Thursday, August 30, 2007

Texas Constitution Bans Atheists From Office

Did you know that it is unconstitutional for me to hold a public office in the state of Texas? Article 1, Section 4 of the Texas Constitution states:

No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.

Not that I was planning on running for Governor any time soon, but still, I'd have liked to think that I could in theory give something back to my state in the form of public service.

Guess not.

This is the kind of thing that made me "come out". Prejudice against people without a belief in god is enshrined in the actual constitution of the state I inhabit.

Think about that for a moment.

A child molester could hold office here. Or an admitted terrorist. Or a serial murderer. All of them are in theory qualified to hold the public trust, as long as they were Catholic, or Southern Baptist, or Hindu, or what have you.

But not me.

P.S. I better stay the hell out of Arkansas, South Carolina, and Tennessee, too.

(Hat tip to Holly Orr for the link.)


Monday, August 27, 2007

Senatorial Bathroom Power Stance

At the risk of turning this into a potty-themed blog, I just can't let this story about US Senator Larry Craig's (R-Idaho) arrest for lewd behavior in an airport restroom go without comment:

Craig stated "that he has a wide stance when going to the bathroom and that his foot may have touched mine," the report states. Craig also told the arresting officer that he reached down with his right hand to pick up a piece of paper that was on the floor.

I've been in a number of public restroom stalls in my 38 years, but I can't ever recall being in such dire gastric distress that I would need to take a stance while seated so wide that my foot was at any risk of touching the foot of the gentleman in the next stall. All I can say is, if you need to take a stance that wide, you'd better be in the handicapped stall, because you're going to need to grip those handlebars for leverage.

What really disturbs me is that you have to touch feet to signal you want to do something naughty. Frankly, I think foot-on-foot intimate contact is just wrong, and ought to be illegal pretty much anywhere. If feet weren't meant to be gross, they'd not have evolved to be waaaaaaay down there at the opposite end of our bodies from all our sense organs. They're stuck on the end of the legs for a reason -- they're nasty!

On a more serious note, I have a hard time understanding what was illegal about this episode. He didn't actually solicit any sort of illegal contact, he just exhibited some behaviors typical of people who would. And though as I noted, he lied about why he did those things -- the grip and the "I was just picking up a piece of paper" -- that's all after the fact. It seems like you'd have to prove he intended to solicit illegal behavior, and I don't see how you could do that in this case.

I understand the desire to keep lewd acts out of public restrooms, but honestly, this seems to be a pretty outrageous law. By comparison, you can't arrest a guy just for driving around slowly in an area known for prostitution. You have to see them actually solicit the illegal act -- just acting suspicious isn't (and shouldn't) be enough.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Politically Incorrect Restaurants

Something about the Tex-Mex restaurant that just opened in Bertram makes me uncomfortable. I think it's the name:

Yes, you're reading that right, it's "Los Mezkan's", which for you non-Spanish speakers out there means "The Mexican's". Wait, I'm getting a cable from the Mexican embassy -- ok, that's not really Spanish, it's just slang. Hmph.

Anyway, I know calling someone "Mezkan" isn't really an insult, but it still seems weird. It'd be like opening a place that serves traditional "white people" food and calling it "Cracker's" or something.

Oh. Well. Bad example. But you'd never see a restaurant whose name could be construed as an insulting term for Black people, right? Right?!

I give up. Maybe we're normal here in Bertram after all.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bloggers as Reporters

As my father-in-law George Phenix said at our wedding, Annie and I both have "ink in our blood" as children of newspaper publishers. So even though this blog is mostly for yuks, I take journalism seriously. That's why I want to point you to this excellent LA Times article by Jay Rosen about specific examples of bloggers doing the same real, honest, hard, valuable work that historically made journalism so important to our democracy.

Journalists are, at their core, supposed to be adversarial. They're supposed to go out and find the truth, even -- especially! -- when that truth offends those who hold power. Whether it's the local dog catcher abusing his authority to harm animals or the President of the United States lying through his teeth about blowjobs or WMD, reporters are supposed to be the guardians of truth in a democracy.

And yet, reporters at some point gained the mantle of royalty, holding a privileged and exalted position in our culture. We put them on pedestals and made stars out of them. They have become entrenched in the halls of power on which they are supposed to report, and I think something valuable in the profession was lost when that happened.

Making them stars subverts that adversarial positioning they're supposed to have. When our elite political reporters, for instance, hang out at cocktail parties with the politicians they're supposed to be covering, that's a problem.

Over the last ten years, bloggers have begun to fill the void vacated when our journalists became news readers instead of reporters, when they became part of the story rather than investigators of it. And yet most people think of blogging as being a series of high school slam books or open diaries, full of pointless trivia at best and the worst sort of vituperative bile at its worst. In any event, blogging certainly can't fill the same kind of niche that good reporting is supposed to. Right?


As Rosen points out, bloggers at their best can exceed even the best traditional journalism has been able to offer. They don't have the billion dollar budgets or massive news organization, but they have drive and a dogged determination to follow a story to the nitty gritty end, no matter where it leads.

I'm not saying blogging and bloggers will, can, or should replace traditional news agencies. But they absolutely can -- and already have, as Rosen points out -- do at least as well as any professional media outlet. Already they have helped remind our reporters what their job is supposed to be -- to uncover the truth, not parrot talking point memos.

This blog is just for yuks as I said, but others are much, much more serious. Before you casually dismiss all blogging as overhyped nonsense, remember that television news once got the same dismissive treatment from their print brethren. Then "The News Went Live" and nothing was ever the same again. I think we're in the middle of another such revolution, and bloggers are leading the charge.

Check out Rosen's piece. I think it'll really open your eyes to what's possible in the collaborative, interactive world the Internet and blogging software have made possible. Journalism isn't something you learn in an ivory tower, and "Reporter" isn't a title bequeathed by a royal elite. Journalism is what you do, and today, bloggers are doing it better than almost anyone else.


Marking Your Turf

Any man who owns a sizable piece of property who claims he hasn't peed on it is either a liar or wears a colostomy bag.

We might not share much biology with wolves, but psychologically we definitely have the Pee Gene ("Markus Territorius") in common. There's something very pleasing about splashing about on the back ninety, like planting a very watery stake in the ground that says "MINE!" Now granted, you can take the concept too far, as the woman at HEB claims I did when I was "claiming" my truck in the parking lot, but the principle stands.

I like to imagine that marking the fence line will repel rapacious coyotes. They'll come up, hungry for horse or donkey meat, and encounter the manly fruit of my kidneys (can liquid be a fruit? maybe the "fruit juice" of my kidneys, then) which causes them to flee in terror. It's much likelier, of course, that they'll immediately start drawing straws on who gets to be first at the buffet.

"Smells like Microsoft, Bill."
"Break out the forks, Bob, I'm goin' in."

Still, 101 acres is a lot to cover. I think I'm going to have to invest in some shares of Diet Coke ("Billions and Billions of Gallons of 'Fruit Juice' Produced So Far!") and block out some time if I'm going to get to it all ...


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Get Your Ass On the Porch


While visiting the front of the house, the donkeys ate some expensive monkey-grass we had just planted, knocked over two planters, decimated some plastic flowers we'd put out, tore down the rope intended to keep them out, and made numerous hoofprints in the granite gravel walkway.

Now I know why "jack-ass" is an insult!


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

MODAD Gets Bent

With the "most expensive piece of glass on the vehicle" replaced in my truck, the garden hose patched, and the small mower dropped off at the shop for wheel replacement therapy, I turned my attention to repairing the damage wrought both by and to MODAD and discovered why he was so grumpy:

That's what just one day of living the country life can do to high-tech equipment. Let that be a lesson to all you wanna-be Bubba Nerds out there.

I replaced the blade on Saturday, and on Sunday when I went to take MODAD out into the fields to play, he had two flat tires. Apparently he's still grumpy. I reminded him that in the fable, the mouse and the lion become good friends once the thorn is removed, but then I realized MODAD is a Deere. And apparently, deer are a lot less forgiving than lions.


Monday, August 20, 2007


If Annie comes home tomorrow to find me dead, you can blame Tim Conway -- he made me laugh so hard (again) that I almost choked to death.

See, earlier tonight Fox aired a program called something like "Television's Funniest 30 Moments", which from the premise alone you know is guaranteed to piss everybody off when their favorite moment doesn't make the cut. And sure enough, I got pissed.

Because for my money, you won't find a funnier five minutes in the history of television than the following blooper outtake from "The Carol Burnett Show" involving an unscripted elephant story by the consummate funny man, Tim Conway.

The setting features the popular sketch "The Family" (which later got spun off into its own show called "Mama's Family"), one of the recurring bits on the program. Tim Conway's character just got an answer about elephants wrong in the game they were playing but Tim, never content to leave a script as written, jumps in with an ad-libbed story. How he holds his composure throughout is a true mystery, but what's really remarkable is that he manages to crack up Carol Burnett herself, legendary for her iron will and control.

You'll see Conway do his riff twice. I'm not sure if the first is from the regular broadcast and the second is from the West Coast feed (I think they used to shoot and air the entire show twice), or if it's a rehearsal or re-take, but they're both hysterical. Be sure to watch all the way to the end for Vicki Lawrence's fantastic zinger that literally sends them all falling off the couch laughing.

If you can't make out her line at the end, it's "Reckon that little ass-hole is just about through?"


Monday, August 13, 2007

Behold ... MODAD!

In less than 24 hours I managed to purchase an $1,800 item that allowed me to destroy an additional $1,100 of previously owned merchandise. How did I accomplish such an amazing feat? Read on, my friend, and stand in awe of the power of MODAD -- Mower of Death And Destruction -- as it proceeded to destroy:

The push mower I was using to prep the yard for the new mower.

The garden hose lying in my path. (About which I literally thought to myself, not two minutes before, "The odds of me breaking that hose with this mower while it's on its highest setting is pretty much zero." Now you know why I'm not working as an odds-maker in Vegas.)

The mulching attachment that comes with the mower, restraining band severed by a flying rock.

The side cab window of my truck (probably from the same rock that severed the mulcher in passing), which the replacement company said is, and I quote, "The most expensive piece of glass on the vehicle." I don't go halfway, baby, when I break something, I only break the best!

The author of this rampage of mayhem? I present you with MODAD -- the Mower Of Death And Destruction!

I bet it's wondering how it's going to power through the garage door blocking its escape. Keep your eyes peeled, folks -- it's getting hungry.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Top Ten Things World of Warcraft Can Teach You About Life

Many people decry games like "World of Warcraft" as vast, bloated time sinks that suck away the lives and personalities of its subscribers, giving nothing of value in return.

Not unlike America's political parties!

But seriously. I think these people are wrong, and as evidence I present the "Top Ten Things World of Warcraft Can Teach You About Life":

10. No matter how much time, money, and energy you put into making something, there's no guarantee anyone will want to buy it.

9. Hot girls can dance to make money. Even if they're really guys.

8. Where you choose to make your home (whether a neighborhood or a server) can make a huge difference in how enjoyable your time is. Nothing's more frustrating than having to constantly wait on construction when all you want is to get home.

7. Some people are just plain ass-holes and there's not a lot you can do about it unless you have powerful friends. Preferably friends with really, really big swords.

6. If you want a sweet ride, you better save your money.

5. Short people have feelings too. Even gnomes. Probably.

4. You can go a lot farther if you have a group of friends watching your back.

3. I've been rich, and I've been poor, and believe me -- rich is better.

2. That fancy, over-engineered mechanical gizmo might look neat and cost a fortune, but odds are it'll let you down when you need it most. Sometimes the simple, reliable things are better.

1. You might think of The Other Side as absolutely evil, soulless, cowardly scumbags with no heart ... until you actually step into their shoes and experience the world from their point of view, understanding their history and outlook. Don't be surprised if "Good Guys" and "Bad Guys" are interchangeable labels sometimes.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Tantrum Meditation

I think "Get Fuzzy" has nailed what's been going on with me for the past few weeks (click for a larger version):


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Science Encodes Values

Chris Mooney served on the Yearly Kos NetRoots convention's science panel last week, and had this to say in his write-up of the event (emphasis mine):

[I]t has fallen to those of us who oppose the direction the country has been heading to simultaneously champion a way of thinking that would have averted so many blunders and disasters: empirical thinking. Scientific thinking. Critical thinking.

In other words, you might say that now more than ever before, we're finally waking up to the fact that the practices of science themselves encode a set of values -- a way of approaching the world, understanding it, and acting within it. At its core, it's a world view that is humble about what we know and don't know, flexible about what we do and don't decide to do, and open about admitting past mistakes and listening to contrary opinion. In short, it's the utter opposite of Bush's stubborn, inflexible, unwavering certainty about everything.

That bolded statement really spoke to me, because I think very often that science is looked at as a value-free exercise. But it's not. As Mooney says, because it has a certain kind of approach built right into it, it encodes certain values as part of its very substance. That's a powerful statement.

Science's core value of humility is often derided and looked upon as weakness by those who have certainty at the center of their approach to the world. But it's not a weakness to admit you might be wrong. It's instead the greatest kind of strength.

You see the same kind of split in the religious world as well, with some adherents telling us to be humble in the face of the Almighty and others arrogantly proclaiming that there is Only One True Way and they happen to know it, so get ready to be blasted if you oppose them!

It's a fundamentally human schism, one that runs through every movement and every belief system (yes, even rationalism or skepticism).

Arrogance versus humility.

Certainty versus doubt.

I expect that, like light and dark, both are somehow necessary for the universe to keep rolling along. But as for me, I'll always prefer the side that admits it could be wrong, that allows for the possibility of change, and that isn't afraid to stare the unknown in the face and ask "What are you?" And then deal with the consequences of getting an answer.


Monday, August 06, 2007

Devil's Cape

My super-hero dream isn't the only one coming true recently. One of my online gaming friends, Rob Rogers (creator of the "Hero City" Uberworld campaign setting among others), has just announced that his first novel, "Devil's Cape", is going to be published by the Big Daddy of the gaming world, Wizards of the Coast. Even writing an entire novel is an amazing accomplishment. Getting it published is an order of magnitude greater, and getting it published as the result of winning a global competition by one of the premier gaming companies in the world -- well, there's just not a word for how fantastic that is. If you like crime novels, southern fiction, super-heroes, or any combination of the three, then pre-order your copy from Amazon today. I just did, and I can't wait for it to get here.

Congratulations, Rob!


Authentic Italian Country

More evidence supporting the theory advanced by commenters Denise and Allen that most country businesses are just as awash in unimaginative naming as Bertram's own Earl's comes from this blurb ("Cool Places") in the August 2007 issue of "Texas Co-Op Power" newsletter:

In a part of the country where blue-plate specials are more the luncheon norm stands Frenke's Pasta & Pizza, authentic Italian fare. Hailing from Kosovo, Frank Misini opened the restaurant in 2002. There was a Mexican restaurant nearby called "Frankie's", so he named his Frenke's.

First, I don't know that coming from Kosovo -- which, if you'll check your local globe, is not in Italy -- necessarily grants you the mantle of "authentic Italian." Second, I don't know any Italians named "Frenke". Mr. Misini would have been better off just outright stealing the name of the Mexican restaurant, because I know lots of actual Italians named Frank but not one single Frenke. Being from Kosovo, of course, there's no way he could have known that. I guess that's what makes him authentic here in Nerd Country.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Tale of Two Earls

Willie the One-Armed Volunteer Fireman who works at the tire shop isn't the only interesting thing about the tire business in our small town. Not by a long shot.

See, this is Ear's Tire & Automotive Repair, which as you can guess from its name sells tire and automotive services.

And this is Earl's Tire and Lube, which as you can guess from its name also sells tires and automotive services.

These two stores are only about ten miles apart, one in the small town of Liberty Hill and the other in the even smaller town of Bertram, the next stop down the road. But here's the thing -- they're two different Earls.

Completely unrelated.

So let's say you're in a small town of a few dozen people. And you're driving down the road and see that your friend Earl has opened himself a tire and automotive shop. "Well heck," you think to yourself, "my name is Earl, I reckon I ought to open one of them up too. I mean, what are the odds that a business would exist that has my name built right into it?"

I asked Earl about it one time (not that Earl, the other one), and he just gave me a disgusted look and said "That sonofabitch." I didn't pursue it any further, because I didn't want Earl (not that one, the other one) to get mad at me. I need my tires to work and I'm pretty sure "Earl's Tire, Lube, and Automotive Repair" one more town over is closed on weekends.


Where Are The ESPN Challengers?

Why doesn't anyone try to beat ESPN in the sports news market? In general news you've got CNN, MSNBC, Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS, Bloomberg, and a handful of other competitors and yet ESPN stands alone in the sports news marketplace. Why?

Partly it's that the sports market isn't as big as the general news market, and thus there's less room for competition. And partly it's that ESPN so thoroughly dominates the space. I even think it would be fair to say that sports and ESPN are pretty much synonymous for most people.

Also, general national news was already a competitive enterprise before cable came along -- all three networks hosted monstrous news organizations. No such infrastructure existed for national sports reporting, so ESPN had the market to itself. And they've been relentless about pursuing and dominating every niche that's come along since, much to their credit. They've done everything they can to stay relevant and connected with younger audiences.

But I think ESPN is starting to show its age, ironically in the way they are so dogged about staying hip. It's all starting to look a little forced and fake at this point, like an aging superstar who still wears tight dresses and too much makeup, showing up at parties and laughing a little bit too loud. I think America's ready for the Next Big Thing in sports reporting, something to knock the big guy down a few pegs and liven things up.

The most likely candidate is FoxSportsNet, the group of local sports channels NewsCorp gobbled up over the past ten years or so. They've got a large infrastructure in place already, including on-air talent, and at least some national name recognition. The larger corporation has a vast amount of money to spend and a formidable lobbying presence in Washington to help pave the way for any legislation they might need. And Fox certainly has a history of knocking aging stars off their pedestals.

Frankly, I don't really think they'd be able to take a significant market share away from ESPN, but I do think it'd be fun to see them try.


Friday, August 03, 2007

America's Shrinking Stature (Not That There's Anything Wrong With That)

Back in the day, Americans were the beefed-up muscle-bound guy at the beach kicking sand in the faces of the 90-lb weakling nations, sporting the tallest citizens on average of anyplace on planet Earth.

Alas, those days are long gone, as the United States isn't even in the top ten tallest nations any more.

What I'd like to know is, which of these newly-tall nations has been stealing our height? I demand an immediate investigation! Pass some laws, then ignore them and have the CIA do it the old-fashioned way. I even have a hot tip for them -- according to the article:

Back in 1850, the Dutch and other Western Europeans were 2 inches shorter than Americans.

The Netherlands now tops the "Tallest Nation" list at a resounding six feet for men and five foot seven inches for the women. That can't be natural; all they have to eat there is snow! Now I ask you, have you ever seen a tall snowman? I think not. Clearly something more nefarious is at play here, and I for one would like to know how they've been stealing our height.

Not that there's anything wrong with being short, as my entire family can attest. As my five foot tall mother said to my five foot one inch sister, "You're the tall one." Maybe that's what's really behind the Iraq War, a severe case of Short Nation Syndrome. There's certainly enough sand there for them to kick in our face.

Where have you gone, Charles Atlas? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Granted we now have to turn our eyes up to you since we're so short, but don't let that stop you from helping us beef back up.