Sunday, November 30, 2008

Car Carols

We spent the night hanging out with a bunch of friends, and on the drive back our absolute geekiness/awesomeness revealed itself: we started singing Christmas carols. Often in very dramatic voice. We jumped between a wide variety of songs, and were frequently disappointed to discover how few words we actually knew.

This did not stop us from singing loudly.

At one point someone suggested we sing O Come, All Ye Faithful, but in Latin. After the first two words I was lost, so I switched to substituting any other Latin phrase I could think of. Slowly but surely everyone else dropped out of the song until at the "Oh come let us adore him" part, where it was just Mrs. Fickle and I singing. By that part I was subbing in the words "Deus ex machina" (which fit beautifully into that bit of the song).

One of the friends in the car commented, "Wow, you guys really know this song!"

To which Mrs. Fickle responded, "No, he's singing 'Deus ex machina - God from the machine.'"

We all had a good laugh, and then resumed our singing with a truly horrible rendition of Jingle Bells. The one where Joker gets away...

Let's take that road before us
And sing a chorus or two

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! It's one of my two favorite holidays, and this year, once again, I'm making the turkey. This is the fifth year in a row that I'm in D.C. for Thanksgiving. I think I spent it with Mrs. Fickle's family before that, and though I can peg approximately the last time I had Thanksgiving with my family, I honestly don't remember it. One of these years...

I'm trying a few more herbs on the turkey this year, and we'll see how it turns out. A few years back I made a maple glazed turkey with white wine gravy. It was fabulous. But the friend we celebrate with is a bit more of a traditionalist, so I'm sticking to your standard roast turkey, and the herbs are my way of making it a little more interesting. I hope it works. Throw in the stuffing, the potatoes, the other sides, keep away from the cranberries, and though you don't save room for pie eat a piece anyway, and you've got yourself an amazing meal. I can hardly wait. The turkey is in as I write this, and it smells delicious. Though it smells like I may have used too much rosemary...

Have a great Thanksgiving y'all!

I want to thank you for giving me the best day of my life

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pardon Me

At the suggestion of a good friend, I'm gonna share a few thoughts about the whole process of Presidential pardons.

Recently Bush pardoned 14 people, and commuted two sentences. It's expected that he'll pardon more people as the end of his term approaches. This is pretty routine for Presidents, and it's a pretty spectacular power.

My understanding is the the President can pardon anyone for any crime (under U.S. law of course), and the decision is unreviewable.

This raises some really interesting hypotheticals. None of these would ever happen of course - our Presidents are generally much too intelligent and good-willed, and though people might disagree with individual pardons this is a power that is rarely, if ever, abused - but there are some fun possibilities.

Hypo #1. The President pardons everybody. Bam. No more overcrowding of jails. Saves costs. Gives everyone a second chance since there aren't any convicted felons. Obviously this isn't the wisest possibility, given violent criminals and all of that, (and I'd never support this), but there's something to be said about forgiveness, and a universal pardon might have some powerful positive effects in a lot of people's lives. Dangerous, perhaps, but intriguing none-the-less.

Hypo #2. The President pardons everybody except one person.
Part A. That person is Charles Manson. Can you imagine how angry he'd be? He's crazy, he's angry, he's dangerous, and given his crimes he should never be released into the general population (exactly the reason Hypo 1 is a bad idea), but how would we feel if everyone else were pardoned and he weren't?
Part B. That person is some random minor felon, convicted on weak evidence. How much would it stink to be this person? To be the one person left in prison while everybody else - even Manson - gets a pardon? How wrong would this be? How would we as a society feel about letting just one person pay for a crime they might have committed, when others are let go?

Hypo #3. The president pardons only Manson. Would this instantly qualify that president as the worst judge of character in history?

Hypo #4. The president pardons only white people. Let's suppose the President is a racist. The decision is blatant discrimination. Yet these are unreviewable pardons. Seriously, what's the outcome here? My guess is that we'd see a pretty quick amendment to the Constitution, right? Of course, we probably would in almost all of these cases. But if the President can pardon anyone, or any group, for any reason, then that opens the door for personal prejudices, right? I mean, white-collar criminals get pardoned a lot more than anyone else, so maybe there's already a bit of classism in the process, right?

That's all I've got for now. Any thoughts? Any other crazy pardon hypos? This is interesting stuff to think about, even if none of it will ever happen (thank God!).

But I know I had it comin',
I know I can't be free

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I Don't Know What To Think

This isn't at all ridiculous.

Put your weight against the door
Kick drum on the basement floor

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Sobering Thought

I've decided that this blog needs to end. Not now, but someday in the not-too-distant future. Probably as I approach 30 (so I've got a little while, since I'm only... um... 27 now? I forget... 2008 - 1981, yeah, 27.). The purpose of this blog has always been to explore philosophical, religious, political and other issues. Also humor and life updates.

Now, someday I might want to run for office. This creates a problem. My blog is out there. People will always be able to access it, and even if I delete it there are ways of exploring caches to pull it up again. So what I've already written here is something that will always be tied to my name.

Unfortunately, it seems to be in the nature of blogs that they enable hyperbole and overstatement, rash and impulsive posts and comments, and probably plenty of opportunities to take things out of context.

This means that this blog might someday be used against me in any political campaign/office. And that's a frightening thought. Because the intent here has always been just an exploration. I've grown and changed and nuanced a lot in my views over the years I've had this blog, and I'm sure I'll continue to do so. But past posts give people a chance to take a snapshot of my thoughts when I was younger, and that's the kind of thing that can be exploited. Quite the worrisome proposition.

Anyway, the reason for stopping the blog is because, as I age, and become (potentially) more firm in my views, there's a corresponding decrease in the need to get them out there in this forum. I sincerely doubt that I'll ever be set in my views. I pray that I always stay open minded, and malleable when convincing arguments come my way. But to experiment is more acceptable when I'm young, and that's what I'm doing now. But as I age, it will be less appropriate, and someday I'll have to stop altogether.

It's a sobering thought. The fact that I'm trying hard here to explore and develop my view of the world may someday come back to haunt me. I'm hopeful that what I put up on a blog in my 20's will never be the kind of thing people really care about, but it certainly gives me some serious concern.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this idea. Thanks.

Too far along in our climb,
Stepping over what now towers to the sky

Monday, November 17, 2008

Faster and Farther

Faster and farther. That's what I need to go. Or is it 'further'? Either way.

Mrs. Fickle and I signed up to run the annual turkey trot that helps the homeless here in D.C. I've never done anything like this before. I'm kind of excited, but very nervous. The race is just a 5k, but that's still more than I'm prepared to go right now. We've been running a bunch the last couple weeks, and I'm in slightly worse shape than I thought.

I've made it up to about two miles of straight running, but it isn't really at the quickest pace. So I've got a lot of distance to go still, and going faster would be ideal too; I don't look forward to bringing up the rear. Of course, if I run faster, then I can cover more distance in the same amount of time... So, if a 5k = 3.2 miles (right?) and I've managed about 2 miles, I'm almost 2/3 of the way there. So if I double my pace, that'll get me to the end in the same amount of time that it's now taking me to run 2 miles. Let's see... if I'm now running 9 minute miles... uh-oh.

Less than two weeks to go. This could get interesting.

I just ran, I ran all night and day.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Adrenaline Rush

It is really hard to fall back asleep after you have a dream that you're arguing in front of the Supreme Court.

We're half awake in a fake empire

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Phickle Thoughts, Last Week Edition

I haven't been in my office for a full week. I was at a conference last Wednesday, Thursday & Friday. It was the annual state-wide conference for Legal Aid programs. There's all sorts of CLE's and seminars directed at helping low-income, elderly, and disabled clients with their legal problems. The big thing this year is foreclosures. I only went to one of the three seminars on foreclosures because I've gotten a good amount of exposure to them in my daily work, and I've already had multiple trainings on the topic. The one session I did go to was eye-opening because most of the people in that course obviously had very little exposure to foreclosures and all of the recent developments. I work in one of the hardest hit areas of the country, so it makes sense that I've had a lot more exposure, but it was a great reminder of how little I knew on the subject just months ago. Still so much more to learn, but it felt good to see how far I've come.
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Wednesday night I was able to get together with an old friend from high school, and her husband. It was awesome catching up with them. I hadn't seen her in two years, and I'd only met her husband briefly, yet things still clicked just like we'd been friends for ages. I'm hoping they'll be able to head up here sometime soon, and we'll get to return the hospitality.
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Thursday was kind of cold and windy and misty. I took a walk along the beach. It had that dramatic wind/waves/mist feel that you sometimes see in the movies. Or somewhere. I dunno. It was pretty awesome though. I hadn't seen the ocean since my junior year of college. I went again on Friday, when it was much nicer out. Walked in the water, picked up some shells, all that good stuff.
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I found a dead puffer fish!
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Came back up Friday evening and had 3 days all to myself since Mrs. Fickle was visiting family. I took Monday off because I had a comp day from working a Saturday about a month ago. Working of foreclosures of all things...

I spent a good chunk of the time catching up on sleep and playing on the computer/Wii, but I also did some writing. I've officially started working on one of the novels I've always talked about. I'm not far, and it's all very rough draft, but I'm having a blast with the writing, and I've even come up with some stuff that I'm proud of. I also joined a writer's group, more as a motivational tool than as an editing forum. Our first meeting is this Wednesday. Looking forward to that.
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I bought tickets to a They Might Be Giants concert! They're playing Flood in its entirety. Yay!
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Mrs. Fickle came back into town late Monday, and we went out for a nice dinner. Tuesday - which we both had off because it was Veteran's Day - we went for a gorgeous walk on Theodore Roosevelt Island. It's a little island in the Potomac with a handful of paths for people to walk around. The weather was amazing and the foliage was gorgeous. We got some pretty awesome pictures too. Quite a nice day.
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Tomorrow, I go back to work. I'm already dreading how many messages I'll have.
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Last, but not least, I'm excited to share that at the Statewide Conference I may have received the annual award for "Greatest Achievement in Housing Law Work". I got the award for my work on a specific case, that had a pretty remarkable result. I'm not going to share any of the details here, but if anyone would like, I can e-mail you the description that was read at the award ceremony. Just send me a message.

It isn't really a huge deal (last year the person who won got it because they were sued by a former client), but it's a nice little feather in the cap. And line on the resume.

It's a simple message
And I'm leaving out the whistles and bells

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Boy, Fallout

I didn't write anything about Prop 8 here in the lead up to the election, largely because I didn't really have any new thoughts on the subject. It was just another state adding a constitutional provision that defines marriage as a heterosexual institution. Sure, it's the most progressive state in the nation, and one of just two that was allowing same-sex marriage, but ultimately it was just another typical constitutional battle. It was marked by some heated and misleading ads on both sides, a lot of intolerance from both conservatives and liberals, and the strong support of a religious community (in this case Mormons), but basically it was nothing all that new.

And then Prop 8 passed. Same-sex marriage has banned in California. And now, at least to me, things have gotten interesting.

In the interest of full disclosure here, let me just say that I personally support civil unions, but not same-sex marriage. I would like to see all the same rights and privileges available to everyone, but I can see that a reasonable distinction can be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions.

There have been a ton of protests by same-sex marriage supporters. The other day I saw on CNN that gay rights advocates are calling for a federal constitutional ruling allowing same-sex marriage. And the backlash against the Mormon church has been, quite frankly, frightening. Protesters are picking Mormon temples as targets for protests. People are calling for a boycott of Utah, where the Mormon church is headquartered (this is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of. Would they be boycotting Italy if Catholics had been a little bit louder in their support for Prop 8?). And, maybe most frightening of all, there are serious calls for the Mormon church to lose their tax exempt status.

People who want to eliminate the church's tax exempt status argue that it is because the church was overly engaged in the political process. But that's about the least honest argument ever. If the Mormon church had taken a view in opposition to Prop 8, I can guarantee you that the Prop 8 opponents wouldn't be calling for the loss of tax exempt status. I can guarantee you this because those same people aren't calling for the Episcopal church to lose their status (they opposed Prop 8), or any of the Jewish groups that opposed Prop 8. No, this is based entirely on a vindictive desire to see the Mormon church punished for opposing same-sex marriage.

This is upsetting enough in this isolated context, but it really conjures up more fears for a lot of conservative religious people. One of the biggest worries opponents of same-sex marriage have is that if same-sex marriage is legal, then their churches might be looked at in a different light. I don't think anyone actually thinks their church will be forced to perform same-sex marriages, and that's not a realistic or rational fear. But it isn't unreasonable to think that somewhere down the line, if same-sex marriage becomes more culturally acceptable, that churches that don't perform it will be seen as bastions of discrimination. And if that happens - if churches are seen as the bad guys - then it'll be much easier to pass laws limiting those churches, including laws that take away tax-exempt status.

What we're seeing in California is perhaps an accelerated version of what social conservatives fear. The ban didn't pass, but all the same it is a religious community that is being targeted by gay-rights advocates. They released ads that bordered on defamation of the Mormon church. They're now protesting at those churches. And they're calling for laws that change the way the Mormon church is treated. All because same-sex marriage supporters see the Mormon church as a bastion of discrimination. Instead of being a battle to convince their fellow Californians that same-sex marriage is a good thing, gay-rights advocates have decided to battle against the people they've identified as the bad guys: a religious organization.

This might give some credence to the fears that religious people have regarding same-sex marriage.
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Two other quick points on Prop 8: First, I think it's fascinating that when you had the fight for racial equality it was largely churches leading the way, while with the same-sex marriage debate the reverse is essentially true.

Second, the ban passed 52% to 48%. That seems like a really close margin, but given the very impressive list of people who came out against the ban (including every major paper in the state, the Governor, the U.S. House Majority leader, both of California's U.S. Senators, the mayors of the biggest cities, gigantic corporations like Google and Apple, and most of Hollywood), the fact that Prop 8 opponents spent more money than supporters did, and the huge turnout for Obama that California had, I'm inclined to think that 48% is more than the ban opponents would normally get to turn out.

We're falling apart to half time

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Less Division or - /

Congratulation to Obama. I'm away for a conference until Friday, so I'll have more reaction in a couple days. For now I just want to make three quick points about political divisions.

First, although Obama won in a landslide of electoral votes, his actual margin of victory in the popular vote isn't that huge. As I write this (2:30 a.m. on the 5th) he's about 5 million ahead of McCain. Bush won by 3 million in 2004. Those are not big differences, and I think that demonstrates quite convincingly that neither party really represents the full will of the people. Hopefully the Democrats don't see this as a mandate, the way the Republicans did.

Second, I'm quite baffled by the number of people who are sooooooo down, or sooooooo up about the results of this election. Obama is not going to be ruinous for this country, nor will he bring salvation. Anyone super excited or super depressed would do well to find a modicum of perspective.

Third, and maybe most essential, we all need to work together. Something Obama said in his acceptance speech really caught my attention. The line was something to the effect of, "for those who did not vote for me, and who's support I have not yet won, I will be your president too." I take this to have two meanings. First, it is a stern reminder that he's in charge now, like it or not. This was a point far too many Democrats rejected when Bush was elected. I recall hearing, from a great number of people, "Bush isn't my president." Let's hope Republicans don't have that same flawed view. Second, I take this to be a statement of hope. It sounds as if Obama is promising in this statement to do what he can to win over the support of the entire nation. And if that is indeed what he means, then that is a very good sign for eliminating divisions.

Oh yeah, and my wife and I were able to walk right into our polling place and vote, with no wait what-so-ever. In a battleground state with near record turnout. Awww yeah.

If a song could be president
We could all add another verse
Life would teach us to rehearse
Till we found a key change

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Happy Election Day

After today we can start thinking about 2012! Woo!

Seriously though, why isn't today a National holiday? After this voting thing is over, everyone should call their Representatives and ask them to support making Election Day a holiday.

Our hallowed snake skull-cracking day

Monday, November 03, 2008

Halloween Playlist

My wife decided it would be good to come up with a Halloween themed playlist. I'm always up for music-selection challenges, and together we came up with a pretty solid bunch of songs. There's probably a couple handfuls of appropriate songs that we missed, and if anyone can think of any others, drop that suggestion in the comments. Here's what we came up with:

The Addams Family Theme
Science Fiction, Double Feature (Rocky Horror Picture Show)
Alice Cooper - Feed My Frankenstein
Alice Cooper - Welcome To My Nightmare
The Classics IV - Spooky
The Cranberries - Zombie
The Decemberists - Shankill Butchers
Michael Jackson - Thriller
Ladytron - Ghosts
Ray Parker Jr. - Ghostbusters
Bobby Picket - Monster Mash
Nina Simone - I Put A Spell On You
Tegan & Sara - Walking With A Ghost
TV On The Radio - Wolf Like Me
Viva Voce - From The Devil Himself
Sheb Wooley - Purple People Eater
Warren Zevon - Werewolves of London

Not a bad list, right?

You're gonna get your blood sucked out

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Hodgmania

This past week Laura and I had the opportunity to go see John Hodgman, perhaps better known as The Daily Show's resident expert, perhaps better known as a PC. The man is, quite simply, one of the most brilliant humorists of our time. Several years ago he wrote a book of fake facts, essentially an almanac of tables and charts, histories and predictions, anecdotes and hobo names, all of which were pure, unadulterated bullroar. Any exposure to Hodgman's pure bullroar is guaranteed to cause mirth, and reading The Areas of My Expertise left me in a heightened state of mirthfulness for a prolonged period.

It was great.

To promote this book John Hodgman went on The Daily Show to give an interview. That interview went so well, and was so hilarious, that Jon Stewart invited him to be the resident expert for the show. This led to the Mac ads, and now he's the kind of guy you might recognize.

The point is though, he's really funny.

Anyway, John Hodgman, a famous minor television personality, has picked up exactly where he left off. He's got another book of fake stuff out, called More Information Than You Require, and it too is hilarious.

To promote this new book, Mr. Hodgman appeared at one of our local book shops to do a reading and answer questions. It was funny, but not quite as enjoyable as the first time I saw him. Three years ago my sister-in-law and I went to see Hodgman at this tiny little cafe/theater. At that point very few people knew who he was because he hadn't yet been on TV at all, and his first book had only just come out. Somehow or other we found out about it, and went to see him (and Jonathon Coulton and David Rees, who were touring with him).

The first time I saw him, the room was barely more than a closet. We crammed about 30 people into a tiny little room (and "tiny little" is generous; we were sharing chairs.). It was a second show, and Hodgman had nowhere to be the next morning, so he pulled out a bottle of whisky and started drinking. Then he offered it to the crowd. The bottle was passed around. I think they might have found some dixie cups at some point. Regardless, the point is, John Hodgman once asked me to drink whiskey with him. Then Hodgman did his funny reading thing, Coulton did his funny song thing, and Rees did his funny cartooning thing. After that it was time for Q&A. Hodgman was still very new to this touring thing, and he claimed that he wasn't used to answering questions in person. So, instead of a traditional question and answer, he passed out walkie-talkies, and if you wanted to ask a question you could "call in". Given the size of the room this was the most absurdly hilarious thing ever.

Hodgman: "Hello caller, this is John Hodgman. What's your name and where are you calling from? Over."
Caller: "Hi John, this is Dave. I'm calling from the third row."
Hodgman (directly to Dave, not into the walkie-talkie): "You need to say 'over'. Didn't you ever have a walkie-talkie as a kid?"
Caller (directly to Hodgman): "Oops. Sorry."
Hodgman (directly to Dave): "Ok. Go ahead."
Hodgman (back into walkie-talkie): "Caller? Are you there? Where are you calling from? Over."
Caller: "Hi John, this is Dave in the third row. Over."
Hodgman: "Thanks for calling Dave from the third row. Did you have a question? Over."
Caller: "Yeah, could you pass the whiskey back this way? Over."

This time Hodgman's reading was much more... normal. Still very quirky, with Hodgman supplying the questions (and the answers) for the Q&A session. He handed out sheets of paper for people to read off of, and then answered those questions. He also introduced the guy who was going to introduce him, and assigned nicknames to a good portion of the audience, but it wasn't quite the zany outing he'd had the first time.

He also stayed around for a while afterward to sign books and such. We waited in line for an hour or so, but it was worth it, because when we got up there the wife and I talked to him for about five minutes. I mentioned that I'd seen him three years ago, and he remembered the show. I asked about the differences in the touring and he explained that he planned that first promotional tour, which meant he got to do fun things. This time around his publisher planned the tour, and that meant he got to do things like leave the bookstore to go catch a train so that he could be on Good Morning, Philadelphia at 6:00 a.m. the next morning. He said that he didn't know how accurate that name could be, because really, can any morning be good if you're in Philadelphia, but that at least it was better than this time he was in L.A. and was supposed to do a show called Daybreak. Not an inviting name. Fortunately wildfires forced everyone in the area to be evacuated and he didn't have to go on Daybreak. He wouldn't confess to starting the fires, but he didn't deny it either.

Anywho, the point of this all is two-fold. First, John Hodgman is a very funny man, and everyone should read his book. It's quick and easy and light and hilarious. Second, we got to hobnob with a famous minor television personality, and once he even offered me whiskey. That's pretty cool.

Double bonus points if you get the song and can tell me (correctly) why I picked it.

Do you use your pointy nipples as telescopic antennae transmitting data back to Earth?