Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Candy, a Gateway Drug?

Apparently since pot is a superhighway to crack, angel dust, and begging for change on a streetcorner, we wouldn't want to let kids get hooked on its taste. Chicago leads the fight against Joe Hemp.

Hard Questions, Easy Questions, and the Blogosphere

Brian Leiter riffs on what blogs are good for. And what they aren't. Culminating in this facially legitimate set of conclusions:

Part of intellectual maturity is being able to tell the difference between questions where humility is required and questions which are not worth one's time. The so-called "blogosphere," like the public culture in general, is not a rich repository of intellectual maturity, needless to say. And, unsurprisingly, intellectual lightweights with trite opinions, and limited analytical skills, take offense when I make it all too clear what the answers to the easy questions are. Many of these folks are no doubt honest, well-intentioned, decent people, who have been led down unhappy paths by circumstances or indoctrination. It is an important question, far beyond my ken, what can be done to set them straight. But it is not the aim of this blog to do so.

An interesting read. (Hat tip)

The General Ass-embly

Jeez oh man! as we say here in the 'burgh, what's gotten into the Pennsylvania legislature lately. Could it be the prolonged budget fight? Are the minority Democrats so deflated that they've turned on each other? Yesterday, during debate on a law that would compel condominium associations to permit the year-round flying of United States, Commonwealth, and U.S. military flags, but would not have provided any protection for flags of other nations or organizations, all hell broke loose.

Evidently, Tom Yewcic (D-Cambria County), responded to protests about the bill's exclusion of all flags with this unsettlingly revanchist and ungrammatical statement: "If they want to fly a [foreign] flag, go back to their ethnic origins and fly it there." And they say the Dixiecrats are gone. Zell? 'Zat you?

Needless to say, the party didn't want for someone ready to take this bull by the horns. John Myers (D-Philadelphia County) flew into a barely restrained rage, and said, "Those types of remarks would come from a cracker."

So yes, just to distil the issue, a rural PA Democrat thinks that people of other nationalities who dare to have pride in their origins can just go home, and a Philadelphia Democrat is flinging racial slurs (and let's not pretend that cracker is anything but) around the state house.

Read the whole sordid affair here. Oh, and while you're at it, read about how the state senate think legislators deserve a 15% pay raise here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

More Lies and Statistics

As long as I'm linking to my new friend and kind reader, the most assuredly female Shinobi, I ought to link to her positively hilarious translation of that passage in Karl Rove's recently villified speech endeavoring to distinguish Republicans from Democrats, or maybe Liberals, or maybe both, into Abusive-Boyfriend-Speak: "America, honey, you know I love you, you know I would never do anything to hurt you . . . " and so on.

Poetic Justice -- "Taking" Justice Souter's New Hampshire Land for Public Benefit

In the spirit of lying in the bed one makes, Lies and Statistics calls attention to this delightfully spirited act of dissent. From the press release:

Justice Souter's vote in the "Kelo vs. City of New London" decision allows city governments to take land from one private owner and give it to another if the government will generate greater tax revenue or other economic benefits when the land is developed by the new owner.

On Monday June 27, Logan Darrow Clements, faxed a request to Chip Meany the code enforcement officer of the Towne of Weare, New Hampshire seeking to start the application process to build a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road. This is the present location of Mr. Souter's home.

Clements, CEO of Freestar Media, LLC, points out that the City of Weare will certainly gain greater tax revenue and economic benefits with a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road than allowing Mr. Souter to own the land.

The proposed development, called "The Lost Liberty Hotel" will feature the "Just Desserts Café" and include a museum, open to the public, featuring a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America. Instead of a Gideon's Bible each guest will receive a free copy of Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged."

Clements indicated that the hotel must be built on this particular piece of land because it is a unique site being the home of someone largely responsible for destroying property rights for all Americans.

"This is not a prank" said Clements, "The Towne of Weare has five people on the Board of Selectmen. If three of them vote to use the power of eminent domain to take this land from Mr. Souter we can begin our hotel development."

Even if I had a strong opinion on the Court's Kelo decision, I'd be wise not to publish it these days, but if nothing else you've got to admire the pluck. So much so that it led me to use the word "pluck" quite possibly for the first time. Maybe chutzpah better captures it. In any event, here's to the Hotel Liberty!

David Foster Wallace's Kenyon Commencement

DFW is one of my favorite contemporary authors, and was long before he became more widely known. I simply love the commencement address he gave at Kenyon, an excerpt of which follows (at this point in the speech, we find ourselves, after an interminable day, after an interminable commute, in an interminable grocery line):

But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you what to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, be[] it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

As with any great writing or speech, excerpts don't do it justice. But here's hoping this teaser leads you to read the whole thing. (Hat tip Feralboy, who also recommends the much more entertaining, and somewhat more brief, address given by Jon Stewart at the College of William & Mary.)

The Great Republican Pastime?

So billionaire financier and outspoken advocate of far left causes George Soros is among the eight bidders seeking to but the Washington Nationals from MLB. This, apparently, isn't flying so well with Representative Tom M. Davis, III (Rep. VA), whose spokesman asks: "[H]ow it would look if Major League Baseball sells the hottest team in the market to a guy who spent more money than the gross domestic product of Colombia to legitimize drugs."

First of all, whether "legitimizing" drugs is really what Soros seeks to do, as opposed to restoring some rationality to U.S. drug policy by calling the War on Drugs the abject failure that it is, is very much open to debate.

Secondly, in response to what I'm sure was intended as a rhetorical question, I offer this: "Um, it would look like a heretofore law-abiding citizen whose put millions, if not billions of dollars into the United States treasury over the years, as well as greasing the skids of the American economy in innumerable ways (like most billionaries), bought the hottest team in the MLB market."

And a counterquestion: How would it look if one of the most popular "news" networks in the country were owned by a micromanaging rabidly conservative partisan who only became a United States citizen in 1985?

Granted, as later noted by Rep. George Miller (Dem. CA), this is a tempest in a teapot inasmuch as citing or seeking to end MLB's (ridiculous) antitrust exemption has proven an invariably ineffectual gesture. But still, is this what our Congress is doing? Seriously?

Between this and Senator Warner last night on NBC following the President's speech echoing the all too commonplace You're either fer us or agin' us administration line suggesting that dissent from Iraq policy is tantamount to abandoning our troops or even treason, it's sounding more and more like Democrat is becoming as villified a title as Communist was in the 50's. It's the rhetoric of witch hunt, of autocracy . . . of, dare I say it, fascism.

(Hat tip.)

Just Shut Up!

A show of hands, please: who retches every time Tom Cruise makes headlines? How about we talk about the fact that last night Bush continued disingenuously to imply a link between Iraq and 9/11. That's news.

Game, Set, Match, David Childs -- Banality Prevails

Finally, they managed to exorcise the artist Daniel Libeskind from his involvement with the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site and got exactly what they knew they'd get pursuant to that action: an unimaginative obelisk that's out of sync with the site's overall design and all about height. More office space. Smaller footprint. Nothing special. Let me say that again: Nothing special.

David Childs, however, is happy:

"I feel better about this than the original," said the building's chief architect, David M. Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. "The building is simpler, architecturally. It is unique, yet it subtly recalls, in the sky, the tragedy that has happened here."

But then he would. He's been trying to hijack this project from Libeskind from day 1, and Pataki's choice to force Libeskind to collaborate with Childs was one of the worst decisions he could have made. It's like asking Picasso and Matisse to paint a single composition. No, I'm sorry, it's like asking Picasso and some fingerpainting kindergartener to collaborate.

And to add insult to insult to insult, Childs is still claiming that the design echoes the Statue of Liberty. You tell me, what recalls the Statue of Liberty more -- Child's design or Libeskind's original design?

For shame, Gov. Pataki. I can't be the only native of the metro area, the only transplant, the only lover of great architecture and yearner for the worthy restoration of one of the crucial locations in the greatest city on the planet, who finds himself near tears this morning that something so wholly ordinary is going to dominate such hallowed ground.

And so it is that tragedy is heaped upon tragedy. Pardon what must seem like melodrama for those less familiar with NYC, but for me this is a sad, sad day.

VANITY UPDATE: In private correspondence with Armand, I sort of blurted out this line, which I thought I'd add to this post: "[the new freedom tower] literally sticks out from the other, more beautiful structures planned for the site like a sore thumb, as though manhattan were trying to hitch a ride to canada."

Monday, June 27, 2005

Scrabble Scramble

[This is ridiculously long. For shorter versions, see Dave B, Brian, and Eli. Also, Eli has been kind enough to map out our various routes here.]

By the time I was three blocks from home, I was winded. Milling around from one patch of shade to the next at the Point, twenty minutes later, I contemplated my mild nausea. Was it something I had eaten? The two cups of coffee? Was I really going to do this.

The group was broken into pairs and trios, scrutinizing the map given to all registrants, which described the task: choose four of five neighborhoods to visit. In each neighborhood were three possible places to collect a scrabble letter. Only one would be staffed, the other two dummies. In each neighborhood, two were fairly close together and the third was an outlier. Evaluating our potential paths on a worst-case scenario basis -- i.e., the letter would, in each neighborhood, be at the outlying location -- we concluded as a group, Me, Brian, Eli, David W, David B, Aaron, and Andrew, that we would take the Bloomfield path and skip Lawrenceville. It was a very difficult choice, and the organizers deserve credit for having developed such a balanced course.

Amid much consternation, bag adjusting, ambling about, pee-breaking, and cigarette-smoking (Moon and assorted unknown other riders), 53 people awaited direction. Finally, it came: lay bikes at the top of the stairs, touch the fountain, smile for the camera (a brief flash went through my mind of a grainy blow up of the photograph under next day's headline marking my death from sun stroke, my stupid smile belying my utter lack of preparedness for such a task in 90-degree heat).

The organizer said, "I just want to remind you all that it is illegal to ride in the park." Hesitated. "Go!"

I had remarked to Brian before the start of the race that notwithstanding my utter certainty that I would not be meaningfully competitive, I would nevertheless run myself ragged early and likely hurt myself or just fade short of the finish line. Even if age does not confer wisdom in the larger sense, it does engender a certain degree of self-knowledge, even if no modicum of self-control. Admittedly, the course wasn't especially daunting -- one hard climb up into Oakland, and then mostly flat riding thereafter -- but my own capacity for pushing myself harder than makes any sense is a constant source of concern.

And just as anticipated, after nearly falling over as I mounted my bike in an effort not to hit some girl who'd had the misfortune to lay her bike near mine, I got it together and went flying across Fort Duquesne's footprint, breathless under the glaring sun, near the tip of a narrowing phalanx of springing cyclists -- probably in the lead group of ten or so. I was concerned that a) everything I feared about myself was comking true and b) the people I'd intended to stay with were somewhere behind me; it suddenly dawned on me that I'd given far more thought to how we'd ride around the East End than I had given to how I would get to Forbes from the Point, which it looked like I'd have to figure out on my own.

As we neared the park's exit, however, I realized that David B had been ahead of me all along, a former messenger, clad in unmistakeable khaki shorts and oddly inappropriate-seeming plaid shirt-sleeve shirt. From looking around before the race, it seemed like ironic T-shirts and skins took the day, with a handful of people in higher-tech garb, including myself in a sleeveless mesh jersey that was already sweated through before we began. Realizing that I was behind the guy I had imagined staying with all afternoon, I relaxed and focused mostly on his back wheel. Traffic outside the park was at a standstill as we poured out of the park, against the signal, and without breaking cadence swept in and out the maze of car bumpers, concrete dividers, and islands, until we broke into more open space heading away from the park on Liberty. Pulling up alongside Dave, I joked quickly and breathlessly that I hadn't recognized him; I tracked him on his left, passing another rider, as Dave turned right on Stanwix, then he crossed behind me to the opposite curb and I followed on his right as we swept left onto Fourth. Bike traffic was thin; car traffic was nonexistent for a block or two.

Brian came up behind us and quickly moved ahead. As we neared Grant, a surprisingly long line of cars awaited the signal on Fourth, and they were jumbled in a way that limited our options. Brian blazed a trail up the left of the line of cars, and swung out onto Grant, turning immediately onto Forbes. I followed with Dave just behind. At the highway overpasses just beyond the County Office Building, some jack-ass nearly clipped Brian's rear wheel when he failed to observe Brian's cautious approach to a potentially lethal intersection. Fortunately jack-ass, red-faced and borderline insensible, managed, just barely, to lock up his rear wheel twice and avert a disaster. I resisted the urge to comment snidely as I passed.

Somehow, between Fourth and Duquesne University, I lost David, and I was alone, a condition I had hoped to avoid for various reasons but was relatively sanguine about since I had a map, I'd probably just hold other people back, and I knew all but one of the neighborhoods I needed to visit well enough to know where I needed to go. The last one I'd figure out when the time came. If the time came. As I contemplated the hills I had to choose from -- either Forbes, and a viciously complicated merge of several streams of traffic heading into Oakland, or the busway on Fifth -- it didn't seem at all a given that I would make it to the last, least familiar neighborhood.

I kept looking back as I pedaled into the Hill District, hoping I'd see a familiar face coming up behind me. Evidently, David B. was back there but wasn't trying to catch me. I decided after a bit that it would be better to take the Bus lane up Fifth. Buses would be infrequent, and I knew my first Oakland stop was at the Frick School on Fifth anyway. It just seemed more direct. Then, I couldn't remember where buses turn to get onto Fifth, odd since I've been on such buses a hundred times. I really didn't want to get caught running a block or two against one-way traffic on Forbes, so I waited. I turned left on Seneca, which still felt early, so then I turned right on Watson, a glorified alley that runs between Fifth and Forbes. A family played on the asphalt, young children in bathing suits; the kids and their mother eyed me with naked uncertainty as to what a white cyclist was doing riding down the crumbling pavement of their Uptown alley. Ahead, the alley dipped and all I could think was, "For every inch down an inch up." The alley ended at Moultrie, and I turned left, climbing briefly up to Fifth and turning right to begin the climb into Oakland. I spotted a few bikes in the distance to my left, riders who had opted for the same path I had; I was still ahead of people, miraculously.

Although those riders had seemed distant, I was swiftly overtaken by a messenger I know only as Bill, who had opted to ride a knobby-tired fixie ATB-ish frankenbike, eschewing the Panasonic road conversion he uses downtown for work. We approached the entrance to the Birmingham Bridge side by side and he said, "Let's see if they give us a break," referring to the long line of cars streaming through the green light turning left onto the bridge. Miraculously, they did; Bill pulled away, and I settled into my climb, alone.

Belatedly, running out of wind, stamina, intertia, I recalled the basic lesson that has served me so well with distance running and on bicycles in the past: on steep hills, spend as much time as possible looking at the pavement directly in front of you. You simply don't benefit from watching an interminable hill seeming to recede into the haze as you pursuie it; it's a stupid, but remarkably effective trick. It restored me to some sort of cadence, and my breathing settled into to a short but regular cycle. Near the top of the hill, more or less completely wiped out, I heard a woman approach from behind on her geared ATB. Conveniently, this was near the turnout; I gave up cadence and slid right, out of the lane, simultaneously to take a quick mini-break and to permit her to pass. As I slid over, however, I heard gravel crunching behind and to the right -- why would she not pass me on the left? Only then did I realize that a bus was approaching from behind; the timing couldn't have been better, since I hadn't really considered how I'd make room for a bus should one approach as I climbed the hill.

After the bus passed, she slid out in front of me. At the top of the hill, by Carlow College, she passed the bus at the entrance to 376. I didn't have the energy to make a run for it, afraid that the light would change just as I began my pass facing oncoming traffic, so I continued my break, easing back to await the light. The light changed, and the bus took off, belching grey-blue diesel fumes at 130 degrees or so in the fog of which I was forced to ride, gasping like a fish on the floor of a dingy. I let the bus increase the distance between us, but it didn't help; the miasma lingered. I had to pass that bus.

At the next light, the bus stopped. The cross street, however, was one-way uphill onto Fifth, and cars were flying around the front of the bus as I neared its rear bumper. This could easily be lethal. The flow of traffic ceased as I pulled up to the bus, and I decided to gamble. I pulled out of the buslane into the oncoming lane just as the light changed. The good news: no more cars would be flying blind around the front of the bus; the bad news: the bus was starting to move, and the bank of stopped traffic facing me also had a green light. Somehow, I found a little burst of strength and opted to try for it. Cynically, selfishly, I figured the car facing me in my lane wasn't going anywhere until the driver could figure out what I was going to do. All I had to do was . . . squeeeeeeeeze by the bus, which appeared to lay off the accelerator just a bit at the end, permitting only barely enough space to cut back in front. I did my best to maintain my renewed pace, thus not slowing the bus more than necessary, and finally I was out of the diesel cloud; the Frick School, my first destination, was in sight.

Just then, a group of cyclists popped up from Forbes, among them Andrew's unmistakeable white Cannondale road bike and Eli's unmistakeable traffic-cone orange T-shirt. Friends! I sped up to catch them, and was only fifty feet behind them as they jumped across Fifth Avenue. We circled around the playground below the school, and found our first check-point on Thackeray. We collected our letters and headed downhill to Fifth, crossing with the signal in front of the college bookstore, and resuming the bus lane. Eli and I in the lead, we approached Bigelow, no bus in sight, heading toward Shadyside. I spied, pointing downhill on Bigelow, a police car, sitting at the intersection. It ran through my head that an asshole cop could give us whopper tickets for what we were doing just as we did it: running the Bigelow intersection pell-mell in the buslane. Inasmuch as we'd be treated like cars if he opted to throw the book at us, I quickly cataloged three or four offenses for which we were eligible and realized that our driver's licenses might not be safe. The next block or so, as we passed in the shadow of the Cathedral, I kept looking back, expecting to see the squad car on our six.

In Shadyside, two of the possible spots were on Ellsworth -- first, the school at Morewood, and alternatively, the school at Filbert, between Aiken and Negley. At the Point, I was pretty sure we had agreed that we'd take our chances on Ellsworth, since the alternative was the outlier -- the Ellis School on Fifth nearly into East Liberty. But as the leaders of my pack climbed out of Oakland on Fifth, I realized that we were not adhering to that plan. Unfortunately, our leaders at that moment were Sir Aaron of Blawnox and Sir Eli of Indiana PA [disclosure: I quipped thus last night, before Dave B. adopted the English conceit for his write-up], not necessarily the best people to hold responsible for the finer points of Shadyside navigation. The problem was, they were too far ahead of me to call out to.

Preferring friends to speed, and the possibility of screwing up in good company to the prospect of screwing up alone, and in general not wanting to stop, withdraw the map, and make sure I was remembering things right, I continued to follow. As we crossed Morewood, there were perhaps ten car lengths between me and the next straggler, Dave W. Just after he passed, a car that had been impatiently stopping and starting behind me, finally cut around me with a vengeance and darted into the right lane in front of me. A car in the left lane, however, pulled out blind into his path, and I was certain that I was about to witness a nasty little accident. All I could think in my fever to compete was: "How do I get around this? Look out for broken glass." Nice guy, right?

Amazingly, nothing happened aside from some hard braking and horn honking, and finally relief: just past Wilkins, the others pulled off the road to reevaluate their plan. As I pulled up, the only thing I couldn't remember was where the Fifth Avenue location was. I called breathlessly, too loud, "Where is the spot on Fifth?" No one answered. "Weren't we supposed to hit Ellsworth first." No one answered. "Where is the spot on Fifth?" "The Ellis School," Aaron replied. "Shit," I said. "That's another mile or so down. We've gotta take a chance on Ellsworth." Somebody asked where we needed to go for that. I paused for just a moment. "Well, we need to swing back for the one spot. Just follow me," I said, remounted, and hopped back into the road.

I led the group left down James, a block before Aiken. Eyeing each four-way stop intersection warily, I never eased up at all, sprinting downhill and calling back a belated "Clear!" once I was in the middle of each intersection. As we neared the bottom, planning to make a left to hit the Morewood site first, I saw a long line of cyclists heading right down Ellsworth. One was David B, identifiable in his brownness. Without bothering to consult with or explain to the others, I swung sharply right to follow the group. My quick calculation was this: if the letter was at Morewood, no halfway smart cyclist would have come across Ellsworth to get to Bloomfield, the next neighborhood. Rather, they would have taken Morewood or some variant along those lines diagonally across into Bloomfield. Hence, the letter wasn't at Morewood. The group was stopped at Aiken; as I pulled up, I asked Dave whether the letter was at Morewood, and he said no. We headed the few blocks to Filbert, where we turned right against the one-way to find our friendly checkpoint awaiting our arrival.

From there, we rode back down the hill, headed left onto Ellsworth, then right onto Aiken. We rode Aiken until it became Liberty, and up into Bloomfield. Once again, I found myself trailing. Andrew had convinced me at Filbert that we ought to try the Winebiddle checkpoint first, and, living in the neighborhood, I figured we could head up Evaline from Liberty. I called as much out to the leaders, but Andrew and Aaron were out of range. Eli, closer to me, signaled right as he approached Evaline, and I called out that we should just stay with the group. It didn't matter. Tell them to head up Winebiddle. At Winebiddle, once again, they flew by, and I told Eli again to just follow them.

Thus, we headed up to the Catholic School on Edmond, a street punctuated by a little fair. Andrew, Aaron, and Eli turned right onto Edmond against the one-way, and I followed. They turned left, however, on Corday, skirting the fair and the school at the same time. I was unconcerned, and rocketed straight into the fair, which wasn't yet running. A few portly carnies with coffee eyed me suspiciously, but didn't raise a voice in protest. The others, turning right on Pearl and right again on Friendship, found me joining them, making up the distance between us by cutting across Edmond. We didn't need to discuss it; the letter was not there.

Together we headed to Bloomfield/Friendship target 2, at Winebiddle and Coal (mislabeled Coral, as Dave B points out). There, we found a vision in an aqua dress from vintage store purgatory with bright red hair. She smiled warmly, offered us water as we each withdrew a letter from her small vintage purse, and then it hit me: I was really, really not okay.

My ears burned my fingers like fresh cups of coffee, my mouth was dry despite all the water I'd been trying to drink, and my stomach was turning slow rolls in my abdomen. I dismounted completely, dropped my bike with uncharacteristic indifference clattering to the grassy median, took off my helmet and the stupid stupid stupid do-rag I had ill-advisedly been wearing beneath it (as though to hold all of the heat in), and collapsed in a heap against the wrought iron fence of the old Victorian banquet hall. Across the street a young boy and his father watched intently as cyclists pulled up and took scraps of paper from the oddly dressed young woman.

I poured water over my head and tried, with what remained of my fried-egg brain, to gauge whether I had simply tapped my resources or was actually in some sort of real danger. I couldn't tell; I hadn't been anywhere near this exhausted since summer baseball workouts in high school. This bothered me greatly; I smoke, I could work out more, I'm not surprised to run into my own limitations. But that's very different than feeling one's body threaten to give up entirely. Nothing was changing as the seconds passed; if anything, I felt worse.

My friends, generously milled at the curb, astride their bikes, pretending that they weren't waiting for me. I said they should go on. Aaron tried to push me, meaning well. I said, "I don't know when, or if, so just go. It's okay." I was happy that they listened; I was pretty sure by then that vomiting was the worst thing that might happen. And I was only a few blocks from home; I could crawl to a cold shower if that's what it took.

Laying against the fence, eyeing two more youngsters who rode up, asking the woman dispensing letters what all of this was about, I ran diagnostic after diagnostic on my self, not liking anything I found. Although I had been drinking excess water since the night before, I had also had two large cups of coffee in the morning, and I had drunk less than 20 oz. during the race, spitting out a lot of what I had put in my mouth. How long I had been riding was anyone's guess.

Finally, the nausea began to pass, and as another large group of riders skidded up, took their letters, and ran, I replaced my helmet (no do-rag this time), and, now soaking wet, mounted my steed. Wonder of wonders, I discovered as I pedaled apprehensively toward Penn, all the water on my body was creating a miraculous cooling effect in the breeze. I picked up the pace a bit, and the effect was more pronounced; I could literally feel my body temperature dropping, and I knew then I would finish the 'cat.

After I turned right on Penn, pedaled past the house I bid for and lost a couple of weeks ago and then the Quiet Storm, two bikes were ahead of me, people I didn't know. As we neared the intersection with Negley, I tried to remember what I could of the map without withdrawing it. I recalled that two of the three possible locations in East Lib were on East Liberty Boulevard. I knew ELB terminated at Negley, so it seemed self-evident that if I hopped onto the Boulevard at its end I could run its length. If the letter were to be found thereon, I'd find it sooner or later. The other riders stayed in the right lane, following Penn toward East Liberty; I signaled left, slid into the left-turn lane, and caught the light, pedaling hard through the turn onto Negley, using the last of my downhill speed to cover ground.

At ELB, I turned right. I spotted Brian heading down ELB the other way, and turning right onto Negley. This increased my conviction that I was heading the right direction, into the heart of East Liberty, a part of town I could know far better than I do. ELB is broad, divided, and on Saturday blessedly quiet. I pedaled past Home Depot as far as Collins before I started thinking maybe I'd screwed up. I dismounted at the corner there, reached around into my bag, and for the first time withdrew the map. There I noticed that Stanton and Collins was the non-ELB East Lib stop, and filed that for later consideration. The two ELB stops, however, were unfamiliar locations, including some German-sounding middle school. I was frustrated, unsure how to proceed. Just then, however, I saw a cyclist coming up the hill on ELB, and looking intent on the finish. If the letter were at Collins and Stanton, I realized, Brian never would have been finishing his ride on ELB, since the ride finished on Stanton, and there would have been no reason to leave Stanton after grabbing the last letter.

Thus, I remounted, turned onto ELB, and headed downhill. A couple of blocks later, I saw a group of riders turning right onto ELB from Broad. Once again, there was Aaron on his killer black SOMA fixie and Eli at the rear of the tight pack in his orange shirt. I pulled up beside, said something incoherent about being a bad penny (a more vulgar version of the sentiment), and slid into the pack, smiling that I'd caught up with my group.

At ELB and Penn, Aaron paused, uncertain. I couldn't figure out why he'd stopped, since over his shoulder I could see the middle school -- Oh, that one -- and several people hanging out below a tree who looked like anything but middle school students. While Aaron and the others dawdled and conferred, I blew right by (later, Aaron said it was only then that he realized I'd resumed riding and rejoined the group), through the intersection and into the parking lot. I hopped the curb onto the grass where the letter awaited, grinding my pedal on the curb as I passed over it. A man was there with a fairly serious-looking camera, shooting at odd angles as one by one the group pulled onto the grass.

From there, the rest is a blur. Back onto Penn into East Lib, right and then left around Penn Circle, right on Highland toward Stanton. At Stanton, Aaron, ahead of me, blurted out "Cop!" as I breezed into the intersection of Highland and ELB, across the island, and right by the police officer in question -- potential nast ticket two of the ride.

A half-block later, Aaron caught up and passed me, and then he led me left down Stanton, to the Union Project, where he and then I limped diagonally across Negley to a smattering of loose applause from those cyclists who'd already arrived. As a group, we placed in the low 20's, not a bad showing for first-timers who made some poor navigation decisions, and early enough to sit around for a while to watch others show up one by three by two.

Water and beer were waiting, but I could only drink water for the first half-hour, leery even of standing for two long as my stomach remained sketchy and the world swooned about me for a good twenty minutes or so after the finish. I drank all the water I could swallow, making up the defecit I'd created during the ride, and looked on in incomprehension as various other riders lit cigarettes. As much as a cigarette soon on the heels of a ride is a tradition for me, it took nearly a half-hour for me to light one after the 'cat. It was that long before I stopped breathing
into the deepest parts of my lungs.

Others looked far more composed than I, but having pushed through a wall was tremendously gratifying. The whole thing, in sum, was one of the best times I've had in ages. And it was all about the company who motivated me and, as Eli said in private correspondence, pulled me around the course. They were the sine qua non. (And their write-ups are much shorter and more entertaining.)

Flagrant in Purgatory (sort of)

Flagrant doesn't allow permalinks, but the post herein recommended is the long post from Friday June 24, 2005, which for now you can find here. After July 1, you'll just have to refer to her archive.

mm-hmm, blonde and impossibly thin, in these daydreams i can never reach the final notary without that bastard woodchipper guy lingering in the way. always attempting to chat, why can he never just take his hell and go? my body speaks for itself in all languages except third world poverty and lumberjack so who knows where to begin?

Haunting might be the best word to describe her writing. Haunting in a really deep, unsettling way. And simultaneously seductive.

Scrabble Scramble Preview

In a move that will further jeopardize my barely held-together anonymity, I intend to write about the alleycat, "Scrabble Scramble," in which I participated Saturday.

In the meantime, check out Brian's detailed account. I only rode with Brian for a little while leaving downtown, so my version will diverge in many ways.

Also, I'd expect Eli to offer an account at some point as well, though he hasn't yet. Maybe we'll also be graced with accounts from Aaron and Dave . . .

Monday Law

Today, the United States Supreme Court releases the last of this term's rulings, paving the way for the resignation / nomination fun to begin. Can you say emergency session? Anyway, without getting into analysis or opinion, I thought I'd just recommend a couple of good sites.

First, the Associated Press reports that the Court rejected Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller's appeals from orders holding them in contempt for failing to disclose sources on the Valerie Plame matter.

Meanwhile, the Court held narrowly against the maintenance of displays of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky courthouses.

The Court also ruled against Grokster in the file-sharing case.

Finally, the right now considers Kennedy to be as much of a turncoat as Souter. I'm inclined to agree, although I'm not nearly as upset about it.

[UPDATE: Predictably, Armand at Bloodless has posted a sharp discussion and critique of the Times's Kennedy piece. Check it out. One also would be wise to keep an eye on Bloodless generally for the next day or two, as I expect there will be found lots of interesting comment about the last of this year's cases, as well as any personnel changes that come to light in the next couple of days.]

Finally, for those of you who are interested, Slate's put up a handy reference to the extended shortlist of probably nominees, including C.V. basics and highlights of their record on the bench and certain writings off it.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Happy Friday, Long Week, Light Reading

The Onion produced one of its classic issues this week. This article is surely the highlight:

MECCA—The 14 democratic member nations of the Middle Eastern Union unanimously voted to declare war on the U.S. Monday, calling the North American country a "dangerous rogue state that must be contained."

"The United States of America has repeatedly violated international law and committed human-rights abuses at home and abroad," MEU President Mohamed Rajib said at a Monday security-council meeting. "MEU weapons inspectors have confirmed that the U.S. continues to pursue their illegal ununhexium-weapons program. Our attempts to bring about change through diplomatic means have repeatedly failed. Now, we are forced to take military action."

* * * *

Rajib said that, unless the U.S. ends its "unlawful and tyrannical" occupation of northern Africa in seven days, the governments of Iraq, Iran, Jordan, and Muhammad Arabia will begin deploying aero-troops to international tropospace over America's Brand-New England region.

The U.S.'s occupation of 31 nations around the world and last month's vicious, unprompted military attack on Buenos Aires were two of the 41 examples of "unabated aggression" listed in the MEU's declaration of war.

"Today we send a strong and clear message to America," Syrian representative Rashid Qu'rama said. "Your arrogant, imperial, unilateral attitude will not prevail."

The MEU first imposed sanctions against the U.S. in February 2054, demanding that the country pull troops from Antarctica and put an end to its credit trading in the troubled Wilkes Land region.

Iraqi President Hamal Hamoodi said that MEU member nations held extensive public forums before its congress voted to declare war.

Go read the rest. And have a nice weekend.

Moon Over Pittsburgh

Two nights ago, I lay down late to an uneasy bed, and noticed as soon as the light was extinguished an unusual, unearthly glow, though I was unable for a moment to identify its source.

As dark gave way to gradations of dark, and the familiar shapes of my room slowly emerged from shadow, I realized that hovering over all of it was a ghostly blue halo over my bedroom window.

In my bedroom, the main window is crowned by a large half-circle of remarkably well preserved leaded glass, containing concentric semi circles of allternating oranges and blues, from saffron / indigo at its heart to paler, almost yellow and sky hues at its outer rim. The oranges predominate, and the window is most notable by mid-morning, the exact time season-dependent, when the morning sun sets the room afire.

In my living room, above the television, there's a much less interesting leaded window -- small, rectangular, set high in the bricks, set in eight equal lights, separated by lead bands, each light a milky, rough pane with nothing but its opacity to distinguish it. I have often seen the moon through that window, and only then is the window beautiful, worthy of note.

Two nights ago, however, I was astonished to sense the moon lurking just outside the perimeter of the bedroom window, its presence inferred by a blue-white glow infusing the window's leftward region, its location identifiable by the visual equivalent of locating a sound around a corner, a cognitive triangulation entirely transparent but for its result: an easy certainty as to relative positions.

I tried to recall: in five years in this apartment, had I ever seen the moon through that window before? It seemed to me that the answer was no. Even if it had occurred at odd hours, or infrequently, surely one of countless dozens of nights when I lay awake alone, or giggling foolishly past the witching hour with a lover, or just laying awkwardly regretting an indiscretion while a wrong woman lay snoring gently beside me, surely I would have seen it once in nearly two thousand nights.

It was beautiful, the light spectral but comforting, the sort of night-time thought that drains one of the desire to sleep for all the thought's involutions, and the many paths that invite passage from within it . . . the fear that it will be gone in the morning, when too many brilliant thoughts have lost their pallor to the daylight's relentless bleaching effect.

And now I know why it happened, and have something approaching confirmation that it was, indeed, a singular occurrence.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Another Belated Addition to my Blogroll

After having more than once been the grateful beneficiary of a mention on Shinobi's blog, Lies and Statistics (most recently, she likes my post on the lost Cub Scout), I thought it was about time I return the favor, and add a permalink under "Pittsburgh."

Update: I've edited the above to recognize correct my mistake; as it turns out, Shinobi is of the fairer sex.

Has the War With Iran Already Begun?

The basic thesis forwarded by Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, is that thanks to the Downing Street Memo and another report considering the inception of American hostilities in Iraq as many as seven months before the beginning of the full-blown invasion, we now know Bush's talk of peace and diplomacy in the run-up to the official inception of hostilities was a sham. Thus, why should we believe that all the talk of constructive engagement and diplomacy vis-a-vis Iran is anything more than a comparable smoke screen? Ritter refers to numerous moves made by the United states that appear to point towards an anticipated war in Iran. And would anyone be suprised?

(Hat tip)

In Defense of Waking

Zulieka, in a characteristically thought-provoking post, writes: "Genius is not the ability to do things faster than most mortals. It is the ability to slow things down. The slower they appear, the more details are caught, the better one is equipped to be honest." Her point (or perhaps more to the point, what I take from what she's written): we go through life senseless, bound to contingency, the call and response of the status quotidian. We are at our best when we are awake, and wakefulness, properly understood, is the principal tool of the skillful artist, and very nearly as rare as great art.

She put me in a mind of Annie Dillard, and different things Dillard has said about wakefulness versus sleep, word plays and metaphors, and then the literal. I'm at work. I haven't my library, generously populated with Dillard, at my disposal. But a quick Google search did disclose this quote from one of her best and most widely known essays, "Total Eclipse:"

We teach our children one thing only, as we were taught: to wake up. We teach our children to look alive there, to join by words and activities the life of human culture on the planet’s crust. As adults we are almost all adept at waking up. We have so mastered the transition we have forgotten we ever learned it. Yet it is a transition we make a hundred times a day, as, like so many will-less dolphins, we plunge and surface, lapse and emerge. We live half our waking lives and all of our sleeping lives in some private, useless, and insensible waters we never mention or recall. Useless, I say. Valueless, I might add--until someone hauls their wealth up to the surface and into the wide-awake city, in a form that people can use.

It has been a delight, as Zulieka nears her due date, to watch her wrestle with some of the bigger questions. Perhaps just because she has the time. Or perhaps because the surely daunting prospect of parenthood leads thoughtful people into graceful spirals of introspection, considerations of what it is to be a parent, to present the world with another gift swaddled in cotton, pinkly smacking her lips and balling her impossibly fragile fingers into grasping fists of need. Only those who have been there can imagine; for someone like me, to conjecture is only to play games.

But rather than the banal "Good Luck, Z!," I inanely inserted into a parenthetical a few posts below, I'd rather offer the above as a tribute and an expression of well wishes.

Zulieka -- As do many of your readers, I am sure, I wish you all the best delivering Bb, your Little Girl. And I look forward to reading all about it. Godspeed.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

One Lost Cub Scout and the Death of Critical Thought

So Brennan Hawkins, the 11-year-old Cub Scout with a touch of wanderlust and a name just built for celebrity who wandered off into the Utah desert, has turned up. And that's nice news about which, in itself at any rate, I have nothing negative to say. But this little bit of the article recounting his return to civilization caught my eye:

"He had two thoughts going through his head all the time," she said. "Toby's always told him that 'if you get lost, stay on the trail.' So he stayed on the trail.

"We've also told him don't talk to strangers. ... When an ATV or horse came by, he got off the trail. ... When they left, he got back on the trail."

"His biggest fear, he told me, was someone would steal him," she said.

Now please forgive if this seems uncharitable -- I haven't had many dealings with 11-year-olds in a while so I'd be hard-pressed to venture an average level of cognizance and savvy among Brennan's coevals -- but wouldn't you want your eleven-year-old to figure out, at least by the second of four days lost in the wild, that dying of exposure was a much more imminent concern than kidnaping? Sure, the kid's scared, and sure it's a big bad world. Similarly, the article is replete with evidence of the kid's overall poise in the face of danger. But hiding out from searchers? His biggest fear being that he would be stolen?

I've ranted here before -- or if I haven't, it's long overdue -- about the weird foregrounding of abduction in the news when there's no empirical evidence that kidnaping is any more common now than it was thirty years ago, when kids rode their bikes around their hometowns without flinching at every shadow and imagining themselves sold into white slavery every time a stranger ventured to comment in their general direction . . . and when the news foregrounded stories of real interest and wide-ranging import instead of the stock-in-trade housefires, petty crime, and manifold fear-mongering that shrinking budgets and attention span have joined forces to foist upon an unwitting populace through the mannequins delivering today's surrogate for journalism. Such that now a kid who's undeniably lost does not, in his remoteness, think first that the buzz of an ATV might be a search party or a friendly face (in virtually any similar situation, about a 99% chance), but rather imagines some ogre who's going to land him on the side of a milk carton.

What other wholly irrational fears are we accepting uncritically and passing onto our children, who will very likely end up far more dependent and fearful than we ever were, just as we are probably more dependent and fearful than our parents were, and unto the seventh generation. It's sort of sad.

house, home

as astute readers and meatspace friends know, i've been house shopping of late. to call it a fraught endeavor for this single, underpaid, debt-ridden, lifetime apartment-dweller, is to do a disservice to the manifold ways it eats at me. it's no simpler given that i haven't moved in five years; i'm as entrenched in my current apartment as i have ever been anywhere. i didn't feel this rooted, this immobile, when i was buried to the neck in the sand of family over a decade ago in new jersey.

the looking for the house part is fun. i like the houses in pittsburgh. i like peeking into the lives of others. i like intellectualizing what is finally a far more sentimental exercise than the logistics, the promise of endless paperwork, and the grim reaper of bankruptcy suggest. i even like thinking of myself as "house-hunting." there's no harm in it. it makes me feel grown up far more than smoking cigarettes as a teen, falling in love, graduating college or law school, or being sworn in to the pennsylvania bar ever did. it helps that i'm looking in pittsburgh, where the single, underpaid, and debt-ridden can put a pretty nice roof over his head if he sets his mind to it.

but it's not a house one's buying, and technical concerns fade in that light. it's a home. an apartment houses a person, and may eventually feel like home. but we are raised in a culture that venerates property ownership above virtually everything else, a value we internalize in spite of ourselves, property being one of the more stable ways to put the capital in capitalism, and to lease, to occupy a place someone has let you, just doesn't satisfy practically or philosophically. home has indefinite connotations, it suggests the possibility of permanence, there by no one's permission but one's own, free to use or abuse the property as whimsy suggests, unable to walk away.

like most good things, it's terrifying and invigorating all at once.

i find myself wondering, in my looking, whether it is a house that i can turn into a home i am looking for, are something that already emanates an aura of home, something ready made. it's the nature-nurture debate recast. or the difference between love at first sight and a slow-growing passion between old friends.

and perhaps the question is as intractable as those analogous inquiries, its answer lying somewhere in an indefinable middle. but as with choosing a partner, choosing a house, nominally binding oneself to thirty years' debt in an amount utterly unprecedented in past experience, feels like its own ascent to the altar, something one would rather not do than do wrong, or hastily, or for inappropriate reasons.

i want to buy now; interest rates will never be better. but is it worth a couple of points, tens of thousands of dollars, to wait a little longer, to look for that gem? or am i deluding myself that there is such a thing, in my price range or any other, that any house will be built to suit, as they say, that i can possibly afford anything that won't need to be taken in about the waist, hemmed, cleaned and pressed a couple of times to excorcise the remnants of a prior inhabitant?

in this undertaking, as in baseball, or law, or anything else if you try hard enough to see it, there is a bas relief of life beneath the microcosm's veneer that only certain tricks of the light suggest in the unlikely gathering of shadows near a corner, the intimation of concavity amid an atoll braille of prominences. and so it is that, just as i have felt once before something like the love i hope to share with someone, i also have touched upon the sort of house i might want. and as she managed to slip through my fingers, so did the house.

the details aren't important: i spent a week loving a house but convinced i had to look more, that i lacked the money to make a bid sufficient to warrant the seller's consideration, that there was another shoe and it would drop upon a second, more skeptical walk-through. but the day of the second walk-through, mere hours before the scheduled visit, i learned that another bidder had moved in and made a play for the house. my house! something inside me howled; as so often is the case, we learn what we most want only when faced with the prospect of losing it. the next few hours were a blur. racing home from work, i crunched the numbers again, and discovered, through the marvels of debt endlessly deferred, that i could afford perhaps $10,000 more than i had originally thought. i wrote a new, astonishingly alien number on a blank piece of paper. eyed it warily for several minutes. felt no impulse to scratch it out or amend it. stood, looked down at the number one more time, and left to meet my agent.

second walk-through. no shoe poised to drop in sight. just an ache, a belief that owning this house would square some circle, or otherwise lend a new order to my chaotic existence. coffee shop. nervous laughter and reams of paperwork. offer. then an interminable next day of waiting. and waiting. sure that i'd won, and afraid. afraid that i'd lost, and sure. but when the news came that i had been outbid, i lacked the energy, or the sense of karmic insult, to muster much anger. instead, a sort of fatalism, the pretense that i saw it coming.

i have seen other houses. online. in the real world. houses more aligned with the expectations i had when i began to run property searches online. and had i not seen this perfect house, i might have been excited about one of them. or two.

but the human brain's currency is pattern recognition, measurement its medium of exchange, and it inexorably subjects the world and all it contains to an endless concatenations of comparisons. i hate telling people that i don't compare them to others, in any context, though i do in deference to a social ritual; it's as much a lie as it is unfair, indeed ignorant, for any one to demand otherwise. if we are mind in some heuristic reductio of the cartesian sense (the full-blown version being demonstrably problematic, even as it provides a flawed model nearly as useful as newtonian mechanics for engaging the problems of perceiving self in the world), then we are, by definition, measurers, weighers, old ladies in the grocery store squeezing tomoatoes, all of us, enslaved to our inability to see anything in itself, for itself.

it's no surprise that none of the other houses measures up.

and so for now, in this apartment in a house that isn't mine and thus can never be home no matter how many formative events have transpired here in the past five years, i grow impatient, injured by loss, sometimes inexplicably convinced that i have been passed by, that the next bus just isn't coming.

i comfort myself with an article of faith nearly liturgical in its insistence: there are many other houses. and at least one more home, whether ready-made or of my own devising. that old saw, as true as it is disquietingly nebulous: i'll know it when i see it.

if i see it.

but my insubstantiable conviction is as unshaken as it is unbidden, as persistent as it is unverifiable. there is a home still to be discovered. and crossing its threshold will be sublime.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Updating My Blogroll

It's been entirely too long since I made some modifications to my blogroll, and I am pleased to direct all seven of you (three of whom are probably the three Pittsburgh blogs I'm linking, so you don't count) to these newer local discoveries, and one older blog that I've raved about before but never permalinked for some odd reason.

So, in no particular order:

Occasional commenter Eli, maintains Rockoweb, featuring bits and pieces on cycling, environmentalism, rock-climbing, and Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, "WoJo," among others, writes Grabass!, which is currently trying to figure out what it is. Also, he's seeking feedback on the direction Grabass! should take.

Finally, among Pittsburgh blogs, Baxter Hathaway has recently started The New Polluter, a blog that modestly states the following mission: "Rethinking, redefining, and reinvigorating the way that humans interact with the world around them." Oh, is that all? (Sorry Bax, I couldn't resist.)

And then, in some sense saving the best for last, for whatever reason I simply raved about Flagrant Disregard in April, yet never provided a permalink. That situations is remedied. She's listed under Words, and rightly so; her blog, as painful as it sometimes is to read, is simply riveting, and one of the few truly original things going on in the blogosphere. I simply can't recommend it in strong enough terms, with the caveat that you have to read more than a post or two to orient yourself to her peculiar life and her cryptic way of talking about it. It's an acquired taste well worth acquiring. Tony's a big fan, and I have him to thank for turning me on to one of the two (who also happens to be one of the prettiest near-term pregnant women around (Good Luck, Z!)) or three most evocative, most affecting, blogs I've found.

Ah, that's better. Now I can get back to work. Or get started with work. Or something. Hey, I've been good for six weeks straight; I'm entitled to have a scattered day from time to time. I haven't had to seriously multi-task in two years. And the occasional backlash against serious multi-tasking evidently is no-tasking. So be it.

Intelligent Design Hits the Pennsylvania House

Oh joy, I guess it's our turn. Yesterday, the Pennsylvania House debated a bill that would allow schools to teach "intelligent design" side by side with evolution. I've been here before, at some length, and I'm not the only one. Furthermore, I have expressed my willingness to entertain bona fides efforts to challenge, in a scientific effort at falsification, the propositions underlying evolutionary theory. This enterprise lies at the very heart of scientific inquiry, and I support it. But the article notes the inability of pols to treat it this way.

Intelligent design "tells you that Mount Rushmore and the pyramids are designed," said Franklin & Marshall College philosophy professor Michael Murray, in suggesting that the very complexity of life implies that something smart created it, just as we'd infer the same thing about a car, a stopwatch or Mount Rushmore. But intelligent design "can't tell you whether God, man or the Martians did it."

Yet the identity of this intelligent creator is the elephant in the room, and opponents of the design concept say that, unless the Martians did it, intelligent design by default points to a supernatural creator. And that points to a belief that is fundamentally rooted in religion, not science.

And one need look no further than the article itself for evidence that this is the case.

The battle lines were drawn in the hearing's opening minutes, when Lancaster's Rep. Tom Creighton, the prime sponsor of the bill, urged everybody to reveal their biases, then furnished some of his own, suggesting people who subscribe to evolution were generally atheists, while the intelligent design crowd are biblical creationists.

Such facile generalizations really warrant no reply beyond, "Dumbass." And that's all I'm going to say. The only good thing about this story is that, evidently, ID superstar Michael Behe, who teaches in Pennsylvania, was in attendance and testified. At least one guy with an IQ over 100 and something interesting to say attended the hearings.

William Block, "an uncommonly good man," 1915-2005

Yesterday, Pittsburgh lost a true pillar of the community, and today is impoverished for its loss. I'm not the knowledgeable one here, but the many people staffing the newspaper he oversaw for so long, the only true newspaper in the City, certainly are. Go read what they have to say.

From the Editorial page tribute:

Bill Block was in the typical mode of newspaper publishers in one respect: He was a fervent patron of the arts, first as a founder and president of the Gateway to the Arts program and in later years as a collector of contemporary glass pieces and a supporter of the Pittsburgh Glass Center. Last month, in a fitting and timely gesture, Pittsburgh City Council declared a Bill Block Sr. Day and he was honored at the Andy Warhol Museum.

But to the last he was a newspaperman -- to use the honorable old-fashioned name that best fits him -- who saw this occupation less as a business than as a sacred calling. That will be his lasting epitaph. Let the city and region join in our mourning and extend its sympathies to his wife Maxine and their children and the extended family. An uncommonly good man has died.

And to a new and treasured friend, my sympathy.

99% Perspiration

What with a recent illness, various house-hunting-related chaos, excruciating heat, and downright lassitude, I've barely ridden my bike at all in the past few weeks. Friday, finally, I managed to ride in to work on a cool morning. Saturday, my legs were in agony. I was shocked; had it been that long? Evidently it had.

Last night, I went to bed late, no supper, scattered, two scotches on an empty stomach. A friend stopped by needing a pause in her hectic day, and we sat on the porch, smoked a cigarette, talked a while, until she moved on to her next destination in what I'm sure was an interminable day. I sat at my computer. Caught up on some online writing. Wrote a few words. Addressed an imbloglio that had bothered me during the day (see the Nazi, McCarty, Bush thing, below), and suddenly it was 12:30. Dehydrated, hungry, more than a little baffled by the alacrity with which the night skidded by, sad for my friend, I slept.

Needless to say, waking up was a bit of a chore this morning, and I only finally dragged myself out of bed around 8:30. Hastening, I did all the things one does in the morning, and notwithstanding my want of fluid and calories, I reflexively dressed for the road, gently packing my business casual day into a messenger bag, donning shorts, jersey, helmet, gloves, and so on, more than a little apprehensive that my hunger and fatigue would make the ride feel horrible.

Outside, though, the air was cool. The sun amiable. The street devoid even of parked cars as I set my ride down on the street and swung my left leg over the handlebars, centering myself over the frame, bag pressed against the high saddle at the small of my back. I snapped in my right foot, pushed off, headed down the clear road, not even any parked cars to impede my getting started, long, straight, and shimmering gray like a runway, my left foot snapping in on the first rotation. My right turn onto Liberty at the bottom of the hill was wide, steep, graceful, my wheels charting a clean trajectory through manhole covers and gas line covers and surface flaws, threading a needle, shoulder dipped eagerly into the turn.

It's as though I only accelerated from there.

Heading down the hill on Penn Avenue from Garfield into the Strip District, as I neared 40th Street the light changed in my favor and I blasted by all of them in the right turn lane before any of them had moved. The first vehicle was an oversized dump truck I knew as soon as I swung in front of him to slip along the parked cars on the hill I had been foolish to past. The jet engine whine of his engine braking, hovering just behind me, trying to find a way to pass, was like a spike in the base of my neck. Unless I wanted to use my brake -- and I didn't; I never do -- I simply couldn't head down the hill at car speed with any semblance of control. At the first long run of empty pavement between myself and the curb, I darted right quickly. The truck's engine swelled, like a slow giant bellowing enthusiastically, but didn't appreciably change location, and the next run of cars was coming up fast. I angled back into the lane, giving more than a door's width of space between myself and the cars. A longer gap in the cars beckoned, beyond which lay a dumpster that's been eating up more than it's share of pavement for months now. I slid right again, embarrassed, guilty, trying to be kind, and the truck finally opened up and started to slide by me. It was so large, however, that I quickly realized if I didn't modify my speed I would find myself somewhere mid-wheelbase next to the truck as we swept around the next row of parked cars and that lethal, exasperating dumpster. As I slid out into the lane, the truck passing maddeningly like a red glacier, I neared the rear panel of his bed, close enough to touch, at something very near my maximum comfortable speed. The noise of the engine faded like the sound of a train rounding a bend that baffles its sound, more of a filmic effect than something Doppler could explain, pyschological as much as physical -- I pulled back hard on the pedals, read corrugation near my ear and parked car and dumpster swiftly approaching, and managed to slip into the truck's wake, in front of the car behind him, just as we passed car and dumpster.

I passed the dumper at the bottom of the hill, and though I once more heard its roar I never saw it anywhere near me again.

Entering the Strip District on Penn Avenue, skyline beckoning, I hovered within a hundred feet of a magenta Buick Century's rear bumper for something like four green light blocks, steadily gaining, until finally, confronted with the absurdity of passing a car on a bicycle at 20-plus miles per hour, I finally accepted it: "All right," I muttered, a little winded, as I looked aslant over my left shoulder to verify that nothing was coming up on my left side, accelerating for a pass. A few blocks later, I found myself caught up, near Penn Mac, behind a bus, a pick-up, and two cars, none of which seemed to have any sense of lane or what they might be hoping to accomplish. Suddenly, instead of a bike commuter, I found myself behaving like an Indy racer, swinging left, right, left again, peeking around quarter panels, extending my neck to look over roofs, trying to negotiate the terrible pavement in that three-block span while hunting for enough of an opening to avoid breaking my feverish cadence. And when the opening came, I rocketed through it like I could go forever.

** Afterword:

I have a new hobby: cutting close enough to pedestrians who violate signals and indifferently wander into my path to startle the shit out of them. It's fun. And they deserve it. They don't assume a car will change its path for them. Why should I?

Monday, June 20, 2005

Does the Downing Street Memo Support a Case for Impeachment

In my previous post I raised the bone Juan Non-Volokh picks with Brian Leiter regarding Hitler / McCarthy / Dubya comparisons. For whatever reason, I declined to mention that the Leiter post at issue, as to which the comments JNOV went after truly were tangential, is itself worth your attention.

If you're curious about the case for impeachment, about which I express no strong opinion, peruse these lengthy comments on a symposium concerning this very questions. If you're really a glutton for punishment, drop by all the related links too.

The question is interesting, even if only as an intellectual exercise (what do you suppose it would take for the House that Frist Built to bring articles of impeachment against its biggest stooge, Bush the gweat and tewwiboo. I've been falling way behind on my political reading, and my knowledge of current events, the past six weeks. Sadly, until tonight I hadn't even read the Memo in question.

The argument, in principle, concerns whether the conduct suggested by the Memo (ignoring for a moment (as everyone else seems to do) that the memo is, in itself, hearsay, and thus perceived by the American legal system to have dubious probative value) constitutes an impeachable offense. Since it surely does not constitute bribery, and it seems a stretch to call it treason, this leaves only the high crimes and misdemeanors constitutional catch-all. At Leiter's site, and those sites he links, smarter people than I take up this question. But do bear in mind that Clinton's perjury evidently qualified. Also, this helpful chart contrasts excerpts of the Downing Street Memo with contemporaneous public statements by the Administration, a rather disquieting exercise for anyone who favors transparency in government (which, by the way, it's your patriotic duty to demand no matter how much you like the person in office).

Hitler, McCarthy, Dubya??? Again???

Previously, I have posted my annoyance with the frequency with which pols and pundits truck out the Hitler / Nazism analogies, then in the context of Rick Santorum's deplorable comments regarding the audacity of Senate Democrats in opting to use the procedural tools at their disposal (i.e., the filibuster). And I largely stand by my comments, and restrict them to no one side in the various inflamed ideological debates that abound (and apparently want for the sort of talented rhetoriticians who can at least couch their ad hominem attacks in novel terms, or bury them beneath even the thinnest veneer of legitimacy). But today the occasionally mercurial Juan Non-Volokh, at Volokh Conspiracy, took on Brian Leiter's comments finding parallels between Nazi Germany, McCarthyist America, and America today. In the comment of which JNOV (cute, eh? (lawyer humor -- either you get it or you don't) complains, Brian Leiter, law and philosophy prof at the University of Texas, writes:

[I]n every society of which I'm aware the vast majority of the preeminent academic figures were, in general, cowards when it came to their own regimes, and apologists for what later generations would see clearly as inhumanity and illegality. This was clear in Germany in the 1930s, as it was in America in the 1950s. There is no reason to think the United States today is any different. (Emphases in original).

Now I grant that this is inflammatory. Hell, it may just be wrong. It does sort of reek of the sort of all-encompassing, self-verifying, thinly-disguised platitudes which fortune-tellers make their stock in trade, rarely saying anything that, in some dimension, isn't true of everyone. I mean, how many academics declining to criticize a sitting administration does it take to reflect a groundswell of cowardice?

Furthermore, I'll grant that it seems unlikely that the cowardice evident in the United States during the McCarthy era has any analogy now: I could know more about campus life then than I do, but if I'm not mistaken the tenor then, the utterly reactionary response to any evidence of communist affiliation, was stronger than tenure kand an indelible stain. Criticizing Bush these days, on the other hand, is hardly a professional liability in academic circles. Moreover, the bane of public stigmatization, ostracization, indeed, something almost akin to excommunication, that attended branding as a communist is more or less wholly absent from public discourse now. Yes, we on the left are criticized for our moral relativism, or debased refusal to criticize everyone who chooses to live differently than we do, and so on. But is anyone being denied access to a bar, a bar association, or anything else of particular relevance based on criticism of the sitting administration? I think now.

That said, JNOV's endeavor to lump this in with other efforts to wield the nazi lable like a rhetorical truncheon is facile. Leiter, in characteristically outspoken fashion, sets forth a hypothesis, or perhaps states a suspicion or an intuition. And the hypothesis or intuition is imminently falsifiable. For the reasons I state above, or JNOV hints at, or for other reasons entirely, it may be the case that Leiter is full of shit. That's fine. But he's not calling anyone a Nazi: he's positing that, in times of greatest need, academics, who one might hope would be paragons of progressive thought tend to sit back and cover their asses until the storm passes, preferring to criticize in hindsight, when the weather is fair.

And it is precisely the falsifiability of this hypothesis that distinguishes it from those talking heads (and, sadly, government officials) who call anyone who disagrees with them a Nazi. Here, instead of a direct and unanswerable slur, the idea presented is that there are certain historic patterns that may, in time, turn out to have emerged here as well. It's worth noting that JNOV doesn't appear to meaningfully contest the parallel drawn between craven academics during WWII and craven academics during the McCarthy era. Inasmuch as neither movement would have gotten anywhere without widespread cowardice, the parallel at leasts suggests something worthy of consideration. Whether it applies today, is a topic of discussion, not an insult to be written off as though it had no more intrinsic merit, or content, than some blowhard smearing those opponents he lacks the moxie to engage in meaningful debate.

Reflexive accusations of nazism are counterproductive. But so are reflexive accusations equating an historically defensible, if ultimately wrong, proposition with the empty slurs of an intellectualy impoverished and rhetorically imperial commentariat.

And So

So say you have nothing to say. Well, don't say it, because then, obviously, you'd have something, however trifling, to say.

Say you're sitting in front of your computer, having looked at a few house listings, written a long (and long overdue) email to a new friend, splitting that composition to sit astride a long (and long overdue) conversation with a friend on the west coast, during which it slowly comes to light significant family events have transpired in his world that you have not heard of, even though the sequence of events began roughly a year ago, and ran its course months back. Say, somehow, between the New York Times Magazine, the email, the phone call, the house hunting, you find yourself still in slacks and a shirt with a collar. (Say you just used the word "slacks," which certain people evidently find amusing.) Say the glass of scotch you poured during the west-coast conversation is exhausted. As are you, say, dinner-less, vaguely overheated in an outfit suited only to the homogenized air of an office tower.

Say you'd like to write a poem but there's nothing there. No fraught image. No pretty or even recondite imagery around which to riff. No burning sentiment, lingering dissatisfaction or confusion, nothing requiring exploration except various problems at work requiring considerable mental effort but entailing little in the way of poetry. (With occasional exceptions.)

Say the fan is merely causing the increasingly humid air to mill around, insouciantly, and murmur under its breath about the unnecessary disturbance as it clings to your neck.

And still nothing.

Say the night has reached its prandial nadir: whether to make a real dinner or cobble together a stomach filling amalgam of uncooked odds and ends -- carrots, baby greens, peanut butter and jelly, cereal. Say this prompts a brief, familiar, and all but reflexive lament about single life and its attendant lack of domestic stability, the inability to forge any sort of routine when the best thing about your life is the lack of necessity of forging a routine. Say you're seriously considering pouring another scotch, but you know that won't accomplish anything.

Say after all of this, you're still wearing slacks. Slacks. And the mess about you has declined to organize itself. Notwithstanding your silent pleas. Say even the cats are ignoring you now. Say, in principle, there's really no one else, no where else, no when else, you'd rather be. And yet, say that thought offers less comfort than it seems it should.

Query: If you were a tree . . .

No, say you're a little too tree-like at the moment, and the arboreal figure hits too close to home.

Query: If you were this fictional "you" . . .

No. You're not. It's a waste of energy, all this second-person gamesmanship. I can reveal to you, if I am writing especially well, the two-dimensional figure I imagine, at best. But it's still not a person. No one, no artist, no actor, has ever conjured a whole person. Nor has anyone successfully put himself in another's shoes.

Query: What now?

Well? Can you wait all night? I can . . . .

Supreme Court Humor -- O Dahlia

For those of you who visit here for law stuff -- for those of you who still visit at all, given how sporadic my posting has been -- here's a little bit of a treat, an intellectual ice cream cone: Dahlia Lithwick imagines an email exchange among the distinguished Justices of the United States Supreme Court. (Hat tip, Armand, private correspondance).

Thursday, June 16, 2005

"Stately, plump Buck Mulligan . . . "

Happy Bloomsday, everybody. And for those of you who don't know, Bloomsday, June 16, is the day on which takes place the entirety of Joyce's modernist exemplum Ulysses. Each Bloomsday, in cities around the world, actors and afficianadi of the work gather to listen to readers perform from the best passages of the book, which despite its density works magnificently when read aloud by someone versed in and sensitive to its nascent Irish lyricism. Truly a spectacular activity.

Tonight, Moon will be listening to "Penelope" at the Firehouse in the Strip District. Come one come all for a delightful evening of literature and performance.

UPDATE: The above link to "listening" is to an account of Pittsburgh's 1998 Bloomsday. I don't know how I missed the untimeliness of the page. In any event, the balance of this evening's festivities will be held, beginning at 5:30, at the Firehouse Lounge, at 2216 Penn Ave. in the Strip District. I'll be there, Guinness in hand. Will you?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The War on Hugs

Having decided that the appointment of public-broadcast-hating Republican good old boy Kenneth Y. Tomlinson as chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) had not reaped sufficiently rapid results (say, the immediate arson of every CPB-funded entity in the United States), the House Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, and education moved to cut federal funding for CPB by 25% next year, from $400M to $300M, and to eliminate all federal funding for CPB in the next few years.

The subcommittee had to decide, [Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio)] said, on cutting money for public broadcasting or cutting college grants, special education, worker retraining and health care programs. "No one's out to get" public broadcasting, Regula said. "It's not punitive in any way."

So apparently the decision isn't about cutting money for public broadcasting or cutting some miniscule fraction of a percent of the tax cuts, punishing and putting an end to fraudulent billing by administration cronies like Halliburton, or bailing out the airlines or their pension plans (again (and again)). Who knew? (Yes, I recognize the the subcommittee's ambit is limited to its terms, and they have to balance the books within that realm, but it bears recalling that the subcommittee controls just one of many line items in the federal budget, and money moves from one line item to another all the time.)

Regula suggested public stations could "make do" without federal money by getting more funding from private sources, such as contributions from corporations, foundations, and listeners and viewers.

More funding from private sources, eh? What's good for congress is, I suppose, good for CPB. Of course, we all know from long hard experience where that sort of funding regime leaves the putative constituents of the entity (or legislator) to be funded. But I'm sure that's not the point at all.

If you care, and you should, drop in on our old friends at and speak up. It's not exactly marching on the Mall, but neither is it entirely inconsequential.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Anarchy, Vigilantism, and the Ownership Society

Yesterday, at a local watering hole, I found myself in half-lit conversation with a long-time criminal defense attorney who looked like a football player, talked like a construction worker, but also carried into the bar a copy of Sarah Vowell's latest book, Assassination Vacation, suggesting a more complicated character than one might first assume. Upon realizing that we both worked in the law, we started getting into it regarding the nature and value of criminal law. As the conversation wore on, he revealed himself to be libertarian almost to the point of absurdity, defending against every attack the idea that a community can police itself. Of course, a criminal defense attorney, almost of necessity, needs to have a libertarian streak to do his job well. But this guy was pushing a bit too hard, and by the end I reached a point where I could only say, "I don't believe you," referring to my strong conviction that neither he nor anyone else in his right mind would want to live in the functionally lawless, might-makes-right society he was postulating.

Anyway, this morning, getting up to speed only very slowly, I stumbled across last weeks Onion, and found this gem of a spoof.

Bush's self-described "plan to have no plan" permits elected and appointed government authorities to "look the other way" while bands of U.S. citizens enforce both the community standards that the existing legal code overlooks and those laws that police fail to enforce.

"From bordello-busters to subway shooters, vigilantes have a long history of pinpointing and resolving the problems plaguing their communities," Bush said. "Let's give 'em a shot."

Bush's remarks came in the wake of criticism among his ultraconservative supporters, who argue that "activist judges" often make decisions that contradict the will of the people. To help remedy this problem, many special-interest groups had been calling for an official tolerance of "vigilante judicial committees."

"Vigilantes have an undeserved reputation for recklessness," Republican pollster Jennifer Mendenhall said. "As we phase vigilantism in, be prepared to hear a lot of talk about 'mob-ocracies' and 'tyrannies of the bat-wielding, roving majorities.' That rhetoric is meant to scare peaceful citizens into thinking they need magisterial authority to protect their interests. But vigilantism is not about crazed drunkards clustering in town squares, waving pitchforks and crying out for blood. It's about an opportunity to let the citizens of America serve as their neighbors' meter maids, correctional officers, chiefs of police, or, if necessary, SWAT teams."

Good stuff. (It's funny 'cause it's true.)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Pass With Care

On my way home a few weeks ago, pedaling serenely up Smallman, I noticed with the jaundiced eye of the endlessly beset bicycle commuter that someone had added a line to the road. A broken yellow line, each segment as long as the yellow dashes that divide interstate lanes, wandering in and out of my lane, toward the center of the road but decidedly not in the center, confusing the straight simplicity of its double-yellow cousin trying to maintain its equilibrium despite the distraction.

All I saw in it at first was another invitation for cars to get confused, push right, shouldering me toward the endless potholes along that stretch of pavement. I tried for a moment to decode its meaning, but eventually gave up. There was no meaning. Just splattered sloppy lines plainly made by a machine driven by a truck that appeared to have been piloted by someone drunk on gin or mischief.

A few days later, driving down Penn toward downtown, I noticed the Smallman line's antecedent -- this time in the right lane. Indeed, I saw its source, some sort of storage lot on Penn between 27th and 26th. Someone, evidently, drove the truck out of the lot with the contraption, brush, roller, whatever it is they use, into traffic slopping paint all over the place and creating a new semi-lane, like a fifth dimension, in the middle of one of Pittsburgh's busier thoroughfares. It proceeded about two blocks, than swung left briefly to enable it to clear a short right turn onto a narrow side street. Not very drunk behavior, that.

And so I suppose one doesn't just load up its anti-contraption with paint thinner and retrace its steps to do away with the errant line. It's there until it fades, years from now, confusing drivers, imperiling cyclists, engendering random thoughts in every passer-by who wonders quietly to himself, "Huh?" and runs through the same conjectures I have in the weeks since.

It probably reflects a dumb mistake. Occam's Razor suggests as much. Some public employee is hanging out by the back of the truck bullshitting with a friend who's shift has just ended. When they reach the end of their affable but hollow co-worker colloquy, the guy whose shift just ended retires to his car, a blue Chevy Cavalier of late-90's vintage, and the man just coming on duty heads up to the cab of the modified dumper and climbs in, unaware that his arm resting lazily on the back of the truck as he bragged emptily to his friend lowered the lever activating the paint dispenser, and further unaware that the hopper is (for once) actually full of yellow paint.

Out he drives, the rumble of the diesel eclipsing just about every other noise, the roller quietly bowed to its task, lifting and descending in time with the wheels' rotation per its mechanical mandate, unaware that it is designed to do so at speeds considerably slower than 40 miles per hour. Thus the yellow lines come out the right length, highway length, abiding their constant relationship to the frequency of the wheels' rotation. But the lines aren't clean, sharp at the edges, because at such high speed paint spatters off the roller, leaving attenuated comets and spatters between and around the lines, little Pollock penumbras of paint.

Or maybe some kids broke into the yard and went joyriding, the little yellow light atop the truck twirling in the 3AM indigo haze of streetlights and city night. Laughing. The shotgun passenger leans his head way out the window, hooting in the cool evening breeze, energy renewed with each wandering dash laid on the pavement like the scar of a nearly forgotten boyhood injury, an insult to the flesh, a reminder that he was here. and here. and here.

Next time I'm on my bike on Smallman, I'm going to ride until I reach the line's end, the apt memorial to the moment when the driver realized what he had done, like a groom discovering that he had removed his wife's garter with his teeth, on his knees, in front of hundreds of family members, with his fly gaping wide and his cock hanging out. Or else the triumphant destination to an aimless journey fraught with intention, the boys giggling and slapping each other on the back, sweatshirts and wool hats, already composing the story in their heads for a few trusted friends, beneath each's bravado at a shallow depth an abrupt thermocline below which the fear lurks of going unnoticed and of being observed.

Local Boy Makes Good

In other news, the evidently tiny, sweet, and smashing Jennifer Love Hewitt visited my favorite local videostore last month. The link is to the page on which Dean, the proprietor, has posted his a brief video snippet of the starlet and screen captures from same, along with a rather pointed and appropriate rant concerning certain too-cool-for-school indie kids who ripped on him for allowing her in the store (what, he should bar the door?). Even in pixillated diminution, I have to admit, she looks pretty damned cute and her laugh is, well, sweet. And as for the rant, right on, Dean. Man cannot live on bread alone. Tiny celebrities with fetching breasts (among other, er, assets), too, have their place.

And btw, shameless plug here -- best. videostore. ever. If you haven't visited, you're missing out, regardless of your taste in movies. Go ahead and ask you local Blockbuster minimum-wager to recite the Richard Linklater canon, or to tell you about the latest Almodovar and see how far you get. Go ahead. It's also, hands down, Pittsburgh's best source of documentary films. Hundreds of them. I think Blockbuster has like twelve.

The Tenth Sexiest Professional You Sort of Know

I'm appalled to discover that I haven't posted since last Wednesday. Amusingly, notwithstanding my recent silence, I saw a hell of a spike in traffic yesterday and to a lesser extent today, thanks to people googling the United States Supreme Court's long-awaited decision in Ashcroft v. Raich and finding my comments regarding that case's potential effects on the Court's pending (next term) decision of Oregon v. Gonzalez directly, or alternatively finding me through the generous link to my post supplied at the excellent Drug War Rant's treatment of Raich. (And if you're hitting me now, I strongly urge you to visit that site for further discussion now that the decision has issued.)

I've been absent, of late, because I've found myself at once underwater and utterly thrilled with my new position. It's one of those lifetime-to-master things, as are many jobs in the law, but this one perhaps more than many others because it requires me to be a pure generalist, think globally, anticipate the virtually unforeseeable consequences of sloppiness and do my best to avoid them, and then to help my colleagues do the same. There's so much to learn and so much to do.

I woke up with a viciously sore throat Friday morning, and headed to work thinking I'd do a half-day, grab some reading, and go home for the weekend to work in my puddle of misery unobserved. Instead, I was in the office until 6 on Friday and put in nearly two days worth of work over Saturday and Sunday. Yesterday, I awakened sicker than ever, headed downtown to pick up more reading, returned home and read for 14 of the remaining 16 hours of my day. Today, in until 7, once again.

And still sick.

Now if I worked in a big law firm this would be par for the course. But as friends and regular readers know, I don't. With public service and a lower salary typically comes a significant reduction in workload and pressure. And to be fair to my new supervisors and colleagues, no one explicitly has burdened me with undue expectations. But it's the desire to excel that's returned to me to a degree I haven't felt since perhaps my second year of law school, when excellence still might improve one's prospects and enhance one's knowledge. By third year, we were all phoning it in; studying for the bar, one of the world's most agonizing pass/fail tests (along with, say, life itself), while fraught with anxiety really didn't compare, since the equivalent of a D on that exam was as invisible to the world as an A+. Shooting for C was just about right, and just about what I did. Proving that I could ace an exam that bore little resemblance to the actual practice of the profession licensure to which was guarded by this ridiculous half-multiple-choice exam simply wasn't a priority. Getting it over with was everything.

And I've done that at many jobs over the years. But not this one. And while I'm only in my fourth week, the nature of the excitement, the elements that feed it, aren't going anywhere. I hope my enthusiasm remains, though I confess that I hope (and have reason to believe) that the crazy hours are more a function of catching up than standard operating procedure.

In any case, that's why I'm kind of loving my chosen profession again, and why I've been so negligent with regard to this site.

Now, a propos, and by way of reintroducing myself, I bring you's top 10 sexiest jobs, based on a poll of AOL users ('cause yeah, that's a representative sample). Here's the list:

1. Firefighter
2. Flight attendant
3. CEO
4. Reporter
5. Interior designer
6. Event planner
7. Nurse
8. Teacher
9. Doctor
10. Lawyer

I think we can all agree this invites certain questions. For example, how many AOL users are gay that interior designer comes up at 5 ahead of nurse? I think firefighter also suggests a gay constituence as well, though I don't mean to minimize the thrall in which phallic helmets (you know what they say about men with big helmets) seem to hold women and men (who like men) alike. The two serious anomalies, as I see it, are at 4. and 8. I mean, when did reporters become sexy? Was it when people started mistaking the pretty, perfectly symmetrical, blowdried blowhards on television for "reporters," or when reporters stopped doing anything to piss anyone off like, you know, critiqueing blatant falsehoods in lieu of parroting them? And if teachers are so damned sexy, why won't anyone arrange to pay them as well as, say, firemen? And event planner? Shit, that wasn't even a job 20 years ago, that was just an intrusive mother of the bride. I guess we can thank J-Lo. for that. Thanks J-Lo!

Anyway, I'll have you know none of this is sour grapes. I'm happy to be at 10, and I think it confirms that women tend to like men who are shitty to them, since I guarantee that the same sample would rank lawyers in the top 5 sleaziest professions. But just for the record, doctors and lawyers are HOT, except of course when they aren't. And teachers rock too.

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