the absurd observers

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

McCain disappoints


I am a John McCain fan. I am also an opponent of the proposed addition of intelligent design to science curriculum as a theory competing with evolution. That's why this hurts:
McCain told the Star that, like Bush, he believes "all points of view" should be available to students studying the origins of mankind.

First, I am disappointed because I like to make lots of "then let's teach scientology in schools" jokes as a response to pro-intelligent designers and intelligent design-tolerators, and I don't want to rib McCain on this one. Second, I am disappointed because McCain is very capable of drawing distinctions between ideas that are not pointed out by others because it is politically inconvenient, and in this case he failed to do so. (For instance, addressing the Cindy Sheehan issue, he stated that she was a symptom, not a cause of the growing discontent with the war.)

Monday, August 22, 2005

I finally get around to posting something


This opinion piece nicely captures how many liberals have completely abandoned one of the core lessons from vietnam - that military service and sacrifice do not entail a greater right to judge whether a war is just.

The trouble is, plenty of liberals have come to believe their own bleatings about moral authority. Liberal blogs are filled with attacks on "chicken hawk" conservatives who support the war but never served in the military. A recent story in the antiwar magazine Nation attacked my New Republic editor, Peter Beinart, a supporter of the Iraq war, for having "no national security experience," as if Nation editors routinely served in the Marine Corps.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The American dream, sizzling in the deep fry


The washington Post published an article, available at MSNBC, which explains that although fast food places are offering healthy options, no one seems to be buying them.
A Burger King restaurant will sell just four or five of the chain's better-for-you Veggie Burgers a day, but at least 300 to 500 of any other sandwich or burger on the menu, according to Post. The chain's highly promoted low-fat grilled chicken sandwiches, added to the menu last summer, disappeared in less than a year.

The point of the article is that people prefer eating somewhere that has the option of eating healthy, rather than actually eating healthy food. The article quotes "Experts in eating behavior", who postulate that people don't like to sacrifice taste, healthy items are more expensive, and healthy food does not provide immediate gratification. These all seem like sound ideas, but they certainly do not exhaust the possible factors.

  1. If you want a salad or some fruit, Burger King is not going to be your first stop. No vegetarian or vegephile is going to patronize an establishment that suggests a monarch, figurehead or not, who lords over meat. (It is possible that the Burger King is actually meat itself, which lords over other meat, but either way, I don't think vegetarians are going to support any sort of power construct that controls meat.)(This all depends on who or what the Burger Kind is. Man? Burger? Salad?) But what about other restaurants that avoid such politically charged names?
  2. All fast food frightens us, but we have accepted the ambiguity of burgers. I know that what I order may be 10% beef and 90% mystery goo, but I have come to accept that fact over the many years I have eaten fast food. Salads, fruit, and low fat chicken are new kids on the block, and none of us is ready to eat after imagining a scenario where the salad greens are gathered from the cracks in the sidewalk and the scum skimmer from the local pool. We want to think of fruits as clean, ripe, and fresh; not sitting in a plastic crate next to the deep fry, with industrial strength fat dripping all over our pre-sliced melon.
  3. Burgers, fries, onion rings, chicken nuggets, and hot dogs are a testament to the American dream. What was once dirty and gross and borderline toxic, is now tasty and addictive and borderline toxic. What was once liquid mystery meat is now a gelatinized patty. A simple Onion puts on a fancy outfit and he gets our respect - we call him by his full name. The "Rags to Riches" story of the little pieces of throw away meat that become hot dogs is enough to bring a tear to the eye of any warm blooded soul.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Interview of John Roberts causes problems for avoiding Geneva conventions


The foul smell of activism


The protests in Crawford, Texas is quite the scene for passionate sign holders on both sides of the political spectrum. However, not everyone likes a good Crossfire-style picnic:
Meanwhile, some Crawford residents urged county officials to crack down on the
protesters, citing traffic, parking and health concerns, the use of portable
toilets and security.

And this brings us to the downside of activism: porta potties. The quotation above clearly sets out distinct concerns, with porta potties and health concerns listed separately.

It seems that the issue the residents have with the porta potties is merely the aesthetic dislike of any reminder of the existence of fecal matter. One would think that living among the fields of cattle in this area would toughen these Texans to the idea of the need for living organisms to defecate. One would think, in fact, that Texans would embrace the idea of the porta pottie, and maybe even try and construct giant cow-sized porta potties, that cattle could be trained to use. It just seems odd that people would be upset to see a few instances of waste material being contained in small boxes, when cattle are spreading a much larger and pungent version of that waste material willy nilly across the range.

And though both parties have delegates protesting in Crawford, here is where we come to the core difference between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans celebrate freedom from regulation. Democrats desire to protect us from squalor through organization. Republicans don't want America to be told where to cop a squat, leaving us free to use any patch of grass or secluded forrest. While Democrats would rather designate a certain place to take care of business, so that we can walk through the grass without the fear of stumbling into someone else's freedom pie. It's a tough call, between the two, really - no one wants to be told where to go, and we all appreciate clean shoes.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Abramoff "everybody's doing it" defense


Jack Abramoff posted bail with a $2.25 mil. bond for an indictment of wire fraud and conspiracy charges in connection with a gambling boat operation. Abramoff is already under investigation by the Justice Department and congressional committees, under charges that he and his partner defrauded Indian Tribes out of lobbying money. However:
Abramoff's lawyers have said he did nothing wrong and that he and partner
Michael Scanlon are being singled out for activities that are commonplace in

The "everybody's doing it" defense. This is a complex idea, slightly eclipsed in sophistication by the "I know you are, but what am I" maneuver and the "Look at my thumb" strategy as illustrated by Otter in Animal House. The beauty of the "everybody's doing it defense" is that it strikes fear in the heart of every well-connected politician that maybe their lobbyist-friend is writing unflattering emails and creating dummy-businesses, run by a lifeguard who will eventually cooperate with an investigation and make them look corrupt by association.

Of course, at the same time, the public might listen to this defense and conclude that, if it is true that everybody is doing it, then maybe that's too much "it" being "do"ed. Will that be the public outcry? Perhaps. But I would venture a guess that more likely than not, people will wonder: Why doesn't this guy have his own tv show?

"Being Jack Abramoff", or "NewlyIndicted", or "Celebrity Alleged Fraud Camp", or "My Big Fat Obnoxious Alleged Wire Frauder", or maybe "Embezzle Eye for the Straight Guy". We'd follow Abramoff through a typical day: eating lunch, reading the newspaper, recording a new rock album, and attending grand jury hearings. Or he could have underling contestants that want to be his assistant, and each day they would compete to get his attention, only to be eliminated at the end of each episode with a line like: "you're guilty by association!" (Though the production company should try and copywrite that phrase before he does.) Each show could end with Abramoff writing on his computer, like Doogie Howser, except Abramoff would be writing another incriminating and offensive email to one of his buddies.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Boomers may need big words


Thanks to my brother for this one.
Apparently, publishing companies are testing the Baby Boomer market for books with large type, which would be easier on their deminishing eyesight. This is one of a number of steps that businesses, the government, and other institutions will make to serve and pacify the Boomers.
The people with the real money making opportunity here, though, are the proprietors of extra large printing presses. Afterall, books are not the only item which requires large letters to be accessible to our aging BBs: restaurant menus, ingredient labels on supermarket items, road maps, newspapers, business cards. In fact, the entire stationary industry should expect a boom. If my business cards need to be in larger type, I will probably need business cards the size of Manila envelopes. Moreover, extra thick pens and pencils will be needed to write giant notes on supersized post-it notes and wall sized calendars. In a few short years, every Baby Boomer house will look like a lost room from Charlie and the Chocolate factory - "The cube of humungus lettering." Street signs will be doubled or tripled in size. Register receipts will need their own bag. Newspapers will be delivered via flat-bed truck, as will junk mail, which will be so large that everyone in your neighborhood will know that you are, in fact, already a winner.
But is all this necessary? Couldn't everyone could just wear glasses? Need we live in a Seussian picture book, where people must walk back and forth to read the assembly instructions because they are written in such large type that the pamphlet is the size of a football field? Yes, we must.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Case throws money at human folding


CNN reports:

The Washington Post reports that Case is going into business with Jirka Rysavy, chief executive of Gaiam Inc., who the paper reports lives in a cabin in
Colorado without indoor plumbing. The newspaper said the investment is the
latest one by Case associated with a new-age lifestyle in the belief they are
going mainstream.

The business Case is investing $20M in produces yoga videos. The fact that Case has rejected indoor plumming, makes me wonder why he has embraced videos. Surely, a video is more new-age than a toilet. (Unless it was that "love toilet" from SNL, where two people could sit on a toilet together, facing opposite directions. That could be considered more new age than a video.) (Also, I suppose the videos could be in Beta cassette form. That would be enough of an obscure-retro medium, to qualify for honorary new-age status.)(But I digress.)

The more interesting point here - beyond the hypocrisy of shunning basic technology and investing in recent technological advances - is that Yoga is already mainstream. Yoga is taught in gyms, college campuses, and community centers around the country. Case's camp goes so far as to describe Yoga and the pursuit of healthy living as "nearing a tipping point", uttering the Malcolm Gladwell buzzword. But isn't yoga past the tipping point? If yoga classes are accessible pretty much everywhere that a yogaclass could happen, then aren't we passed the tipping point? I suppose there could be yoga classes in schools, but I'm sure there already are some.

People have been worried about getting in shape for years now. The proliferation of diets, gyms, and BMI analysis is testament to that phenomenon. Likewise, people have been into new age thinking for years now. Hippies, indoor water falls, power crystals, sandals, and people with futuristic head shaving looks are all a testament to that phenomenon. It seems that Case is slow on the uptake.

I say, stop Case now. What if he decides that toileltless living is on the next tipping point, and $20M worth of outhouses start popping up all over the country?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The conspiracy to smudge Harris's eye-liner


Katherine Harris, when asked recently by Sean Hannity if jokes about her makeup bothered her, blamed newspapers for altering photographs of her:
"I'm actually very sensitive about those things, and it's personally painful,"
she said. "But they're outrageously false. ... Whenever they made fun of my
makeup, it was because the newspapers colorized my photograph."

That is quite the theory. She didn't single out any newspapers in particular, leaving the reader to infer that there is a Harris photo altering conspiracy. Has it come to this? Can a politician no longer admit their faults, even when those faults involve over-the-top rouge and lipstick application? I understand that politicians are reluctant to take responsibility for a misguided piece of legislation, or a politically incorrect joke, but use of cosmetics seems like an area a politician should be able to admit they are not expert in, rather than propose a media conspiracy.

The problem for Harris: she was on television, and her makeup looked ridiculous there as well. Were the television stations doctoring her makeup? If so, was it an independent move, or were they part of the newspaper conspiracy?

Moreover, if this is all a conspiracy, and not the result of Harris's trouble applying makeup, then why did the newspapers and television stations single her out for this rouge ruse? Why not spring this political smear campaign, figuratively and literally, on someone earlier? Where are the doctored pictures of Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush with too much eye-liner? Where are the altered photos of Christie Whitman? And, wouldn't the media conspiracy get even better results if they applied this tactic to male politicians: Frist in lipstick, Santorum with eyeshadow, etc? It just seems odd that Harris would be singled out from all the other women in politics for such an odd scam, which seems to be solely tailored to provide for late night talk show jokes.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Time to update that resume, Gumbi


According to CNN, Furbies are back, and they're working at the UN:
Another noteworthy but less controversial "ambassadorial" appointment made a
United Nations' debut Tuesday when Hasbro marked the return of the new
multi-lingual Furby to a group of young international "delegates-in-training" in
New York.

This marks the highest position the a toy - animatronic or otherwise - has achieved in American politics, unless you're one of those people who thinks that Tom DeLay is the product of an expriment intended to create an evil Beanie Baby. The official position of the Furbies is unclear, but the picture shows a number of Furbies at what appears to be a security council meeting, so, at worst, they are important advisors to John Bolton.

The news has sparked interest in the role that other toys might play in America's political future. I suggest a few intriguing possibilities:
  1. In the "spin alleys" after presidential debates, have the news teams interview muppets instead of real people. This would add credibility to the message candidates try to espouse. America trusts muppets, except for that hipster Gonzo. I wouldn't trust him to remember which candidate he was even working for. Puppets would work too, but muppets would add some pizzaz - maybe they'd do a few songs or help us with the alphabet or counting numbers during the down time.
  2. Nominate the Magic 8 ball to Press Secretary. It would lead to some interesting back and forths. Q: "Secretary EightBall, what is the President's position on the Highway Bill?" A: "Inconclusive." Q: "Secretary EightBall, how many countries have ratified CAFTA?" A: "You're in luck." Q: "Secretary EightBall, when asked if Rove was involved in the Plame scandal, you said: 'No way', why did you say that?" A: "You betcha!"
  3. Replace John Bolton with a Tickle Me Elmo. First, my guess is that Elmo would work better with the Furbies, and we need an efficient team at the UN. Second, if a primary strategy of America's is to keep policy and plans close to the vest, Tickle Me Elmo is most suited for the position. Other delegates would have to interpret various giggling noises in order to discern our intentions. Moreover, everyone likes Tickle Me Elmo to such an extent, that they would not block American initiatives.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bush leaves the door open for Travolta


In a recent roundtable discussion, when asked whether he thought intelligent design ought to be taught in schools, Bush answered:

"You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas,
the answer is yes," the president said.

As an alumni of a liberal arts school I am all in favor of "different ideas" and "exposure". However, it seems necessary to put some ideas in context. For example, it would not take a Scopes Monkey Trial to realize that telling students that some people believed the moon was made out of cheese would be alright as long as it was predicated with "here's a funny idea which science, and the smell of the night sky, proves incorrect..." Or, using one of my favorite examples: would it be alright to have Jon Travolta visit schools and teach children about the aliens and thetans and other sci-fi elements of scientology? I think it would be fine, as long as it was put in the right context: "Do you remember that funny guy from Welcome Back Kotter? Well, he's going to be here teaching us about his cult that caters to celebrities and other glib-sensitive characters. Immediately following his presentation, we will have a slide show addressing personality disorders."

Exposure to different ideas is a good thing, but it is the context in which those ideas are presented that makes many people shudder to think of where the intelligent design pseudo scientists will next cast their wands set to prove biblical literalism.

Is it time to prove the existence of the Garden of Eden? Is it time to create a woman out of a man's rib? Is it time to cast doubt on the idea that dinosaurs roamed the earth for anything longer than a day, or half a day? Is it time to prove that angels and demons are behind all the phenomena that science has explained - gravity, chemical reactions, eclipses.

It certainly is fine, and appropriate, to teach children that blood letting used to be the cure for many an illness, but we also ought to teach them that science has taught us more since then. Blood letting is a theory, championed by medievial barbers, but not by modern scientists.