Monthly Archives: May 2009

There was a flap a couple weeks back when Barack Obama ordered dijon mustard at a historic burger joint in Virginia. This was considered indicative of Obama’s elitism because he can’t eat ketchup on his burger like reg’lar folks. “What kind of man orders a cheeseburger without ketchup, but Dijon mustard?” Laura Ingraham asks. The answer, David Frum unearths, are those effete coastal elites in Texas. Actually, the Texans prefer regular mustard, but no ketchup.

So how ridiculous is it that these right-wing blowhards are trying to mock Obama for liking Dijon mustard? Republicans have indeed made an art out of criticizing the culinary choice of Democratic politicians. Remember John Kerry’s infamous preference for swiss cheese on his Philly Cheesesteak instead of Cheez Whiz. Yet as much as we might want to chalk this up to the intellectual bankrupcy of conservatism, does anyone doubt for a moment that certain corners on the left would take swipes at a Republican candidate with a soft spot for Spam or, for that matter, Cheez Whiz? In fact, in a post ridiculing Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and others, Jason Linkins goes out of his way to denigrate people that eat ketchup:

What kind of man orders a cheeseburger without ketchup? Uhm, how about a FULL GROWN ONE? Ketchup, and it’s cousin “catsup,” doesn’t come near my food, because I am no longer a small child.

Ahhh, so ludicrous as it is to ridicule a mustard-eater as an elitist, calling ketchup lovers immature is just calling a spade a spade, I guess.

One funny aspect in all this is that in Obama’s second book, a guy named Aaron reminds us that his preference for Dijon mustard makes an appearance in his second book:

He was at a restaurant with his campaign consultant who had been coaching him on how to behave in rural Illinois. He asked the waitress for Dijon mustard, and the consultant waved him off: “He doesn’t want Dijon.” The consultant then shook at him a bottle of French’s already on the table. “Here’s some mustard right here.”

The moral of the story was that the waitress, an actual Real American, was puzzled by the consultant’s Old Politics assumptions, not Obama’s mustard preference. The suggestion, seemingly, was that our nation is not as sharply divided over mustard as pundits would have you believe, and as a result it is possible to solve real problems. Story on p 49.

Everyone’s mileage on this varies. I come from a pretty red part of the country but it wouldn’t occur to me to mock someone for wanting Dijon mustard on a burger. Maybe it’s cause I was raised all wealthy and stuff. Nor would it occur to me to denigrate someone that likes ketchup (or, for that matter, Swiss cheese or Cheez Whiz).

For my part, I am not a big fan of ketchup. Whatever appreciation for it I once had I lost when I had a roommate (a Republican… ooooooh) that put gobs of the stuff on everything. It made me so sick of the smell I avoid it whenever I can. In Deseret they have this stuff called Fry Sauce that is a mixture of ketchup and mayo that tastes pretty good. And I’ll put ketchup on black-eyed peas because God intended ketchup to go there. But that’s about the extent of it. I eat Dijon mustard on Subway sandwiches, but that’s about it. I used to eat regular mustard on burgers, but I didn’t like the way it mixed with the cheese and so I stopped. Now I put mayo or salad dressing, if anything. In solidarity with our president, though, as well as a desire to consume less fatty mayo, I will start putting mustard on my burger. I may even go all coastal and go with Dijon.

Category: Kitchen

-{Ed note: I wrote this post a loooooooooong time ago. Over a year ago, in fact. I know this because when I think I want to spike a post I forward-date it a month or a year. Well, a year later and it was still sitting in my queue and it slipped by me. So anyway, this was mostly a venting session aimed at the failings of democracy. Not sure how interesting you will find it. Click “More” to see the content of the post.}-

I’ve written before about the sometimes-troubled friendship I’ve had with my ex-roommate Hubert Graham. Hugh and I had a lot of the wrong things in common and I really disliked in him what I disliked in myself. He was who I feared that I would become if I didn’t watch myself. Short-tempered, self-centered, awkwardly social, and more. None of this is to say that I saw him as a bad person. Even when I reviled him, I could at least recognize that he was a decent guy. But living with him for four years, working at Parallax Productions with him, and more proved too much for the longest time.

Also standing in between us was a sort of rivalry. A need to one-up one another. To prove that we could get the better girls, be more successful, prove our superior intelligence, and invade one another’s turf. He is smarter than me, so I had to try to be smarter than him. I am more creative than him, and so he had to try to prove his creative mettle. The rivalry extended to everything, at one point getting so ridiculous that I was hurling expletives at my Epson printer because it had the nerve to be worse than Hugh’s HP.

The mend came in part when we had nothing to compete over. With the rivalry dead and the overextended intimacy of living together passed, we were free to approach one another on the grounds that made us friends in the first place with a lot of shared memories to boot.

He got the better job, but I have excuses for mine and it’s not something I care about. He has integrated himself better socially in the world, too, but I’ve never needed that as much. Our wives are too different to stack up against one another. I’ll be more comfortably financially in the long term. He’s won, I’ve won, and we’ve more or less settled in our respective places.

Anyway, he called me yesterday and we talked for a while. This is the first call since the whole Dead Babies incident, so I was glad to hear from him. For those of you that don’t keep track of my castlist-in-the-dozens, his wife gave birth to twin girls about fifteen weeks ago. So as we were talking he was raving about how insanely brilliant his little girls are and how they’re exceeding all of the charts of baby progress.

I am of course thrilled for him, but an ugly little part of me started creeping back. I had visions of trying to convince Clancy to undergo IVF so I can one-up him with triplets. And I have visions of talking to my young daughter, saying, “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up, sweetie… as long as you’re better than Lucinda and Emmilou Graham.”

I’m pretty much kidding, by the way.

About the triplets.

And maybe the other thing.


Category: Coffeehouse

A post by Will regarding a MamaPundit outburst brought up an old memory.

My experience with abortion, in a “firsthand” sense, stems around my aunt. She and my uncle were overjoyed the first time they found out she was pregnant, as was the rest of the family. I, my siblings, and my cousins were told (just as we had each time before) about how wonderful it was. We were about to get a new cousin. Somebody new to be around for Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ place, someone for me to (eventually) babysit for, someone to play with, someone to show our world to as they learned about theirs.

Unfortunately, my aunt then ran into a nightmare of a problem – 5 months in, doctors determined that my unborn cousin was either going to be stillborn or not going to live for more than a few days. Part of his brain had not formed, and he would have been born with an “open” (e.g. lacking partial bone structure) skull. (I’m sure Clancy could fill in more “medical” terminology but that’s how it was explained to us).

Between that, and the various hormonal complications the pregnancy was causing, it was determined to “terminate” (e.g. abort) my aunt’s pregnancy. From the perspective of my relatives, there was no doubt that this had ended a human life, but it was better to stop the pregnancy than to risk taking my aunt’s life as well. My stillborn cousin was baptized and buried in a small, private family funeral; I did not attend as most of us cousins were deemed “too young” to attend or fully understand the circumstances at the time.

For much of my family, the thought was that this was a heinous necessity. This was, to them, “the taking of a life.” The fact that my cousin would be born essentially already dead or “brain dead” and only kept alive with machinery didn’t matter to them – they wouldn’t have aborted a detected Down Syndrome baby, or missing a limb, or any other congenital condition. The single fact that made it acceptable and not a “sin” to them was the life of my aunt, who (had the pregnancy been carried to either “birth” or natural miscarriage) would have had to endure pain, suffering, possible internal organ damage, possibly even the loss of her ability to try again, and as an outside but not “insignificant” risk, perhaps even death. From my perspective, I can’t say that I was (or am today) as severe as they were on it, but I can understand where they were coming from.

I also have to wonder – how much of the ongoing abortion debate is medical, how much is pragmatic, how much religious, and how much the functional argument between those who want and cannot have, want and can have, and don’t want but do have, children? The difference between my aunt and uncle – who had been trying and trying to get pregnant – and someone who is “surprised” pregnant and doesn’t even know who the father is (or knows full well that the father will only be so in a “sperm donor” sense) may be a vast gulf to bridge indeed.

Category: Coffeehouse

I wanted to have some short post up tonight since Web is going to be posting tomorrow, but twice I’ve tried to write a short post and twice I’ve found myself starting a longer post. I suppose this is why I will never migrate entirely to Twitter.

Speaking of Web, you may have noticed that he is no longer Webmaster. Well, he is still the webmaster, but he has finally been given a name. It’s not much of a departure. I think we lack imagination.

Category: Server Room

I paid $1.69 each for two half-gallon cardboard cartons of milk.

Milk seems to be cheaper out west than it is in Delosa. I remember when I first moved to Deseret I kept reading articles about how much milk prices have risen and didn’t know what they were talking about. I’d paid the same that I’d always paid. I came to find out that milk prices had spiked right about at the time of the move and that if I’d still been in Delosa I would be paying 50c more. I don’t know how well prices in Cascadia match up, though, which is why I am asking for your input:

How much did you pay for milk last time you bought some?

Category: Market

-{Other than the Nashville stars, I can’t really get into the artists within the movement because a lot of them are Colosseans or sing songs about Delosa specifically. I thought about nixing the post entirely, but I suspect the rise and fall of a local musical revolution is something that has happened more times than can be counted, so I’m not sure the specifics are relevant. In any case, to give you a feel for the music, I’ve temporarily included a selection of songs at the end of the post. If you would like to know more about the music, shoot me an email with my 8-letter account name @gmail.}-

It’s always hard for me to answer what kind of music I’m in to. My tastes are mildly eclectic since sound doesn’t matter to me nearly as much as lyrics do. But a big stumbling point is that a lot of my favorite music hails from a subgenre that most people have never heard of. I can almost guarantee you that none of you have heard of at least 5 of my favorite ten artists. And if I try to explain that one of my favorite genres is Independent Country or Alternative Country, a lot of people don’t know what I’m talking about or get the wrong idea. They’ll tell me jokes about what you get if you play a country song backwards. If I tell them I’m in to “Gulf Country Rock”, of course, they have no idea what I’m talking about. Particularly out here, but even in Colosse, where the movement was once strong, I’ll get blank stares. Unfortunately, the movement that was once building steam so powerfully faded away.

I actually stumbled onto the Gulf Country Rock scene by accident. I’d downloaded a single song from an artist named Troy Thomason from a free MP3 site that has since folded. Kyle, Clint, and I went to a local music show and happened to see a poster for the guy. We went to his show and he introduced me to the style. Then Thomason announced that he was leaving Delosa and relocating to Nashville and a whole was filled. So I started following some links on Thomason’s site to other artists. I had an overnight job at the time that consisted of starting a number of processes at 10pm and then doing nothing until 3am. So one night I decided to walk over to the nearby bar where a musician mentioned on Thomason’s site was doing an act. I enjoyed it immensely and so I started going to a lot of shows (though rarely on my employer’s time).

In a world where musical tastes are expected to say something about you, there is something powerful to the psyche about following a kind of music nobody else listens to. You feel like you’re in on the ground floor and if they ever become big, you can say “I knew of them first!” And of course it feeds that little part of us that likes to think that we cut against the grain.

In any case, before long I was going to anywhere between one and four shows a week. Most of my disposable income was spent at The Stockpile, a local bar that showcased a lot of Gulf Country Rock music. The GCR revolution was, like a lot of artistic genres, about more than just the music. One of the focal points of the whole thing was a strong disdain for the music coming out of Nashville at the time. GCR musicians were the true successors to Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney were just poseurs. McGraw and Chesney were by far the most frequent targets. First it was McGraw because he was such a big singer, but then he went and bought to rights to a GCR song and made it a Billboard hit and so Chesney was anointed the new symbol of everything that was wrong with country music.

Secretly, I always liked Chesney. It was a sign of the times and the crowd that I found myself in that I had to deny my appreciation for his music so thoroughly that I faked it until I felt it. So synonymous was Chesney with artistic fraud that even while I liked his songs, I couldn’t help but hate him. That I had his Greatest Hits CD became one of my most closely guarded secrets. More closely guarded than even the Air Supply CD I have stashed away. As the movement grew, it really became an us-vs-them affair. Nashville was the enemy.

I had indeed gotten on the ground floor of a growing movement. One of the struggling local radio stations, WREB Wrebel FM, in an act of desperation actually played nothing but GCR from 5-10pm and suddenly we were hearing loads of our favorite artists on the radio. It garnered a lot of interest. They were singing the national anthem at Colosse Hurricane baseball games and placing pretty high at the local Livestock Show and Rodeo (one of the biggest in the country).

It was, of course, bound not to last. Wrebel went back to a slightly more conventional playlist and eventually folded entirely. More and more me-too acts started popping up and exposed the limitations of the genre by making it into yet another formula. But the true death knell was ironically the headway it made into Nashville. A few of the top artists got picked off by Nashville record labels. Having gone national, they weren’t there to draw the same crowds and garner the same attention locally. Worse yet, instead of changing Nashville, in some cases Nashville changed them. They had to change the things that made them successful locally in order to make it on the national stage. That wasn’t the case with all of them, but it was the case with one too many of them. He became indistinguishable from Chesney and when the local artists would go over the list of Nashville Singers We Must Hate, they all but had to glide over him. He became the sort of elephant in the room. And even Chesney had joined McGraw in making a local songwriter (who had previously called him out by name as a hack) rich by turning his song into a radio hit.

The movement was still going strong when I left Delosa to move to Deseret with Clancy. It had in fact expanded beyond its Ocania-Delosa-Louisiana base all the way out to Texas and Estacado. One of the reasons I was looking forward to moving to Estacado was getting to see some of these guys. And fortunately I did. But something had changed. Even on trips back to Colosse, The Stockpile had gone from too-crowded-to-be-comfortable to two-thirds empty much of the time. Wrebel Radio had folded by this point and gone to an All-Kenny-G-and-John-Tesh smooth Jazz format.

At least, one GCR artist said, they’ve finally stopped playing Darryl Worley.

Category: Theater

Several months ago I decided to listen to Scott Turow’s Kindle County series, starting with Presumed Innocence. The book was partially spoiled by the fact that I knew how it ended because I’d seen the end (and only the end) of the movie. I knew who committed the crime, where the missing glass went, and how the characters fared. I still enjoyed the book, though.

Now here I am in a remarkably similar spot. I’m listening to John Grisham’s The Chamber. It took me less than an hour’s listening to realize that once again, I’ve seen part of this movie. Once again, I’ve seen the end of it. So once again, I know how it ends. Unfortunately, this time around I am not enjoying the book. Not yet, anyway. Last time around, I also knew too much about the main plot of the story because they read the dust jacket. This time I don’t have those spoilers, but it doesn’t matter because the book seems to be doing much at all with the first half of the book. Other than to convey the message that Grisham, like all Right-Thinking People (as evidenced by all right-thinking people in the book), opposes the death penalty. And racism.

Category: Theater

A while back I asked a hypothetical question geared towards determining whether punishment in the pursuit of justice is a good even if it does not deter crime (or indeed, makes it more likely). It’s tempting (and perhaps accurate) to argue that tough sentencing and just punishment acts as an effective deterrent, but would we still support if that weren’t the case? If rewarding crime worked, would it be a policy worth pursuing even if it offends our sense of justice? My hypothetical question was in pretty extreme form where the price for just punishment in terms of recidivism rates was exceptionally steep. So steep that nobody thought it was worth it, though Phi said that he was willing to accept some additional crime for the sake of justice being done.

Econoholic, on the other hand, argued that punishment is a necessary evil and should not be applied at all absent some practical motivation. The need for justice – for society to see that evil is punished – is something that ought to be resisted:

[Trumwill] is asking whether the behavior of punishment is a good in itself. It is not. Punishment is an action taken to achieve a good. A safe society has social value. Punishment has no intrinsic value. It is only valuable inasmuch as it helps us achieve a safe society.

As far as punishment for the sake of punishment, I agree. But after spending a few weeks thinking about it I have come to the conclusion that punishment as it relates to justice, on the other hand, is a good in itself. Even if it has no deterrence value. Even if there are no external negatives: no vigilante injustice, no increase in minor misbehavior resulting from disrespect of the law. Nothing negative beyond the emotional frustration of being watching justice fail to be done.

It is Holic’s position (as best I understand it) that the thirst for punishment/justice was imbued in us primarily for utilitarian reasons and that without the utilitarian aspects of it, it is an inclination that ought to be resisted. So then we’re left with a choice. Either everybody is happy or the just are happy at the expense of the unjust. This assumes, however, that (a) the thirst for justice is something that can be successfully held off or (b) that unhappiness derived from this desire being unmet is illegitimate.

I agree with Holic that the thirst for vengeance ought to be resisted to a degree. I oppose the death penalty on this basis (as well as others) and believe that we should not take delight in, for instance, prison rape even when it comes at the expense of someone convicted of something far worse. The Constitutional blockade on cruel and unusual punishment is another marker of good resistence. Our need for justice must be tempered.

But I don’t believe that it can be wholly disregarded. I don’t believe that the choice is between a happy population that resists a thirst for justice with happy criminals that learn from compassion bestowed upon them (or are otherwise receptive to bribery) or a happy population and unhappy criminals. I don’t believe that everybody can be happy.

So the question is whom we choose to make unhappy. Holic seems to be placing that burden on the vengeful just. They are the ones that need to change their attitudes if it’s the case that their attitudes fail to prevent (or perhaps increase the likelihood) of crime. And maybe there is something to the notion that these people are best equipped to resist their negative impulses. It’s hard to expect criminals to since resisting negative impulses is not exactly their specialty.

To me, however, I see no reason (absent negative results) why we should place a burden on the just and not place a burden on the unjust to simply accept their punishment as having been deserved. If we’re going to be placing the burden of changing attitudes, that burden ought to be placed on those that have done bad things. No, I hold no illusions that criminals are going to actually decide that being imprisoned is a-okay because they had it coming.

But I don’t think that it’s much more likely that you will convince people that coddling criminals and forsaking justice is a-okay, either. People who have had wrong done to them want to know that the person caught will pay a price for it. After all, they paid a price for the criminal behavior because now they have to replace their car stereo. Even if you could convince them that institutional compassion (or bribery) lead to the same or better objective results, it’s too much to ask them to feel good about it.
So with everybody being happy not being possible, all other things being equal make the criminals unhappy.

Of course, that assumes that all other things are equal. In the case of my hypothetical where coddlinng and educating and being super-duper nice to the criminals makes it far less likely that they will commit crimes in the future, I am willing to dispense with justice for the sake of preventing crime. That guy whose stereo was lifted will be upset, but those whose stereos were not lifted when that guy got out won’t be as upset and everybody would enjoy safer streets*.

Even so, I do feel strongly enough about the need for justice that I would accept some measurable increase in crime for the sake of the sense among the public that justice is being done. I am not a particularly vengeful person (anymore), but do think that if I had the choice between having my car broken into 4 times and knowing that each and every time the criminal was caught and punished and having my car being broken in thrice but knowing that if caught the bad guy is going to attend some Positive Mental Attitude classes and be on his way. I don’t know how much crime I would be willing to tolerate for justice, though. It’s not much (it’s not 50%, despite my example), but it’s something.

In addition to a few more crimes being committed, I would also be willing to pay more in tax money for the sake of punishment being landed on the unjust. Of all of the arguments against the death penalty, I consider the weakest to be that it costs more. So what if it does? It could be worth it. It obviously isn’t worth it to me or people who oppose the death penalty anyway, but we all know that even if the death penalty were cheaper than housing criminals for the rest of their lives that it wouldn’t change our perspective. I’ve simply never met anyone whose support of or opposition to the death penalty really, actually came down to dollars and cents.

On the other hand, if it cost a million zillion dollars to execute people or to house them without executing them, that might get people’s attention. I’m not sure how much tax money I would be willing to spend just as I am not sure how much more crime I would be willing to tolerate.

These are all very hypothetical questions. All other things are never equal. But I think that these hypothetical questions are important because they prevent people from coming up with alternate ways to justify their personal preference. Non-hypotheticals often get bogged down in details and speculation as to what other things would happen with everybody believing most of the bad things that could happen if their preference denied and disbelieving the bad things that would happen if they were implemented. Then, before you know it, everybody is citing the statistics that prove that their moral and philosophical preferences are also the most practical.

So the good thing about hypothetical questions is that they clear through all that. It helps us know why we really believe what we do believe. It’s useful to know, for instance, that even if I could be assured that an innocent man has been and could not be executed that I would still oppose the death penalty. Similarly, it’s useful to know that even if a utilitarian case can’t be made for punishment that I would still support it at some level.

* – This is assuming that there is no substantial increase in first-time offenses and that the lower recidivism rates do actually result in less crime in the long run. Web maintains that recidivism is a poor measure for such things. Maybe it is. That’s not the point of this discussion, though.

Category: Courthouse

-{Dateline: Saturday afternoon}-

Trumwill: Hey Clancy, if someone was born on October 18, 1990, how old would they be?

Himmclan: It’s not October yet, so 18.

Trumwill: That’s what I thought

Himmclan: Did the rules of mathematics change?

Trumwill: No, I was just wondering if I suddenly got stupid.

Himmclan: I don’t think you have, sweetie.

Trumwill: Next question: When you graduated high school, you were 18, right?

Himmclan: Yeah.

Trumwill: Aren’t most people 18 when they graduate high school?

Himmclan: Pretty much. Unless they turned 18 over the summer…

Trumwill: Or they were placed early, skipped a grade, or were held back. But other than that, 18 right?

Himmclan: Right.

Trumwill: That’s what I thought

Himmclan: Why are you asking these questions, dear?

Trumwill: Half Sigma has a post accusing Sarah Palin’s daughter of graduating late because she’s 19. But the date he gives for her birth seems like 18 to me. But then he says that people graduate when they’re 17 and not when they’re 18. Absolutely none of this post seems right. None of it. And not in the way that Half Sigma is usually wrong.

Himmclan: He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Trumwill: Yeah. Hey, wait, I just hit response and the post disappeared. Did he delete the post? He must have deleted the post.

Himmclan: Maybe he realized that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Trumwill: That would be a first.

Category: Server Room