Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tangled Up In Blue

Here's my take on the recent remarks by Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry. (Rumors that the "F" actually stands for Frankenstein and not Forbes have not been substantiated.)

According to an article on cnn.com, this is what he said: “You know, education - if you make the most of it, you study hard and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.”

According to the same article, this is what he was supposed to have said: “I can't overstress the importance of a great education. Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq.”

Kerry claims that the remarks got mangled in the delivery and that the remarks were supposed to be a joke about President Bush. I don’t know about that, because what he was supposed to have said doesn’t sound all that funny to me, and doesn’t really do much to dig on the President. It’s no secret that Bush isn’t intellectual or sophisticated. He’s cosmopolitan in about the same way Turkey Creek Jack Johnson and Texas Jack Vermillion were cosmopolitan when they came stumbling out of the saloon with their guns a-blazin’ early on in the movie Tombstone.

No...I think the other remarks, the ones he actually made, are much more jarring, much more of a swipe at Bush - and at the world in which he has helped to situate America since the Supreme Court decided he should be President after the badly-botched “election” in 2000.

(As a quick aside, I wonder if anyone ever came up with a bumper sticker that said: “George W. Bush - The REAL Milennium Bug.” I wouldn’t mind having one of those if they’re out there somewhere.)

Here’s what was meant (by the comments Kerry actually made): That kids who don’t do well in school often wind up choosing military service as a way to get a good job right away, or as a way to make some money to go back to school. In today's world that means Vietraq - we can only hope that it does not within the next two years also wind up meaning Iran or North Korea (either of which would require that we bring back the draft).

Here’s what the Republicans are spinning: That Kerry basically came out and said that the people getting killed in Vietraq are stuck doing that job because they weren’t good enough to do anything else at home, that he thinks all the people getting killed in Vietraq are bottom-of-the-barrel losers, that he has absolutely no respect for the people Bush is using in Vietraq.

Which is not what he said, of course. What he said - whether it was what he meant to say or not - was more of a shot at a system that is set up to fail those kids who don't have much of a chance in the world - a system that Bush helped to create with bad education policy and even worse foreign policy decisions.

Kerry’s actual remarks are an indictment of what has happened to two countries, Vietraq and the United States, during George W. Bush’s presidency; they call attention to how desperate people are to find good work (which means good-paying, secure jobs) in the United States, how desperate these kids must be if they are looking at Vietraq and thinking that it’s the best option they have.

Kerry - who inherited a nomination for President that I don't think he ever really wanted after Howard Dean imploded - is still mad that he lost an election he might not have even wanted to run in in the first place; and he has been mostly a blowhard sore loser since then. In this case, however, he is correct - especially with the specter of returning to the Selective Service draft lurking in the distance as a real possibility if things get much worse between the United States and either Iran or North Korea.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Children Growing Up, Old Friends Growing Older

Ran into my good friend Ana and her husband Damien at the Irvington Fall Festival on Saturday, and wanted to take a wee moment of blog-time to shout out to them. Thanks for reading, friends. Ana has a delightful blog that chronicles her world travels with Damien and various other co-conspirators, as well as an even more delightful web site that showcases Ana the artist and her work.

Stop running from this thing to the next thing for a minute or two and go look at some pictures. The rest of ths post, which shall be mercifully brief compared to my usual ramblings, will wait patiently whilst you dally among the colors.

Spiffy, huh? I thought so.

Behold The Pale Horse, For The Manning Who Sat On Him Was Death

So Amy asked me the other day how the Colts game was going to go this late afternoon in Denver, and my reply to her was that it was very likely to go the way most Colts games have gone this year - and the pattern has been that the games begin ugly (poor run defense, lots of yards given up to the other team, difficulty scoring their own points) and then turn around in the second half (three-and-outs for the opponent and quick, efficient drives to fast point for the Colts).

At the end of the first half, then, the Colts were down, 14-6; they had moved the ball well but failed to score a touchdown (which is what Denver, a very good team with the best points defense in the league, has been doing to teams all season), and had given up some long passing yards to Jake Plummer, the Denver quarterback known for being streaky.

So...to start the second half, the Colts stuffed the Broncos and forced them to punt, then got a nifty runback from Terrence Wilkins which set up a 56-yard touchdown drive in six plays. On the ensuing Denver drive, the Colts stuffed them again, and sacked Jake Plummer on third down - which forced a fumble that the Colts recovered. Plummer was ruled down by contact, but the Colts threw in the red flag, and the play was overturned, with the referee saying that, after further review, the quarterback landed on another player and lost the ball before his body touched the ground. Three plays later, Peyton Manning found Reggie Wayne (who had ten balls for 138 yards, three touchdowns and a two-point conversion today - which might have earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl) in the end zone for their second touchdown in the second half, and giving them their first lead, 20-14.

Before this game, Denver was giving up, on average, a scant 7.3 points per game. They had given up only two touchdowns in six games, and then turned around and gave up two to the Colts in about ten real-time minutes of the second half. Both teams played good games - it’s the kind of game where you don’t want to see either team lose unless one of them happens to be your favorite team - but the Broncos may have made one costly error. They left second-year cornerback Darrent Williams in man coverage on Colts receiver Reggie Wayne all day - because they had assigned Champ Bailey to Marvin Harrison (a more zone-oriented coverage). The Broncos also dropped their safeties back into deep coverage and kept them there all day, too - which allowed Manning to use tight end Dallas Clark in the slot, with excellent results (six balls for 68 yards) - he’s pretty much money when he can get in underneath coverage as deep as the Broncos played it today. Putting Bailey on Harrison worked, as Marvin was mostly a non-factor in the game, but it left an inexperienced corner on the best number two receiver in the league. And Manning burned them for the mistake.

Adjustments made during halftime? Yep. The second half wasn’t the pretty shellacking I was hoping for, but I guess that wasn’t really likely to happen against the Broncos on their home field. Bottom line - the Broncos are one of the elite teams in this league, they were at home, and you can’t just walk into someone else’s house and expect to rough them up when they are that good. My count of elite teams now stands at five, in order of excellence.

1. Indianapolis
2. Chicago
3. Denver
4. New England
5. NYG

I may be reaching by including the Giants in there, but I felt sort of bad about putting only one NFC team on the list (the Falcons and Vikings are knocking on the door, but I just don’t believe in them - people like to pick them, just like they like to pick Carolina, year after year, and they always disappoint); and I do still think they are a strong team. It’s probably a good thing, though, that the NFC East isn’t turning out to be quite as strong as people thought it was going to be going into the season.

I put the Colts above the Bears, even though the Bears are still putting up sick numbers, because the Colts are beating better teams. Five of the Bears wins have come against Green Bay, Detroit, Buffalo, freaking Arizona, and San Francisco (combined record 9-27); their other two wins are against Minnesota and Seattle (combined record 8-5), which has the Bears winning seven games over teams that have gone 17-32 for the year so far, and that includes wins over two of the three 1-win teams in the league. The third of those 1-win teams is Miami, which plays Chicago next week. The Colts, meanwhile, have beaten Houston, NYJ, Tennessee, and Washington (mostly cruddy teams that have so far gone 10-19); and their quality wins are over Jacksonville, Denver, and NYG (good teams sporting a combined record of 14-7), which has the Colts winning seven games over teams that have gone 24-26 for the year. Also, the Colts have beaten two current division leaders (Denver and NYG), both on the road; the Bears have beaten one division leader (Seattle), at home. I mean no disrespect to the Bears - what they have done this season has been impressive, regardless of the teams against whom they have done it; and I have acquiesced to the fact that the Bears have been the best team in the league for the last few weeks. But not anymore. Not after this win against the Broncos. The Colts and Bears each have no tougher opponent left on the schedule than the Patriots, and it is a road game for both teams. Given how good the Patriots are this year, we’ll probably get the best idea of which team is actually the best in the league this year, the Colts or the Bears, by comparing how each fares against New England.

(For Shane, regarding Joseph Addai and the starting tailback job: Believe it or not, here’s what I was thinking as I was driving to work and listening to the pre-game show on Q95. I have been thinking that Addai should be starting, and getting more touches, and getting the chance to ring up impressive numbers. Today, however, it occurred to me for the first time to think about this conservatively, from Tony Dungy’s standpoint. What the Colts have done, so far, at the running back position, has worked - you can’t really argue with seven wins against no defeats. And as the season has progressed, and Addai has developed (into such a better between-the-tackles runner than Edgerrin James was, and at least as good a pass-catcher), his numbers have gotten flashier. However, he is a rookie, he is still learning, and our beloved Colts, who have put up ridiculous regular seasons the last couple of years, have always floundered in the playoffs. By not starting him, Dungy is helping to keep Addai fresh for the end of the season, and the playoffs. As I am sure you would agree, the Colts don’t need much more than one or two little breaks here or there in the playoffs, to get to the Super Bowl and win it. A fresh Joseph Addai running the ball might be just the thing. And make no mistake - if the Colts were struggling this year, Addai would be starting, because we would need him to start. Dungy’s conservative approach usually seems to come back and nosh on the collective posterior regions of this team, but I think he’s right here. Also, not a minute after I thought that to myself in the car on the way to work - that Addai would be starting if we needed him to - John Clayton echoed my thought after getting basically the same question from one of the radio guys.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Counting The Cars On The New Jersey Turnpike

This past Wednesday (October 25, 2006), the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, voting 4-3 to require the state legislature to change state marriage laws to include gay couples, or provide some other way, such as civil unions, for gay couples to be included in the social and finiancial benefits afforded heterosexual married couples. And the three judges who dissented, far from saying that the ruling that passed was wrong, actually would have preferred that the action - that of granting homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexual couples - be taken directly by the court, rather than delegated to the legislature.

Clearly the three dissenting judges were more liberal on the subject, but this might be a case where the more liberal position was not necessarily the best one. Did I really just say that? Yes, I did. And here’s why. One of the conservative positions on this issue has been their opposition to so-called activist judges who they fear will issue rulings that tend to favor gay marriage while ignoring the so-called will of the people. If the court had taken the action themselves, they would have opened themselves up to this kind of criticism from the right; by giving the responsibility back to the legislature, the court has given the people the opportunity to shape the law in a way that satisfies both the court and the people - should the people take this unique opportunity to see the light before it is forced upon their will by the court. The court has made a decision, but left the specifics of that decision up to the will of the people. Sounds like a good idea, but can the will of the people be trusted?

The will of people who have not spent their lives studying law and hearing cases and writing legal opinions, people who have no concept of what the separation of church and state really means, people who subscribe to the laws of the bible they claim to hold in such reverance only to the extent that those laws aren’t, you know, inconvenient to them in any way. The will of people, who, for example, once preferred that schools be segregated. The will of people who voted for George W. Bush the second time.

But let’s step aside from that argument for just a moment, even though it is sort of enjoyable. What, exactly, is the will of all these people? The will of these people is that gays not be allowed to marry.
Okay. Why not?
It’s just wrong.
Okay. Why?
Well...it’s just not natural.
Okay. Would you mind introducing me to all these inorganic gay people you know? I’d love to meet them. Are they like Data from Star Trek?
Well, I mean...it’s just wrong, isn’t it?

Sure it is. In the Bible. Homosexuality is wrong in the Bible, but it’s a protected class in the United States when it comes to just about everything except marriage and presiding over certain congregations (unless you’re really good at keeping secrets and can manage to train yourself only to blow the little altar boys you’re damn sure will keep their mouths shut about it). There are a lot of trespasses in the Bible, and a lot of things you are supposed to do if ye commit one of them unto your lord.

Of course, that’s all Old Testament nonsense. All of those Old Testament penalties were commuted down to one simple prayer in the New Testament; and even that is still nonsense, but now it’s nonsense that is a bit more expedient. It is far easier to utter a few Our Fathers than it is, say, to bring unto your lord a ram without blemish from the flock.

A quick glimpse at a few more of these “trespasses” reveals (skim the eleventh book of Leviticus if you doubt me here) that thou shalt not eat rabbit, pig, shrimp, scallop, oyster, clam, crab, lobster, squid, or octopus, owing to such arbitrary things as cud and scales and whatnot. And you can’t touch them if they’re dead, either, which isn’t a big thing - who really goes around groping dead seafood, apart from, say, fishers of men? - except for the fact that we loves us some football here in America (where we have, conveniently, perverted the term for a sport that the rest of the world loves and about which we know nothing, and have therefore dubbed soccer - and isn’t it odd that we use the term football to describe a game in which exactly two of the fifty-three players on each team ever get to touch the ball with their feet?) and gather round the telly every Sunday afternoon (probably this is a “trespass,” too, the day being Sunday and all) to watch a bunch of fellows compete to see which of their teams can score the most points by passing into the opposing team’s end zone (and doesn’t this act sound vaguely like sodomy, another of those “abominations?”) a ball made from the skin of a dead pig. Oh, and don’t forget that those fellows who are touching the carcass of that unclean, dead animal are doing so on the Sabbath, while on the clock. Better warm up the tar and feathers - or start gathering the stones for the stoning.

So...we have situational ethics and relativism with respect to the reading of Leviticus. It’s not okay for Moses to work on the Sabbath, but it is okay for Peyton Manning to do it. It’s not okay for Aaron to eat the unclean animal, but you go ahead and get that double pepperoni pizza with bacon. Fine. If you are religious, go ahead and apply the rule of your lord in any way you see fit; after all, you made up your day of judgment in the first place, so only you should be worried about having to answer for your hypocrisy when that day arrives. St. Peter’s interview of Pat Robertson alone is going to take a good two to three weeks.

But here’s where we trip another continental drift divide - you can’t apply that kind of biblical law to actions of the state, here meant to include government in any form at any level, from the Federal all the way down to local government at, say, the county level. Not without violating the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Marriage licenses are issued by the clerk of the county court. If a marriage license is refused to a gay couple, the refusal is based either on a law on the books (say, a state law prohibiting such at thing) or the biblical law that prohibits a man from lying with a man as he lies with a woman (Lev. 18:22) and vice versa, although, very technically, it’s not in there, which probably explains why people are more comfortable with lesbians than they are with gay men. Neither can hold without violating the First Amendment - the state law (or any statute at any level of government) goes back to the biblical law, and to uphold the biblical law in a governmental statute is tacit endorsement of the religion that expounds the law.

The problem, of course, even if you can get past the religious hypocrisy, is the idea of the nuclear family, which is the societal result of the embrace of marriage. People will say that the nuclear family is the cornerstone of society. Romantically, that is true; technically, it is not. Human beings are equipped with reason and speech, which separate them from the lower animals, and invest them with the ability to procreate in more ways than just having a fertile male mount a fertile woman and engage in intercourse at a particular time of the month until such time as the male has ejaculated millions of his little paddlers into the woman’s eager birth canal, into which it is hoped that a fertile egg shall descend in enough time to catch one of the intrepid little paddlers before he expires from the effort.

Such is the difference between humans - who conceived of sperm banks - and chimpanzees, who get it on outdoors and yet share better than 99% of their DNA with humans. It’s not illegal for unmarried women to have babies by artificial insemination; it’s not even illegal for gay couples to bear children this way; and it’s not illegal for gay couples to adopt children. The nuclear family exists in nature, but so does alpha male dominance in the family structure - and who would argue in favor of that in twenty-first century America?

Here’s the point (just when you were sure that I didn’t have one): there can be no law banning gay marriage that does not violate the First Amendment, and no judge who understands this terribly obvious premise and writes opinions based upon it can be thought of as activist anymore than he or she can be thought of as reasonable.

That America is so slow to accept this demonstrates just how slowly the sun of reason rises above the horizon of religion. We celebrate (if only to ourselves) when we read that this or that court has made it legal for gays to marry, and we do so because this is a big deal, a sign of progress. The real celebration will come when we read headlines like this and no longer think of them as a surprise.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Price, Apparently, Is Not Right

So I woke up this morning and thought that it would be nice to sit in front of the television for a few minutes before I got my day really started and watch The Price Is Right. Unfortunately, President Bush was on TV instead, hammering home the same talking points he has always hammered home about the war in Iraq: If we don’t complete the mission, we lose, and terrorists will attack America.

This has been the Republican party line since September 11, 2001, a cold, black day in American history. Know why it was such a cold, black day in American history? Not just because of the terrorst attacks. No, it was also a cold, black day in American history because it was the day that the Repulicans decided to exploit that horrible tragedy to scare the American people into submission and complicity. The day became colder and blacker in retrospect as each successive day went by and the vast majority of Americans—an uneducated, redneck, evangelical mass of fleshy lemmings who have not had an original thought of their own in who knows how long—continued to support that expolitative agenda, the culmination of which was the unforgivable crime of re-electing this failed President in 2004. Once Bush is out of office and history begins to write the real story of his presidency, how long will it take before America as a country finally begins to understand Bush in the same way that it now understands utter failures like Nixon? I can’t even think of any other Presidents, besides Nixon and Bush II, who have done more to damage the United States.

What follows will be some random blurbs in reaction to today’s speech - I figured I should at least blog about it a little bit, and since I can bring my laptop out to the recliner in front of the television...well, then, there you go.

He’s yelling at people. He accuses the reporters of asking him hypotheticals and says he will not answer hypotheticals, and then says that his job is to make sure that the hypotheticals don’t happen. He stands up there and says that we should let him do what he has been doing ineffectually since he took the oath of office, and refuses to consider what might happen - other than the blindingly obvious fact that terrorists will attack Americans mercilessly on every square inch of American soil as soon as we end the war - if his plans and strategies and tactics don’t work. And yet what evidence do we have so far that these plans and strategies and tactics have worked at all? That they will ever work? None. Oh, well, there are some who would say that Bush is a hero because his efforts have prevented any further attacks on American soil. Anyone who believes that hasn’t read enough - or probably anything - about the way al Qaeda operates. They work strategically, not tactically, and with a firm understanding of the kind of operation that will work and the kind of operation that will not work. An operation like September 11th was a long shot in the first place, because of the inherent difficulties in attacking America, geographically speaking. It worked because Americans - rushed, harried Americans - had decided to relax airport security to the point that Mohammad Atta and his crews could get on planes with box cutters in their bags. The whole thing could have been prevented if we had simply not allowed box cutters on planes in the first place. Never mind all the failed intelligence and lack of cooperation between the FBI and the CIA. NO KNIVES ON PLANES. So I guess Maggie Gyllenhal was right - it is important that we, as Americans, stop to consider how our way of life has contributed to the ease others have in finding ways to kill us. (Of course, I thought she was right all along, but most ignorant Americans had the knee-jerk reaction that she was unpatriotic - this is more of the Bush poison, because they do their very best to make it appear as though anyone who disagrees with them in the slightest is completely unpatriotic and perhaps even part of al Qaeda.) No new Bush policies have made America any safer from another 9/11. Only slightly tighter airport security, which is nothing that any other President would not have done. We could have had Barney Fife in the White House after 9/11 (come to think of it...) and we would have gotten tighter airport security. At least for a little while. Until those very same rushed, harried Americans got tired of waiting in those lines again. No, we haven’t had another 9/11 yet because al Qaeda hasn’t come up with one yet. The argument that follows that one, from the Bushies, is that al Qaeda hasn’t had the chance to plan anything new because they have been on the run since 9/11. Well, yeah. Again, Barney Fife would have massed the deputies once something like that happened. If you commit a crime, there will be someone you have wronged, and that person will set the authorities on your tail; the intensity of the manhunt will be in direct proportion to what you have done. Ordering the murder of three thousand people will get a lot of people with guns to start looking for you. Any President would have attacked the country that harbored and trained the jihadists. He hasn’t come up with anything unique or creative - he has not used his brain to think of some new way to fight this menace. He has just done what those before him have done in times of trouble: fire missiles at targets he thought were good but actually weren’t. Remember Shock And Awe, that opening salvo of the war in Iraq? Do you remember that it did not get anyone they had targeted, including Saddam Hussein?

He also keeps calling Iraq a sovereign government, as though if he repeats that slogan enough times, people might begin to think of Iraq as some kind of royal place, like England, maybe, where they have things like, you know, infrastructure and roads.

“If we don’t succeed in Iraq, this country is less secure.” He doesn’t say why; he just says it will be so. He gives us nothing to believe about what he says; all he does is say things that he knows will scare stupid Americans, and he is fully confident in how many stupid Americans are out there, because his only piece of domestic policy since he took office is No Child Left Behind, which works to ensure that Americans will never really get any smarter.

He questions whether the Democrats understand how dangerous the world is. George W. Bush actually stood up on national television and questioned someone else’s understanding of something. I could barely see straight for all of my shame and embarrassment that I have to think of this orangutan as my president.

He said, "Take the child tax credit; if it is not made permanent, in other words, if it expires, and you got a family of four sitting around the breakfast table, the taxpayers can be sure that their taxes will go up by $2,000 - $500 for that child, $500 for the one right there, $500 for this one, and $500 for that one. That is a tax increase. And taking $2,000 out of the pockets of the working people will make it harder to sustain economic growth." Okay, a family of four, George, would have only two children, not four, but hey - maybe your Yale degree wasn’t in math.

Trickly little question there, one about how he has so far failed to achieve any progress on his three big second term goals: Social Security reform, tax code overhaul, and immigration reform. He was asked why shouldn’t Democrats be given a chance to work with him during his last two years. His answer began with his dangerous little smirk and with him saying that that was a tricky little question there - except that it was not nearly as complex a question as some of the others, but it did ask him to think about what it would be like to work with people who did not always agree with him, and this is a President who ignores those who do not agree with him, so there was no way for him to answer at all - but here’s how he tried. His answer was that he had not given up on any of those goals, that he had two years left to achieve them, and that he “believed” that he would best be able to achieve those goals with a Repulican controlled Congress, and that he “believed” that he would be working with a Republican controlled Congress. He did not say why he believed any of those things, and he offered no evidence of how working with a Republican controlled Congress had worked since he had taken office. And then he made that joke about how the Dems are already measuring the offices on the Hill for their new - undoubtedly blue, right? - drapes, quipping that everyone is saying that the result of the election is a foregone conclusion. That’s a defense mechanism, of course, and maybe it turns out that the idiot knows at least one thing - that he is an enormously unpopular President in his second term, that the midterms are nigh, and that a large shift in seats in Congress almost always takes place as a result of the midterms during the second term of an unpopular President. He knows his party is in trouble (thanks to Mark Foley for IMing the pages, and Dennis Hastert for covering it up) and that he will have an even harder time bungling his job and making America less safe in his last two years if he loses control of Congress. He’s like a rattlesnake that you’ve backed into a corner. Except that he really is all bark and no bite.

If you thought we would lose sir, would you tell us? His answer: I don’t think we’re going to lose. All he sees is victory, all he understands is what he wants, and he has no idea how to get there - only the foolhardy faith that someone else can get it done and that he can then explain it in small words for ignorant Americans and take credit for it even though neither his life nor his job were on the line. That’s one of the reasons that it is easier for a second term President to do what Bush is doing - he knows his job is safe. Unless, I suppose, someone walked into the Oval and found ••••• on her ••••• giving him a ••••••.

Ugh. This is no way to start one’s day.

Oops, wait, it’s going to get worse. I was watching ABC, then they signed off and I clicked over to CBS to check for The Price Is Right (it was on commercial), and then clicked on NBC - and they’ve got Joe Biden, the Democratic Senator from Delaware, and perhaps low-grade Presidential candidate in 2008, blowing hot air in response to Bush’s talk.

Actually, by the time I finished writing that last paragraph, Biden had finished, and did not seem to have said anything of substance. It’s actually been quite awhile since Joe Biden said anything of substance - some time before the John Roberts confirmation hearings, where he made himself look like a complete ass and pretty much ruined any chance he had of running successfully for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008.

After Biden, they brought on Tim Russert, and then Brian Williams, but I checked CBS again, and The Price Is Right was on again, except that it was the last regular game before the second showcase showdown, which means the show was basically over; and I had missed the bulk of it because of listening to President.


If you want me to un-censor the three words I have censored a few paragraphs up, please post a comment and let me know.

NUVO Best Of Indy. Uh...What?

Two categories - Best Dive Bar and Best Jukebox - both were conspicuously lacking The Chatterbox among their top three. I am horrified. Patently, positively horrified. I know of no better place in this whole existence-forsaken city where one can go to have one's soul enriched such as it enriched by spending some time at The Chatterbox, whether you like jazz or not. If you do not, or would prefer not to hear music during the enrichment of your soul - and it is not always necessary to have music being played in the background in order to conduct the enrichment of one's soul - then go after midnight. Go before midnight for some lovely jazz.

As for the jukebox, well...you've got "Like A Rolling Stone," "Paint It Black," Joplin, The Doors, Buffett (no kidding), "Suspicious Minds." Unfortunately, those are the only ones that come to mind at the moment - I have just lately been back to The Chatterbox a couple of times in the last month after not having been in far too long. I don't go out for cocktails all that often, and the people I used to go out with are both conservative, non-hippie types who just don't get the vibe coming out of The Chatterbox.

Once upon a time, the occasional conga line would break out, and you would see people dancing a line around the bar, in time to whatever was on the juke at that moment. It also used to be that you could see one of the bartenders wistfully singing along to "Like A Rolling Stone" while she smoked a cigarette and watched the tables from behind the bar. Those, indeed, were the days.

"Why don't you meet me at midnight, babe...inside the sad café?"

Monday, October 23, 2006


Going into this NFL season, I would have been a little bit surprised if many people had the Chicago Bears on the radar to do much more than win the pathetic NFC North (they’ll probably win more games this year than the other three teams in their division combined); after six games, however, they are clearly the best team in the NFL, and the talk among sports fans (and especially among Bears fans) should now be shifting from whether they can make a deep run in the playoffs to whether or not this team is better than the one that thrashed the Patriots in the 1986 Super Bowl.

I’ve talked about their stats before, and little has changed in this department. Their numbers are gaudy, both on offense and defense. Their offense is just as scary as has been the Colts offense in the last few years, but the Bears also have the defense to match. In the past couple of years, the Colts have never had to worry much about putting points on the board; the concern for them has been whether or not they could keep the other team from scoring more than they did. The Bears do not have that concern. They also have little to be worried about as far as the schedule goes. Even if you looked at their schedule before the season started, before you knew what you now know about this Bears squad, you would have projected them to win a lot of games. How many? Well, you decide. Here’s their schedule, and try to base your number on what you knew about the Bears before this season started:

At Green Bay
Vs. Detroit
At Minnesota
Vs. Seattle
Vs. Buffalo
At Arizona
Vs. San Francisco
Vs. Miami
At New England
Vs. Minnesota
At St. Louis
Vs. Tampa Bay
At Detroit
Vs. Green Bay

What did you come up with? Most of you probably had a 7-1 team going into that fairly rough three-game east coast stretch (the loss being to Seattle), and you also probably had them going 1-2 in that stretch (beating only NYJ). Did anyone really see them losing any of those last five games? I didn’t. That makes them 13-3, if you factor out the fact that they have slaughtered everyone they have played so far this season. If you take that into account, especially that they did not lose to Seattle, then you have to reevaluate that east coast stretch and say to yourself that those are three games they can win.

That’s 16-0. Right now, the only game they even have to worry about a tiny bit is at New England, a team whose schedule has not so far been as easy (they have already hosted Denver, their only loss, and gone to Cincinnati). On paper, no team in the league can touch Chicago, but the Patriots have the psychological advantages of having won three of the last five Super Bowls and having so far played beyond the expectations of most people who thought the dynasty was over (for the record, it is, but even though that may be, this is still a good, good team, and Bill Belichick is still the best coach in the league).

If the Bears do go undefeated in the regular season, then they get the psychological advantage (not to mention the home-field one) for the playoffs. You might as well start engraving the Lombardi trophy right now.

Unless...this Bears team happens to run into the Colts team that took the field to start the second half against the hapless Washington Redskins this late afternoon in the Hoosier Dome in downtown Indianapolis. Granted, they shredded a Redskins secondary that is suspect at best, but they did it efficiently, quickly, and forcefully, looking for the first time like the high-octane offense that threw a record 49 touchdown passes in 2004.

This was the most complete game the Colts have played so far this season. Total yards given up were higher than their average (although this is based on stats on ESPN’s website, reviewed after two in the morning on Monday, so they may include today’s game), though not by much; rushing yards given up were way down (114 today, 167 average), but passing yards were way up (226 today, 159 average), although yards per pass were only 6.1, which is pretty low and means that the Colts were making tackles almost immediately after the ball was caught, and not letting the Redskin receivers tack on lots of extra yards down the field.

The Colts had 452 yards of total offense, against a 357 average, and posted 36 points against a 27 average. Manning’s numbers were just sick: 25 completions on 35 throws for 342 yards and 4 touchdowns, against no picks (remember, Washington’s secondary is pretty crappy - they have all of two picks, which puts them at 29th in the league in that regard). Joseph Addai had 85 yards on the ground, and Reggie Wayne hauled in 7 balls for 122 yards and a touchdown. Marvin Harrison quietly had 7 balls for 73 yards and two scores. It should also be noted that the Colts turned the penalty situation around, committing only 3 penalties for 27 yards, none of which were costly.

Having said that, though, the Colts allowed Washington to convert on both of their fourth down attempts (at which they had previously been 0-2), and also allowed Antwaan Randle El - the most exciting player in the history of the National Football League* - to run a punt back for a touchdown. They also let Mark Brunell, that ageless wonder, throw at will (27 of 37 for 226 yards, 2 touchdowns, no picks) - apparently they can focus on either rush or pass defense in one game, but not both.

That’s not going to cut it against the Bears, never mind the other good teams the Colts have to play between here and the Super Bowl. And the schedule does not work in their favor for the rest of the season. Of the next four games, three are road games against teams that are currently in first place in their divisions (Denver, New England, and Dallas - combined record: 13-4), and the middle of December features back-to-back games at Jacksonville and home against Cincinnati - and even though the Begnals must thus far be thought of as disappointing, I don’t want the Colts to be the team against whom they turn it around.

Bottom line: the Colts today did what they are very good at doing - they let the game, against a lesser team, come to them in the first half, and then made the halftime adjustments that let them come out in the third quarter and pound the opponent into submission. I have a bad feeling that this team is so confident in its ability to bounce back that it feels comfortable in letting the other team dictate the terms of the game at the outset. But they have done so to this point against six teams that are not that good. NYG, NYJ, and Jacksonville are good teams, but the Colts have great teams waiting in the wings, and they can’t afford to make mistakes against the kind of teams that don’t make mistakes - not to belabor the point, but this is New England and Chicago I’m talking about. I have this nauseous feeling in my gut that the Colts might be playing the Patriots for the AFC title, and the Colts are only a half game better than New England right now. The November 5th game in Foxboro could mean the difference between playing in the New England snow or playing in the 72 degree Hoosier Dome come playoff time. It was just one year ago that the Colts threw the Patriot monkey off their backs; they lose in New England and that monkey is right back on again.

And I’m no zoologist, but I think it’s safe to say that a bear weighs more than a monkey.

* Not actually true, but I went to Indiana, and he has been the only exciting thing to happen to Indiana football in a long, long time - plus, I like to rub it in the face of everybody and their mother who said after his senior year at Indiana that he was too small to make it in the NFL. Turns out he’s the best punt return guy in the game, and also a viable option at receiver and tailback.

John Barnes For State Representative

John Barnes was my high school history teacher, and he made United States history interesting during first period, at something like 7:30 in the morning, or whenever it was that I had first period in high school. Now, he is running for State Representative in Indiana House District 89, in which I happen now to live, since I moved from Southport to Irvington at the end of May.

Barnes is challenging incumbent Republican Larry Buell, who has served two 12-years stints in the Indiana House (getting bounced out of office in 1992 and then brought right back again in 1994) and who is simply complacent with the fact that he has been in office for so long. I wrote a letter (which was not printed) to the editor of the Indianapolis Star in support of John Barnes, who is actively campaigning for this job - as opposed to Buell, who is merely sitting back on his laurels and assuming that the tried and true conservatives in his district will just saunter into the polling place and vote Republican without thinking about it on November 7th.

Buell refuses to come to the table to debate John Barnes on the issues, and has refused to do so all summer. One has to ask why this is so. If someone has served in the Indiana House of Representatives for as long as Mr. Buell has done, surely he has plenty of experience and success upon which he can draw in order to participate in a strong, lively debate with a political newcomer. Or, you know, maybe not.

I am not against career politicians, provided that those politicians are still doing good work and not simply rotting on the vine (Strom Thurmond, anyone?). An excellent case in point is United States Senator Richard Lugar, who is running for re-election this year. Dick Lugar has been in the Senate for 340 years, and before that was mayor of Indianapolis for 82 years. He even ran for President once or twice, though there was not much support for his candidacy. So he’s been around. But he’s not just sitting there. He’s been considered for the Nobel Peace Prize for the last several years for his nearly tireless work in helping to destroy stockpiles of nuclear weapons (for you Bushies out there, that’s “nuke-yuh-ler”).

Lugar is running unopposed, and would win going away even if he had an opponent - and yet he is still running television ads to let voters know what it is he has been doing. Why would anyone in his position bother to do so? The answer is that actions are important - Dick Lugar is not running for re-election just to run for re-election, and he is not ignoring his voters. He is doing good, good work in the Senate - despite the fact that he is a Republican - and helping to rid the world of the weapons of mass destruction. In fact, now that I think about it, he has done more to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction than has President Bush. Dick Lugar is destroying nukes, and George Bush has gotten more Americans killed in Iraq than died at the World Trade Center. Which is the Republican of whom we can be proud (insofar as pride in a Republican can be a viable concept)?

Larry Buell is shuffling bills around his desk that have to do with pensions and with honoring all sorts of people for all sorts of things - mostly local sports teams, and the wayward teacher who wins a spiffy national award. Mostly what Larry Buell is doing is standing behind House Speaker Brian Bosma’s push for things like statehouse prayer and a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage - and Buell isn’t even out in front on those things. Bosma is - he isn’t right, but he is at least sticking his neck out there and saying what he thinks and doing what he honestly believes to be right.

We don’t just need fresh, energetic voices in state government. We also need to start dismantling the kind of “leadership” that drives this ultra-conservative agenda. We need people like John Barnes in state government, and we need people like Larry Buell out of state government.

John Barnes is all upside - and, he even got the endorsement of the notoriously right-leaning Indianapolis Star. In fact, if you’re reading this, take a moment to follow that link there and zip over to the Star’s web page that discusses their endorsement of John Barnes. Then read the comments to that endorsement - two supporting, two dissenting. Of the four, which two sound like they were written by people who are naked inside their fear?

Finally, take a look around the east side neighborhoods of District 89 and look at how many John Barnes yard signs have popped up. For awhile, I thought mine was the only one - but they’re everywhere now. There are some Buell signs, too, but around here, anyway, the energy is on the John Barnes side. Pass the word - tell everyone you know - and vote for John Barnes for State Representative on November 7th!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Can't We All Just Get Along (With Two Cents)?

Who knew that Stephen Jackson could arouse so much contention in this little corner of the Blog-O-Verse - and over off-court antics, no less?

I didn’t see the comment(s?) Mike left on Shane’s blog before Shane took them down, so can’t really comment on whether or not they were appropriate.

However, having said that, I think that the type of discussion that can emerge by way of posting comments on someone else’s blog is one of the more interesting applications of this kind of communication; the blog-o-verse just seems so much more personal and expansive than discussing things in forum threads. But, I also understand Shane’s point about not wanting to have your blog used by someone else as a place for them to put their own posts. Again, missed Mike’s comments, so don’t know for sure.

So here’s my two cents (and all comments are welcome):

I could not be less interested in the Stephen Jackson thing specifically, nor in the Pacers generally. I have been losing interest in, and respect for, the NBA for a long time, sometimes half-heartedly hoping that the ship would right itself and that the Association would become respectable again (by which I mean less dunking, less hotel maid raping, less 3:00 a.m. rented-Bentley driving and then getting shot at, less leaving college early or skipping it altogether, and, uh...less dunking).

As my interest in and respect for the NBA has waned, however, I always continued to support the Pacers, because they are the hometown team, because I grew up watching and going to Pacers games, because the formerly sad sack Pacers turned into a real contender in the mid-1990s and began to put a high quality product on the floor (I always liked Dale Davis, whom I used to refer to as “RoboDale” because of all of the surgical tinkering that has been done to his shoulders over the years - in fact, I think there may still be a Dale Davis jersey in the closet of my old bedroom at my parents’ house), and because I wasn’t quite ready to write professional basketball off as the same kind of failed experiment that the Old Testament eventually became.

Then Ron Artest came along. He left St. John’s after two seasons to go pro. Maybe his game didn’t have any further up to go; but as an upperclassman, you learn more and more about leadership and maturity. Those lessons would have served him well in his NBA career. He is one of the, I don’t know, top five?, most talented players in the league, overall - when you factor in offense AND defense. He’s also poison, or least was for the Pacers. He’s super-talented, and he knows it; and he floats around on that cloud, thinking that what he does on the court will take care of everything else.

And it did - when he went from on-court to off-court in Detroit. It took care of the last chance Reggie Miller had to win the NBA title. It took care of the year after that, when the Pacers were still title contenders, but Artest turned into a crybaby who wanted to leave town. It was a soap opera, and the Pacers missed out on two chances to seriously contend for the NBA championship.

The team is now in a shambles, Donnie Walsh is at the end of his career, and we still have soap opera nonsense making headlines over and above what the team is doing on the court.

Here’s the point: I can understand, sort of, how the Pacers wanted to hold on to every last shred of hope they could muster that Ron Artest would turn himself around and fly straight. You do that with someone who is that talented. I guess.

Stephen Jackson isn’t even close, not even when he’s on - and when he’s on isn’t often enough. When he is on, I’d take him over almost anyone in the league; when he’s off, I’d sooner take the second coming of Dontonio Wingfield, one of the many freshman-year-leaving busts who have populated the NBA over the years. Anybody remember Rashard Griffiths? I didn’t think so.

I just don’t care anymore, and I actually sort of lament that fact, because the Fieldhouse is a great place to see a game; but the Pacers have finally lost their battle and have joined the three-ring joke that is the NBA. But hey, at least they’ve done one thing right, with the new age rule. Now I can at least watch Greg Oden play college ball for a year.

Pro football starts in the late summer and runs concurrently with college basketball from November to February; by the time college basketball ends, with a quick nod to golf and the Masters, the weekend after the NCAA title game, baseball has started, and that takes me all the way back to the NFL in the fall. The NBA is utterly irrelevant. Good riddance.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

You're Naked Inside Your Fear

Okay, here we go. A second response to my anti-Statehouse-prayer letter, and this one accuses me of being anti-Christian. It’s printed in the Star on Sunday, October 15, 2006, and is authored by a human from Indianapolis. I shall refrain from calling him an idiot, although he is pretty close. He speaks about how atheist, Communist governments around the world treat the Christians in their midsts.

Hmm. I guess it depends on which resources you consult for your information on atheism. Of the five Communist countries remaining in existence (China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam), the only one listed in the World Almanac for 2005 as officially atheist is China. Here are a few countries where Christianity is the primary religion, and where things have always been hunky-dory for the people: Germany, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda. Get the picture, Mr. ••••••••? Being mostly full of Christians does not automatically make a place good and its people fuzzy and lovable.

His second paragraph seems to suggest that religion is some sort of balm for suffering. He must be referring to such things as the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades; and let's not forget the truly uplifting Salem witch trials. Freedom and democracy are the balms for suffering. Religion exists ONLY to explain what cannot be explained by the best mind currently living on earth. I can explain why Communism causes suffering, and that is because it teaches that each man must produce to the best of his ability so that the most needy and least productive of his fellow men can benefit from his efforts. This is the same as pouring light into a black hole - those who are able willingly sacrifice themselves to those who are unable; what will you do when the source of the light runs out? Write a new religious text? By what light will you operate your pen?

Our leaders must rely on wisdom from above? Oh my. And will it be you, Mr. ••••••••, who invalidates their degrees from Harvard and Yale and Stanford and Princeton? You who invalidates the firings of the synapses in their brains? By all means, let’s put it all on some invisible man in the sky.

What I am against, stated plainly in my letter, is having Christianity shoved down my throat by the majority of the people. Save it. You’re not going to get to me. And you shouldn’t be trying to get everyone else, either. The failure of the Old Testament as a sociological experiment proves that guilt as a weapon is an intractable premise.

I am perfectly tolerant of Christians. My wife is a Christian, and she is the most tolerant and amazing human being I have ever known. She does not shove it down my throat; she does not ask me to go to to church with her (too often); she does not castigate me for taking her lord’s name in vain; she does not judge me. She does think I am overzealous sometimes. Wonder how she came to that conclusion. It's an uphill battle for the free-thinking in this state.

Religion has two places, for those who feel compelled, for reasons passing understanding, to buy into it - in church, and in the home. It does not, can not, belong in the public discourse. The reason for this is that there are so many different religions out there that the public discourse simply does not have room for all of them. Who is to say which mythology is right and which is wrong? Who can judge? Who has that right? To accept them equally is to strip them each of their superiority, and this is where the religious show their fear. It is why they cannot be trusted. They are not truly convinced they are right, but they are terrified that they are wrong.

The only reason that religion exists is because there are people who acknowledge the power that fear has over their senses and their reason. This is the final hurdle, to overcome that fear and believe in your reason.

It has nothing to do with tolerance, apart from the fact that there are some who tolerate their fear of existing as free humans on planet earth. You live and you die. It’s okay. So does everyone else.

The Last King Of Scotland

My instinct was to come home from our preview screening of The Last King Of Scotland and write about it immediately, so that everything I was thinking about the film would be fresh in my head and not get lost or corrupted during the overnight while I slept; and that was what I tried to do, except that I knew I would get it wrong, because I had not finished reading the novel yet. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to watch the movie before I finished the novel, but I went ahead and saw it, anyway. I’ve been looking forward to the film since I saw the trailer for the first time and realized that this was probably a role that Forest Whitaker was going to own. I wanted desperately to write about it right away, but nothing I wrote that night really made any sense.

Now, two nights later I have read about half of the novel (I was maybe fifty pages into it when I saw the movie - and it should be noted that I am rarely in the middle of only one book at any given time; for instance, I was already in the middle of iWoz, a new book by Steve Wozniak, the lesser known of the two Steves who built Apple Computer, and Atlas Shrugged when I started The Last King Of Scotland) and am very glad I chose not to post anything on this film before now.

The Last King Of Scotland tells two stories, which are interrelated: one is the story of Nicholas Garrigan, a young Scottish doctor who goes to Uganda to practice medicine in order to get out from under the thumb of his father; and the other is the story of the rise to power of Idi Amin, the charming and paranoid Ugandan dictator who came to power and was ousted from same within the decade of the 1970s.

The two types of media, however, tell stories that vary so widely as to be almost different stories altogether - as if, perhaps, the novel had been re-imagined rather than simply adapted for the screen. The novel tells the story at a much slower pace (the scene where Amin hits a cow with his Maserati and is attended to by Garrigan occurs within minutes of the beginning of the film, but not until a third of the way into the novel) and provides more of a picture of the daily routine of practicing medicine where it is most needed in the world - a place like Africa, where there are far too many who have far too little; by contrast, the film moves from set piece to set piece at a nearly frantic pace, but manages to maintain consistency and cohesion.

The novel manages to tell several stories - one about Garrigan, one about Africa, and one about Idi Amin. The film, on the other hand, focuses almost entirely on Amin, to its credit. Too often, filmmakers try to make movies out of books while remaining too faithful to the source material, without taking into account the fact that a novel is made to be read slowly, while a film is meant to be digested much more quickly. Now, this is not to say that you can’t have very fast-paced books or slower-paced films and have each be very good; it is simply to say that some things work better on the printed page than they do on the big screen. The novel version of The Last King Of Scotland would not have worked as well as a movie if it had been adapted more faithfully. That said, once you have seen the film, run right out and get the novel from the library, or pick up a copy at your local bookstore; you’ll be amazed at the differences. There are always differences between a novel and the movie that is made from it, but the differences here are remarkable, both in quantity and quality; and the most amazing thing of all is that all of those changes work. The film is a triumph.

Forest Whitaker turns in an acting performance that should be talked about, if there is any justice in the world, in the same way that Anthony Hopkins’ performance in The Silence Of The Lambs was (and still is) talked about, in the same way that people still talk about Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, and Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. Whitaker does not just portray Amin; he is Amin. This is, of course, conjecture on my part, to some extent; I never met Idi Amin, and so cannot really say if Whitaker is Amin or not. However, I never once saw Forest Whitaker while I was watching this movie (and have seen Good Morning Vietnam enough times to know what I’m talking about); all I saw was the character, a man who thrusts himself into power with the best of intentions, and then falls, perhaps inexorably, given the often arbitrary and capricious nature of power in African countries, into paranoia and then madness, which combine to destroy first the man and then his country, along with not a few of the people closest to him - of which Garrigan becomes one. What becomes of the ordinary Ugandans who suffer Amin’s tenure as their leader is even more unspeakable.

Is the historical figure of Idi Amin to be pitied? Certainly not. But ruthless, terrible people never begin that way - they wind up that way, by all sorts of causes. There is a tragedy to all of them, a tragedy that can only be seen by those who watch them fall; and this is what we see in this film, through the eyes of Dr. Garrigan - the fall of a giant of a man who never really had a chance to be what he wanted to be. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, it does so even more horribly in situations and places where power itself is but an illusion. To render such horror into high art is a remarkable achievement.

The Last King Of Scotland will win two Oscars, one for Forest Whitaker for Best Actor, and the other for Jeremy Brock, Peter Morgan, and Joe Penhall for Best Adapted Screenplay, based on the novel by Giles Foden. It should also be nominated for Best Picture, though I cannot say that a win is assured, as too many of the Oscar-caliber films have not yet come out.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

You Symbiotic, Patriotic Slam But Neck, Right?


The other night I tripped a nice continental drift divide and decided to write a letter to the editor of the Indianapolis Star, in response to a human who had written a letter praising Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma for working hard to reinstate a daily prayer to begin each session of business in the Statehouse. The letter-writer praised the tradition of prayer to open business in the Statehouse, and I questioned the need for that tradition. Here’s the letter (the Star edited the version they printed; this is the unedited version):

“In response to Bryan Hollingsworth's letter praising Speaker Bosma for upholding the tradition of prayer to open daily business in the Statehouse: Why is the tradition even necessary? Why do the religious feel so threatened when more well-reasoned elements in the social strata begin to marginalize religion in the public discourse? Such is the way with all superstitions; eventually, reason kicks in and the superstition is discarded. The people who are indignant about this and want prayer in the Statehouse are Christians who want Christian prayer in the Statehouse. If it were a daily prayer to Allah and a recitation from the Qur’an, there would be an outcry; if the daily prayer were a Shinto or Buddhist or Hindu prayer, there were would be an outcry. This is not about the expression of religion; it is about the continued dominance of Christianity in the public discourse. There is no majority rule in public policy with respect to religion; Christians do not get to sit at the front of the bus just because there are more of them, and they do not get to pray to their alleged savior in the arena of public policy. Science every day opens our eyes a little wider to the idea that we no longer require the crutch of religion, and every day explains more of the previously inexplicable, thereby making religion less relevant. It seems as though the true believers are terrified that religion will one day be outlawed. The Constitution forbids that, however. The Founding Fathers understood that religion was important to some people, but they also understood that it should not be thrust upon everyone.”

Today, there was a letter in the Star responding to my letter. A human from Greenwood suggested that I go to Washington, D.C., to see all the inscriptions of Christian faith in all the big government buildings. These inscriptions in Washington, she intimates, prove the grounds upon which this country was founded. Okay. Except that the word “God,” whether with a capital-G or otherwise, does not appear in the United States Constitution. Neither do the words “Jesus,” “Christ,” “creator,” “creation,” “religion,” or “religious.” The word “created” appears once in the Constitution. Article I, Section 6, Paragraph 2, says that no member of Congress will be allowed to hold civil office while also serving in Congress, regardless of whether that civil office be already in existence or newly created while the Congressman is serving. None of those words appear in the Bill of Rights; and they do not appear in any of the Amendments that follow the tenth. The values present in the law of the land may have been influenced by Christianity, but the Founding Fathers stripped all mention of it out of the written law.

Oh, and they founded our country in Philadelphia, not Washington. But, you know, the religious don’t put much store in the facts. They just point at their Bibles and say it’s in there, somewhere.

This was my whole point - today’s letter-writer seems to have missed most of it. She positively insists that this is a Christian place, these United States of America; and that is incorrect, because majority rule does not apply to a population based on how many of them adhere (however loosely) to a particular faith. I mentioned that in my letter, but the Star chose to excise that part of it. This is a country made up mostly of Christians, but it is not a Christian country. It’s a fine line, to be sure; but it’s a line that is there. A truly free country cannot be categorized by the faith of its people; to do so would invalidate the freedom. Here is my response to her response to me:

“If I may respond to Ms. ••••••, I would ask why it would be necessary for me to go to Washington in order to be inundated by her religion. I live in Indiana, where it almost feels as though one were drowing in Jesus with virtually no hope of catching even a glimpse of the life preserver of reason. The United States of America is not a Christian country. It is just a country. There is no majority rule with respect to religion; at least, there is no majority rule with respect to religion in a free country. If it were true that majority rule made this a Christian country, it would no longer be free. And it would no longer be worth living in.”

Most of what is in that response I have already mentioned in this post, but I wanted to share the letter as I submitted it to the Star, for posterity, or whatever. So that the handful of you who read this will know what I really said, if the Star prints something different. Uh...yeah. I send an echo now to the reasoned: Is there anybody out there?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Why Republicans Suck (#2)

The Republican National Congressional Committee is running ads here in the great, progressive, cosmopolitan, evolved, free-thinking, tolerant*, state of Indiana saying that Baron Hill is “too liberal for Indiana” because he voted against the gay marriage ban (which he was correct to do) and because he voted against some bill or other that protected the American flag.

I’m sorry the details here a little bit sketchy at the moment - I only just woke up this morning, and have only seen the ad once. Once I see it again, I’ll write down exactly what the phrasing is and revise the post. I just had to get something down right away because it was so ridiculous. The soul of Indiana is rotting from its conservative innards, and absurd, misleading ads like this - and that the ham-fisted troglodytes who populate this vast intellectual wasteland actually fall for such garbage - are just a couple of the reasons why that is.
UPDATE #1: I saw the sleazy ad a couple more times tonight, but was not fast enough with the pen and dry-erase board to get all of the details. Hill's vote against the gay marriage ban is noted as having come from 2004, and one of the votes "against protecting the American flag" was a House Roll Call Vote in 1999. There were two other votes noted under this heading, and I think they were in 2001 and 2002. Both were House Roll Call Votes, though I did not get the numbers on either one. More to come...
UPDATE #2: House Roll Call Vote 484 on 9/30/04 was the gay marriage vote. One of the three flag votes was House Roll Call Vote 252 on 6/24/99. The other two were later. I can never get all of it written down because these details are, of course, in the small print, and they go by too quickly. Also, the only time I really ever watch TV is when I'm just hanging out with Amy on the handful of night we get together during the week, and that's usually after dinner, during what the TV people think of as "primetime." This particular ad never runs during primetime, apparently because the RNCC cares about keeping Baron Hill's opponent (they won't use his name, so why should I?) in Congress, but not quite enough to pay the primetime ad rates.

By the way, to research House Roll Call Votes, go to:


I suspect that the issue about the American flag has to do with burning that flag, and there is, of course, nothing wrong with doing that. Zero. The only way an American flag can be burned is if it is a physical object made out of materials that are combustible; this is convenient, because most flags that people think to burn are made out of cloth. So go ahead. Burn them. The problem that some people have with this is that they have metaphysically altered the flag - purely in their minds - into being something more than just a combustible piece of cloth. It’s not just a “flag,” oh no; it’s the heart and soul of the greatest country in the world (and the only industrialized one whose people still sit back and accept the fact that their very own profiteering drug manufacturers and doctors refuse to allow their government to provide for the health care of ALL of its citizens in an affordable way), almost a living, breathing thing that they will only allow their feeble minds to understand in one particular, rigid way.

How is that people’s minds come to work this way? Have they so little respect for how much their minds can do, if only those minds are opened and these people apply their existence-granted reason to things like this?

And where did this nonsense come from, in the first place? That something physical could be made more than that just because someone thinks it should be. Oh, that’s right. It came from the Bible, it’s called transubstantiation, and regardless of the name you put on it or where you get the idea from, it boils down to this.

Male bovine fecal matter.

A flag is just a flag. Freedom is an ideal, something everyone has by virtue of being alive. Sometimes it must be fought for. Anyone who opposes freedom, or has taken the freedom of another (of even just one person), has abdicated his or her right to live on earth. None of us can make or do anything correctly without freedom.

I don’t even know if I want to get into the whole gay marriage debate in this post. There are so many things to say about it that it might wind up justifying a whole post of its own. For now, I will simply suffice it to say that there is, of course, nothing wrong with gay marriage. The only argument against it is a biblical one, and it is yet another in a long line of biblical arguments that are no longer relevant in modern society, and which should be discarded posthaste.

You have to get past these things. Take a look at a map of the United States some time, and then try to picture in your head which states are red and which ones are blue. Next, take a moment to figure out which states are the most populous, with the largest economies, and then take a look at what color they are. Get the picture? The smartest, richest (other than the oil-drilling hilljacks), and best-educated people in this country are fleeing middle America and the south, and going out toward the coasts, where the thinking is freer and the minds are more open. What chance does any state in between have to be great if it cannot keep its own liberal free-thinkers within its borders once they have reached the age of reason?

“Too liberal for Indiana?” That is not a valid concept, and it’s a damn shame that far too many people in this state will refuse to use their brains to figure out why it is not a valid concept, and why it could never be.

*I’m kidding, of course. Indiana is none of these things. I think Indiana probably could be great, but what we need are a lot more liberal people to stay in Indiana, and it's just not a place where the enlightened, educated, and liberal want to stay. I suppose that could change one day, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Colts, and Stadiums, and Taxes, Oh My!

I had concerns about whether or not the Colts could get to and/or win the Super Bowl even before the season started, due to the fact that the team let Edgerrin James go and decided to rely on the combination of first-round draft choice Joseph Addai and Dominic “Butterfingers” Rhodes to supply the ground attack; I became a bit more concered as the first few games were played and it became clear that the rush defense was back to its porous ways, allowing teams to eat up yards and clock time on us; found even more room for concern as it became clear that the Chicago Bears were not a fluke - but were, in fact, the best team in the NFL; and pretty much gave up the idea as hopeless when it was revealed that Corey Simon had some top-secret (but not life-threatening) personal health event that woud keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.

Quick note: I hope that Corey Simon makes a full and complete recovery from whatever it is that is keeping him out of uniform. I hope that he is able to play again (whether for the Colts or for someone else), because he is a superstar who has a gift for the game of football and makes any team he suits up for instantly better. I don’t pray, but my thoughts and well-wishes are with Corey and his family. I hope that the next thing I read about him is that he is healthy and happy and recovered, and I hope that the thing I read about him after that is that he will be able to play for the Colts next season.

Having said that, the Colts will have rush defense trouble all year, because the coaching staff is unable to put the fire into these guys. The coaches are unable to motivate the rush defense (this is DEFENSIVE LINEMAN and LINEBACKERS, and is not meant to indicate plays in which the guys in the secondary, by the nature of their positions, are supposed to make plays on opposing tailbacks). These guys, with the exception of Dwight Freeney (who gets held or double-teamed on every play) just don’t have the talent or the personal motivation to come out and start a game on fire.

Make no mistake, once they get embarrassed in the first thirty minutes and get the weekly tongue-lashing (which better not be the good kind you hear about masseuses giving to their special customers) in the locker room at halftime, they come out hungry. Not hungry like the kids Sally Struthers used to sponsor on TV commercials...more like fat-Uncle-Louie-on-line-at-the-Old-Country-Buffet-on-pot-roast-night hungry. Enough to do some damage, but not enough to, you know, take sharpened sticks and chase down Piggy or anything.

So why don’t they bring that in the first half? Don’t they know the teams they’re playing? Don’t they know Vince Young can’t throw the ball (yet), but that Travis Henry can run it? I know this. You know this. How can it be that it has escaped the attention of guys who get PAID to know it? Well, okay, it probably hasn’t escaped their attention.

So how can it be that these guys, who get PAID to prepare for it, fail to do so? I know people like to say that the Colts are a team that is built to play with the lead; but you can’t get and defend a lead (a big lead is easier to defend because it forces the other team into a vertical game plan, which scores points, when it works, faster than a ground attack does) when your offense isn’t on the field. And you can’t get your offense on the field when the other teams is chewing at the clock (probably like the Piggy-chasers would do) with running plays that don’t automatically stop the clock when they go wrong.

They can’t play that kind of first half rush defense against one of the really fine teams in the league this year - and here is the list of those teams: New England, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Seattle (I don’t buy Baltimore yet, because their schedule has been mostly cake and they’re all old; the Steelers are sloppy because of Motorcycle Ben and therefore won’t make the playoffs because they won’t win their division, and the two Wild Card spots will go to 1) the team above them and below the winner in their own division, and 2) Jacksonville; and I can’t quite buy the Giants because their chemsitry hasn’t taken hold quite the way it needs to for a team to be really dangerous, and they have to be really dangerous to win big in the toughest division in football) - because those teams will get down and score on you, not just run up the yards; and the Colts will have a hard time scoring on any of those teams (except New England).

I love this Colts team dearly, have supported the new stadium from day one* despite all of its detractors and its $10 million (so far) budget overrun, listen to them every week on the radio, pore over the stats on Tuesday morning (okay, Tuesday afternoon...sometimes late Tuesday night...okay, usually very, very early Wednesday morning - I keep unusual hours, what do you want from me?), and talk anyone’s ear off who will listen about how great these guys are, and how they are this step or that step away from going all the way.

But they are a bunch of •••••-••• ••••• •••••• who are afraid to play a little ugly (or a little rough, or a little dirty) sometimes, for fear of irking their quarterback and their head coach. They need to hold a players-only meeting and let someone other than Peyton Manning facilitate it; and they need to make a persuasive case for Manning to take to Tony Dungy and Tom Moore (methinks Moore will be more receptive to it from jump street than will Dungy, but that’s just me) so that Manning can let the coaches know that the team wants to show its fire and its heart, and that they are all agreed that they need to up the passion voltage - in the locker room AND on the field - before anyone is going to take these guys seriously as Super Bowl contenders. And then the defense needs to step up and create turnovers, squash opposing quarterbacks into the ground, and start making tackles with conviction (and in a way that make the hits Bob Sanders puts on people look like pimp slaps); and after that, Manning and the offense need to get back out there and shred the other team’s defense with Joseph Addai running draw plays and stretch plays on first and second down, and then Manning going deep to Harrison or Wayne or Clark or Stokley or Moorehead for touchdowns. I don’t want to see Adam Vinatieri on the field for anything but PATs, and I don’t want to see Hunter Smith on the field, ever. Ever. Let him trace the outside edge of the field at the beginning, middle, and end of games. I don’t ever want him inbounds, even if the clock is off.

Because I’ll tell you what - Chicago is head and shoulders above every other team in this league, and no one else, including the Colts, is even close. And they’re doing it on both sides of the ball, now that Rex Grossman has remembered the fact that he’s a good quarterback; they don’t have to rely on their defense to keep them in games anymore. They have two receivers (Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian) who are on pace for over a thousand yards each, a kicker who has already kicked seventeen field goals (EIGHT of which have been in the 40-49 yard range) and fifteen extra points (missing none of either), and a quarterback who has thrown for over twelve hundred yards and ten touchdowns, against only three picks, and is fourth in the league in quarterback rating. Their running game is less impressive, although Thomas Jones is on pace to go over a thousand yards and score almost eight touchdowns. Clearly, this is a team that is getting it done through the air, but which also has a running game that will keep you honest.

Another quick note: this post is pouring out of me at a remarkable rate, but it is doing so on Sunday night, so it’s possible that these Bears stats are only through four games. That makes them more impressive. Stats through game five will be even more gaudy, as the Bears thrashed the hapless Buffalo Bills for forty points today. I’ll check the stats and update the post on Tuesday.
UPDATE: The stats in the paragraph above are through five games. And they are sick.

*Note on the stadium: Most people like to complain about the Colts and the fact that the Colts are getting a new stadium. Wrong. Actually, that’s not quite right. WRONG! There. That’s better. Indianapolis is getting a new, state-of-the-art sports and entertainment venue THAT WAS MANDATED BY THE NEW CONTRACT WITH THE NCAA, AND NOT THE COLTS. Indianapolis will host the men’s Final Four, on average, every five years for the next thirty-nine years, because of that deal. There will also be men’s AND women’s first and second round NCAA Tournament games, probably the women’s Final Four, and maybe, just maybe (since the bugger will reach the NFL’s magic 70,000 seats number), a Super Bowl. The men’s Final Four alone brings in something like $30 million to the city’s economy. Let’s see...thirty-nine divided by five is 7.8, which, when multiplied by THIRTY MILLION is $234 million. That’s almost half the price tag right there. Never mind all the conventions that are going to take place in the EXPANDED convention center, and all the new conventions we’re going to get that we couldn’t get before, and all the conventions we’re going to get back that we had started to lose because they were growing and our convention center wasn’t...and don’t forget the eight Colts games a year over the thirty years we get to keep the Colts because of the new stadium (that’s 240, and even if you figure the estimate of how much money that brings to town at a conservative one million bucks**, that’s nearly half the price tag again). I don’t have numbers on the conventions, or on the women’s Final Four or men’s/women’s first and second round games, but I’ll bet, over 30-40 years, it’s better than $36 million, which is difference between the conservative estimates of Colts and men’s Final Four revenue over those 30-40 years and $510 million, which is the price tag plus the $10 million overrun. Of course, that’s assuming that Colts and Final Four revenues stay flat, which means ticket prices not going up over the course of a generation...and who really thinks THAT won’t happen?? Oh, and don’t forget this, you ••••• •••••••••••: Governor Daniels stole the funding plan for the stadium from Mayor Peterson, and it was Daniels’ plan that raised taxes, not Peterson’s. Apparently the conservatives are okay with raising taxes but not with gambling (as pull tabs would have closed the funding gap in Peterson’s plan, whereas the Daniels plan implemented that whopping 1% food and beverage tax in Marion and the surrounding “doughnut” counties - for the math-challenged, that means the next time you go out and buy your wife dinner and blow a hundred bucks at St. Elmo, which you can easily do even if you don’t get drinks or wine, you drop a whole extra buck on the stadium; and don’t talk to me about the principle of the thing, because there is no principle involved if you can afford to drop a hundred bucks on dinner and then choose to bitch about floating a buck to the stadium - the homeless beggars on Meridian Street probably guilt you out of least that much on your lunch break!). You got the tax increase because the Republican stole the plan - and it’s usually Republicans who try to cut taxes, so there you go. I suspect old Mitch might be eyeing the Senate seat Evan Bayh will vacate when he is elected President, but that’s a topic for another post, I think.

**Note on ticket prices: the lowest priced single ticket at the Hoosier Dome*** is twenty bucks. Now, regular Colts games will not use the 70,000 seat capacity of the new stadium; the more realistic number is between 63,000 and 65,000 seats, so let’s run the numbers this way.

$20 * 63,000 = $1.26 million
$1.26 million * 8 home games = $10.08 million
$10.08 million * 30 years on the lease = $302.4 million

Just Colts home games. Regular season. And yes, I know that most of that money goes to the players and the coaches and Jim Irsay and everyone but you and me. But that’s ticket revenue, and ticket revenue is taxed up the ass, baby, and every one of those tax dollars goes back to the city. And remember, that’s just ticket revenue AT THE CHEAPEST LEVEL. It does not include money from concessions, parking, items sold at the Colts Pro Shop (yes, I know most of the money from merchandise goes back to the team, but don’t forget the taxes...), television revenue, or the fact that most of the tickets go for a lot more than twenty bucks. In fact, take a look at the seating chart in the Hoosier Dome. You’ll see that the cheap $20 seats represent the SMALLEST chunk of seats available. So...ipso fatso (as Archie Bunker used to say), the actual amount of money generated from ticket revenue (which I above pegged at just over $300 million over thirty years) will be SIGNIFICANTLY higher; and ticket prices probably won’t be doing down at all over those thirty years.

And that doesn’t even take into account the intangibles, which is another conversation entirely. Seen any big hotels go up in downtown Indianapolis lately? Who do you think stays there? That’s right, convention attendees. Now, I know that those hotels are owned by criminal corporations who don’t pay taxes because cities are so excited to get their business that they practically fall all over each other trying to offer the biggest tax abatements, but what those hotels mean in terms of real dollars for this city is jobs for the people who work there, jobs for the people who build those hotels, and taxes paid to the city by the people who stay in those hotels. And, unlike the stadium, which fills with Colts fans all of eight times a year (okay, maybe ten to thirteen times, including playoff and pre-season games, but you can’t always count on playoff games, and pre-season games don’t sell out like regular season games), those hotels do business on pretty much a daily basis. Oh...and they all have restaurants on their ground floors, don’t they? Yeah, I think they do. The new Marriott has two, actually, and an overpriced, low-quality Starbucks. Actually, the Westin has a Starbucks, too, though I cannot attest to whether or not it is overpriced or low-quality. The one inside the Marriott has pretty much soured me on Starbucks stores inside snooty hotels.

***No, I won’t call it the RCA Dome. ••• ••.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Julian Opie: Signs

Amy and I walked all over downtown Saturday afternoon, examining the various installations of the Julian Opie: Signs public art exhibit that opened this week. There are eleven pieces placed all around downtown, from White River State Park, through the heart of downtown (Maryland Street, Monument Circle, Washington & Meridian, Delaware & Market, Ohio Street at the Chase Tower), one near IMOCA at Vermont, Indiana, and Senate, and one at the corner of College and Massachusetts. There is also one up at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

I’m not even sure how you would go about describing these works, as they are not just one type of art, and they are not saying one particular thing or another; the pieces are of various mediums (some of them require electricity), feature both people and animals (one has both), and are both two- and three-dimensional. I don’t like to be told the central theme of a work (or works) of art, preferring instead to generate my own idea of a theme based on my emotional response to the piece or pieces in question; so I will not attempt here to corral these pieces into a neat little cage called “The Theme.”

On the other hand, one of the certain things about this exhibition is that you are going to love the time you spend walking around downtown and looking at each of these pieces of art. Amy and I saw only six of them on foot, and then another two as we drove along Maryland Street on the way home; I plan to get the four I did not see on foot downtown on my day off on Tuesday, and I suspect that we will catch the one at the Art Museum when we go up there to see the European artist exhibit, the dates of which I am not sure of and cannot at the moment locate on their website.

I don’t know if these works are quite as much fun as the Tom Otterness sculptures that were here a year or two ago, but the Opie works are certainly interesting to look at, and a handful of them might actually transport you, if you are prone to such a happening. The most transporting of the ones that Amy and I saw today on foot would have to be “Sheep Cow Deer Dog Chicken Cat Goat,” which is at the rise of the hill near the amphitheater in White River State Park. Looking at the map of the exhibit from last Sunday’s paper, I incorrectly eyeballed this one as being somewhere around the back edge of the zoo parking lot—and obviously did not read the blurb that clearly spelled out where it was, until after we had doubled back around the zoo parking lot and found nothing. We wound up approaching it by walking through the place where the band plays in the amphitheater and going up through the grass to find the exhibit at the top of the hill.

When you approach the pieces that way, you see the city skyline behind them, and the lush grass of The Lawn unfolding in front of and above you as you come nearer. It is remarkably peaceful, and a little bit sublime, to see those seven inanimate objects. Physically they are but wood, paint, and the application of a clever design. Seen from a distance, though, they...I don’t know, they just made me feel good.

If you live here in Indianapolis, or live close enough to visit, be sure to catch these works of art sometime over the next year; and if you live, work, or play downtown, be sure to catch them often. A year seems like a long time, but will go by quickly; and we will miss them when they are gone.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Why Republicans Suck (#1)

This is the first in what will undoubtedly be a series of posts that pick apart some issue taken up by Republicans, or some move on their part, or perhaps just general ranting against them. I take no prisoners when it comes to Republicans, because these folks have allowed their party to be hijacked by the Christian right (which isn't, incidentally), a wide-eyed group of psychotics who are substantively different from the people who fly planes into buildings only in the sense that most of them have not been trained with Kalashnikovs. That said, what follows is a piece of writing that was offered by me for publication elsewhere and ignored by the person to whom I submitted it. I submitted it to this person unsolicited and offered that person the use of it, in whole or in part, asking only that I be cited by name and identified as a "liberal citizen who votes." Of these there are not enough in Indiana.

The issue at hand is old hat by now, I'm sure, but it struck me as important at the time - and got no substantive press. Senate Republicans were threatening to block an up-or-down vote on a resolution offered by Senate Democrats that would call for a vote of no confidence in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. This was about a month ago, in early September, 2006. Remember when the Democrats wanted to filibuster the Supreme Court nominations of John Roberts and Samurel Alito? Bush and his ilk were in front of every microphone they could find, demanding that each nominee was entitled to a simple up-or-down vote. They did not insist on the same for this proposed resolution. See, the Republicans are in favor of up-and-down votes, and think they have merit...provided they know that their side will come out on top, with no element of doubt. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who will soon start wasting money on a bid for the Republican nomination for President in 2008 which he does not have a prayer of winning, even if he did half flip-flop on stem cells (too little, too late, Doc, sorry 'bout ya), even went so far as to outright declare that the Republicans would block the up-or-down vote by invoking a procedural point of order. They castigated the Democrats for blocking the same kind of vote in the previous situation, and that is an example of hypocrisy. At any rate, here's the piece:

Isn't it interesting to read that Senate Republicans have promised to use a procedural point of order to block a resolution offered by Senate Democrats that would call for a vote of no-confidence in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Is it conceivable that these are the same Republicans who theatened to use their so-called "nuclear option," an arbitrary rule change that would lower the number of votes required to end a filibuster from sixty to fifty-one, if the Democrats went through with their threatened filibusters of then-nominees to the United States Supreme Court John Roberts and Samuel Alito?

I am both surprised and not-surprised to learn of this: surprised, because the Republicans seemed so self-righteous when they insisted on an up-or-down vote on Roberts and Alito; and yet not surprised, because it turns out that the Republicans only support up-or-down votes that they know they are going to win. There was no doubt the Roberts was going to be confirmed handily; and there was little doubt that Alito would be confirmed, as well; but there is enormous doubt as to how the vote on Rumsfeld would turn out, because there are Republicans (even some prominent ones) who would cross the aisle and vote with the Democrats for the Secretary's (long-overdue) ouster.

A strong no-confidence vote against Rumsfeld (even a nonbinding one, as this resolution would be), would echo as a vote of no-confidence in President Bush, and would be enormously damaging to the Republicans in the November elections. There will be a shift in seats after these mid-term elections, as is almost always the case in the mid-term elections during a President's second term; and the shift could be enough to swing the majorities back over to the Democrats. This is a paralyzing fear for the Republicans in Congress (especially those up for re-election this November) and the Republicans in the White House, who are all trying desperately to salvage the disaster in Vietraq and come up with some kind of legacy of which Bush can be proud.

Both tasks will be daunting, and will require at least tacit support in Congress for the President's antics in the remaining years of his term. The willingness by Democrats to filibuster Roberts and Alito was, to some extent (especially in the case of Roberts), political grandstanding, just as this promise by Republicans (it was, according to the Associated Press article printed in the Indianapolis Star on September 6, 2006, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's chief of staff, Eric Ueland, who called it a "promise") to use the procedural point of order to block the Rumsfeld vote is political grandstanding.

But we're not any longer talking about the nebulous possibility that a conservative justice will swing the Court toward overturning Roe vs. Wade; what we are talking about now is accountability for what has happened (and is still happening) in Vietraq, of which there has been none, apart from a tiny amount of empty rhetoric in some of the President's speeches. Refusing to allow this resolution its up-or-down vote demonstrates not only that the Republicans are hypocrites, but also that they are more concerned with keeping their jobs and their majority than they are with doing those jobs. That is political grandstanding of the very worst kind, and it is the kind of politics that has no place in government, at any level of government in the United States of America.