Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Where the blogs at?

So there was this whole Thanksgiving thing that just happened. Good times (for the record, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays (let's face it, gluttony is one of the underrepresented deadly sins, and it deserves its own day)). Anyways, Laura was visiting, so needless to say, I enjoyed myself. Got some wedding planning stuff done, pretended to do homework, etc. You'll notice though, that I didn't write a blog that whole time... Could this be a sign of things to come, say, around May 28th? Hopefully not, because I enjoy this blogging stuff. Marriage and blogging should be compatible right? It'll work out, just musing on the idea...

On another note, I've downloaded a bit of Christmas music, and my apartment is playing it in the hallways. I'm feeling more festive by the moment. What's that? You say I still have a ridiculous finals schedule? $#%&ing holiday season! So anyways, don't anticipate too many blogs for the next 3 weeks or so... but maybe a few. Hopefully.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Physics

Here's a questions for anyone science-minded out there:
Things can be cooled down to an absolute zero, when all movement stops at the molecular level. Is there an equivalent with heat? A maximum molecular speed? Is this the speed of light? Does the speed of light apply on a molecular level? I can't even think of anything funny to write here. I'm just really wondering.

Chemistry

So it turns out scientists have discovered a new metal alloy. It allows anything which dries on it to become permanently affixed, totally inseparable from metal itself. However, there's only a very small amount of this alloy in the world. Yeah, it turns out the entire world's supply was used up when they made my stove-top.

Fortune of Reversal

Talk about bass-ackwards! My last class before the Thanksgiving break skipped me. I showed up, but the class just wasn't there.

Monday, November 22, 2004

A little too (much) Stern

Are you kidding me! Artest was suspended for the season!?! That's ricockulous! The other suspensions I'm fine with, 30 games, sure, whatever. But the season?!? You mean to tell me the NBA is going to kick one of the best players on one of the best teams out of the league for a year!?! That's just way too much.

And frankly, it's about what I expected Mr. David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, to come up with for a punishment. The man is a sadist. And that's being nice. He has over-reacted to almost every single incident that he has faced in his tenure. I give you as an example the punishment of the Minnesota Timberwolves when they were caught with an illegal contract - 5 years of no draft picks, tons of fines, owner and GM kicked out for an entire year, etc. Mind you, most teams in the NBA had similar illegal contracts, the Wolves simply got caught signing the dotted line. It was an over-reaction then.

There have been several individual punishments meted out over the years that have seemed equally absurd in their individual prohibitions. Rasheed Wallace, Dennis Rodman, etc. - When players are known more for their punishments than their playmaking, something is amiss. In some cases it has been the individual. In most, at least in the NBA, it is David Stern. Wallace was the recipient of several lengthy suspensions, yet he's become practically a model player in Detroit. It wasn't the punishments that corrected the problem - it was a change of scenery. The punishments were excessive an inappropriate, and we can see that now. There have also been all sorts of ridiculous fines. Poor, poor Mark Cuban. David Stern won't let him be a fan, and punishes him for being an owner.

In response to the current situation David Stern acted too strictly again. He got the chance to hurt someone, and he took it for all he could. He didn't care that he was ruining one of the best teams in the NBA. He didn't care that by ruining the Pacers he was essentially rewarding the Pistons' fans for their behavior. He didn't stop to think - the punishments came down less than 48 hours after the events of the night, before the dust had really settled. No, he had the chance to do damage, and so he took it. Never mind that it was totally arbitrary - had the game happened in Indiana it would have been the Detroit players in those Pacers' shoes. Stern would have been hawkish with the Pistons' too. It seems whenever he has the choice, the man does as much damage as can.

Friday, November 19, 2004

2 Recipies

So today was a big day of cooking for me. I made french onion soup and have a cake in the oven. So, here's my recipies for each:

French Onion Soup:

Chop up 4 onions, fry them in melted butter, until they're well cooked.
Get two cans of beef broth. Put them in a pot. Add 1/8 tsp thyme, 1/8 tsp pepper. And 2 bay leaves. Then, dump in the onions and boil. When boiling, remove the bay leaves. Then, add 4-5 decent sized slices of french bread (make sure you've got quality bread, not the crap I used this last time). Then, sprinkle cheese over the top. I recommend lots of cheese, but at least make sure the entire surface area is coated. Mozzarella and Swiss are the way to go, and it tastes significantly better if you have both. Then, broil in your oven (about 500 degrees seemed to work well) until the cheese starts turning golden brown. Then, serve and enjoy. See, it's real, good, french onion soup, and it's easy to make! Very simple. But not quite as simple as this next recipie:


Cake:
Follow the directions printed on the back of the box.
Frost.
Eat.

Yum.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Existentialism - 50% Off

After 23 and a half years, and one day, and maybe 9 hours or so, give or take (Mom? Wanna help me out on this one?) I have come to the realization that I cannot afford everything I want. Tonight I was really tempted to go see a movie (I was thinking Ray again actually)(Told you it was good). I decided that I couldn't afford it, especially since I want to go see a movie tomorrow. Plus I have no income, a large rent, and a really large tuition. Oh yeah, and this little wedding thing coming up in just over 6 months...

Now, this is nothing new - I've been living on approximately no money for most of my life, and it would periodically occur to me that somehow this wasn't good. And, like many of the times I've come to this realization, it was tied very closely to the realization that lots of the people I know also can't afford everything they want. There seems to be a system-wide problem. So I want to ask, isn't there a better a way to do this?

Couldn't we just somehow make everything free? Hell, I'll even limit it - let's just make non-fungible goods free. We can charge for finite, consumable products. But what about a movie? How often does a theater sell out? Couldn't we just subsidize theaters and have an open admission policy? I realize that there are all sorts of issues about incentivizing Hollywood, and competition creating a better product, but I think we could work around those things. And maybe the same idea could apply to sporting events. And concerts. Ok, I realize that all of this is totally unpractical, but dammit! I want to go to a movie. And I don't want to pay. And some chocolate ice cream might be nice too.

Perhaps in the alternative, do we really need currency? Couldn't we just go to a good ol' fashioned system of barter and trade? Because I'd be happy to spend 20 minutes waxing philosophical in exchange for a dozen eggs and a yolk for my oxen. No, I'm not trying to rip you off, this is a good deal. Fine, ok, 25 minutes. Listen pal, you're not going to find any better philosophizing in this town - if you need it thought about, I'm your man. You'll take half an hour? Throw in an extra 3 eggs and you've got yourself a deal. Pleasure doing buisness with you.
It occured to me that I should post something about my motivations for this blog. You see, I resisted blogging for quite a while. Largely because I hate the word 'blog.' But also because I didn't want to be seen as another too-opinionated law student convinced of his own importance. And because I realize that most people could care less what I had for lunch, and I was afraid it would turn into one of those types of journals. Fortunately it hasn't been that yet (of course this doesn't mean there haven't been entries that were complete schlock (see the "It's time to play the music!" post as an example)).

The reason I started this blog was because I needed an outlet. I needed to be able to write something, to have something outside of law school. So here I can rant about my views. I can put up random musings. I can plug the Muppets. In the future I'll probably put up some short fiction. Or excerpts at least. I'll probably put up some of the writing I've done in the past. If I can figure out a way to get my thesis on-line and just link to it, I'd like to do that. I'll probably put up recipies. And more opinions. And more crazy questions and observations. And while there might be occasional flashes of not-badness, in all likelihood there'll be a lot more schlock. But I'm gonna keep at it, and hopefully some people enjoy it along the way.

Just so you all know...

It's time to play the music!

So I don't understand why The Muppets aren't more popular... Back in the day they had their own show. When they tried to bring it back in the 90's I don't think it lasted more than half a season. When Muppets From Space was released into theaters I don't know if it even cracked the top ten. I remember going to see it, the first weekend it was out, and being one of 6 people in the theater. Gina, Kendrick, and Patric were 3 of the of the others. Which means in an entire theater, on the opening weekend of a movie, there were only 2 people there that I didn't know. This is sad.

The Muppets are terrific entertainment. They sing, they dance, they get terrific cameos from big-name celebrities. And the best part is, they're clean! No cursing, no nudity, no violence (Sure, there's plenty of explosions, and random stuff dropping out of the sky onto newscasters, and monsters eating stuff, but it's all slapstick and doesn't have the effect of real violence). Anyways, the point is, why don't people love The Muppets more than they do? Just think what would have happened to Sesame Street if not for The Muppets... And I should point out that it is thanks to the Muppets (and my family's DVD collection of The Muppet Show) that my little brother Jeph knows who both John Denver and Alice Cooper are. I think from this single example it is overwhelmingly clear that The Muppets are the only thread that ties together American culture. Ok, so that might be a tiny bit of an exaggeration... But still...

Anyways, the reason I bring this up is because I felt like giving their new webpage a plug. Apparently they were purchased by Disney (yes, great conflict for me, but they seem to be largely independent of the corporate evilness, so I'm willing to overlook this fact). Anyways, the good news is that Disney is investing in them. They recently got a new webpage: www.muppets.com. And there's a TV movie in the works and such. So anyways, people should check it out. And when more Muppets stuff comes around, people should be sure to support it. Keep an eye out for all things Muppet. Because, in the words of the wise Animal, "WOMAN! WOMAN!"

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Don't forget to flush!

Everytime I walk into a public restroom I get nervous that I'm accidentally walking into the wrong bathroom. Even when it's a bathroom that I use all the time. Even when there's a gigantic picture of a non-skirted stick-figure standing over the word "Men." It's just one of those irrational fears, and it leads to a great deal of stress and distraction.

So to help ease the distraction I just use a simple (though imperfect) checklist:

Are people looking at me funny as I walk in here? No. Ok, good, less nervous.
Do I see any women? No. Less nervous.
Do I see men? No. More nervous.
Do I see urinals? Yes, there's one! And so I proceed...

Wait, is that a man coming out of the stall? The reflection of the mirror over my urinal shows that no, it's a woman.
Wait a second... mirror over my urinal?

Friday, November 12, 2004

Some Thoughts on Homosexual Marriage, the 14th Amendment, and Contracts. Plus a Dinosaur (not really).

Ok, so I've been discussing gay marriage a lot lately with a lot of people, (most of whom are vehement supporters), and I just want to put out a suggestion which I think makes a lot of sense, and which I'd like to hear some feedback on, if people are willing.

The primary argument for gay marriage is that the 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection of the law, and if there are legal rights and responsibilities attached to marriage then they should be available to anyone who wants them. Basically, homosexuals should have all of the same legal opportunities that heterosexuals have. While this in itself could be debated, I will for now assume it (because I essentially agree with it (particularly when we use the phrase 'legal opportunities', which I feel is much more accurate than 'rights')). When pressed on the specific legal opportunities that attach to marriage most people respond with a relatively short list - tax and insurance benefits, adoption, and visitation (This list could surely be expanded, but it is illustrative for purposes of this little essay, and so we'll leave it nice and concise). Everything on this list is the sort of legal creation which we could easily find a way to present to anyone. In fact, the ease of contracting these rights is exactly why they adhere so cleanly to the institution of marriage - the government says "you're getting married? Ok, sign this contract and you'll get these things." It's simple.

So I say, let's keep it simple. We don't need homosexual marriage in order to ensure that homosexuals can receive the same legal opportunities. All we have to do is allow them to contract for the same rights.

To illustrate, let's look at insurance benefits: This is the perfect example because many employers and insurance companies allow the simple naming of beneficiaries. The typical scenario is that a husband or wife gets insurance through work and it covers the other. The argument is that it is unfair that equally committed homosexuals cannot get the same coverage for their partners. The remedy is simple - a law which grants that insurance companies shall not discriminate in the application of their partner benefits. Of course, insurance companies will be dissatisfied with this, because then any set of individuals could just say they were partners and receive benefits. So you provide a contract solution - allow any individuals to contract to be insurance partners (I'm sure there would have to be a minimum term, and perhaps some other requirements which would provide assurances to the insurances (!) that they weren't being ripped off, but those would be easy enough to figure out). After all, when two people marry, in the government's eyes it is a contract to be partners, and because there is a legal commitment insurance companies recognize partners as such.

We could do this for each of those legal opportunities. I realize that some would be more difficult (tax, with all of its minutiae might be tedious, but certainly it would be doable), but ultimately we could contract out each of the legal opportunities that attach to marriage, and thus homosexuals would not be denied any of them.

I think one important thing about this approach is that it avoids institutionalizing homosexual partnerships. I am convinced that the danger of homosexual marriage is the damage it would do to the institution of marriage (I liken it to no-fault divorce). Notice though, that by contracting out these legal opportunities (and the obligations which would attach) individually we are not creating either a marriage or a civil union.

I'd like to address what I see as some potential criticisms. Some might say this is ridiculous, this means homosexuals will have to jump through extra hoops which is discrimination in itself, or that it is simply absurd to make them contract for each right individually when the normal course will be to want all of them. The response for both of these objections is essentially the same: the path of least resistance. I am confident that, like with most things, after only a short time the process would become extremely simple and painless - there will be no extra hoops, simply a form, no more demanding than a marriage license. Moreover, there could also be a simple form which put all of those legal opportunities and obligations together in a single package. I'm not suggesting that they cannot contract all of the rights at once, simply that there should be no institution; most contracts contain more than one provision, and so would this one.
I would expect that another common objection would be that this is all simply a legal fiction, and that these contracts are really no different from simply granting homosexual marriage, or at very least civil unions. I think the response to this is fairly simple - we simply do not perceive contracts as institutions. I do not have an institution with my operating software. Perhaps it would be observed that contracts sometimes create and delineate relationships. The response, of course, is that these are not relationships in the same sense that a marriage or civil union is a relationship. I doubt anyone feels the same way about their partner as they do about their apartment manager. Quite simply, if the government recognizes the contracts but does not accept homosexual marriage as an institution then there is a very real distinction.

The final argument that I perceive is that this distinction is still objectionable. That if heterosexual people can be married, then why can't homosexuals? If this is the objection, however, it is clear that we have passed beyond the 14th Amendment, for if every legal right has been extended equally then there isn't a Constitutional argument. Instead this is a cultural/moral argument, which says quite clearly that "homosexual marriage is acceptable." To those who would carry this banner, I point to a common argument now used in favor of homosexual marriage - who are you to push your beliefs on others? (I would probably also point to several other arguments against homosexual marriage, which I am specifically avoiding in this article because I want to keep the focus on the contract idea). The point here is simply that beyond the 14th Amendment arguments there is nothing more than a culture clash, and one way or another, we are legislating morality.

I believe that there are probably many out there who would move into this last argument that I described, and that these folks will simply be closed to my proposal. Those who honestly pursue the 14th Amendment argument for its own sake will be more open; I imagine that ultimately most of these would reject my idea for some reason or another, but hopefully it will at least get a fair hearing. I would also imagine that those who agree that homosexual marriage should not be permitted will be split into a couple of camps. There will be those who think homosexuals should have no rights, and will reject this as too liberal and expansive. There will probably also be those who think the system is fine as it is - why fix it when it isn't broken after all? And who knows, perhaps this will find a small foothold in some people - both those opposed to homosexual marriage and those in favor of it. It seems to me the best of both worlds - the institution of marriage is saved from further damage and homosexuals receive all of the same legal opportunities available to everyone else.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Barkeep, I'll have another PB&J.

Do you think grape jelly could ferment? Say you filled a giant wooden barrel with grape jelly, and put it in some basement in France...

One small (literally) step.

Why did it take me so long to realize the most important fact to come out of the election? For once the shorter candidate won! If we stretch just a little further we might yet reach that glass ceiling! Or we could just grab a stool...

Monday, November 08, 2004

Two Directions, One Education Experience

Ok, so this kid (http://newyork.craigslist.org/mnh/etc/47866066.html) is taking it in the opposite direction, but I like his creative problem solving. See, I too struggle with getting my homework done (it's just soooooo boring). My thought was that I would "hire" my fellow classmates to actually do my homework for me. They could do the reading, type up nice little summaries, and maybe even take the test for me. I wouldn't pay them, but since we're all looking for jobs, I figured they could use me as a reference, and put this as a line on their résumé: Research Assistant for Copyright, Evidence, and Environmental Law, plus whatever classes Matt has during spring semester.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Post-Election Musings

Ok, so a few days ago we all voted, and the results came in, and we're stuck with Bush for another 4 years. Apparently America preferred the evil we knew to the evil we didn't. And by that, yes, I mean that Kerry was in no way a desirable choice on his own. He looked ok when compared to Bush, but then again, I look tall standing next to a midget. Anyways, it was an issue of perspective - if you looked out of your right eye Bush looked slightly better, and if you looked out of your left eye, Kerry looked slightly better. And most people seem to look out of only one eye, so we had a severe divide, and most people are now either ecstatic or upset. I, personally, am neither. But I don't really care to talk about what happened (for a terrific review of the "collapse of the democrats" check out my friend Zhubin's blog: http://zhubinness.blogspot.com/ ). No, instead I want to talk about new direction.

As many commentators have suggested, the Democratic party seems to be wandering around, without a clear direction, devoid of any moral position, simply trying to win on the basis that they aren't Republicans. I don't know that these commentators are completely accurate, because I am convinced that there are plenty of democrats out there who have a focus, who understand and identify with religious and rural voters. These are people who care about the working class, who want to see farmers get subsidies and homeless get homes. They want factory workers to get better insurance and inmates to get educations. They want schools to have computers and minorities to have civil liberties. These, my friends, are the members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

Now I realize that I've got a Minnesota-centric view of the world, and that your typical liberal doesn't really understand that America isn't just the coasts. But all the same, I think the DFL is where it's at, and I'd like to suggest it as the saving grace of the Democratic party.

After all, it's been strong enough to keep Minnesota voting Democrat longer than any other state in the nation. Minnesota has always had one of the better education systems in the nation. Some of the best labor and farm policies. And some of the best social programs, such as healthcare and welfare. All because of the DFL. Because these three things are the focus of the DFL and should be the focus of every Democrat. Education, Labor, and Social Programs. This is the heart of the party. Any other focus - abortion rights, anti-war, broader economic policy, etc. - needs to take a back seat.

I realize that with certain issues, for example abortion, this might be hard. It's a divisive issue which people tend to focus on because the positions are so crystallized. So what to do? Soften. Democrats need to be willing to avoid a hard-line on abortion. Accept pro-life members. I for one often feel rejected by other Democrats because I am pro-life. I often feel ostracized for being opposed to gay marriage (civil unions another story? I don't know yet, I haven't decided, and probably won't for a while. Don't rush me.). This is a huge problem with the party. Anyone who does the least bit of moralizing is either tossed out or pressured to run for cover. So I say soften. Sure, we all know the Republicans are pro-life. Why does that mean Democrats must be pro-choice?

Which brings me to another point about the contrast in parties - it seems lately the Republicans have stolen a lot of the Democrats' fire. Democrats were always the education/healthcare people. In the last 4 years, however, the Republicans pushed through major education and healthcare bills. And though neither is even close to satisfactory, the Republicans have something to point to, and the Democrats lose their strongest point of contrast. So the party needs to get back to those roots, regain a point of strength, and build from there. The DFL is the perfect place to start. Most Americans have children, work hard at their jobs, pay too much to see their doctor, and are sympathetic to the plight of the poor. Education, Labor, and Social Programs are the things that will have an effect in their daily lives.

So I say crystallize. Focus on Education, Labor, and Social Programs. Make these the big three. Soften on everything else.

The gun-totin' pro-lifer who wants his kids to get a good education will now have a home.
The poor farmer with a conscience will now know feel free to vote in his best interest because his candidate just might think gay marriage is a sin too.

There are many more out there like myself - just waiting for the Democratic party to invite us back in. Until they do, we'll be casting longing glances at their candidates and votes for Republicans.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Movie Review: The Incredibles

Last night I saw The Incredibles. The name reveals the review. The movie, like most Pixar movies, was highly enjoyable. Lighthearted and funny, it features a family of superheroes with well-worn super-powers, that face a villain with a typically protracted scheme for revenge and power. Though the characters and their powers are tried and true, the movie is fresh. In fact the familiar powers and hero-types provide a unique level of comfort with the characters. The audience feels like they know each character and have personally followed their vigilante careers, all without much of the movie expended on character development. For a film to start with such largely pre-developed characters is a significant enabler, allowing the movie to focus on other, more engaging developments.

The Incredibles provides a new look a the people behind the masks, asking how super-heroes raise a family. Marital strife and sibling rivalry are rarely associated with comic-book fantasy, yet The Incredibles ties them in seamlessly. Super-heroes selling health insurance. Crime-fighters cooking french fries. Most super-hero movies are about the crime-fighter first, and the secret identity second. Peter Parker is first Spiderman, and then a student. The Incredibles turns that formula on its head - first they are a family, and second they are vigilantes. As the son, Dash observes, "Mom and Dad could die, or even worse, get a divorce!"

While there are some recognizable voices (Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee), most of the characters are able to be themselves, since the audience does not recognize them. This too, frees up the film, and allows it to be itself. The computer animation is appropriate for the film, and during certain scenes I was impressed at its realism. Whenever Mr. Incredible escaped to his study I marveled at how real the desk looked. For most of the film, however, realism is not a priority. It just happens, however, that drawing works well for telling the type of story you'd find in a comic book. The Incredibles puts together a terrific story, fun, familiar characters, and marvelous animated action sequences, to form a highly entertaining movie. And its appropriate for all audiences!

I give it an A.