Understanding Rick Perry

November 10th, 2010

Something struck me while watching yesterday’s interview with Texas governor Rick Perry (in three convenient parts) on yesterday’s Daily Show. I’m using this post to work out the specifics of this idea, so bear with me, but it seems to me that the dichotomy Perry asserts — as evidenced in the subtitle of his book Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, a “federal government vs. We The People” distinction — is inherently false.

Now, okay, that’s not a new realization; Jon Stewart even challenges Perry on it early in the interview when he asks what Perry thinks happens to these well-meaning people once they enter D.C. But challenging the dichotomy isn’t really what I’m interested in. I guess what I really want is to understand where it comes from, because I don’t see it. And it’s a new step to that understanding that struck me during the interview.

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The Never-Ending Story

November 2nd, 2010

It’s so hard to stop. For the past few hours, I’ve had the election results pages on the Chicago Tribune and CNN websites (as well as Wired’s Election Party site) on constant refresh. Even when I know there’s not going to be any significantly new (or, from my perspective, good) news coming in, I keep checking back.

(In the writing of that paragraph, I hopped back over to those sites three times because, y’know, something major could’ve happened in those five minutes…)

These are the times when it’s exhausting to be a politics junkie. For me it goes back to what I was writing about on Sunday; I love the story of election night. It’s got everything: suspense, foreshadowing, unexpected twists, memorable characters. Following these results is very much the same feeling for me as staying up until 3 a.m. with a book I just can’t put down.

Tomorrow the hangover will come. In part, it’ll be an “I stayed up too late, keeping my brain engaged for too long” hangover, and that’s the enjoyable kind. But the rest of it will be from the realization that, for all that energy expended tonight, the story isn’t over. All this, that seems like the denouement of a narrative I’ve been following for months, a narrative that surprises you with one more chapter every time. Sometimes it gets to the point where I expect Falkor to fly by my window at any moment.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s fun to try to guess what the next part of the story’s going to be. Will there be harsh compromises? Will there be complete gridlock? Will Joe Lieberman threaten to switch his caucusing party and shift Senate control to the Republicans? (Okay, that last one was a little über-wonky. I’ll dial it back a notch. And I don’t think the numbers will wind up supporting that scenario anyhow, so it’s a moot point.) I love thinking about this stuff…but it also makes me very tired.

Which I guess is a point of admiration to those professionals out there who have to keep coming back, day after day, and pay attention to this stuff all the time. It sure as heck isn’t a job I’d want.

But for now, it’s just hitting midnight, and I need to wrap this up if I’m going to make my posting-on-Tuesday deadline. So I’m going to post this, take one last look at the returns, then shut down the browser and go to bed. And tomorrow, I’m going to try to think about politics not at all.

Maybe instead, Falkor can take me for a ride.


October 31st, 2010

(As part of my blog-a-day goal, I’ve set aside Sunday for a day of a bit more reflection; for posts that may go a little longer, and that allow me to just look in the mirror a little. These are more self-indulgent than my normal blog posts, so I’ll hide most of it beneath the jump text. Thank you for your patience. :) )

Most days when I post to this blog, I’m doing so from our home’s little office. It gives me a nice view on the street outside, where I can occasionally see the neighbors doing neighborly things: kids riding scooters, couples taking their dog for a walk, guests bringing a bunch of balloons to a party…it’s almost like I’m living in a ’60s sitcom, sometimes. As I work at my desk with the window in front of me, I can also look to my left or right and see a vast array of books.

My book collection isn’t what it once was — it’s been weeded in dribs and drabs over the years, until just a few months ago I decided that freeing up space in this room was more important than shelves upon shelves of books I never read and are only even here because I got them cheap at used book sales and they seemed like a good idea at the time. So there aren’t as many as there once were, but still: there’s a crapload of books around me. More importantly, there’s a crapload of stories.

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Up, Up, Down, Down…

October 30th, 2010

Tonight was a good night, spending it with my family at my sister’s house to celebrate my nephew’s 11th birthday. It’s been a crazy past week, so spending a bit of down time with everyone was a nice way to spend the evening. There was pizza and cake and presents and games…everything you could want at an 11 year old’s birthday. (Really, that would be pretty darn good for this 34 year old’s birthday, too.)

The game that we wound up playing was Dicecapades. It’s not one that I had heard of before, but definitely one that I would love to seek out to add to my stash. Using a variety of dice — four-, six-, eight-, ten-, twelve-, and twenty-sided; dice with pictures; dice with playing card values; etc. — players have to engage in challenges ranging from math problems using the dice rolled to drawing a specified image to stacking specific dice in 30 seconds or less.

At one point in the game, the following trivia question came up for my dad: “What is the secret code for unlimited lives in Konami’s Contra videogame?” As everyone around the table gaped in utter confusion at the question, I just had to laugh. As I explained after my dad gave up, there is a certain type of geek, in my general age range, who will have absolutely no hesitation in reciting

↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ← → ← → B A [start]

For that particular set of geek, it’s not just a secret code for a Konami game; it’s a secret code of identification. If one of us hears another person recite that code, there’ll almost certainly be a shared glance and a knowing smile. It’s the inside handshake of the Nintendo generation.

How pervasive is this code to that set? Well, it’s got its own Wikipedia entry; there’s an indie rock band (now defunct) in Jersey that used it as their band name; G4 did a segment on it:

Video GamesE3 2011

And most tellingly? There are t-shirts:

So there you go. If you didn’t know this code before, now you do. And if you did already know it? Well, allow me to share with you a glance and a knowing smile.

And, of course, unlimited lives.

Let’s Go Halloween Caroling!

October 29th, 2010

(Two days in a row having troubles getting these up on time. Grr! Okay, Friday, play nice…)

I talked yesterday about how Halloween seems more suited to TV and movies than other holidays. That’s in contrast to Christmas, which has an unbreakable grasp on music. (Yes, yes, not all “Christmas music” is technically related to that particular holiday, but even stuff like “Winter Wonderland” becomes “Christmas music” by proximity. Hell, “My Favorite Things” became a “Christmas song” by proximity just because of a few vaguely winter-y lines.) There’s a small selection of what might be termed “Halloween songs” — novelty songs like “The Monster Mash” mostly — but this holiday is hard-pressed to present a definitive soundtrack. Even my favorite Halloween-y musical, The Nightmare Before Christmas, is more about Christmas than Halloween!

As I mentioned yesterday on Facebook, I’m trying to put together a Halloween playlist, and since obvious selections are limited, it requires a bit of thinking outside the box, looking for songs with creepy themes or a title/lyrics that represent something in the Halloween oeuvre. So far, I’ve got a few no-brainers (“Thriller,” White Zombie’s cover of “I’m Your Boogie Man”, Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein”, Santana’s “Black Magic Woman”), a bit of geekery (two Jonathan Coulton songs — “Creepy Doll” and “Re: Your Brains” — and two Nightmare Before Christmas covers — “This Is Halloween” by Marilyn Manson and “Oogie Boogie’s Song” by Rodrigo Y Gabriella), and a few weaker picks (“Highway to Hell” and “Hell’s Bells” by AC/DC, “Devil’s Haircut” by Beck, “Helter Skelter” by The Beatles). Beyond that…well, I’m still scouring iTunes for brilliant options, and I’m sure I missed some gimmes, but I’m not sure where else to go.

If you’ve got any good Halloween music suggestions, hit me with ‘em in comments. And keep an eye peeled; on Sunday, I’ll share an update with my finalized playlist for this year.

“You Didn’t Tell Me You Were Going to Kill It!”

October 28th, 2010

Ah, it’s time once again for one of those great television moments: the annual airing of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. From the first scene with Linus and Lucy recover a pumpkin from the field (whence comes the punchline above), to Charlie Brown’s holey ghost costume, to a silhouetted Snoopy rising out of the pumpkin patch, there’s not a moment in this special that’s not awesome. I’m not sure if it would win out in my heart against A Charlie Brown Christmas, and thankfully, I don’t have to choose.

Anyway, to prove I can always, always over-think things, here are some things that come to mind as I’m watching this right now:

  • I find myself wondering about the psychology of the people giving Charlie Brown a rock. What’s going on there? Do people in CB’s neighborhood keep rocks on hand for kids they don’t like — and, if so, how do they know which kid is which? Is it a neighborhood tradition to give a rock to the worst-costumed kid in each group? Or is it a form of magical realism, where Charlie Brown gets a rock because of his perception of himself?
  • Charles Schultz always asserted that he didn’t picture Charlie Brown as being bald, but as having very light hair. If that’s the case, then why, in this special which Schultz was (I believe) actively involved in creating, are the girls able to write on the back of his head as if it was a smooth surface?
  • What is that sound supposed to be as Snoopy rises out of the pumpkin patch, anyhow?
  • It’s 7:33, and this special is slotted until 8:00. How are they going to fill the time? …Oh. You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown. That’s…timely. If not particularly exciting. (Wikipedia tells me ABC has been airing these two together since 2006. Goes to show how much I’ve been paying attention, I guess…)

There’s something about Halloween that works with television (and movies) the way no other holiday quite does. I’d imagine it has something to do with the ideas of costumes and playing pretend that are inherent in Hollywood to begin with (and the fact that it’s a secular holiday, so they don’t have to worry about offending most religious sensibilities, probably helps).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are Halloween-themed episodes of Community and The Office waiting to be watched…

Serial (Comma) Killer

October 27th, 2010

(Oops! Does it count as on-schedule if I wrote this entry but forgot to click “Publish” yesterday? ……)

If you know me at all, you probably know that I’m a linguaphile; I love learning new and interesting things about the ins and outs of language. On any other topic, there’s a good chance I’ll keep my opinions to myself, but when it comes to the English language, I will go on and on with the slightest provocation. (I’m not exclusively inclined towards English, but the fact that it’s the only language I can speak or read undercuts my appreciation of what makes other languages interesting.)

Yesterday saw just such a provocation. One of my regular reads, Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish blog, was looking at the necessity of the serial comma1 — the comma before the and in a compound noun phrase (so, as in the quote just below, “Mary, John, and Frank” vs. “Mary, John and Frank”) — and I had to weigh in:

Your reader’s example – "The $1 million was divided between Mary, John and Frank," is a lot different than "The $1 million was split between Mary, John, and Frank." – is completely nonsensical.

It suggests that, without the serial comma, it is necessary to read everything after the first (only) comma as a single noun phrase; so, "The $1 million was divided between [NP1], [NP2]." But substitute any single noun phrase into that, and you can see it’s ridiculous: "The $1 million was divided between Mary, John" is grammatically incorrect, and so can’t be a viable way to read the sentence. Whether or not the serial comma is there, the money is being divided three ways.

Weintraub’s example, as well as your reader’s "Ayn Rand and God" example, points to a very specific occurrence of a serial list: where the first noun phrase in the list ("his two ex-wives," "my parents") suggests a specific count of individuals equal to the number of noun phrases following in the list. If the apocryphal dedication had been "To God, my parents and Ayn Rand" or any order other than having "my parents" first, there would be no confusion regardless of the presence or absence of the serial comma.

A little pedantic, sure, but I like talking about this kind of thing, and it’s rare to get a receptive audience. Well, imagine my immense pleasure when, on opening up Sullivan’s blog this afternoon, I saw that my email response led off the next blog post on the topic!

I don’t really have anything more to say about this2; I just thought a little boasting on myself would be in order.

1 — Yes, I really am that much of a language geek that I have an opinion on the serial comma.3

2 — That’s not true at all; I could probably write a five-page essay on the strengths and weaknesses of the serial comma. I’m just trying to go a little easy on you, dear reader. :)

3 — I’m also that much of a geek that I use footnotes. Yup, this is what you’re in for with my blog.

Something About Politics, Attempt 7 (or so)

October 26th, 2010

I’ve been trying all day to write a little something about politics, but I’m quickly coming to the (not terribly surprising) conclusion that I hate politics.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m passionate about many a political issue; I love following the electoral and legislative process; I even have my preferred political commentators. But something about talking about politics — not the issues, not the statistical ebb and flow of elections, not the art of the possible that is making the law of the land, but the whole liberal vs. conservative/Republican vs. Democrat/us vs. them aspect of politics — makes me break out in hives.

I just…I have no patience for people who have decided they’ve staked out the ground on what truth is, and that anyone who doesn’t agree with them has secret, nefarious motives for their position. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are trying to plot ways to impose totalitarian rule; neither conservatives nor liberals are actively trying to ideologically oppress anyone else. They’re all just people, trying to do what people of good will always try to do: to make the world a better place in the most efficient way possible. We can disagree about the means of doing that without questioning that that is what we’re trying to do.

The problem is, government isn’t a place for doing things as efficiently as possible. That’s not a bug; it’s a feature. But we’ve become an impatient people, and a deliberately inefficient system seems like an unacceptable way towards making the world a better place.

…aaaand this is about as far as I get. I think it’s all the political ads and phone calls and mailers & etc. etc. as election day gets nearer and nearer that has me brooding on this particularly much lately. There are just so many instances lately where I want to smack whoever’s responsible for these things alongside the head and tell them to grow up; that no one is served by playing these gotcha games of misquoting, pandering, and distorting. But it’s an old refrain, and one that (Rally to Restore Sanity aside) no one seems to be able to do anything about.

*sigh* I dunno. All I know is, this is one of the most uninspiring ballots I’ve faced since I started voting, and I don’t like it. So someone, please…tell me there are still grown ups in the game.

Project Fit: Week Zero

October 25th, 2010

Is using large quantities of chocolate as a motivation to run counter-productive?

I’m signed up to participate in the Hot Chocolate 5k in…oh geez, less than two weeks, which is all good and fine, except for one problem: I am terribly out of shape. We’re talking just a few degrees away from winded-going-up-a-flight-of-stairs out of shape. But I’ve been working on it; over the past month, I’ve been making sure to go for runs (well, “runs”, as there’s quite a bit of walking involved) of at least half an hour several days a week. I’m at the point where I can consistently run a (slow) mile without needing to stop, but there’s still a way to go from there. And of course, the 5k is just the beginning. I really need to have some longer-term fitness goals. To help me with that, I’m going to dedicate Mondays to looking at where I’m at in those goals. Posting it here should serve to motivate me…I hope!

So let’s talk fitness goals. Short-short term, I’m aiming to be able to run at least half this 5k without stopping for a walk. Longer term, I’d like to shave two to three minutes off my mile, actually complete a 5k, and…we’ll start with those. And then there are the numbers: setting a goal of my 35th birthday (giving me a little under a year), I’d like to lose 20-30 pounds, drop a couple of digits from my waistline, lower my resting heart rate, and balance my cholesterol.

I’ll post my running stats week to week, but I’m a little shy about the other numbers, so I might just note my baselines and post the changes here. Also, I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to achieve some of these goals, so if anyone has any tips, I’m receptive. :)

Any which way, I don’t have the data on-hand to post the numbers today, but with the stage set, next Monday the tracking begins. Wish me luck!

Retroactive Sunday

October 24th, 2010

For those keeping score at home: yup, third day in and I missed a blog-every-day goal already. I don’t want the apology and mea culpa to fall into Monday’s post (or, an even bigger cheat, count as Monday’s post), so I’m writing this and back-dating it in.

If I was going to miss a day, though, at least I missed it making sure my lovely wife had as awesome a birthday as I could muster. So I don’t feel too bad. But still: gonna try not to miss another one.