The Musings of

Something full of magic, religion, bullsh*t.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Do you know where there are any personages of historical significance around here?

Sitting on 14 straight. Unmatched. Ever. Here's to the Best in the Biz.
Centinel 1:04 PM # | |

Every American child should grow up knowing a second language, preferably English.

Alex Whitlock has a thoughtful post up regarding the relative dearth of bilingual speakers in the U.S. as compared to Europe. Roughly 50% of Europeans claim to be proficient in a second language as opposed to 9% in the U.S.

The numbers don't surprise me. It's only natural that Europe has a higher level of bilingualism for at least two reasons. First, English is the lingua franca (I kill myself) of business and diplomacy in the world -- it took over the top spot from French over the past century. Much of that is a result of U.S. cultural, military, and economic hegemony and to the imperialism of the British Empire. When Arabs protest in Arab countries, you'll notice that their signs aren't written in Swedish. The simple fact is that, while there are a number of particularly "useful" languages to know, English has the highest utilitarian benefit. An Italian who knows English has acquired a useful skill; and American who has mastered Italian can watch Fellini films without the subtitles.

The second reason for the gap is what I'll call "peer proximity." Europe is a tight, small conglomeration of people and states on relatively equal economic and cultural footing. It is only natural that those living in one state would learn the language of their neighboring country. I was raised in North Carolina, and if the dominant language of Virginia had been German then I would have been much more inspired to get a working knowledge of the language. But Centinel, you may say, you live in Texas and that's next door to Mexico, how come you can't habla the Espanol? That is the "peer" part of "peer proximity." Rightly or wrongly, it's clear that Texans don't view Mexico as a peer state. This isn't a big surprise when you consider that thousands of Mexicans sneak into Texas every year to perform menial jobs. Why should a Texan learn Spanish? To give clearer instructions to their gardeners? No, the unspoken opinion is that it is the responsibility of those native Spanish speakers to learn English, not the other way around.

That said, I actually feel that schools spend too much time on foreign languages. I took 4 years of Spanish -- that's over 700 hours of instruction -- and I know just enough Spanish to order at Taco Bell. What a waste! If my parents had forced me to spend an hour a day taking piano, I probably would be a concert pianist. I'd be a black belt in a martial art with 700 hours of class time. Damn. Either would have actually come in handy on occasion. Instead, I was forced to spend an hour a day learning to conjugate verbs just long enough to pass the next test. HayZues, I'm not even sure I knew anyone fluent in Spanish when I was in high school who didn't teach the class.

I think that mandatory foreign language at the high school level is a waste of time. If a kid doesn't know much of a foreign language by the time he's 15, he ain't gonna learn it staring at the sombrero and maracas hanging on the activity board in Ms. Hacklemeyer's Spanish class. The key is to teach children young, when their brains are absorbing information, and then to make sure they don't get rusty by occasionally immersing them in the culture where the language is native. I have friends who have their children attend pre-kindergarten where they are taught foreign languages. The little monkeys suck it up like oreo cookies.*

Me, I've promised my longsuffering mother, who believes in bilingualism, that I will begin working on another language when I master this one. That is, not any time soon.

* Foreign language trivia of the day: "oreo" means "hill" in Greek. The cookies are thus named because they were originally mound-shaped.
Centinel 11:14 AM # | |

Monday, September 26, 2005

Combined primary economics was a bottle about this big.

I wrote all of my college papers on a typewriter. That's right. I could have used one of those monochrome-monitored, 64K supercomputers, but I didn't take to those fancy new-fangled contraptions.

Fast forward a few years, and my friggin' life revolves around the internets. I do my shopping, communicating, and entertaining through the internets. Hell, I even get my phone service through the internet as of last week. And with the help of my wireless router, I can access porn information anywhere in my house.

Yep, I am king of the information superhighway.

Unless, say, a hurricane sends gusty winds my way that somehow knock out my cable. Then, I'm like that monkey in 2001: A Space Odyssey, pre-bone. That's what my weekend looked like. No cable, no internets, no phone. No information about Rita, no email access, no late-night movies on HBO Zone about a young lady who raises money for college by starting a topless car wash.

And you know what, it was a hell of a productive weekend. I did a lot of work in the yard, got my grill up and running, did all of our laundry, and even got some research done on a case I'm working on (lucky I had printed out all the cases).

I got to get the @#$% cable fixed.
Centinel 11:20 AM # | |

Friday, September 23, 2005

And eleven long-haired friends of Jesus in a chartreusse microbus.

Fitz and E. Spat have both written with their usual flair of the scariest thing they've ever seen whilst driving. Actually, the original challenge was to describe the scariest thing to see someone doing while you're driving next to them on the freeway. That's a nobrainer for me: "Semi coming over into my lane" will win every time. Few things are more urine producing than seeing a 18-wheeled behemoth moving over on you and realize that you, in your car or truck, are really, really small and, apparently, invisible.

I used to live off one of the most truck-filled interstates in the country. It wasn't uncommon to have lines of 10-12 big rigs rolling along like something out of Convoy. Nor was it uncommon to see the results of a semi plowing a car. Not pretty. Not really even identifiable.

Expanding the question to encompass everything I've seen a jackass do on the road, I would have to give the Emmy for Best Special Effect Done by a Clearly Special Driver to a trucker who decided to completely flip his truck along with it's attached trailer. I was heading north on the Indian Turnpike heading towards Tulsa, Oklahoma, when up ahead I see this semi run it's right wheels into a ditch on the side of the road while moving at about 60 mph.

What happened next all went in slow motion. The driver managed to pop the cab out of the ditch and back on level ground, but the flatbed decided to hold its ground. This resulted in the cab skidding sideways and jacknifed the entire truck out of the ditch to where it was sliding down the southbound lanes with the top of the truck coming toward me. Now, I was about 300 yards away when this all started, so I got a first hand look at this thing moving sideways down the street like something out of Speed. The semi settled blocking all lanes.

Me and the guy in the pickup in front of me jumped out and ran over to find that the front windshield had popped out of the cab and was laying on the ground completely undamaged. The same could not be said for the 350 lb. trucker, who was crumpled sideways against the passenger door, which was now on the ground, and was bleeding from a gash in the head.

Fortunately, the trucker was lucid, and he told us about his little mistake. It seems that the genius had thought there was a truck stop at the exit about 100 yards down the road. He was pulling off on the underpass, when he realized that there wasn't anything on this exit but dry grass and dirt. Instead of driving down the underpass, crossing the road, and coming back up the other side, Richard Petty decided to try to yank the truck back on the interstate and ended up with his right wheels in the ditch.

To make matters worse, he wasn't wearing a seatbelt at the time, so when the cab flipped, his sizeable ass slammed downward into the passenger door, cracking his head against the corner-mounted metal fan in the process. Now he was wedged in the passenger seat with a bloody head and possible broken ribs.

As we were out in the middle of nowhere, it took nearly 15 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. It's lucky me and the other guy stayed, because it took us, the two EMTs, and two cops to remove the fat-ass Teamster from his chariot and deposit him in the ambulance. I'll never forget us walking across that pristine, untouched windshield and listening to it crack under our feet.
Centinel 12:21 PM # | |

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Cocaine isn't habit forming. I should know - I've been using it for years.

The British Press is reporting that several companies have dropped "super"model Kate Moss after pictures were published showing her doing copious amounts of cocaine. Prestigious fashion names such as Burburry and Channel are shocked, SHOCKED! that Ms. Moss would use cocaine. I mean, who could look at the following and suspect drug use:
  1. She's is a professional m-o-d-e-l.

  2. She weighs 23 pounds, which I think translates to like 1.458389 stone, or something.

  3. Her boyfriend is a m-u-s-c-i-a-n.

  4. She loves lesbian threesomes (not that there's anything wrong with that).

  5. She gets paid more to walk across a room, that you and I will earn this year.

  6. She has been hospitalized for "exhaustion," which is media speak for "I've done so many illicit substances that I can see through my eyelids."

  7. She has being diagnosed with "sleeping disorder," which is no surprise considering that she stays out all night partying when she should be sleeping.
Actually, I'm surprised that doing coke is still considered "bad" enough for the industry to care. Hell, isn't coke legal in Belgium? Wasn't this the same week that some jackass television host in Amsterdam plans on shooting heroin on the air?

What came as no surprise is how quickly all of the industries supporters and stars rushed to defend Moss, stating that her private life shouldn't interfere with her public life (as if Company X isn't going to fire Joe Sixpack if they find out he's snorting up on the weekends), or whining that this is somehow the media's fault for "persecuting" her. Some Icelandic fashion designer said, "It's really unfair. She may be a product but she's a human being, too. The media are responsible for her loss of success or work." Proving only that Bjork is the second biggest freak to come out of Iceland.

Give be a Value-Sized break. Leave it to the rich and famous to discourage personal responsibility.
Centinel 4:26 PM # | |

People are getting smarter nowadays; they are letting lawyers, instead of their conscience, be their guide.

Last week I worked a few hours manning the desk at the legal services table down at "refugee central" -- otherwise known as the Dallas Convention Center. It was an excellent opportunity to find out what lawyers really mean to people. Here are some of the things I learned:
  1. If you're going to blow off a simple ticket from some town you're just visiting, make sure you never have to live there.

  2. If you own a small business, don't let your son redo your standard contracts just because he had a semester of business law down at the community college. You just may need that force majeure clause one day.

  3. If you are have problems getting benefits sorted out with the woman you've lived with for 10 years, common law marriage is mighty damn convenient. Besides, who hasn't wanted to say, "This is my common-law wife, Shaundra."

  4. Having your insurance company offer to pay off your mortgage is a dubious benefit if your house is now a wet pile of lumber.

  5. If you are going to take off to another state with your children, it's probably a good idea to let your ex- know -- especially if you have joint custody. It's also important to inform the court.
That being said, my thoughts and prayers are with the folks down Galvaston/Houston way. Hope you're heading north with all due speed.
Centinel 8:53 AM # | |

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.

I meant to write about this the other day, but was just too busy. Hey, what do you want? I'm not the New York Times.

I didn't hear much of the Roberts confirmation hearings, mostly because I kept yelling at the radio when I was listening and realized I was going to have a wreck if I heard Ted Kennedy or Arlen Specter say one more inane thing. I did, however, spot a couple of things in the few minutes I did listen that made me want to slap Arlen Specter even more than usual.

  1. Sen. Specter stated that the Morrison case dealt with three VMI (Virginia Military Institute) students raping a girl. Although I'm sure Sen. Specter would like to believe those allegedly responsible came from that one-time all-male bastion, they were actually Virginia Tech students. Everyone knows that VMI students prefer to rape Duke's mascot.

  2. Specter made the following statement concerning a case where the Supreme Court held that state public entities could not be sued for money damages under Title II of the ADA:
And in the Garrett case, the Supreme Court of the United States used a doctrine which had been in vogue only since 1997 in the Boerne case. You and I discussed this in my office. They came up with the standard of what is congruent and proportionate; congruence and proportionality.

I was interested in your statement, when we talked informally, that you didn't find those in the Fourteenth Amendment. I didn't either.

Now they plucked congruence and proportionately right out of thin air. And when Scalia dissented, he said that the congruence and proportionality test was a, quote, flabby test, which is a, quote, invitation to judicial arbitrariness by policy-driven decision- making.

Now, you said yesterday that you did not think that there was judicial activism when the court overruled an act of Congress. Isn't this congruence and proportionality test, which comes out of thin air, a classic example of judicial activism where the view of congruence -- hard to find a definition for congruence; proportionality, hard to find a definition for proportionality -- I've searched and can't find any. Isn't that the very essence of what is in the eye of the beholder, where the court take carte blanche to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional?
Compare this bold statement on judicial activism and words not in the Constitution to one made last year by Andrew C. McCarthy in National Review:
The Constitution says not a word about abortion. Though the practice has existed for centuries, we had somehow lived through 186 years of constitutional governance without its being noticed that the document guaranteed a right to terminate pregnancies. This latent discovery in 1973 was preeminently about lawyers and words. In this instance, it was about the fecund potential of the Fourteenth Amendment's promise of liberty, glossed by a developing line of cases incubating a parallel right to privacy -- a similarly malleable concept, different from liberty in that lawyers had had to derive it from Constitution's glowing penumbra, the term being absent from the actual document.

Practically speaking, in the adroit hands of the nation's best lawyers, terms such as "liberty" and "privacy" are boundless -- and, lest we forget, the Constitution, to say nothing of its many penumbras, ellipses and lacunae, contains many such words. The upshot is this: The more those words can be stretched, the more forbidding a fortress they become around life's disputes, and the less remains for the American people to determine for themselves. Instead of the masters of our fate, we become the subjects of those empowered to say what the words mean: the judges.
In case you didn't see this coming, the second quote was taken from an article about Sen. Specter's support of abortion. This is the two-faced joker the GOP's allowed to lead the charge in confirming our judges. Great.

When Specter got done with his little spiel about the danger of vague and unfounded standards, I was just holding my breath waiting for Roberts to go, "You know, Senator, that is a persuasive argument for repealing Roe v. Wade" and watch Specter choke on his wattle. I guess I have to settle for Roberts little crack that Specter's worship of stare decisis would mean that Dred Scott would still be the law of land.

P.S. - Note that Scalia is consistent in his logic on both the above issues.
Centinel 9:17 AM # | |

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

My Commute with : New City, Jack

This week, Morning Edition is running a series of reports on the future of New Orleans. Yesterday, they spoke to Michael Olivier, Louisiana's Secretary for Economic Development, who described his vision of New Orleans as a smaller city filled with green spaces that would serve as both an inviting locale and protection from flooding. Today, the guest was Bill Roberti, chief turnaround officer for the crisis management firm that was advising New Orleans woeful school system before Katrina struck.

Although we are only two days into the series, by reading between the lines you can hear what we can expect as federal money comes flooding back into New Orleans. First, the only money-making areas of town, the French Quarter and the central business district, are likely the only ones that will survive relatively unchanged. The overwhelming majority of the rest of the town sustained heavy flood damage and will likely have to be condemned and leveled, if only because vacant buildings will have and adverse impact on any city planning. As most commenters have noticed, the poorer areas of town were the lowest and therefore took the most flood damaged.

What it seems few people are acknowledging is that New Orleans no longer exists -- at least as it was known. The head is salvageable, but the body is gone. It's no secret that New Orleans was a poor city by U.S. standards, filled with a good share of urban blight, as it used to be called. The houses and buildings that have sustained major flood damage -- a majority of New Orleans -- will be leveled, and the "slums" will be the first to go. Estimate show that 150,000 homes were totaled. Huge swathes of what was little more than tenement housing will be bulldozed to the ground.

This is the dirty little secret that the planners on NPR skirt but refuse to acknowledge. The hundreds of thousands of poor -- those who were a net drain on the system -- are gone. They are scattered across the region and, indeed, the country. These poor, who where driving New Orleans schools and other public services into the ground, will be forced to spend months in their new host cities -- be they Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, or Boston. Thousands will accept the free rent. services, and superior job opportunities offered by their new, thriving host cities and will likely be better off in six months than they were when they left New Orleans. Will these people return when New Orleans dries out? What would they return to? A city where there is no available housing and where the threat of future flooding remains?

If those interviewed by NPR appear to be suppressing their excitement, and they do, it is because they are. They know that the next likely flood into New Orleans will be of federal money and insurance payoffs. They are only too aware that this is their opportunity create the city they always wanted, a city with both a historic side that draws in tourists by the millions, yet also a modern city free of slums and high concentrations of poor. It's a cinch that any investment money flowing into the region will not be used to create Section Eight housing. As Olivier is dreaming, where rundown neighborhoods once existed, there will now be "green spaces," created and cultivated in the name of flood protection. Gentrifying areas will get facelifts. Businesses will rebuild better than before.

Katrina has given New Orleans an unprecedented opportunity. In all likelihood it will go from one of the poorest cities in the country with a history of corruption and violence, to the most modern city in the country with an accompanying huge demographic change.

Interestingly, I do not believe that this transformation will come at a great long-term cost to the poor. There is no doubt that they sustained short-term losses and that they will experience several months of tumult and confusion. However, many have relocated to areas with stronger economies and better job markets than New Orleans. Polls already show that half of the evacuees have no intention of returning to New Orleans -- a number that will no doubt rise as time passes and the dispossessed get jobs, put their kids in schools, and become absorbed into their new homes.

So, say hello to the "new" New Orleans. It's smaller, newer, richer, whiter, and greener than the "old" New Orleans. Unfortunately, it's no higher.
Centinel 7:50 AM # | |

Monday, September 19, 2005

He tells people he's named after a gun, but I know he's named after a famous 19th century ballet dancer.

I'm sitting in the bar on Saturday after catching Son Volt (awesome show) when this young guy comes walking in. The waitress asks him for his ID and he states that he just wants food. The waitress tells him that the grill's closed, and he says, "But I paid $10 to eat!"

It turns out that when the guy was walking into the bar, some random guy outside asked him for his ID and charged him a cover of $10. And he fell for it. Call it a complete absence of compassion, but it's difficult to feel sorry for stupid people.

Any time you go into a bar area you should be wary that scams abound. Last week some black guy in gangster gear followed three, white, college frat boy types into the bar and the crowded back room. I notice the incongruity, and apparently so did the waitress. When she took his order, he told her to put it on the other guys' tab. The waitress asked the other guys, and they had no idea who he was. Realizing the gig was up, 50 Cent beat a quick retreat.

I mentioned the fake cover fee situation to a friend who came in later, and it got us to talking about scams. He says there's a guy who tries to charge parking fees to people who pull up to city meters. I told him that I once had a bum try to sell me a food processor late one night in front of a bar. My friend, however, trumped my story. He said that he was walking to work at a local bar, when a bum in a wheelchair rolled up, reached into his knapsack, pulled out a package of hot dogs, and tried to sell them to my friend for $.50.

The funniest story I heard was from a bartender friend of mine who had a panhandler try to sell him a flashlight. My friend took the flashlight, looked it over, and put it in his pocket. When the bum asked for $5, my friend replied, "Nah, I think I'll keep it for free. If you have a problem, why don't you find a cop."

Lately, the panhandlers in my neck of the woods have been using the "My children were in New Orleans" story. It's good to see the poor aren't afraid to profit off the tragedies of others any more than the rich.

I guess that as long as the stupid exist there will always be those willing to separate them from their money.
Centinel 12:36 PM # | |

A guy like you we used to take out back and beat with a rubber hose.

Do you ever get embarrassed for your gender? It's been happening to me quite a bit lately. Don't get me wrong, no one would ever refer to me as a "shrinking violet," a "goody two shoes," or a "compassionate person," but there are plenty of times where "guys being guys" makes me cringe.

For example, last week a guy called me into his office to show me some porn. Look, I like porn as much as the next guy, but I have no desire to sit around with other men and watch an Asian porn slideshow while at work. Hell, I'm pretty much over watching porn with other guys all together.

While I'm on the general subject, note to other male co-workers: I don't want to know about your sex life. Particularly if you are 40+ and have several teenagers. Look, it sucks that she, well, doesn't -- we all have our crosses to bear. But I have to sit next her at the firm Christmas party and make small talk.

I had another "Damn, men are douches" moment on Friday. I was sitting at my favorite beer dispensary with my lovely wife, when these two guys come in wearing striped shirts. One guy is about 5'6" and in his late 30s, and smells of Sports Stick, bourbon, and trouble. He's clearly an incredibly large tool on par with, say, an earthmover. He's also clearly drunk. Aggressively drunk. Lucky for him, his friend is younger, soberer, and much larger -- to the tune of 7-8 inches and 70 or so pounds.

I'm not really paying attention to ToolTime, but I do vaguely hear him say something to the bartender with the words "shot" and "waitress." The waitress, Savannah, is a well-endowed young lady. Well, she's not much of a lady, but she is well-endowed. When Savannah next walks by ToolTime, he stops her and asks her if she wants a shot. There's nothing particularly wrong with that. What was wrong is that the entire time he's talking, he's staring straight at her breasts. Savannah declines, and after ToolTime fails to find any other female takers, he and his friend leave.

Now, I realize this is a rather pointless incident, but it started a conversation between me and my wife the next day. I mentioned that, had I been an owner/bartender of the bar, I would have tossed the guy just for harassing my waitress. My wife felt that it would have been premature, especially since Savannah never complained. I was a bit surprised to find myself to the right of my wife on this issue. I went back to the bar on Saturday and mentioned the incident to Savannah, and she did inform me that the guy was a jerk, but all guys are jerks. Interestingly, my disapproval of the ogling must had led her to the mistaken notion that I have these "feelings" things, because, while she normally treats me like an skunk with gonorrhea, I was her "best buddy" for the rest of the evening.

Go figure.

I know it's not exactly a national news flash that a lot of men are dicks, but I would appreciate it if you could do it in your own environment, like sports and/or tiddy bars. If you're going to be an asshole yuppie, then congregate with other asshole yuppies. Don't come into a bar where I'm trying to drink.

I would also like to the add that this is just plain wrong.
Centinel 11:41 AM # | |

Man, he's just like tripandicular, you know?

Asked to comment on the news that her soccer coach and gym teacher had been arrested for allegedly having sexual relations with several male students, senior Samantha Candario said, "I liked her as a coach. She did make us run a lot." As for the alleged statutory rapes, "I just don't think it was fair to the team."

Candario then commented that it was "totally not cool" that Jenny Higgenbottem, her friend and Hammonton High School midfielder, was going to the Hurricane Katrina Relief Dance with Alex Beamon when she "so knew" that Candario likes him.
Centinel 7:43 AM # | |

Friday, September 16, 2005

Segregation never brought anyone anything except trouble.

Kim Plaintive has an interesting post up regarding minority groups at a law school fair. As she notes in the post, she's never really been much of a joiner, but she was convinced to get involved by a California Superior Court Judge who told her such groups provide "a great support network."

I really don't have much of a frame of reference to work from here, as I am neither a minority or a big "joiner." However, I've always been bemused by "minority" groups that are set up for networking. What it says to me is that entire reason for these groups' existence is to allow a group of people (in this case minorities) to give preferential treatment to people exactly like themselves. I wonder if these individuals see the double standard here?

I see this networking from a career perspective. There is a minority partner at my firm who works (it seems to me) almost exclusively with minority associates. To be fair, I've done some work with him, but it was specialized work for which there were no minority associates available. I don't really care in a real sense, but I can't help but scratch my head when people say that white folks are insular and not spreading opportunity, while minorities are clustering together trying to give others a leg up for no other reason that skin color.

Of course, I've heard the reason for these groups. It usually involves the argument that the minority is constantly discriminated against, so this makes for a level playing field. I don't believe the premise, and I also don't believe two wrongs make a right. These minority associates I work with could work for any partner in the firm (and often do), so it just seems rather interesting that this one partner seems intent on working with them. I know he thinks he's doing a good thing -- as do the people working in minority groups in law school -- but to me, an outside observer, it appears that such actions, organizations, and general clustering smell faintly of racial preference. When confronted with these organizations, I can't help but think the unoriginal thought of what angst it would cause if you replaced the name of any minority in an interest group with the word "White."

Kim's post (and the comments of her readers) only reinforce the idea that one of the problems with joining an insular group is that, well, people may form even tighter groups, and being a minority of one leads to crappy dinner parties, I imagine. Put another way, if you join a minority group, you lose the right to be surprised and disappointed when a minority group within the group develops.

That said, I don't see anything wrong with joining together to celebrate and explore your individual culture. If there is a Korean Students group that gets together and discusses Korean literature or eats Korean food, more power to them. I can only imagine how indignant I'd feel if I weren't allowed to sit at the bar with a beer discussing college football and other cultural subjects with my fellow redneck, Caucasian Southerners.
Centinel 3:08 PM # | |

Take a cha-cha-cha-chance!

My favorite Dilbert comic was one where Dilbert and Dogbert are sitting on a hill with their backs toward the "camera." Dilbert asks Dogbert if it's a sin to enjoy using cotton swabs in your ear, and Dogbert says "No." "Good," replies Dilbert, "because this morning I used a whole box."

This morning I was aurally pleasuring myself with a cotton swab,* when I heard a car alarm going off in the distance. It wasn't until I removed said swab from my ear that I realized that the "car alarm" was actually something we living in semi-rural areas call a "bird." Having lived in the city for so long, my mind just naturally translated the sound into what was familiar.

Today's my "bloggaversary" (or whatever the hell it's called), and I suppose that story is as good a metaphor as any for this blog: clichéd, but documenting change, nonetheless. Despite the recent changes in my life and this blog,I honestly can't believe it's been a whole year since I overcame the inertia of laziness to start this thing, and I never would have put money that I would be continuing to push pablum on the people one good solar rotation later.

When I first put finger to keyboard, my intention was to write about the Bush-Kerry race that was in full swing. Although I thought I had made a clean break from politics and public policy when I went to law school, it became obvious over the course of the campaign that I was an addict in denial. Inspired by others, the blog seemed like a nifty experiment to write about "Douche vs. Turd Sandwich 2004." Unfortunately for the blog (but damn fortunate for the general public), all bad campaigns must come to an end, leaving me with precious little to write about.

While it was easy to opine about gay marriage or tax plans, writing more personal posts was very difficult at first. In fact, it took me a couple of months to settle on even gazing at my navel. Gradually, those posts have taken over, and while they still aren't easy for me to write (no, I'm not sure why), they are certainly aren't as painful as when I first began (although they still are as painful to read, I'm sure).

Am I pleased with this blog? Sometimes. I compare it to other blogs I read regularly and just shake my head. But every blue moon I write something that I think borders on the pleasantly mediocre and that is satisfaction enough. It has never been my desire to have a famous blog, only to keep those who interest me returning to see what I'm up to, if only, like rednecks seeking NASCAR season tickets on Turn 4, so they can see all the good wipeouts. In this regard, I consider the blog a sterling success, and am inspired to continue plodding along until I get this right.

So on this holiest of days, here's to you, my readers, may you never grow weary of my mindless banter. You truly are the wind beneath my sheets.

* Don't put cotton swabs in your ear, or you'll puncture your eardrum or something. And quit touching yourself.
Centinel 7:17 AM # | |

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Hills Have Eyes

Fitz has joined my request for new blogs to read, and although I stand by all on my blogroll, there are two in particular that I wish to point out -- if only because they are a bit off the beaten path trod by blawgers.

The first is Pat the Chooks, the true life adventures of a Scotsman who has moved up into the Highlands and his passels of chooks (chickens), ducks, cats, voles, mice, etc. PTC's writing is as lush, complex, and blessedly uncomplicated as the land he lives. He started his blog writing solely about the fauna in his yard, but has expanded his range as his comfort level has increased. While he doesn't have many commenters (only having started linking other pages in the past couple of weeks), he plugs along posting much more frequently than many of his peers (guilty) and his posts are usually short and to the point (as opposed to my long willing ramblings). For a change of pace, I encourage you to visit the beautiful hills of Scotland.

The second is from a blogger with similar terrain. Fragments from Floyd is the work of a prof from Virginia Tech who lives in the lovely environs of the Shenandoah Valley. FF is loaded with rural charm, be it the stories about local happenings or the multitude of incredible pictures taken from one of the most charming areas of the country (one this boy from the flat, urban environs of Dallas particularly relishes).

There you go, a little living from the easy side of the street.
Centinel 4:13 PM # | |

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The vine bears three kinds of grapes: the first of pleasure, the second of intoxication, the third of disgust.

1. What's up with the blogs I read? Lately some of my favorite bloggers have been calling it quits. Not to mention Soupie [rimshot]. Others are just not posting that often (yeah, yeah, I'm a black pot). I try not to keep up with more blogs than I can handle, but I'm starting to feel the need to find new locales to replace the holes left by the dearly departed.

You know me. What should I be reading? (My current list is my links).

2. What's up with grape Jolly Ranchers? The firm put a bowl of them out in the reception area, and what once was a nice mix of cherry, watermelon, apple, raspberry, and grape has turned into a bowl filled with grape. Obviously, as a group, people believe that grape tastes like cat turds, yet it still makes up 20% of a bag of mixed Jolly Ranchers. Why is that? It's not like Jolly Ranchers haven't been around for over 50 years. How long is it going to take before someone at Hershey's catches on that grape tastes like Courtney Love looks and quits wasting the Jolly Rancher-buying public's money? The government's got to be responsible for this somehow.

I'm just saying is all.
Centinel 3:42 PM # | |

After all, we should remember that a murderer is only an extroverted suicide.

The Missus and I were returning from a pleasant night's debauchery this past Saturday (OK, technically it was Sunday), when we were viciously attacked by our man-eating armadillo.

And by "viciously attacked" I mean, he rounded the same corner where I first saw him, saw us, and beat a hasty retreat.

And by "hasty retreat," I mean it took him about 15 seconds just to get turned around the tight area between the shrubs and the outer wall of the house.

Evidently -- and this was not in any wildlife guide -- armadillos cannot maneuver in reverse. Seriously, he did, like, a 9-point turn trying to get pointed the other way. Hell, we never would have even known he was there had he not run into the drain spout several times. My wife asked if we were in any danger, and I'm sitting here thinking, yeah, Ol' Killer there might just gnaw on our ankles if he can find his way out from underneath that boxwood. Now I know why they have armor, because if they didn't they would likely kill themselves just walking around.

Anyway, as the armadillo finally got oriented and headed out into the darkness, I realized that the little bastard is perfectly harmless. Sure, he digs holes in the yard, but it's not like he's committing securities fraud, participating in random geriatric assaults, or appearing on a reality show. Therefore, I have decided not to risk leprosy, and will co-exist peacefully with our little friend.

That said, I have taken it upon myself to provide the yard ape with an appropriate name, and therefore christen him "Spiny Norman." And there was much rejoicing.

Addendum: I'm not so sure about our educational system. I had lunch last week with some law students in an interview session when talk inevitably turned to armadillos. One of the applicants looked at me and said, "Are armadillos mammals?"

No, they're fish, and all of that armor is hiding their breathing apparatus. Here's your sign . .
Centinel 1:21 PM # | |

Monday, September 12, 2005

One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

There, but for the grace of God go I.

Have you seen the movie The Butterfly Effect? It's based on an old idea espoused by MIT meteorologist Edward Lorenz that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can, through a process of events, create a tornado in Texas. This is an offshoot of the age-old concept that time is a fluid structure that may, through the merest of interference, result in widely divergent outcomes.

I remember something I read by Isaac Asimov years ago that put a mental picture to the concept. He suggested viewing timelines as rivulets of water originating from the top of a wall and flowing downwards. As the water responds to gravity, it seeks the path of least resistance, resulting in shifting, diverging, and converging rivulets. The merest bump, well out of your range of vision, could reset the course of the water in an entirely new direction.

In a simple sense, our lives are like rivulets running down a wall. Each of us is speeding along, making thousands of decisions a day that could profoundly impact our lives, and the lives of others. Or they may not. Who really knows? In theory, you can trace almost any result back to a seemingly pointless decision. Tracing the path would be impossible amidst the uncountable variables that cross our world. Am I alive because I decided to eat a peanut butter sandwich for lunch on August 9, 1987 rather than a tuna fish sandwich? What about everyone else on Earth? Were any of them effected by my culinary choice? There's no way to tell.

Despite the untold variables, there are many moments during our lives where we can point and say, "Ah-Ha! That was were I screwed up!" If we weren't able to put some consequence to actions, then we would never learn at all. Of course, the chaos of the near infinite variables means that we usually only see cause and effect when that are temporally close or if the cause/decision is so big that it clearly affected the outcome.

Let me give you an example of the latter situation. When I was a 2nd year in law school, I interviewed with a number of employers. Having lived on the road for years, I really didn't have a set location where I wanted to begin my career. I was fortunate to receive a number of employment offers for the next summer. I had decided early on that I would spend one half of my summer with a firm on the East Coast. My second half decision was much harder.

I had tried to interview in cities that I thought were interesting, such as Phoenix and Charlotte. One town that I had visited a few times and had been very intrigued by was New Orleans. I was given the opportunity to do a short initial interview with one of the larger firms in the city, and I jumped at it. That inteview led to a "call back" interview in the Big Easy, and placed it in the lead for working during the second half.

By the time I was heading for my call back in New Orleans, I had pretty much narrowed the decision down to there or Dallas. I had really enjoyed the firm in Dallas and the money was better there, but I was excited about the prospect of living in a city that was unlike any other in the world. With this in mind, I flew halfway across the country with the intention to make a sterling impression and land a job offer.

And then my rivulet his a bump. My bump came in the form of a 3 minute conversation with a bellhop in Le Meridien. On our way up to my room, he started making small talk by asking me why I was in town. He asked me where else I was looking, and I said, "Dallas." He responded that, given a choice, he would choose Dallas over New Orleans. He told me that he had lived in the area all of his life, but if it weren't for hunting and fishing in the swamps he would be on his way to Dallas where his sister lived and which, he assured me, was far superior to New Orleans in terms of livability.

There you go. One random conversation. I could have shown up 10 minutes later and had a different bell hop, or I could have asked about local restaurants before he started with his "why you in town" routine. But I didn't. Would I have decided on Dallas if I hadn't had that conversation? I can't honestly say. What I do know is that the bellhop's comments effectively scared me off New Orleans.

He also gave me several passes to check out the local entertainment. So if you happen to run into some cajun bellhop with a bleach streak in his hair, tell him I owe him a beer or two.
Centinel 3:16 PM # | |

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The one who adapts his policy to the times prospers.

I used to watch a lot more TV than I do know, but I got tired of the networks killing the good series while the crap flourished. Yes, I know it is because Edna and Merle in Paducah, KY and every other polyester-loving couch ape can't get enough pablum like Everybody Blows Loves Raymond (stolen from George Carlin) while shows that actually require thought must depend on the 5% of the country that can actually read at a 6th grade level, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. I've gone as far as buying the first season of Millennium from a limited release in Japan years ago(now it's available here), and I can neither confirm or deny that I have every episode of Lone Gunmen (well before it came out "officially") and The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. tucked away in my top-secret Fortress of Stolid-tude.

Fortunately, the networks are reaching back into their vaults to put out DVD sets of complete series and seasons of some really cool shows, and I'm very excited to see that FOX is releasing one of the most interesting shows ever tackled, Profit. The show starred Adrian Pasdar, who was also in the cool flick Near Dark, and aired for a mere 7 episodes back in 1996. The concept was simple, the protagonist, Jim Profit, is a brilliant sociopath who sets our to climb the corporate ladder by any means necessary. I'm sure if Machiavelli had seen this show, he could have gone, "Dude, that guy's a dick!" Profit was the first show to combine the free-wheeling business model of the '80s with the nihilism of the '90s and it spawned a character who made Gordon Gekko look like Gordon Jump. Pasdar totally owned the role, always cold and calculating, but pretending to be just another corporate automaton in public. I have no idea who greenlighted this show back when, but I suspect the creator got the original idea by listening to his college-age hippie daughter talk about evil corporate looters or some such.

The series did film four additional episodes that were never shown in the US, but FOX has included them on the DVD. If you're interested in a show a bit off the beaten path, then you should give this a look. Believe me, it can't be any worse than most shows out there today.

Now, if I can only get them to release Strange Luck and Nowhere Man . . .
Centinel 3:51 PM # | |

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Austin to Boston Rejection

Despite loads of supplies, volunteers, and a $25 million appropriation from the state legislature, residents of the Bay State find out what we already knew: No self-respecting Southerner would choose to leave Texas to go to Massachusetts.
Centinel 11:04 AM # | |

Fifteen is my limit on schnitzengruben.

I actually got a few paragraphs into a post defending the Administration from its attackers. In short, it was a nice piece about how our assumptions and the assumptions of commentators and politicians are to be blamed more than anything -- be they assumptions about how feasible it is to address an ongoing major national disaster; assumptions about how quickly troops can be mobilized and relocated with proper logistical support in an area where there is no communication, flooding, and where the roads are destroyed; or assumptions about the government's responsibility for the fiscal welfare of the poor.

Fortunately for both my readers, I got tired. I just got worn down hearing, reading, and seeing story after story about devastation and personal destruction. I think the kicker was the story I heard on the radio about dogs left behind, sitting on the porches of abandoned houses in flooded neighborhoods, after a week without food, searching the eyes of every passing boat for the familiar face of their owner.

I'm tired of the blame game -- specifically watching Democrat politicians scramble for microphones, like sharks with blood in the water, only too aware that this may be their big chance to turn the tide after a decade of political irrelevancy, and not wanting to let a second of dead air hang about American when it could be filled with finger pointing. If only they could get into New Orleans and stand next to some dead bodies -- now that would totally equal major votes.

I'm tired of watching Republicans fight their way out of an untenable position. Conservatives have known all along that government just doesn't work, but Bush's folks never got the memo. Now they're forced to defend the very beast they've failed to tame.

I'm tired of entertainers getting microphone time and print space to spread vicious and vile attacks simply because they are in the movies or have a hit album. Anyone with a personal agenda, particularly those who bring their own media teams along on their "humanitarian" forays to document their "gravitas," should receive the "Johnny Cash" salute.

I'm tired of watching quota kings holler about racism rather than recognizing that folks of all colors have been hurt in this disaster. Is the poor black who lost a rented apartment hurt more than the middle-class white who lost a $200,000 home? Sure, shit flows downhill, but you can't blame gravity on the government.

So I'm out. No pithy Katrina updates for the time being. No more fingerpointing or blaming here at Excitement Central. Just good ol' boring commentary about cats and traffic and stuff.

Carry on with whatever you were doing.
Centinel 7:49 AM # | |

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

But Dallas ain't a woman to help you get your feet on the ground.

This is an exciting time around the Centinel house. Not only are we newbie homeowners with a yard that is beginning to look "brown with a green hue," as opposed to the "just brown" we started with, but we are on the cusp of accepting our first refugee.

I didn't mention it last week, but my brother-in-law has been stuck in New Orleans since the storm hit (he was finally helicoptered out yesterday). Suffice to say, it was not his choice. His girlfriend, however, was able to flee to the relative safety of Baton Rouge. We are expecting her to show up here in Dallas any time now. Evidently, we'll be putting her up for a day or two before she heads to Kansas City where my brother-in-law is going to be sent.

The jury is still out on whether it is good or bad that this is as exciting as my life gets, but considering my underwear is clean and my house is dry, I'm going to go with "woo-hoo."
Centinel 1:06 PM # | |

Friday, September 02, 2005

Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!

Much of the rest of the world seems to be taking some glee in our most recent national disaster. Much like jealous Jan Brady force to deal with an overachieving Marcia, other countries apparently feel the need to gloat at our misfortune. Fortunately, I've been able to avoid anger by putting it all in perspective:

"I am absolutely disgusted. After the tsunami our people, even the ones who lost everything, wanted to help the others who were suffering," said Sajeewa Chinthaka, 36, as he watched a cricket match in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

"Not a single tourist caught in the tsunami was mugged. Now with all this happening in the U.S. we can easily see where the civilized part of the world's population is."
Wait, some guy from SRI LANKA is making jibes about our countries' relative level of civility?!? Hey, Saj let's see what's happening over there in your sad little corner of the world.

  1. Political killings are now estimated at one a day, and the Sri Lankan foreign minister was shot down in Colombo 2 weeks ago by other Sri Lankans.

  2. In June, gang members massacred 27 detainees -- and all the defendants walked on the charges to what Human Rights Watch called "a failure of the Sri Lankan justice system."

  3. Rebels are conscripting children orphaned by the tsunami.

  4. Sri Lanka has had a small problem with women being raped while in police custody.
Call me crazy, but I think that if you are going to make accusing other countries of being uncivil, you should make sure your country doesn't resemble a fraternity party with Jager on tap.

"A modern metropolis sinking in water and into anarchy -- it is a really cruel spectacle for a champion of security like Bush," France's left-leaning Liberation newspaper said.

"(Al Qaeda leader Osama) bin Laden, nice and dry in his hideaway, must be killing himself laughing."
What, do you actually think that a natural disaster has anything to do with security? Did this happen because some border guard let Katrina through without closely examining her passport? Did the NSA have credible evidence that Katrina was a threat to New Orleans as early as 2001? What did they know, and when did they know it?

I guess the French forgot about their little race riot earlier this year, their rising unemployment rates (3 times that of the US), and their own upcoming civil unrest. Too bad they don't have a natural disaster to blame it on.

Kuwaiti Muhammad Yousef Al-Mlaifi: "The wind sends torment to one group of people, and sends mercy to others.' I do not think -- and only Allah [really] knows -- that this wind, which completely wiped out American cities in these days, is a wind of mercy and blessing. It is almost certain that this is a wind of torment and evil that Allah has sent to this American empire."
So, when Iraq raped and pillaged Kuwait, what was he punishing you for? Being an asshole? Remind me, Mo, who was it that saved your sand-swept little gas repository? Allah? No? Wait, it'll come to me . . .

German newspaper: "The American president is closing his eyes to the economic and human costs his land and the world economy are suffering under natural catastrophes like Katrina and because of neglected environmental policies."
Didn't the Yalta Treaty have some clause prohibiting any Germany moralizing or preaching about global stewardship for at least a century? This is kind of like Courtney Love lecturing Barry Bonds about the evils of illegal steroid usage. Except, of course, that steroids exist. Look, Gunter, hurricanes were hitting America long before the first aerosolol bottle or internal combustion engine was ever conceived, so lets put the mouth in neutral and write about something with a basis in reality.

Hell, the Scorpions have created more pollution than all the rush hours in L.A.

I think this conversation between P.J. O'Rourke and Colin Powell sums it up:

P. J. O'ROURKE: Back in Lebanon in 1984, I was held at gunpoint by this Hezbollah kid, just a maniac, you know, at one of those checkpoints, screaming at me about America, great Satan, et cetera.

SECRETARY POWELL: Then he wanted a green card?

P. J. O'ROURKE: At the end of this rant, that's exactly what he said: "As soon as I get my green card, I am going to Dearborn, Michigan to study dental school." And he saw no disconnect.

SECRETARY POWELL: He's there now. He's not going back to Beirut.

P. J. O'ROURKE: He hated America so much and wanted nothing more than to be an American.

SECRETARY POWELL: They respect us and they resent us. But they want what we have.
Centinel 2:08 PM # | |

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Well, I'm not even sure that's a crime anymore. There've been a lot of changes in the law.

With all of the stories detailing the aftermath of Katrina, this one is my favorite. In it, the reporter explains how a man in Hattiesburg, MS shot his sister in the head over a bag of ice. That's ice as in "frozen water" not "crystal meth."

No doubt this is a tragedy, but the last sentence was what caught my eye: "The shooting is being treated like a homicide, according to [Police Chief] Wynn."

Once again, I'm glad to say that despite all of the destruction and confusion riding Katrina's wake, it's still considered homicide when you shoot someone in the head fighting over ice.
Centinel 2:35 PM # | |

If there's a world left when this is all over, I'd like to buy you a beer.

I received this email this morning from a friend in North Carolina:

I don't know about the cities you fellas live in but madness is abound in the Charlotte Metro area. After going thru six gas stations on my way to work that did not have any gas the seventh station I came to gladly took $87.32 of my money and they also let me have the pleasure of waiting for 32 minutes just to get to pump. The sky is falling my friends, the sky is falling. There is good news to come from all of this turmoil. Our friendly neighborhood Jamaicans have no shortage of Red Stripe beer, and they are gladly supplying it to numerous local gas stations. So instead of going to get gas, we shall ride our bicycles to the store a buy plenty of Red Stripe. NO WORRIES MAN.
You read that correctly, despite the ever expanding emergency situation in the wake of Katrina, beer is still available. So you can all remain calm and perhaps say a little prayer for those who, for whatever reason, don't have access to beer.

Update 10/2/05: It looks like things are getting grimmer. Or is it more grim? Here's an email I received from my friend this morning:

You think you could Fed Ex me about 10-15 gallons of regular unleaded. I would greatly appreciate it.
Centinel 6:48 AM # | |