Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sports Thoughts Potpourri

1. The...NFL Network's panel of Football Discussing Types just demonstrated, in about three lines, why I don't watch a lot of sports commentary on TV.
Football Dude #1: What is it gonna take for a team to beat [some team I forgot already because I don't care]?
Football Dude #2: Well, it's gonna have to be a team that scores a lot of points.

I understand that this roughly means "'cause there's no stopping that offense" and all but man, that is some dumb-sounding shit.  These guys are getting paid more than I'll probably see in a lifetime to issue inane comments like that.  I don't even know.

2. The only way American hockey broadcasts are going to get more viewership is if they kidnap all the video and production guys from Hockey Night in Canada.  Hockey is a hard game to put on TV and every US network who has tried has failed dramatically.  Unfortunately, it's going to have to be kidnapping, because no way is Canada allowing those people to leave the Great White North.  In turn, this means we're going to have to have a war.  "No problem!" you may say, "America's overblown military-industrial complex will handle the Canadian invasion in a thrice!"  If you say this, you are underestimating the passion of our neighbors to the north as far as their hockey goes.  It would be like Thermopylae in that piece.

3. I'm pretty sure everyone should just elect Tim Tebow to something and have done with it.  I don't know much about him, but it does seem that every sports outlet on the planet is going to great lengths to avoid saying he's really just not that good, yet everyone seems to agree that he's just a really nice dude and people like him.  He was on The Daily Show and he charmed my face off, I understand this.  However, maybe we should stop trying to make Tim Tebow happen and just let him get on with his career as a Congressperson or life coach or official hug therapist or whatever because now I'm starting to hate him and I don't even fully understand who he is or why anyone cares.

Those are my thoughts on sports for the day.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Math, We Meet Again.

I very clearly remember a commercial from when I was a kid that featured a college type student running into a classroom late, seeing an abundance of incomprehensible math on the chalkboard and a droning teacher, and realizing he was in the wrong class. Who knows what was being sold in this commercial (alarm clocks?), but it stuck with me. I’m actually reasonably sure that I remember it for its college feel, having been a big honking nerd from a young age, but it turns out that the MATH part also stuck with me, because when I had nervous dreams about college before starting undergrad, they often featured those same walls of horrifying math.

I have never been good at math. This applies to all math, starting from a very basic level. I have many friends who, because they are kind and wonderful, cannot comprehend the depth and breadth of my math problems, the logic being something like “but you are smart, math should not be hard for you.” This may be true, but does not change the reality of my math situation. I would like to be good at math. I actually quite enjoy the application of math – I’m very good at Physics, of all things – and I really enjoy the satisfying “this is THE answer because MATH” conclusions that are possible. Even setting up algebra problems is reasonably satisfying to me. I like the order of it all. The problem is that I am the queen of basic math errors and I have a hard time connecting the math I’m doing to an actual result. I think this is why I like geometry but hate more or less everything else. If you do yourself some geometry, you can get your protractor out (oh man, I love protractors!) and you can test that shit on paper. The basic math issues are compounded by the basic limits of my math education; I only took Algebra I and II, Geometry and Trigonometry. No Calculus, not even pre-Calc.

Needless to say, this is making my Quantitative Research Methods class a little horrible.

If anyone is one of those political scientists who is like “I-I-I-I-I-I-I don’t wanna debate, I just wanna run me some stats all day,” I have a professor you need to meet. Two, actually, because I know that one of our other professors is like this too. The poor soul tasked with teaching me statistics is all over the math stuff, and he’s actually quite good at connecting it all with real world scenarios, which is endlessly helpful, but he also does a LOT of mathing and he appears to think that it explains something to me, which of course it does not because I do not speak math. The main problem is that I need some kind of remedial course and the professor has been lead to believe that he has been given people who are at least marginally competent. This brings me back to the classroom ad, because Quant has brought my nightmares to life. I have adopted a coping mechanism I like to call Write Everything Down Meticulously and then Hope that Later It Will Make Sense, Perhaps After I Skype My Friend Dan, Dan the Mathy Man. I try to note wherever the professor indicates some kind of revelation, to wit:

Oh, by the way, that’s the third page of that proof. The rest of it looked like this:
It's fuzzy because math is the natural enemy of cameras.
Okay actually I was on a train.  Whatever.
Some of you might notice that this is actually fairly difficult stats stuff. That’s because it’s toward the end of the semester, and we’re getting into regression and all that good stuff. You may be thinking, “now Josie, it’s not so bad, many people could get confused by this stuff!” Yeah, here’s some stuff from week…two or so.
Now, to be fair, I finally got a handle on the above section of chaos, but I am still largely adrift.  The good thing is that the professor hands us solution sheets back with our homework, so I am able to go back and take apart the problems and usually connect them to my notes.  I think the problem with my notes is the same one I have had for years, that being that I'm notating something that makes sense to me in class, but then when I get home to do the homework, for whatever reason, the information has slid off my brain and the notes now correspond to nothing.

Class will be over soon and I won't have to do any more graded math, but I really wish that it would click so I could do this stuff more easily.  I guess I should just pray for technology to advance until I can have math uploaded to my brain Matrix-style.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This Is About More than Occupy Wall Street

You can agree with Occupy Wall Street or not.  You can agree that the banking system is fucked and still think that Occupy is doing it wrong.  You can completely disagree with both message and execution.  All of those things are fine.  But as of last night, you are no longer allowed to disregard what the behavior of the NYPD says about this country and who is running it.

Last night - in the middle of the night - Occupy Wall Street was forcibly removed from Zuccotti Park by heavy machinery, police in riot gear, and LRAD sound cannons.  A public police force, at the behest of the Mayor of New York City, removed people exercising their First Amendment rights from a private park, and the President of the United States didn't say a goddamn thing.

There are a lot of things going on here.  There is a larger question of whether a public park is appropriate to the exercise of First Amendment rights.  One might argue no, and have a legitimate argument; private property is private for a reason and vice versa.  However, we have begun ceding our public spaces to private control, and while this is a nice way to keep the maintenance of public spaces off the ledgers of local governments, it also means that we are ceding physical space in which we can exercise our rights as citizens.   Public spaces are accepted as a public good, but we rarely explain why they are a public good.  The Boston Public Gardens are lovely, but their virtue is not in the beautiful plantings or the swan boats.  Their virtue is in the freedom of the space, the communal ownership of the land, and the chance to simply be a citizen in that space.  If this is the good provided by public spaces, then we must either demand that private interests taking over the provision of public spaces maintain these freedoms or else refuse their generosity for our own collective good.

If we do accept these private/public spaces as private in ownership and control, then it is inappropriate to have public police forces managing them.  Allowing private citizens into an office building does not give the building owner the right to use the police as security personnel, and neither should allowing public citizens into a private space.  If the management group that owns Zuccotti Park wanted to hire private security forces to evict the Occupiers, it should have done that, and while the violence would probably have been worse, it would not have been a damaging blow to this country's civil liberties.  Instead, a police force went in at the direction of a Mayor.  Let us be clear: a government agency went in to shut down a peaceful assembly.

Had it not been the NYPD, maybe I wouldn't be so fucking angry.  Had it not been at Mayor Bloomberg's request, maybe I wouldn't be so fucking scared.  Maybe if there had been any nod towards the First Amendment's protections, I wouldn't be so fucking sad.

Some will say that the Occupiers did not have First Amendment protections in a private park.  This would be a legitimate argument had the NYPD not gone in.  It was not a private interest suppressing the Occupiers' protest, it was the government.  With the involvement of a police force, it becomes a matter of First Amendment rights' suppression.  This is, of course, all before we mention that the press were kicked out of the park and kept separate.  It's all before we mention that this went down in the middle of the night.  That tells me that the NYPD knew exactly how much a transgression of rights this shit was, because if they thought otherwise they'd do it in the light of day, in the light of righteousness.

Can we take a moment, too, to note that the NYPD sent in counter terrorism officers, closed down airspace over Zuccotti Park, and generally demonstrated that they have a fucking military policing New York?

And the President of the United States, a man who raised his hand on January 20th, 2009 and swore to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of his ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, has said nothing.  He has had five hours in a 24/7 world.

Shame on you, President Obama.  Shame on you for allowing this to happen without condemnation.  Shame on you for allowing our security state to expand and to turn on our own brothers and sisters, our fellow Americans.  Shame on every public official who didn't run to New York to stand with these people and shame on every public official who didn't make a statement decrying these actions.  I've spent so much time defending so many of you and reassuring people that you do mean well.  I've fucking had it.  Voting for everyone who isn't an incumbent isn't going to work; you're all fucking complicit in this.  You mark my words, you will force this nation into a civil war, against the work of people like me, people like your staffs, people who have advised and fought and rebelled against the slow slide you thought either wouldn't matter or wouldn't be noticed.  Fuck all of you, fuck your cowardice.  Fuck your goddamned tunnel vision, fuck your willingness to get so deep into politicking that you can't even do the right thing.  I'm exhausted and I'm fucking 28.  And you know what the sad thing is? I'm not exhausted by physical fighting or anything like that...I'm exhausted by trying to defend a country I love from the people running it.  Your time is coming; the world is waking up and by the time this is over, you'll be the ones exhausted.

Religion Is What Holds Us Over

I read a sweet story today about a Jewish bakery in New York being saved from closure (and kept kosher!) by a pair of Muslim cab drivers.  It's a neat story for many reasons - long time cabbie buddies embarking on a new adventure, preserving a 91 year old business, great only-in-New-York intersections, etc.:
Peerzada Shah and Zafaryab Ali recently took ownership of the Coney Island Bialys and Bagels, a landmark fixture anchored at 2350 Coney Island Avenue for 91 years. 
The bakery was about to shutter in September when Ali, a former staffer, learned of its demise and decided to save it — keeping it in the same spirit of its original owner, Morris Rosenzweig, a Jewish immigrant from Bialystok, Poland, who founded the shop in 1920.
Oh and the story also features a really great quote from Shah that assures me that everything's going to be juuuuuuust fine: “It’s the same bialys, but I don't have time to talk right now, we're busy.  I have to make sure customers are taken care of, because they come first.”  Right on.  This story is, of course, being presented as a "oh MIRACLE OF MIRACLES look, people of different religions can get along!" story, and I always find that mode of presentation very strange.

Not everyone is religious or even spiritual, which I understand, but everyone who is religious has to face up to the reality that they will not receive any kind of universal authority by dint of their beliefs until after their death. Faith is at its heart a belief in something that cannot be definitively proven.  Though we can understand anything in the world around us as evidence of God, God's existence not on Earth requires that we believe it in spite of His coming down to point at the flowers or our friends or skyscrapers and claim them as His work. This is in fact why we can base such far reaching moral structures on working towards the idea of Him.  If God was of this world, we would inevitably understand Him as a limited entity - limited by geography and power and volume.  Our experience of "things that exist on Earth" does not allow for us to understand things we encounter as greater than we are to the extent that would be required to construct the same constructs we have build around God as we understand Him.  This is also why Jesus works so compellingly as a human figure and why he needed to die in the Christian mythos; his time on Earth (as laid out in the Bible) allows us to think about what a religious life might look like, but were he immortal, his significance would ultimately decline, eroded by continuing interaction with the world.

I also like Aristotle's concept of the Unmoved Mover, laid out in the Physics and Metaphysics, where he goes through an argument that everything is material and moves, and this movement is the basis of time.  He then explains that everything moves because it's continually bumping into other things, either materially or in time (stay with me here, guys), but concludes that there must be something that starts all of this movement, and settles on an Unmoved Mover, ultimately a thought thinking itself, that all of these other movers are so inspired by that they move in turn.  I like this kind of aspirational love, and it's how I think of God; as something so elemental, so universal and so beautiful that we all move towards it in each movement we make. Notice that there is no moral component here.  Good, bad and neutral movements are all inspired by this divine love.  I think this is where our language of impulse comes from...we call ideal employments our callings and say we felt drawn to have children.  We fall in love, we are drawn together.  When you think about it, it is strange that when we talk about the biggest, most life changing and most definitive aspects of our lives, we so often adopt incredibly passive speech.

Now, you might think that Aristotle and I are full of hooey.  Aristotle also believed that there were crystal spheres floating around moving things, and science has checked space pretty thoroughly for those to no avail. But I think that one of the beautiful things about religion is that we are able to conceive of God so differently, and that these concepts conflict.  If you do think of God as an inspirational force in the vein of Aristotle's Unmoved Mover, it makes sense for so many of us to conceive of a divine entity differently (and not at all).  It all movement is movement towards and away from this mover, it seems logical that when we try to understand it, we will have to grapple with what, precisely, it is, even though we can't ever understand it, earth-bound as we are.  And too, if all things come from this one source, then all the world's religions stem from it as well.   What purpose does this serve?  If there is one true God and one true answer, then why allow these other religions to contradict that answer?

I think the answer must be, "to understand that one true God more completely."

It is easy to point to the Bible, or the Quran, or any other text, and say "here is the answer, in black and white."  But we have all seen that this kind of manicheanism leads to the worst kind of bigotry, and the least virtuous behavior.  This is, of course, because we have accepted some fellow earth-bound person's interpretation of the Divine without consideration, without interpretation, without a struggle to understand.  Without intensive consideration and without argument and challenge, our religious faith is worth nothing at all.  Without a struggle to do right and live by a religion's tenets in a modern and changeable world, religion shrinks down to yet another checklist, something earthly and mundane.  Religions differing from ours are a way to develop our faith; all religions are a part of the same project.

Considering all this, is it really so surprising that religious people manage to get along?

Monday, November 14, 2011


We had some startling and problematic snow up here right before Halloween.  Huge power outages, chaos everywhere, the whole nine yards...the heavy snow on the still be-leaved trees wreaked absolute havoc and pulled branches down all over the place.  The power was out at my house when I came home from the hockey, and stayed off for much of the next day.  I went over to my parents' house, which is apparently some kind of impenetrable fortress and/or has Doc Ock's fusion reactor in the basement.  When I pulled up, I saw this:
That is the damaged remains of the dogwood tree my parents planted when we first moved to Worcester when I was just six months old.  I had to sit in my car for a while just to compose myself, and I was struck by how powerful my response to this scene was.  I thought of all the times Mom and Dad had sent us out to shake the tree in the fall and how many neighborhood bikes had been dumped under it and how many swerve moves I'd run around it on my way to's funny how things you don't always think would be so important really are.

Goodbye, tree.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Truer Words Not Spoken

I usually turn over all rights to the person I am writing for, but in this case I asked if I could retain them so I could print it here, because I think the points in it are important and I think someone should say these things.  I'm proud of what I wrote, and I'm upset that the courage to deliver it was lacking.   I should note here that the dearth of courage is not my client's, and in fact, they were ready to go it alone, but this was built as a cooperative presentation with several colleagues so it would not just be one person falling on their sword, and those others were too nervous to go through with it.  I understand that, but I'm disappointed nonetheless.

I have removed delivery notations and specific references for client confidentiality, however, the speech remains mostly unchanged.
I want to apologize to the people in my district, and in my colleagues' districts.  I want to apologize to those protesting in the streets and to those too poor to join them.  I want to apologize to those living comfortably and those living lavishly.

I brought these pages with me today because these stories are the ones we are charged to and have failed to prevent. All of us have taken an oath to will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same.  We all swore that we made this promise obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.  In its turn, the Constitution we are bound to defend calls upon us to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.

We have not well and faithfully discharged the duties of the offices we entered.

Rather than promoting the general welfare, we have taken our proud citizens, upon whose backs America rose to greatness, and turned them into the wretched refuse of a teeming shore.  The lamp beside our golden door has gone out; we have turned our backs on those who need our help the most.  We have abandoned our own.

Some people might point out that members of this delegation have fought the good fight.  Those people may be right.  But if those people say we have done all we can, they are wrong.  They are wrong because we didn't call the Republican party on its lies, they are wrong because we refused to fight their fire with fire of our own, they are wrong because we didn't bring the full force of our will on our colleagues to bend them to it even if it meant we would break along with them.  There are reasons for this - it's poor form to call your colleagues liars, we wanted to maintain a high moral standard instead of stepping down into the murk of the trenches, we wanted to avoid the lockstep marching orders the GOP has made their trademark - but we didn't die on the battlefield for our American brothers and sisters, and now, they are paying the price...they, not we.  We here in Congress are lucky enough to live privileged lives here in our ivory tower, but now those we neglected are screaming from outside our windows for the same safety and security we enjoy.  It is true that the moral high ground matters, but the nonviolent occupations of New York and countless other cities prove that it is possible to speak loudly and powerfully without ceding it, and we should have adopted this approach sooner, stronger, and for as long as we remained in office.

It is past time for us to tend to our fellow Americans.  I believe in a nation that cares for its peoples' lives and health.  I believe that together we are stronger, and I believe that because our entire history has been the story of strength through unity.  When we stand together, we achieve greatness beyond the world's wildest dreams; when we separate, we sink into cowardice and wretchedness.  The Republican party doesn't even pretend to want to provide for the common welfare; their entire corpus amounts to little more than "make it on your own, or die trying."  This is no doctrine for the United States of America.  We are not that callous and we are not that foolish.  Ours is not a story founded in selfishness.  Many people will respond that they found success on their own, that they didn't need a hand from their neighbors or community.  That kind of empowerment is precisely what our government should produce; people should understand the communal infrastructure and resources provided by generations of Americans as their own, as pathways to success that are as natural as the air we breathe.  All Americans should wake up every morning and know that they will be met by opportunity and the chance to work hard and succeed.  This is not the case now.  These stories are those of people who did all "the right things," who work hard and follow the rules, but have been crushed under the immoral behavior of others who we have simply allowed to become more powerful than they deserve.

The unique strength of government is its ability to do things for all citizens.  Government opens the doors for all its people, admitting them to a society where all can succeed.  A good government helps all citizens gain an education that allows them to participate in the public sphere, a business world in which all can succeed regardless of size or power, and a society that understands all people as equally worthy of respect and honor.  Throughout our history, we have crawled, then walked, towards these goals, and it is time, [Mr. Speaker], to run.  This is the path to economic and social recovery - we have to create an America that lets us bear each other up.  I expect many questions about the cost of such a path, and I will not lie to you and say that rebuilding America will be free of charge.  Instead, I will point out that we have dramatically increased our debt through tax cuts for those who need them least and who promptly failed to reinvest them in the nation that granted them the incentive in the first place.  We have increased our debts through two ten-year wars. These ideas have failed.  They are not good for America and they are not good for Americans.  It is time to invest in all Americans, not a select few.

I am introducing a bill, cosponsored by my colleagues.  This bill calls for dramatic reform in the financial sector, and would outlaw most of the practices that allowed this sector to cause catastrophic damage to the US economy.  I will also introduce another bill, which will take the first steps towards reformation of our campaign finance laws and electoral processes.  These two bills are only the beginning of a massive project that stands before us, but I hope that my colleagues will join me in urgent and civil discourse in an effort to restore America to stability and prosperity.  Because this project is so massive, I am also submitting a rule change, temporarily converting control of extraneous Congressional functions like the naming of federal buildings and operational details to either the states or to the Executive branch department under whose purview the concerns fall, leaving us more time for the business of creating jobs and repairing our economy.

I also encourage my constituents and all Americans to voice their opinion of the bill.  The compassionate community on Wall Street and in other cities has inspired me to do what I can to invite you all to occupy my offices, both here in Washington and in the district.  Coffee, tea, water and snacks will be freely available for all takers, and my staff will be prepared to discuss the mechanics of legislation with you and to record your opinions.  My website will also be available for this purpose, and you will find full texts of both [suggested bills] there now, along with synopses and a form to submit comments and questions.  We have also provided easy ways to contact your own representative, and I encourage you to do so.

Together, we can repair the great system under which we live.  We can make a better America and a better world, and we can rescue all of our fellow Americans - our brothers and sisters -  from that teeming shore.

We can rescue each other, and lift high the great American torch once again.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

So Here's Some Stupid Shit (Shockingly, Congress is Involved)

[extreme bad language warning throughout]

There's a lot of conflict in American politics right now, but I think there is one thing that Americans of every political stripe can agree upon, and that one thing is: "shit is fucked."  Regardless of what shit you think is fucked, odds are overwhelmingly good that you have a list of fucked shit, and you are probably angry about this.  I am angry too, which is why I had to put a bad language warning up front.  

So okay, shit is fucked, and since Congress has the primary power to unfuck some shit - any shit - I think we can further agree that Congress should stop dicking around and address some of the stuff that has the most overlap on various constituencies' Shit is Fucked lists.  

Here is the Congressional calendar for the last two months of this year.
Blue = House recess; Yellow = Senate recess
By my count, there are seventeen legislative days left in the Congressional session.  [NB: "A Congress" lasts for a period of two years, starts on January 3rd of the odd-numbered year following an election year, and is broken up into two sessions.  This is the 112th Congress and we're just finishing up the first session.]  Rep. Eric Cantor just released the Legislative Calendar for the second session, and would you like to know how many days are on the calendar?


I'd just like to take a moment to say, "Eric Cantor, you are a gigantic fucking asshole.  Beyond being a shitty enough person to stand up and say 'oh no, I'm not taking any disaster relief funds unless they're offset with budget cuts' with a hurricane bearing down on your district, you are also too much of a pathetic, yellow-bellied dickbag to take your medicine from your own fucking constituents at your Town Halls.  Do you know what the point of keeping disaster funding fluid is, Mr. Cantor?  IT IS BECAUSE DISASTERS ARE DISASTERS.  Amazingly enough, they do not give you multiple months' notice.  THAT'S WHAT MAKES THEM DISASTERS.  And frankly given the fact that your negotiating style is of the fucking sandbox variety, i.e. sitting down crosslegged and pouting while saying "NO!" to everything everyone suggests, I'd appreciate it if you don't try to blow smoke up my ass about how in the face of disaster all y'all are going to be able to quickly and efficiently settle on some spending cuts, because motherfucker, I know your ass is attaching policy riders to that shit and that ain't gonna fly.  While most of this is more irritating than setting 109 workdays for people who make $174k annually in the midst of some of the biggest shit that we have faced as a nation, I'm certainly willing to take this opportunity to point out that you are a spineless sack of shit who shouldn't be dogcatcher in East Jesus Nowhere, VA, and to commend your district on what is clearly a thriving underground drug market since that's the only way I can imagine a majority of anyone who isn't in a persistent vegetative state voting to send your snivelling ass to Congress."

In any case, it's not just about Eric Cantor being a shiftless douchebag, it's about the fact that we have real shit to deal with and Congress will only be working 126 days between now and the end of 2012.  Before I get to why this is extra obnoxious, let me state for the record that the next time some Congressional asshole has the absolute gall to stand up and suggest that teachers don't really work hard because they have summers off, I am literally going to shit in a box and mail it to their office.  No.  I will find their home address and send it there, because poop-bombing the interns isn't really acceptable. Anyway.  I'm sure you're thinking to yourself, "but Josie, I'm sure that Congress is doing a lot of really important and significant stuff to fix the fucked shit during those 126 days!"  You are correct!  Let's take a look at what they are doing today.

Oh, they're voting on a non-binding resolution that "reaffirms 'In God We Trust' as the official motto of the United States and supports and encourages the public display of the national motto in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions."

Now see, this is interesting to me, because when Republicans took the House in 2010, one of the first things - the first things! - they did was to put some new rules in place basically saying that symbolic resolutions were a waste of everyone's time.  This was a good call!  In fact, Virginia's own Eric Cantor referred to these rules when he insisted that Congress could not pass a symbolic resolution noting the assassination of Osama bin Laden, in whose pursuit we have waged a ten year war.  That's a pretty big deal, no?  I mean, if you're going to skip a resolution like that, you must be extremely fucking serious about this rule.  

Oh wait, we can vote on this to push our Bible-thumping bullshit, claw at the separation of church and state AND shame President Obama about biffing a reference to the motto by saying it was "e pluribus unum," which was the motto up until America threw its little Commie fit and made "In God We Trust" the motto in 1956 and in fact still appears on the Great Seal of the United States?  

Well then by all means, let's piss away a day voting on this useless, pathetic rule while Americans starve and sleep in the cold.