Friday, August 29, 2008

Phickle Thoughts

I love when my day at work has a direct, concrete result. So frequently I spend my day making phone calls, trying to work out deals, or doing research for my cases. But sometimes, like today, I actually have a hearing, and get an actual result, and I love it.
-------------------------------
We get to go to the Minnesota State Fair! Yay! It's been about 5 years since I've been to the state fair, and my consumption of foods on a stick has severely suffered. I plan on remedying this tragedy.
-------------------------------
The other night I watched Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie for the first time in a long time. We netflixed it, kind of on a lark. It had been a loooong time since I'd seen it. I had forgotten how absolutely hilarious that movie (and the show too) was. If you've never seen it, or if it's been a long time, I seriously recommend watching it as soon as you're able. Plus it's nice and short, which frequently helps with comedy. Brevity is the soul of wit, and all that.
-------------------------------
I love the frequency with which the internet has created new verbs. Like "netflixed" or "facebooked".
-------------------------------
On Tuesday Mrs. Fickle and I visited some friends who live in Old Town Alexandria. We all went out to a Southern-style restaurant for dinner. I ordered that night's special (as I often do): stuffed ribs.

Yeah. Stuffed ribs. I... I... There are no words to describe the absolute brilliance of the dish. It was wow.
-------------------------------
This'll be my last post for August. It puts me at 14 for the month. That is the most since March of 2006. I've been trying to post more frequently, and the efforts seem to be paying off. Now if only I could get more readers...

You said I don't know darlin' but I'm here with you
And we're coming to the chorus now!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Yeah... An Abortion Post

I don't want to get all political here, or even especially controversial (though it's hard to avoid that with this topic), but I've been thinking about abortion a bit lately, and so I figured I'd post my thoughts.

Primarily I've been ruminating on two pro-choice arguments. First, that a woman should have the right to choose what she does with her body. This is, of course, the central position of the pro-choice side, and while I remain unconvinced, lately I've been having trouble even seeing how an abortion-rights supporter could whole-heartedly embrace this argument (and that's not meant to be an insult; it's just my honest thought-process).

I've had two major strands of thought about this idea: First, we routinely regulate what a person can do with their bodies. And even when we don't regulate we routinely have well-developed opinions about how other people should act. It almost seems to be human nature that we care what other people do with their bodies. I certainly understand the argument from autonomy, but I'm wondering if the philosophical underpinnings there wouldn't unravel with some pressure.

Secondly, with regard to the "woman's body" argument, is a question of just how far that goes. There seems to be a general societal disdain for pregnant women who drink/smoke/eat deli meat, because it can be so damaging to her child. Yet, if people really embrace the "woman's body" argument, then don't they have to be completely hands off with regard to pregnancy behaviors too?

The second general position I've been thinking about is the more laissez-faire abortion approach. I've never understood how someone can say "the woman has to make the decision, so no one else should have an opinion" or the related, gender specific, "I'm a man, so since I will never have to make this decision my opinion doesn't really count and I'll just stay out of it." Why is experience (or potential experience) a prerequisite to a position? Sure, we can qualify those with experience as experts, but only in-so-far as experience is an important element. Surely with a question like abortion other things are going to be relevant, like philosophical, medical, or moral insight. Shouldn't people with views based on those qualifications be entitled - and even encouraged - to share their insights into the problem?

I guess what I'm saying here is that I can respect the pro-life position, and I can respect the pro-choice position, but I have a lot of trouble with the laissez-faire position.

For anyone who reads Zhubin's blog, yes, this was largely prompted by the discussion in the comments section of his latest post.

The summit doesn't differ from the deep, dark valley,
And the valley doesn't differ from the kitchen sink.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

I'm a little sad that the Olympics have come to an end. They were a ton of fun to watch, with plenty of powerful, emotional stories. The amputee swimming in the open water competition was absolutely my favorite. So very impressive.

Of course, I also loved all of the American athletes. The Olympics are always a wonderful time to celebrate the glory that is America. Perhaps more during these Olympics than ever, particularly in contrast to the China. They did an amazing job hosting, presented a flawlessly executed opening ceremony, amazing venues, and even won the most gold medals. But at the same time... it was all just a little too authoritarian.

There were a wide array of stories that illustrated this; from the good singer being pushed out of the light because she wasn't cute enough, to faked fireworks, to underage gymnasts, to denying every single protest application submitted. There's something really disturbing about that; the ends just don't seem to justify the means.

I've been reading a little bit about China's new Olympic dominance, and this might bother me more than anything else. Instead of encouraging wide-participation, they're aiming to cultivate only the elite. As I'm sure most people are aware, this involves taking young children and entering them into athletic academies. The sacrifice is tremendous. For example, the Chinese gymnast who placed third in the all-around told reporters after winning a bronze in the all-around that she hadn’t been home in more than a year, didn’t know when she last saw her parents, and didn’t know if they were watching the Olympics.

That's just sad. Contrast that with Shawn Johnson, the "normal" girl from Des Moines, who goes to her normal high school and trains just 2 hours a day. Or with Debbie Phelps, who we saw constantly throughout the swimming competition. U.S. Olympians probably aren't the perfect example of the balance I'm trying to suggest is important, but at least they're closer to the ideal.

Anyway, I guess the summary here is that I've got a whole lot of nationalistic pride right now. Between the Olympics, the sense of philosophical superiority (to China at least), and all of those manipulative commercials, I'm ready to go pop open a Bud, and drive to McDonalds in my new GM.

U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

God shed his grace on thee

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Biden Time

Get it? Because it's like "Biding time..." Nevermind.

So the reports are that Biden is Obama's pick for Vice President. I'm pretty pleased, especially considering that Biden was the guy I wanted the Democrats to run for President. I think he's one of the smartest people involved in national politics today, and I think he will certainly challenge Obama at times.

I certainly don't always agree with Biden, but I think he's got his finger on the pulse of the blue collar American in a way that Obama does not, and in that way he contributes a lot to the ticket. He's also been one of the most consistent and sensible voices with regard to Iraq and has proposed specific plans for our involvement overseas in a way that Obama has not (and probably can not). That's huge.

I have to admit though, I was kind of hoping for Tim Kaine. I've seen his policies first hand here in Virginia. Legal Services encourages us to be active in helping push through certain bills, and so I've tracked several. Watching what Kaine says and does, I became very comfortable with the man as a political leader. He's certainly trying to keep an eye out for the poor, which can be exceedingly difficult in Virginia. It also didn't hurt that Kaine is a little more pro-life than most Democrats (though he doesn't support overturning Roe). I'm hopeful that Kaine will stay on the national radar, and run against McCain in 4 years. Because while Biden helps, I don't think he necessarily makes a winning ticket.

Of course, I might change my mind on that. I can be a little fickle about these things...

I'll follow you down, but not that far

Monday, August 18, 2008

Score!

I've been considering going back to school (again) to get a Ph.D. To further pursue this thought I've been looking at the requirements for getting into grad schools. One of the biggies is the GRE. Three years ago I took the GRE, and I decided to find out what my scores were, and if they were still valid, and if they would be an asset or liability in getting into grad school.

The problem was, I didn't have any information from when I took the test. The scores have disappeared, there are no confirmation numbers or registration items, and I didn't even remember exactly when I took it (sometime during my second year of law school, but that's all I knew). So I called the folks at the GRE to find out how I would go about finding out my scores.

They started by checking to see if I was in the system. I had to give them my name and confirm my address. I didn't remember my address. I took the test more than three years ago, and the address they had was someplace I lived for 9 months. I remembered the street and zip, and the guy helping me out said that was plenty. He then told me that I took the test in February of '05, and that if I wanted to get my scores I could call a different section of the GRE corporate offices and pay $12 to get them over the phone or $20 to have them mailed.

Or I could take three guesses, and if I got the scores right, he was able to confirm them. This is apparently corporate policy for the GRE. It wasn't particularly helpful, however, because I didn't even remember what sections were on the exam, how many different sections you were scored on, or what the relevant range was for each score. I asked.

"There are three sections," he said, "Verbal, quantitative, and writing. Verbal and quantitative are scored between 200 and 800, and writing is scored from 1 to 6."

Those were some helpful ground rules. Instead of having an infinite range of possibilities, I now had 3 chances to guess my exact number out of 600. This was going to be much easier.

When I took the test initially, I signed up something like 8 days before the test was administered. I just took it quickly because it was a formal requirement to a program I was all but guaranteed to be accepted to (joint degree during law school)(Naturally, I was not accepted.). I didn't really study for the GRE, since I didn't have time, and I didn't give it much thought. I remembered that I had done ok; better on one section then the other, but both were scores high enough to be accepted to the program I had applied to at the time (that I didn't get. Hmph.).

And so I started guessing. I started with verbal, figuring I had done pretty well (or better than I would have on quantitative. I was wrong about that too.), and guessed in the mid-700's.

"Nope."

"Ok...", I hesitated. "Um, higher or lower?"

"I'm not really supposlower," he answered.

I guessed lower. I was still too high. I had one guess left, and I had only narrowed the range by about 100 points. A one in 500 shot. No way I could guess this, right? Right. My third guess also missed. I was out of guesses, and no better off. Until the guy on the other line threw out a helpful, "But you're really close. You're right above that one."

Nice. I had a good feel for my verbal score. I repeated the process with my quantitative, this time starting my guesses lower, around 650.

"Nope, higher."
"700?"
"Higher"
"740?"
"No, but right below it".

Once again, a good feel for my range. And now I was to the easy part: I had a 3 in 6 shot (well, 3 in 12, since they give half scores too). Way better odds. I started with a 4.5.

"Higher."
"5?"
"Higher."
"5.5?"
"Higher"
"6?"
"That's four guesses. But yeah, you scored a perfect on your writing. Good job man."

So there I had it. I knew (roughly) my GRE scores. I also learned that all scores are cumulative for the GRE, so even if I took it again and scored perfects, my scores wouldn't improve a tremendous amount; certainly not enough to make it worth taking again. I think. I might say differently if I don't get accepted into any programs. Either way, I'm keeping my $12. No paying for my scores here!

And I guess that's the moral of this story. The GRE is an aptitude test. And it has revealed that I have a tremendous aptitude for bilking the GRE out of money.

I don't think I can handle this
A cloudy day in Metropolis

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Good Eats

This past week (and still this coming weekend) are Restaurant Week here in D.C. That's when all of the fancy, expensive restaurants offer a 3-course menu for $35. It's still a lot of money, but it's totally worth it. This time around we went to The Oval Room, a classic and renowned D.C. restaurant just across from the White House. If you go to the website and click on "Menu" you can then choose to view the Restaurant Week menu.

Taking my usual "It's Restaurant Week, I'll try something new" approach, I started with the corn custard. It was a little bland, and not quite as smooth as you'd hope a custard to be, but overall it was a fun experience. Even better is that the smoked peaches had been reduced into a terrific sauce, and the jalapenos and thyme had been turned into delectable powders. This was some high-falutin' stuff. A very fun experience. Mrs. Phickle (I've decided against using her actual name on this blog any more, just another modicum of privacy)(though we'll see how she votes on this issue...) had poached shrimp that were just about better than anything I've ever eaten.

For the main course I tried skate for the first time, and was quite impressed with the quality of the fish. It was a little bit oily, and I'm wondering if that was the preparation or the meat itself. Either way, it was served beautifully, and was absolutely delicious. But once again, my wife ended up with the better dish. She opted for a goat cheese ravioli with roasted figs. If the shrimp were better than anything I'd ever eaten, then this ravioli was better than anything anyone I know has ever eaten. So soft, so savory, so many flavors, and yet it was so simple. Just terrific.

For dessert I ended up with the better of the two dishes. She had a chocolate ganache thing, and I had peach and sour cream cake. If I'm at a restaurant, I'll take fruit over chocolate any day for dessert. Fruit allows chefs to be creative and make something unique. Chocolate desserts all come out similarly. And the cake didn't disappoint.

If you're in or around D.C., and you've got the chance, check out The Oval Room. And if you can get there during Restaurant Week, all the better.
----------------------------------
Tonight I ended up eating both a 5 Guys' burger and a Ben's Chili Bowl chili half-smoke. We got free tickets to the National's game (a $126 dollar value for the two of us!), and stopped at 5 Guys before hand because we had some time to kill, and hadn't eaten dinner. When we got to the game we also ended up getting $5 each in concessions vouchers, which I put towards the chili-half smoke. Yummmmmmmm
----------------------------------
Finally, this past week I was inspired to make a salsa of my own. It was fantastic. You can probably find other ones like it out there, but I didn't use anyone else's recipe. I just went from what seemed like it would work, and it did. Here's the recipe, I came up with, if you're so inclined:

Mango Jalapeno Salsa:
1/2 of a Mango
2 Jalapenos
1/4 of a medium-sized red onion
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp lime juice (optional)
Cooking spray
Enough brown sugar to coat the mango
Ground red pepper/cayenne to taste

Peel the mango half, cutting a flat edge so that it can be easily and evenly grilled. Spray the mango with the cooking spray, and coat in brown sugar. Grill on medium/high heat until the mango is cooked through, and edges start to blacken, about 10 minutes. Place mango in a food processor or blender, and dice to fine pieces. Remove mango pieces. Seed and core the jalapenos. Add the jalapenos and the onion to the food processor, dice to pieces the same size or slightly bigger than the mango. Combine with the mango. Add the salt, red pepper, and lime juice. (I didn't actually use lime juice in mine, and it worked fine without it. I have a feeling it'd be better with it though. A little more acidity would be a good thing). Process until well mixed. Add more salt, pepper, or lime juice to taste. Serve with chips or chicken.

There's a ghost in me
Who wants to say "I'm sorry"
Doesn't mean I'm sorry

Thursday, August 14, 2008

More Olympics Thoughts

It's pretty crummy that each of the different gymnastics equipment is essentially weighted differently. If you're good on the vault, you're set. If you're good on the horse, tough luck. That seems stupid.
--------------------------
Since I've been watching a lot of the Olympics lately I've ended up dreaming about them. That routinely happens whenever I spend a lot of time doing something that I haven't done before/for a while. Every time I pick up a new game for the Wii, or spend a lot of time on a case, or whatever, my dreams will take on that theme.

It's just a strange thing when it happens with the Olympics, because, like all of the athletes competing, I can now say that I have an Olympic dream.
--------------------------
I liked the laurels they had in Athens. They should have those at all the Olympics.

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep

Phickle Thoughts: Olympics Edition

I've been watching a ton of Olympics. It's even more fun than I remembered.
-------------------------------
Except the gymnastics. That's been significantly less fun than I remembered. The gymnastics announcers have been unhelpful, annoyingly repetitive, and painfully judgmental. NBC needs to do a better job of hiring their announcers.

Except for Costas. The man is just so darn good at his job.
-------------------------------
Sticking with gymnastics, I think it's too bad that there was the whole age issue with the female Chinese gymnasts. They were clearly the superior team, but that really cast their win in a bad light. And some of the scoring seemed to favor them a little suspiciously, and work against the other teams, but that's nothing new in these sports. It still wasn't as bad as the French judge who denied the Canadian ice skaters their deserved gold back in 2002.

Remember that?
------------------------------
Ah, the French. The swimming victory in the men's relay over the French was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. And it was made all the sweeter because we beat the French. Suck it Frenchies.
-----------------------------
NBC needs to find some other stories besides Phelps. I like the kid, he's amazing, but we've seen a story about him every single night. It's overkill.
-----------------------------
Once again, in your face, France!
-----------------------------
There's been a ton of great music in the commercials that NBC has been showing during the Olympics. It's been very exciting for me because it used to be that I would hear a great song on a commercial and then go download it. This time, I've already got most of the songs that I'm hearing on the ads. It feels pretty good to be ahead of the curve.
-----------------------------
I like seeing all of the different sports. I watched water polo. That has to be the single most exhausting activity ever invented.
-----------------------------
I think the US is still up in the medal count, and I hope we hang onto that. It's easy to tap into your national pride when you're competing against other nations, but with the Olympics in China, and the big push from the Chinese, it's been even easier. There are certainly things to respect about China, but there are also some very concerning practices. And their willingness to bend the rules - with the age of their gymnast, having cuter children lip-sync and hiding the talented unattractive ones, faking fireworks with CGI - is frustrating. It makes me wonder how the average Chinese citizen sees these issues. Are they glad their country bends the rules to get their ideal results, or are disappointed in the methods?
-----------------------------
One thing you can say about China though? At least they're not France!
-----------------------------
USA! USA! USA!

To you I was an experiment
Let's try and make the bad boy better
Let's see if he can eat organically
Or maybe wear a J. Crew sweater

Monday, August 11, 2008

Observations From The Arlington County Fair

This past Friday my job tasks included working at a booth during the Arlington County Fair. Once again I'll be able to check another item off of my "completely apathetic whether I ever experience this in my lifetime" list.

Arlington county is apparently the smallest county in the U.S., checking in at just 26 square miles. A good chunk of which is occupied by the military, both living (Pentagon) and deceased (Arlington Cemetery). The Arlington County fair was proportionally sized.

I'm used to a county fair where there are crops, animals, and farm equipment. Where barns house competitions of the baking, canning, and weight-of-a-vegetable variety. Future farmers of America should be running around with heads and hands and hearts and health. There should be greasy foods on sticks and milk shakes and talent competitions entirely devoid of talent. A county fair needs interesting people, interesting smells, and interesting sights. To quote a Mr. H. Simpson, "If it doesn't have Siamese twins in a jar, it is not a fair."

To be sure, the fair had some games, and some rides, and some exhibits. But the scale was smaller than I'd hoped. This was more like a church carnival than a county fair. A single middle school field house was able to hold all of the exhibits and competitions, things that would take much more space at any respectable fair.

I was able to learn a few things while I was there. First, it was hilarious to place the Catholic League of Devotion to Mary (or something like that) table next to the GLBT table. But if I'm ever planning the layout of such an event, I'd make sure the "Former Gay" booth was thrown in the mix too, instead of placing it all the way across the gym. I'd also set the Republicans and the Democrats directly opposite of each other, and probably put the green party way in the corner.

Speaking of the parties, and their respective booths, I think we've got good reason to believe the Republicans are going to win this fall. I visited both set-ups, and the Democrats came across as much more pushy and stuffy, were generally unlikable and preachy, and were actually selling pins and stickers and the like, instead of giving them away. The Republicans had less material but were casually handing it out, chatting up anyone who was interested, and letting others pass unbothered. They even had someone dressed up in a cute little elephant mascot. They were connecting with people. The Democrats seemed desperate. Where the Republicans had an elephant mascot, the Dems instead had a couple of jack asses.

And seriously, who charges people to advertise for them? The Democrats should want as many Obama stickers floating around as they can get.

One of the interesting things about neither party naming their VP candidate yet is that all of the advertising material that's being handed out now only has one name on it. I think both parties are missing a chance to have their final ticket advertised as one at these types of events. I don't know that it matters, but it's certainly interesting.

And finally, apparently I'm old enough to join The Lions Club. I'm not really interested, but it was kind of a strange thing, because I've never thought about it before. That just always seemed like such a different world. A world with more early-bird specials at Denny's, if you know what I mean. It was just an odd thing to think about. Maybe someday I suppose. We'll see.

Well, that's the fair report. I'm hoping to get to a real fair a little later this summer, when we're back in Minnesota again. The Great Minnesota Get-Together will be going on when we're back, and that tops 'em all.

They've got Siamese triplets.

It was Labor Day weekend I was seventeen
I bought a Coke and some gasoline
And I drove out to the county fair

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Wow

The Olympics opening ceremony? Wow. Well played China. Well played.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

On Whether It Is Good To Be Taken In

In honor of our interns' last day, I present this sapient insight that one of them left me with:

"If you live your life such that you never get taken advantage of, then you're probably not helping anyone." - V.S.

Yeah you can have twenty one sons and be blood when they marry my daughters

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Question:

If you walk a mile, does it burn the same number of calories as running a mile? Doesn't that make sense? Since you're moving the same amount of mass, over the same amount of distance, it would be the same amount of work, right?

Science people: Go!

Just about to call up the DA man
When I heard this woman singing a song

Friday, August 01, 2008

Biking. Again.

So apparently having enough air in your tires makes it significantly easier to bike. I'm supposed to have between 50 and 75 PSI in my tires. When I put the gauge on the back tire came to just under 20 PSI and the front tire didn't even register (which means less than 10 PSI). I fixed the problem, and suddenly biking to and from work got significantly easier. Though it's still a good work out...

Bonus points for the song.

I like my bike
It's not like other bikes

Question:

So I was watching the documentary Helvetica a few days ago, and one of the people interviewed for the film rhetorically asked the beautiful question, "why is bad taste ubiquitous."

So I put it to you. Why is bad taste ubiquitous?

Who's gonna throw the very first stone?
Oh! who's gonna reset the bone?