Monday, March 16, 2009

Oh, No You Don't

I know lots of folks on the left are somewhere between disappointed in and royally pissed off at Chris Dodd, but we Democrats here in the 2nd CD of Connecticut worked too hard, too recently, to get rid of Rob Simmons to let this happen.

My first real active involvement in politics began in 2006, and one of the key elements in waking me up was a (then) high school kid who put up a blog called Bye Bye, Rob, devoted to helping Joe Courtney take Simmons' place in the House. Having successfully said bye bye, I'm not inclined to say howdy to Simmons in 2010.

This is just the beginning, of course, but unless someone can show me a Democrat who can beat Dodd, and beat Simmons, and deliver more for progressives than Dodd has over the years, I know who I'll be supporting for Senate in 2010.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

First Drugs, Now Sex; Can Rock and Roll Be Far Behind?

After yesterday's revelation that federal agents would no longer raid medical marijuana distributors that are operating legally under state law, now comes word that talks have begun on ending the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy regarding gays in the military.

It's like I said: Quietly, without fanfare, we're seeing the basic attitudes of our government change for the better. Republicans may fear an activist government; I cheer one that increasingly treats me like an adult.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Is It Polite To Say "No Shit, Sherlock!" to the SecDef?

Because that's the only response I can think of to this headline:

Gates: Obama is ‘more analytical’ than Bush.

Nice to have a master of understatement leading our forces, eh? Actually, now that I think about it, it is nice to have a master of understatement leading our forces.

Not With a Bong, But a Whimper

The Michael Phelps/bong hit story broke during my recent blogging interregnum, so I haven't had a chance to favor you with my thoughts on the matter. I don't actually have a dog in this fight: I don't smoke pot, and with the exception of a tiny handful of furtive, youthful experiments, I never have. That said, I thought all the hoohaw over the picture of Phelps with a bong was ridiculous.

Understand: Pot is not a performance-enhancing drug (maybe for archers or biathletes, but not swimmers!), nor (by all accounts) is it banned by FINA outside of competition... so there was no issue of "cheating," a la the steroid and human growth hormone revelations in baseball or the blood doping and erythropoietin (EPO) scandals in cycling. Further, while I doubt anybody would claim with a straight face that the infamous picture doesn't show Phelps actually smoking pot, it certainly doesn't constitute clear evidence that he was: There's no way to prove, from the photo alone, that there was pot (or anything, for that matter) in the bong. So it's not surprising that authorities declined to prosecute him.

In fact, it's shocking that they would even think about it: Under South Carolina law, possession of an ounce or less is a misdemeanor. I would never argue that Phelps should get special favors because of his fame, but he shouldn't be harassed because of it, either... and when was the last time you heard of a "regular person" being prosecuted because a photo of him possibly committing a simple misdemeanor showed up on teh intertoobz months after the fact? Let's be serious, shall we?

Ahh, but the Richland Country sheriff apparently has a rep to maintain as a Miami Vice-style crusader against "drug crime." Not for nothin', but haven't we had about enough of law enforcement from the Carolinas trying to make a name for itself on the backs of prominent athletes? And isn't calling this a "drug crime" a bit hyperbolic anyway? What Phelps did was partake of a mild intoxicant while enjoying himself at a party. If it had been a beer or a glass of wine (or a Sardonic Buddha), nobody would've thought a thing of it. And if we had halfway rational laws on this point, the law would treat it just as if it were a beer or a glass of wine.

Well maybe, just maybe, we're getting a little more rational. In the wake of the Phelps story, Rob Kall of the Huffington Post suggested that it might hint at a turning point in drug policy; today, relatively quietly amid the continuing cacophony of economic woes and the gathering budget battle, comes word that the federal government will no longer raid distributors of medical marijuana in states where it is legal. It's not legalization, nor is it exactly an earthshattering shift in policy... but I think it represents a shift in attitude, a move away from the stern-daddy disapproval of conservative rule, that will eventually lead to liberalization of social policy on many fronts. Every journey begins with but a single step, after all.

To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, "this is the way a policy ends."

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Funny How Time Slips Away

I really don't have much to say about the passing of Paul Harvey... but it was a shock, when I heard the news tonight, to realize how long it's been since I last actually heard that iconic voice. I still hear it in my head, and have often imitated it, when promising to tell someone the rest... of the story.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Calhoun Agonistes

Today the UConn men's basketball team won its last home game of the regular season, ensuring that it will be ranked No.1 in the next national rankings and leaving only the season's final game between the team and its 11th Big East championship. Three seniors were honored, and a banner was unfurled celebrating Jim Calhoun's 800th career victory as an NCAA Division I head coach, achieved in the previous game at Marquette.

Calhoun, already enshrined in basketball's Hall of Fame, is only the 7th men's basketball coach in NCAA history to reach the 800 wins milestone. He's won 2 national championships at UConn, and this year's team, which Calhoun has said he loves coaching, appears well positioned to make a serious run at another title. So everything in Jim Calhoun's life must be just great, right?

Not so much.

You see, a week ago, at a postgame press conference, Calhoun had a testy exchange with local blogger, photojournalist, and political activist Ken Krayeske, who asked Calhoun how much of his $1.6 million state salary he planned to give back to help ease Connecticut's budget crisis. "Not one dime" was Calhoun's emphatic response, and the circus was on. A week later we've heard from everyone and his half-brother, up to and including members of the Connecticut legislature and even our Grandma Governor herself... and it doesn't look like the story is going away any time soon.

So here are my thoughts, for whatever they're worth:
  • Even before this incident I knew, from various news coverage and sports columnists, that Calhoun had the potential to, on occasion, Not Be a Very Nice Man™. But if you only listened to the reactions, and didn't see the video, you'd think he'd thrown a Bobby Knight-style tantrum. In fact, he doesn't say anything obscene or abusive or threatening; he doesn't throw anything or make any threatening gestures or leave the podium; and while he raises his voice, it would hardly qualify (at least on the video I've seen) as screaming or even really yelling. He gives a combative, rude answer to what was frankly a combative, rude question; as Hartford Courant "On the Fly" sports columnist Don Amore said in Friday's paper, "Reporters do get yelled at once in a while." (Print only, apparently; sorry for the lack of link.) It's part of the job.
  • There may be a serious conversation to be had about why we pay coaches so much money in this society, but ambushing Calhoun in public about his salary probably hasn't started that conversation, or really shed any light on the underlying issue, as the Courant's Jeff Jacobs (no Calhoun lapdog) pointed out recently. $1.6 million in salary (and much more in ancillary income) may seem like a lot of money for teaching kids to play ball, but by the standards of his profession, Calhoun is not overpaid... especially when you consider he's arguably one of the 7 best ever to do what he does.
  • It bothers me to single out folks and ask them to give back money they've legitimately earned just because they earned it working for the public. It seems reasonable when we're talking about highly paid public employees like Calhoun, who could seem to spare a dime or two... but it's all too easy to apply the same logic to rank-and-file public employees, who are already underpaid and underappreciated even in the best of times. Indeed, by some accounts, it was Krayeske's concern over proposed cuts to lower-level state employees. I salute that concern, but I fear that telling Calhoun "your money comes from the state, and the state needs it back" risks setting a precedent that will ultimately harm all public employees, rather than helping the less fortunate ones.
  • More broadly, it doesn't strike me as fair to single out individuals for systemic social problems. I'm a progressive: I support more progressive taxation, and I believe that the huge disparity between the poorest and wealthiest among us is a problem that urgency requires solutions. But it requires systemic solutions; just singling out wealthy individuals for demonization takes us farther from, not closer to, sustainable answers to this issue.
  • Finally, many of us think the UConn basketball program is a good investment. Not only does it create countless jobs far beyond the borders of the Storrs campus, but it makes countless Connecticut citizens happy. Not just the coaches and players, and the players' fellow students, but also people like me, who have no personal connection to the university but cheer its teams as our own. At UConn, due in large part to the personal efforts of Jim Calhoun and his fellow Hall of Famer, women's coach Geno Auriemma, basketball is a source of pride throughout the state. It's easy to say that times are hard, and some luxuries need to be discarded... but its just as true that in hard times, people need even more desperately to have things to cheer for, and to help them stave off the despair they can too easily fall into. Entertainment — including sports — has a long history of helping see us through dark times; we should remember that when we're tempted to demonize it as wasteful or frivolous.


Wow. Get a little busy at work, have a couple weeks of inexplicable sore neck, and somehow, before you know it, your $100 tennis racket needs to be restrung. And I haven't just been neglecting this blog, I've also been ignoring my Facebook page and commenting less than usual at Pharyngula. The truth is, I just haven't been spending much time at my home keyboard; the scary thing is how quickly a temporary lull can turn into weeks.

It's not that I haven't had things to say; I've just lacked the energy, or maybe the presence of mind, to say them. Starting this evening, I'm going to try and turn that around. More latersoon.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Bit Early for Cherry Blossoms

A while back I mentioned that I was interested in experimenting with a martini-like cocktail using kirschwasser in place of the dry vermouth.

A couple days ago, I gave it a whirl. Starting with the extra-dry (8-to-1) martini recipe from Mr. Boston Platinum, I simply replaced the 1/4 oz of vermouth with an equal quantity of kirsch, and then added a dash of orange bitters, per the classic original martini recipe described in the guide's introduction. In this first try, the cherry flavor of the kirsch was virtually undetectable, so I tried again, doubling the amount of kirsch and leaving everything else the same.

Honestly, this drink still tastes mostly like gin (I used Hendricks), but that's the way of all martinis, isn't it (and hardly a bad thing, I might add)? It does have a somewhat brighter flavor than a martini made with vermouth; while I wouldn't encourage anyone to run out and buy kirsch for this purpose, it might make an amusing variation if you have some at hand:

Martini Blossom
  • 2 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz kirschwasser
  • dash orange bitters
  • garnish w/twist of lime

BTW, if you don't already have orange bitters in your liquor cabinet, it can be hard to find in stores, but you can buy it online.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A President I Can Get Behind

Noted without comment:

Last Dance in DC

I realize the shelf-life of "what I did at the inauguration" posts is just about expired, but I did promise I'd post my pictures from Monday. I started out by volunteering at the MLK Day of Service event at RFK Stadium, assembling care packages for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (does anyone else recall that "CARE package" used to mean something more specific?). Also helping us pack goodie bags were (during my shift) incoming Attorney General Eric Holder, incoming VA Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki, incoming Homeland Security Secretary Gov. Janet Napolitano, and Senator Chris Dodd (with his kids). Plus, I gather, my group just missed seeing Michelle Obama. As far as I could see, these worthies were actually taking turns working; not just gladhanding and talking to the press.

After my shift was up, I headed over to the Cannon House Office Building to visit the office of Joe Courtney. I didn't have tickets to pick up, but I thought it would be fun to see the office, and to say hello to some Courtney staffers I'd met in the course of a couple campaigns (including John Hollay, the first person I met who knew not only that Obama would be president someday, but that 2008 would be the time). I should've thought harder about this: It turned out that the very many people who did have inauguration tickets to pick up accounted for lines, at each of the public entrances, stretching halfway around the building. I decided it would be the better part of valor to leave the congressional offices to those with actual business there.

So I wandered over to the Capitol, to look at the preparations underway for Tuesday's ceremony, and then down the Mall, checking out street vendors' wares (don't let anyone tell you Obama is bad for entrepreneurship!) and stopping in to visit several museums. The U.S. Botanic Garden was a particularly welcome island of warmth on a frigid day, and I also stopped in at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (as it turned out, my spot on the Mall Tuesday would be adjacent to the Hirshhorn). And, of course, the space cadet in me finds it impossible to visit DC without at least poking my nose into the National Air & Space Museum.

Frozen but well satisfied, I headed back to the Metro, and out to the friends I was staying with in Virginia. As for Tuesday's event, until I'm able to upload my handful of cellphone images, all I can offer are my handsome commemorative tickets from the very excellent Virginia Railway Express commuter train. VRE is selling the leftover tickets to collectors, but mine are legitimately "game used":

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Department of Unintended Truth

Is is just me, or does the masthead/logo for Sarah Palin's new political action committee betray her true intention: to blow an Alaska-sized hole in the country:

Jus' sayin'...

(h/t HuffPo)

Has It Really Been a Week?

OK, I stupidly lost most of my pictures from DC, and the ones I managed to salvage weren't great, but I've finally got what I do have sorted out. Here I am on Sunday, at the We Are One event at the Lincoln Memorial (click here to go to my album from Sunday):

And if my bad photos aren't enough, here's my bad, handheld, movie-clip video of a wonderful moment from Sunday's concert:

Oh, and by the way, in case you missed it amid all the excitement about Tuesday's swearing in, the (then) President-elect gave a great speech on Sunday:

As I noted, I've lost all my pictures from Tuesday's event (except for a few in my cellphone, if I can ever figure out how to download them), but I did get some from my wandering around town on Monday. I'll post those tomorrow.

Friday, January 23, 2009

My Letter to the White House

PZ Myers, Cephalopod Overlord of Pharyngula, noticed a certain lightness of being in the air yesterday, and I couldn't agree more.

In fact, I was moved — for the first time in my life — to actually write a letter to a sitting president:

Mr. President: I want to thank you for moving quickly on closing Guantanamo and CIA black sites, on lifting the global gag order and endorsing stem cell research, and on committing your administration to transparency and openness. I knew these were your values and goals when I was knocking on doors and making phonecalls, but it's gratifying to see them so decisively reaffirmed in your first days in office. I know there will inevitably be setbacks, but I look forward to great things ahead.

I could've gone on at greater, more effusive length (no big surprise to those who know me), but the contact form at the White House website has a 500 character limit.

Oh, well... suffice it to say that Obama's first 50-some hours in office show him to be a man who knows there's work to be done.

An Epic Celebration... and an EPIC FAIL!

The absence of posts for almost a week isn't a sign that I've fallen back into my previous bloglazy habits, it's just that I've been ramblin'. I traveled to our nation's capitol for the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama II as the 44th President of the United States (FSM, that sounds great!). The whole thing was wonderful, from the Sunday concert at the Lincoln Memorial to the inaugural ceremony itself.

Now for the EPIC FAIL part: I'd post pictures, but somehow I managed to either hash or accidentally delete about half of my digital photos, including all of what I shot on inauguration day. Of what's left, about half are still stuck in the camera (don't ask how electrons can get stuck, either... just know that I can see them on the camera's screen, but I can't get them to my computer). I am, as they say,"working the problem," and I'll have some pictures to post soon, I hope. In the meantime, here's a transcendent (and unexpected) moment from Sunday:

...and another moment of blinding beauty from Tuesday:

Watch Yo-Yo Ma's face as he plays: The joy you see there is some hint at what I was feeling, standing proudly with my fellow citizens at the third Jumbo-Tron back from the platform.

More later...

Update, 5:33 pm: Apparently the quartet employed a prerecorded hedge against the cold. Doesn't diminish my admiration at all: They were really playing, and what we in the crowd heard was really them... even if it was an earlier "take."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I Won't Be Doing Field Research... I Promise!

I'm getting ready for my trip to Washington, DC, to party like it's 2009, so imagine my bemusement when I saw this story in the Huffington Post!

Establishing a Prostitution-Free Zone (PFZ) strikes me as somewhat strange in a city (and nation) where prostitution is already illegal. Are they saying that in the Zone it's "not only merely illegal; it's really most sincerely illegal"? Will they set up Prostitution Benignly Neglected Zones (PBNZs) in other parts of the city, far from the tremulous gaze of the gathered multitude?

Enquiring minds want to know!

Ahh, but this enquiring mind intends to stay out of trouble. I expect to post plenty of interesting tales and pictures when I return, but none of them will be about this topic. Honest. ;^)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Have A Cocktail!

I may have mentioned it here before, but my devotion to Air America's Rachel Maddow Show has driven me to drink!

Actually, it's just that Rachel is a cocktail enthusiast... and since I've been listening to her, I've become one, too. Last year I got a couple bartender's guides for Christmas, and this year my daughter gave me a cool cocktail chemistry set.

So I figured it was time to go into the lab and cook something up. Flipping through my books, I hit upon a drink called Everybody's Irish, made with Irish whiskey, green creme de menthe, and green Chartreuse. It was a good drink but the creme de menthe made it too sweet for my taste (ironically, since I love mint, and it was the creme de menthe that initially drew me to the recipe), so I tried a version replacing the creme de menthe with Zen green tea liqueur, which tasted much better.

That version, which I called an Irish Buddha, turned out to be a transitional form, though: No sooner had I finished the first one than I started to think it might be even better if I made it with rye (I like Michter's Single Barrel), and finally the Sardonic Buddha was born:

  • 2 oz Rye Whiskey
  • 2 tsp Zen Green Tea Liqueur
  • 1 tsp Green Chartreuse
The mossy green color of the final drink may take some getting used to, but the earthy rye blends exceedingly well with the green tea liqueur, and the herbal Chartreuse adds just the right amount of complexity and bite. I didn't think the green olive garnish specified in the original Everybody's Irish recipe would match, so I omit it. I think the right garnish will turn out to be a bit of sushi-style pickled ginger, but I haven't had a chance to try that yet.


Next Up: I had the kirschwasser out over the holidays, because we were making fondue... and the odd thought hit me of trying some sort of martini, using kirsch in place of vermouth. It might be horrible, but if it turns out OK, you'll read about it here.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Who Says Government Can't Get Anything Right?

I'm planning to travel to Washington, DC, for the inauguration, and I've been getting my travel ducks in a row. In the process of researching Metro schedules and costs, I discovered that they're selling commemorative farecards. Well, I fired off an online order, somewhat worried that it wouldn't reach me before I had to leave, but thinking it would be a nice souvenir in any case. This was late Thursday evening.

Well, my card...
...arrived in Saturday's mail! I confess to being flabbergasted that the order was filled so quickly. OK, so a metropolitan transit authority is only quasi-governmental, but still, you gotta be at least a little bit impressed, no?

In other inauguration-trip news.... I'm planning to travel on Sunday, and I had been debating with myself over whether it was worth trying to get there in time for the free Sunday evening kickoff event at the Lincoln Memorial. Well, if the entertainment roster hadn't already made up my mind for me, I think this would have: I had tired of the kerfuffle over Rick Warren's participation in the swearing in, but surely a gay Episcopal bishop is as close to a Warren antidote as you can get!

A Reason To Spend Thursday Evening Bowling

This is about as far as I can imagine from being Must See TV! I can only wonder whether the networks will give this lamest of lame ducks the time he requests. If this were The West Wing, probably not, but in the real world I suspect they'll acquiesce out of "respect for the office"... as if its current occupant had shown any!

Normally a president's farewell address is something I wouldn't miss, but in this case I hope someone will fill me in if he happens to say something interesting. Unless he's promising to fly directly to the Hague to turn himself in, I don't want to hear it.

Welcome to My $100 Tennis Racket

OK, it's my main New Year's resolution to resurrected this blog (again), and keep it alive this time. To that end, I'm revisiting a little mind trick I played on myself when I was much younger.

As a college student, I took up tennis... but with one thing and another, I found I was rarely making time to actually play. I didn't want to give up — not only did I enjoy the game, but I needed the exercise it provided — but willpower alone didn't seem to be driving me to the court. So I bribed myself: I went out and purchased a $100 racket (at a time when that was a huge sum for me), knowing that I wouldn't be able to ignore that level of (to lean on an overworked phrase) skin in the game.

And it worked, at least for a while: For several years (and through a couple additional, better rackets), I continued to play tennis.

So recently, I've announced to my Facebook friends, and to the commenter community at Pharyngula, that I'm back in business. Of course, unlike with the tennis racket, it doesn't cost me any money to invite people here to read my plastic dimestore pearls of wisdom, but it will cost me a nontrivial portion of my self-respect if I fail to hold up my end of the bargain.

So maybe this time I'm blackmailing myself instead of bribing. Either way, welcome, one and all. I don't promise to post several times a day like the big-deal bloggers (I do have a day job, after all), but I'm going to shoot for 4 to 5 updates per week, and we'll see how it goes from there. In the coming days, I'm going to review and update my links, and see what else I can do to dress the place up.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Things That Make You Wonder Why

There's absolutely nothing surprising about this story of a conservative effort to overturn perfectly reasonable and — from any reasonable point of view — inoffensive provision of Gainesville, Florida's, antidiscrimination ordinance (h/t HuffPo). The fact that there's nothing surprising about it is what makes it so damn depressing.

Being reminded that the world is full of people who would rather punish difference than understand it or have compassion for it is one of those thing that always shocks me, even though it no longer ever surprises me. I'm broadly hopeful about the future these days, but it makes me sad to be reminded that there are still so many of my neighbors who are so unneighborly.

Just what's so terrible about allowing public restroom choice for transgendered citizens? Well, apparently it's very scary:

"Cain Davis, chairman of Citizens for Good Public Policy, said the issue is about regulating a "government gone wild" and ensuring public safety, charging that sexual predators could now simply enter a women's restroom claiming to be a transgender individual.

"We know when men go into women's restrooms, bad things can happen," Davis said.

Leaving aside the chilling fact that Davis apparently thinks taking away rights from strangers who've done no harm counts as Good Public Policy, that last statement is bizarre. Of course, when traditionally gendered men go into women's restrooms, they're probably there specifically with "bad things" in mind (at least if they've gone in there on purpose)... but when transgendered people go into whatever restroom best fits their identity, they're probably there just to pee!

Not for nothin', but aren't all the Bad Things™ that might happen in a public restroom illegal in their own right, regardless of whether or not everyone's in the "right" restroom?

In actual fact, these bad things seem to be limited to Davis's perverse nightmares:

Since the ordinance took effect [last year], police have reported no problems in public restrooms stemming from the law.

Ahh, but why let the facts stand in the way of perfectly good intolerance, eh?

In practice, I'm sure transgendered folk regularly use public restrooms without anyone else ever suspecting that they're anything other than what they appear to be... but for people who are just trying to get on with their lives in a sensible, law-abiding way, the uncertainty around this issue has real consquences:

Computer programmer Clare Holman, who was born male but now lives as a female, said she simply stays away from public toilets.

"I don't want to run afoul of the law by using the wrong restroom," Holman said.

I'm crossing my legs just thinking about it.