Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Shaking off the Cobwebs

Well I got nuthin'. I lit the fuse on this little ol' bottle rocket nearly two months ago and these past 5-6 days mark my longest update drought. I've said it before but we've all been locked in the vise grip of inertia and ennui, and like any bad trip, you just gotta ride it out.

My apologies to anyone from work reading this (which would include Kev and, if I'm paranoid enough to entertain the possibility, an HR drone), but my job is beginning to feel like the movie 'Groundhog Day.' I'll just leave it at that. The point is that work has lately left me feeling enervated and shitty, but the blog at least has been a superb foil for this disillusionment.

So to everyone who keeps checking in here, thanks. Seriously. My hit totals are very modest but it's nice to know you're out there. And please keep the comments coming. In lieu of the usual spleen venting, here are some recommended blogs:

spinachdipnyc: We don't share much in common but I admire his writing. A consistently entertaining read.

Itswhatthebagisfor: Just wow. Like spinachdip above, I stumbled on the good Col. Dr.'s site during a bored session sifting through the detritus of the blogosphere while playing "'Next Blog' Button-o-Rama." The man is a prolific writer and damn talented.

James Wolcott: Witty, sardonic, and often hilarious. Wolcott skewers the cheerleaders for war.

/out like low carb diets...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Robinson & Schilling: Erase Stats After Failed Drug Tests

Man, this is dumb. First Nats manager and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson opined that Rafael Palmeiro's stats should be erased because he tested positive for steroids, and now Curt Schilling backs him up. Let's review the problems with this idea, shall we?

1. We don't retro-apply contemporary rules, standards, or playing conditions on past eras. We have good reason to view the stats from every era in their proper context. Why stop with steroids? Why not wipe away (so to speak) the stats of spitball pitchers? Better yet, let's just erase all MLB statistics prior to 1947, since the color barrier prevented some of baseball's best from competing against their white peers. The whole game pre-Jackie Robinson is tainted. Right?

2. In the
words of Joe Sheehan, "baseball statistics are not numbers generated for their own sake. Statistics are a record of performance of players and teams [emphasis original]." But the numbers themselves are inert. You can't "erase" statistics any more than you can erase the reality or history they describe. Here's the beauty of baseball statistics: there's a perfect symmetry associated with every one of them. It's a zero-sum game. Every one of Palmeiro's hits and home runs, every run he ever scored and drove in, was charged to a pitcher. Nearly every run he ever scored represents an RBI for one teammate, and every run he ever drove in equals a run scored for another.

It's impossible to "erase" his stats without creating a whole spider web of problems. How is it possible to erase every trace of his impact on the game? Will former teammates lose every RBI and run scored from their records where Palmeiro was involved? Will every pitcher who ever served up a Palmeiro gopherball get retroactive relief on his career record of HR allowed and ERA? Will statisticians comb old box scores to find every instance of a Palmeiro walkoff/game winning hit and take those wins away from his teams? It's a little late to change the outcome of tight pennant races whose games were thereby affected.

And there's your problem: you can't "erase" or "adjust" baseball statistics without upsetting the double-entry nature of the game's ledger. Like balancing the checkbook, everything has to add up.

Even if it didn't, why not wave a magic wand and just say "this never happened?" Because there's something creepy and Orwellian about purging statistics. It's rewriting history, turning Palmeiro into an
unperson. You can't pretend that Rafael Palmeiro and the steroid issue for which he has become the poster child never existed. Proponents of this goofy idea should confront the so-called problem of steroid use: let the record reflect, as a cautionary tale, what bloated sluggers and their inflated numbers wrought against the game. Absent this empirical evidence, how are future generations to know the threat to integrity and fair competition that steroid use allegedly represents?

I realize it's just a few jocks and journalists espousing these dumb ideas, but geez, people take them seriously. On ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" a few weeks ago, Karl Ravech and Joe Morgan held a spirited discussion about what to do with Palmeiro's stats (as if something should be done). Even worse, ESPN has an online poll tonight asking, "Should MLB erase the statistics of players who fail drug tests from official records?" The depressing results: Of 18,561 respondents so far, 68.1% say 'yes,' 31.8% said 'no.' It's not scientific but people are clearly passionate (if wrongheaded) about the issue.

Perspective, people. You can't erase or adjust statistics. Just accept that Rafael Palmeiro and countless others took steroids; we don't know how long nor really to what effect. If you want to feel better about it, then remember the context when you lovingly review the statistics of 1993-2004 in future editions of "Total Baseball." Slap an asterisk on Rafael Palmeiro's numbers if you really want to get silly. But it's best if baseball just left the numbers alone.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Again, with the Cindy Sheehan

I promised not to do this but those fucking neocons just won't let it go. I'm talking about Cindy Sheehan, of course. I heard about this group of fucking nutjobs on Sean Hannity's radio show today. (Why was I listening to Hannity? Apparently there's a deficit of incredulity and outrage in my life. Go figure.) But I really, truly thought I'd said everything left to say about this. Interesting that the story is being kept alive only by virtue of the vitriol and bitter contempt that the Right has heaped upon this woman.

Most of the rest of us are content to just let it go. Hmmm, OK. Soldier son died, mother wants answers, camps out to speak to Bush, gets lots of publicity. That should just about do it unless 'W' actually deigns to speak with her again, right?

Well, no. And that's where things get interesting. Butler Shaffer has another interesting piece about it on LRC today. Obviously Sheehan has tittie-twisted a whole bundle of nerves on the Right and Shaffer does his typically eloquent job explaining why.

Part of what fascinates me about all this is the strategy used by the Right. Lacking the ability to take on her ideas, they smear in the most unimaginative, self-parodying ways:

*Guilt by association (she's a pawn of Michael Moore and Moveon.org!) -- check.
*She's an "anti-semite" because she questions U.S. foreign policy goals with Israel -- check.
*She's "unpatriotic" or "anti-American" because she has the audacity to declare that the U.S. is not worth dying for (what nation-state is?) -- check.

And now here comes this Melanie Morgan leading the "You Don't Speak For Me, Cindy!" Tour. I shit you not. An organized tour designed explicitly to...well, what, exactly? What are they going to do when they arrive in Crawford? They're holding a "We Support Our Troops and Their Mission" rally, but I'm not sure what this means. Do you wave a bunch of flags? Hold up signs with messages supportive of the administration? Hold up more signs critical of Cindy Sheehan? What is this self-indulgent clusterfuck supposed to achieve?

Here's the thing -- understand that these neocons, in a sense, have already won. They have the "War on Terror" they wanted. Republicans have a virtual monopoly over the instruments of power -- all three branches of the U.S. government are solidly Republican. They're holding the remote and the rest of us are stuck watching Fox News. They have all the power!

And yet the good news for those of us who love freedom and peace is that power is not enough. And that's why they're so pissed at Cindy Sheehan. Her questions about the war are galvanizing people across the political spectrum and the neocons are powerless to stop it. Consider the name of their countereffort: "You don't speak for me, Cindy." But that's a straw man, since Cindy claims to represent no one but herself. And that's all they have: having long since run out of ways to defend the indefensible, they have nothing left to do but smear the truth tellers, wave the flags, and shout ever louder that they "support the troops and the mission!"

What they really support is bloodshed, misery, and destruction. Newsflash, guys: that's what war is.

Incompetence Photoblog, Part I

Here's the problem with being an editor (well, just one, anyway): no matter how hard you try, you just can't turn off those instincts. Ever.

Since I notice lots of random, inexplicable affronts to spelling and basic competence (and have nothing better to do with my digital camera), herewith I offer the first installment of the Incompetence Photoblog:

Apparently the ATM is "availible" but, sadly, a proofreader was not. Photo taken in the elevator of our oncologist's medical building.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Ephemeral Update/Miscellaneous Debris

Haven't posted anything besides "comments" in a few days. Mostly because I've tried to balance the blog's tone between Fun and Light! and Serious Ruminations on the State of Things -- which leaves me wanting for material when news is slow, and little to say when feeling neither particularly fun nor light. Anyway. Today is a chemo day so I'll be offline until later this afternoon, but I wanted to jumpstart a few more conversations here.
  • As a quick update, I plan to foray into a little photoblogging later today. Thrill to my new golf clubs! Share in the geekiness of another of my nerdy hobbies, authentic hockey jersey collecting!
  • This gag is for, like, literally 3 people (Abe, Larry & Mark), or any other Emory alums: at the Braves game last night, Abe raised the burning issue of which fraternity Chipper Jones would join had he attended our alma mater. Abe opined it would be our very own Delt. I say Beta (maybe Sigma Nu). One could even make the case for Phi Delt. Now Dan Kolb, on the other hand, would clearly be a Delt. Thoughts?
  • Hollywood is famous for poor judgment and questionable decisions, and in that vein Tracy and I recently discussed some of the oddest casting choices in film history. My favorite is still "Denise Richards -- nuclear physicist!" I don't remember which Bond movie that's from (and I lack the time to look it up), but suffice to say the whole theatre burst out in incredulous laughter at that one. One example of odd-good, however, is Rodney Dangerfield's small role as the abusive father in "Natural Born Killers." Seeing a comical, self-deprecating persona in that way was just creepy. Kudos to Oliver Stone on that call. Any other ideas? Feel free to comment.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Followup on Cindy Sheehan

The blogosphere has been alight with the Cindy Sheehan story but I have no real enthusiasm for piling on. Unless a few comments get posted here (God forbid the Freepers find this), I have little more to say about this issue beyond what's posted below. So to follow up on my previous post, and to tie it to my blog entry about Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," check out this disturbing message forum on freerepublic.com.

Just so we're clear: these people wanted to organize a counterprotest against a grieving mother! And the juxtaposition of Cindy Sheehan and her neocon critics is at once hilarious and pathetic. Sheehan is questioning the policies that put her son in harm's way, and rather than engage her in thoughtful dialogue or ponder her difficult questions, the kneejerk neocon reaction is to smear her and disparage her motives.

They're so politicized they can't even stop to think -- Sheehan isn't some moveon.org policy wonk or Michael Moore gadfly who stands to gain from the publicity -- she has suffered a real loss! But if these neocons acknowledge her pain, they might have to reconsider the worthiness of their cause, and then the entire house of cards upon which their faith is built collapses. Better to embrace displaced costs and dress them up in fanciful, patriotic language than face a painful reality.

And it is this intentionally vague, imprecise language -- exactly the kind of meaningless political rhetoric that Orwell decried -- that serves the cause of bloodshed. No neocon has the courage to say, "I think we need to keep our troops in harm's way, fighting an unwinnable guerrilla war against a hostile, unrestrainable populace. I favor risking the deaths and dismemberment of thousands of people for political reasons."

No, instead they cloak their language in hollow, spoon-fed bromides like these:

"This is kind of a semantic point, but if you go to Crawford, demonstrate in support of the war and our soldiers, don't protest a grieving mom. People want to support, not oppose; to focus on the positive, not the negative."

"To be sure, my intent is to support the troops and is not get in this grieving Mom's face...thanks especially for pointing out the difference."

"If pro-military people show up with flags and signs that say they love America and the troops, the mad media will stop coming to Crawford to listen to Cindy. Simple as that!"

But the really bloodthirsty say things like:

"Why give her RESPECT?"

Gee I don't know, maybe because her son died and she's struggling to find meaning? Why give YOU respect?

""She'll be asking in month or sooner where all of her friends are. She's a pawn, too far out in front of protection, plain and simple, she'll be off the board very soon because she doesn't have a clue how the cruel game is really played."

This from a brave Freeper, well schooled in Machiavellian orchestration and manipulation, demonstrating his considerable talents by pecking away from the safety and air-conditioned comfort of his mom's basement. Bravo, jackass. Meanwhile, Sheehan's the one who's actually sacrificed a loved one to this pointless cause, and she's the one with the guts to put her face out there and challenge this administration and its destructive policies. Contrast that with these gutless fucks who justify needless suffering with mindless platitudes and flimsy rationalizations.

You have to ask yourself the critical questions: is it Sheehan or the neocons who really love America? Is it Sheehan or the neocons who really care about the wellbeing of the troops?

LRC's Butler Shaffer: "The War Against Cindy"

Butler Shaffer just might be my favorite LRC columnist besides Lew himself. His latest column defends Cindy Sheehan, the grieving mother whose son Casey was killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004. She has generated much publicity of late, having camped out at W's Crawford ranch in order to speak with him about why her son died. Far be it from W to confront the real human costs of his bloody policy -- and why bother when his surrogates in the media dutifully support his agenda by smearing his opponents?

Regarding war and this administration's attitude toward it, Shaffer advises us to see through the rhetoric:

"As this psychopathic administration now scans its world atlas for new targets upon which to direct its forces of 'shock and awe,' it is time for all of us to understand that there is nothing 'noble' in the systematic slaughter of people. There is no 'honor' in bringing grief and suffering to others; and no transcendent 'purpose' in being part of a collective of fungible human beings to be exploited for whatever ends suit those with ambitions over the lives of others. 'Life' belongs to living individuals, not to the state, a message each of us must impart to our children and grandchildren as they learn to resist the seductions of those who would destroy them. It is also time for Americans to take a stand with Cindy Sheehan and help this country rediscover its soul, and return to the sense of decency from which it has so aimlessly strayed."

Saturday, August 13, 2005

"Punch-Drunk Love"

Thanks to NetFlix, tonight Tra and I watched Punch-Drunk Love, a P.T. Anderson film starring Adam Sandler.

Unusual film. Technically, it's very adept. Anderson interlaces the narrative with random bursts of colored psychedelia; whether it's intended to evoke the protagonist's sudden bursts of violent anger or represents a previously unknown clause in the 'R' rating ("may be unsuitable for children and remarkably more enjoyable with chemical enhancement"), I don't know. But it did give Tra and me time to catch our breaths and exchange those, "what do you think?" looks. Anyway. Anderson's use of color and symbolism are effective if none too subtle -- Sandler's Barry Egan wears the same blue suit in nearly every scene, and Emily Watson's Lena Leonard wears red throughout. The film's look is colored by blue hues and overtones.

The film is essentially a dyspeptic love story about Barry and Lena. We learn surface details about them, but Anderson has created troubled, complex characters whose backstories we can only imagine. Lena has not had a boyfriend for 6 months and was previously married. She works with one of Barry's 7 domineering sisters. She travels often. Barry is lonely, fastidious, afraid of introspection. His life is full of paradox. He buys Healthy Choice pudding by the truckload in order to redeem frequent flyer miles, but we learn he has never flown before. He shuns risk and confrontation, yet owns a small business, which requires all kinds of risk and initiative. That these two people should find love together seems implausible but not entirely illogical.

Unpredictability is perhaps the film's hallmark. There is a subplot involving phone sex scam artists and their thugs; another is Barry's tension with his sisters. In fact, Anderson's ability to keep tension levels ratcheted ever higher is remarkable; Barry's frustration simmers beneath the surface at all times, and we're never quite sure if his violence can be confined to inanimate objects like bathroom fixtures. Barry seems mild-mannered and bland most of the time, which is why his emotional outbursts and sudden tantrums are so jarring.

But finding love and channeling these impulses in a positive way pushes him to grow. We see him start to stand up for himself, and he does so in quirky ways that reflect his unique persona (including an innocent call to his sister that begins with a request for information and quickly escalates to angry threats). That Anderson was able to garner sympathy for the character, and even made me care a little, is perhaps the film's best achievement.

My final impression was that I liked where the film ended, but not how it got there. I need to devise my own ratings system but a '6.5' on a scale of 1-10 works for now.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Everything You Thought You Knew About Steroids Is Wrong

This stunning article touches on many topics surrounding the steroids issue -- sports, anti-aging research, medical science, politics, the War on Drugs, economics -- it's all here. The article is pretty long but worth carving out a few moments out of your day to read.

What's most interesting about this article is only peripherally involved with steroids -- it's about epistemology. However we gain knowledge -- education, indoctrination, media repetition, osmosis, memes, urban legends, back of the school bus, whatever -- we take for granted that, through experience and a careful filtering process, our impressions of the world are generally true. Steroids = teh bad; I never gave it a second thought. I understood they could shrink your nards and cause zits to sprout all over your back -- who needs that kind of aggravation?

But what if that was all hysteria and propaganda? What if these self-evident "truths" were wrong?
For all I know the author could be full of shit but it's still exhiliarating that courageous people are shaking up the Prevailing or Conventional Wisdom. This article seems lucid and its premises plausible so proceed with an open mind and several dunes worth of salt.

Link courtesy of LRC.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Pablo's Moldy Thoughts

I am just a bloggin' pimp lately. Please welcome our friend Pablo to the blogosphere. To know him is to be endlessly entertained by him so be sure to check out his new blog. He's calling it "Pablo's Moldy Thoughts," but since I'm unsure exactly why they're moldy (excess moisture? short shelf life? I dunno), from now on it will be called "the 'Zagablog" in this space.

You have to love the conclusion to his profile:

"I've been told that my writing is a lot like toilet water, it goes in circles without making any sense and half of the time it's full of shit."

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Tracy's Boobie Bulletin Blog

Most people see "boobie" on the internets and immediately think: great, pr0n. Well this isn't that kind of blog. As 99% of you know, in April my lovely wife Tracy was diagnosed with breast cancer. We're now about midway through the battle, having completed the lumpectomy, IVF stuff, and first round of chemotherapy. We have 11 weeks of chemo (Taxol, not too bad) and the radiation still to go but the most grueling part appears to be over. Although she now shares my bald-headed look, she's doing great.

At the suggestion of our friend Abraham, we decided to chronicle her battle with a blog. She's been sending updates via e-mail, "Ballot's Boobie Bulletin," to friends and family but the blog was the obvious medium for archiving her poignant, hilarious insights and sharing them with the wider world. We had intended to start our blogs together but Tracy resisted updating hers. After much nudging and cajoling, she's finally started posting and has granted me permission to publicize her efforts (though the link's been in my sidebar for a month).

Check out her newly scrubbed and polished content here!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Orwell's "Politics and the English Language"

This essay is a 'must' read. Orwell's insights into the corruption of language and thought, and how this corruption is exploited by politicians, are brilliant and eerily prescient:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

‘While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.’

Keep in mind Orwell wrote this in 1946. It is just as appropriate today.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Friday Linkfest

Though we're mired in something of a slow news cycle, a few blogworthy items to fill the outrage quota came to my attention today. Courtesy of LRC and Fark, here are 4 stories that for various reasons make my libertarian antennae tingle:

Car. Happy. California by Steven Greenhut
The Puritan Left hates the freedom afforded by your car. Steven Greenhut tells them to STFU.

Meth Madness at Newsweek by Jack Shafer
Media scaremongering contrasted with facts and important questions. There ought to be a warning label: "Innoculate yourself with copious amounts of skepticism and critical thinking before using Mainstream Media."

A Garden Grows a $73,000 Fine
Is there a more dreary collection of petty tyrants than local code enforcers? Where city ordinances govern, property rights and common sense surrender.

Man Whose Arrest Was Filmed By 'Cops' Sues Officers For Brutality
This is an outrage. Militarized, hyperaggressive and intoxicated on testosterone and adrenaline is no way to police, son. Evidently it's OK to Taser and unleash a police dog on an innocent guy passed out on private property. Especially if you claim he's "resisting." Fucking fascists.

Please keep these articles in mind when you hear that stupid mantra, "They hate us for our FREEDOM!"

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Separated at Birth: Logo/Graphic Design Edition

Admittedly I'm no expert on semiotics or graphic design, but I've always thought that the Tiger Woods "TW" logo borrowed heavily from, or was at least inspired by, the Hartford Whalers logo.

Doesn't this:

Remind you of this (even if just a little)?

Both logos feature a bottom 'W' as anchor, with similarly proportioned top parts. The Whaler logo is softer and rounder, whereas Tiger's logo is "edgier," more angular. The two parts of the Whaler logo are intentionally separated to produce the 'H' within (gray area); but if you were to connect them (or separate the T and W in the Woods logo), the logos would look even more strikingly alike. Of course the color schemes are different but, from the standpoint of basic design elements, they look pretty similar to me.

There must be some sort of graphic arts taxonomy to explain their similarities but I don't speak the language. One evokes the other, is all I'm sayin'...

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Fast Company: "Why We Hate HR"

If, like me, you work in an environment reminiscent of "Office Space" (that is, any medium to large sized Corporate American business), you will truly appreciate this fantastic article from Fast Company by Keith H. Hammonds:

I don't care for Las Vegas. And if it's not clear already, I don't like HR, either, which is why I'm here. The human-resources trade long ago proved itself, at best, a necessary evil -- and at worst, a dark bureaucratic force that blindly enforces nonsensical rules, resists creativity, and impedes constructive change. HR is the corporate function with the greatest potential -- the key driver, in theory, of business performance -- and also the one that most consistently underdelivers. And I am here to find out why.

Why are annual performance appraisals so time-consuming -- and so routinely useless? Why is HR so often a henchman for the chief financial officer, finding ever-more ingenious ways to cut benefits and hack at payroll? Why do its communications -- when we can understand them at all -- so often flout reality? Why are so many people processes duplicative and wasteful, creating a forest of paperwork for every minor transaction? And why does HR insist on sameness as a proxy for equity?

Bullseye. Not to cast aspersions on the HR dept. where I work, but let's just say that this article resonates so much that our division Publisher actually forwarded this article to our HR department.

Ringing Endorsement

Actual quote from my Dad yesterday:

I haven't been to your blog in a few days. I forgot about it, to be honest with you.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Mitch Hedberg: "Rice is great if you're really hungry and want to eat two thousand of something"

Comedy lost another genius when Mitch Hedberg died on March 30, 2005.

Thanks to the enthusiastic recommendation of our friend Paul, we had the good fortune to see him perform twice -- once at the Punchline here in Atlanta and again (oddly enough) at center ice of Philips Arena after a Thrashers game. The man killed both times.

If you're unfamiliar with his work and his story, check out this recent article from Entertainment Weekly. A hilarious archive of Mitch quotes can be found at his wikiquote page.

Here's one of my favorite examples of Mitch's uniquely twisted perspective:

"I went to a restaurant and I ordered a chicken sandwich, but I don't think the waitress heard me 'cause she asked how I'd like my eggs. So I tried answering her anyways. "INCUBATED! Then hatched, then raised, then beheaded, then plucked, then cut up, then put onto a grill, then put onto a bun. Damn, it's gonna take a while. I don't have the time. Scrambled!"

He will be sorely missed.