Thursday, March 09, 2006

The ACC & Non Natives

As a relative newcomer to Nawf Cackalacky (that's "North Carolina" to all you furriners (that's "non-southerners," or "foreigners")), I'm astounded by the disgusting obsession with the goddam ACC and basketball. I'm not surprised that the local yokels are fans of college basketball: the teams along Tobacco Road (from west to east: Wake Forest, UNC, Duke, and NC State) have a history of pounding holy hell out of opponents, and the conference itself has a great record in national tournaments. Among the four teams, there have been a total of 35 final four appearances. In the past few years, preseason polls usually place at least five ACC teams in the top twenty-five.

So they're good. Really good. But these people go insane. This is not a lie - my wife has experienced it firsthand - students expect that during ACC Tournament time, teachers will stop instruction and turn on "the game." You read that correctly: ACC TOURNAMENT TIME. The ACC Tournament is an unofficial holiday around here: shopping picks up, families sit together at home, and everyone's wearing a college t-shirt. Fans of these schools get abusive; even more interesting, many of the most rabid and evil fans (the ones you hear talking trash to students at other schools) couldn't get into these schools when it was time for them to go to college (we will face facts that admission standards at Wake Forest, UNC, Duke, and NC State are extremely competitive).

I grew up in football country. Perhaps that's why I don't get it. I was raised around schools whose football teams are historically great. The big difference? Football games are on Saturdays. I remember Knoxville, Tennessee (where I was born) shutting down on Saturdays: the river was a sea of orange and white bedecked boats, the entire town was covered in Orange, and if you weren't at the stadium (where over 100,000 fans were vibrating the earth), you were in a sports bar or at home in front of the television. WVU fans are almost as insane: nobody in his right mind will drive on I-79 North between Charleston and Morgantown on Saturday, and likewise I-79 South between same on Sunday.

These were weekend phenomena, and only included a dozen games, plus the inevitable bowl. People might get worked up over rivalry games (Tennessee/Alabama, WVU/Pittsburgh/Maryland), but that wouldn't interfere with daily life. Outside of baseball, I'd say that college football is probably the greatest sport in the U.S. (I can't include hockey, because although the NHL is better than NCAA football, most of the players are from Canada or northern Europe). Forget the NFL: it's too even. NFL players are too damn big and too damn good to make it entertaining to watch. There aren't any surprises. In NCAA football, there's always a stunner, an amazing upset that defies all odds, because, let's face it, these kids won't reach their full potential until their early 20's, and some developing player will always shock the world (Example: Philip Rivers - nobody thought that his short frame and sidearm passing style would work well, but he broke damn near every QB record in the book).

Oh well.
Currently playing on miPod: "Money" by Pink Floyd

Baseball and Hypocrisy

The state of baseball - "America's Pastime" - often seems to reflect the image of the nation itself. In the 20's, baseball was rough - cigar chomping tough guys who were hard drinkers (think Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Co.). In the fifties and early sixties, baseball was idyllic - Gods of the game played at temples of Americana. Joe DiMaggio retired in 1951, the same year that Willie Mays was picked up by the Giants. Names from this era roll off of the tongue: Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Bob Feller, Whitey Ford, Stan Musial, Al Kaline, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, and Pee Wee Reese, to name just a few (and these are only Hall of Famers).

Now, let's skip forward to the current state of the game. Baseball is again mirroring our culture: spoiled rich brats, in the game only for themselves. Pitchers are useless unless they can hurl 100 mph fastballs. Every batter has to be a power hitter, which runs contrary to everything my coaches taught me when I learned the game: strategy has gone out the window to quick fixes and instant scores. Barry Bonds is a prime example of this.

Bonds was good. The man honestly deserved MVP awards he never received when playing with the beleagured Pirates in the early 1990's. Now, the man so close to beating the Babe's career home run record, so close to catching Hank Aaron, is a proven steroid abuser. Granted, baseball didn't ban steroids until 2002; however, recent books prove that he was using them from 1998-2003. He is suspected to still use them, but the proof ran out upon the FBI's BALCO raid of 2003.

Pete Rose was banned for life for gambling on baseball. He maintained his innocence throughout the scandal, yet was banned anyway. Later, he admitted to betting on baseball, but never on his own team (of which he was never accused). This is, I will admit, correct. He should not be allowed into the Hall of Fame because his actions tainted the game (although I think, again, that his gambling in the 80's reflected the money money money culture of the nation at the time).

Barry Bonds's reply? "I won't even look at it." This is not a denial, nor is it an admission. He maintains his innocence through a "no comment" comment; although the proof against him is as overwhelming as it was against Rose. Pete Rose holds the record for the most career hits. Bonds holds the record for most home runs in a season (while on steroids), and may break the record for most career home runs. Rose's stature in the game when he was banned is equal to that of Bonds right now. Barry Bonds should be banned from baseball for life, barred from the Hall of Fame, yet Bud Selig has not made any comments thus far.

Let's look at this hypocrisy: Rose is banned from baseball for tainting it with gambling. Our children should not look at Pete Rose and say, "I want to be just like Pete Rose when I grow up," because he was a gambler. Bonds has yet to be banned. Should our children look at Barry Bonds and say, "I want to be just like Barry Bonds when I grow up, which means I'll have to take undetectable designer steroids."? Are we saying that looking up to a gambler is worse than looking up to a drug user whose actions constitute cheating?

I'm a lifelong baseball fan, but the game has really gone downhill since the "strike."
Currently playing on miPod: "Worldwide Suicide," by Pearl Jam

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


FINALLY! I've been waiting for this since Lost Dogs. The new single from Pearl Jam's upcoming self-titled album is available - "Worldwide Suicide" - and you can download it for FREE! This pleases me.

Cultural Constitutional Conundrum

Of late, I've had the strong feeling that the majority of my fellow citizens are ignorant as hell, and what's worse, they have no clue. People bitch and moan on cue when informed by "The Media," or any organization that presents itself as distributing newsworthy facts and information (whether it does so or not), that someone, somewhere, is trampling their "rights;" however, more of them can name at least four characters on The Simpsons than they can at least four of the rights guaranteed them by the First Amendment, according to a recent study. So my question is, how the hell would they know? Some of them actually thought that the right to own a pet was in the first amendment.

My answer? Nobody gives a damn about the Constitution anymore. Therefore, concomitantly, and stuff, I will eddikate my fellow Americans, none of whom read this blog. Periodically, I'll post an amendment and provide commentary and interpretation. Even if nobody reads it, I'll at least feel better.

Today, inspired by recent news, I'll talk about the actual first amendment. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads thus:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
- source: The Constitution of the United States, as posted on the National Archives website. The First Amendment is one of ten included in the Bill of Rights, ratified December 15, 1791.

What it means: There are five freedoms guaranteed by this amendment. I'll discuss them in detail below, but first, a word about Congressional jurisdiction. Congress is the highest ranking legislative body in the United States. No individual state can directly countermand any laws passed by Congress. Anything that congress leaves out is up to the states (that's in the tenth amendment), but specific constitutional guarantees cannot be superseded by any authority - up to, and including, Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court.

Freedom 1: Nobody can impede your free exercise of religion. This has been a source of many controversies in the past, not just in separation of church and state, but also in just what constitutes the free exercise of religion. Some years back, a man challenged his murder conviction by stating that he was a Satanist, and that he was conducting a ritual calling for human sacrifice. Convicting him for murder, he claimed, violated the "free exercise" clause. This was declared bunk (as it should be): human sacrifice violates the rights of the sacrificed (see the ninth amendment and the Declaration of Independence).

The separation of Church and State has been thorny as well. Many religious people have challenged this doctrine as not guaranteed by the Constitution. It is a part of the evangelical tradition to spread the word to as many as possible by whatever means necessary. In fact, the separation is mandated by the wording of the amendment. If a governmentally supported entity (including schools, courthouses, etc.) were to display a religious text (a monument or plaque of the Ten Commandments, for example), can be logically presumed to be promoting a certain religion, or "establishing" it. Again, if Congress cannot legislate religion, neither can states or local governments. Such displays also counter the "free exercise" clause, since the freedom to practice religion also implies a freedom to not practice religion.

Freedom 2: Nobody can abridge your freedom of speech. This is a tricky phrase, because constituting speech is a difficult task. Mutes cannot speak; they must write. Hanging someone in effigy can be constituted as speech: symbolic actions often hold deeper rhetorical meanings than verbalized speech. The trick to free speech jurisprudence, to paraphrase Stanley Fish, is to draw the lines between speech, expression, and action. A legislative body that starts by saying "Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of action" defeats itself from the start, for reasons anyone can see.

Freedom 3: The government cannot tell the press what to say. The PRESS. Newspapers can print whatever they want, so long as it's true (to knowingly print falsehoods about someone interferes with his implied ninth amendment right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness).

Freedom 4: People can gather peacefully whensoever they choose. This is among the most frequently - and unknowingly - trampled rights in the United States. Nobody can require you to have a "Permit" to protest peacefully. If you choose to march all over town, quietly, without destroying property or causing bodily harm to others, no government agency can prohibit this. The mass arrests of protestors at the Republican National Convention in 2004 violated this: the protesters were quiet, and were not interfering with delegates' comings and goings.

Freedom 5: People can complain to and about the government about whatever they want. People can ask the government to address their complaints. Nobody can interfere with this. Taken in the context of the abovementioned freedom, no governmental agency can force protestors to apply for a protest permit. Application for a permit to protest (asking for redress of grievances) implies that permission can be denied, which it cannot.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Topic for CRD 703

I have it! My topic for a CRD 703 (a course) - final project: I'm analyzing networked texts and authorship. In our culture, people who create/edit/compose networked texts - brief databases with blurbs of practical knowledge for the quickseeker - the guy who fills in gaps in his own understanding - are the *new* authors. Their process - what they choose to excise/retain within the text, what entries to link within other entries, screen size formatting - is a difficult process that lends itself to coherence and usability just as authors do with full texts.

More on this later.
currently on miPod - "Polonaise in A-flat-minor" - Chopin

Car Shopping

Car dealers are the greatest assholes on the planet. Yesterday, lured in by an ad - most likely a scam ad - that promised cheap-o cars from ought five, my wife and I decided to do a little car shopping. We were lied to from the beginning - and this should be a warning to all people who plan to do any shopping in the Raleigh-Durham area in the future: NEVER GO TO MILLENIUM MAZDA, HYUNDAI, KIA in Durham, on US 15-501.

Seeing my obviously pregnant wife, the sales bastard immediately showed us a bunch of cars we told him were out of our price range. PRICE RANGE, to these guys, immediately screams "Payments! We want low payments and don't care how much interest we have to pay!" So he tells us lie #2 (lie #1 being the ad): "We've got an '04 Mazda MPV that my sales manager could let go with a full factory warranty." First off - no car dealer in his right mind would sell a used car with a full factory warranty. We believed him when he told us he'd show us the car. We walked in and sat down. Instead of him walking out with a set of keys to show us this magical mystery mobile, he walks out with a "sales manager" who wants to take my wife's keys and look at the Bug.

"We'd rather look at the car first," I say, grabbing her wrist. "Show us a car - we want to see what we may buy first."

"We need to see what kind of negative equity we've got going on here," said Pink-Shirted Jackass (aka the sales manager). "We'll qualify you for a car and then let you see what is in your range."

Now, we have good credit. We're on a grad-student husband/teacher wife budget, but we're not poor. This was obvious - we were clean and well-dressed (Sarah in some 'spensive shoes, me in a Polo sweater and khakis with Birkenstock clogs). What was going on?

"I'm not giving you a thing until we see a car," say I.

"Then I can't help you," says Pink-Shirted Jackass, standing up, acting as if he were about to leave.

Car dealers hate when you can honestly stand up and walk out - you've got the money that they want to steal. So we did. The salesman started to chase us, the Pink-Shirted Jackass stood there, looking like a fool. We were "in the market," but we didn't "need" a car - the bug is a fine automobile, runs like a dream. We got in and drove away. To hell with them - they'll not get my money. I'd pay a higher price on a car before I let myself get bullied by some ignorant, slick-wannabe jackass who thinks that his diploma from "Mazda sales school" means dick-all to me. "Consult" my middle finger, dickhead.

My one piece of Oscar Humor - Pimpin' is easy.

So - last night's Oscar quote of the night? Host Jon Stewart's quip, "For those of you keeping score, that's Martin Scorcese zero [Oscars], 3-6 Mafia, one [for the song from Hustle & Flow]." The song was an exercise in mediocrity, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," a crappy rap song whining and complaining about the difficulty of life as a pimp. It also serves as a prime example of genre: take three common rap themes (pimpin, hoes, and weed), mix, and get a hit song. Hell, get an Academy Award.

I hate to inform the ingenious thugz at three-six mafia (they don't warrant proper noun status in my book), but pimps don't know a damn thing about "hard life." It's hot work, sure. You may even have cops chase you from time to time. But you choose the life. You know who it's hard for? It's hard out there for fat, hairy losers.