Thursday, August 31, 2006

It's Pronounced Fwah Grah

A while back I found out that the city of Chicago, at the urging of animal-rights activists, has decided to ban foie gras. That's right, you can no longer order foie gras (apparently it's an expensive yummy dish made from duck livers) in Chicago resteraunts. The reason for the ban is because, in order to make the duck livers larger, the ducks are caged during the last couple weeks of their life, and force fed through a tube stuck down their throats. Not the must humane way to treat an animal, that's for sure.

So, in protest of this treatment, Chicago has told people they cannot eat foie gras.

I can't say I'm a fan of this law. There's something about it that just really bothers me. I've been thinking about it for a while, and I think I finally know what troubles me so much.

It isn't the subject matter. Which might sound strange, in light of the fact that this law seems absolutely crazy. I mean, it's a law designed to tell people that they can't eat a food, not because it's unhealthy, but because someone else feels bad for the animal it was made from. After all, what if the animal-rights groups were more influential? Would all meat be taboo? What if the vegans had all the power? Or what if there were a really strong raw-food lobby? (Yes, raw food. I had a professor who only ate uncooked foods.)

But it's not the subject matter that gets to me. I've always said the role of government is to make good citizens, and surely moral issues are proper subject matter. So even though this law seems crazy, I'm not going to be a hypocrite and say governments should never make this kind of law. The fact is, this is a law designed to serve a moral purpose, to make sure Chicagoan's aren't complicit in the cruel treatment of animals. And that's not such a bad goal. Especially when it's reduced down: ultimately, this is designed to protect animals from excessively cruel treatment, a perfectly legitimate purpose of legislation.

But I think there's still a problem or two with this law. First, it's too arbitrary. Just foie gras? Why not veal? Why not all meat? Why not all things from animals? Whether or not there was a reason only foie gras was banned, I don't know. It doesn't matter. Because ultimately this law appears arbitrary. It looks like animal-rights lobbyists got behind a single cause - banning foie gras - and pushed with all their might. And if that's how laws are being made, especially moral laws, then we've got a problem. You can't make ad hoc moral determinations based on the issue du jour. If we're focused on making good citizens we can't be swayed by "causes" - because then we'll only give attention to the loudest groups, we'll miss important issues, and too often be led astray. Is it immoral to eat meat? Some would say yes. If they say it loud enough, we could have a real problem. And it really looks like that's what happened here - it looks like Chicago lawmakers were giving the squeaky wheel the grease, not really caring about what makes their citizens good people.

And that's the second problem. This law isn't really designed to make citizens good people. This is just about hurting the foie gras industry. There's a ton of better ways to make sure people aren't complicit in cruelty to animals. A wide-spread educational campaign alerting people to the inhumane treatment of the ducks would probably work wonders in reducing the number of Chicagoans who eat foie gras. A law saying that resteraunts can only cook foie gras with animals that weren't force-fed would probably be even better. Then, people can still eat the food they want, but won't have the cruelty-to-animals bit attached. Heck, I don't even know if they banned the forced-feeding of ducks. For all I read, I didn't see anything about that. Odds are good, you can probably still be cruel to ducks in the city, you just can't eat the food made from them. So clearly, there are better ways to achieve this same goal.

The point is, this law wasn't really about the moral subject matter. There was the pretense of a noble goal: to make Chicagoans better people.

And then there was the reality: legislators cared more about appeasing a loud lobby group than they did about doing what was best for their citizens.

Destruction leads to a very rough road
But it also breeds creation

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Possibly The Greatest Fishing Story Ever

Several years back, when Laura and I were dating, I would periodically send her letters, full of sweet romantic nothings and various tales of my exploits. This following story is taken, almost word-for-word, from one of those letters, which Laura graciously agreed to let me re-publish here on Philosofickle. Don't worry, it's just a tale of my misadventures, and not one of those romantic dalliances that filled the pages. I am also including, for your edification, photos of the illustrations which accompanied the letter (apologies for the low-quality of the pictures)(blogger is having some issues; you'll be able to open the full-sized images once it's fixed). Here for you now, is Possibly The Greatest Fishing Story Ever:

I was on the bridge out to Watab Island, fishing away. I was standing about 4/5ths of the way out to the island (Figure 1).

Figure 1

I was using a new spinner-hook-thingy, and having absolutely no success. I wasn't catching a thing. This futility went on for half an hour or so (Figure 2).

Figure 2

During this whole time (Figure 2), a little squirrel was playing on the bridge. The squirrel kept coming really close to me, looking at me, turning around, etc. Sort-of playing with me. It was cute. And fun.

Well, finally, I got fed up of not catching anything. So I quit using my spinner, went up onto the island, dug around in the ground with a stick, and found a worm. I put that on my hook, cast my line out into the water and BAM! - my whole line came flying off the spool, and got into a huge tangle (Figure 3).

Figure 3

So there I am, working out this huge tangle, with my line hanging in the water, when suddenly I got a bite! This being the first bite I'd had in about 5 years I just decided to go with it, and pulled the line up, hand over hand. There was a little sunny on the end of the line. I released it and said to myself, "to heck with this tangle, I'm fishing!" So then I just picked up my hook and bobber, and threw them into the water. And I got another bite right away! Hand over hand, I pulled in a little perch. I released it too. In the process though, my line had gotten even more tangled, so in order to get enough line to throw it into the water, I had to take the spool off the reel, and pull more line off of it. After doing this, I set the spool next to my pole, on the wooden bridge, and proceeded to fish.

After a minute or so, I heard a huge commotion coming down the bridge. I turned and saw the squirrel, plus a second squirrel, charging at me! It was horrifying! Fangs barred, claws at the ready, they came at me at full speed. They were evil squirrels (Figure 4). And they scared the crap out of me.

Figure 4

Well, they finally stopped charging, coming to a halt about a foot away from me. Then, after taking a few quick glances around, one of the squirrels moved over towards my spool, which was sitting on the bridge, and proceeded to push the spool a couple of inches, into a large knot-hole in the bridge.

Splunk! Into the water the spool went, the line rolling completely off as the spool sank to the bottom. The stupid squirrels sabotaged my fishing trip! Now I have to buy a new pole. It was so weird. So surreal.

Well that water's right and the weather's perfect
There's no telling what I might catch today

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Eat His Shorts

This past Sunday at Mass the Gospel was taken from one of my favorites, and I just want to take a second here to talk about it.

The actual reading was a truncated version of the Bread of Life discourse, from John 6. The relevant verses - and my favorite - are John 6:48 - 58.

Real quickly, here's how they are in my Bible:

"I am the bread of life. You ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
"The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have live within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."

What I really love about these verses is how absolutely intense and in-your-face they are. The next lines are about how all but the 12 Apostles leave him after this teaching, because it's just so hard to accept. And the verses even have people quarreling and questioning this teaching. The Jews are basically saying "he doesn't really mean to say that people have to eat him, right? It must be a metaphor or something, right?"

To which Jesus says, "No, I'm telling you: you've got to actually physically eat my body and drink my blood."

And let's face it - that's graphic. And hard. Very very difficult to accept. But at the same time, so very awesome. To think that Christ's sacrifice is actually consumable - that by eating Christ in the sacrifice of the Mass, we can share in eternal life? Wow. That's just so awesome.

Anyways, I just wanted to throw this out there. Because this idea - these verses - for me, they're at the heart of my Christianity. They're the reason I'm Catholic, and not some other denomination. Because Catholics really believe that Communion is Christ's flesh and blood. Catholics actually embrace that crazy belief that we've gotta eat and drink Jesus. And I love that.

Sure, maybe people would disagree. There are a lot of people out there who interpret away the plain meaning of those verses quoted above.

But the fact remains: if you accept that Jesus is Lord, at very least the Bread of Life discourse has to give you pause. You can't look at that teaching, and just pass over it. Those are the words of Christ, saying "if you want eternal life, you've got to eat me." And that's about as in-your-face as it can get.

Taste and see

Friday, August 11, 2006

Phickle Thoughts

So I haven't been blogging much lately. This is largely because most of the thinks I've thought to blog about over the last couple months have been very serious in nature, and I just haven't felt like engaging in a protracted (or even a brief) serious discussion. I guess the last couple months really sucked a lot of energy out of me, and I'm just starting to get it back now. Anyways, the next month or so might still be a little sparse, but after that you'll probably see them with more frequency.

For those who weren't aware of it, there's a new Rocky movie coming out: Rocky Balboa (click for the trailer). This one actually looks good. And, in my mind, looks an awful lot like the first one. I've never seen any besides the original, so I haven't been tainted by the needless sequels. Also, that's really helped preserve the integrity of the first one in my mind. I simply love Rocky. It really is one of the greatest American movies of all time. Hopefully this sequel comes through for us too.

For you baseball fans out there - and particularly you Twins fans - here's an amusing anecdote:

I was talking with my little brother (third grader) today, about the Twins. I asked him who his favorite player was. His response - and this is indicative of the power of hometown heroes - was: "you mean besides Joe Mauer?"

I loved it. Joe Mauer is simply the most natural ball player I've ever seen. But to top it all off, he's humble, he's gracious, he's got time for the fans, and he really knows and respects the game, the team, and the community. Playing in front of his hometown crowd, the kid is basically a slice out of Pleasantville-esque story. I don't know too many people in Minnesota who wouldn't name Joe Mauer as their favorite player. And he's only going to get bigger. That's pretty cool.

Finally, in response to that last post, I've started by doing some research. I'm really excited for the book I'm going to start on, and I think it's got a ton of potential. The research itself has been fascinating, and is opening up even more doors. I love it. (For those a little curious about the book, here's a clue, ripped right from my research).

Electrically they keep a baseball score

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Novel Idea

How does one go about writing a novel?

Because now that I'm done with school and the bar, that's really what I want to do.

Yes, I'm looking for a real job, as an attorney (or something related), and I'd love to have gainful employment. (Having job = paycheck (good) but less time to write (bad, but not so bad). Having no job = more time to write (good) but no paycheck (horrifying!)). But whether I have a real job or not, I want to start writing.

And I know what I want to write. I want to write novels. And not just any novels. No, my goal in life is to write one of the five greatest novels of all time (and this has been my goal since like, high school, so it's not just a phase like that model rocket thing I went through).

The really exciting part is that I've actually got two amazing ideas (for two separate novels), that are just brimming with potential; I've got the right ideas to make these some of the greatest literature ever. It's just a matter of actually executing on that potential. Which of course is like saying that all that stands between me and my goal of a 4-minute-mile is the actual running.

So there's a heck of a lot of work to be done. And that's why I ask my question:

How does one go about writing a novel?

And I need a job
So I want to be a paperback writer

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Four Men Walked Into a Bar...

... 3 passed. Or just under 3. 74%. That's roughly the passage rate on the Virginia Bar. Or at least, that's roughly the rumored passage rate which was floating around the Salem Civic Center last week during the two days of testing. No one really seemed to know for sure. I heard as high as 80% and as low as 6%. But I think the kid passing around the 6% rate might have been a little over-nervous. Anyways, I took the test. I may or may not have passed, but either way, here's the whole story:

Noon-thirty on Monday, I took off in my rental vehicle. Box-on-wheels might be more accurate. In addition to actually looking like a large blue box, the Chevy Aveo handles exactly like you'd expect of corrugated material. (I used to work at a box factory, so, for the uneducated, corrugated material is the stuff you'd normally think of as cardboard, and "cardboard" itself actually refers to a broader category of stiff-paper materials... How about that? Apparently my personal usage still reflects the industry lexicon.)(Sweet monkey-on-a-cone, I actually put my box-factory experience to use!).

Now, I've been living in and around D.C. for 3 years, and I haven't really gotten out of the city too much. Apparently, I'm not alone in that regard, because it seems like culture hasn't ventured out too far either; As soon as you set foot outside of the urban area surrounding D.C., you've entered a strange little world they call "the deep south." 45 minutes out of the city, and I was on fertile mullet-breeding ground. To make matters worse, once I got out of the urban center I couldn't tune in a decent radio station. That may have had something to do with the toilet-paper-tube antenna, but either way, the rest of my 4 hour drive was spent flipping between "the sounds of wild (WYLD) country!" and fundamentalist preachers discussing the book of Revelation. On the plus side, if you were real quick on the dial, you could make it sound like the beast done drove his rig into the lake of fire.

So I finally get to Salem, check into my hotel room, get some food, and resume my stressing out. It had been two months of torture, and it wasn't about to let up the night before the test. Like so many before me, I'm going to swipe Zhubin's apt description of the lead-up to the bar:

It's a mind-numbing process, with a boredom that is uniquely fatiguing. On top of it all is the low-grade but ever-present stress that permeates every waking moment you're not studying. Sure, go to a wedding, but what happens if you're tested on powers of appointment? Watch Simpsons if you have to, but aren't you kinda shaky on intentional infliction of emotional distress? The odds of failing are so low, but the consequences of failing are so high, it's like you're playing Russian Roulette with a thousand-chamber revolver, and that's not a situation that keeps you mentally comfortable with a 9-5 study schedule.

The one thing Zhubin forgot to mention is that, the week before the test, that ugly-but-familiar rug of low-grade stress is suddenly pulled out from under you, and replaced with an unforgiving-pit-of-angry-venomous-crocodiles-and-jagged-rusty-spears-and-why-the-hell-not?-fire-too-plus-deadly-spiders-and-a-hungry-lion of ultra-high-grade stress. At least, that's how it felt for me. A couple nights before the test I was physically sick, just from the stress. So yeah, it was bad.

Dealing with that stress, plus the knowledge that I wasn't really prepared for a question on the minutiae of Virginia's specific causes of action dealing with the title and right-to-possession of real property, I put myself to bed.

The next morning, I actually woke up in plenty of time to make it to the test. This was the first good sign of the week. It was to be the last. The good sign was quickly followed by a bad sign: 12 and under girls softball.

Apparently some genius decided it would be a terrific idea to mix together 2000 stressed out bar examinees and several hundred tween girls strung out on Fanta. Let me tell you a few of the things I learned about girls' softball last week. First, each girl's family owns an SUV, and carpooling is strictly prohibited. Second, every girls softball team is named after some sort of weather phenomena. I saw The Storm, The Hurricanes, The Tornadoes, The Lightning, and The Blizzard. There were no Wildcats, no Tigers, no Eagles. The only team name I saw that wasn't an actual weather-phenomena was "The Flames." I think they were just confused. Third, if their game is at 9 a.m., they have to get up by 6, and run back and forth through the halls of your hotel, until they've decided exactly which room they'll be doing their face-painting in. Finally, not only do these girls paint their faces, they paint their SUV's. It's quite the treat to see so many SUV's - that most manly of vehicles - trussed up with ribbons and girly pink paint proclaiming that "The (insert weather-phenomena here) are the HOTTEST!" To top it all off, while the girls paint their faces, their parents prepare for the long day of cheering by emptying the very noisy ice-machine, one bucket at a time, into their coolers. Then, as I found at lunch later that day, they refill their coolers by emptying the ice-machine at McDonald's, one large-coke-sized-cup at a time, always perpetually oblivious to the line of test-takers behind them, who just want to put a little ice in their cup, but nooooo, the ice is all gone because The Low Pressure Front have such a wonderfully thoughtful team mom. Jerks.

So anyways, yes, the national girls 12-and-under softball tourney was being held in exactly the same city, at exactly the same time, at exactly the same complex, as the Virginia bar exam. Which meant that my drive to the test was permeated by slow-driving SUV's, each populated with at least, but no more than, one 12-or-under girl, her family, and a cooler full of ice. It was a miracle I got to the test site on time. Like I said, not a good sign.

Also not a good sign was the sign on the Civic Center itself. The "v" had apparently fallen off some time ago, and so that morning I entered the "Salem Ci ic Center" to take my test. Wee.

The quality of the signage, it turns out, actually spoke volumes about the quality of the facilities we were using. I could call the place a crap hole, but that'd be too generous. The floors were sticky. The bathrooms smelled bad. The advertisements on the wall announced a gigantic New Year's Eve bash - to celebrate the millennium. The few working drinking fountains were stained brown with a creepy fungus, and clogged with cigarette butts. The asbestos leaked. There was dust everywhere. And the bathrooms actually had signs on the doors proclaiming "No alcoholic beverages in the restrooms." Oh, plus the power went out half way through our first testing session.

Yeah, the power went out. Mind you, I - and the other thousand people at that location - was taking this half of the test on my laptop. Power outage + nervous laptop users = people freaking out. Fortunately, the power came back on right away, and it turned out ok, but there were more than a few shrieks when the blackout first hit.

After that, the whole experience was really pretty uneventful. At our first break, I studied some more. Unfortunately, I still went into the second half of the test utterly unprepared for the minutiae of Virginia's specific causes of action dealing with the title and right-to-possession of real property. Because sure enough, the very last question of the first day was on exactly that topic. I may have b.s.ed my way to a few points on the question, but mostly I'm counting on the ineptitude of my fellow test-takers. After all, this thing is curved.

Day two was more of the same. Only this time we took the Multistate Bar Examination - the MBE. The MBE is the universal test, given to applicants in every single state across the nation, on the same day. It's composed of 200 multiple-choice questions, each of which is written with the specific goal of covering a topic that was not addressed in your bar preparation course. I think the bar examiners succeeded in that goal, but I can't say for sure; by about half-way through the second day, all of my preparation had melted into a single hodgepodge of mnemonic devices, and I was flying on the fumes of what I had learned. Maybe taking that two-month, $2500 course helped me. Maybe it didn't. I really can't say. But hey, if I can't say, then at least I can't have buyer's remorse, right?

Ok, one final bit:

On the second day of the test, a lot of people were still looking pretty nervous. We'd had a rough first day, and the second one wasn't shaping up any better. So, in an effort to calm our nerves, one of the bar examiners got up before the group, and made an announcement. "Just remember," he said, "70-some percent of people are going to pass. You don't need to ace this, you just need to get the equivalent of a D. If you can do that, then you're good enough to join the bar. All we're looking for is minimally competent."

I love this bar