posts that will derail my future run for office, vol 38 in a continuing series

When I point out that Newt Gingrich is a gaping asshole, I'm not just saying that to be cute. It's shit like this:
"There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and that things happened in my life that were not appropriate,"

Don't you just hate it when you work so hard you cheat on your wife?

"And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn't trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing it. I found that I felt compelled to seek God's forgiveness." Gingrich, whose personal history could hamper his efforts to win over social conservatives in a GOP primary, converted to Catholicism in March, 2009. In the interview, he went on to say that he believes "in a forgiving God."

I guess belief in a forgiving god is pretty appealing when you are constantly doing things that require you to seek forgiveness of the people you allegedly love.

Possibly the most insulting dismissal of atheists is that we lack any sort of moral compass. Frankly, my biggest problem with Christianity is not the fairy tales, but rather this tortured notion of seeking god's forgiveness for all the horrible things you do to other people (and with that, the expectation of forgiveness from people--or at least other Christians--implicit in the belief that god does, in fact, forgive you when you ask.)

When there is no god to forgive you, you have every reason to get it right the first time. When you wrong someone, you have to make it right with the person whom you've actually wronged, rather than with some arcane spiritual proxy. If someone doesn't forgive you--you get to live with that! Maybe it will motivate you to grow and be a better person, and not do that again. But what you don't get is that warm reassuring feeling that no matter what you've done, god forgives you.

"I'm not perfect--just forgiven" is just another way of saying "fuck you--god forgives me."

Let me be clear: I don't think Christianity makes people assholes. But it sure can give assholes a lot of cover. Anyone who takes their faith seriously should be insulted when people like Newt Gingrich use it that way.


swimming upstream

Marc Maron captures the zeitgeist of Seattle rather well here:

"I now understand why many people in Seattle don’t dress for the rain or use umbrellas. Two reasons. One, what’s the point. Two, denial. With the amount of rain that pours down why not just transcend the chronic dampness of street and spirit by not acknowledging it at all. Stubborn acceptance. It’s not sad to be wet. Then, on top of that denial, let's pour cups and cups of the strongest coffee in the world into that spirit until it hums and sings the rain away. The vibrations buzzing off the bodies of people in Seattle actually repel water. Genius. When the humming and singing is done, how about some fancy artisanal regional beer or ale or cider—maybe something thick and pulpy—something to take the edge off the caffeinated rain repression.

I think everyone in Seattle is swimming upstream to spawn and die on some level. You definitely need coffee for that. I love it up there. I would live there. Maybe someday I will and when I do I will have a very long beard."


black friday and the heart of darknesss

I have participated in exactly one Black Friday in my entire life.

The year was 1994. I had just turned 17, and was working my first part-time job at a certain Jesus-y chicken joint at the local mall. Having started there the previous December and worked 3 nights a week for the better part of the year, I had worked my way "up" from washing dishes (which I hated) to working the grill (which I actually kind of liked) to working as a cashier (which I hated more than washing dishes.)

The next step was management, one which I had no intention whatsoever of taking.

Suffice it to say, I had through a completely ill-considered combination of work ethic and generally pleasant demeanor made myself sufficiently valuable to the management of the store that my presence was considered indispensable when the mall would open at 7AM the day after Thanksgiving. My shift would start at 6AM.

A digression is in order. If a mall-based food vendor serves breakfast at all, it is generally a very small part of their business. Most fast food outlets stop serving breakfast around 10:30 or 11, and most malls don't typically open until 9 or 10. Also, (typical) weekday morning traffic is a trickle; when and where I grew up, it was mostly old folks doing laps to exercise in a climate-controlled, safe environment. They might have stopped in for a coffee afterward, but that was pretty much it. Saturday mornings were much busier, but the mall didn't open until lunchtime on Sunday, and our store never opened on Sunday at all.

As such, the oven in our store that we used to bake biscuits--our one and only breakfast item at the time--was actually smaller than the ovens found in most homes. I think it could handle two trays of maybe 20 biscuits each. It takes about 20 minutes to bake biscuits properly. So the maximum biscuit generating capacity of our store was about 2 per minute on average, but of course this actually meant a batch of 40 coming out every 20. (You could stagger trays and get 20 every 10.)

As I walked up to the storefront a few minutes before 6, I saw a crowd of about two dozen people lined up, apparently, for chicken biscuits.

We didn't open for another hour. The crowd only got bigger.

Never mind that there was  a  McDonnald's out in one of the lots that ringed the mall, that surely could crank out breakfast biscuits at 10 times the rate we could, or that (being suburban Atlanta) there were no fewer than 3 Waffle Houses within a mile (one right across the street) that had been open all night, as they always were every day of the year. Never mind that if one were a halfway competent southerner, they could themselves whip up a batch of biscuits, and have time to do bacon and eggs on the stove while they baked, in far less than the hour plus they were willing to stand like a bunch of assholes in a not-yet-open mall so that we could do it for them.

When we opened the gate at 7AM, all 12 registers were manned. I didn't stop taking and filling orders for the next 9 hours. By lunchtime, it was fine--pretty much like a Saturday shift on crack, but manageable. But breakfast was pure hell.

I look back at that morning as the day I entered adulthood. I don't think I really understood man's bottomless capacity for entitlement and general depravity until I saw it etched on the angry faces of a thousand middle-aged women demanding a chicken biscuit in a timely fashion on their way to buy Nintendo games at 25% off.

Since that morning, I've found myself in genuinely life-threatening situations a couple of times. I've watched somebody I love die. I've had guns pointed at my face. Strangely, none of these experiences haunt my dreams.

But the hordes of people demanding breakfast on Black Friday still do, and I have a feeling that they always will.

The following summer, I got a job selling swimming pool supplies, and never looked back.


the voice of football

Long-time voice of the Georgia Bulldogs Larry Munson died yesterday at 89 years of age.

The sound of Larry's gravely voice coming out of the radio is probably one of my earliest and most salient childhood memories. Even if the game was on TV, we turned the sound down and turned the radio up so we could hear Larry call the game on WSB. So did everybody else.

He dispensed with any pretense to objectivity, openly cheering for his team even while delivering rapid-fire play by play. His style was often dour, which made it all the more exhilarating when he got excited.

If you didn't grow up in Georgia sometime between 1966 and 2008, you've probably never heard him. So seriously, go treat yourself. (Audio at the link.) He was amazing. You don't even have to like football. (You certainly don't have to love the Bulldogs!)


I spend a lot of my life looking at large sets of numbers, or more often, graphical representations thereof. The goal is to discern patterns from noise.

Humans are inherently a lot worse at this than you may think. More specifically, we are tuned to err on the side of pattern completion, rather than accepting chaos for what it is. We see patterns where there is only noise, and we over-generalize our experiences as representative of the whole. Therein lies the human root of superstition, religion (but I repeat myself), prejudice, racism, nationalism, and in extreme cases, paranoid schizophrenia.

So what to make of the data above? Can we extract any predictive value from this incredibly complex data set, given that it represents the aggregate whims of hundreds of thousands of people each with their own complex prejudices, priorities, and media consumption habits?

Obviously, the people who conduct these polls think so.

Here is what I see:

1--Four candidates who are essentially running as Tea Party/outsider/Not Romney (Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich) have each had a surge of support, lasting about a month (we are in the ascending phase  of Gingrich's right now--I predict he will peak in about a week). There is nothing here to predict that any will get a second surge.

2--Paul, Santorum, and Huntsman have held completely steady for the better part of the year. Though individually different, what they have in common is that they all have very strong, very principled, and very limited constituencies. (Paul: paleoconservative/libertarianish, Santorum: family values are EVERYTHING, Huntsman: "just because I'm a Republican doesn't mean I'm a crazy person). I don't see any of them breaking out.

3--The only candidate whose numbers rise and fall nearly perfectly out of phase with each surge among the first group of candidates is Romney. If his pattern holds, his next peak will be just as the primaries get started.

Mitt Romney will be the nominee.

OK, tell me what's wrong with this.

This piece about the difficulty female rock stars have with getting the same kind of action their male counterparts (at least appear to) get on tour is kind of interesting, even though I think it illuminates fundamental differences in how women and men tend to value sex more than anything particular to the gender-defying (still, really?) role of the "girl in a band".

Funny enough, the article starts with a tweet by Neko Case complaining that "Ladies in bands don't get ANY action" which I just happen to know (second-hand!) to be especially not true in her case. A friend of ours found a woman crying in the ladies' room before a Neko Case show, and when our friend asked what was wrong, she replied "Neko Case is having sex with my boyfriend right now!"

(The moral of the story being, of course, that if you go to see Neko Case play, get there early!* But I digress...)

The first problem is who you sleep with. The most obvious candidate is the fan, or, as he's traditionally known, "the groupie." This is a really unappealing prospect. There's something about the power imbalance of that situation that makes me feel sad. I wouldn't want to sleep with someone whose lust is solely driven by the fact I'm in a band they like. In that scenario, I'm up on a pedestal; there's no room for me to impress them. Where's the fun in that? I like the chase. If I don't need to put any effort into seducing someone, there's no tension.

Yeah...I can't really imagine a dude ever saying that, and meaning it. I mean, I do think men tend to bore quickly of women that are complete pushovers in relationships, but that isn't what we are talking about, here.

*I mean absolutely no disrespect to Ms. Case, who has one of the most amazing voices I've ever heard, is one hell of a songwriter, and is free to fuck whomever she pleases without judgement from me. 


paul's turn?

Every candidate gets a week, it would seem.

Mark my words: Gingrich is a bubble. He's an unlikeable blowhard on his third marriage. GOP primary voters will not support him. Especially in Iowa and New Hampshire, where they actually will have the chance to meet him.

Dave Weigel, who (I hope) is paid well to follow this stuff much more closely than anyone should have to, makes an interesting point about Ron Paul:

And doesn't the clown car collision style of the primary help out Paul? The reason for a libertarian or paleoconservative diehard -- or a gold bug -- to abandon Paul is that some other candidate with acceptable values stands a better chance of winning.
I remain skeptical. (I still think it will be Romney, by default.) But this silly season has been sillier than most.

the positive externalities of the first amendment


If somebody were to interfere with [neo-Nazis'] free speech rights, then I would have to take their side on something. I would feel dirty, but I’d do it if necessary. I don’t mind that the ACLU is prepared, if necessary, to use my donations to fight for their right to free speech....I’m just delighted that the ACLU didn’t have to use a single cent of my money to fight for these pieces of trash. I feel cleaner not having to take their side. Here’s hoping that the ACLU will be able to continue not spending my donations on neo-Nazis. That would be a good thing for freedom, and, somewhat ironically, the best way to repudiate everything that the neo-Nazis stand for.



So there are two things I'm kind of into, that for no particular reason I don't think I've written about much at length here, if at all. One of them is stand-up comedy. The other is comic books.

Actually, by the standards of any respectable comics reader, I am a mere dilettante. I took a break from the habit through most of the 90's and aughts, making only the occasional foray back into it. Lately, I've been catching up on some of the good stuff I missed.

And, man do I ever love Preacher.

Preacher is the story of a hard-drinking preacher named Jesse Custer from a rural Texas town who has been possessed by the offspring of an angel and a demon, an entity with unimaginable power but no will of its own. The entity's escape from heaven has prompted God to flee the scene, abandoning his creation. Jesse goes on a road trip to (literally) find God, along with his former girlfriend (who has been working as a hit man lately) and an Irish vampire.

Then it gets weird.

It's bloody, profane, hilarious, and nearly impossible to describe succinctly in a way that does the story credit and also makes sense. (It took me forever just to come up with the paragraph above.) I read volume 5 this week (there are 9, and I'm trying to parse them out slowly) and came across a great scene in what is already quickly becoming one of my all-time favorites. Jesse and Cass (the vampire) are talking about the general depravity of humanity, and Cass refers to our species as a "virus with shoes". At which point I put down the book, and said out loud: "Bill Hicks."

I have mentioned Hicks a few times over the years, to the point where I sometimes find myself making an effort not to mention him too often in writing, comments, or general conversation. Suffice it to say that my admiration for the man and his body of work is...rather high.

And I recognize his jokes from a mile away. As would anyone else who knows and loves him.

So here I sit, reading Preacher, and for a brief moment I find myself wondering if this is a case of a meme (as in the original definition) percolating from fairly obscure early 90's stand-up into late 90's comics, or of blatant plagiarism. I regret having thought this, because I wasn't giving Garth Ennis enough credit either way.

Because when I picked the book up again, Jesse utters two words in the next panel: "Bill Hicks".

I put the book down again, now a big grin on my face. And if Ennis had left the scene there, it would have been a great little piece on its own. A fine place to cut away, a wink and nod to those of us in the know, and on with the story. Again, I failed to give Mr. Ennis enough credit.

What follows is a flashback in which Jesse recounts seeing and meeting Bill Hicks at a club in Texas, back before all his craziness started and shortly before Hicks himself died of pancreatic cancer (in real life). It goes on for several pages, with some of Bill's more memorable bits interspersed. The two meet at the bar after the performance, and Hicks, seeing Jesse's collar, exclaims, "Holy shit, you're a preacher!" To which Jesse replies, "I guess that makes two of us."

I can probably count among my friends and acquaintances maybe a dozen people who are as into either Bill Hicks or Preacher nearly as much as I am. I doubt I would need more than one hand to count the ones that know them both. There's a great rush in feeling that you've discovered something wonderful that not everybody knows about, that not everyone can appreciate. And the irony is in the era of the long tail, of instant access to damn near everything, of endless ways to find new things, that feeling is actually harder to come by. Or at least it feels that way.

back in black

Let's see how this goes. I didn't really set out to redecorate this weekend, but there it is. My main goal was to revamp the reading list to the right (I still don't do the feed thing), and of course encourage you to check out anything there you've not seen before.



When Blogger says something like "we'll save a copy of your current template in case you don't like the changes when you update" what they actually mean is "we'll save a copy of your template from like, 5 years ago and revert it to that." Hope you like the new look, because apparently we're stuck with it for a while. Now I have a lot of sidebar editing to do...(grumble)...


more like this, please

George Will:

Most of the candidates have disparaged Barack Obama’s decision that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq this year. (Ron Paul considers the withdrawal of U.S. assets insufficiently thorough; but, then, he might favor U.S. withdrawal from territories of the constitutionally dubious Louisiana Purchase.) What is the candidates’ objection to Obama implementing the status-of-forces agreement that his predecessor signed in 2008?

The candidates should answer three questions: How many troops would they leave in Iraq? For how long? And for what purpose? If eight years, 4,485 lives and $800 billion are not enough, how many more of each are they prepared to invest there? And spare us the conventional dodge about "listening to" the "commanders in the field." Each candidate is aspiring to be commander in chief in a nation in which civilians set policy for officers to execute.

quick review: red state

Kevin Smith (of Clerks et al. fame) made some waves this year over the release of Red State, the details of which I will not recount here but the end result of which was that there were scant few chances to see it on the big screen, and it is already streaming on Netflix.

Which, frankly, works just fine for me. I almost never go to the movies anymore.

That said, the movie deserves a wider audience than it will probably get, because I think it is one of the better thrillers made in the last couple of years.

The setup is familiar: some teenaged boys answer an online ad promising casual sex in the next town over, show up, and end up getting more than they bargained for courtesy of the local church that is a not-too-thinly veiled fictionalization of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. What looks to be a pretty standard entry into what I call the "rampaging redneck" genre (i.e., The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, pretty much every movie by Rob Zombie) then takes off in some interesting directions. I don't want to spoil it, so I won't go into more detail than that.

None of which--I might add--is terribly ground breaking. But that is not the point. The point is that Smith has constructed a movie that moves fast, changes directions just when you think you know what is going to happen next (a couple of times), and manages to fuck with your expectations just enough to keep you interested, but all without resorting to any cheap M. Night Shamylan-style "twists". Perhaps more impressive, he maintains a high level of tension throughout without any musical soundtrack, and without a single digital effect (the movie was shot for $4 million).

And for the first time in I can't remember how long, the movie clocks in at under 90 minutes. It is superbly edited. No fat.

Beyond the plot points, Smith also manages to toy with our sympathies. Again, I don't want to give too much away. But I imagine many people may find this movie infuriating, and for vastly different reasons.

Bottom like: it's a good thriller (I don't think it counts as "horror" even though it has been billed as such) that moves fast, doesn't waste your time, looks good, and makes you think...but not too much.


(slight return to the horse race)

I think it will be real shame if Herman Cain is forced out of the race because of sexual harassment allegations.

Not because I think he's innocent (I have no idea, and don't particularly care), nor because I think sexual harassment isn't a big deal (it is, because it constitutes a gross abuse of authority). No, I think it will be a shame if this is what knocks Herman Cain out of the race, because then it won't be because of the fact that he is a vanity candidate without any relevant experience, without any coherent philosophy of or serious interest in governing, with an abysmal grasp of the complex issues of the day, and with a fundamental unseriousness in his approach to the office to which he aspires.

(I can't help but wonder how many people who scorned "community organizer" have conveniently overlooked the sheer bullshit artistry that is "motivational speaking".)

Sully's readers make some really good points about Jon Huntsman.

Despite the lackluster and ever-shifting field, I really don't see a way for Huntsman to break out and become a serious contender. Setting aside ideology (and for that matter party affiliation), I'm hard-pressed to think of a better presidential resume for the 21st century than his*. Add to that a personality that (at least publicly) comes across as thoughtful, intelligent, and deliberate and it really does become necessary to ask what it is about this process that so effectively weeds out the best people for the job.

*Regardless of what you think or thought of Barack Obama's resume when he assumed office, the fact of the matter is that in November 2012, he will have been president of the United States for 45 months. It is rather hard to top that, as far as experience goes. There is a reason incumbents tend to win.