Blog or Not?

A statistically improbable polymath's views on politics and culture.

Thursday, September 30, 2004
There are some things money can't buy
Best debate moment:

BUSH: "Of course we're after Saddam Hussein -- I mean bin Laden."

Just to recap:
War in Iraq: $200 billion dollars
"Re"-election campaign: Probably between $200-$250 million in the final reckoning.
Mixing up your two main enemies: Priceless.

Debate Wrapup
Kerry kicked ass. On substance, he was pounding Bush into submission, hammering point after point; on style, he was strong, confident, serious yet at ease. He felt presidential. Bush, on the other hand, was at times almost sputtering. His forehead was wrinkled, he smirked in some of the reaction shots, and he was leaning into the podium, making him look even shorter. (We all noticed how the split screen showed Kerry and Bush at eye level to each other, but Bush's podium was significantly higher? Yep.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2004
I don't get it
If you're a homophobic conservative and your daughter's a lesbian, and you're running for Congress, you don't call homosexuals "selfish hedonists", okay? You just don't.

Monday, September 20, 2004
It's All About Dick
Or, A Modest Proposal Regarding the Concerns Over Comparative Masculinity in the Presidential Candidates

(WARNING: The following is intended as satire. Those with delicate sensibilities and/or a deficient sense of humor should probably skip this post.)

Much of the presidential campaign has been focused on how much more "manly" one of the candidates is than the other, and I'm sick of it. I don't care how well a president can fill out a flight suit, ride a motorcycle, throw a baseball, or shoot a deer, and I believe many of my fellow Americans also feel this way. Unfortunately, there are many other Americans--mostly men, but women as well--who feel that we need a "manly" president to project a tough image to the terrorists. Perhaps Osama bin Laden really would be intimidated by a man he perceives as more masculine than he; he seems like his views on leadership are rather primitive.

Maybe it's worth a shot. But how do we determine, between Bush and Kerry, who is the alpha male? Sports contests have been proposed, but the two men excel at different sports. Kerry is an avid hockey player and windsurfer; Bush is a fine runner and cheerleader. Perhaps a shooting contest would be the fairest test; both men have been courting the hunting-and-fishing vote. But we're all influenced by Freud here; we all know what the guns really stand for.

That's right. I'm proposing that instead of wasting six more weeks with masculine posturing and enough chestbeating to make Sylvester Stallone blush, we go ahead and just get out the rulers already. We'll have a bipartisan panel of doctors do the examinations and report to the American public in deference to the candidates' modesty.

Thursday, September 16, 2004
Presidential Prayer Team Endorses Deist
Following the lead of a commentor at Jesus's General, I visited the Presidential Prayer Team website, a site devoted to making sure that God influences our leaders through divine intervention. So imagine my surprise when, as this week's focus on "Our Godly Heritage", the Editors turned to Thomas Paine's Common Sense:

Thomas Paine was an early American patriot--an author whose writings helped to fan the flames of the American Revolution. Though some of his later writings questioned God and His existence, causing Paine to fall out of popularity with Colonial leaders, his influence on the movers and shakers of the Revolution was no less significant. In his document Common Sense, Paine acknowledged God's hand in the Revolution. It hit the streets shortly after King George declared that the Colonies were in rebellion to the Crown of England and rode a great wave of popularity with common people and revolutionary leaders alike. So stirring were his words that George Washington ordered that Common Sense be read aloud to the troops at Valley Forge. Paine's words, excerpted below, convey the absolute faith in God and reliance on His providence that was demonstrated by so many of America's early leaders:

Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly; 'tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.

The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Where, say some, is the king of America? I'll tell you, friend, He reigns above!
--Thomas Paine

I wasn't sure if the editors of the site had read one of Thomas Paine's later works, the anticlerical The Age of Reason, which is definitely not a favorite work of the Christian Right. So I called up their hotline and spoke with one of their staffers, noting that Paine's views on religion didn't seem to mesh with the PPT's views. She told me that she'd get back with the editors.

It's odd, though, how the phrase, "The only king of America is God" can be interpreted in two different ways. One way, a rather theocratic way, is that God is in charge of America in a way that God isn't in charge of other countries; I believe this interpretation is the one which the Presidential Prayer Team would like to push. The other interpretation, which is based upon the Deist views of God popular among most of the Founding Fathers, is that God was the Grand Architect and Rulemaker of the Universe; God is the only absolute power which has dominion over America. But as God's manifestation on Earth is limited (in Deist eyes) to Nature and Nature's laws, the only laws by which the American public are absolutely bound are the laws of nature. Unfortunately, the "laws of nature" is a rather muddled-up concept, with some claiming that the "laws of nature" forbid homosexuality (even though we've seen gay penguins) while those of a more scientific worldview point to "laws of nature" such as gravity's inverse square law.

Addition to Life's Soundtrack
This song's been replaying over and over again in my head. Go listen.

Then listen again.

Then obtain the song, either through legal or illegal means, and send copies to all of your friends. Including the Republicans.

Saturday, September 11, 2004
Radio Silence Until Tuesday-ish
Please feel free to browse the links on your left.

Coming Soon: The Burton-Judson Cafeteria Survival Guide

Saturday, September 04, 2004
An Arrested Protester Weighs In
Go read right now.

Friday, September 03, 2004
Thrift Store Economics as Evidence of the State of the Economy
I've been trying to get rid of some of my family's old clothes--Dad's rather nice, but too small suits from the seventies, Mom's "It came from the eighties" specials, and the last remaining pieces of evidence of my regrettable sweaters-with-kittens/suburban soccer mom phase that lasted about three weeks in sixth grade. I bundled them up and brought them to a "hip" resale store, thinking that the seventies' suits would be appreciated by their retro-themed men's department. They took a few ugly-enough-to-be-hip pairs of pants but ignored the brown corduroy and the green flannel.

Today I tried to take the women's stuff to what I had thought was a rather staid women's consignment shop; the kind filled with kitten sweaters and '80s jackets during the Clinton adminstration. They still had some of the old-style stuff there, but I was informed by the staff that they had been instructed to be more selective in what they carried as their store was nearly full to bursting. They were nice enough to give me the numbers of two consignment shops they felt would be more likely to accept some of the pieces, but one of them informed me that they had instituted similarly restrictive policies, and the other one had consignment appointments booked for the next three weeks. Moreover, as I was trying to get rid of the clothing at the other two stores, I was surrounded by people both buying and selling clothing.

The point of this? People who ordinarily would have given their old clothing to Goodwill or the Salvation Army are now trying to sell it all to resale and consignment shops. But why wouldn't people sell their clothes anyways? I have two answers. One is that people feel that they're contributing to charity when they give old clothes to Goodwill, which provides both a feeling of warm satisfaction and a tax write-off. In this economy, more people are feeling the need for immediate cash and less need for tax write-offs. The other reason has to do with perceived value of time--it takes a fair amount of time to prepare clothes for consignment; you have to get the wrinkles out of them, put them on hangers, and get rid of that old ketchup stain from two years ago. In a tight labor market, most people value their time more and therefore aren't willing to put in a lot of effort for the small amount one gets for most secondhand clothing. (Consequently, it would make sense that in a tight labor market a higher percentage of those who put their clothing on consignment were by-choice stay-at-homers, who are more likely than the general female population to buy kitten sweaters.)

Hence, these shops are experiencing a supply glut. (They've also seemed to experience a concurrent increase in demand, but I don't believe it's equivalent to the supply increase.) Before this supply glut, the supply of sellers for resale shops was low enough so that said shops would be forced to buy most clothes that were in good shape and within their target market. Thus, while in richer times a shopper would have found cool stuff at Goodwill and kitten sweaters at consignment shops, a shopper will now find cool stuff at consignment shops and kitten sweaters at Goodwill.

Thursday, September 02, 2004
Demanding Satisfaction
On Hullabaloo I found out that Zell Miller apparently wanted to challenge Chris Matthews to a duel : "I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel". This brings more credence to the theory that Zell Miller is channelling the spirit of Andrew Jackson--Jackson, as you may recall, was an ardent duelist who actually killed a man for insulting his wife--along with the whole betrayal-of-people-who-fought-for-you thing** and race-tinted populism.

Anyways, enough Jackson. Wouldn't it be cool if Miller and Matthews did duel? Of course, I'm not advocating violence--there's too many people dying because of politics already. What I am advocating is a nice, competitive bout with blunted fencing-style swords, Paintball guns, fisticuffs, or oratory. Of course, Miller must follow the proper challenging procedure, as immortalized on The Simpsons:
1. Slap opponent with glove
2. Say in commanding voice, "Sir! You have insulted my honor! I demand satisfaction! I challenge you to a duel!"
3. Wait for acceptance, whereby your opponent names the weapon to be used.
I believe that historically there have also been the naming of seconds and the scouting out of a beyond-the-law local involved. However, as no one dies during this duel, we can hold it at Madison Square Garden after the Republicans clear out of there.

Come to think of it, this would be a good tool to use whenever anyone utters offensive remarks--challenge them to debate using the language usually associated with dueling. The Southern Poverty Law Center could challenge the KKK to a debate and put their nonexistant manhood on the line; Bill O'Reilly could challenge Al Franken' Mary Cheney could challenge Alan Keyes. All duels, of course, will be broadcast on the Internet, if not on television.

*History Lesson: Rachel Robards nee Donelson was married to a cheating, absentee husband when she fell in love with Jackson; when the two of them heard that Mr. Robards had gotten the divorced finalized, they married. Whoops--the divorce hadn't been finalized yet. The situation was resolved, but Jackson always remained touchy about insults to his wife's virtue.

**History Lesson 2: About five hundred Cherokee fought with Jackson against the Creeks during the Battle of Horseshoe Bend during the war of 1812; among these was the warrior Junaluska, who is credited by many historians with saving the battle for Jackson. Then came the Trail of Tears in 1838, where every Cherokee the US Army could find in Appalachia--including those who had fought alongside Jackson twenty-four years earlier--were rounded up and forcibly marched to Oklahoma; a third of them died. Junaluska walked back to North Carolina from Oklahoma; in 1847 the North Carolina Legislature gave him a large tract of land, a hundred dollars, and state citizenship for his service to the United States.