Wednesday, February 23, 2005

"Do It Again." Tom Wolfe on Hunter S. Thompson

This essay by Tom Wolfe is a zillion times better than the New York Times obit on Hunter Thompson that I read. I already loved Tom Wolfe and this just makes me love him more. Check out this sentence:

"Hunter's life, like his work, was one long barbaric yawp, to use Whitman's term, of the drug-fueled freedom from and mockery of all conventional proprieties that began in the 1960s."

There is just so much information packed into that sentence, more than you might get from a whole page of someone else's writing. In one motion Wolfe is legitimizing Thompson's craziness, connecting it to the originality of Whitman, and acknowledging that it was drug-induced without implying that it was immature or self-indulgent. And on its own, that sentence would be pompous and over-intellectual, but it's packed between a bunch of stories so down-to-earth and heart warming that you know that Wolfe understands that the simple wild story is worth more than any of his theoretical musings.

What a blessing that Wolfe was able to hang out with Thompson and capture these hysterical snapshots of his life.

(Today's song of the day is "Right Here Now" by James McMurtry, off the album Where'd You Hide the Body. For an audio clip of Hunter S. Thompson click here.)

Friday, February 18, 2005

"Aw Come On, Why Should I Help If China and India Aren't?"

Seth Borenstein, Knight Ridder's Environment and Science Correspondent, was on yesterday morning's Washington Journal talking about the Kyoto Treaty and global warming. You can watch the whole thing here. Or, if you don't have 20 minutes to spare you can just watch this highlight, where he sums up the most upsetting data. Finally, if you don't even have time for that and just want the lowdown, you can check out this crash course in global warming.

Today's song of the day is "Carbon Monoxide" from the album Pressure Chief, by the band Cake. "Fresh Air," by Quicksilver Messenger Service was also in the running (you can listen to that here).

Quote of the Day:

"I’m not going to let the US carry the burden for cleaning up the world’s air, like the Kyoto Protocol would have done. China and India were exempted from that treaty."
- George W. Bush

To me, that's like if you're a bodybuilder on a cruise ship that's sinking, and someone asks you to bail out water with a bigger bucket than other people are using, and you say, "What about Lou and Bruno over there? They're pretty big, and they're using regular buckets. Screw this, I'm going to play shuffleboard."

Right after Bush said that line (the "Kyoto Protocol" one, not the "shuffleboard" one) in the 2000 Presidential debate at Wake Forest he went on to say that 99 Senators voted against joining the Kyoto accord. So I guess it's not fair to act like this whole thing is Bush's fault. Fine, shame on all of them.

Internet Link of the Day! Bless Yourself / Proof God Exists

Treat yourself to this discussion from the "Secular Lifestyle" forum of a web page for people who don't believe in god. The topic in question is what to do when someone sneezes, since saying "God Bless You" is an unappealing option to these people, or at least to "Vinnie," who started the conversation.

Speaking of whom, I can't help but find it comical that out there in the world is an athiest named Vinnie who gets angry whenever someone sneezes. Also, I'll sleep easier knowing that somewhere out there is an athiest who refers to themself as "Texas Rose."

If there isn't a god then who filled the internet with these gems? Because it's chock full of them, that's for sure. Which leads me to what Thomas Aquinas referred to as "The Vinnie Proof" for the existence of god. Obviously, since this was written over 700 years ago this was written about a different Vinnie, but I think it's still as meaningful today as it was back then...

The Vinnie Proof

I. If there isn't a god then human beings are purely biological creatures (as opposed to partly spiritual creatures).

II. If humans are purely biological creatures they are ultimately interested in nothing but the survival of their genes.

III. I'm interested in Vinnie the Grumpy Italian Athiest, and the very thought of him scowling at someone who has just sneezed makes me feel happy to be alive.

IV. Therefore, since I'm genuinely interested in something which most certainly does nothing to increase the chances of the survival of my genes, I'm not a purely biological creature. Therefore, I am partly a spiritual creature.

V. If part of my existence is spiritual, there must exist a non-biological part of the universe.

VIN. Since biological means "related to how life operates according to the laws of physics," non-biological must mean "related to a force unrestricted by the laws of physics."

VIINI. Any force unrestricted by the laws of physics is God.

VINNIE. Therefore, since a force exists which is unrestricted by the laws of physics, God exists.

Thomas Aquinas, 1274 (Terracina, Italy)

(Today's song of the day is "Friends Like You, Who Needs Friends" from the soundtrack to Rushmore. I thought the organ fit the religious theme.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Valentine's Day Troubleshooting at Comp USA

Yesterday I went to Comp USA to trade in a digital camera because a couple of the pixels weren't working. It was raining. I pulled into the parking lot at about 8:30 pm and the place was dead. There were maybe 3 cars in the whole parking lot. So I pull my car up to a guy smoking a cigarette outside the entrance and ask him if the store is still open. He says, "Yup, we're open 'til nine."

I park and head into the store, shielding the camera box from the rain, and just before I head inside the cigarette guy says, "Is it a return?" I say, "Yeah." He says, "You might as well show it to me now, I'm the return guy." So I hand it to him and he flicks his cigarette into the parking lot, looking at the box as he turns it around in his hands. It's about then that I realize this guy isn't wearing anything that would indicate that he works at Comp USA. He is wearing all black, the sides of his head are shaved, and the long hair on top of his head is pulled back into a pony tail. But just as I start to imagine him running off with the camera and peeling rubber in his black Camero (that's the kind of car I imagine someone pulling a heist like this would drive), he bolts inside and heads behind the returns/repair desk.

He opens the box in a flash and starts pulling handfuls of manuals and wires out of it. "Well you definitely didn't forget anything," he says, "look at all this crap." I thought that was pretty funny, that instead of going down a checklist of the items that were supposed to be in the box, the fact that the box appeared to be filled with lots of stuff was sufficient. I can imagine him sitting in the Comp USA repair training seminar, scribbling copious notes while the regional training director says, "Remember, it's absolutely crucial to open the return item box and make sure it's filled with a fair amount of crap. Comp USA loses millions of dollars every year as a result of employees approving the return of items without much crap in the box."

Then the guy asks me what the problem is and I tell him about the broken pixels. Without hesitating a moment he says, "Let's check it out," whips out the camera, and, before I even realize what is going on, snaps this picture of himself.

Hahah, it still cracks me up just thinking about it. For a lot of reasons... One, it's funny that the first thing that comes to his mind when taking a throwaway picture is to flip the bird. It was completely automatic for him, as if there was no other way to test a camera and that taking a picture without him flipping the bird wouldn't be anywhere near as effective at helping to figure out what was wrong with the camera. Two, it's funny that he would do that in the middle of the store, right in front of a customer no less. It makes me think that somehow I must exude the kind of aura that makes customer service people feel completely at home. (That's me on the left in the picture, by the way.) Some people might see that as a lack of respect, but I think it's kind of flattering. I mean, imagine when some 50 year old man in a business suit comes in with a camera problem and this Comp USA guy has to just take a picture of his hand or something, or walk into a back room to take a bird-flipping picture in private. Not me, though. I walk into Comp USA and the returns guy feels like he's in his own living room with an old friend.

On a side note, I don't want to give the impression that this guy was some punk who didn't care about helping me out. On the contrary, he was actually very helpful and patient, which is all the more impressive considering he was in the middle of trying to win $20 based on how fast he could install Windows on a computer. So, in honer of the bird-flipping, all-black-wearing, gambling-on-software-installation Comp USA repair guy, today's song of the day is Nothing Else Matters by Metallica. (Picture him driving home in his black Camero, listing to his tape of this album, thinking that the lyrics are about technology troubleshooting.)


"A lot of people don't realize that I came up with the idea for Nothing Else Matters while reinstalling Windows Millenium on the tour bus Dell Pentium IV. When I say 'so close, no matter how far,' I'm talking about how maintaining a stable operating system always seems to be 128 megabytes of RAM away."
- James Hetfield, Lead Singer of Metallica


ME (as I'm leaving the store): Sorry if I hurt your chances at winning your Windows installation bet.
THE COMP USA GUY: Hey, no problem, that camera was the best return of the whole day.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

This Train is Bound for Coronaries / Late Night Social Security Fireworks

I stumbled across this place in New Jersey that ships Pork Rolls, aka Taylor Ham, to anywhere in the United States. If you aren't familiar with this Jersey treasure, this New York Times article will fill in the details.

(Today's song of the day is Voluntary Hospital Escape by Mark Mothersbaugh, from the movie Bottle Rocket. I imagine that it's the type of music you would hear over the PA system while riding the Pork Roll Xpress.)

You also might want to check out Hometown-Treats: You're Home Away From Home. They ship local snacks that dislocated people can't find in their new surroundings. Awesome.

Last night at 2 in the morning I watched some of a house committee hearing with John Snow, the Treasury Secretary. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (I'd link to her web site but it will be more fun for you to google "Tubbs" and "representative"), Dem from Ohio, was really tearing into him. It was the most exciting thing I have ever seen that had to do with social security.

At one point, Snow was like, "Shut up!" and Tubbs was all, "No way, you shut up!" and then Snow was like, "Talk to the hand, Tubbsy." Not really, but trust me, there was tension in the air. As soon as they put that hearing on the C-SPAN web site I'm going to post some audio clips from it. It was some spicy stuff. Rep. Tubbs Jones is a sparkplug.

How is the larger font treating you? I figure, why not, right?

Also, check out this C-SPAN Radio blog.

Quote of the Day:

"Their dad was sick and dying of cancer, and all he wanted was a Taylor Ham sandwich. We got it out to him right away."
- Donna Beers

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Life Aquatic / Today in Virginia Legislative Affairs

I watched The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou a couple of days ago and I thought it was great. A lot of people told me that it wasn't that good, but my brother said it was amazing and I wholeheartedly agree. I thought it was funny, beautiful to look at, with a good plot, a great soundrack (today's song of the day is Life on Mars, by Seu Jorge), and plus, Bill Murray is on center stage, with a great script. What's not to love? I can't wait to watch it again.

Brian Lamb was hosting Washington Journal this morning and the segment I caught was about the possibility of making the Bush tax cuts permanent. Lamb was underlining an editorial in the Wall Street Journal saying that making them permanent is going to be difficult because of opposition from moderate and New England Republicans. Of the 10 or so callers I watched, not a single one, Democrat or Republican, wanted to make the cuts permanent. I think most people realize that there is something misguided about cutting taxes during a war.

This is from House Bill No. 2921 from the Virginia House of Representatives, a bill about adoption:

"The investigation requested by the circuit court shall include, in addition to other inquiries that the circuit court may require the child-placing agency or local director to make, inquiries as to... whether the petitioner is known to engage in current voluntary homosexual activity or is unmarried and cohabiting with another adult to whom he is not related by blood or marriage..."


"Hey Frank, how did your adoption hearing go?"
"Well, obviously, my lavender vest raised a few eyebrows, but luckily all my homosexual activity is woefully out-of-date. I mentioned a move I learned from Richard Simmons at the '76 Jazzercize Conference and they approved me on the spot. "

Thursday, February 03, 2005

"Honey, It's the State of the Union Address Tonight... Have You Seen My Longsleeve Tesla Shirt?"

song of the day:

I've decided to put the song of the day within each day's post. That way I can choose an ambience that will remain with that particar post for all of eternity. Plus, when people are skipping from post to post they can play the song of that particular day while reading that day's post. (And by "people" I mean me and my dad.)

I think I am going to take the state of the union address and put it to music. Stay tuned. Did the Wall Street Journal link work? Anyone? The only response I got was "Inhofe got mad skills!" which is hysterical, and exactly the kind of dialogue I'm looking to spark here, but it didn't answer my question about the Journal link.

Also, you don't really notice how pointy a blazer makes your shoulders look until you have to Photoshop one to look like a Tesla t-shirt.

Wall Street Journal Article of the Day:

Promises in State of the Union
Sometimes Fly, Sometimes Flop

Success, Failure Depend in Large Part
On Congress, Elections, Priority Shifts

January 31, 2005 8:41 p.m.

Presidents are constitutionally required to deliver to Congress their appraisal of the nation's health and well-being once a year. But the State of the Union address is rarely a mere survey of current conditions. It has become a president's primary device for laying out his agenda to the American people.

President Bush, like his predecessors, stuffed each address of his first term with a sprawling array of programs, initiatives, spending packages, tax cuts and other policy baubles. Some captured the imagination of citizens, others were soon forgotten by electorate and administration alike (remember that vow last year to explore Mars?). Mr. Bush has given three State of the Union addresses; in 2001, shortly after his first inauguration, he addressed Congress in a budget speech that served much the same purpose.

As Mr. Bush prepares to make the first State of the Union speech of his second term, The Wall Street Journal Online took a look back at some of the vows -- both memorable and obscure -- that the president made in each of his first four speeches, and whether they made it from the rostrum to reality.

* * *
2001: Education, taxes and faith

On education: "Children should be tested on basic reading and math skills every year between grades three and eight. Measuring is the only way to know whether all our children are learning. And I want to know, because I refuse to leave any child behind in America."

The president's No Child Left Behind plan, which relies heavily on standardized testing to measure the performance of both students and schools, became law in 2002. The legislation mandated that annual report cards be issued for schools, and that those that don't measure up provide supplemental services like tutoring programs. Parents of children at underperforming schools also have the right to transfer their children to a better school in their district. States and school districts have greater flexibility in how they spend education funds. Mr. Bush recently announced a $1.5 billion "intervention fund" to improve high-school learning and graduation rates, and to extend No Child Left Behind standardized testing to high-school students. The president hasn't said whether he'd ask for new money for the proposal or seek to divert money from other education spending.

On estate taxes: "It's not fair to tax the same earnings twice -- once when you earn them, and again when you die -- so we must repeal the death tax."

The "death tax" -- or federal estate tax -- has been a perennial target of Republican ire. The president has been successful in reducing the estate tax, but it seems that even with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, total repeal is unlikely. The White House can't count on lobbying muscle from the super-rich: Many of the very wealthiest Americans whose families would benefit greatly from the vanquishing of the estate tax don't support repeal, including investment guru Warren Buffett, who says untaxed inheritances would create an "aristocracy of wealth." But some form of compromise with Democrats may have a better chance of getting passed in Mr. Bush's second term. One proposal that might pass bipartisan muster would eliminate the tax for all but the very largest estates.

On faith-based initiatives: "My budget adopts a hopeful new approach to help the poor and the disadvantaged. We must encourage and support the work of charities and faith-based and community groups that offer help and love one person at a time."

Mr. Bush's emphasis on "faith-based initiatives" was one of the major flashpoints of his first 100 days in office. Many civil libertarians and even some religious leaders called his plans a breach of the church-state divide, while conservatives embraced the idea of farming out expensive social programs to churches. John DiIulio Jr., an early leader of the president's faith program, argued in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that failure to support faith-based initiatives in the war on poverty was tantamount to ignoring the 14th Amendment's equal-protection clause. Congress scuttled Mr. Bush's most ambitious faith-based plans, but the president did open a "compassion capital fund" to bankroll some initiatives. The issue has receded from the spotlight recently, but the emphasis on "values" cited by many voters in the 2004 election could give faith-based programs new prominence.

* * *
2002: Defense, energy and trade

On defense: "We will work closely with our coalition to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the materials, technology, and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction. We will develop and deploy effective missile defenses to protect America and our allies from sudden attack."

The Bush administration decided to invade Iraq because of perceived threat represented by Saddam Hussein's stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. But those weapons haven't materialized and the U.S. has officially called off the search. Libya voluntarily disarmed and a black-market ring for nuclear materials headed up by a former top Pakistani scientist was broken up, but other successes have proved harder to come by. Iran's nuclear capabilities -- and what the Bush administration might do about them -- have been the subject of feverish speculation, and the U.S. is wary of North Korea's nuclear intentions. Missile defense remains a touchy subject. Many critics don't see the need for it, calling the program a vestige of the Cold War that should be mothballed to beef up spending on other more pressing defense and homeland-security needs.

On energy sources: "Good jobs also depend on reliable and affordable energy. This Congress must act to encourage conservation, promote technology, build infrastructure, and it must act to increase energy production at home so America is less dependent on foreign oil."

America has done little to decrease its reliance on foreign oil: According to the Commerce Department's most recent report on international trade flows, the volume of crude-oil imports increased to 326.48 million barrels in November from 315.81 million the previous month, contributing to the massive U.S. trade deficit. Energy prices soared during Mr. Bush's first term, and though oil futures prices have ebbed somewhat, soaring energy costs have eroded corporate profits and consumers' purchasing power. In the meantime, conservation efforts have foundered. The president's push for fuel-cell research has stalled even as hybrid cars become more popular.

On trade: "Good jobs depend on expanded trade. Selling into new markets creates new jobs, so I ask Congress to finally approve trade-promotion authority."

Though Mr. Bush won back trade-promotion authority, which gives the president greater power in negotiating agreements, his record on trade has been mixed. A package of steel tariffs designed to protect U.S. producers from foreign competitors drew criticism both inside and outside the administration and was eventually rolled back. The generous subsidies the U.S. gives its farmers have proved to be a big sticking point in international trade talks. Meanwhile, the president has sent mixed signals on the question of offshoring. During the presidential campaign, he proclaimed his eagerness to protect American jobs and muzzled a top economic adviser who suggested that the outsourcing of jobs overseas was a long-term net positive for the U.S. But he also has repeatedly called for open markets.

* * *
2003: Health care, AIDS and the environment

On AIDS in Africa: "I ask the Congress to commit $15 billion over the next five years, including nearly $10 billion in new money, to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean."

Mr. Bush won Congress's rhetorical support for his AIDS initiative but squabbling about specifics quickly ensued, which means that funding has so far fallen short of the president's initial proposal. U.S. AIDS funding increased a total of $2 billion over fiscal years 2004-05, and Mr. Bush is proposing an additional $1.6 billion increase for 2006. That still would leave him to find another $6.4 billion to meet his pledge. But spending levels will be a hot topic as the U.S. is trying to reduce its massive deficits. What's more, despite the World Health Organization's endorsement of cheaper generic AIDS drugs manufactured in India, the Bush administration won't buy them on grounds that they violate U.S. patents. That drives up the program's costs -- the U.S. is paying twice as much for many of the drugs as other international aid groups are, according to the Government Accountability Office -- and means whatever AIDS funds are ultimately approved by Congress won't stretch as far as many would wish.

On health care: "Health-care reform must begin with Medicare; Medicare is the binding commitment of a caring society. We must renew that commitment by giving seniors access to preventive medicine and new drugs that are transforming health care in America. My budget will commit an additional $400 billion over the next decade to reform and strengthen Medicare."

Congress passed the huge Medicare prescription-drug benefit in 2003 but the legislation represented the biggest expansion of a federal entitlement program in a generation and will be considerably more expensive than originally estimated. The voluntary benefit, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2006, will cover the prescription-drug expenses of some 11 million low-income elderly and disabled Americans. Many economists caution that Medicare and Medicaid present an even more serious threat to the country's long-term economic well-being than Social Security. The Government Accountability Office estimates that the U.S. Medicare bill will hit $28 trillion over the next 75 years.

On the environment: "I have sent you Clear Skies legislation that mandates a 70 percent cut in air pollution from power plants over the next 15 years. I have sent you a Healthy Forests Initiative, to help prevent the catastrophic fires that devastate communities, kill wildlife, and burn away millions of acres of treasured forest."

The Clear Skies legislation died in Congress last year. It's been reported that Mr. Bush, eager nonetheless to push through some kind of change in air-pollution rules, has been considering enacting the Clear Skies provisions by executive order. But that has energy companies wary of extended legal fights nervous -- most executives would prefer a legislative solution. Some Republicans in the business community have also tried to distance themselves from efforts to roll back clean-air rules and the Endangered Species Act. Meanwhile, liberal critics have mocked the Clear Skies plan, calling it patronage for Bush campaign fundraisers in the energy business and a loosening of pollution regulations. The Healthy Forests Act passed in 2003.

* * *
2004: Patriot Act, budget and gay marriage

On the Patriot Act: "Key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire next year. The terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule. Our law enforcement needs this vital legislation to protect our citizens. You need to renew the Patriot Act."

The Patriot Act was a big issue in the 2004 election season -- and as such, little legislative headway was made in renewing it. However, many moderate Democrats, including Sen. John Kerry, have been quietly supportive of most of its provisions and favor renewal with only modest changes. The nomination of Michael Chertoff, a big supporter of the Patriot Act the first time around, to lead the Department of Homeland Security may also help push renewal over the hump. Mr. Bush could see results here: The president is still perceived by many voters as a strong leader in the war on terror, and homeland security is an area where he has deep reserves of political capital. Many lawmakers could be wary of running afoul of voters loyal to the president if the war of terrorism remains a central issue going into the midterm elections in 2006.

On the budget: "In two weeks, I will send you a budget that funds the war, protects the homeland, and meets important domestic needs, while limiting the growth in discretionary spending to less than four percent."

The federal budget will be the primary chess board for Mr. Bush's second term (his spending proposals for the coming fiscal year will be submitted to Congress next week). In Mr. Bush's first two years as president, domestic spending, not including defense and entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, grew roughly 10% annually. It expanded 6.4% in his third year. If the president is to cut the gaping deficit in half, as he has promised, spending will need to be curtailed. If economic growth is solid, Iraq takes a turn for the better and Congress curbs its appetite for pork, the deficit could shrink substantially. But the president's desire to head off what he says is an imminent crisis in Social Security, along with the rollout of Medicare's pricey new prescription-drug benefit, could keep the U.S. swimming in red ink for a good while.

On gay marriage: "Activist judges … have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives. On an issue of such great consequence, the people's voice must be heard. If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage."

Gay marriage was a cultural flashpoint of the 2004 election, and these lines were manna for Mr. Bush's socially conservative base. But the issue has received scant attention since November. Indeed, White House backing for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage could be a dead letter. Some prominent Republicans have made it known that they don't support amending the Constitution, and many states have already passed ballot measures limiting the definition of marriage, making the need for a federal amendment less urgent in the eyes of many conservatives. Furthermore, the president will likely want to keep his powder dry for bigger looming fights on Social Security and overhauling the tax code.

Write to Tim Annett at

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Props to Lincoln Chafee / Test to See If I Can Post Free Links to the Wall Street Journal

If you click here does it take you to an article at the Wall Street Journal about the "Clear Skies" bill? Please post a comment to let me know whether the link works. In case it doesn't here is the article:

Unusual Maneuver May Break
Deadlock on 'Clear Skies' Bill

February 2, 2005; Page B2

Facing a 9-9 deadlock in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Republicans are threatening a legislative maneuver that will take President Bush's "Clear Skies" proposal directly to the Senate floor where they claim to have the votes to pass it.

The bill, which would cut power-plant emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury by as much as 70% over the next 13 years, is opposed by Democrats. They want to further tighten limits and add regulation of carbon-dioxide emissions.

The deadlock has been caused by Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R., R.I.), who has said he will vote with the panel's eight Democrats to add carbon dioxide to the bill. A tie vote would mean the panel couldn't report the measure to the floor.

As a "last resort" to break the deadlock, Chairman James M. Inhofe will use a Senate procedure called Rule 14 to remove the bill from the panel and complete it on the Senate floor, said Andrew Wheeler, majority staff director for the committee.

Stephen Hourahan, a spokesman for Sen. Chafee, said the senator prefers to keep the debate within the committee and is "working to convince other Republican members to support him."

Three years ago, Senate Democrats used Rule 14 to move an energy bill to the Senate floor. The resulting debate on the complex measure lasted for weeks before the bill finally died.

Environmental groups oppose the Clear Skies legislation, but James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said utilities, unions and many county and state officials support it because it will help many communities meet pending air regulations. He said it will also generate a $50 billion market for new equipment to control air pollution, and jobs to manufacture and install it.

Check out the official picture of Lincoln Chafee at his .gov web site. It's a little small but you can make out the gist of what he looks like.