Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Saturday, January 31, 2009

What's New Pussycat?

A big yee-ha and congratulations to Loquacious McD on the birth of Jocinda Suzanne (Josie) at around 1:30 in the afternoon on Friday, January 30. It was an apt 68th birthday present for her grandfather, Septagenacious McD, who can now live out his metamucil years knowing that he shares that special day with someone other than Dick Cheney (born in the same year! a lost twin? technically, since there's already a twin, Darth would have had to have been the evil triplet).

Baby Josie weighs in at 5 lb., 11 oz., and stretches a mighty 18 inches. Well done, LMcD!! Don't leave Uncle Tenacious waitin' on the pictures.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Statehood Now

Frankly, I agree with the view that D.C. residents cannot be given a representative in the House because the District of Columbia is not a state. I actually think that this is a close call, in constitutional terms. But that's what I think the Constitution says.

So . . . the only solution to the taxation without representation problem is statehood for the District of Columbia.

So you can keep your House seat--I want two senators AND a House member.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tyranny! Or, On the Interpretation of Politics

The estimated 1.8-2 million people who assembled in D.C. today to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama--how do we interpret that?

First, it's mass society. There were only about 3 million people in the "United States" when they came into being in 1776, with approximately 900,000 of those people African slaves. IOW, the crowds in D.C. today were almost the same size as the free population of the entire country in 1776.

And, of course, many of the best thinkers of the time thought that a republic of 2 million or so free people was too large to sustain. Those folks, and probably Madison, too, would have thought that today's events presage tyranny. Obama, under classical political theory, is probably best understood as a demagogue. (I'm sure TMcD will disagree.) But with his speechifying, his popularity, his messianic qualities (he is "The One"), . . . Madison and his contemporaries would see a demagogue.

But does anyone today see it that way today? No. Not even the opposition would describe Obama as a demagogue. Because we've made peace with mass society (really, 2 million people on the Mall?) . . . and with mass democracy.

Instead, Obama's day probably strengthens his hand--that much public support? Hard to resist.

Or, maybe not. Consider this--in the days before district-level polling, I think that today would make Obama irresistible on Capitol Hill. But now, that massive outpouring of public support may not matter so much. Members of Congress can gauge how popular Obama is with their constituents, how popular his policies are, and . . . modulate their own positions.

Can a system of separation of powers, coupled with mass democracy, coupled with weak parties and individualistic members of Congress (with the corollary of decentralized power in Congress, both between and within chambers) . . . can such a system of government really work, in the long run?

Shall we ask the Magic 8 Ball?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hey, He's Our President, Too

I am very happy for African Americans. I am very happy for black America. The first black president is a huge effin' deal. Really huge. An amazing thing. I never thought I'd live to see it, and I'm not yet 40. But . . .

But, Barack Obama is not only the first black president. (Hurray!) He is also, arguably, the first president representing the upper middle class reformers found in the Democratic party. I would argue that he was the first upper middle class reformer nominated by the party since . . . McGovern? Maybe. Even if you grant McGovern--and I would have to think about that--the nominee before him . . . Stevenson in 1956 . . . and either way, that makes Obama the first ever elected. Although I might be persuaded to accept FDR as a reformer, he was not upper middle class. He was a patrician. I might also be persuaded to accept Woodrow Wilson, but well, he was a segregationist and that was another era.

During the campaign, I pondered the confluence of the black candidate (not necessarily the candidate who is black, but the candidate receiving the bulk of the black vote) and the upper middle class reformer types--the folks voting for Bill Bradley in 2000, for example. It proved decisive.

But we upper middle class reformers have been completely ignored. Outrageous!

Or, well, maybe not. Not taking one's own side in the argument, so to speak. Let this be black America's moment. That would be enough.

Year in Music 2008

The waiting, the anticipation, the wondering, the hope. It burns, doesn't it? Well, your long night in the wilderness is over. Once again, my 100% metaphysically perfect list of the year's best music, including, remarkably enough, only things I've actually listened to--since, after all, if I haven't heard it, it can't be that good--open to future revision on the recognition that in a pluralistic cosmos today's metaphysically perfect may be tomorrow's metaphysically penultimate. What's that you say? You were actually waiting for our first president "Barry"? Keep waitin', bitches! You've got another day and change. Til then, here's da list.

1) Jenny Lewis, Acid Tongue. How did critics miss this? Even better than her record last year with Rilo Kiley. The title track is campfire bliss, and her duet with the English Elvis on "Carpetbagger" should make her an honorary southerner.

2) My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges. Epic southern rock ("I'm Amazed"), 70s lite rock genius ("Librarian"), and militaristic WTF space funk ("Highly Suspicious"). Who could pull that off?

3) Mudcrutch, Mudcrutch. What can I say about Tom Petty? This guy may be the greatest "singles" rocker of my lifetime, but an unfortunately small # of classic albums (Southern Accents, Wildflowers). So he reassembles his boyhood band for this masterwork. "Orphan of the Storm" is the best Katrina song to date.

4) Alejandro Escovedo, Real Animal. Mrs. TMcD and I saw him play at 12th & Porter maybe six years back. Phenomenal. Glad he's finally got a bigger audience.

5) REM, Accelerate

6) the Hold Steady, Stay Positive. Year's best bar band sing-along couplet: "Subpoenaed. . In Texas/ Sequestered. . In Memphis (I went there. . On business!)"

7) Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago. The year's most achingly beautiful songs.

8) Drive-By Truckers, Brighter Than Creation's Dark

9) Lucinda Williams, Little Honey

10) Ryan Adams, Cardinology

I've left some pretty good stuff off the list: She & Him, the Raconteurs, Ron Sexsmith, Nick Cave, Death Cab. Why? Does an oracle explain itself? Does a prophet make apologies? Does Rain Man scratch his equations in the margins? Feel free to scratch yours.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Thinking of Lowi

The build-up to inauguration has me thinking of Lowi's 1985 book, The Personal Presidency, which is apparently available in whole on Google books.

"The personality of the president . . . is a combination of Jesus Christ and the Statue of Liberty." The link should take you to the whole quote.

O Positive

Lots of stories recently about Obama's big popularity boost on his way into office, offering the possibility of an overwhelming public mandate for his policies. Bush's inelegant exit, the pathetic bailout beg (for a little "legacy" sympathy) that would not end, surely helps. But one angle I haven't seen mentioned is that much of this good will probably derives from the cleanness of his campaign. We hear a lot about the benefits of negative campaigning, especially in the decade of Rove, but nasty campaigns produce bitterness and enmity that diminish one's standing to govern. Don't get me wrong--this was a rough campaign year in many ways. However, most of the mud came from Obama's opponents: Clinton, McCain, Palin. Clinton's now co-opted, McCain has sounded once more like the one sane and gracious man in his party, and Palin. . . well, the more she bring the crazy, the better our man looks.

John Kerry took a beating for not going more negative on Bush in 2004, and many Dems spent the better part of this year bemoaning "Obambi's" brassless knuckle approach. In retrospect, staying above the fray looks like a gutsy gamble that paid off big. Given what was at stake, it took some stones to put down the stick.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

House of Horrors Update

So, as most of you know, Frances and I moved the day after Bee was born. (Not on purpose. Bee was three weeks early.) As many of you know, the house greeted us with minor but annoying plumbing difficulties. Have I ever posted the picture of water coming out of the kitchen light fixture? (Shudder.)

Well, in the past two weeks the plumbers have been back. Last week, the sewer main line backed up in the basement. Not as bad as it sounds, but unpleasant. (More than half the basement is finished, with carpet. The carpet was not destroyed, but it was a distinct possibility.)

Then, two nights ago, at some point, the furnace decided to stop working. It was just like, you know, the coldest night in 10 years or so in the DC area.

I woke up yesterday and . . . my nose was cold. Odd, I thought. But then, it is very cold outside. I am strangely insensitive to cold. Frances and Bee being out of town, I showered and got ready for work. Just as I was about to leave, I thought, well, better check what the temperature is on the thermostat. 53 degrees. That's what it was in the house. 53. I walked around and felt the radiators. Stone cold.

I was able to get a repairman out (technically, I guess he was a plumber, which makes for four plumbers in less than seven months). It didn't cost that much, and the house is warm and toasty now.

What will break next? Thoughts?

Are They All Cylons? (SPOILERS)

I haven't read any of the Internet commentary yet, but having watched last night's episode (twice--couldn't sleep), I have to ask: Are they all cylons? If Ellen Tigh is, and Starbuck is (nice Return of the Jedi moment when she burned her own (?) body), and Dualla is going to come back, right?

Anyhoo, that hour just confused the hell out of me.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The District Is Filling Up!

I ran an errand at lunchtime today, and I have to say, the District of Columbia is filling up. With people. People from the hinterlands. People from flyovercountry. People who don't know to stand right, walk left, who stop right inside the Metro turnstiles (and the Metro doors!), people with luggage and maps and . . . egad, people! GET OUT OF MY WAY!

You wonder why locals are rude. I no longer do.

Of course, I still have that Midwestern friendliness to strangers. And we need the tourist dollars. So come, people, come . . . and spend, spend, spend. Ask me for directions. I know the best way to get where you want to go.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Star Wars LOL

Star Wars: Retold (by someone who hasn't seen it) from Joe Nicolosi on Vimeo.

Bonuses for Teaching Evals

Texas A&M is going to offer $10k bonuses to profs who get good teaching evals?


The blogospheric reaction has been (strongly) negative, but I think that this is not a terrible idea. There are a lot of small things that profs can do to make classes better. It's just that many profs are busy enough not to think about (or do) those things most of the time. I've been guilty of this, myself, some semesters when I've been overextended. It's easy to let class prep slip, to not update lectures, to hold fewer office hours and to phone it in. It's easy to demonstrate your lack of effort or caring to the students. And they get it.

So some incentive to do better, great.

I would be interested in the thoughts of others on this. I'm assuming TMcD won't like it?

Update: If you're not reading the comments, then you're missing the insights of some of America's brightest minds.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Let Me Get This Straight

Of the top tier Democratic candidates in 2008, John Edwards had an affair problem, Bill Richardson has an ethical scandal that has forced him to withdraw as Commerce Secretary nominee, and HRC had a husband's foundation problem that had to be worked out before she could go forward as Secretary of State . . . .

But they're not going to seat Burris in the Senate, when there is no credible allegation of wrong-doing on his part.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Road Whoas

For Christmas the Loquacious one gave me a copy of Cormac McCarthy's The Road (2006), which proved an unexpectedly apt holiday gift. The book is the story of a somewhat harrowing father-child road trip, and well, we had one this year, me, Mrs. TMcD, Goofball Jones, and "Ricky Bobby" (the pre-born one) as we rode from TN to OH via eastern KY and WV.

We got a late start leaving Lexington after lunch on day 2, having decided to hang around and do some last minute shopping in the morning. Probably should have known something loomed when first one interstate (I-75, the one we thought we were gratefully leaving) was accident clogged and then the next, I-64, had us driving past a school bus accident involving a totaled SUV, a bus with a long, low, side panel missing, and what looked like a bunch of healthy kids jumping out into a field to sit in the cold drizzle. That was not the last totaled SUV we would see, nor the last accident-in-process. Apparently, we were driving at that magical moment where low-30s temps, light rain, hilly roads, and long bridges make Johnny go crash. An hour later, after fishtailing across one bridge at 30 mph, we watched in the rearviews as the next SUV over started spinning like Brian Boitano before plowing into the railing. Pull over, you say? Find a place to stop for the night? Ever driven through eastern KY? Nothing. By the time we knew exactly how bad it was, we were 30 miles from as much as a gas station. Most of the bridges we surfed across (at 5 mph!) had accidents already, and the SUVs were piling up like it was the Dukes of Hazzard Do Detroit. I'm sure you northerners are used to this kind of thing, but we southerners are not so experienced. Thankfully, we made it to Grayson, KY intact, but not everyone in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express was so lucky. When we turned on the local news we discovered that the thirty miles we had just traveled had just been closed down, as was much of the road ahead.

So The Road was perfect reading for the aftermath. It's what I would call high-class parenthood porn, one full step above Spielberg's War of the Worlds and another few above Sally Field in Not Without My Baby! McCarthy is in vogue these days, thanks in large part to the success of No Country For Old Men, and he certainly spins an engrossing tale. The elements here are all fairly familiar: an apocalyptic tale that reads like a less hopeful Children of Men or a more sensitive Road Warrior. But McCarthy dresses it up with post-GRE vocabulary games and a sense of mystery that conceals far more of its world than it reveals. A hint, maybe, that there is far less of his world than he conceals. Given his penchant for westerns, some reviewers have apparently been confused about the setting, but he gives us Tennesseans a tip off when our nameless father and son trudge across their freezing, ash strewn hellscape only to find "See Rock City" painted on the roof of a barn. Bonus! I've been 'round here! And now we've got the ash too.

Hard to know for sure, but "the city" through which they trek early on must be either our beloved Chattanooga (of Rock City fame) or Knoxville, the latter a theory convincingly proposed by one grad student road tracker who claims they must start out in--you guessed it--eastern KY. Even better, they appear to head through the NC mountains, very near my Memorial Day haunt, on their way to the SC coast. As anyone who has ever visited the pre-apocalyptic ash strewn hellscape that is Myrtle Beach could have told them, they won't find much redemption there. Spring break, however, appears to be long over.

And yet, this is a story of faith and redemption, and McCarthy weaves religious themes throughout. This is a world the prophets foresaw. Just not the more optimistic ones. The key idea, I think, is the Levinasian notion (Sartre's "hell" inverted) that God is other people. The father who finds God in his son, the son who finds God in the father. Over the last two years, I've often reflected--it is hard not to--that the core experience of biblical faith must be that of parenthood. We all seek the divine, at least those of us who do, in the best of what we can know as human beings. Where Aristotle finds God in reason, pure thought thinking itself eternally, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus find it in the paternal relation, the kind of seemingly selfless love that brings joy through the experience of living for another, the trick on our self-sacrificing self-regard being, of course, that in a decisive sense the other for whom we live is not really "other" at all. And once again inverting Sartre, this is a heaven from which there is an exit.

All of which makes this spectacular movie fodder. Rumor has it Viggo will star.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Matt Millen Comments

On a special "wild card weekend" Saturday night Football Night in America, the usual panel was joined by newly fired Detroit Lions GM Matt Millen. Yes, the genius who assembled arguably the worst team in NFL history, the 0-16 Lions, who put together a team that had four (!) interceptions all season . . . that guy was talking about football on my teevee. As an "expert."

What's next? George W. Bush on Faux News as a financial analyst?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Be Still My Heart

So Frances got me a heart rate monitor (HRM) for Christmas. (I guess she wants me to get into better shape!) It's a nifty gadget, which I've now had the opportunity to try out a few times. It records your heart rate as you work out (for me, mostly running, although I wore it for a weights work out, too), and then reviews your average HR, calories burned (based on the weight that you enter), etc.

The first run I wore it, on reaching the top of Capitol Hill on the return leg of the run, the HRM indicated that my HR spiked at about 225 bpm, which would be about 30 bpm above my estimated maximum HR. This frightened me, of course, because I think that that should have killed me? But today, same place, HR only went up to 175 bpm. So better.

I'm keeping a comprehensive training log this year, so from time to time will update you all on my training. My training year always starts on a Monday, so I'm almost at the end of the first week of Training Year 2009. So far, almost 29 miles down (28.6 miles is the estimated ttd). Average pace slightly faster than 9 mpm. Not a great pace, but fair for training purposes.

I've Lost My Parking Mojo

I used to be pretty good at parallel parking. Really. But since I only drive like once a week, and thus only parallel park in a short space like once every three weeks, I've completely lost my parallel parking mojo. Just cannot get into a tight space with any ease, and find that the worse I get at it, the more I think, . . . negative feedback loop.

Partly spurred by tekne's reflections, partly by my frustration with my own declining abilities.

Happy New Year!