the  B A L L S  Award for 27 June 2007

NOTE: The BALLS referenced by this award should not be taken to mean actual testicles, but rather the essence of what Karen Salmansohn talks about in her book Ballsy.

Today's BALLS Award goes to two men in a profession generally not known for its display of BALLS. But there has been a slow but steady blossoming of Spine in certain quarters of Washington DC this Spring, and it seems to be gaining steam so far this Summer. We'll see if it can sustain itself, but for now here are two good signs.

Representative Henry Waxman of Cali's 30th District has long been the federal government's de facto auditor, working the House Oversight Committee like a dawg. With the Dems tenuusly back in the saddle he assumed the Chair of the Committee this year and has been, oh, exercising oversight. Given the amount of adult supervision that this Administration has lacked in its sad strange little tenure, Rep. Waxman has taken on a Herculean task.

You've probably seen the Waxman on your preferred video news device once or twice, politely and patiently questioning various malfeasants in and out of government, erm, "service". On the surface he looks too meek to even be an accountant, but in a drivetime epiphany I realized that the mild mannered Congressman reminds me most of the late Wally Cox.

I began to suspect that the Henry Waxman we see is but a secret identity. CA-30 - which encompasses some of the most reality-impaired parts of Los Angeles such as Old Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and porn capital Chatsworth - is represented by none other than Underdog.

No, that would be too cartoonish, and DC is enough of a bad piece of Claymation for my tastes. Waxman is a genuine superhero: human, with special powers, facing the forces of evil against the odds. The special powers he possesses come in the form of Congressional oversight, and of late The Wax has been ramping it up to the max. And as far as the evil part goes, well, take your pick.

Underdog? Pit Bull. With a pair of iron ones.

Our second BALLS honoree has alternately been the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman or Ranking Member since the Horrors of early 2001, and is perhaps best remembered as the man to whom Dick "Can't Touch This" Cheney uttered the famous dictum, "Aaaaah, go (Eff) yerself!" on the Senate Floor.

But rather than take the bait, Vermont's senior Senator Pat Leahy bided his time, re-assumed the Chairmanship, and today issued subpoenas to the White House regarding the Administration's secret surveillance ops. It's only a first step, and who knows whether this will lead to real investigations or just the usual dog and pony show, but since Master Dick is once again creating his own reality out of thin air, we award a pair of Big Brass to Senator Leahy for, well, doing his job.

Go (Eff) yourself? Oh, grow up already, Cheney.


haiku hell returns

includes: new old post
shameless self-promoting post,
in five-seven-five.

Go to (haiku) hell

voting reform bill toes to House floor

The 2007 version of the election reform bill proposed by NJ Rep. Rush Holt is finally about to come to a floor vote in the House.

HR 811, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act sponsored by Holt and CA Rep. Zoe Lofgren, is far from perfect, but as the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out, overall this is a step in the right direction and does much to stop the bleeding - or maybe infection would be a better analogy.

HR 811 would sharply regulate direct recording electronics voting machines, aka DREs. DREs are "Black Box" devices, run on proprietary and secret computer source code. DREs have repeatedly been shown to be hackable, insecure, inaccurate, and just plain tacky.


At their worst, they can rig elections; even in the absence of malice, they just don't work right. They are widely believed to be responsible for botching elections in 2004 and 2006, and generally have no provisions for audits, recounts, or any other of those nice accountability features we've foolishly come to expect from our electoral process.

See EFF's comprehensive analysis of what's good, bad, and fugly about the bill. Then contact your congresscritter and impart them some good guidance on the matter - or else I'll move to your district and run for public office. And that would be bad.

return of the Cup Noodle Man

this will only make sense if you grew up on occasional bursts of Japanese television, are a ramen otaku, or otherwise just not entirely hinged.

the Cup Noodle man is walking in an infinite circle, eating his Cup Noodle as if his life depends on it. the Cup Noodle man is permanently tilted inward at a slight angle, enabling him to remain hunched over his Cup Noodle without breaking his stride, maintaining his tight circle of Cup Noodle perambulation that keeps him on camera at all times for the duration of his five seconds of Cup Noodle fame.

The constant inflow of Cup Noodle feeds sufficient energy to prevent his Cup Noodle orbit from decaying until the supply of Cup Noodle runs out or we return from station identification, whichever comes first. yet the Cup Noodle man cannot simply stop, or inertia would cause the Cup Noodle in his hands would spin out of control and into a chain of chaos that would move the earth's orbit too close to the sun to sustain life and also render the moon tasting a bit like MSG.

so, the Cup Noodle man must go on. but the Cup Noodle man is a mere mortal. what happens when the Cup Noodle man dies?

the earth's rotation must cause the orbit of the Cup Noodle man to someday intersect with other Cup Noodle beings. if the Cup Noodle man's orbit should come into proximity with a Cup Noodle woman of sufficient counterspin, they can produce Cup Noodle offspring, provided they can do it with chopsticks and Cup Noodle occupying their hands. similarly, their containers of Cup Noodle may yield smaller containers of Cup Noodle, thus feeding future generations.

do not run over the Cup Noodle man if he wanders into the road, or you will break the chain of Cup Noodle that holds together the Cup Noodle universe.

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late to the virtual ball ... again

In their 1976 book Monty Python's Terry Jones and Michael Palin (no, I'm not linking to it, go to Powell's or Amazon yrself) published a timeline of world events that included the invention of radar several times through the centuries, each time way too early, and then again in 1946 with the annotation (too late!)

So that's what this blog is, in one sense. I've published my own sometimes-insightful, sometimes-entertaining, usually-not blatherings, ramblings, and self-indulgent Stuff on and off for the last 20 years, and just now, so bleddy far into the opening act and even headliner of Web 2.0 and the whole frippin' revolution, I finally have a Technorati Profile.

Woo freakin' Hoo.

Then again, I think I get a free pass for raising children for most of the last seven years, but that's just my opinion.



no blood for ... burger

The other weekend I went to donate blood and was turned away for eating a British burger two decades ago.

Actually, They never asked if I actually ate that Britburger. So I was turned away on suspicion of burger-eating in the UK.

I can fully understand the amount of due diligence United Blood Services has to do to screen blood donors. When you walk into the Bloodmobile you fill out a two-page questionnaire about aspects of your medical history and any other pertinent info, as they really do need to know if you've been boinking any junkies lately. They really do need to know if you're a hepatitis or HIV risk up front so they don't waste their time drawing a pint they'll have to incinerate later.

But UBS - who are truly awesome and you should go sign up with them or the Red Cross to give blood even if you are a possible burger-eater - has a few red flags that didn't make sense at first. After the big questions ("But really, are you having unprotected sex with questionable partners? We promise not to tell.") they want to know if I'd traveled to certain countries and regions, including all of Europe between 1980-96 and particularly Great Britain. Since I visited the UK and parts of the Continent 17 years ago, I answered truthfully, still wondering why they'd ask.

In the interview room, which is the size of an airplane restroom and still somehow filled with medical supplies and two seats, the technician drew a few drops and ran it through some sort of quick check, then pulled out a gigundo looseleaf notebook filled with possible reasons for disqualifying prospective donors and flowcharts for reaching them. Buried among these is a section 86ing anyone who'd visited Europe for 6 months or the UK for 3 months during that time for suspected risk of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

I couldn't give blood because they thought I might have Mad Cow.

Back home, I realized they didn't ask if I'd eaten any meat during my travels. Actaully, during those months I spent in Britain and Scotland I started out a vegetarian. But since one morning at a B&B in the Highlands, where we'd gotten in late and neglected to inform our hosts we were not meat-eaters, we were presented with two lovely plates brimming with bacon and bangers. I looked at my plate, I looked at her plate, I looked at her and she must have seen it in my eyes. I had Die Fleischlust. And so I cleaned both of our plates.

But I rarely ate meat, and almost never from cows or sheep, the two primary suspect groups in the UK Mad Cow scare of the 90's (technically, it was scrapie for the sheepies; plus "Mad Sheep" doesn't quite carry the meme as well). Even working nights washing dishes in a Tandoori restaurant for beer money and the awesome staff meals, it was mostly fish or chicken for me. But the regs say, if I'd so much as been there for 3 months or more it was thanks but no thanks.

These disqualifications turn out to be mandated by the FDA, and have been since 2002. There must be an assumption that if you were there for that amount of time then chances are you did your patriotic duty and had yourself a burger, or maybe even lamb kebabs. It's a sensible policy, given there's no test for CJD in living humans, and so the protocol aims to remove you from the guest list if you might have a rogue prion floating around.

But it doesn't. It's not that they didn't ask what I'd put into my body during my transatlantic trip. It's that they don't disqualify you for sipping from the dregs of the US meat industry, which is a documented high-CJD-risk activity. I don't expect the FDA to tell Americans that they can't donate blood if they've been living on anything involving feedlot-based ground beef, especially not with the current administration, but the contrast stands:

  • Spend a summer in Scotland eating fish & chips and chicken tikka, keep your stinkin' blood.
  • Eat Big Macs that may very well include neurological tissue from stressed-out feedlot cattle, well you're okay!

Despite all this, unless you've done the extended Eurotour in the 80's or early-mid 90's, go sign up to give blood. Unless of course you've been licking melamine countertops...


excerpt from Man Enough

This is a short piece from a work-in-progress about my stay-at-home parenting career, tentatively titled Man Enough. I wrote it sometime in 2002-03 but only dug it up the other night.

"Boy, you've got your hands full!"

Almost without exception, any time I'm out with the 'twins, say, shopping or waiting in line, generally with the two in a shopping cart or the double stroller (so long as Tank will consent to remain strapped and seated, which is about 20-25 minutes tops), or with Tank on foot and Popeye in the backpack carrier (so long as Popeye consents to the laws of gravity, which is generally 5-7 minutes max), strangers will take note and quote, more or less to the letter, this same phrase. Sometimes it's preceded by "Wow" or "Man" instead of "Boy"; sometimes there's "really" added, but those five little words are the same each and every time. You've Got Your Hands Full, exclamation point.

My usual reaction is to simply acknowledge them with a smile and a simultaneous combination of nod and shake of the head that should defy the laws of physics but - possibly due to the time-and-space warping presence of Popeye - always manages to go off without a hitch, much less badly twisted vertebrae (the 'twins have that last part down pat). That's the socially acceptable response to my socially pushing-the-bounds behavior of a father caring for and carrying his own kids.

Later I rationalize that I've scratched the surface of that folkway for at least one YGYHF!er and hope I've given them something to think about, offered a glimpse into a redefinition of modern manhood.

In my heart, at least the good part of it, I hear them thinking:
"Sure, this macho guy is hauling his young'uns around in the middle of the day when he 'should' be at the office or shop or making his next sales call, but here he is, saddled up like a pack mule and breaking for the restrooms and muttering a prayer for the presence of a diaper changing station or at least a relatively clean and flat surface. Damn, I'm glad I'm not him...."

Or maybe,
"Damn, there goes a mighty mighty good man, I wonder if he...."

At this point my mind snaps out of that lonely housewife fantasy scenario in the light of the reality of a diaper at the end of its useful life and a thrashing toddler for whom "safety" straps are just a minor challenge. It's good, too, because now I can move on from the other part of what I was thinking when informed that my hands were in fact at capacity, namely the smartass answer along the lines of NO SHIT SHERLOCK. You mean my hands are FULL? I HAD NO IDEA. I thought I was waving them like clouds and these little creatures were fluttering alongside me, effortlessly keeping in my wake as if tethered yet free to move about. But DAMN, my hands are, yes, thoroughly laden. Thank you for clarifying that.

The 'twins save me from doing that, because at some level I think they realize that they're preventing me from getting into an ugly scene that will result in my being asked to leave the store and thus the frosted toaster pastries we came for will not be obtained and a shitfit will be required of one or both of them, or that the YGYHF!er in question is likely a bureaucrat whose goodwill we may find ourselves in need of this afternoon at the DMV.

Sometimes I'm feeling a bit rowdy and I come back with "No, I've got my hands free," going palms up as I push the cart or stroller, and we both execute an acceptable nervous laugh that lasts long enough to pass one another by and hopefully never have to make eye contact again.

Now we can get on with our mission, namely hunting and foraging for the wild Pop Tart.