Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

Pro Tip: Only the People can change the Constitution (generally with the help of Congress)

Sunday, March 4th, 2018

When a president or candidate claims to be a protector against or progenitor of changes to the Constitution, do not believe them.

The president’s role in repealing the Second Amendment or preventing its repeal is operationally zero.  The same is true of adding new amendments – e.g., the ERA.

The process is completely contained in Article V.  The tl;dr is: if two thirds of both houses propose an amendment (enough to override a veto, were one even possible, incidentally) and three fourths of the state legislatures or conventions therein approve it, the proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution.  (There’s an alternative way to start the ball rolling, but the 3/4 approval by states always has to happen.)

The chief executive’s only input or output is the ability to shout from the Bully Pulpit. That’s it.

The judicial isn’t involved, either.  It’s just us.

So don’t vote based on that crap.

I Only Listen To the Tides

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

This post is an update to my 2017 post talking about the podcasts I like.  I have a couple more to recommend.

  • I Only Listen To The Mountain Goats: This has been a delight in so many ways.  Joe and John talk informally about how they create cool stuff.  One could say that these are recordings of Joseph Fink and John Darnielle in conversation about their creative process as artists. One of the reasons I’m digging this so much is that both viewpoints are true.  These are two guys and two erudite artists.  They bop between those two modes of discourse with remarkable ease and have lots of deep things to say in mundane ways and mundane things to say in deep ways.  And it’s all two guys talking in the basement.
    As a bonus,it turns out that I really like the album they’re using to frame their talks: All Hail West Texas. I expect I’ll like more Mountain Goats music as well.  I know I’ll be buying some.  They also get people to cover the songs and I’ve bought a couple of those, too.  So be warned that this podcast may make you spend money.
  • Tides Of History: As Ben Edlund said: from the other side of the Corpus Callosum, I’ve been enjoying this incredible deep dive into late antiquity and early modern history. I’ve tried to listen to Patrick Wyman’s earlier podcasts and found his presentation well intentioned, but too dull for me.  He’s a history professor, after all.  What kept me keeping tabs on him is that he had (IMHO) the right idea: make this stuff accessible to people by describing it better.  He’s made his presentation into something that’s beyond accessible and into enticing.  He hooks me by grounding his – extensive – scholarship in compelling framings of the time and important concepts of the present.  He’s also become much more savvy about using the medium, too – his sound design has markedly improved, for example and he lets his enthusiasm warm his episodes without overheating them.  There’s no need for you to care about that process.  If you like history at all, try couple episodes and join me as a fan.

Listening List 2017

Saturday, January 6th, 2018

As a companion to my 2017 reading list, here’s the podcasts I listen to and why.

  • NPR’s Up First: This is basically the day’s headlines from Morning Edition.  When I bike to work, it gives me the lay of the news land.
  • Golic and Wingo: The sports equivalent of Up First. This used to be the Mike and Mike feed before ESPN retired that show.  I get a kick out of the younger Golic and the easy jock interactions.
  • His & Hers/SC6: I listen to this solely to get my Jemele Hill and Michael Smith fix.  They have great personal chemistry and they comment so widely on the world within the framework of sports.  Lately they’ve been openly poking their employer’s manipulation of viewers to my great delight.  They were given the wheel of ESPN’s flagship SportsCenter time and they’re driving it like they stole it.  Good fun.
  • Planet Money: I’ve been listening to Planet Money since they began putting them out.  It is consistently a great explanation of economic issues in concrete circumstances, and I recommend it unreservedly.  Even if you don’t generally care about economics, give it a try.
  • This American Life: One of the most respected radio shows/podcasts out there. For me, it earns that respect with every show.  Their investigative reporting is excellent and enlightening.  Beyond recommended; a must.
  • Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me: Peter Sagal and his talent riff on the news with panache every week.  Their guests are from a broad range and interesting.  I like the political ones best.
  • Welcome To Night Vale: A fiction podcast that combines humor, spookiness, and great characters.  Worth it for the throw-aways alone and  the story sneaks up to capture you.  It’s felt a little more aimless recently as the creators are doing more things, but still has many great moments.  Even if you don’t follow it, it’s worth hearing old stories.
  • Awesome Etiquette: I am an etiquette nerd, but I find that the Emily Post folks who produce this (Lizzie and Dan) are much less concerned with the fish fork rules than the relationships that underly the rituals we perform.  It’s a principled approach to etiquette that’s often more an advice column.
  • Dinner Party Download: This was a quirky take on pop culture that spent a lot of time on food, drink, history(!?), and terrible, terrible, terrible jokes.  Rico and Brendan had great chemistry and a great take on the world.  Sadly, this is in the past tense: they’ve moved on to other projects.
  • A Way With Words: A cool show about (English) word usage and origins.
  • Reply All: Reply All is a show about the Internet.  But, really, it’s about many many things that touch the Internet in some way.  The reporting is outstanding and the hosts are charismatic.  This is on a par with This American Life.  A must.
  • ScienceVs: Each episode reviews the scientific studies about some public policy or personal issue.  The host is delightful and the topics are compelling.  Great fun.
  • LA Public Library’s Aloud Series: The Los Angeles Public Library hosts a series of talks from authors, artists, and thinkers (including Q&A) and records them.  The talks cover a fantastic range of topics  from cephalopod intelligence to modern poetry.  I’ve never heard one I didn’t learn something from.
  • The Memory Palace: This is Nate DiMeo’s poetic and indescribable podcast.  There’s some history, some poetry, and some reflection.  Try a few and you’ll see if you like it.  I don’t miss an episode.
  • Here Be Monsters: HBM is another basically indescribable podcast.  It is eerie and enlightening.  Another one where you really have to look for yourself, because it’s beyond my powers.
  • Make Me Smart: This is an extension of Minnesota Public Radio’s excellent Marketplace radio show.  It began pointed at economics and politics – and those still figure prominently – but had branched into its own ongoing conversation.   It is a conversation shared by two world-class journalists (Molly Wood and Kai Ryssdal), so it’s not your run-of-the-mill chat. As all great conversations do, the discussion has developed its own in-jokes and themes (and a book club, that not all great conversations spawn). As with any conversation, it may or may not interest you.  Try enough to get the vibe if you’re interested.
  • Found: Davy Rothbart publishes a zine of objects that people gather from the streets and send him.  The zine is quite a quirky collection of oddments and Rothbart’s live shows have a lo-fi vibe with real entertainment in there.  He uses the podcast to dig deeper into the stories behind the objects and explore longer form performance.  Perhaps my favorite parts are the songs based on the found objects – mostly the texts lists and letters – from the Found Musical.  Yeah, there’s a musical.  It’s a thing.
  • You Must Remember This: Karina Longworth’s exploration of Hollywood’s history is one of the real gems in the podcast world.  She balances diligent research and insightful modern analysis to not only tell a story but help the listener think about its place in the past and future.  I can find her delivery a bit dry, but the content is fantastic. After a few episodes I began hearing more subtle elements of her style.
  • RadioLab: Another blue chip podcast.  I listen to it primarily because it makes me yell at the speakers in ways that make me think.  When it’s good, it’s great. When it’s not, there’s usually something to think about.  And it’s often great.
  • StartUp: This began as a near-real-time history of Alex Blumberg founding Gimlet Media.  That was gripping and exciting, but since then it’s seemed a bit aimless.  I do think that their series on American Apparel’s troubled CEO is top-notch.
  • Below The Ten: Stories from life in South LA.  These are interesting and compelling.  Does not update often.
  • Baseball Tonight: I use this to just keep up with major league baseball.  I let a lot of it wash over me, but that’s possible because of the easy charisma and camaraderie of the hosts and guests.
  • Within The Wires: This is one of the other projects that Night Vale creators are spending time on.  It’s brilliant, funny, creepy, innovative storytelling and I don’t want to spoil it.  A must.
  • Alice Isn’t Dead: Another Night Vale creator’s project.  I find it a more straight-ahead thriller than Within The Wires, but it is very strong.
  • The Hidden History of LA: Short snippets of LA history.  Great if you live in LA.
  • The Pitch: Here’s the pitch: young investors pitch their startup ideas to a set of real investors and these folks report on it.  I thought I’d listen to one or two of these and stop, but it hooked me.  I enjoy assessing the presentation quality and I’ve come to like the repeating investors.
  • The Nod: Gimlet’s stab at exploring Black culture.  I listen to it primarily because I got hooked by host Brittany Luce when she did Sampler.
  • Live From The Poundstone Institute: I picked this up to listen to Paula Poundstone.  Adam Felber was just a bonus. The early few episodes were clunky as the two of them felt their way through the form.  As the show progressed, they developed a chemistry and rhythm that I quite like.  It’s solid and expect it will get stronger; I’ll keep watching.
  • NPR’s Code Switch: NPR’s swing at exploring the crenelations of a multi-ethnic culture.  The show can feel stilted at times, but the reporting and commentary are top notch.  It’s grown on me considerably.  If its niche appeals to you, it is very good.
  • Conversations With People Who Hate Me: The pitch for Conversations is simple: Dylan Marron calls people who screamed hateful things in his YouTube comments section and tries to figure out what ticked them off.  Marron’s execution is unbelievably strong: simultaneously professional, vulnerable, analytic, and compassionate.  And many other adjectives that apply to a bold person experiencing genuine emotion. I can imagine listeners rejecting Marron as the stereotype of an SJW – an observation he might well confirm – but I think he’s much more interesting than any stereotype.  A must.
  • Desert Oracle Radio: I may never know Warren Ellis found this lunatic poet, conspiracy nut, nature conservator, and svengali who broadcasts from the middle of the Mojave, but thank heaven he mentioned it in his newsletter. Listen to one episode and you’ll know if it’s for you.  It’s for me.
  • The Liminal: Another Ellis recommendation.  This is another podcast that I listen to because of the host.  He’s talking about fortean topics with a perspective somewhere between skeptical and accepting.  I’ve heard a lot of the topics and I admire the perspective.
  • Deep State Radio: One more from Ellis. This is a revolving set of foreign policy heavyweights weighing in on the state of the world.  I enjoy the tone and content.  Beyond that, they pay careful attention to gender balance – there are basically always half women foreign policy experts in the conversation. The group’s perspective is strong.
  • The Allusionist: This is another words and language podcast, but with a somewhat wider ambit than A Way With Words. I haven’t been listening to it that long, but I find that she casts an interesting net.
  • Uncivil: Jack Hitt and Chenjerai Kumanyika report on some of the corners of the Civil War story that you won’t hear from Ken Burns.  It’s well-researched and takes no prisoners with its pro-equality perspective.  The Spin episode will give you a feel for the tone and quality.
  • There Goes The Neighborhood: Collaborative reporting by WNYC and KCRW on gentrification in Brooklyn and Santa Monica.  I learned a bunch, though it’s currently on hiatus.
  • More Perfect: This is the guys from WNYC/RadioLab coming at the US Supreme Court from excellent perspectives.  I probably like it more than RadioLab itself.  Recommended.
  • The Breakfast Club: This is the best of the non-music parts of an NYC-based morning show.  I enjoy hearing the rhythm and perspective of NYC.
  • The Sisterhood: Laurie Penny and her sister talk about feminist issues.  Still finding their feet, but shows promise.  I found their commentary on our robot masters particularly insightful.

Reading List 2017

Sunday, December 31st, 2017

I read 36 books in 2017.  I generally write up a capsule of each as I finish so I don’t have much new to say. Here are the ones I strongly recommended:

And here’s everything I reviewed in 2017.


Present and Accounted For

Saturday, December 30th, 2017

O Holy Night
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Adeste Fidelis
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
We Wish You A Merry Christmas
Christmas in Hollis
The First Noel
Merry Christmas, Baby.

And The Little Drummer Boy, if and only if you’re Bowie and Crosby.

25 Random Things

Friday, January 30th, 2009

So there’s this deal on Facebook (yes, I’m on Facebook) where you write 25 random facts about yourself and collect and trade the whole set with your friends. It’s a fun way to find out things about your friends. I’ve had facebook’s note saving application dump two lists before I could save them.

But this blog gets forwarded to my Facebook account, and its editor is good. So, here we go, though admittedly to a potentially larger audience.

Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)

1. I am not a pretty girl.

2. I do have a pretty gift for quotation, which I’m told is a serviceable substitute for wit.

3. I tend to overthink things. OK, more than tend. But not quite always.

4. I still like to program computers.

5. I believe, deep in my heart, that everybody wants to fly airplanes.

6. I like my family.

7. I live with the best person in the world.

8. I’m pretty cranky for an optimist.

9. I used to be a dog person, but I dote on my cats.

10. I really like to read, especially history and fiction.

11. I never get to all the things I should get to, much less the ones I want to get to.

12. I still read comic books.

13. I like a lot of uncool music.

14. I really need a copy of “Kung Fu Fighting.”

15. I have scared myself in an airplane.

16. I still automatically finish Rocky Horror Picture Show lines.

17. I own a keyboard without letters on the keys.

18. I have been referred to as a probable fatality.

19. I need a new shredder.

20. I’m afraid of hypodermic needles.

21. I usually like going there as much as being there.

22. I think one of my cats likes me more than the other one does.

23. I think 23 is a very important number.

24. I believe science is a powerful way to see clearly, but it requires a commitment.

25. I think 25 is a lot of things to pick if you overthink things. Or even tend to overthink things.

Döner Kebab

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

Though I complain about it, there are many cool things about my job. One of those things is that it causes me to occasionally find myself in, say, Spain at 10:30 PM local time on a Sunday and starving after waking up from a jet-lag-induced crash. You may be looking for the good part, and so was I.

I went down to the front desk and asked about the food prospects. It’s Sunday in Madrid and I don’t speak the language. The desk clerk was not optimistic. A man’s gotta eat, so I’m off into the raining night.

I should mention parenthetically that not only is it raining, but I have no umbrella and no jacket; I’m dressed for Los Angeles. It’s nice to live in a place with only nice weather, but it does encourage one to forget to plan for the weather. My continuing inability to learn this lesson is a source of great amusement to my friends.

I walk 100 yards and there’s McDonald’s. It’s nice that I won’t starve, but eating at McDonald’s in Madrid seems to be admitting defeat. I’ll explore further before returning to the golden arches.

By this point, I’m actually getting into the adventure of looking for late night food. It’s always fun to wander around some part of a city that isn’t full of tourists. You get off the beaten path and get to see the people who live here going about their lives. Almost inevitably the most fun I have when traveling are those times.

So I’m pushing along through the cold and I pass a little something or other. I think they call them snack bars in France; it’s a little lunch counter kind of thing. It’s also packed to the gills, like a local bar on a Wisconsin football weekend. There’s a soccer match on. Now if I spoke any Spanish at all, I’d probably go for this, but I’m not excited at nodding and pointing at a bartender in a crowd to try to get a frozen pizza. It’s on the list above the McDonald’s, though, so things are looking up.

The landscape’s getting less promising, though. There are more apartments and small offices and fewer storefronts. There’s a closed bar – “Bar Chappeau” – and some restaurants that are wisely closed. And there’s some small nook that’s selling kebabs. I’m wondering whether this is worth a try, when I see the name of the place – Döner Kebab.

A week ago that wouldn’t have meant anything to me, but sometime in that week – it may have been this afternoon – I saw that name in my friend Phil’s IM status. Phil lives in Geneva, working for Google, and the sort of guy that I’m happy to follow into adventure. So if Döner Kebab is good enough for Phil, it’s good enough for me.

It was pretty much perfect. A made some half-assed attempt to order the special off the menu (and here you want to think sandwich shop menu), and failed miserably. I do not have wonderful pronunciation of languages I allegedly speak, much less ones I don’t. It wasn’t any great leap to figure out that I wasn’t from around here. But the fellow behind the counter replied to me in pretty good English that he was out of fries, but would be happy to cut me a deal on a kebab and a drink. He made the food while conversing with a few folks who were obviously regulars, and I watched Spanish TV on a grainy set and took in the atmosphere.

The kebab was fair. Nothing very tasty, but I was pretty hungry. While I was eating a few more customers came through, including a Japanese woman who was even more lost than I was. He flirted with her a bit and got her on her way with a late night meal. I paid up, and we chatted for a few minutes about the US economy. No, really. This is the kind of small joint magic I love.

Anyway, that’s how the Internet made my life better today. A small association nudged me into a vibrant Spanish slice of life.

Lessig on Palin – not the whole story

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

John Heidemann pointed me at a post on Lawrence Lessig’s blog in which Lessig assesses Palin’s qualifications against vice presidents who were elected to the position. It’s an interesting angle to take, and overall I agree with his conclusion that she’s got one of the weakest resumes for the job. Personally, I believe there are many better qualified people to be VP, and I consider her choice as a candidate to be a strike against McCain. In essence, I agree with Lessig’s assessment of her credentials.

However, I have a significant problem with Lessig’s presentation. He takes some pains to point out both that Palin has a weaker resume than all but two holders of the VP office, and that roughly 1 in 5 Vice Presidents have to assume the duties of president. The implication is that there’s a 1 in 5 chance that the country goes down the tubes if she’s elected. What I find disingenuous about the presentation is that he fails to mention that one of his 2 least qualified vice presidents assumed the office of the presidency and aquitted himself fairly well.

Only looking at Chester A. Arthur‘s resume, as Lessig does, probably oversells his suitability for the job. In addition to the lack of experience on the national stage, Arthur was a believer in the spoils system, and was long associated with the customs collection in NYC, which was a hotbed of chicanery, if not outright corruption. Few believers in good government believed that Arthur would do anything but follow the party line and reward hacks.

When Garfield was shot by an assassin who claimed to represent Arthur’s faction in the party, Vice President Arthur got his call on the red phone. Few had high hopes for his performance, but a remarkable thing happened: he grew into the office rather well. All told he acquitted himself quite admirably on many fronts, often bucking the very party leaders who had put him in power.

Arthur makes few people’s list of great presidents. He faced relatively quiet times, and his successes were mostly domestic. He makes fairly few lists of worst presidents, either. He is an interesting case study of how an underqualified person can rise to the challenge of the presidency.

I don’t mean this to be a defense of Sarah Palin. As I’ve said above, I think she is an unwise choice for VP and I would have grave concerns if she became president. Nor do I wish the description of Arthur’s experience to support the position that a vice president needn’t have any experience to do well as president; I believe that a VP should be qualified in his or her own right. While Arthur was a reasonable president, Theodore Roosevelt, who also assumed office following an assassination, became an outstanding president, partially because of his superior experience and qualifications.

However, after Lessig draws the parallel to Arthur, and raises the specter of an unqualified president, I think he owes the audience a description of how Arthur did when he assumed the higher office. Failure is not a certainty in this situation, and it’s only fair to point that out.

Double Vision

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

One of the hardest things about reading the BBC piece on the RHPS remake is that the goddamn thing is full of names from the credits of the RHPS.  This means as a read them they’re translated into red on white bloody letters and the appropriate catcall comes into my head.  The old scars run deep.

… on our feet

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

Some bozos seem to have decided to make another movie called The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Several people are up in arms about this, including Wil Wheaton and Richard O’Brien.   I share their recognition that this is wrong and blasphemous: I think it’s wrong to view the RHPS anywhere but a theater at midnight; there isn’t a scale that captures the odiousness of remaking the movie.  Still, I’m not expecting this attempt to amount to anything.  The RHPS survived Shock Treatment, which was made by people who understood the RHPS.  These nimrods don’t scare me.

There are those actively resisting the attempt, and you may want to help, but honestly, I trust the universe on this one.