july 2002

<robotvoice>I am a washing machine. Do what I say.</robotvoice>

I have decided not to continue my weekly photo of Garland Field that I started back in April when I got my new camera. The shots just don't have much variation in them anymore, and that's likely to continue at least through September. Until then, the shot will either be sunny or cloudy, but other than that there won't be any difference from week to week. Plus, it's just not that compelling a shot anyway, and I have tons of stuff in reserve—I've already picked all the shots for the July and August daily photos, and I'm sure I'll take plenty more in Wilmington this weekend.

Maybe when the weather turns cold again and the leaves start to change color, I'll take the Garland Field photo once a month or something like that. But I don't think anyone is going miss it that much.

In response to my musings on how long someone has to be dead before we stop using the word "late" in front of their name, Scott sent me a couple of links. One of them was just a link to dictionary.com, which didn't really help much, but the other was a link to a short article on the subject found on the Merriam-Webster web site, apparently a transcript from a radio show called "Word for the Wise". It even discusses my Princess Di example, saying that, yes, she should still be referred to as the late Princess Di.

But how often does anyone do that? Her death was such a famous one, that there is no need to remind the audience that she's "late". More helpful was this paragraph:

Everyone knows the adjective late is applied to people who were living until comparatively recently, but not everyone agrees on just how far comparatively recently goes back when using late to describe the deceased. Need some guidance? Evidence suggests the late is commonly applied to folks whose lives were recent enough to have existed within the living memory of a writer or speaker.

Still, the living memory of a given writer could be vastly different than the living memory of a given reader by a half century or more. Plus we have the problem of people like Princess Di, who should be referred to as "late" but in practice are not. So it's still a little unclear to me.

But I think we've now spent entirely too much time on this subject, so I'll move on.

When Scott (who is an attorney, by the way) sent me the "late" links, he also sent the following admonition:

Now look—there's some great legal stuff developing in the past few days and you've given us nothing about it. Oh sure, a little link here and there, but let's jump to the meat of it all. Are we a nation "under god"? Do we really put our trust in god when it comes to our money? Should your tax dollars provide a voucher for some kid to go to ANY private school let alone a religious one?

And, well, I've thought about this some, and decided that, really, I don't have a solid opinion on these matters. To clarify: I am the follower of an organized religion, but I have great interest in and respect for people with different religious beliefs, or no religious beliefs at all. If I didn't feel comfortable saying "under god" during the pledge, I would just omit it, and not think much more about it than that (and as someone who has gone through periods of extreme agnosticism, I feel confident that I'm not just saying that; there were times in my life when I would not have wanted to say the "under god" part and not been shy about it).

I've read a lot of different opinions about the pledge decision at this point, and I must say that no matter how much I read, I still don't really have a strong sense of the issue. There have been several essays supporting the decision (David Greenberg, Slate.com; Scott Rosenberg, Salon.com) and condemning it (Alan Wolfe, Salon.com), as well as a few that just offer analysis and point out that the politicians are going to milk every vote out of it this November (two Salon articles, this one and this one). There is also a transcript of an interview/Q+A session with the man who filed the suit on CNN.

The most interesting things that I discovered while reading these and other articles is that 1) the pledge, written in 1892, got along perfectly well without the "under god" up until 1954, when, in a fit of pro-American, anti-godless-heathen-Communist spirit amplified by red scare McCarthyism, the Congress added the "under god" to the pledge; 2) this same fit of religious-tainted patriotism caused Congress to add "In God We Trust" to all the money in 1955 and to make it the American motto (replacing E Pluribus Unum) in 1956; and 3) the pledge was originally written by a socialist who wrote the pledge as an expression of patriotism that expressly omitted a reference to god.

I can see how the 9th circuit court believed they were following the establishment clause separating church and state when they ruled that the "under god" was unconstitutional, but at the same time, a vast majority of Americans (well above 90%, from what I've read) believe in some form of higher power(s) or creator(s). Why should the beliefs of those who do not believe in any sort of creator be allowed to hold sway over the rest of us? I fully support their right to omit the words "under god" when saying the pledge, or to not say the pledge at all, without judging them for it; why can't they respect my right to acknowledge that my belief in a higher power defines who I am both as an individual and as an American? I mean, if this ban holds, and a child decides to add the words "under god" to the pledge while reciting it in school, are they going to be punished? Because that's essentially what this ruling would do, from what I understand. So even though no one is compelling atheists to say the "under god" or even the pledge itself if they don't want to, the judges have basically made it so that a religious person would be doing something illegal if they decided to add an expression of their religious beliefs to an expression of the patriotic beliefs, even though for many people these two belief systems are inextricably intertwined.

I don't believe that the majority should be allowed to force things on minorities, but at the same time, I don't think that any minority (even a 49% minority), should be allowed to control the majority as long as the desires of the majority do not infringe on the rights of the minority. And I don't think that "under god" in the pledge tramples on anyone, because we should all feel free to omit whatever words cause us discomfort, or to not say the pledge at all. It is a personal expression of our beliefs, and just as the atheists should be free to leave out "under god", those with religious inclinations should be free to include those words if those words are integral to a statement of their patriotism. (I just read about a related case where a school in Alabama disciplined a student for refusing to say the pledge; I absolutely believe that people have the right not to say the pledge, and it pisses me off when schools inappropriately use their power over students to enforce conformity and suppress free speech.)

As for school vouchers, I generally dislike them, whether they're for religous schools or not. I think the public schools need a serious overhaul, and I am not at all convinced that vouchers are the way to get them to shape up. But I think the reason the vouchers case got as much attention as it did is because it came on the heels of the pledge decision, and the news networks used the religious aspect of both decisions to tie them together so they could drag out the story for a longer period—even though the voucher decision is, in the larger picture, the one that Americans should be more interested in, no matter what their stance on the issue.

In the end, I think the pledge debate will be an issue only for as long as the politicians think they have votes to gain by talking about it, and that's probably one reason that I haven't spent a lot of time trying to figure out exactly what my stance on this issue is. This would be a hot button issue no matter what, but in the year after the 9.11 attacks and during an election cycle, its importance is going to be magnified. I see this as similar to the debate about burning the flag that happened more than 10 years ago; for a while there was all this talk about a constitutional amendment, etc., etc., and then it just kind of dissipated when the politicians felt like they couldn't gain a political advantage by pressing the issue any further. No matter what the court decides, people with religious inclinations will continue to add "under god" to the pledge, and in fact will probably do it more vigorously if they are told that they cannot.

The current decision will probably die somewhere in the judicial process due to politics and public sentiment, whether it deserves to be killed or not. The same goes for the issue of "in god we trust" on the money; public opinion and the extreme cost of overhauling all our currency will prevent that change from happening, constitutional or not.

Like I said in the beginning, I'm still undecided about these issues, so I'd be very interested in hearing some opinions on the subject from someone with a bit more expertise in these matters (or from anyone at all, really). What do you say, Scott? Or the rest of you? Write me, and I'll post your responses to the site.

Well, I have finally clawed my way back to the top position in our baseball league, The Reef, and because I managed to cling precariously to the number one spot after Saturday night's games, I get to enjoy it all week. But really, this is a very close race, and I don't expect to hold on to number one for very long (although I certainly hope to stay right in the hunt). Scott still has a very strong team that is suffering a run of bad luck (similar to my own bad luck a six weeks ago when Scott first took over the lead), and CS Jeff has really made a great comeback, focusing most of his resources of bumping up his pitching numbers (he has 10 starting pitchers). My dad could still be a contender if he wanted, but I don't think he's ever going to put in the time that it would take to really put himself in contention (although with the strength of his offense, he'll be a thorn in the side of the contenders all season long).

Really, I think everyone in the league still has a decent shot if things break the right way, except maybe Doug, who is in last place and makes about as many moves as my dad does. And that's a good thing; I think we would start to lose interest if one person had taken a clear lead. But since there are so many people in contention, we are all as engaged as we were the first week of the season, and the tables really could turn very quickly; I would not be at all surprised to find myself in fourth place in two weeks.

But I hope I don't, and for now, I'm going to enjoy whatever time I've given at the top. It would be great if the race was still this close going into the last week of the season. Plus, more people in contention lessens the likelihood of lopsided trades that would disrupt the integrity of the competition.

When will man learn that all races are equally inferior to robots?

Weird. Now SmarterChild is dead, just a couple of weeks after I accused him of killing Googly. Something funny is going on here...

Okay; you should probably buckle up for this one, kids, because it's going to be a long and bumpy ride.

So Scott, my lawyer friend, responded to my thoughts on the pledge ruling, which were originally compiled at his request. His letter to me is indented, and my original comments are bolded within that indent. My responses to his letter are in normal, unindented text (please take a minute to get that structure clear—it took me a while to work it out, and it doesn't even really make sense to me). A quick example:


Me yesterday.
Scott's follow-up letter.

Me today.

More of Scott.

More of me.


All clear? Then let's begin. I apologize in advance for breaking up some of Scott's paragraphs, but it couldn't be helped, since there were times when I needed to respond to his arguments on a point-by-point basis. I further apologize to all of you who might find yourselves quite sick of this whole discussion by the end of this entry. Here, then, is the beginning of Scott's letter, interrupted after one line by my first response.

One, very pleased that you touched on the subject.

I live to serve.

Two, you are a doddering thump-headed fool.

Well, I can hardly argue with that. :)

Let me elaborate.

Why should the beliefs of those who do not believe in any sort of creator be allowed to hold sway over the rest of us?
Here lies the rub my friend. Turn the question on its head, why should the beliefs of those who believe in any sort of creator be allowed to hold sway over the rest of us? Does it matter which the majority or the minority is? Haven't we established several laws (even a few constitutional amendments) that protect the minority? How is this different?

I don't see how me believing in god and making statements to that effect should hold any sway over you or anyone else. Everyone should be allowed to say the pledge however they feel comfortable (with or without the "under god") or to not say it at all. I would argue that protecting the minority is different than letting the minority decide how the rest of us should be allowed to exercise our free speech rights.

The Constitution, it's the law, not just a good idea, and should only be tampered with in extreme situations. If our President, or our representatives, or anyone for that matter, want to express their belief in a higher power, so be it. But that expression should be completely removed from any governmental action. Any break in this division, any commingling, no matter how small or seemingly trivial, is the beginning of the slippery slope.

Well, I can certainly agree with that. But I don't think we're talking about messing with the constitution here. No one is required to say the pledge, and therefore, no matter what Congress might set as the official words for the pledge, I don't think they're messing with people's rights unless they are trying to make a law that requires everyone to recite the pledge (which I think would be a violation of our rights whether you include the "under god" portion of the pledge or not). And like it or not, we will probably always exist on a somewhat slippery slope in America, because it is impossible to perfectly balance the rights of the many factions present in the populace of our nation. We should just be vigilant not to slide too far. Saying "under god" is not too far for me; requiring people to say it is.

This has nothing to do with the constitutional discussion, but I've grown up saying the "under god" in the pledge, and changing it smacks of the political correctness that has run amuck in our society over the last ten years. To me, it's like the movement to change "history" to "herstory", or the renaming of secretaries to "administrative assistants", or the insufferable plague of he/shes and him/hers that have descended upon otherwise readable prose.

As I mentioned yesterday, I was very surprised to find out that the "under god" portion of the pledge hadn't been added until 60 years after it was originally written, but at the same time, I'm never going to stop saying it. It is like a prayer to me, and I would no sooner change the words to the Lord's Prayer or the Nicene Creed or even Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" than I would change the words that I say during the pledge of allegiance. And you know me—I'm hardly a bible-thumping, flag-waving zealot; in fact, I lean more towards the paranoid end of untrusting suspicion regarding our government and organized religion. But at the same time, the pledge as it exists now is the pledge that I learned as a child, and since it doesn't conflict with my personal beliefs, that's most likely the pledge that I will say until the day I die.

If the "under god" is stricken from the official pledge, and I have a child who grows up learning the godless version, am I going to force them to say the "under god" just because I say it? I feel confident that I will not. By the same token, if that child chooses to add the "under god", will I support their right to do so? Absolutely, just as I would support their right to remain silent rather than recite an oath that they do not believe in.

Because that's essentially what this ruling would do, from what I understand. So even though no one is compelling atheists to say the "under god" or even the pledge itself if they don't want to, the judges have basically made it so that a religious person would be doing something illegal if they decided to add an expression of their religious beliefs to an expression of the patriotic beliefs, even though for many people these two belief systems are inextricably intertwined.
Not at all. Believing in God will never be illegal (I hope) in this country. Requiring a person to make an oath that they have such beliefs should be illegal and should be illegal forever.

Are we, in fact, required to say the pledge? I did not think that we were; if I felt like I was required to say it, I would not as a matter of course, simply to protest the wrongness of that requirement. And I don't really buy your argument that no one will be punished for adding "under god" to a classroom recitation of the pledge if the words were changed back to the original version. Can you honestly tell me as a lawyer that some attorney somewhere wouldn't proceed with a suit against a child who added the "under god"? What happens to that child's rights?

I think that, in the end, this is all about respect and balance. There is never going to be a single black-and-white answer that everyone is going to agree on regarding this issue. Let the "under god" people say "under god", let those who do not consider themselves to be under god omit it, and let those who wish to remain silent remain silent. I think that each of us has the right to choose whichever of these options fits our view of the world the best, or even tailor it to fit more specific beliefs, like "under Allah" or "under Vishnu" (and while I probably would have been against the addition of the "under god" had I been around in 1954, I do find it somehow reassuring that the Congress selected the fairly generic "under god", which could refer to any number of deities or higher powers, rather than the explicitly Christian "under Jesus", which is what the Jerry Falwells and Pat Roberstons of that time were lobbying for).

Does it make a difference if we are a nation "under God"? What were we in say, 1929? Was the Great Depression, WWI and WWII just some form of punishment for failing to recognize God?

Of course not. I know you're trying to make a point, but you know that no sane person, religious or not, believes that the universe works that way (I know that this doesn't help my argument, but I feel obliged to point out how eerily similar your example is to some of the beliefs expressed by members of the religious right in the days following the 9.11 attacks).

If the change was wholly arbitrary and politically motivated, why not admit as much, and move on? We apologized to the Japanese for the internment camps, why not apologize for the sudden unconstitutional religious fervor and undo the consequences.

Well, because apologizing for religious fervor is the fastest way for a politician to find himself out of a job in country that is as overtly religious-leaning as America is now. Again, that has nothing to do with the way government should work in a cold, logical, Vulcan-inspired society, but just try and tell me that emotion has not always been a part of the political process here, or that it is not likely to be for the immediate future.

The founding fathers were not atheists. From all accounts almost all of them were regular church goers, but they knew that the church and the state should never be combined. They had witnessed first-hand what happens when you let them commingle. Why should we carve out this exception now?

The enormous pressure that a child, or an adult, feels to state the Pledge out loud, in its entirety, is perhaps unfathomable to anyone who has never contemplated a 'silent protest.' You will be branded. You will be shunned, and you might even be targeted.

Except I can completely understand that pressure; it is not at all unfathomable to me, because there were many times when I was a child/teenager that my personal beliefs differed greatly from those around me and I had to deal with being the odd man out. But I also know that, in general, I do not need the acceptance of my peers as much as many people do, especially in the formative teen years, and I can understand that a lot of people would respond to that pressure with complicity instead of defiance. I guess it's just my personality that if I felt uncomfortable saying the "under god" or the pledge, I would have no problem remaining silent or amending it as I saw fit. I hate the thought of someone being made to feel uncomfortable, but at the same time I think that if you really believe in something (or, perhaps more appropriate for this discussion, vehemently don't believe in something), then you should be able to stand up for it without having to be overly concerned about what other people may think. If those who disagree with your beliefs channel that difference of opinion into intimidation, threats, or physical harm, that is when the law should step in. Up until that point, we all have an equal right to free speech.

I don't believe that the majority should be allowed to force things on minorities, but at the same time, I don't think that any minority (even a 49% minority), should be allowed to control the majority as long as the desires of the majority do not infringe on the rights of the minority.
How about environmental protection? When the Clean Water Act was passed, a majority of Americans thought it was unnecessary. A few insightful leader (surprising including Nixon) had the foresight to know that it was necessary act. Here a minority was clearly controlling the rights of the majority. Now, you could argue that polluting the water infringed on the rights of the minority, thus falling into the exception you provided.

First off, I don't think that the Clean Water Act is a good example, because no matter how stirred up people might get about not being able to dump their garbage in a river anymore, it doesn't strike at the heart of someone's beliefs the way the pledge ruling does. The Congress was trying to help the members of the republic by doing something which would benefit them in the long term, even if they couldn't see that in the short term. I think that most people would resent the suggestion that they need help from Congress to help them their clarify their religious beliefs, and that removing their right to state those beliefs is good for them in the long term.

But I could just as easily point out that keeping "under god" in the pledge IS infringing on my rights. Sure, I am not required to say it, ok, but the lack of the requirement still does nothing to convince Billy Bob the veteran-patriot from taking a swing at my communist ass because I either don't say the pledge (upon which I vacillate) or don't say "under God", which I never, ever do.

Okay. And you should know that I have total respect for you and for your right not to say the pledge, but since, as you pointed out, you are not required to say it, I fail to see how me saying it, however I choose to say it, infringes on your rights.

The reality is that no matter how correct the decision might be logically and legally, people are still going to add the "under god", and I absolutely believe that they will do it more loudly than ever before if the courts try to tell them that they cannot. In a way, this decision may in fact make it harder for you to omit the "under god" or to not say the pledge at all, since it is likely to stir up a hornet's nest of Billy Bobs who are now going to be on the looking for godless commies who refuse to swear an oath of allegiance to the flag. It may not be right, but you can't convince me that it won't happen.

If you expand out your concept of rights of the minority to its logical conclusion, you must find the decision to be a correct one. Remember the setting: young girl in grade school, singled out because she is the only one who refuses to say the pledge. Ostracized thanks in part to a state sanctioned daily rite. What part of that sounds fair to you?

No part. But I think that the ostracism is what's unfair, and that's what should be fought against, not the rights of the other children to make a statement of their beliefs.

Again, free speech mandates that you may proclaim on a daily basis your beliefs. But the flip to free speech is the freedom to not speak, or to not have your voice attributed to something to which you are opposed. This concept can be found again and again in the privacy decisions. It comes down to what are my rights, even as a minority. I thinks the rights that should not be infringed are numerous and include this vague right to privacy.

This argument makes the most sense to me of all the ones you've mentioned so far, since I am horrified at the constant erosion of our rights to privacy, especially since Bush took office (the 9.11 attacks just provided a convenient excuse for him to continue the elimination of our rights that he began shortly after starting his term). But if you're saying that the right to privacy means that no one else should be allowed to state their beliefs because my silence in not stating my beliefs would somehow indicate what my beliefs actually are and then infringe on my privacy rights because my silence actually serves to tell people something about myself that I do not want them to know, then I think you're dead wrong. Does that mean that a Christian should not be allowed to wear a cross, or a Jew a yarmulke, because other people not wearing declarations of their faith might be feel like their privacy was being invaded?

I might not be reading it right, but this sounds like the only way to insure that privacy rights are not overridden by free speech rights is to keep everyone silent, so that everyone is equally in the dark about everyone else's beliefs and no one feels left out for not sharing the beliefs of others. It reminds me of the famous Kurt Vonnegut short story "Harrison Bergeron", which explores America in 2053 after the state has tried to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator so that no one will be offended or have to feel inferior to anyone else; those with good sight are forced to wear thick glasses which distort their vision, the more intelligent are forced to wear headphones which disrupt their ability to think clearly, and good dancers are forced to wear chains which make them ugly and graceless. A key point in this story is the rewriting of the opening line of the constitution to read: ""All men are not created equal; it is the duty of government to render them so." This horrifying satirical fiction is, to me, one of the many logical conclusions that it is possible to reach when you are discussing the rights of minorities.

Bottom line, if you are going to keep Church and State separate, then you must be vigilant about this. I was quite disheartened by the vote of the senators proclaiming their continued support of the Pledge with the god language. It seems that they entirely forgot about the Constitution when they took this vote. And the problem is, the vote is unchallengeable by any citizen (meaning we can't challenge the constitutionality of the vote, since it was little more than a statement of opinion).

That was just political grandstanding, and I think we both know just how transparent and obviously pandering it seemed to most of the American public, no matter what their individual stance on this issue might be. There have been many, many times when members of Congress (and the judiciary, and the executive branch) have violated their oaths to uphold the constitution; I only wish most of their breaches were as insignificant and meaningless as this particular vote.

I've babbled a bit here, but it is only because my passion for this argument sometimes impairs my ability to communicate it clearly.

Well, I've think you've done a pretty good job explaining yourself. Believe it or not, much of what I've written is just playing devil's advocate and providing a real-world foil to your idealized-society expectations, which is part of the reason for the maddening inconsistencies in my arguments from paragraph to paragraph, inconsistencies that you will surely spend an excessive amount of time picking apart. I could tell you not to bother, because I already know they're there, but I know you will anyway; I just hope that some of them serve to throw some of your own inconsistencies into relief and demonstrate some of the many equally legitimate points of view that are in conflict over this issue.

We all know that the founders were trying as best they could to write the blueprint for a utopia of sorts, but at the same time, they had to realize that there would be some irrational decisions that would affect the actual building that resulted from that blueprint. Rather than requiring us to tear down the structure and start over every time a nail was not put in exactly the right place or some fanciful, needless ornamentation was added where none was specified, the founders instead left us with some wiggle room: the structure will not topple because it is not perfectly level. I feel our reponsibility as citizens is to make sure that we keep building from the plan established by the founders, to make sure that our house keeps growing and changing, but I don't think that means we need to be slaves to one particular interpretation of the founders' intentions. Part of America's unique character is wrapped up in the wiggle room I mentioned earlier; we don't have to be perfect, and we don't even have to try to be perfect all the time—we just have to make sure things don't get too far out of balance.

But really, you and I are not so far apart on this argument as it might seem. The last thing I would want is for someone else to feel uncomfortable, but at the same time, it is a little cowardly to let someone else's discomfort prevent me from exercising my free speech rights. I go out of my way to allow others to believe what they want and say what they want and live how they want to; all I ask in return is that I be allowed to do the same. I don't see how me saying "under god" during the pledge should infringe on anyone else's rights, any more than I should feel infringed on by someone with a statue of Buddha on their desk or an excerpt from the Q'uran on their wall. In order to really have respect for other people's rights and beliefs, we must all be free to exercise our own.

That and my utter frustration that anyone could not see the pure, simple and unassailable logic of the ninth circuit decision. It's like I am that lonely Jehovah's Witness going door to door speaking to the non-believers and just not understanding how they could not see the light. In this case, I know where he is coming from.

Your frustration at my stupidity combined with the fact that I consider you to be a good friend whose opinions I have the utmost respect for is, to me, what makes this country great. A healthy, open debate should always be welcomed, and I think that's something both of us can agree on.

Non-sequitur: The Red Sox are playing right now. Who is Embree? Did I miss something? I've been a bit busy, so I could have missed something.

Alan Embree is a guy who used to be a starter for the Indians, served a stint as a reliever for the Braves, and now, apparently, has been traded to the Red Sox along with Andy Shibilo from the Padres, who received pitchers Brad Baker and Dan Giese in return.

Finally, I thought definition 5(b) in the first definition on the dictionary.com link was useful.

Hmm. I guess so. But I already kind of knew that. It doesn't really get specific on what "recently" means, and that's what I was really after.

Well, I think the last couple of days have provided quite enough content for one week. Which is good, because I'm going down to North Carolina for the 4th and I won't by back until early next week. I might write some entries while I am there, but I won't post them. As is usual when I go away, I have gone ahead and posted the rest of the pictures planned for this week to the photo archives. Have a safe holiday, everybody. See you next week.

On Wednesday night after work, Julie and I went home, fed the cats, threw our stuff in the car, and headed down to Wilmington. We didn't get on the road until after 7 p.m., but even then we were concerned about the traffic going around the beltway. I was pleasantly surprised when we didn't have to stop (or slow down even) the whole way around DC, including the ugly part where 495 merges back onto 95 and then collides with 301 in the colossal mess of highway mergers and construction known locally as "the mixing bowl". We got down past Potomac Mills without any problems at all, and since that's usually where the drive starts to get pleasant again, we decided it was safe to stop for dinner, especially since it was after 9, and we figured that the traffic would probably just get better as the evening wore on.

Of course, that turned out to be a huge mistake; when we got back on the highway, it wasn't five minutes before traffic slowed to a crawl. It stayed that way for more than half an hour, finally picking up again a couple of miles down the road after we passed the site of what looked like a fairly serious accident (there was a car upside down in the trees in the median). Even though the traffic picked up, the delay caused by the accident meant that it was still really heavy all the way throught Richmond; it wasn't until Petersburg or so that the road started to feel relatively empty, and it was after 11 at that point.

We finally got to Wilmington around 2:30, which wasn't bad considering the half hour delay below DC. Dodd was still up waiting for us, sitting on the porch, reading and smoking. We said goodnight to him and headed off to bed, where I read a few pages of The Golden Compass before falling asleep.

I intended last week to write about seeing Ocean's 11 on DVD and going with Julie to see Spider-Man (her first time, my second), but I just never got around to it. So you'll get the brief version.

We decided to rent Ocean's 11 because I remembered that CS Jeff had seen it and been pleasantly surprised. And it wasn't too bad, really, but then again there wasn't a whole lot to it and I'm not sure if I'll take the trouble to ever see it again. I'm sure that in the not-too-distant future when Ted Turner snaps up the rights and starts playing it every third weekend on TBS, I'll leave it on if there's nothing better to watch, but considering the critical mass of acting talent in the movie, it was really lacking in compelling elements. I never really found myself bored with it (despite the fact that you could see the plot twists coming a mile away), but I couldn't shake the disturbing feeling that I'd seen it all somewhere before (and no, I haven't seen the original Rat Pack version). But it was well worth renting.

When I saw Spider-Man before, I found it entertaining but not terribly impressive, and that opinion stuck with me through the second viewing. The stuff I liked about it before I still liked, and most of the stuff that annoyed me about it before still annoyed me, and I still couldn't figure out why the American public liked this movie so much better than Episode 2.

How can the all-star game end in a tie? Baseball games don't end in ties, especially not after 11 innings when both teams have expanded rosters. This isn't hockey, for god's sake. I don't want to hear that crap about "preserving the picthers' arms", either. Both teams had plenty of arms, and if the managers had had even an ounce of foresight, they would have had plenty of players available for the stretch. I've always thought that trying to make sure that eveyone gets a chance to play at the expense of strategy was a stupid thing to do as an all-star manager (Bobby Cox never worried about it), and based on the reaction by the fans in the stadium, I have to believe that most baseball fans would agree with me and would rather have seen an actual winner in the game than see every player on both benches have an at-bat or throw a pitch. Lame. Lame, lame, lame. No MVP, either. How could there be?

It's kinda fitting that it happened in Selig's home stadium, though, with the crowd booing the decision and chanting "Let them play!" after the decision was announced. Maybe this is god's way of underscoring just how much you suck, Temporary Interim Commissioner-For-Life/Yes-I'm-An-Owner-But-Don't-Tell-Anyone Bud Selig. I award you the Least Valuable Person award, you jackass.

Our cable company just rearranged six of our channels: 34 became 39, 35 became 38, 36 became 34, 37 became 35, 38 became 36, and 39 became 37. Nothing else on the system changed. I don't know what, exactly, this is supposed to accomplish.

On Thursday morning, I got up around 9:30 a.m. after only six or seven hours of sleep so I could go and play golf with dad and Dodd. My dad belongs to a country club, so even when it's crowded, it's never as crowded as a public course and you're usually able to get a tee time even on the busiest days simply because there are a limited number of members competing for slots. Our tee time was fairly late in the morning, around 11, and I was afraid that the course would be very crowded because it was a holiday. But we were in luck: there was almost no one else on the course, and we were able to take our time warming up.

Well, we were lucky in one way. The reason that the course wasn't crowded was because it was almost unbearable hot (the air temperature was in the high 90s, and the humidity pushed the heat index over 100), and most people had more sense than to go out in the middle of the day to play 18 holes of golf. Those who were so obsessed with golf that they couldn't allow a holiday to pass without heading out to the links had gotten early starts that morning, and most of them were finishing up just as we were starting.

I hadn't played golf in almost a year, since I took a six-week series of group lessons that ended last August. The end result of those lessons was that my putting, chipping, and drives were a lot better, but my regular irons totally sucked. Heading out to the driving range, I was worried that I was in for a very long day indeed if that pattern held true, because nothing is worse than getting stuck out on the middle of a hole endlessly hitting five-iron shots that only go 20 or 30 yards.

But fortunately, the good stuff that I had learned about chipping and driving still seemed to be with me (although it took a couple of tips from dad to help me remember some of it), while the things that they had taught me that screwed up my irons was almost totally gone; I was hitting them the way I had before I had taken the lessons, which was pretty good.

The one thing about playing golf with dad that really sucks is that he is almost obsessively preoccupied with playing quickly so that you don't hold up the people behind you. Now, as a general rule, this is a good thing to keep in mind; if you are playing significantly slower than the people behind you, the polite thing to do is to let them pass you. But with dad, it often reaches the point where you hit two or three bad shots in a row and he makes you pick up your ball and leave the hole unfinished. Which is, quite frankly, infuriating, and certainly does nothing to help your confidence. And if you play golf, you know that once you have a good basic approach and swing, about 90% of the rest of the game has to do with your confidence level. Golf is a very zen game, in that the less you think about what you're doing and just let your muscle memory do the job for you, the more relaxed you're going to be and the better you're going to play. So worst thing for a golfer to do is to start thinking about what he is doing, since his brain trying to fix whatever is going wrong is just going to make it worse. And feeling the pressure from the group behind you to move quickly, not to mention people in your own group, is often the fastest way to make your brain feel like it needs to take an active role in the process, which starts a downward spiral of bad shots and lost confidence that is almost impossible to recover from.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that I would have gladly taken the brutal heat and deserted course over perfect weather and a crowded course, especially since when you haven't played in a while, it takes you a few holes to get your rhythm back, especially with the finesse aspects of the game like chipping and putting. I wasn't playing too badly, really—I mean, I wasn't shooting birdies, or even pars (which I don't normally do even when I'm playing on a regular basis), but I was doing about as well as Dodd, and neither of us were doing that much worse than dad.

After nine holes, we were still feeling pretty good, but we were starting to get the feeling that if we went on too much longer, we would really start to unravel and the last few holes could turn into very ugly affairs indeed. We decided to go into the club and have lunch and then see how we felt about finishing the course. We took our time at lunch (we all orded the same thing, a club sandwich, with one small deviation: I ordered fries instead of the homeade kettle chips that are a specialty of the club's), and at the end of that time, Dodd and I decided that we were willing to give the last nine holes a go, while reserving the right to quit in the middle if we all started to play really horribly. Stepping back out into the heat from the air conditioning of the club, we almost reconsidered our decision to go on, but we made our way to our carts and headed out to the 10th hole.

Everything was going pretty well for the first four or five holes. Every now and then, one of us would hit a bad drive, or would have two or three bad iron shots in a row, but since there was no pressure from anyone pushing up behind us, we were all able to recover when we stumbled and put together a decent hole. But then, around hole 15, dad really started to fall apart. Sometimes it was a bad drive, sometimes it was a weak iron, a shot that went off into the trees, or a bad putt, but his play began to seriously degrade. The thing you have to understand about dad's golf is that, like his skiing or boating or anything else I've ever seen him do, his game is very controlled, disciplined, and consistent. There's nothing flashy about it—he rarely sinks a long-range putt, and his drives do not go an amazingly long distance—but his game is very reliable, and he very rarely finds himself off the fairway or in a sandtrap or lost among the trees.

But I guess the heat was really getting to him, because while Dodd and I stayed relatively strong through the end of 18 holes, Dad really began to fall apart around 15. At first Dodd and I were ribbing him about it a little, since that opportunity comes so rarely when you're in any competition with dad, but after the second bad hole in a row, we were just staring at each other in bewilderment. I've never, ever seen dad fall apart for more than one hole, and yet by the time we reached 18, Dodd and I had both beaten him four holes in a row (usually, I'm pretty proud of myself if I can tie him on two or three). I guess it was the extreme heat, and mine and Dodd's ability to withstand its draining effects a little better thanks to our relative youth, but it was really creepy to see dad not in control of his game. Too bad we weren't playing for money.

By the time we got back home, it was already after 5:30, which meant that we were now late for our George and Connie's annual 4th of July barbecue. We took quick showers, changed into fresh clothes, and headed over for hotdogs and fireworks.

Another phrase I remember from German: Ich bin müde.

I am tired.

Tori and I also had an incident before I left. I call it an incident because it wasn't really an argument, but we both left the encounter feeling angry and hurt. See, she was telling Rachel about the recent problems with a service called "Play Time" at the kennel where she has been working. The way it works is, if you are leaving your pet there for several days and you want them to have some one on one time with one of the kennel workers while they are staying there, you can pay $4 for each 15 minute session, and purchase as many per day as you would like. What Tori told Rachel, though, was that even though the kennel owner was still taking orders (and money) for Play Time, he didn't actually have the staff to provide the service, so he was just pocketing the money and the pets weren't getting any of the personal attention that their owners had purchased for them.

Tori was telling Rachel so that Rachel wouldn't waste her money on the service anymore, but when I overheard, I couldn't help but ask some questions and make some comments. At first I was just curious to find out more about it, and to make sure that I had heard what I thought I heard. But then someone asked Tori if she felt guilty about knowing that these pet owners were paying for a service that they weren't getting, and her immediate, flippant response was something like, "No, it's not my kennel and not my money. I don't feel guilty at all."

This just set me off. It would have set me off no matter who said it, but coming from Tori, who I considered generally to be a thoughtful, caring, and intelligent person (not to mention a person I love very dearly), I was a little shocked and disappointed that she could be so self-centered about this issue. It's not the same scale, certainly, but her initial response (and the ones that followed, like "I'm just doing my job") smack of the same kinds of indifference and apathy that allows large organizations to engage in activities ranging from the recent corporate scandals of Enron and WorldCom to the holocaust of WWII.

These comparisons might seem a little extreme to some people, but not to me. I have major issues with the increasingly monopolistic behaviors of the world's largest corporations (disguised with terms like "synergy") and the alarmingly cozy relationships between our corporate overlords and the people that we are electing to represent us and protect us against the soulless, profit-driven motives of the corporations. With the lax regulations and the blind eyes turned by the government, internal whistleblowers are going to become more and more important, because they are going to be the only ones who can draw attention to a company's illegal activities and stop them before they go to far. Obviously, the recent scandals in the business world prove that there are more people out there like Tori than not: "As long as I get mine/I'm not having my money taken, then I'll just sit quietly and do as I'm told, even though if I was the one being taken advantage of I would be furious."

I don't feel like I'm explaining this very well, but trust me, I had a very visceral reaction to Tori's seemingly blase attitude about watching all of her loyal customers getting ripped off and not caring a whit about it. I didn't necessarily expect her to fix the problem, but I did expect her to at least feel guilty, and to be grappling with it as a moral and ethical concern. I immediately thought of at least three possible solutions, including having a conversation with her boss about how taking the customers' money for this service made her uncomfortable, anonymously tipping off a few of the customers that this activity was happening, or, if she wanted to avoid confrontation, just working extra hours specifically to provide this service to customers who had paid for it. But like I said, even if she hadn't done any of these things, or come up with her own solution, I at least expected her to be uneasy about the whole situation. She just didn't seem to care at all, though. And even though I now realize that her seemingly uncaring attitude could have been a defensive reaction to the force of my response, I didn't get really upset until that key statement of hers: "I don't feel guilty at all."

Unfortunately, after that, I unloaded on her. Abuse of consumers by corporate entities is something that I feel very strongly about (obviously), and I don't really care if it's a dog kennel with 5 or 6 employees taking in an extra $20 a day or a global energy company whose executives robbed investors blind while ensuring their own wealth. The transgression is the same, and it deserves the same outrage. I know she knew it was wrong because she warned Rachel about it. So what about all of the other customers? Don't they have a right to know as well? I know that if it was Tori's money, she would care. Isn't it then her responsibility to care when she has knowledge that could keep other people from getting ripped off, just as she would want someone to warn her if a company that she trusted with her money (not to mention her pets) was essentially stealing from her? If she saw her boss taking money out of his customers' wallets and purses while their backs were turned, or regularly overcharging their credit cards, would she feel compelled to take action then? Wouldn't she at least know that something illegal and immoral was happening, and feel bad about not trying to stop it? Because, quite frankly, I don't see the difference between charging customers for a service that they don't receive and just taking money straight out of their pockets. Theft is theft, no matter how it's disguised.

Tori went back to work upset (she works a split shift, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then again from 4 to 6) and came home over an hour late. She basically didn't speak to me the rest of the night, but by the time I left the next morning she said she was still planning to come and visit us in August. I know I probably added something to her pile of concerns that she really doesn't want to have to deal with—she's getting ready to go out to Iowa in the fall, trying to find an apartment and a roommate and arguing with dad over what car she's going to buy—but this is an important ethical concern, and since I think of Tori as someone who has pretty strong morals, I was appalled at her flippancy towards her boss's actions. I apologized to her later that night for the harshness of my words, but the sentiments were genuine: I think that any person with a conscience would be upset about this, and would have at least been bothered by having to participate in a system that is stealing from the very people who give it life. Again, I don't have any expectation that Tori should fix this problem; that's not always possible, and since none of us know what we would do in a situation like that until we are faced with it ourselves, we can't judge someone for not taking action (there could be all sorts of factors that I'm not aware of that could affect her ability to change right this wrong). I am being completely honest when I say that I don't know what I would do; I can only hope that I would attempt some sort of solution that would prevent further theft. But I do know that I would feel rotten about it, even if I was not actively participating in it or trying to fix it; the simple knowledge of the acts would be enough to make me feel awful. Hell, I feel awful now.

Hopefully we can talk about it some when she comes to visit, and she'll have had time to think about it and I won't be as harsh as I was. And hopefully she hasn't forgotten how much I care for her.

I am the door.

The rest of our weekend in Wilmington was busy, but seemed to pass slowly because we were always waiting for one person or another to get off work (Tori didn't take a single day off from her job at the kennel while we were there, which I was a little irritated by, and dad was only able to get off the 4th itself). On Friday we took Tori out to Flaming Amy's, a local burrito place, and then met the rest of the family for The Bourne Identity (which was okay, but not spectacular) after dad called to say that he was getting off work early. Saturday, everyone except dad met for lunch at Saltworks, the local hotdog joint (where we had to endure the worst service I've ever had in over 25 years as a customer), and then drove out to the new NC aquarium at Fort Fisher (where I had gone to camp for a couple of summers as a child). Sunday was church at a little chapel in Airlie Gardens that is used as an alternate summer location by our church, and then breakfast at the Wrightsville Beach greasy spoon landmark Middle of the Island. Sunday night we ordered out seafood and had one last meal together before everyone headed out early the next morning (dad, Tori, and Dodd to go to work, Rachel to go to a meeting in Raleigh, and us to drive back home).

I don't know. All in all, it was an okay visit, but there were lots of little things that pissed me off: Tori being at work until at least 1:00 p.m. every day, Dodd sleeping later than that, Dodd's stuff from school littering up what used to be my old room, and the general difficulty of making group decisions. I don't know why, but for some reason I got really irritable about the way my library was being treated (most of my books from high school and college are still in what used to be my room, and have in fact functioned as a library for the family over the years). So I decided to take it with me. I'm not sure exactly what triggered it, but I felt compelled to pack up as many of my books as I could and take them back to Maryland with me. We went out on Sunday afternoon to get a couple of boxes, and eventually bought a big plastic container because it was actually cheaper than two cardboard boxes. I packed up most of my books (the ones that weren't out and out missing from the collection, anyway, despite my constant entreaties to the family to please treat them well and return them to the shelves when they were done with them), my diplomas from NCSSM and Davidson, and a bunch of pictures of my friends from high school. I just needed to take them with me, and I've never felt that way before. It just didn't feel like my home anymore, for whatever reason, and I haven't felt like that in a long time.

I miss Dragnet. TV Land used to show it during primetime, then they moved it back to latenight, and now it's gone from their schedule altogether. Please, either bring it back or sell it to some other network who needs the content to fill their schedule.

However, I was happy to discover that the Cartoon Network is now showing the original Space Ghost episodes (in addition to the Space Ghost Coast to Coast pseudo-talk show, which I also love) and the similarly cheesy Herculoids cartoon show. The triceratops who shoots burning rocks from his horn is my favorite. Now if only they'd run the original Sealab 2020...

Ahem. I am almost embarrassed to mention this, seeing as how it's been so long between updates, but there is a new review up on Plug. Los Desaparecidos' "Read Music Speak Spanish" is a really great album, right now ranking behind only Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" and ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead's "Source Tags and Codes" for 2002 releases (neither of which I have reviewed yet, though I have been meaning to for months).

I won't make any promises about when a new review will be available, but I am going to make an effort to publish reviews more regularly. <grumble>Although it would help if I had someone else writing for me.</grumble>

My mom was in town last week for a convention, and even though she couldn't stay with us because she was going to be manning her company's booth until very late in the evening (plus she's allergic to our cats, and there simply is no such thing as a cat-free room in a house with four of the little monsters), we were still able to join her for dinner on Wednesday night.

We met her at her hotel, where after a more-than-brief delay while she returned a page (one of my mom's more annoying habits is a constant need to be on the telephone) we decided to walk from there down to Della Notte, a restaurant down in the Little Italy neighborhood right next to the harbor. It looked like a really fancy restaurant—even the cooks, who were in plain view in the open kitchen, were dressed nicely—but it was very reasonable, with the entrees coming in between $10-$20. The dining room was a really cool circular room with a big tree in the middle, and as the evening wore on they gradually raised the shades to reveal the Baltimore skyline. The food and service were excellent, and I would definitely recommend this place, especially considering how relatively inexpensive it was. We even had enough left over that Julie and I were able to have it for dinner again the next night.

After dinner we walked mom back to her hotel and made plans to get together again on Friday night. We made sure she got back to her room, and then headed back home to feed the cats.

Wow. You guys are just amazing. After yesterday's post about how much I miss seeing the old Dragnet reruns on TV Land, CS Jeff sent me a link about how Dick Wolf (of Law & Order) is developing a 13 episode test run of an updated version of Dragnet that will air this January. I doubt it will hold the same campy fascination for me that the original series did (although I am really digging the new real-life Law & Order: Crime & Punishment show), but it's still good to know.

For the record, Jeff also told me that I am not an idiot for not being able to win the Pearls game. It is constructed so that the second player can win every single time. Which is kinda what I was hoping, but it's nice to have it confirmed.

Friday after work we again met my mom for dinner in downtown Baltimore. We parked at our usual parking garage (the rates had gone up by $4 since the last time we were there, but it was still cheaper than any of the other ones in that part of town) and walked to the convention center to pick up mom from her booth. We used the skywalk to get from the convention center to the inner harbor, and, after a brief discussion, decided to eat at the famous Phillips seafood restaurant.

Mom and Julie both got dishes with crabcakes (Phillips' premium crabcakes are the best I've ever had), but I decided to try one of the daily specials: blackened tuna sashimi, which was a cut of raw tuna that had been lightly seared with cajun spices. The tuna itself was excellent, but I didn’t like the seasonings they used to blacken it—they used a very dry rub, whereas I prefer more of a wet marinade style for blackened dishes.

After dinner we walked her back to her booth, helped her pack up her stuff, and then drove her back to her hotel, where we said goodbye for the evening.

The next day (Saturday) mom drove over to our house around noon, and we immediately drove her back into Baltimore for lunch and a quick tour of the Hopkins campus. We had lunch at the Paper Moon diner, where we had eaten a month or so before with Angie and Greg, and then went over to the main campus. I had forgotten that we were having an open house for prospective students that day, so the campus was full of teenagers and their parents taking tours, asking questions, and reading their brochures. We walked with mom up through the lower quad to the upper quad, past the library to the Freshman dorms, and then back across the beach (a circular patch of grass in front of the library that has long been a favorite gathering spot for Hopkins students) and through the new arts center. It really is a much nicer campus than people give it credit for, despite the alarmingly high number of construction projects that are taking place this summer. Even Julie, who has been working here for almost three years now (not actually on the main campus, but at a building a few blocks away) was surprised at the size of the campus and the beauty of the buildings and grounds.

We had originally planned to have dinner with mom before she drove down to Jane’s, but we got the feeling that Jane really needed to see her, and so we talked her into leaving early so that she could have dinner with Jane instead. Julie and I had a quiet dinner at home, played a little Diablo, and then I stayed up very late working on various writing projects.

Sunday was mom's last night in town, and to celebrate our wedding anniversary (which was back in June), she surprised us by taking us to L'Auberge Chez Français (I think that's spelled right), an Alsatian (northern) French restaurant just outside of DC. It has long been a favorite of Jane's family, host to several family events like graduations, etc., and so she joined us, too. The only time we had ever been there, in fact, had been as guests of Jane and her husband Ron, who had taken us (along with mom) a year or two before.

The kitchen actually caught fire and burned last year, so the restaurant had only recently reopened, but it was none the worse for the wear (in fact, it might have been in even better shape because when they rebuilt the kitchen, they had to build it according to current standards, not the standards from way back when under which it was originally constructed).

The menu is always a little overwhelming: each meal comes with an appetizer, of which there are 10-15 to choose from, a salad, a dessert, a couple of other small side dishes (chef's choice), and an entree, from which there are 15-20 to choose from. The problem is that everything looks good, and narrowing it down to just one appetizer and one entree is always difficult, even though the portions are big enough so that even if you could choose more than one, you'd never finish them. It was a little easier for me this time because they had an abundance of seafood dishes (over half the entrees were seafood), and I'm not usually a big seafood fan. I ended up settling on a meal that offered me a lot of variety: a mushroom crepe for my appetizer, and a platter of various cuts of meat named after Hemingway (it had "Papa Ernest" in the name). It included a lamb chop (I'm not normally a fan, but I had just seen the Iron Chef where a french chef and Sakai prepared lamb, and I was curious to try it again), medallions of veal and beef, and half a lobster tail. It sounds like a lot, and it did definitely fill me up, but the cuts of meat were all very reasonably sized so that you didn't get too filled up on a big hunk of steak or anything.

I'm not usually a dessert fan, but it automatically came with the dinner, so I had a piece of chocolate cake for dessert, while everyone else had the house specialty souffles. The cake was okay, but the chocolate powder it was dusted with was a little too bitter for my taste, and I mostly focused on the scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream that came with it.

It was nearly 10 by the time we were done (our reservations were at 7:15, and I thought that we would be home by then). Mom was headed to Philly the next morning, and we had to return to our normal work schedules, so none of us could linger much longer. We said our goodbyes in the parking lot, and started our hour drive back home.

I don't let things slip. I place information.

Does the studio that produced Men in Black II really think that an ad featuring "Who Let the Dogs Out?" (which was annoying and cliched the second it was released two years ago) will compel me to go see the movie? In fact, it's had the opposite effect; before that ad, I was willing to consider the possibility of going to see the movie (the first one was pretty decent, I thought—for a popcorn movie, that is).

But now? No way. No freaking way.

I forget that not all of you live in the same conspiracy oriented, paranoid world that I do, where we don't believe in Area 51 anymore (the research on alien technologies that used to occur there was moved to a new location in Utah several years ago) and there is a more-probable-than-not belief that the entire Bush family is actually a clan of lizards from another planet who are battling for dominance of the earth with up to six other species of extraterrestrials (I'm mostly kidding, but probably not as much as you would think).

Anyway, just in case the recent establishment of Citizen Corps/Operation TIPS, the extreme curtailing of certain people's civil rights after 9.11, and the probable involvement of just about everyone in DC in the recent wave of corporate scandals has made you a little more likely to question the leaders of this nation and their motives, let me give you some links that will clue you in to some activities of which you were probably not aware.

What should be of the most interest to all Americans are the spying and listening systems that the US government uses not only to monitor its enemies abroad, but also its own citizens. Carnivore is one of the most well-known because it was just implemented last year and it received a lot of attention from the web media because its primary function is to allow the FBI to perform what amount to wiretaps on a given person's internet communications (here is the FBI's official take on the system, and here is another description of the general technical aspects).

The granddaddy of them all, however (and ironically the one that you are least likely to have heard of), is Echelon, a global system of listening stations that intercepts every email, fax, cell phone call, normal phone call, and pretty much any other kind of communication that involves technology, parses them through incredibly advanced voice recognition, optical character recognition, and pattern recognition software, and then sends probable hits to intelligence analysts in the US. No, really—Yahoo! has a whole category devoted to sites that provide information about the system. There is tons of documentation on this, including protests from the British government (which way back when allowed us to set up a station to monitor European transmissions) and It has been in operation for years (the foundations of it were in place shortly after the end of WWII, at the very beginning of the cold war), and it runs 24/7 (makes you wonder how we could have missed all those signals that the terrorists were sending to each other immediately before the 9.11 attacks...hmmm). There are even rumors that the US intelligence community is selling information about foreign corporate entities to their American competitors in order to give US companies an edge in the global marketplace.

In case any of this has piqued your curiosity, there are some good general sites that track this kind of thing. Disinformation is probably the best, with a wealth of information on government monitoring, paranormal activity, and other conspiracy theories, and the Federation of American Scientists site is good for more mainstream information that tends to steer a little clearer of some of the more oddball stuff (of course, I really like the oddball stuff, which is why I prefer Disinformation). Some other good reference sites are OpenSecrets.org (which gives detailed information on who is giving how much money to which politicians) and the Smoking Gun (which has scans of interesting public documents, like Noell Bush's most recent mug shot and some handwritten documents from the Moussaoui's trial). For the really kooky stuff (such as the aforementioned lizard theory), check out AboveTopSecret.com (which covers a lot of the same ground as Disinformation), ParaScope (the main page is down, but the archives are still available) and the sites sponsored by Art Bell and David Icke. If these aren't enough for you, the Yahoo! category for conspiracy theories has links to dozens of sites of varying degrees of accuracy and credibility.

Whether you believe any of this stuff or not, it sure does make some interesting reading, and several of these sites have very well-documented, legitimate information on activities that most of us would rather not believe that our government and the people who run it are involved in.

Need more content? I think you'll find the links page especially fruitful today, particularly the Time Travel Fund site. If time travel actually is possible, there's no reason that it can't work, really. But that doesn't mean this site is not a con. Brilliant, yes, but still a con.

The name of Mr. Burn's pet monkey, Furious George, in the episode where they housesit for Mr. Burns (officially titled "Mansion Family", just so you don't have to go looking it up on the Simpsons Archive like I did) just kills me. I can't even say the name out loud without cracking up.

Hey, look, a new review on Plug! That's two weeks in a row, and believe me, I'm as shocked as anyone. What's even more surprising is that I can promise new weekly reviews for at least the next three weeks, and I'm hoping that I can continue on my review-writing jag and extend it far beyond that. This week: the Eels "Souljacker".

The front page of Saturday's Balitmore Sun was one of those let's-see-if-the-editor-is-really-paying-attention layouts. In one column was a picture (which I can't locate online anywhere) taken at the opening of the new Spy Museum in DC which shows three people rapeling down the side of the building, but they are shot from an angle that makes them look suspiciously like they are actually hurling themselves off of the builidng.

Immediately to the right of this picture was an article about the stock market with the following headline in huge bold letters: "Dow slumps 390, hits a 4-year low".

Julie's parents came to visit this weekend in what is more or less becoming their annual trip (they were here almost exactly one year ago). Julie took off Friday and went to Harper's Ferry with them, which they all seemed to enjoy immensely. But the big highlight of the trip (especially for me) was a baseball game at Camden Yards on Saturday night.

We left early, stopped at Hopkins and gave her parents a shorter version of the tour we'd given my mom a week earlier, and then dropped her parents off on a corner about a block from the stadium while we went to park the care in a nearby garage (her dad isn't so spry anymore, so we try to avoid any situation where he has to walk for more than five minutes at a time). We met them back at the gates and made our way to our seats in the upper deck (the really great thing about Camden is that, thanks to the proximity of even the upper deck seats to the field, there are practically no bad seats). Julie and I then went to retrieve dinner (sliced pork sandwiches from Boog Powell's barbecue stand, as usual), and we ate while watching the Orioles' opponents for that evening, the Chicago White Sox, finish up batting practice.

The weather had said that the high was supposed to be around 85°, but when the game started at 7, it was still 92° (oddly enough the title of a Siouxsie & the Banshees song from "Tinderbox" that claims that 92° is the temperature at which the most murders are committed) and the breeze that is typically wafting in from the harbor was nowhere to be found. Even after the sun went down around 8:30, the evening stayed brutally hot; instead of the high 60s that the weather said we would have for the evening, the temperature never got below 80° the whole time we were there.

My freak magnet was working that night, although in kind of a displaced way (I have this tendancy to attract oddballs at public events—at concerts, movies, sporting events, etc., I'm always the guy sitting in front of the guy who is annoying everyone in the immediate vicinity). The woman next to me was a Baltimorean through and through, and made repeated attempts to inform me of various aspects of her medical history. That wasn't so bad, but the other freak factor was the group of 100+ kids who were with the Global Youth Leadership Conference sitting about 10 rows behind us. As the "global" in their name suggested, many of them were from Europe and other soccer-hooligan-producing parts of the world, and so when they lost interest in the game, they all started chanting in unison several songs, cheers, etc., that I'm sure are perfectly acceptable at soccer matches, but which were completely out of place at an American baseball game. It wasn't that their chanting was in and of itself bad, but after an hour straight (they were loud, too—even 10 rows away it felt like someone was yelling directly into your ear), it got a little annoying, especially because about half of their chants consisted of them yelling the initials of their group over and over again: "G-Y-L-C! G-Y-L-C! G-Y-L-C! G-Y-L-C!"

Apparently a lot of the other people in our section got a little irritated, too, because before too long an usher made her way to their section and asked them to stop. They were quiet for about five minutes (the ordinary sounds of a baseball game sounded like a freaking peaceful meadow once they shut up), and then they started up with cheers for the Orioles. Which I guess would have been cool, except that we knew the only reason they seemed to be enthusiastically supporting the home team was because the usher presumably told them that they had to limit their cheers to Orioles-related material or they would have to shut the hell up.

The game itself was pretty good. Just like last year when we went with Julie's parents, the Orioles game back from a run down in the ninth inning to tie it and send the game to extra innings. We decided to stay for a couple of the bonus innings (or "free baseball", as the Braves' announcers call it), but at the end of the 11th, we had to start making our way back to the car, both because we were worried about Julie's dad getting too tired and because we needed to get home and give our diabetic cat his insulin shot and food for the evening. Although I hate leaving a game early, it's a good thing we did. We listened to the game in the car on the way home, and it ended up lasting 14 innings, with the Orioles scoring the winning run just seconds before we arrived home at midnight.

Sunday we all slept late, and then went to Denny's for lunch before her parents packed up their stuff and headed back to NC. It has been a long three weeks; two weeks ago we were in Wilmington visiting my dad, last week my mom was in town for several days, and her parents capped it off with a four-day stay. It will be good to have a couple of weekends with no guests and no travelling before Tori comes to visit in August.

Last night was our quarterly trip to Sam's Club, and it was an evening rich in media purchases. First we stopped at the local indie record store where I picked up the Flaming Lips' "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots", Red Hot Chili Peppers' "By the Way", Guided By Voices' "Universal Truths and Cycles", Drive-By Truckers' "Southern Rock Opera", and the Pixies' "The Pixies", a collection of leftovers from their first studio sessions that didn't make it onto the "Come On Pilgrim" release.

But that wasn't all. At Sam's, I picked up the two-disc Criterion edition DVD release of The Royal Tenenbaums, hoping that it would grow on me after a couple more viewings just as its predecessor Rushmore did. Finally, we picked up Warcraft III, the long awaited continuation of Blizzard's popular real-time strategy series.

I was so tired by the time we got home, however, that I could only barely open the CDs, mix them into my mobile rotation, and do my nightly work on this page. The CDs I'll be able to listen to tomorrow at work, but the game and DVD will have to wait until later in the week.

Mmmm...Warcraft III.

Man. Daypop has really sucked the past couple of days.

This is weird. A day or so ago, I swear I read an article on CNN.com about how Dick Armey had led a movement to cut the funding for Operation TIPS out of the new anti-terrorism spending bill and also dismissed the idea of a national ID card, but now a search on the site turns up nothing. Instead, the only thing I can find is this article on USA Today. It is about the House passing the bill but doesn't mention anything about Operation TIPS one way or the other. I know I'm not crazy—I read that article somewhere, because I remembered thinking that even though it was weird that such a prominent republican was going against a Bush-sponsored program, it was in keeping with his previous attempts to protect individual rights and privacy (he has been a vocal opponent of red-light cameras, for instance). Curiouser and curiouser...

Update: I found the article on the Washington Times, but I don't read that site, so I'm trying to figure out how it vanished from more prominent news sites like CNN.com and ABCnews.com.

We did a focus group yesterday to get feedback from teenagers who are likely to go to college about what they do and do not about web sites in general and our site in particular. It was the first time I had seen a real live focus group so I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was hoping that we could get some decent information on a few basic things, like do they want sites that have mostly basic text and information, or would they rather have lots of pictures? Do they want features like video, chat, interactive Flash pieces, and QuickTime VR, or do they just want a simple site with no fancy stuff? Do they want just the facts when they visit a college site, or do they want more quirky stuff and perspectives from a student's point of view.

Well, the short answer is that they don't know what the hell they want. They had to fill out a questionnaire after an hour's worth of discussion on these topics, so hopefully some patterns will start to emerge there, but the discussion itself was maddening. The first site we took them to had an abundance of text, and they complained about how they hated it when sites tried to give them too much information on one page. The next site we went to had short, concise pages of text, with 3-4 paragraphs that all fit on one page; there they complained about how little text there was. They complained about the dorky design on one site, so we took them to one with what I thought was pretty good design, and they said it looked too good. On another site, they were complaining about how the text overwhelmed the graphics, but on the very next site they were complaining about how the graphics were distracting them from the text. On one site they insisted that a white background for text was imperative, but on another they complained about the white and said that a colored background was better. Huh?

I don't know. It was interesting, but more as a study of the fickleness of human beings, especially when they are in a large group, than because it gave us anything really useful to consider when redesigning our site. Like I said, we haven't processed the data from the questionnaires yet, so it's still possible that those could yield some informative trends, but after listening to them talk for an hour, I'm not really holding out a lot of hope.

We did another focus group yesterday, this time talking about our print publications. They were a lot more coherent and consistent than the first group, but it was a little frustrating because they clearly wanted to talk about the web, and we had to stay on the print topic. But they took the same survey on the web as the group a couple of days ago, so hopefully we'll get some good info there, but it would have been nice to hear them actually talk about it. Oh well. We're doing another one next week on the web, and maybe that one will be more useful than the last one.

If I had been using this forum to complain about work, most of it would have had to do with the continuing absence of my supervisor and the difficulty of communicating with him when we had issues that needed to be resolved. He is working on a larger, campus-wide project for the next year or so, but he was supposed to still be spending at least a day a week in our office, giving us guidance on projects and making sure that we were getting the resources we needed. But for the last three months, we have really only been seeing him once every three or four weeks for an hour or so, and it was getting really difficult for some members of our team to do their jobs properly without his support.

We had all decided to talk to him yesterday, when he was scheduled to be in the office for a meeting with the director. We had three basic issues that we were going to discuss with him, all of which related to his near non-existence in our work lives, and the goal of the meeting for our team was to figure out if he was going to sincerely help us resolve these issues, or if we needed to look elsewhere for action.

But, as it turns out, that's all irrelevant now. Right before he was supposed to meet with us, he had a meeting with the director in which he was informed that, as long as he was still working on the larger project, he would no longer have any position of authority in our office. This was a shock, both to us and to him, and it leaves the three of us who were under his supervision wondering what comes next. We're not worried about getting fired or anything like that—we're the only technical people in the office, and a lot of their goals over the next couple of years depend heavily on the skills that we have brought into the office. But we are worried about who is going to give us our assignments; the thing about our supervisor was that, even though he was hard to communicate with, he was very technically oriented and he would never give us an impossible task or an unreasonable deadline, and his connections with people in the IT department put a lot of resources at our disposal that otherwise might take weeks or months to get access to. Now that he's gone for at least a year, there is no one who is really qualified to manage us on a technical level, and we will have to start from scratch if we need support from somone in IT.

Really, I think we would be fine if we just got assignments from the director and came up with solutions as a group and kind of managed ourselves, since that is essentially what we have been doing for the last five months, but I am worried that with the constant turf wars and power struggles in the office, the lure of three people who are doing important work in the office is going to be too much for some of the mid-level manager types to resist, and they will try to bring us into their groups even though they are completely incapable of giving us proper direction, support, and guidance.

I'm not that worried, really, because the director is a pretty smart guy, and he will hopefully listen to our ideas for how we should be managed before he makes a final decision (we haven't talked to him yet, so for all I know, that could be the first question he's going to ask when he sits down with us to discuss the situation). But it was just a little surprising—we were all hoping by the end of the day that we would have solved some of the ongoing problems with our supervisor, not have him yanked out of our projects altogether.

All I wanted was to make the world a better place. And make an assload of money.

Just as I promised, there is yet another new review on Plug this week, Moby's "18". I meant to review this one a while ago, since I knew it wouldn't take very long, but I never got around to it. Coming up soon: even older albums by Wilco and ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. Stay tuned.

A link to Jaguaro.org's list of 100 albums that you should remove from your collection immediately has been making the rounds for the last couple of weeks, and although I realize that many of the entries are meant to be provocative, I still took issue with a lot of them. I mean, I know that a big part of deciding to read a list like that is because you enjoy agreeing with or arguing with each of the entries in your head as you're going through it, so I am totally aware that each and every person who has visited that site has a personal commentary track that is running in their mind when they are reading the list. Lucky for me, I have this site to document mine. So here it is: my responses to the list and the albums on it.

1. The Clash—Combat Rock
Look, no one's going to argue that this is the best Clash album. But this is the Clash, for god's sake, and while they were still composed of the original lineup, there was no one better. If you're going to argue for the removal of an overglorified Clash album, let it be the sprawling mess of Sandinista.

2. U2—The Joshua Tree
Oh, please. Religious rock songs? The is one of the best U2 albums ever, plain and simple, behind only the landmark "The Unforgettable Fire". Despite the years of radio airplay half this album got, it still has the capacity to send chills down your spine. Just because something is popular doesn't mean that it sucks. The album you should really be chucking out is the cash-in live double CD "Rattle and Hum", which everyone owns but no one listened to more than once.

3. Nirvana—Nevermind
This is not just a Pixies ripoff CD, despite when Cobain himself may have said. After all, when was the last time you took an artist's opinion of his own work seriously? It's either self-depricating or grandly delusional, and never an accurate evaluation of the material. All you have to do to remind yourself why this record belongs in your collection is listen to it again, and then force yourself to forget that it is the commercial godfather of the rock-rap plague that is currently laying waste to our airwaves.

4. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band—Trout Mask Replica
Never heard it, though I'm aware of its reputation, so I can't really tell you if this is accurate or not.

5. The Beatles—Let It Be
Again, this one is not my current collection, though I suspect it should be. While I agree that there are certain bands that have been lionized well beyond the reach of their talent and influence, the Beatles are not one of those bands. This was certainly included in this list just to push some buttons.

6. The Replacements—Tim
The reviewer is right in his statement that this album is weaker than both its predecessor and successor, but that doesn't mean it's not worth owning. "Bastards of Young" still crackles with energy, and "Here Comes a Regular" remains one of their best drunken ballads. Don't even think about throwing this one out.

7. The Police—Synchronicity
Since when have we let Keith Richards' taste control what we listen to (and on a sidenote, how many of you believe that he even knows what a dentist is, much less that they have waiting rooms)? The reviewer is missing the point; the themes of obsession, , and an almost sociopathic lack of empathy that run through the album are supposed to be reflective of the ways in which our modern post-industrial culture is robbing us of our humanity. Duh. But I will concede that "Mother" truly sucks. If you have to include an album from 1982 on this list (I mean, besides the Clash's "Combat Rock", which we've already dealt with), why not go for the gold and mention Michael Jackson's "Thriller"? In retrospect, it's becoming clear that "Off the Wall" was his finest hour, and that "Thriller" was just the beginning of the evil pompous clown persona that most of us associate with him now.

8. Lou Reed—Transformer
I'm not trying to be obnoxious here, but the only Lou Reed solo album worth owning is "Magic and Loss". Though "Walk on the Wild Side" certainly had its cultural moment, I would argue that its inclusion on this record would make it more likely that you should throw this record out. So I guess I would agree with this selection, except that I would say you should go all the way and remove any trace of it from your collection.

9. Miles Davis—Bitches Brew
I hate jazz. All jazz. I know, I know, that's musically shallow, but there it is.

10. David Bowie—Hunky Dory
I have no input to give, other than to note that I do not own a single Bowie album and cannot foresee a circumstance in which that will come to be.

11. Nick Cave—The Boatman's Call
The only Nick Cave songs I know are "(I Love You) Till the End of the World" from the "Until the End of the World" soundtrack and another one that Regan put on a mix tape for me whose name I can't recall. I don't really mind either of these, but neither have they compelled me to rush out and buy a Nick Cave album. So I guess I can't argue against his inclusion on this list.

12. Led Zeppelin—Physical Graffiti
You know what? I don't actually own any Zeppelin, even though I know I'm supposed to. So I guess I have to agree.

13. Stereolab—Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements
Look, most of us have to be in a certain kind of mood to tolerate Stereolab in the first place, so you probably don't need more than one of their records in your collection. And if you're only going to own one, it should be "Dots and Loops".

14. Oasis—What's the Story, Morning Glory?
I own a bunch of Oasis albums, but I got them all used for less than $7. From what I can tell, the only one you really need (if you need one at all) is "Definitely Maybe". "What's the Story" has a couple of notable efforts, but is it really worth listening to all that other garbage to get to them? I pretty much agree with this selection.

15. Echo and the Bunnymen—Heaven Up Here
Back in the days before CDs, I used to own all of the Echo & the Bunnymen records (tapes, actually), but when I started to repurchase things on CD, I somehow didn't end up with this one. The only songs I recognize on it are the ones that were on the "Songs to Learn and Sing" best-of collection, but they don't really help me evaluate the rest of it that much. So I'm reluctant to include an early Echo work without hearing it again first, I guess the fact that I've never bothered to go back and re-acquire it says something about it.

16. Public Enemy—Apocalypse '91—The Enemy Strikes Black
Umm, I thought this was the review that this album originally got. Why bother to throw it out when you never bothered to buy it in the first place?

17. Pearl Jam—Vs.
I have to agree here. Once they became stars (i.e., after their first album), Pearl Jam were way too aware of themselves to make great rock. "Ten" probably deserves to stay, but anything else seems so obvious that I don't even know why it's on this list in the first place.

18. Death Cab for Cutie—Something About Airplanes
Death Cab rules—even this relatively rough first effort. I've never listened to Sunny Day Real Estate, so I can't comment on that comparison, but I can't say that they remind me of Built to spill in any way. I think all three of their records are great, but you should probably buy "The Photo Album" first.

19. Beck—Midnite Vultures
Well, this one's almost too easy. Most people have long since purchased and resold this one, and those who haven't yet can't have listened to it more than once. Choosing this one for this list is like picking on the slow kid.

20. Fugazi—13 Songs
Fugazi. The only song of theirs that I know is "Elevator", which was on the same mix tape from Regan that had the Nick Cave song on it. But I thought being boring preachy motherfuckers was their whole deal.

21. Derek and the Dominoes—Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
I thought only people over 50 listened to Clapton. What's this doing here? What snobbish, overly-critical music fan (which I'm assuming is the intended audience for this article, because we're the only ones who would really care in the first place) would own this to begin with?

22. The Who—Tommy
I don't care for the Who. I was mostly indifferent to them until my freshman year in college, when I was paired with an alcoholic roommate who was obsessed with them. During that year, I grew to truly despise them. Their song on the "Rushmore" soundtrack almost ruined that otherwise excellent compilation for me. Why stop at "Tommy"?

23. Tom Waits—Mule Variations
It does have that kind of retread feel to it, but there are still some great songs on here. "Frank's Wild Years" is still my favorite Tom Waits disc, but really, everything after Swordfishtrombones is pretty good. "Mule" doesn't really cover much new ground, but sometimes that's okay.

24. Nine Inch Nails—Pretty Hate Machine
Umm, I haven't actually updated my collection with any Marilyn Manson discs, and I am perfectly happy with this disc. You can still hear the keyboard and drum machine roots of the sound that was going to be increasingly dominated by guitars in later years, and it sounds almost refreshing.

25. Beastie Boys—Paul's Boutique
"Check Your Head" is the only Beasties album worth owning. End of story.

26. U2—Zooropa
No arguments here.

27. The Posies—Dear 23
I bought this used shortly after it came out, and even then I never really liked it. I'm not sure why it's on this list, quite frankly. Is there some secret part of the world where this was a must-have blockbuster?

28. Red Hot Chili Peppers—Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Despite the commercial success that this disc achieved, this record was the Chili's first step to becoming grownups, a journey that continued on "Californication" and the recently released "By the Way" (we'll forget the Navarro-influenced tangent that was "One Hot Minute"). Some of these songs still hold up really well, including the massively over-exposed "Under the Bridge".

29. Macy Gray—On How Life Is
Please. I know we've all grown tired of Macy's over-exaggerated persona, but that doesn't change the fact that this is a great disc. Like Fiona Apple, her personality has hurt her album sales in spite of the great music she produces.

30. White Stripes—White Blood Cells
Well, it's not like this was album of the year in the first place. But just because you're tired of a trend invented by music journalists is no reason to throw out a decent album that happened to get tagged by a lot of them as one of the records that started it all. You're probably just annoyed that a relatively obscure indie disc that made you cool two years ago is now on the radar screens of the 15 year-olds who shop at Target, and your musical snobbery won't allow you to have anything in common with them.

31. Chemical Bothers—Dig Your Own Hole
My electronica taste is so terrible that I might like this one, but I'll never know for sure, because I won't allow myself to buy it—even used.

32. Flaming Lips—The Soft Bulletin
It's not just the folks in their hometown of Oklahoma City who think this disc is cool. It took a while to grow on me, but now it gets richer every time I take it out for a spin. "Waitin' for a Superman" (either version) is one of my favorite songs of the last few years.

33. Jefferson Airplane—Surrealistic Pillow
Try something recorded in my lifetime. I can appreciate rock history without needing to own all of it. If for some reason you have this in your collection, I'm not going to have any problem if you decided it's time to chuck it out.

34. Dave Brubeck—Take Five
See previous comment.

35. Beastie Boys—Hello Nasty
I have already said all I'm going to say on the subject of the Beastie Boys.

36. Prince—Emancipation
I never bought this set because I knew it was going to suck in the first place. You're an idiot for having ever considered putting down good money on this monstrosity.

37. John Coltrane—Giant Steps
I repeat: I hate jazz.

38. Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention—We're Only In It For The Money
Zappa is more interesting as a cultural icon than he is as an actual producer of music. If you happen to have any of his other releases lying around, I would suggest you toss them as well.

39. Wilco—Being There
The first disc in this set is actually pretty good as a standalone album, but the second disc really sucks. They would have been better off releasing it that way, with disc 2 included as a special bonus disc of outtakes. On the other hand, anyone who thinks Son Volt is more important and interesting than Wilco (especially after the release of this year's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot") is a moron, plain and simple.

40. Morrissey—Morrissey
Awww, poor Morrissey. Quit picking on him. This is far and away his best solo release, because he was still trying to sound like the Smiths. You can feel free to dispose of the rest of them, however.

41. Pulp Fiction—Original Soundtrack
Another thing I generally refuse to buy: movie soundtracks. But I remember listening to this one a few times in the back of a friend's van on the way to theater rehearsal and not minding it too much. But that's hardly a ringing endorsement.

42. The Police—Zenyatta Mondatta
You're not going to sell me on this one. The Police were gods, and not because of Sting, but rather because you had Stewart Copeland (the best drummer ever) hanging around puncturing his inflated gasbag of a head every day. One annoying single (which is still catchy as hell, admit it) is no reason to get rid of a classic like this.

43. The Kinks—Arthur—Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire
Another shameful omission from my collection that I am therefore not qualified to comment on.

44. Jane's Addiction—Nothing's Shocking
It's obvious that you never saw them live, or else you would rescind any flippant criticism of this record. In a small venue, I have never seen anyone better, and while the production on this record doesn't exactly capture their live sound, it was still a breath of fresh, ion-charged air in the time before time when alternative didn't mean the crappy corporate rock that we are left with today. They were one of the first true indie crossover bands, as well—while in the midst of a heated record company bidding war for this, their debut studio album, they recorded a live show and released it on their own.

45. Celine Dion—Colour of My Love
Right. So why is it on this list? Don't tell me you actually own this…

46. Helmet—Meantime
Well, you're missing out, then. This record still kicks ass, and reminds you why the unwitting godfathers of the rock-rap sludge that's clogging up the radio will always be superior to the current crop of numbskulls who just ape their noise.

47. Smashing Pumpkins—Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Ugh. This is getting to be to much work, arguing with you like this. There's no reason to include this one except that you're trying to piss people off. If you ever liked anything on this record, you will still like it now. And who didn't like most everything on this record when it was released?

48. XTC—White Music
I love XTC, but my relationship with them does not start until "Skylarking". So while I haven't heard this one specifically, but I would have a hard time recommending that you throw out anything by XTC.

49. Sonic Youth—Daydream Nation
Bah. It's in the Sonic Youth DNA that they have to include a couple of tracks meant to annoy you more than anything else. Ignore those, and this is one of their best. "Teenage Riot" still sounds amazing after all these years.

50. Cocteau Twins—Heaven or Las Vegas
It takes a special kind of person to love the Cocteau Twins, and I'm not one of them.

51. Radiohead—I Might be Wrong: Live Recordings/Built To Spill—Live
Most live albums do suck, with one notable exception: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "Pack Up the Plantation". I like some of the versions off that album better than the originals. I'm not dumb enough to buy the Built to Spill record mentioned here, but the Radiohead doesn't even measure up to their two-song performance on SNL a couple years back. Don't waste your money.

52. Mogwai—Come On Die Young
Mogwai. I just like the way that sounds. Mogwai.

53. Hole—Live Through This
This is the Cobain composition that you should remove from your collection, not "Nevermind".

54. Tori Amos—Under the Pink
Tori's so screwed up, but can't she play the piano pretty? No, she can't, and that voice is pretty goddamn annoying, too. I totally agree with this selection.

55. Arrested Development—3 Years, 5 Months, & 2 Days In The Life Of...
Say what you will about this being rap lite, but that's only in comparison to the out-of-control barking that passes for rap these days. This Atlanta rap collective are the spiritual precursors to Outkast's dirty south, and don't you forget it. And "Tennessee" is still a cool little song.

56. No Doubt—Tragic Kingdom
So bad I never bothered to buy it in the first place.

57. Love and Rockets—Earth, Sun, Moon
This was their last good record, before they started getting into the really weird spaced-out stuff. They pull off a fairly good Beatles imitation on a few songs, and in the end, this is probably their most listenable work. No way you should get rid of it.

58. Ben Folds Five—Whatever and Ever, Amen
You're right, bitterness doesn't necessarily make good music, but in this case it does. A classic except for a couple of plodding numbers near the end.

59. Elvis Presley—From Elvis In Memphis
Really, when was the last time you thought about an Elvis record? So how the hell did you end up with this in the first place?

60. Alejandro Escovedo—Bourbonitis Blues
Who is this guy? Really, I have no idea.

61. Rancid—And Out Come The Wolves
Uh, it was the mohawks and combat boots that assured me these guys were posers. This doesn’t even belong on the same shelf with the Clash.

62. Green Day—Dookie
All their other albums are negligible, but this one is pure punk pop at its finest. I'm not ranking these guys with the Clash or any of the real punk bands—I'm just saying that this is an infectious batch of songs that will still have you humming along today—even if you can't remember any of them later.

63. Rush—Moving Pictures
Ewwww…Rush. Blech.

64. Pink Floyd—Dark Side of the Moon
I never got into the whole Pink Floyd thing, but I can have respect for their place in pop history. I have a feeling I would like this record if I ever gave it a chance (after all, Pink Floyd is the fractured skull from which Radiohead sprang), so I'm reluctant to condemn it.

65. Sarah McLachlan—Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, Surfacing
No, I don't have to keep one. Toss them both. Now.

66. Ani DiFranco—Self-titled/Puddle Dive/Not So Soft
God, why was anyone ever impressed by her cloddish lyrics and coffee house guitar antics. I would be surprised if she had produced two decent songs in her far-too-prolific catalog.

67. Paula Cole—This Fire
What the hell? Has the world gone mad? The best song on this record was barely fit to be a Dawson's Creek theme song. And Dawson's Creek sucks.

68. Einstürzende Neubauten—Kollaps
Ich habe keine Platte Deutschen.

69. U2—War
Don't punish the poor naïve kid for the ridiculous parody he would later become. This record helped us all remember what rock sounded like without keyboards gumming up the works.

70. Gin Blossoms—New Miserable Experience
This record sucks.

71. Counting Crows—August and Everything After
This one, too.

72. Offspring—Smash
Seriously though, you have to throw in a decent album every now and then to make this any fun at all.

73. The Cult—Electric
See previous note.

74. The Beatles—Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band
Well, this is just silly. Some of the best rock music ever made has followed the blueprint laid out by the Beatles on this record. It's not their fault if legions of inept morons weren't competent enough to restrain their use of orchestration to appropriate levels.

75. Michelle Shocked—Captain Swing and Sinead O'Connor—Am I Not Your Girl?
That’s fair. Neither of these were shining moments for either of these artists.

76. Erykah Badu—Mama's Gun
Why is this even on this list? Was this a big hit and I missed it or something?

77. Dinosaur Jr.—You're Living All Over Me
As far as I'm concerned, all the Dinosaur Jr. you need is on "Green Mind".

78. Cat Stevens—Footsteps in the Dark
I've never minded Cat Stevens, but then I've never had to listen to a bunch of his songs in a row since I don't own any of his albums. "Harold and Maude" is still a pretty good movie, despite the recent trend to pretend you're too cool for it, and his songs really help set the tone in the same way that the "Rushmore" soundtrack (which also features a Stevens' tune) adds another layer to that film. Still, that doesn't necessarily mean you need to own this album.

79. The Wallflowers—Self-titled
No arguments here. In fact, I think it's insulting to most of those lesser-knowns to even compare them to Jakob Dylan.

80. R.E.M.—Out of Time
If there is one R.E.M. you should throw out, it should be "Monster". But this one should be hot on its heels.

81. The Presidents of the United States of America—Self-titled
Blah. I hate jokey bands. Shame on you if you have to be told to throw this out.

82. Russell Simins—Public Places
I don't even know who this is, so I guess that means I agree.

83. Grateful Dead—ALL RECORDINGS
I do not share the same endless fascination with the Grateful Dead's jams that many of my friends do, but I have to admit that "American Beauty" is a pretty good record. But as for the rest, toss 'em.

84. Pink—Missundaztood
What the hell? Didn't this just come out? Aren't they still promoting singles from this thing? I mean, yes, it sucks—not as bad as Britney or anything, but it still sucks. It seems so obvious that anything that has gotten radio airplay any time in the last three years has to be garbage that I'm trying to figure out why it was necessary to include this on the list in the first place.

85. Husker Du—Zen Arcade
I love Husker Du, but this assessment is dead on. Buy "Warehouse" if you need a primer.

86. Bob Marley & the Wailers—Legend
Believe it or not, I've never heard this all the way through. But I can understand the argument—it was once great music, but it has been ruined by the weight of its own legend and its omnipresence in the culture. I can buy that.

87. Madonna—The Immaculate Collection
What is wrong with you people? Have you all gone batty with the same insanity that gripped the music critics after "Ray of Light"? DO NOT BUY MADONNA RECORDS. SHE FUCKING SUCKS.

88. The Spunk—Spunk's Not Dead
Who the hell is Spunk?

89. Bad Brains—Rock For Light
I completely agree—cool concept, but the execution is flawed. This is one of those albums you own just for the "see-how-enlightened-I-am" factor, not because you actually listen to it or anything.

90. Sting—Ten Summoner's Tales
I thought "Brand New Day" was decent (even though, ironically, it included a country-western number), but I don't even think I listened to this five times before I couldn't take it anymore.

91. Sublime—Self-titled
Suckers! These guys would be another Sugar Ray or Smashmouth if the lead singer hadn't killed himself. I wish the leaders of those bands would have the common courtesy to follow suit.

92. Violent Femmes—Violent Femmes
I have to disagree here. This record still sounds really cool. If you don't have it, you should buy it immediately.

93. INXS—Listen Like Thieves
This record isn't as bad as all that. This is probably the one INXS album you should keep, as it's the perfect bridge between their older, less refined material and their later, over-produced work.

94. The Roots—Things Fall Apart
You only need one Roots album in your collection, really, and "Dynamite" tips the scales in favor of this record. But if you have any of their other releases, feel free to trade them in for something else.

95. The Prodigy—Music for the Jilted Generation
The Prodigy are electronica's answer to Limp Bizkit. If you have this, you should be forced to keep it and listen to it once a day to remind yourself what awful taste in music you have.

96. Beastie Boys—Check Your Head/Ill Communication
We've already covered the Beastie Boys topic. Keep "Check Your Head", get rid of the rest.

97. The Doors—The Best of the Doors
I think it IS on the grocery store muzak now. But that doesn't diminish most of the songs, however much it probably should.

98. Alicia Keys—Songs in A Minor
Huh? What's this doing here? To the trash heap with ye!

99. The Wu Tang Clan—The W
Poor Wu. Ol' Dirty Bastard is far and away the most entertaining thing about them, and I'm not talking about his rhymes, either.

100. Kool Keith—Black Elvis
Umm, I've never heard anything by Kool Keith, except maybe in samples by other groups. Does that make me uncool?

I think it's really weird that no other news outlet that I can find has posted a story about the blue light that was chased by F-16s over Washington DC over the weekend. The story originally appeared in the Saturday edition of the Post, so I thought it was pretty strange that no one else had picked it up as of Sunday night, but I figured I'd give it another day before I started to get paranoid about it. But here it is, 24 hours later, and still no sign of the story anywhere else on the web. Very strange...

Well, in response to my comments on the list of 100 albums you should get rid of yesterday, Scott sent his own list of comments on my comments. Now, normally I might post these, but if I did, I might also feel compelled to add my comments to his comments, which means that I would be commenting on his comments on my comments on a list on another site. And that's just a little too much for me. So let me sum it up for you:

1. He thinks I'm a moron for not liking jazz, even though he doesn't own any himself.

2. He hasn't heard of a lot of the groups on this list.

3. Even though his comments were much briefer than mine (just as mine were, in general, much briefer than the original list), he still felt a little stupid (just like I did) for being stubborn enough to go through the entire 100 albums on the list.

Not wanting to just toss away all of his work, I'll post his comments here if you're really interested. But I think this topic has taken up entirely too much room on the front page—in fact, I thought that yesterday when I posted my comments. So I think it's time to let it die a quiet death now.

I'm not crazy. It's the tv that's crazy.

I thought last month was a heavy content month, but thanks to my debate with Scott about the pledge of allegiance and my maniacal insistence that I go through that list of 100 albums one by one, I have totally destroyed my old record. And that doesn't even count the three-and-counting reviews that I've posted to Plug this month. I'll probably take it a little easier next month, but I'm planning for September to be my Month of Content. More on that later.

Our email system at work is infested with some variation of the Klez virus, and while the virus programs catch the attachments and delete them from individual emails, it doesn't stop the server from sending out random emails to and from different people in the organization. Often I will open my mailbox in the morning to find previously-infected fake emails from my coworkers (or even myself) that were never sent by the person that it looks like they were sent by. Most people have learned to ignore these, since it's pretty obvious what they are by now, but every now and then you'll get a confused person from some other office demanding to know why you sent them a virus. Occasionally you'll also get an automatic reply from someone who's out of the office. Recently I received one of these that was both incredibly honest and incredibly obnoxious:

This is an automatic reply. I am away until August 6 and will have no email access during that time. I anticipate receiving several thousand messages while I am away. If you want to make sure that I read your message, I suggest that you resend it after I return.

Thank you.

I mean, I guess it's good that he's telling you that you should try him again when he gets back if you really need to get in touch with him, but he's also basically telling you that he's going to take the thousands of emails that he'll receive while he's gone and throw them in the trash.

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