really have the impact of Pershing or MacArthur? What is Pat Tillman doing on here, while Omar Bradley is nowhere to be found?

  8. More than anything, to me this list demonstrates the inherent dangers of direct democracy. That person who nominated Martha Stewart over Andrew Jackson is the same one standing in front of you in line on election day as you gaze longingly at the ballot booth that seems so far away. You've spent months weighing the pros and cons of the candidates, watching innumerable news reports, live debates, and opinion shows in an attempt to make an informed vote, and it will all be cancelled by someone who only read the Ladies' Home Journal article about the candidates' wives and their favorite recipes. Despite the fact these average Americans -- the very ones who use the word "greatest" in reference to Dr. Phil -- can't breathe and walk concurrently, people still favor referenda as a way to address issues.

    God help us all.
Centinel 12:35 AM # | |

Thursday, May 12, 2005

10 minutes with : Robots

The radio nerds over at NPR went all ga-ga for robots this morning. There were two separate stories regarding advances in robotics.

The first story concerned self-replicating robots. NPR first talked to some egghead up at Cornell who has figured out a way to make cubes of what is apparently Jello© copy themselves (video). The second Einstein is over at Johns Hopkins and has created self-replicating robots out of the basic building block for all nerd construction, Legos©.

As you can tell by the video, Cornell is way ahead of Johns Hopkins in basic videotaping technology. Who did JHU get to film this thing, some junior high audio-visual club member with an old 8mm? I mean, if I was going to be on the cutting edge of robotics, I think I would invest in some production -- maybe some 3D graphics and a semi-famous narrator. Hell, at least get some color film. I can't even tell these are Legos. In other news, this guy has been hired to direct the next They Might Be Giants video.

The videos, despite their disparate quality, do bring something to the table that was missing from the NPR report. Having scientists describe their robots is even more boring and difficult to understand than seeing them.

To it's credit, NPR did touch on the key issue here: Robots taking over the world. Mr. John Hopkins stated that such comparisons were silly and unrealistic. However, his wife said that whenever he hears Arnold Schwarzenegger's voice he craps himself and immediately drops into the fetal position. I'm kidding, of course. Like a grown man who spends all of his time playing with Legos© could find someone willing to marry him.

Anyway, when robots take over the world and kill all of the humans or turn them into batteries, you can thank these jokers and their hubris. Of course, I'd be willing to overlook the threat if they would just invent a robot that actually does something useful.

The second story concerned the 2005 RoboCup U.S. Open that was held recently at Georgia Tech. It seems that the single most exciting event in this robot-only competition was where teams competed to design and produce a robot dog that could roll a ball across a field with its nose, thus bringing stupid pet tricks to the highest technical sophistication. The narrator noted that the organizers' ultimate goal was to create a robot soccer team good enough to compete against humans. Whee. As if watching people play soccer against each other wasn't bad enough, now my evenings at the nursing home will be spent watching David Beckham's kids play R2D2 in the World Cup.

Maybe SkyNET would be a blessing.
Centinel 10:50 AM # | |

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

10 minutes with : Advertising

Do I get the Canadian "no confidence" vote story or the story about child conscription in Uganda during my 10 minutes of airtime? No, I get the movie product placement story.

was very unhot and unbothered this morning in their filler story about new methods of advertising that movie marketers are turning to in an attempt to compensate for TV advertising they are losing to . These new methods are sneaky and innovative, but I don't think I would call them invidious. For instance, when re-released back in 2002, it "bought" a plot line on 's sitcom, whatever it's called My Wife & Kids. Wayans, not wanting to compromise his artistic integrity, insisted that the story remain a subplot (I believe it was an attempt to convince the young daughter to see the movie) and refused to be in it.

Another specific case mentioned was where paid an archeologist to "redate" the discovery of the largest on record so as to create for their movie, . The archeologist himself stated that he didn't have any problem coordinating public relations because it benefited both sides. got publicity, and he got a big , which allowed him to continue his work.

Clearly, this is just a in a . The only way could even stir up controversy was to find a who was concerned about the evil effect sneak advertising has on people, particularly children who are so susceptible. His suggestion was to require movies and TV shows to have an on-screen discler showing when some product had paid for advertising.

Is this what we've come to? Is the American so stupid they will buy a just because the company sponsored a retrospective on the week before the release of III: Ghost Pirate Chainsaw Massacre? Do children really have the discretionary income to really matter? And, for the sake of argument, let's pretend that a child convinces his parents to take him to see the re-release of after seeing something about it on an episode of ? Is anyone getting hurt here? I think we can all agree that the real tragedy would have been had the child gone to see Jiminy Glick in La La Wood.
Centinel 4:17 AM # | |

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

250 lbs of dynamite with a 1/4" fuse

Jason Giambi apologized. Mark McGwire shucked and jived. Why are we still debating Barry Bonds?
Centinel 10:22 AM # | |

Monday, May 09, 2005

It'll probably fry for this . . .

So, let me get this straight, a cop in California issued a ticket to a chicken? Did the chicken have to sign the ticket? Could you tell by the hen scratch? I take it that fowl play was suspected. I hope the court gets a bond before the accused flies the coop. I wonder if there were eggstenuating circumstances?

I'll stop now.
Centinel 7:00 AM # | |

Friday, May 06, 2005

Things to do if you are a bored lawyer

If you have free Westlaw -- and if you are a student, yes, Westlaw and Lexis actually charge after law school, like billions -- what you need to do is search one of the bigger directories for "beastiality" (or to save time, just search "Arkansas State Cases") or some other sensitive subject and then email the results to the managing partner of your firm random people.
Centinel 4:08 PM # | |

Friday Spies ©: Seis de Mayo edition

1. What is a food you have tried but will never eat again, and what
don't you like about it?

Candy corn. The last time I ate a candy corn I was 12. I can still remember what they taste like, and from what I recall they were pretty nasty. The real reason I will never eat one again is the last one I had was probably, like, 4 years old. I was visiting my great aunt with my grandparents, and she had a cork jar filled with candy corn. Hell, I was 12, of course I ate, like, 10 of the damn things. I don't want to get too personal, but the stomach virus I got had me doing my best imitation of a 2-headed spigot for about 5 days. I have NEVER been so sick in my life, and I've had everything from a broken femur, to scarlet fever, to a spinal tumor. I can still remember the sheer pain in my stomach, and I think I lost 10 lbs. As for any return to candy corn, let's just say that Pavlov's theory works.

2. What are your five favorite possessions?

I salute the BTQ Crew for this question. It actually made me think -- in a "Fight Club" sort of way -- about the importance of things.

1. My truck
2. My '76-model Dale Murphy jersey
3. My 15-yr. old Auburn Tigers cap
4. My Lyra
5. My projector

3. How do you deal with confrontation? Do you seek it out or do you
avoid it? Are you more apt to be the confronter or the confronted?

I am generally nonconfrontational. Generally, I'm just too damn lazy or disinterested to confront people. However, I have certain triggers that up my defcon levels. Here's 2 illustrative stories:

Time to Stew: My parents and I once went to eat at a restaurant that was about 30 miles outside of the city where they lived. It was one of those big breakfast places that drew people from miles around. There was a pretty big group of folks waiting to eat when we got there, so I asked what the wait would be. "About 45 minutes to an hour," replied the hostess who looked like she should be working in a Waffle House. Night shift. Being in the middle of nowhere, we consented to the terms and put our name on the list. Nearly two hours later we had not been called, and I had been steaming for about 30 minutes. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I went in to the same hostess and asked how long the wait was for my party and pointed to our name on her sheet (noticing that there were quite a few names uncrossed above us). "About 45 minutes to an hour," was her practiced reply. Note, we were in a waiting room surrounded by about 30 hungry people. I looked at her and said, "How long have you been working here?" She said, defiantly, "nearly 7 years." "Well, then," I continued, "Are you incompetent or are you a liar?" "What?!?," she stammered. "I have been here for two hours," I said. "When I came in, you told me my wait would be 45 minutes to an hour, it's now two hours later and my wait hasn't changed. If you were a new employee, I would be inclined to guess that you just didn't know what you were talking about, but anyone who has been doing this job for 7 years must be pretty good at knowing when seats would be opening up. As you have not even been close, I can only assume that you are incredibly incompetent at your job, or that you were lying to me so that I wouldn't leave because there was a longer wait. So which is it?" By this time she was turning red and just stammered something incomprehensible. I turned around, looked at my mortified parents, and said, "I'm certainly not going to give this establishment by business." And we left.

Liquid Confrontation: A few years ago I was attending a bachelor party for one of my fraternity brothers in Adams Morgan. There were about 20 of us wandering from bar to bar. After many drinks, we ended up watching a band at the Peyote Grill. At the time, I was working pretty hard with free weighs, so I was fairly big and filled with testosterone and beer. Some nitwit was dirty dancing with his girlfriend and kept bumping hard into me as she swung around. I remember thinking, "If this guy bumps me one more time, I'm going to lay him out." Sure enough, the guy bumps me. I turn in his direction and was just getting ready to reach for him, when someone literally snatches me from behind by the neck. The headlock loosens, and I swing around to come face to face with one of my younger fraternity brothers, Big Mo, who was about 6'4", 350. Mo, who doesn't drink, smiled at me and said, "You were going to hit that guy, weren't you?" I sheepishly smiled and said, "No, Mo. I don't like confrontation." "I didn't think so," was his reply.

4. What will Michael Jackson be doing five years from now?

5 to 10. Ha!Ha!Ha! Actually, he'll move to Thailand where child molestation is tradtional, not criminal.

5. What is the worst movie sequel ever made, what is the best sequel
ever, and what movie should have had a sequel but didn't?

Worst Sequel: Hmmmm. Caddyshack 2. Others -- Highlander 2, Speed 2. Batman & Robin. I've heard people say that Godfather III was the worst sequel ever, but that's ridiculous. Sure, it wasn't nearly as good as the first 2, but watching 2 hrs of Pacino scratching himself would be better than Meatballs 2.

Best Sequel: Godfather II. Others -- The Empire Strikes Back, Rocky II, The Road Warrior, Evil Dead 2, Infernal Affairs 2 and Reagan II (1984-88).

Needs a Sequel: Tough. I'd love another Mad Max, another Indiana Jones, and a follow-up to L.A. Confidential.

Needs a Prequel: Reservoir Dogs, LOTR (The Hobbit)
Centinel 3:27 PM # | |

Let's see Posner top this . . .

When I clerked, my co-clerk and I would play a little game where we would challenge each other to try to get a word into an opinion or order -- something like "bamboozled" or "finagled." My crowning achievement was getting the judge to cite to a Pink Floyd song (no, it's not published).

My meager accomplishments, however, pale next to one of Judge Evans' clerks in the Seventh Circuit who somehow managed to get this footnote in an opinion:

The trial transcript quotes Ms. Hayden as saying Murphy called her a snitch bitch "hoe." A "hoe," of course, is a tool used for weeding and gardening. We think the court reporter, unfamiliar with rap music (perhaps thankfully so), misunderstood Hayden's response. We have taken the liberty of changing "hoe" to "ho," a staple of rap music vernacular as, for example, when Ludacris raps "You doin' ho activities with ho tendencies."
Murphy v. Baker, No. 04-2032, slip op. at 2 n.1 (7th Cir. May 4, 2005).

Well played, my friend.
Centinel 11:36 AM # | |

10 minutes with NPR: The road ahead is filled with danger and fright . . .

NPR reported on the Bush Administration's amendment of the "Roadless Rule," which bans road building in certain areas of National Forests. Under the new proposal, the government is allowing the states to have a say in the issue by giving governors 18 months to present proposals on what areas should be opened -- if nothing is proposed in that time then the Forest Service will determine which areas will remain.

The environmentalists are, of course, apoplectic. This led to the hyperbole of the day from some chick with the National Resources Defense Council, who stated: "The President is replacing the Roadless Rule with a Treeless Rule and he is depriving future generations of, really, some of America's greatest heritage in our wild forests."

Look, you granola-eating, squirrel lovers, nothing in this amendment allows ONE more foot of road to be built, so it can't be blamed for the death of one tree. All this bill does is let the people who actually LIVE in these communities (unlike you, who live in a big city because, presumably, there are no good coffee bars in Alaska) to make some decisions about their localities. These uncaring locals are a bit concerned with the fact that a lot of the inaccessible old growth forest will reach the life stage scientifically known as the "tinderbox," which will result in what is scientifically known as "huge damn fires." Of course, from a perch in the middle of NYC or DC it is difficult to understand this. Think of it this way. Imagine someone closed down all of the malls, your Prius had a flat tire, your iPod won't work, and you have to connect to the internet with a 14k modem -- a forest fire is nearly that bad.

So chill out, write a letter to your congressman/governor, and quit worrying the the hell out of us.
Centinel 9:48 AM # | |

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Now get the hell out, gringo!

Even though I live in Texas, immigration is not a "hot button" issue for me. When I do think of it, I'm often torn between my paleo-con-like tendencies to want to enforce immigration laws, seal the borders, and to quit making it easy for foreigners not to assimilate into society, and my libertarian/capitalist tendencies that recognize the economic and cultural importance of immigrants to America and would like to see them assimilated into our dominant culture.

Usually, the libertarian in me wins out, but something I read today actually gave me pause. For instance, not giving two figs about California's self-imposed problems, I paid only passing attention to Gov. Schwarzenegger's recently bumbled comments concerning immigration. I knew he stated that America should close it's borders, but I believed then as I do now that he misspoke.

Whatever the case, I missed the whole deal about the "Los Angeles, CA Mexico" billboard. In case you did too, here it is:

The supporters of the billboard have been making light of the controversy, pointing out that it was an attempt at using humor to reach the Mexican and Spanish-speaking populous of L.A.

Perhaps. But there is a serious issue bubbling underneath. Termed the "Reconquista," named after the Christians driving the Moors from Spain, there is a group of Mexican activists who believe that the 1845 annexation of Texas, the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo after the Mexican-American War, and the 1852 Gadsden Purchase were all illegal and that those current lands -- Texas, New Mexico, California, etc. -- are rightfully Mexico's. And don't think for a minute that this is a fringe movement, 58% of Mexicans subscribe to this view, as have past and current Mexican presidents. There is a belief that the rising influx of Mexican immigrants are part of an uncoordinated movement to "take back" the land stolen from Mexico by slowly taking over the populations of these states. Here is a great summary of the history between Mexico and the US on this issue that explains why Mexico holds no claim to any US territory.

So tonight, if you live in "contested" territory, as you drink your maragitas and Coronas under a plethora of pinatas and stings of lights made to look like chilies, remember, your busboy is only waiting to take over so he can kick your gringo butt to the curb.

As for the rest of the country, what's the real downside here? That you lose Texas and California? Is that something to really be upset about?
Centinel 8:34 AM # | |

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

May your liquor be cold, your women be hot, and may all of your problems just slide off like snot.

I live in an area where there are thousands millions of homeless. They swarm around the local bar scene and scavenge off the drunks who flock to my neighborhood during the weekend. If you are out during the much slower weekdays, it is likely that you'll get panhandled every block or two.

It freaked my wife out when we first moved here, but she's gotten used to it. Locals become accustomed to dealing with the homeless and generally know how to lessen their risk exposure. We know that ignoring a homeless person can be more dangerous than rejecting one, and that the unwritten rule is that once you reject a bum attempt, the solicitation is over and the bum must move along. My wife has also learned that it's best to be accompanied by a 6'+ male who tips the scales at well over 200 lbs.

My neighborhood has a reputation for being dangerous because of the homeless, but that's just not what I've seen. I have walked these streets almost daily and nightly for a year and a half and have never had any problems. In fact, the only people in danger from the homeless, usually, are other homeless.

I have an acquaintance named "Ben" who has been homeless for a couple of years. Ben is an eloquent, educated, 30ish black male who is probably 130 lbs soaking wet. He is what I refer to as "homeless by choice," in that he could get off the street in a matter of weeks, but he consciously or subconsciously refuses to do so. Ben gets a job every now and then, but loses it just as quickly. In fact, he's a hell of a drawer/painter who sometimes designs murals for local bars and restaurants, but that gig never lasts very long. We originally met at a bar I frequent, and after several conversations we struck up a "friendship" of some kind.

Ben was constantly getting his ass kicked by both the straights and the homeless. For some reason, some drinkers like to assault the homeless. One night when Ben was asking a guy for a light, the guy pretended to be pulling out a lighter and nailed Ben in the jaw instead. Ben went down with a chipped tooth and a fractured wrist. On another occasion, another homeless guy Ben was talking to beat him up for not apparent reason, once against messing up Ben's wrist.

I liked the guy and would give him a few bucks when I saw him, but eventually he started showing up at the bar I frequent and asking for me. Every time I went outside to talk to him, he eventually asked for a handout. It didn't take me long to realize I was a regular thing, which resulted in me refusing his requests. About this time, several of the area restaurants began actively harassing the homeless in a successful attempt to drive them out of the area, and Ben was constantly being harassed by the police as a result.

5 or 6 months ago, Ben just disappeared. I assumed he had moved on and went on about my business.

A couple of nights ago, I noticed that I probably didn't have enough gas to get to work the next morning, so around midnight I drove to the closest open gas station to fill up. Needless to say, the gas station wasn't in the best area of town. I pull up to the open pumps and there's this homeless guy -- black, small, and about 50-years old -- filling the tank of another car. As soon as I get out of the truck, he walks over to me and asks if he can fill my car up for a couple of bucks. I turned him down, but gave him a couple of bucks anyway. As I filled my tank the following conversation took place.

Do you know a homeless guy named "Ben"?
You sure? He's about 30, small, educated . . .
Oh! You mean Artist.
Yeah, that's him.
I heard today that he got himself killed last night.
Wait. Artist is dead?
Naw, I just heard that he got killed.
So he's OK?
Naw, he got beat up pretty bad by some white boys.
Because he was with some white girl.
Damn. Well, if you see him, tell him Centinel was asking about him.
[Eyes light up] You Centinel from ________ neighborhood?
Damn, man, Artist talk about you all the time. He say you good people.
I guess it's true, some seek greatness, and others have it thrust upon them.
Centinel 3:16 PM # | |

10 minutes with NPR: Evil Wal-Mart

NPR had one of it's monthly business-bashing reports today, and it's target was the Evil Wal-Mart. That's right, it's used so much that Webster's now adopts "Evil" as part of the name.

Today's angle came from the exotic environs of Jonquiere, Quebec. It seems that, until recently, the Wal-Mart in Jonquiere had the unique distinction of being the only unionized Wal-Mart. I say "recently" because Wal-Mart has decided to close the store because, surprise, it ain't making any money.

Feeling the need to have a balanced report (for once), NPR decided to poll two people with equal knowledge and understanding of local economics: an economics professor and a literature professor.

First, let me say that there is nothing snottier or bitchier than a Liberal French-Canadian (oxymoron?) LitProf. Lord knows I hate to give advice to the other side, but if you have to resort to interviewing a LF-CLP to support your position, then please at least find a male. I hated this woman before she even reached a verb. Second, what the hell does a LF-CLP know about economics -- or reality for that matter? Of course, she was thrilled that Evil Wal-Mart was hitting the road. She claimed that the store was an example of American corporatism (stated with a sneer visible over the radio), and that she had actually been to America and everyone there was either rich or poor (evidently, she doesn't read the paper). Wal-Mart, she stated, was taking advantage of poor Quebec workers.

The economist was timid, but dead on point. He noted that Wal-Mart's closure is a serious problem in attracting new business. Face it, if Wal-Mart can't make it in your community, you can be pretty sure that most businesses will be adding you to their expansion plans.

I've said this many times (and yet still haven't gotten sick of it): Corporations are NOT individual reasoning entities, so quit treating them as if they were. Wal-Mart is not "bad," because it is successful; Ben & Jerry's isn't "good" just because they sell tie dyes. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that Wal-Mart cashiers make as much as Ben & Jerry's servers. Liberals insist on personifying corporations and business in a rhetorical attempt to justify their positions. Wal-Mart is allegedly evil because it doesn't provide healthcare to its workers and pays only $7-8 an hour. While this is hardly JLo money, it is an honest day's pay for people who don't have a doctoral degree in literature. It is also what the market will bear.

The LF-CLP's position is one based on emotion, not reason. Do liberals really think that banning low-paying jobs is a good thing? Do they believe that all these down-trodden workers would be working as nuclear physicists if they were forced to stock shelves at Wal-Mart?

What does forcing Wal-Mart out really mean to Jonquiere, Quebec? It means dozens of workers who had been supporting themselves and their families, are now forced to go on welfare or to seek even lower-paying jobs in order to make ends meet. It means that less companies will move to town, which in turn means less jobs in the future. It means that those on the low end of the economic scale will now have to spend a greater amount of their limited disposable income on basic household items. Ironically, it also means that fewer Wal-Mart workers at other stores will be willing to risk certifying a unions.

And, of course, it means that LF-CLPs can continue to smugly state their opinions on NPR.
Centinel 1:37 PM # | |

Man is the only animal that laughs and has a state legislature.

I got into a discussion yesterday with one of my co-workers regarding the length of state legislative sessions. He wanted to know if most other states had a biennial session like Texas. (In Texas, the legislature meets for regular session only once every two years). I explained to him that only a handful of states follow that course, and that most have yearly sessions with some like New York having a full-time legislature. My co-worker stated that he was glad that Texas has biennial session and a biennial budget, because in annual session/budget states legislators are constantly passing new laws and increasing the yearly budgets. In Texas, however, once the budget is set, a special session has to be called to alter in over the next two years.

I really don't know if this is true. The famous quote -- which I've seen attributed to Mark Twain, Judge Gideon J. Tucker, and Ben Franklin -- is that "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session." If such is true, then it would hold that the less time the legislature is in session, the less laws it passes, which is a good thing. By my co-worker's logic, then, limited sessions prevent bad laws and superfluous legislation.

That said, it appears that there is anecdotal evidence that this isn't true. I guess some folks ruined it for the rest of us.
Centinel 8:25 AM # | |

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

No such thing bad student. Only bad teacher.

I just noticed that today is National Teachers' Day. I supposed I could write a long post about my issues with teachers and the teachers' unions, but I just don't have the time. But if you're questioning who's behind this "holiday" look no further than the NEA's website where they note that this year's theme is "Thank a teacher for making public schools great!" (as opposed to private schools, where the teachers suck). Toward that end, I'm suggesting the following "holidays":

  1. National Postal Carrier Day: Thank your mailman for prompt delivery of all of your mangled packages.

  2. National Baseball Players' Day: Thank your local ballpark hero for his willingness to trade genitallia size for the long ball.

  3. National Legislators' Day: Thank your Congressman for using lubrication.

  4. National Dentists' Day: Thank your dentist for novocaine.

  5. National Optometrists' Day: Thank your vision wear specialist for that little eye-puff thing.

  6. National Highway Workers' Day: Thank your public construction supervisors for standing around in groups of 3-4 while watching one guy work. Slowly.

  7. National Bloggers' Day: Thank me for my willingness to put my genius in print.
Centinel 1:36 PM # | |

10 minutes with NPR: Economics and advertising

This was on yesterday, but I was too damn busy getting a brief out the door to address it. Morning Edition did a story on a local developer right here in lil' ol' Dallas who has come up with a brilliant way to market his homes. The area being developed was called Castle Rock, or maybe it was Fraggle Rock. Castle Hills seems familiar, but this is the only hill ever seen within miles of Dallas.

Whatever the case, NPR reported that the developer has come up with a new sales technique. It takes 1/2% of the sale of each home and donates it to a foundation it has established that then distributes the funds to local public and private schools. Due to the shortness of the story, NPR really didn't elaborate on how the system works beyond saying that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been pumped into the local school system.

In case the developer's motivation was a mystery, their spokesman stated that it had instituted the program because it realized that education was an important issue "to people." Not "to us," but "to people." You have to admire a business that is willing to do the right thing in a blatant attempt to cash in and that does not try to appear altruistic in the process. Honesty is the best policy. Meanwhile, if your company needs a spokesman, I think I know one that's out of a job.

In an amazing stroke of luck, NPR actually found someone with a basic grasp of economics to explain the situation in simple terms. They approached one of the builders who stated that the developer passed the cost on to the builder, who then passed it on to the buyer through increased building costs. I believe this is roughly the way the Pentagon comes up with $500 screwdrivers. No one is losing any profits here -- not the developer, builder, contractors, or subs. However, the developer has discovered that in a hot housing market it's relatively easy to hide the costs inside a $300,000 purchase price. Therefore, the person paying for this educational largesse is the buyer, but the developer gets credit for it and gets to use it for advertising purposes (and likely a large tax write-off). Brilliant.

The only way this works as a selling tool is that people are idiots who have trouble with simple economics. How do we know they're idiots? Easy, Bentham explained it nearly two centuries ago. If, hypothetically, the developer is donating $1,000 to the educational foundation on a certain home, and, as I've noted, the cost is figured back into the price of the home, then the buyer is effectively donating his money to the foundation. If the donation was the best use of the buyer's money, then he would have donated it to the foundation anyway. As it is, parents or parents-to-be are forced to donate to the general fund when they could be using that money to benefit their own children as they see fit, while everyone else is essentially subsidizing the education of other peoples' children.

And, thanks to NPR, the developer gets liberal approval by essentially selling these homeowners milk from their own cows.
Centinel 12:38 AM # | |

Monday, May 02, 2005

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack.

I love stories about people who just flip out and take off. At least, I love the ones where people don't get hurt. For example, a few years ago, one of my fraternity brothers who lived in a small Southern town, just disappeared. His family and friends spent several days trying to locate him before a search of his credit card use showed that he was in Vegas. It turns out that he had taken every cent he owned (including those earmarked for bills and rent), drove across the country, and had been gambling since he arrived in Vegas with only time off to sleep. He had been way up, then back down, then back up, then he finally lost it all. His father had to fly into town and drive him back home.

I'm also reminded of another fascinating story I read years ago in Montana. It seems that some 16-year old girl just showed up one day in Billings, MT. When she got there, she somehow managed to wheedle her way into living with this family in a trailer park. She took care of their kids, started dating a local 15-year old boy, and began attending high school. She eventually moved into another trailer with another family, and everyone agreed that she was an asset to the mobile home community. Everything was Peaches & Herb until the high school principal received a letter one day. The only thing in the envelope was a picture of the girl, wearing a cap and gown, and standing behind a cake that read "Congratulations Class of 1990!" Approached about the picture, the girl admitted that she was 23 years old, had graduated high school years before, and had spent the intervening years in a funk longing for a return those glory days. Since she looked young for her age, she concocted this plan to relive her high school dreams, until a mysterious picture brought her back to reality. The bizarre post script to this story is that she was killed a couple days later -- shot with a rifle inside a trailer by her 15-year old boyfriend.

I suppose that if either of these people had been of Jennifer Wilbanks' social stature they would have at least made statewide news. It's the girl's story that fascinates me the most, because she was able to disappear into America. It makes me wonder how many other people have "gone out for cigarettes" and never returned. It also makes me wonder if any of them get away from what's chasing them.
Centinel 2:06 PM # | |