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The thoughts and theories of a guy who basically should have gone to bed hours ago.

I know, I know - what's the point? But look at it this way - I stayed up late writing it, but you're reading it...

Let's call ourselves even & move on, OK?

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I Should Be Sleeping

Thursday, November 30, 2006

20 Most Overrated Movies of All Time

NOTE: Welcome, StumbleUpon viewers! Enjoy the post, and don't forget to check out the newly redesigned version of this blog at Much more like the attached awaits!

Apparently, Premiere magazine has published a list. John Scalzi blogged about it on By The Way, and then Jason Bennion added his thoughts no Simple Tricks and Nonsense.

The general agreement that seems to be forming is that Premiere was right on for half the list, and completely out of their mind for the other half (disagreement still exists on which half is which, of course). I've re-reproduced the Premiere list here, crossing off the ones I think they were wrong about. Like Jason, I'll add my own entries below:

20. American Beauty
19. Chicago
18. Clerks
17. Fantasia
16. Field of Dreams
15. Chariots of Fire
14. Good Will Hunting
13. Forrest Gump
12. Jules and Jim
11. A Beautiful Mind
10. Monster's Ball
9. Moonstruck
8. Mystic River
7. Nashville
6. The Wizard of Oz
5. An American in Paris
4. Easy Rider
3. The Red Shoes
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey
1. Gone with the Wind

First, my strikeouts:

-- Chicago brought back the movie musical, and did so in a way that worked extremely well. They did a spectacular job integrating music into the plot, and some of the set design was unbelievably creative, which actually helped achieve the effect. Any movie that has me noticing things like set design & art direction has got to be a great film.

-- Fantasia isn't a favorite of mine, but I don't think it's overrated. It was as groundbreaking as everyone says it was, and basically launched the whole concept of "Popular Classical" music. Even Fantasia 2000 followed in those footsteps, using music that was both classical & recognizable (like Pomp & Circumstance and Rhapsody in Blue).

-- Field of Dreams is just a great movie. It was on the other day at 1AM, and it kept me up well past two re-watching it. Call me sappy, but any movie that can hold my attention at that hour deserves whatever accolades get thrown at it.

-- Good Will Hunting is also a great movie, judging again by the "I'll-watch-it-if-it's-on-cable-late-at-night" meter. Affleck & Damon weaved a very complex story together very well, so it never feels the least bit forced at any point. Also, Robin Williams proves yet again that all that uncontrollable zaniness is actually quite controllable.

-- Forrest Gump is unbelievable (to Jason's point), but it is so unbelievable that it stops making a difference. At some point, you stop thinking about how unlikely the plot is, and start to see Forrest as an idea, not a character - the idea that optimism is a good thing, and that thing will eventually work themselves out.

-- The Wizard of Oz deserves its accolades for two reasons: First, it did what Chicago did in terms of weaving music into a storyline, so it doesn't feel like the movie "stops for a song." Second, the amount of Americana that has come from this film, ("There's no place like home," "Somewhere over the Rainbow," "Lions & Tigers & Bears, oh my!", etc.) is so immense, that you can't help but give it it's props...

I should also note that there are several films on Premiere's list that I haven't seen. I left them on the list on the theory that they received so much praise and yet, I have had no desire to see them. Hence, overrated (at least to me).

Now, my additions:

-- Sideways: This thing won an award for Best Comedy, and after I finished watching the DVD, I had to check the case to make sure I'd rented the same movie. I honestly don't even understand how this movie is supposed to be funny. A major downer...

-- Anything by Woody Allen: Reveered as a great director, I have yet to see anything he made that has even mildly interested me (and I'm a Jewish guy, born in Brooklyn - so I'm basically his target audience).

-- Blazing Saddles: I think some of Mel Brooks' later works were much better (History of the World, Part I, Spaceballs), but Blazing Saddles is the one that gets all the accolades. Go figure...

-- 2001: A Space Oddessey: I know, I know - it's already on the list. But this movie was so spectacularly bad, IMHO, that I had to mention it again. I'm too young to have saw it in the theaters, but I rented it on DVD twice, and fell asleep both times (the second rental was because it's so heralded as a great movie, that I couldn't believe I fell asleep the first time. After the second time, I gave up).

-- Spinal Tap: Good film. Very good film, even. Cult classic? Side-splittingly funny? No. I just don't see it.

I'm sure I'll think of more & update this entry, but that's all for now. Watch this space...

posted by Brian at 3:00 PM | 7 comments

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Mustang's Big Game...

A few weeks back, reported that the Marlboro Mustangs (of Marlboro High School in Marlboro, NJ), had been outscored by their opponents 364-27 with one (Thansgiving) game to play.

Well, I'm happy to report that the Mustangs had a big game on Turkey Day, beating their season average points-per-game with a mighty 6, and holding Manalapan to (just) below their opponents' average points-per-game with a scant 43.

The 43-6 loss brings the 0-10-0 season to a merciful close with the total points scored standing at 447-47.

Look at the bright side: they probably get the first pick in the draft, and they are extremely well positioned for the "Most Improved" award in 2007...


posted by Brian at 4:49 PM | 0 comments

It Takes Two to Sandwich

- One shopping mall lease with Panera Bread
- One stipulation that the mall cannot lease to another sandwich shop
- One shopping mall lease with Qdoba Mexican Grill (same mall)
- One chef from Cambridge willing to file an affidavit
- One New Webster Third International Dictionary (2002 Edition)
- One former high-ranking federal agriculture official
- One judge with absolutely nothing important to do with his time


Mix the Panera Bread lease and the no-other-sandwich-shops stipulation in a large bowl. Let simmer for five years at room temperature. Then add the Qdoba lease. Increase the heat until the mixture reaches a boil. Then, fold in the chef's affidavit, which says:

I know of no chef or culinary historian who would call a burrito a sandwich. Indeed, the notion would be absurd to any credible chef or culinary historian.

Maintain the boil until a legal opinion forms on the judge. Add the Webster's dictionary and a former high-ranking federal agriculture official as needed. When the opinion is fully baked, remove and serve:

The New Webster Third International Dictionary describes a "sandwich" as "two thin pieces of bread, usually buttered, with a thin layer (as of meat, cheese, or savory mixture) spread between them." (Merriam-Webster, 2002). Under this definition and as dictated by common sense, this court finds that the term "sandwich" is not commonly understood to include burritos, tacos, and quesadillas, which are typically made with a single tortilla and stuffed with a choice filling of meat, rice, and beans. As such, there is no viable legal basis for barring [the Qdoba lease].

Garnish to taste but, under penalty of law, don't call it a sandwich!

posted by Brian at 1:40 PM | 0 comments

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Tears...

For anyone who thinks their kids' pictures turned out badly:

posted by Brian at 1:38 AM | 4 comments

Friday, November 24, 2006

ISBS Review: Internet Explorer 7

That automatic updating feature of Windows XP kicked in the other day with an "update ready to be installed." As has been my policy since buying this PC, I said yes.

Side note: I've noticed over the years that the people who complain the loudest about Windows crashing all the time are precisely the people who frequently install third party hacks, mess with the registry, or ignore recommended patches/fixes/upgrades, all because they "know what they're doing." The version of Windows running on my machine has been handled exactly as Microsoft has recommended I handle it, and it's fit as a fiddle. I'm not saying OS's shouldn't be able to handle these kinds of people, just that Windows performs much better when you're a "good user." Now, back to our story)

This particular update was an upgrade for Internet Explorer to the newly released IE 7.0. I had read about the new features and always figured I'd get around to downloading it, but never really had the time. It seems my OS took it upon itself to download it for me while I was sleeping/working, so what the heck - one click and I was on my way. If Firefox or Safari could offer this feature, I'd have all three on my desktop for sure. As it stands, we're witnessing the true power of the Microsoft monopoly at work here, and quite frankly, I'm fine with it. All it means is that competitors have to make me care more than the incumbent does, which is basically how every other product in the world works.

Anyway, I haven't played around a lot with all the features of IE 7.0, but here are my first impressions:

1) Tabs are cool
And yes, I know they've been around a while and Microsoft is only stealing the good ideas of others & taking all the credit, but I'm glad they're here. The Quick Tabs tab is pretty cool as well - it gives you a thumbnail of each of the open tabs, from which you can click to go to that tab, or click the "X" to close it. I just know that's going to come in useful as time goes on. Also useful and vastly under-reported: Outlook is very well integrated into tabbed browsing. If you're reading an e-mail with multiple links in it, and you click on each one, they don't open in separate browsers, or even "overwrite" themselves in the same tab. They open in multiple tabs of a new browser session, so that all of your related web pages are available in close proximity. It's a small thing, but it's a nice touch.

2) ClearType is also cool
I think this has been around for a while, but it automatically installed with IE7. Basically, it improves the readability of the Windows fonts, especially when they're bold, italics, etc. It's still not as smooth looking as the Mac experience, but it's a whole lot closer than it used to be. My only small complaint here is that in order to have my web pages "ClearTyped," I have to have my Windows desktop the same way. The background image I have on my desktop (a picture my kids drew for me a while back), makes the filenames on the desktop show up in a white-on-white scenario, and ClearType makes that harder to read. It's a small complaint, and one caused predominantly by me & fairly easy to fix, but heck - it's my review, so I get to complain, OK?

3) Finally, an integrated RSS reader
I know, I know - another idea stolen from other, superior browsers. Fine, whatever. It's kind of cool here. I tried a standalone RSS browser once, but gave up right away because a) who wants to run a separate app, and b) I don't always check my blogs from the same machine (sometimes from home, sometimes from work, sometimes from the laptop). My RSS reader of choice since then has been my "My Yahoo!" page, which has a very cool interface and is accessible from any machine. My only complaint with it was that the feeds update on some weird schedule that I haven't been able to figure out yet, so I can't trust them when they say there have been no updates, which means I have to click into each blog separately anyway. Once I'm doing that, what's the point of the RSS reader? IE7's RSS feed has a "Refresh All" command, that bolds the names of the feeds that have new content, and allows me to see how many new entries there are with a rollover. It's a nice, compact UI that does exactly what I need. Good job, folks...

4) Security seems better
The tabs turn colors based on security risk (grey for "OK", yellow for "suspect", red for "phishing site", etc.). I honestly haven't played with this too much, because I don't need to visit invasive sites just to test out the browser, but the approach seems sound. My complaint in this area is on the handling of files on the hard drive. My homepage has been a file on my hard drive for years (basically a bookmark file on steroids - a page with lots of links). IE7's default is to apply the highest form of security to these files, on the assumption that if an evil-doer gets a file onto your hard drive, they'll be able to stop it from doing any damage. Kind of a "last line of defense" thing. As a result, each time I went to my homepage, I got a warning which said "This page is not allowed to run scripts or ActiveX objects." I could ignore the warning if I weren't so obsessive-compulsive about these things, so I found myself right-clicking on the warning and choosing "Allow Blocked Content" each & every time I went to my homepage. Finally, I changed the setting to allow the scripts & objects to run off the hard drive, and the problem went away. What I really want is for the browser to be smart enough to know that the hard drive file contains no scripts or ActiveX, and not display the message. That way, I'd be perfectly happy leaving the security at its highest setting.

5) Search is no big deal
A lot of noise was made before the product was released about how Google search is defaulted on the toolbar in the upper right corner of the app. In response, Microsoft put a dropdown arrow on the search button, which gives you two additional options: "Find more providers" and "Change Search Defaults." This seems to have placated the monopoly gods for now. My opinion? Meh. I have the Google toolbar installed right below it, and I suspect that if I were a rabid Yahoo or MSN fan, I'd download their toolbar the same way, so I'd happily shut off the search box entirely if I could find an easy way to do it. Either way, it's not getting in my way or pushing a particular provider on me in any meaningful way.

6) They need to fix the focus changing method
The browser is divided into sections (menus, toolbars, tabs, and web pages). I know this because when you click in each section, the first click puts that section in focus, and the second click takes the action you want. So, if I'm browsing a web page, and want to click my "Home" button, the first click "lights up" the toolbar, and I have to click again to actually get Home. I'm sure I'll get used to this very quickly, but I shouldn't have to. It's a simple fix, and I'm sure enough people will complain that they'll get around to fixing it soon enough.

7) Browsing is faster, but loading the browser is slower.
Each of the above mentioned sections seem to start up one at a time. When I open the browser, I first get a web page view with only the back/forward buttons and the address box. Then, the tabs appear, followed by the toolbars, and finally, the menu. All of this happens in rapid succession, but it's still obvious that it's running some routine each time it loads to check my settings & configure my UI appropriately. That kind of thing should be figured out before the window opens, and then the whole thing should "POP" together. Again, a minor complaint, but enough that I noticed it right away.

8) My mouse's scrollwheel doesn't seem to work right
When I scroll with the mouse's scrollwheel, the page keeps scrolling long after I stop. And if scroll in two directions (e.g., up and then down), the page does a rather entertaining little dance before it finally calms down and gives me back control. I tried futzing with the Control Panel "Mouse" section, but nothing I do seems to work. I have a Logitech MouseMan Wheel mouse (model #M-CW47). Any chance anyone out there has a solution to this? I know, I have to spend some time with Google...

9) The placement of the Windows menus are annoying
The toolbars in IE7 are configurable, just like any other Microsoft app. But the back/forward buttons and the address bar, along with Refresh, Stop, and Search, are pegged to the top line. That means the menus (File, Edit, View, etc.) can only go as high as second line, with the various toolbars and tabs below that. Having the menus in the middle doesn't look/feel right. Again, I'll get used to it, but I shouldn't have to. Menus should be on the top, just below the window's title. And golf balls, dishes and underwear should all be white. Yes, I'm an old-fashioned codger. So shoot me, why dontcha?

That's about all right now from the top of my head. I still want to play around a bit. There are lots of new features (particularly around the tabs: the ability to bookmark a set of tabs and then open them all with one click, the ability to close groups of tabs with one click, the ability to set a link to default to a new tab, etc.) that I have just started discovering, or have read about but haven't found yet. So I'm sure, like any new toy, there will be pleasant & unpleasant surprises. I'll let you know if any are of note.

posted by Brian at 12:52 AM | 8 comments

Dumb & Dumber...


posted by Brian at 12:09 AM | 2 comments

Friday, November 17, 2006

I Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

Famously liberal celebrity and blogger extraordinaire, Arianna Huffington, has apparently radically changed her view of President Bush and the war in Iraq:

And don't shed any tears for [President Bush]. Even though [he] lost, this was still a big win for [him]. A victory for taking a stand -- and for [his] leadership. Because that's what real leaders do, they take stands. They listen to their hearts and follow their gut. If you only jump into the fights you're sure you can win -- notches in the W column that will look good on your political resume -- you're a hack, not someone who can move the party and the country forward. It's not about trying to have a spotless record; it's about knowing which battles are worth fighting, whatever the outcome.

Well, she makes a convincing argument, and it's certainly more logical than the things she's said in the past about the war, so I think that . . . Oh, wait a second! My bad! She wasn't talking about President Bush and Iraq at all. This was about Nancy Pelosi and her failed attempt at getting Jack Murtha elected House Majority Leader. Please accept my apologies - I'll try to be more careful in the future. ;-)

Ya see, that's what I love about hypocrisy. It's so consistently inconsistent...

posted by Brian at 12:47 AM | 3 comments

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Wouldn't it be funny if OJ, oh wait - nevermind...

Have you ever noticed that anything O.J. Simpson does sounds like a parody of something that O.J. Simpson would do? Take, for instance, this:

O. J. Simpson . . . has written a book and will appear on television telling "how he would have committed the murders if he were the one responsible," his publisher and the Fox television network said on Tuesday.

According to a news release, the book and the TV special, which has a working title of "O.J. Simpson: If I Did It, Here's How It Happened," will depict Mr. Simpson describing "how he would have carried out the murders he has vehemently denied committing for over a decade."

As far as I can tell, this is not a joke. If it were a joke, it wouldn't be all that funny because it would sound so unbelievable...

posted by Brian at 1:26 AM | 2 comments

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words (and a quarter)

This gave me a chuckle:

(Hat tip to Wil Wheaton)

posted by Brian at 10:04 AM | 0 comments

Monday, November 13, 2006

Are you tonedeaf?

Here's an online test to see if you're tonedeaf. It takes about 6 minutes, and requires a quiet room and a computer with Flash 8 or 9.

The scoring model is as follows:
Greater than 90% correct: World-class musical abilities
Greater than 75% correct: Excellent musical abilities
Greater than 60% correct: Good musical abilities
Less than 50% correct: You may have a pitch perception deficit

My score was 63.9%.

While the test may have its flaws, I think the result was about right. I always considered my musical ear to be pretty good, but not great, which explains why I can play several musical instruments, but can't really sing.

As for the test, it's a series of musical passages that you need to compare and judge "same" or "different." I think singers have the advantage here, because they practice tonal memory in their training, and it's got to get easier over time. Also, the passsages can be quite long, and if the difference is a half-step somewhere in the middle, then the test is more about memory than it is about tonedeafness. Finally, I've always found that I'm better at picking out pitches on instruments I'm familiar with (piano, trumpet, and even a singer's voice). Some of these passages were done in tech/funk MIDI stops that make discerning them harder (although that might just be me, and a valid reason to get a lower score).

Anyway, check it out & report your score here...

posted by Brian at 12:29 AM | 1 comments

Saturday, November 11, 2006

My son, the socialist...

This conversation took place over lunch at a local diner between me and my older son, Avery:

Avery: Daddy, why does that sign say "Please Seat Yourself?"

Me: So when people come into the diner, they know they can just sit down, without waiting for someone to help them find a table.

Avery: But doesn't that take away somebody's job?

posted by Brian at 3:58 PM | 1 comments

Watch me Steal a Rabbit from Your Hat

From the "Criminals Get What They Deserve" file, we have three teenagers who tried to mug David Copperfield:

Copperfield, 50, and two female assistants were walking from the Kravis Center to their tour bus when they were approached by the teens [on] April 23. The assistants handed over money and a cellphone, but the illusionist turned his pockets inside out to reveal nothing, although he was carrying his passport, wallet and cell phone.

"He said in depositions that he had things on him, but it wasn't difficult to make it seem like there was nothing there," prosecutor Sherri Collins said.

And to prove that these kids still don't get it, here's a quote from one of the lawyers:

"Terrance was remorseful for what occurred, has told the truth about his involvement and would like everything to disappear," said his attorney, Franklin Prince.

Hmmm..... Now who does Terrance know that can make things disappear???

posted by Brian at 9:45 AM | 0 comments

Friday, November 10, 2006

Three Blind Mice. See how they....see!

Some good news from stem cell research:

BLIND mice have had their sight at least partially restored after scientists injected immature stem cells to replace damaged cells of the retina.

Maybe, given the events of last week and news like this, stem cell research will get a bit more popular...

Although, I should note, this news came from England, not the U.S.

posted by Brian at 5:00 PM | 0 comments

Christmas in November

Ah, the joys of working in Rockefeller Center.

When I came to work this morning, there was an 88-foot pine tree sitting on a flatbed truck in front of my office building. I just went to grab some lunch, and the tree now has its lower limbs wrapped tightly in twine, and is hanging, horizontally, from a giant crane right next to the famous Rockefeller Center Ice Rink.

By the time I go home this evening, I'm guessing they'll have it upright again, where it will stay for the remainder of the year, while workers spend the next few weeks covering it with 30,000 lights and a 550-pound Swarovski cyrstal star.

It's times like this I regret not having a camera phone with me (stupid blackberry). Best I can do is this press photo from when they cut it down in Connecticut. Trust me - it look basically the same now, just much bigger, and surrounded by concrete, not grass.

posted by Brian at 12:46 PM | 0 comments

The Plots Thicken...

Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of the British intelligence agency MI5, says her agency is tracking plans for roughly 30 terrorist attacks originating from Britain, including a plan to blow up the New York Stock Exchange, and other plans involving chemical and nuclear weapons.

Does anyone have any doubt that if this were reported a week ago, the Republicans would have been accused of fear-mongering?

posted by Brian at 11:52 AM | 3 comments

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

One more Election Post: Voting Problems...

A quick note on my voting experience which, for the first time in my life, actually included a couple of glitches. Fraud! Conspiracy! Those Democrats stole the election! Nah...I can't pull it off - my heart's not in it...

Anyway, the local ABC affiliate ran this article, detailing problems with the voting machines in my hometown of Scotch Plains. Our machines weren't the Diebold, touch-screen variety, but they were electronic (as they have been for several years, now, btw...). You push on a box next to the candidate of your choice, and a green "X" appears in the box. When you're done, you push a "CONFIRM VOTE" button in the lower right corner of the ballot, the machine beeps, and the vote is counted.

While voting, I accidentally pushed the wrong box for one of the races. I tried to change my mind by pushing the other box, but the machine didn't respond. After two or three tries, I realized that you have to push the first box again (to make the "X" go away), and then push your preferred box to make the "X" appear. I agree that this is a glitch, but it hardly seems like something that would cause "depressed voter turnout" as the Republican lawyer in the article says. People will complain about anything, especially when they're paid to do so...

The other interesting twist was speaking to my mother after getting home from voting. When she went to vote, she noticed that my sister and I are both still on the rolls in Marlboro, NJ, where we grew up (and where my parents still live). I haven't lived there since the early 90's. My sister moved out of the town years ago, but has susbequently moved back. Still, they had her maiden name on the list (she got married in 1998). So theoretically, I guess I could have voted twice last night if I wanted to drive the 45 minutes from Scotch Plains to Marlboro...

posted by Brian at 10:57 AM | 2 comments

How I Voted...

Since Jeff accused me of voting by foregone conclusion, I said I'd mention who I voted for and why. Looking at the results this morning, it seems just about everyone I voted for lost. No one ever listens to me...

Senator: Tom Kean, Jr (Republican)
Both candidates played extremely dirty pool throughout. All I knew about these two guys were that Kean was with Bush on the war (according to Menendez) and Menendez was corrupt (according to Kean). My vote here was, ironically, to keep the Democrats in check over the next two years (see my Pre-Election Thoughts). As expected, Mendendez walked away with it, though...

Congress: Linda Stender (Democrat)
I don't know much about Ms. Stender either, but my wife met Mike Ferguson recently, and he acted like a absolute, total idiot (quick summary, before someone thinks he did something illegal: my wife was meeting me at Yankee Stadium with the kids and had car trouble. With everyone dressed in full Yankee regalia, she made it to our local mechanic, who was figuring out the car, when in comes Mike Ferguson - big smile on his face - and wants to campaign for Congress. Apparently, it took several "now's not a good time" messages before he left her alone to deal with the crisis at hand). Party affiliation aside, I see no reason to send an idiot to Congress. That said, he won, so whatcha gonna do...

Freeholders: Her, him and the other gal (Republicans)
I've never heard of any of these folks, nor can I honestly say I know what a Freeholder does. My guess is not much. As a New Jersey resident who works in New York City, I'm much more interested in local politics in the city than I am in my home town, but they don't let me vote in NYC. So I went Republican on the off chance they vote my way on some tax increase down the line. Meanwhile, the Democrats won. Ah, well.

Township Council: The grey-haired guys who I met at the train station four times leading up to the election (Democrats)
Again, these folks are low impact as far as I'm concerned, but they seemed nice enough, and the one guy actually recognized me after a couple of meetings, so it seems like his heart is in the right place. Good enough for my vote on town council. Apparently, two of them won and one of them lost. So, technically, I'm batting more than .000, although I'm pretty sure the one that lost was the guy who recognized me.

On the upside, I'm 4 for 5 in picking Presidents, so there's that...

Anyway, I hope this little tour will convince Jeff to revoke my knee-jerk, neo-con status... Jeff???

posted by Brian at 10:44 AM | 5 comments

2006 Election Thoughts (Post-Election)

First it must end, and then it will begin.

Here we are again at Election Day+1, and there are still significant races to be decided. The voters are done, and now it's up to the lawyers and the conspiracy theorists. All I have to say is this: Please, God, let the Democrats take the Virginia and Montana senate seats. Although I prefer a Republican senate and know next to nothing about any of the four candidates involved , I just can't bear to listen to the result of two Democratic leads turning into Republican victories in a recount. Mark my words: people will blame everyone from Karl Rove to the CEO of Diebold.

As it turns out, all the carping about how totally disastrous the first major election with electronic voting machines was going to be has proven to be nothing more than paranoia and fear-mongering. I'm happy to see the other party take the senate in exchange for a vote of confidence in the election process. Forgive me, for I am weak...

In either case, it'll all be resolved by January, and that's when it all begins. The question everyone's asking this morning, of course, is the one I asked last night: What, exactly, is about to begin? If it's significant progress in Iraq, progressive policies around immigration, stem-cell research, gay marriage, etc. then I'll be glad to see it (and happy to vote for a 2008 Democratic nominee who will continue that progress). If it's a series of subpoenas and congressional hearings, followed by emboldened terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere, then we're in for a world of shit: including sweeping Republican victories in 2008 with a mandate to blow the crap out of just about everything. I'm exaggerating, of course, but I do believe that quite a bit rests on Ms. Pelosi's ability to restrain herself. We'll see what happens...

One other note: my iPod spit this out on my way into work this morning:

Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call;
Don't stand in the doorway, don't block up the hall.
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled;
The battle outside raging will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls,
For the times, they are a changin'


posted by Brian at 9:33 AM | 2 comments

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

2006 Election Thoughts (Pre-Election)

OK, so I've been blogging so much about politics lately, I guess I should say something about the election. It's hard, though, because my feelings are very conflicted this time around.

If the Republicans hold on to Congress, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect over the next couple of years: continued slow progress in Iraq, tough talk (or worse) with North Korea and Iran, continued tough policies on preventing future terrorism, tougher immigration laws, no change in tax policy, continued over-spending at the federal level, and lots of "sound and fury signifying nothing" over social issues like abortion, stem cell research, and same-sex marriage.

As a general rule, I've never bought into the whole "Republicans are evil, especially Bush" meme that the Democrats have been selling. If anything, their decision to constantly pound that message has made it more difficult to stay informed on world events, especially in the last two years. That said, I think the Republicans are drunk with power. And while the criticism flung their way is often distorted or unfair, I hate the fact that they've got so good at using it to distract us from valid criticism. I get the sense that this strategy has left them feeling immune to criticism of any stripe, which gives them an "above the law" mentality. Also, if nothing changes today, the 2008 presidential election will be more of the same "vote for us, we're not them" messages, which won't help me pick the next president at all. So, on balance, I'm for throwing da bums out.


If the Democrats take control of Congress, I really don't know what to expect. Their position on Iraq seems to be "Bush is wrong on Iraq." Their position on immigration is "Bush is wrong on immigration." Their position on taxes is "the Bush tax cuts were only for the rich." And the list goes on. With this much time on the sidelines, it's absolutely reprehensible that I'm not aware of 3-5 bills that will be sent to the President on inauguration day if the Democrats take control. Ironically, I can draw direct parallels to their criticism of Bush in the Iraq war: they have a plan to win, but then no plan for what to do after they've won.

Also, there's this: the level of vitriol coming from the Democrats right now has me worried that if they gain control, they'll spend the next two years ripping Bush to shreds in the form of investigations, hearing, and possibly even impeachment proceedings.

As I've said many times before, one of the unfortunate side effects of defining yourself solely by the shortcomings of your opponent is that you find yourself rooting for your opponent to fail, in order to reinforce your message. When your opponent controls the Presidency and both houses of Congress, though, this amounts to rooting for your own country to fail, which is subsequently perceived by the rest of the world as what Lincoln called a "house divided against itself." Up until now, I've generally bit my tongue and accepted this sorry state of affairs as the price we pay for freedom of speech. Now that the enemy has CNN (and just like we do, our choices are either to crush dissent out of fear of emboldening our enemies, or assume that they'll eventually understand our bickering as politics and not policy. And so while the consequences are real, we accept them in exchange for the benefits of the American way of life.

When the bickering becomes congressional hearings, though, a whole new legitimacy is granted, and the message to our enemies becomes very different. So aside from my opinions on whether or not the President deserves to be impeached (he doesn't), I worry that steps in that direction will strongly embolden our enemies - either in the form of additional attacks, or in the form of a recommitment to keep fighting in hopes of America eventually backing down.

The bottom line: the Republicans are the devil known, the Democrats are the devil unknown. I'm sufficiently disenchanted with the Republicans to vote them out, and would probably do so if I could be assured that the Democrats would act like adults over the next two years - governing in the best interests of the country, rather than using the opportunity to institutionalize six long years of Bush-bashing.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's time to go vote...

posted by Brian at 4:27 PM | 6 comments

Monday, November 06, 2006

A quick check on High School Football...

In writing the last post, I pulled up my High School's football schedule, just to remind myself how many games were in a high-school schedule.

The Marlboro Mustangs weren't exactly a football powerhouse when I was in school, but even so, I was surprised to discover that this year (with one game left to play), they are 0-8, and have been outscored by their opponents 364-27.

The most they've scored in a single game is 7. By contrast, the least their opponents have scored is 35, when they lost the opening game of the season in a sqeaker: 35-6. Also of note is the game against Toms River North, who defeated Marlboro by a score of 67-0.

The only word that comes to mind is "Wow..."

posted by Brian at 2:59 PM | 0 comments

The Best Football Game Ever

As a member/alumnus of marching bands since 1983, I've been to a lot of football games. In fact, having just attended my fourth game in three weeks, I started adding it up: 36 high school games, 40 college games, 1 high school homecoming game (the year after I graduated), 15 college homecoming games since graduation, and 3 NFL games (including 2 in the last 3 weeks). That makes 95 football games that I've seen live. And this coming from a diehard baseball fan.

At any rate, given my rather extensive experience with live football, it should carry some amount of weight when I say that the Penn vs. Princeton game on 11/4/06 was the single most exciting football game I've ever seen. For those who missed it, here's a recap:

Some Context: The game was at Princeton, but was during their Fall Break (a 3-4 day weekend in the middle of the Fall Semester that most students use as an opportunity to go home and visit family, friends, etc.). So there weren't a lot of Princeton fans at the game. For Penn students, on the other hand, the game fell during an activity known as The Line, in which students participate in a 24 hour ritual that culminates in them being able to purchase season tickets for the upcoming Men's Basketball season. Since "The Line" included a trip to the Princeton football game this year, there were several hundred Penn students at the game (in addition to the "normal" crowd that bought tickets on their own). The point is: lots of very excited Penn students were at the game.

The First 3.5 Quarters: Ho hum. The Penn placekicker actually made a field goal, which is exciting only in the sense that he doesn't do that very often (Penn lost the previous two games in overtime, principally because the other team was able to kick a field goal in overtime, and Penn couldn't reciprocate from, well, anywhere on the field).

The Fourth Quarter: OK, here's where it gets really good. With roughly six minutes left in the game, Penn is down by 7 points, 24-17, and has the ball deep in their own territory. They complete a couple of long passes and make it to around mid-field. Excitement is building in the (let's just call it "well lubricated") crowd, as the potential to save the game becomes evident. On a running play around mid-field, Princeton makes an open-field tackle, strips the ball, and recovers the fumble. Dejection sets in amongst the crowd. But, alas, hope is not lost. Princeton goes 3 & out, and punts with roughly two minutes left to play. Penn once again has the ball deep in their own territory. The band plays some inspirational college fight songs. The team begins to move the ball. The crowd re-engages. With 49 seconds left in the game, Penn completes a long pass down to the Princeton 5-yard line. The crowd goes nuts! But wait! They're supposed to stop the clock while they move the first down markers and they haven't! By the time Penn lines up at scrimmage, the clock reads ~20 seconds! The players protest. The ref blows a whistle and has the time added back to the clock. The crowd goes nuts again! On the next play, Penn runs the ball into the endzone. Touchdown! Now for the extra point. Remember, as I discussed earlier, this is no foregone conclusion. But, in this case, luck prevails, and the kick is straight & long. Tie game! 24-24! Penn's third overtime in three weeks. The crowd, well, you know...

Overtime, Part 1: For those who don't know, college football has some very strange overtime rules. Rather than playing another 15 minutes, or playing until someone scores ("sudden death"), each team gets the ball at the opposing team's 35 yard line. If one team scores more than the other, they win. If they both fail to score, or they both score the same number of points (e.g., two field goals), then the two teams each get another shot. This continues until both teams have had equal opportunities from the 35, and someone has more points.

In this case, Penn got the first shot. Now, remember, Penn is sorely lacking in the kicking department, so a game of field goals is a distinct disadvantage. Starting from the 35-yard line, Penn makes a first down (to near the 20), but fails to make another one. On fourth down, still around the 20-yard line, the field goal unit comes out. The crowd is excited, but cautious. The center snaps the ball to the holder, who bobbles it, and can't get it down in time for the kick! He picks it up and starts running, tries several laterals, but in the end, Penn doesn't score. Dejection once again sets in among the crowd.

Now, it's Princeton's turn. From the 35, they also get a first down, and eventually work their way to a fourth down situation. Their field goal unit takes their place. If he puts in this (fairly short) field goal, Penn would lose their third straight overtime game, in precisely the same fashion (botched field goal vs. good field goal). The crowd is screaming "Block that kick! Block that kick!" The snap is good, the center holds, and OH MY GOD, THEY ACTUALLY BLOCKED THE KICK! WE'RE STILL IN THIS! HOLY S(%&^(T!!!.

Overtime, Part 2: This time, Princeton starts with the ball, again at the 35-yard line. The first play results in a 10-yard penalty against Princeton, putting them back to the 45. The second play is a passing play, but Penn sacks the quarterback, putting them past mid-field. The Penn crowd, still celebrating from the near-death experience of the blocked field goal, is in an alcohol/football induced frenzy. Princeton's next play is a long pass, caught on the Penn 2-yard line.

You could hear a pin drop.

So, first and goal from the two. Princeton tries three hand-offs up the middle, trying to jump over the defense for the touchdown, and fails three times. By the third time, the Penn crowd is screaming again. On fourth down, they decide to go for the touchdown, rather than kick a field goal. More screaming from the crowd. The ball is snapped, the hand-off is made, the runner jumps....and is hit by the defense at the line of scrimmage! No touchdown! The crowd screams! But wait - he landed on his feet after the collision and isn't down yet! He laterals to someone in the backfield (maybe the quarterback? I don't remember...), who runs around the entire pile, and scores easily. Now the (few) Princeton fans are celebrating, while the Penn crowd shouts obscenities at the referees for not whistling the play dead after the first hit. The refs ignore the fans, the Princeton kicker adds the extra point, and the score is Princeton 31, Penn 24.

Penn has one more shot, but the crowd is somewhere between fuming and gathering their stuff up to board the bus back to Philadelphia. Penn has the ball at the 35-yard line again. The first play from scrimmage is a 35-yard pass into the corner of the endzone, which the Penn receiver catches in full stride. Touchdown, Penn! OH MY GOD, WE'RE STILL IN THIS! HOLY S(%&^(T!!!.

Time once again for the extra point. The center snaps the ball, but this one hardly makes it to the holder on a fly. He doesn't even have time to try and place the ball. So, once again, he's up and running, this time to WIN the game, trying laterals when he runs out of room. Eventually, someone winds up with the ball and breaks around the sideline, headed for the endzone. The crowd, inexplicably, seems to be screaming and holding it's breath at the same time. The Princeton defense approaches and knocks the guy out of bounds at the 2-yard line. In a last, desperate attempt, the Penn player fumbles the ball forward, hoping one of his teammates will recover it in the endzone, but it too, goes out of bounds just before the goal line.

Game over. Final score: Princeton 31, Penn 30.

It was Penn's third overtime loss in three games, an NCAA record. ESPN's SportsCenter listed the end of the game as #1 on its "Top 10 Plays of the Day," quite an accomplishment for an Ivy League game.

As a band member and fan, I can't imagine it getting any more exciting than that (except, possibly, for my team actually winning the game). Maybe if I watch another 95 games...

posted by Brian at 2:53 PM | 0 comments

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Penn President Trick is no Treat

Dr. Amy Guttman, President of the University of Pennsylvania, who is Jewish and the child of holacaust-era parents, hosted her annual Halloween party last week for roughly 700 students. At the party, one of the students, Saad Saadi, dressed up as a suicide bomber, had his picture taken with Dr. Guttman, and then posted it on his personal website. He also posted other pictures of himself conducting mock hostage executions, etc. with other students.

Stupid? Maybe. Funny? Not really (although I'll give him props for using uncooked hot dogs as the dynamite sticks). Bad Taste? Most definitely. International news? we go again.

The Jerusalem Post found the picture and ran a story about it. The Drudge Report linked to the story. Dr. Guttman posted a response on Penn's website, as did Saadi on his personal page. Both of the principle actors seem to be keeping level heads about it:

Dr. Guttman:

The costume is clearly offensive and I was offended by it. . . . The student had the right to wear the costume just as I, and others, have a right to criticize his wearing of it.


We wish to make it clear that we do not support terrorism, violence, or anything that is against society. . . . The costumes are meant to portray scary characters much like many other costumes on Halloween. We are deeply sorry for anyone who has been hurt or upset.

He might have gone on to say, "and I didn't realize anyone outside my circle of friends would find out about it." So, since college is all about learning, I think we can safely say that Saadi learned a few things this past Halloween:

Lesson #1: There is no "just between us" in a public place. If a picture is taken these days, you almost need to assume that it's going to be seen by everyone in the world. Casual, stupid humor has consequences that it didn't have, say, when I was in college. That's not to say you should refrain, but you've got to be aware of the consequences of your actions.

Lesson #2: People are wound very tightly about certain subjects. One would think the concept of a "costume" would be well understood by most rational adults in the world. The guy dressed as a flasher isn't condoing sexual harrassment, the woman dressed as a stripper/prostitute isn't really willing to take her clothes off for money, and the folks with sheets over their heads aren't dead, nor are they advocating certain religious beliefs about the afterworld. In fact, if you wanted to make a political statement by altering your clothing, Halloween is the worst possible day to do it, since your message would be obscured amongst all the revellers. That said, there are people in the world, particularly people who strive to sell advertising on TV and in newspapers, who seek out opportunities to point out offensive activities to others. By doing so, they draw more attention to the supposedly offensive thing than it would otherwise have received, and weaken their own (stated) goals.

So, to sum up: Saad Saadi - quite a fine mess you've gotten yourself into. Rest of the world - lighten up, it was just a costume...

posted by Brian at 9:39 AM | 0 comments

Friday, November 03, 2006

Local Economic Indicators

I so rarely have a camera with me when I drive around my neighborhood. On Tuesday, though, while shuttling the kids between various Halloween-related events, I did. And so you all get to see what I see on my way to the train station every morning:

(click on the image for a larger view)

The station on the right closed down during the summer, but they never took the sign down. The station on the left is still open. And so I have a constant reminder about the "Fall fall" of 2006 for gas prices.

80 cents and counting for a gallon of regular gas...

posted by Brian at 5:12 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Oops, He Did it Again (and again and again...)

Much has been made of this already, but let me just add one small point: I don't believe for a second that John Kerry thinks our troops are dumb. Nor do I believe that he has anything but the deepest respect for those in uniform, especially given his own military history. It seems clear to me that he meant to say one thing and said another, and it earned him some justifiable embarrassment in a "Gotcha!" sort of way.
If he ever laughed at a George W. Bush clip ("Fool me once, can't fool me again"), then we can chalk it up to karmic balance and move on.

But there's still something that bugs me about the whole thing, and it's this:

Here's what Kerry actually said:

You know, education, if you make the most of it, and 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.

Ouch. Now, here's what he intended to say, as per his prepared remarks:

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. Just ask President Bush.

So rather than implying that our troops are dumb, what he meant to do was to jokingly imply that our President is dumb (not to mention irresponsible and lazy). I can just imagine him reviewing his prepared remarks for the California speech and telling the speech writer, "it's a little dry - how about we start with this, move that to the end, and insert a one-liner calling Bush a moron right there? Great, perfect. Thanks."

This kind of thing bugs me every time I see it. Bush, like all prominent politicians, has what I like to call a "Late Night TV Caricature," that of a simpleton and/or bad public speaker. Al Gore had "stiff," Bill Clinton has "slick," Dan Quayle had "stupid," Ronald Reagan had "forgetful," and the list goes on. These memes made for some funny talk show monologues and Saturday Night Live skits, all of which were generally in good fun, even if they seemed a little bit mean at the time. Either way, they were delivered by comedians on television shows that were intended to be funny.

More recently, the line has begun to blur. We've got shows like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Real Time with Bill Maher, which toe the line between news and entertainment. There's enough real content in them that when they refer to Bush as stupid, some folks start believing it, rather than writing it off as a joke, or at least the opinion of a single talk show host. We also have actual candidates/politicians who appear on these shows, and attempt to fit in by trading quips with the host (if I see one more presidential candidate appear on Letterman with their own Top Ten list...) In the end, though, these shows are still just entertainment vehicles and on their own, probably don't do too much damage. For example, had Kerry made the above statement while appearing on The Tonight Show, it probably would have passed without comment. "Time and place" and all that...

But that's not what happened. This was a sitting senator, a former (perhaps future?) presidential candidate, and arguably the most prominent member of a major political party, telling jokes at a campaign appearance on behalf of a congressional candidate.

What makes him think this is a time for jokes (botched or otherwise)? The best case scenario for this kind of thing is a cheap laugh from the crowd. The worst case is a national political incident, a distraction from his message (or, in this case, the message of the candidate he's stumping for), and another small bite out of whatever's left of the respect people have for the office of the President. It also reinforces the theory that John Kerry has absolutely nothing to say about himself or his party, and can only ask for our vote by telling us how terrible the other side is.

And don't get me started on the whole, "I was against an apology before I was for it" bit...

Stick to governing, Senator, and leave the jokes to the professionals, OK?

posted by Brian at 5:54 PM | 0 comments