Thursday, June 30, 2005

Every once in a while an email makes it through my spam filter and to award the ingenuity I take a look. OK that's a lie; really I just saw the subject line "horse riding" and thought, hmmm, is this what I think it is? I clicked through, and the text said: "Horses, snakes, cows, monkeys, sheep, goats, donkeys, dogs come see it all," along with an innocuous-looking URL. So of course, you know, purely for research purposes, I clicked through again, and it was exactly what I suspected. I assume my sophisticated readers don't need it spelled out for them, but here's a hint. The reason I was moved to post about this was the excellent warning prominently featured on the site:

Banned in 51 States!

In other news, we had our first 'Nam guy of the summer yesterday at the reference desk. The patron came to the desk not exactly speaking in an indoor voice. We soon asked him if he could lower his voice, and he obliged--but not before telling us that he spoke loudly because he was hard of hearing, and that it's amazing what a howitzer going off right next to your ear over and over again could do. As it did to him in 'Nam.

You know, OK, fair enough, I'll give him that one. I'll even sympathize with his complaint that he's tired of being treated like a third-class citizen. But we didn't find out whether it was before, during, or after 'Nam that he decided that the massive, complex tattoo in the middle of his forehead was a really good idea. Here's the thing: it isn't. I hate to over-generalize, but I'm willing to say that getting a tattoo anywhere on the face has never worked out well for anyone in the long-term. I'm also pretty skeptical about the medium-term and the short-term.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

I don't know if it should make me happy or upset that I just watched the end of the Chris Taft nosedive down to the Warriors at #42, where he will come out and play-yee-yay next year. Thanks for screwing up our team for a non-guaranteed contract, Chris. Here's wishing you all the success enjoyed by fellow alums such as Vonteego Cummings, Eric Mobley, Mark Blount, Jerome Lane.....

Monday, June 27, 2005

What better way to spend a hot, humid late afternoon than sitting in air-conditioned comfort, putting the happiest songs on your computer onto a playlist, eating a peanut butter and pickle sandwich, and reading a biography of John C. Fremont. OK, I know exactly where most of you got off the train in that list, but I'm enjoying it, dammit.

The Fremont book fascinates me for any number of reasons. For one, I knew precious little about the Bear Flag Republic and what a haphazard affair it was. For two, I love reading about the exploration of the West, particularly in historically sophisticated books that don't just talk about rugged individualism, but that instead remind you that those "rugged individuals" were U.S. government officials carrying the flag and the resources of the country behind them. For three, it's truly amazing to think about just how few people were actually involved in these exploration parties, and particularly in the Mexican-American War; count up the total number of "troops" (often semi-conscripted or politically interested settlers) on both sides and it's hard to find 1,000 people in the whole California campaign--some of whom at least briefly set out with the idea (not realized) of sailing to Acapulco to open up another front.

The book also resonates with me for another reason: this is the first summer since 1997 that I won't cross the country by car at least once, and that reality is finally starting to set in and make me a little bit stir crazy. In fact, I'm already looking at Yahoo maps to figure out new and interesting routes for next summer ( many miles to Seattle and then down? what about finally traversing America's Loneliest Highway? etc.).

Finally, the book resonates because it makes me think again about land and property and ownership, topics that have been on my mind in the wake of the recent SCOTUS decision in Kelo v. New London. Kelo is one of those decisions that makes me happy that I want to be a lawyer and not a judge--I can make the argument for whatever side wants to pay me, but I'd prefer not to decide what I actually think about it myself. I'm highly waffle-y on the subject; my gut (like that of some other left-leaning folks) that this is a bad decision, and that allowing for shopping developments and the like is a pretty crummy reason to take people's homes through eminent domain. On the other hand, as soon as I start thinking that way, I notice who voted which way, and I remind myself that some other things must be going on here.

The Court is filled with smart people, and I'm willing to go with it when they take New London at its word that this is not a mere boondoggle for Pfizer, but rather a community development plan that takes advantage of Pfizer's presence as an anchor. At least five justices decided this was not a mere pretext, and nothing in the dissenting opinions suggest that the other four justices thought it was pretextual either. Rather, they just don't think that eminent domain should be available for pure economic benefits--i.e., where the point of the eminent domain is to improve the local economy generally. The slippery slope argument (why can't the government, then, take mom and pop stores to make way for Wal-Marts) is worth exploring, but nothing in this decision suggests that such piecemeal takings, not tied to a broader plan, would be acceptable.

To me, Justice O'Connor gives away what's really going on here in the way she introduces the facts of the case:

Petitioners are nine resident or investment owners of 15 homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, Connecticut. Petitioner Wilhelmina Dery, for example, lives in a house on Walbach Street that has been in her family for over 100 years. She was born in the house in 1918; her husband, petitioner Charles Dery, moved into the house when they married in 1946. Their son lives next door with his family in the house he received as a wedding gift, and joins his parents in this suit. Two petitioners keep rental properties in the neighborhood.
For O'Connor and the other dissenters, it matters that people have lived in these houses for a long time, that families live near one another, etc. Notice that none of that matters the slightest bit before the law--if the government wanted the property to build a school, for instance, the petitioners just lose. The only thing at issue is the legitimacy of the purpose behind the taking, not the status in any way, shape, or form of the people who currently own the property. The dissenters, though, clearly care.

Where I'm going with this, as you would have no reason to have guessed so far, is this: I don't care. Perhaps this has something to do with my own peripatetic nature, but I quite simply place absolutely no stake in roots, long-time occupancy, traditional occupancy, etc. So in Kelo, I'm not sympathetic to the idea that we can't have our economic development plan, because Mrs. Kelo has lived here for a long time. Tough shit. I'm more sympathetic to the idea that taking land from one private landholder and transferring it to another is not a "public use" (as required under the Fifth Amendment grant of eminent domain power), but that ship has long sailed, including cases where a unanimous court allowed such transfers in an opinion written by O'Connor.

So why does John C. Fremont remind me of this? Well, the point I made about not caring about traditional occupancy, etc. applies in a number of situations. For instance, even though I'm often sympathetic to Michael Moore's views, I totally disagree with the central premise of Roger and Me--that people who have lived in Flint are entitled to a good life in Flint. No. If you can't make it there, move. Seriously. Move. I don't care how long you've lived there. Move. And if you don't move, then clearly you value staying more than you value other aspects of a "good life," so stop complaining. Seriously, I come from a place where some people can make it just fine, others leave, and the rest stay due to some allegiance to place that I just don't comprehend at all.

And again, Fremont? Well, it turns out that I'm also unsympathetic to (generally left-wing) claims that people (in the sense, here, not of "persons" but of groups, peoples) are entitled to land that their ancestors once held and that they no longer hold. Whether it's moving boundaries of European wars or Native American claims, I just don't buy it. If for whatever reason (conquest, mismanagement, industry failures, etc.) you can't hold onto land that you have, then you no longer have it. That's just how property works, and in any semblance of a modern world, it's how property has to work. So, move to somewhere with a good economy, do what you can to acquire marketable skills, and try to earn the money to buy it back if that's what matters to you. Or perhaps you'll be like Aldous Huxley, and after you leave war-torn Europe for Southern California, you'll realize you'd be a damn fool to ever leave it again.


OK, honestly, even though I believe everything I just wrote, I have no idea where that burst of text came from. It's probably the heat, and I probably need another sammich.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

If anyone has any thoughts on why anything I do the the date line of my template only works for the most recent post, and more importantly how to make that not the case, please let me know.

Or for that matter, why I can "preview" my blog and the blockquotes work, but if I actually access the blog, everything's all centered.

There's no question that the best thing about Southern California weather as compared to Midwest weather is the lack of snow. Hands down. I may not have felt that way before I owned a car, but since then it's absolutely clear. After that, it's a virtual tie for second place. I could make a strong case for the long dry season--in L.A., you never worry that anything you have to do in the summer will be cancelled or affected by rain. You can be pretty sure it won't.

However, at the moment my candidate for #2 is the lack of humidity. Particularly as a large person, humidity can be the bane of my existence in the summer. Yesterday was a great example; my regular schedule gives me Fridays and Sundays off. However, I had to go to the laundromat and the supermarket in addition to the gym, so I was running around all day anyway. When I finished my errands around 6, I sat down and put on the TV, with the distinct plan of going out around 10. Instead, I just sat, slouched and eventually lay down and basically just swooned all night. I never did make it back out of my apartment. I really hope that story's not repeated over and over again for the next 2 months, but I have my suspicions.

Monday, June 20, 2005

This was my weekend to explore Michigan a little bit. Saturday night Mike and I were supposed to be going to a women's football game, but the opponent folded before the game. So with that out, we went to see the Lansing Lugnuts, your Toronto Blue Jays of the future, the T-shirts noted. The Lugnuts' logo looks like something from a '50s cartoon where the artist simultaneously tried to get across stupid and flustered. On Sunday we traveled to Frankenmuth and Birch Run for chicken (plus 84 starches) and outlet shopping respectively. OK, in my case outlet browsing, but still.

What's really on my mind, though, is this: I don't really know that much about basketball X's and O's, certainly much less than I do about football, and about baseball positioning and strategy. I know what posting up and pick and rolls are, but that's about it. And still, with 9 seconds left last night in overtime and the Pistons up by two, I take one look at the court alignment as the Spurs come out of a timeout and actual say out loud (with 3 witnesses): "Robert Horry is inbounding the ball, and they're leaving him unguarded. That's a really bad..." and then the swish of a 3-pointer roughly coincided with the word "idea." I understand that Larry Brown is a great basketball coach, but, DUDE, WTF?! I mean WTF?! Really? You're going to double-team someone 15 feet away from the net when the worst thing that can happen there is double overtime at home, instead of covering the single player in the league you least want taking a game-winning 3 in a playoff game?! Really?!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Between ESPN Classic and the book I'm currently reading, I still have football on the brain, and specifically old football. One of the highlight films I watched this week was the 1981 Jets. For whatever reason, they had a few more players that I remembered than some of their contemporaries--Richard Todd, Freeman McNeil, Wesley Walker, Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau--and so I particularly enjoyed this one.

Something in the narration gave me pause, though. They said that 1981 was the Jets' first winning season since 1969. That sounded so weird that I had to look it up, and it turns out it was accurate. This information, plus a little more digging, only confirmed something that I'd suspected for a long-time: I know who the most overrated player in football history and the least-deserving Pro Football Hall of Famer is, and he wants to kiss you.

One look at Joe Wille Namath's stats tells most of this story. Several things stand out. The Super Bowl III year, 1968 ('69 playoffs) was Namath's fourth season and his third over 3,000 yards, something he would never do again, even though he played every game in three more seasons and all but one in a fourth. Most strking to me, though, is this: in his rookie year, Namath threw 18 TDs and 15 interceptions. In his 12 other NFL/AFL seasons, only once would Namath ever throw more (or even as many) touchdowns as interceptions (1969, 19/17). For his career, Namath threw 47 more interceptions than touchdowns. That's downright bad. Here's a sense of how bad it is: 10 other quarterbacks who played in at least one of the same seasons in which Namath played are in the Hall of Fame. Of those 10, nine of them--Starr, Staubach, Tarkenton, Unitas, Jurgensen, Griese, Fouts, Dawson, and Bradshaw--threw more touchdowns than interceptions in their career. The 10th, George Blanda, is in the Hall as much for kicking and freakish longevity as for quarterbacking, but even he had a better ratio (236 TDs, 277 INTs).

Clearly, the injury bug was a major factor in Namath not having a better career; after 1969, he only played in 9 games the following two seasons, and then after one healthy season, only 6 the next. From 1974-76 he played all but three games, but was no doubt a lesser player due to repeated knee injuries.

The bottom line is that Namath's in the Hall for one game, Super Bowl III, in which he threw zero touchdown passes and for 206 yards. He's also in the Hall for charisma and for what might have been had he stayed healthy. All three of these are really bad reasons to be in the Hall of Fame. Luckily, football hasn't enshrined stinkers while keeping out much better candidates in the way baseball often has. Here, though, the gatekeepers were caught napping.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Ways being a law student screws you up for life #638: So I just came out of the restroom here at the coffee shop, and there's a sign in there that says, "Please do not flush anything but a reasonable amount of toilet paper." Curious sign, no doubt, but apparently straightforward--applies the objective "reasonable person" standard to a judgment call, which makes a lot of sense, and clearly can be judged ex post facto based on results. OTOH, I faced a dilemma that the sign's apparently simplicity belied--was a strict or a loose interpretation of the sign appropriate? Not being a Scalia-like originalist, I eschewed the straightforward textual reading for one based more on an understanding of cultural context, (notwithstanding the "if it's yellow, stay mellow" dictum) and decided that the actual water plus any human-generated waste were clearly not meant to be covered by the sign. I thus proceeded, confident that I had properly navigated a dicey problem of interpretation.

OK, maybe it's not law school; maybe it's more like Adrian Cronauer's diagnosis of Bruno Kirby's character in Good Morning Vietnam. Either way, you know, welcome to my own personal brand of crazy.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The offspring of the mediocre Pirates of my childhood are now the athletic stars of the moment. Frogs and locusts still pending.

Friday, June 10, 2005

I took part of Mr. Tanana's advice and checked out recently. It's a great deal to my mind--100 free downloads to start, then $9.95 per month for up to 40 downloads a month, (and the important part) cancel at any time. I've been downloading a lot of songs ranging from the ridiculous to the only somewhat less ridiculous. (At least their store doesn't need some fixin'.) I've found some '80s throwback faves, some odd covers, and a couple of complete albums by bands I already liked. I also now have a favorite Finnish surf rock band.

I still have 53 downloads, from an exceptionally quirky catalog; I've exhausted the prior set of suggestions, and am open for more.

I also have a question that I leave to the expertise and ingenuity of my readership. The first 3.5 gigabytes of music I put on my computer were burned off CDs and went straight to My Music. I played them in Windows Media Player. Then I downloaded iTunes. The first time I opened it, it transferred a small but not insubstantial (15-20%) amount of the 3.5 gigs into its own memory, without affecting the My Music folder. However, everything I've downloaded from iTunes itself and now from emusic seems to be available in iTunes but not WMP.

The question is this: is there any easy way to make all of the music on my computer accessible to one or both programs? I'd rather make it all accessible in WMP, but I'd glady settle for making it all available in iTunes. Suggestions?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

ESPN Classic has been showing a lot of old NFL team highlight videos lately; if they keep it up, I may not leave my apartment the rest of the summer. What's great about it is that they aren't so much showing champions, but teams that did pretty well--playoff teams, but not championship teams. For instance, I just finished watching the 1981 Giants. I know about the '81 49ers, I know about the '86 Giants, but learning about this level of team is exactly what I like. The running of Scott Carpenter, the passing of Scott Brunner, etc. Add in the fact that it's just at the point where you get the classic NFL Films music, while also mixing in a little bit of '80s synth cheese. "Broncomania" (from 1986), and the 1980 Browns and Falcons, were great for exactly the same reason (replacing Carpenter and Brunner with William Andrews and Brian Sipe, of course).

If I could take over ESPN Classic, the lineup would be simple--old NFL Films, um, films; old games in their almost entirety (and by old, I mean that I would include stuff from before, say, 1998); maybe keep the Sunday night movie; and of course, Cheap Seats. That's it, that's the list. Never again would the network be besmirched with SportsCentury features, and certainly not of athletes who have retired in the last 5 years, or worse still, haven't even retired yet. People it's simple--it's about the games, and when it's not about the games, it's about old NFL Films. I don't even understand how someone could argue with me on this.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

So for reasons that are beyond me, one project at work today involved finding the latitude and longitude of American hospitals. There are a zillion websites out there that claim to have detailed latitude and longitude info, but the quality varies from mediocre on down. Someone, though, got the bright idea that many hospitals have heliports, and so websites collecting airport info might have them, and it was a great idea. Most hospitals do show up. Anyway, the point of this post: if you are going to get so sick or injured that you need to be Life-Flighted, stay the hell away from Kentucky and Tennessee, which do not seem to follow this trend at all.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Based on the referrals sidebar, the orange hasn't scared away too many folks. Yet. I haven't decided whether this template will stick or not, and if it does whether I'll manually go in and mute the orange a bit. But I was tired of the old one, and particularly certain lacking functionalities, such as the ability to easily link to a particular post. I had played around with some of Blogger's templates, but with one major problem--I consider the comments to be a crucial part of the archive, and I couldn't figure out how to move over to Blogger's comment system without losing the old ones--plus I couldn't figure out how to incorporate my current comment system into the Blogger templates. This template was actually built for use with backblog, so it won out.