Saturday, September 30, 2006

I Don't Understand...

Somebody more perceptive than I am, please tell me why this incident is enough to warrant a Congressman's resignation? Seriously, do we live in an age where every interaction between an older person and an unrelated younger one takes on some sort of freaky sexual connotations? Why do we jump to that conclusion, when these e-mails have obvious innocent explanations? Seriously, people need to chill out.

Update, 10/2: It would appear that Foley actually did have some inappropriate things to say to former pages over IM. Like Barzelay, I'm wondering why such contacts between an obviously competent 16-year-old and a non-attached congressman are so inappropriate, given that your average 16-year-old is perfectly able to consent or not consent (as was the case here), but that's for another post.

Friday, September 29, 2006

More Carless in Raleigh

I haven't talked about my carlessness this week because it was rather uneventful. Honestly, until Thursday I didn't really do anything I wouldn't have done beforehand. I rode the bus in to work Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Monday I had some grading to do in the morning, so I rode in with my backpack around noon. The ride to work has almost become routine - if I don't catch the bus, oh well, I'll just ride in. It's only a 25-minute ride - shorter than a lot of peoples' commutes around here.

Thursday I had a call night for Greer Beaty, who is running for State House in NC's District 36 (South Cary, Swift Creek) and who you should vote for if you live in her district. (Hell, vote for her if you don't live in her district. She's that cool.) It's in Northeast Raleigh - way too far to ride my bike. Also, I had a College Dems meeting on Thursday after the calling - which would leave me on campus at 9:00 with no way of getting home. Fortunately, our president, Drew, was kind enough to take me home. Else I would have been sleeping at the office.

Today I didn't go in to work - I had some stuff to do from home, and had I gone in it would have entailed eight hours of surfing the Web and watching the queue, waiting for my jobs to finish. Anyway, by 6:00 I had discovered three things.

1) Shabbat services were starting in one hour and thirty minutes.

2) I was playing tonight, so I had to bring my guitar.

3) I had no ride, since everyone who would have normally brought me was either out of town or not going.

Wonderful. So I transferred my guitar to Danielle's soft-sided backpack style carrying case, stuffed my music in there, changed, and set out.

It's the little things that really bug you when you're carless, and this was no different. I found out quickly that the compatibility of my bike helmet and my guitar was limited at best. I was forced to ride with my head angled down towards a spot roughly five feet in front of my front wheel. Not good for optimum visibility.

My route takes me through the busy Crossroads area of Cary, which, at one crucial moment, does not have sidewalks. Thus, I am forced to make a left turn from one major road onto another from the middle of the road.

Here's your mental picture. Me, in a blue button-down shirt, slacks, and nice shoes, guitar on my back, bicycle helmet and sunglasses on, head craned slightly downwards from the pressure of the guitar neck, sitting on a bike at the front of a left-turn lane at the busiest intersection in the Triangle. I didn't notice people's looks as they pulled up behind me or next to me, but I'm sure there were a few double-takes. The ride took a lot less time than I expected it to - maybe 20 minutes - meaning that I arrived at shul at about 6:45.

Fortunately, I was not subjected to the night ride back, since our cantorial soloist, Toby, has a giant van and was able to take me and my wheels home. But that would have been even more fun.

Also, it's fascinating how people act when you mention that you are now riding your bike everywhere. The look they give you is somewhere between that you would give someone who just told you that they have a terminal disease and the look you get when you say you're going skydiving with your dog. People feel sorry for you and wonder why the hell you would want to do that at the same time. Toby, when I rolled into the synagogue, told me I had "an interesting mode of transportation."

This from someone who grew up in New York City riding her bike everywhere.

Only the rabbi - a devoted environmentalist who is seldom without a reference to pollution or waste during a sermon - really seemed to get behind the idea. Even my mother, when I told her I was biking everywhere, thinks I've gone off my rocker. Of course, that may not be too far from the truth.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Input From Christians Needed

As October approaches, we reach that time of year where every Hallmark store turns black and orange, houses become adorned with ghouls, goblins, and other such specters, and children dream of becoming pirates or ghosts or SpongeBob or whatever. Yes, it's Halloween time, folks. And along with Halloween come the parties (Franklin Street, baby!), the haunted houses, and the requisite complaining from people like this.

The writer of the aforementioned article is a bit nutty, and he obviously has about as much knowledge of the actual practices of Wicca as Paris Hilton has of quantum physics. Nevertheless, I wonder: is Halloween really that grating on Christians? My Christian readership, your input is requested here. What are your feelings?

Banditos Theorem Proof #9321

Seriously, who thought this would be a good idea? Of course pirated DVDs don't smell any different than legit ones. What made you think that they would?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

300th Post!

First off, due to popular request, I'll give you an update on my carlessness. Seems to be going well - I've gotten used to riding my bike into work or throwing it on the front of the TTA bus (bike racks on buses = excellent). I haven't been run over yet, though I did get honked at for no good reason by a jackass passing me once.

Second, on baseball. Derek Jeter and David Ortiz are good baseball players. Whatever. But why the hell is no one mentioning Joe Mauer in the AL MVP conversation? In my mind, he's the obvious choice.

Third, check out this story from a Milwaukee flyer who was detained at a security checkpoint for writing "Kip Hawley is an idiot" on his quart-size liquid bag. (Kip Hawley is the TSA director.) My favorite line from the story is when the security guard says that freedom of speech exists "out there, not in here." Oh, and the idiot trying to rationalize that statement by saying "you can't yell 'fire' in a crowded theater." Given that writing one's political opinions on a plastic bag will inevitably cause a stampede of epic proportions, I think we can all see the similarity. Hat tip to Fark for the story.

Humor aside, the whole story is pretty sketchy. It's incidents like this that make me reconsider my previous stand in favor of pointless cosmetic security measures.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Television: $200.
Basic/standard cable: $60/mo.
Watching Jon Stewart serve a Twinkie to the president of Pakistan: priceless.

Also, watching the Cardinals blow an 8.5 game lead over the Astros and a 7.5 game lead over the Reds, in the process making the NL Central race actually interesting: equally priceless.

Incidentally, if anyone out there knows why the Cardinals are apparently only playing 161 games this year, let me know.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Days 4 and 5; and, George Allen, Jew?

So my bike tire blew up on Monday. I rode into NCSU about noon, and when I left to go home and grade papers, my back tire was flat. Worse, it wouldn't re-inflate. Fortunately, the TTA buses have a bike rack (about the only thing around here that accommodates bicyclists), and I was able to take my bike back to the shop in Cary. I yet again had trouble finding somewhere to put my bike, since the shop didn't have a bike rack.

I'll repeat that statement so the hilarity can sink in: the bike shop didn't have a bike rack.

Anyway, the folks at the shop told me that the tube in the back tire had blown, and I needed a new one. I get it back today. Fortunately, I didn't really need it yesterday; I got a ride to the call center in North Raleigh, and I rode the bus in to work both yesterday and today. So that's the latest in that department.

Also, I want to make this comment. If you were goyish and had a Jewish grandfather, when in life do you think you would find out? Childhood? High school? Furthermore, if your grandfather were a resistance fighter who spent time in a Nazi concentration camp, when would you find out? At age 20? 30? Or... 54?

I find it hard to believe that Sen. Allen just found out who his own grandfather was. If this is true, I blame Allen's mother for hiding it, not Allen. I do, however, blame Allen for responding to a reporter's question about the matter as "making aspersions about people." Dude, having a Jewish war hero as a grandfather is not an aspersion.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Carless in Raleigh, Days 2 and 3

It's amazing how much your leisure activities depend upon you having a car. Fortunately, my Saturday - day 2 of our little social experiment - was not too action-packed. I went out canvassing for Greer Beaty, my NC House candidate. The meeting point was near where I went yesterday for lunch - fortunately, though, some of my fellow travelers took pity on me and gave me a ride. They also offered to give me a ride for Tuesday night call nights - a very good thing since the call nights happen in northeast Raleigh and that would just be one hell of a bike ride. Greer invited me out to dinner afterwards - that I rode my bike to. Afterwards, I got my first night ride in - a three-mile round trip to the movie theater. Crossing Route 1 was somewhat of a hassle, since the Walnut St. bridge has no shoulder to speak of. But my reflector vest and headlights served me well, and I survived.

I had to look around at the movie theater for a good ten minutes to find somewhere to lock up my bike. Which brings me to rant #1: the lack of bike racks/posts/other things to hook a bike to at major shopping centers around here. Seriously, folks, is it that hard to provide a hitching post for us bikers? I've been riding for a whole three days now, and I've had too hook my bike to two handicapped-parking signs, two trees, and a couple of handrails. Universities are good about that kind of thing - the rest of the world should be too.

So Saturday was good. About nine miles total logged.

Ah, but then Sunday.

I had a football game in northwest Raleigh that I usually go to. The game starts at nine. I had asked the other players to swing by to pick me up if I was on their way - the problem being that all the other players live in the godforsaken wasteland known as North Raleigh. Which means I was consigned to riding my bike for the fifteen miles to the Jewish Community Double-Wide up in far north Raleigh. I woke up a full hour later than I wanted to - I didn't get on the road until 7:30. Good thing, too - I showed up at 8:55, a good ten minutes before anyone else. If I had left at 6:30 like I had wanted to, I would have been really bored.

Then I played football for roughly an hour and a half. I thought it was funny that the guy defending me kept bugging me about going deep on every play. Hey, if you can't keep up with a guy who just biked fifteen miles on approximately five hours sleep, you got other problems.

Fortunately, someone was kind enough to take me roughly halfway back after the game, so I only had a ten mile ride back. Either way, between twenty-five miles of bike riding and 90 minutes of wind-sprinting, I worked out my quads more in five hours than I had worked them in my previous 24 years on this planet.

The ride wasn't that strenuous, really (at least not on the way out). The most annoying thing was the lack of sidewalks in Raleigh. Seriously, after you cross the line from Cary into Raleigh, the sidewalks stop. They attempt to start again occasionally, but fail miserably. And it's not like they replace the sidewalks with industrial-sized shoulders either. Nope. It's either roadway or grass/dirt/swamp/whatever substance happens to be off the right side of the road at the time.

Tomorrow I'll have to ride to NCSU to pick up the homework I'm supposed to grade, so that'll be a good test of my ability to make that daily ride. Though if I can pull off today's exploits, I think I can manage pretty much anything. Six miles? Nothing. Bring it on.

Also, I'd like to thank Rock Cartwright for showing up to play tonight, and I'd like to exhort the rest of the Redskins to join him sometime. It's fun. Really.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Inevitable War On Terror Post

Let's have a hand for John Warner, John McCain, Susan Collins, and Lindsey Graham. They voted with the Senate Armed Services Committee's eleven Democrats to endorse a bill (sponsored by the aforementioned Johnny Mac) restricting the CIA's ability to use - ahem - over-the-top interrogation methods against terror suspects (or anyone for that matter). The vote was seen as a slap in the face of President Bush, who had lobbied for an alternate bill that would protect CIA interrogators from being prosecuted for torture.

Even more heartening was the rationale given by Johnny Mac for supporting his bill: that enemies would be more likely to torture our guys if we look like we're torturing theirs.

And this is the part of the war on terror that I fear the Bush administration doesn't quite get. There is a military and an intelligence portion of it, yes, but these aspects ought to take a back seat to the most important part of the struggle: the PR battle. In a world filled with mass media and instant information, stories like this get latched onto and distorted to fit widely-held stereotypes about America - namely, that we're out to get Muslims. Certainly we all know that Bush doesn't want to make a point of torturing every detainee that comes through the CIA's secret prisons. Nor does he want to take away the right of a fair trial to all accused criminals of Arab or Central Asian descent. We know that he's doing what he thinks is best to protect America from an attack. But it sure looks bad to Arabs and Central Asians, doesn't it? The existence of secret prisons and the appearance of sanctioning torture can be extremely hurtful to our reputation in the hands of al-Jazeera, and even more hurtful in the hands of terrorist recruiters.

Conversely, if we reject torture, abide by the Geneva Conventions, maintain our justice system for those accused of terrorist acts, and keep all our detentions above-board (and most importantly, make a major point out of all these things), terrorist recruiters will be deprived of one of their weapons. The argument that America is out to get Muslims rings that much more hollow. And al-Jazeera might report some good news about us for once.

Of course, the West seems to suck at PR. Ask a certain Danish cartoonist. Or Ehud Olmert. Or the Pope. Not that the Muslim world is any better - ask Ahmadinejad, Haniyeh, Nasrallah... Seriously, if a group of people is convinced that you are out to get them, is the best way to deal with this to act belligerently? What, exactly, will that accomplish?

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Month Without A Car?

So this morning I was driving home from a friend's house when I almost killed someone. My window was fogged up, and so I glanced down to turn on my defogger when I hit a pedestrian.

Granted, she was a) not exactly sober and b) blatantly jaywalking in front of a moving car. She also sustained only scrapes and bruises from the incident. So the cop didn't assess a fault.

In the predictable (and likely deserved) self-flagellating state I was in for the rest of the night, I decided I would never drive again. When I woke up, that seemed a bit extreme.

But. I began to wonder - what would it be like if I didn't have a car, especially in car-happy Raleigh? How much of an inconvenience would it be to not be able to drive? And how much would we have to give up to live in an environmentally-friendly world where we didn't drive everywhere? We have this thing in the Triangle called the "Smart Commute Challenge" wherein folks pledge either to use public transportation, bicycle, or carpool to get to work for one day. In exchange, the Smart Commute bunch awards prizes. I thought: why not expand this a little? Why not try to go an entire month without using my car? Hell, if folks in New York can do it, I can, right?

I'll admit that this is probably going to be easier for me than it would be for most others. I live within a mile of two major shopping complexes, two Harris Teeters, innumerable restaurants, etc. All the necessities are really within walking distance. It's work (fifteen minutes away by car) and play (the Triangle is notoriously spread out - I live some twenty minutes by car from downtown Raleigh, the nearest entertainment district) that prove to be challenges. Oh, and Yom Kippur (Oct. 3) falls within the time frame. Which means that there's a decent chance that I'll be riding my bike from here to south Cary and back in a suit with no water. That'll be fun. And don't worry, I bought a bright orange reflector vest, headlights, and taillights for all my night riding needs.

I'll leave regular updates on this blog about my life without a car. I'll carpool with others doing the driving, ride a bus, and ride my (new - purchased today for the purpose of the experiment) bike to get places. Today was relatively easy. I worked from home and decided around 3:30 that I would go out and get Mexican food for a late lunch. There's an excellent Mexican place on Kildaire Farm Road, so I rode there. It was a calibration run as much as anything else - I wanted to see how much time it would take to make a simple journey so I could more effectively plan my longer ones.

The route I took is shown here. It was roughly three miles from here to there, and it took 17 minutes to complete. (The trip back was longer, but that was because I got lost looking for a shortcut.) My home is on the right side of the map, Torero's is on the right.

Fairly straightforward. But I have to go out to far north Raleigh on Sunday morning for a flag-football game. The game is at 9. The trip would be roughly 15 miles one-way (down and up a bitchy hill at Crabtree Valley to boot). If my time estimates are correct, I'll be budgeting two hours for the trek if I don't get a ride out there. Which makes me wonder if I'm in good enough shape to bike for two hours, play football for two hours, and bike another two hours back. Oh well. Stay tuned.

Correlation Is Not Causation, Folks

Scientists need to learn the difference between correlation and causation. Just because two sets of data have the same trend over the same period of time does not mean that one trend caused the other. The good folks at the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster have demonstrated this with their priceless pirate/global warming graph.

Now, another group of scientists has been so kind as to demonstrate the difference between correlation and causation, albeit unintentionally. Feast your eyes upon the alcohol/income study of 2006. This wonderful paper proves, beyond a doubt, that drinking causes your income to increase.

No wonder the cost of living in Utah is so low.

Given, the researchers make some good points, including the point that social networking is extremely important when it comes to advancing in corporate circles and thus increasing your income. But linking social networking to alcohol is somewhat silly; partygoers could just as easily be drinking Coca-Cola or lemonade as a glass of red wine. Furthermore, the study is skewed by the fact that more well-off people can afford more alcohol than their less affluent neighbors. And the fact that a lot of poorer country areas contain "dry counties" where alcohol cannot be purchased.

But I'm choosing to buy into this study. If you need me, I'll be on my back porch drinking a fifth of whiskey and waiting for the money to roll in.