If you don’t like it, well, just don’t tell me.

I’ve stated many times that Alias is The Greatest Television Show Ever&#153, so it’s no surprise that I rave about it and watch it every week. I haven’t missed an episode in the show’s history. I’ve scheduled vacations and flights and holiday plans around Alias’ time slot. It required more effort when ABC aired it on Sunday nights, but even in its much more agreeable Wednesday time slot, my entire world stops for sixty joyous minutes. Alias defines “Appointment TV”.

That’s why this season, Alias’ fourth, has been so frustrating. Through the first seven episodes, I’ve waited for the Alias magic to appear, but it’s appeared only a few times. The last few episodes have been better, building into some of the pleasures of the first sixty-six episodes. They haven’t been quite right, though. I want the mystery, the chaos, the suspense, the intrigue, the confusion, the action, and the cool. I want Alias.

At its core, Alias is a giant comic book. The show doesn’t ask us to suspend disbelief as much as it grabs us by the scruff of our necks and smacks us around a few times before injecting us with some high-tech serum of cool from the lab of Marshall J. Flinkman. The show exudes a commitment to its storyline, no matter how ridiculous or improbable, and demands that the viewer hang on for the ride. Alias is proof that a television show can trust its audience to understand intricate plot turns and long-running character dynamics. That it hasn’t trusted its audience through the first seven episodes created my frustration.

Placing the blame for that lack of trust is irrelevant. Having witnessed the same respect of its audience in J.J. Abrams’ other show, Lost, I doubt that the changes in Alias are exclusively his fault, if he holds any blame. Again, that is irrelevant for me. I just wanted the real Alias back.

There is a purpose to the complexity of the Alias world. Viewers experience the anger dismay appreciation as each new twist is revealed. We understand that each twist is a piece in the larger canvas of the story. What looks like a Red Herring now will be critical in the future. Knowing that Alias contains nothing unintentional, we must remain attentive. When the episodes became self-contained mini-plots in the middle of the third season, the show lost some much of this feel. The loss became more pronounced through the first seven episodes of season four. The only connection between each episode was the actors portraying the characters. The story had no continuity. There were no moments where I knew that I’d be lost if I hadn’t seen the first 66 episodes. The “Appointment TV” factor was fading. Until last night’s episode, when Alias rediscovered itself.

For the first time this season, Alias was perfect. The characters demonstrated their personality traits and conflicts. Sydney’s brawl with Anna Espinosa in the clothing boutique was brilliant. There was no reason for them to fight; they were in a public place, making an illicit transaction. Sydney’s sister’s life was in jeopardy, but her hatred of Anna led to a mutual beating in the middle of the clothing racks. It was unprofessional, counter-productive and dangerous on Sydney’s part, but the fight embraced the history of the characters. Anna hasn’t been around for several years, but her return and her antagonistic showdown with Sydney made sense.

The re-emergence of Sark was equally as important. He’d been sitting in a prison cell since his capture at the end of last season. Sark’s a scary dude made scarier because he isn’t a psychopath. He is intelligent, amoral and greedy, which makes him the perfect villainous foil for Sydney (and Vaughn). Even confined to a penitentiary cell, his mind is intact. In last night’s episode, even when threatened and drugged, he’s aware enough to screw Vaughn’s plans, guaranteeing that his own motives are met before anything else. Vaughn and Sydney don’t know his motives, thus driving the tension. We don’t know his motives, either, so we enjoy the delicious anticipation of Sark’s next dick move. We’re committed to knowing. We can’t wait to find out what happens next. We’re hooked.

As last night’s episode careened towards 10pm, I sensed that something was different back to normal. There was no way the story was going to wrap before the episode ran out of time. There were too many loose ends, too many details in play to put the petite bow on the finished package as the show had done throughout the season. Would Nadia live or die? We know the answer, of course, but that’s not the point. It’s not if, but how. The closing credits rolled with hanging plot points and unanswered questions. It finally left me asking the right question: what’s going to happen next? When I don’t know the answer and I can’t wait until 9pm next Wednesday to find out, the show is back.

Self-contained, non-Rambaldi, non-spook paranoia episodes, you’re gone so soon, we hardly knew ye. Now keep it that way.

Cherry pie for everyone!

Today is the greatest day of the year. Greater than Christmas. Greater, even, than my birthday. As everyone who is anyone knows, today is the day that I get to utter the four words that form the greatest phrase in the English language. Or any other language. That phrase presents the greatest news of the year, until Harry Kalas says “The Phillies are the 2005 World Series Champions!”, which we’ll have to wait until October to hear. Here it is:

Pitchers and catchers report!

Can you stand the excitement? And why isn’t today a national holiday?

2,831 Words

President Bush:

It’s been eight days since your State of the Union speech, but this is still relevant because your intolerance of freedom is still resonating throughout the country. Given the ridiculous direction that my own state is heading, this isn’t going away. You’re happy about that, I’m sure, but I’m not going away, either. Please take heed of what I’m about to tell you.

I don’t understand why someone has to explain the same issues to you repeatedly, but since you seem unwilling to grasp them, I’ll try again. That I am able to do this amuses me because I’m just a guy with a state school education, while you, the President of the United States, have an Ivy League education. To help you, I’m going to aim for the simplest language I can. You might have learned some of these words in the past, but for any you don’t understand, there’s probably a book called a “dictionary” somewhere in the White House. To really make it helpful, it probably even has “Dictionary” on the front. On the slim chance that there isn’t a dictionary, you go ahead and use the internets to look these words up. (But be sure to use the anti-sex filter. I don’t want you to see any naked boobies, because then you might not be able to continue doing your job. Oh, wait, you aren’t doing your job correctly, so forget that. Maybe some naked boobies will cheer you up. You look at those all you want. And if you look around, I bet you’ll find some pictures of naked boobies left over from the last occupant of your office.)

On to the lesson.

Many, many years ago, a bunch of old men wrote this short document called the Declaration of Independence. That document set the basis for this country we live in. After writing the Declaration of Independence, our infant nation went to war to achieve its principles.

When you look that last word up in the dictionary, don’t be fooled. There will be a word before it that’s pronounced the same, but it’s spelled differently. Notice that “principle” has an “e” in it. If you find the word that sounds like it and it has an “a”, that’s the wrong word. Keep looking through the “P” section, I promise you’ll find it. It’ll be useful for you to understand this word for the rest of this letter. Not because you don’t have them, because you do. You just don’t understand the context of American liberty that you’re supposed to apply to them.

Alright, now that you know what “principle” means, we can continue. Those men many years ago fought what’s known as a Just War. That means that, even though war is bad, sometimes it’s good because it’s necessary to achieve a bigger goal of peace and freedom. You’re in the middle of one of those now. I hear conflicting reports about your success, but I think you’re on the right path. You keep that up, but make sure you apply that word we just learned a few minutes ago. It’s a good word because there is a principle that you’re fighting for in that war. It’s called freedom. It has a lot of possible meanings and I could be more precise, but freedom is a good word so I’m going to let the big, broad meaning stand for the little details until I get to the deep meaning.

Back to my story. Those men who fought that war a long time ago, they won the greatest prize of all when they won that war. Do you know what that prize was? I bet you do. Come on, I think you can figure it out. What’s that? That’s right, they won their freedom and the official birth of our nation. Good job. See you do know what you’re talking about here.

That’s a good foundation. But that’s not the end of the story. See, other stuff happened after that victory. Those men were very smart. They knew that they’d just defeated tyranny to win their freedom. They knew that they didn’t want to give their freedom away to a new tyrant. (A tyrant is a very bad person.) To protect themselves, they wrote another document. I know it seems like hard work to write another whole document, but they were smart, so they wrote it because they knew they would need it. Do you know what document that is? No, I didn’t think so. I’ll tell you so that you know. That document is the Constitution of the United States of America. It’s the greatest document ever written in America. It’s so good, it’s still relevant and useful today. It has a lot of words in it, so I won’t reprint it here, but you can find it on the internets by clicking on this link. If you don’t feel like clicking that link (It’s possible you found the naked boobies and they scared you away from the internets. That’s ok.), there is a building in Washington, DC, not too far from where you live that has an original copy of the Constitution. That building is called the National Archives. I bet with your status as president, they’ll probably let you see it any time you want. I’ve seen it and it’s pretty awesome. I’m a big fan of it, as I hope you’ll be by the time I’m done with this letter. As I said, it’s a great document.

Do you know what that document does? Let me tell you, it does a lot. That principle we spoke of earlier, freedom? The Constitution guarantees it to the people by explaining the idea that the federal government is run by the people. That means that no branch of the government is entitled to dictate (stop snickering) what free citizens can do. This, of course, has some limitations because we don’t want everyone to have the right to beat people up just because they feel like it. The way we get around that is that we pass laws against stuff like that. When I say “we”, I mean our elected representatives in Congress since the United States is actually a republic, but the basic idea is the same.

As you might guess, sometimes the Congress goes too far, which is what your job is for. When they try to take power that they shouldn’t, you get to veto their laws. A veto is the same thing as you saying “NO!”. It really works. Naturally, you don’t know that it works because you have little experience with the veto, but you still have almost four years to learn. And even though you don’t know how that works, we still have another safe guard after you, a little bit of genius known as the judicial system. This is where we challenge laws that we think are bad. It’s a very good idea because it lets us stop reckless laws and questionable public values. If a law is bad, the courts can strike that law from our legal system. It’s really cool. We’ve made great strides through the court system, strides that society wasn’t ready to take and was very upset about when the court ruled. Today, though, we take those for granted and see how true those decisions were. And there’s a reason why they were true. It comes back to freedom and how the courts can protect it for the people.

Freedom marches forward because our Constitution is so great. When the Constitution was drafted, many people believed that it didn’t do enough to secure
the citizenry’s freedom from its government. This caused great debates among the smartest men of that time. After a lot of thinking, they decided that they needed to amend the Constitution. To do this, they wrote many amendments to the Constitution to specify certain rights that the government could not take away. Some of those amendments were combined and some of them were ignored, but they ultimately got the Constitution improved with ten additional amendments, which they called the Bill of Rights. I won’t reprint them here because I gave you the link to the Constitution. You should definitely read it soon.

There’s a funny little point about the Constitution which you seem to know. I don’t think you know everything about it, though, which is why I’m going to say this part clearly. Please pay attention, because this is where you lack the most knowledge. The Constitution has been working hard for 215 years. By virtue of its use, it’s stronger than it was when those wise old men wrote it. It guarantees all sorts of rights to the people that the original men didn’t know about. This is good and shows how smart those original men were. The Constitution they wrote has proven flexible and adaptable to every new situation that Americans devise to test against it. It’s really amazing.

You don’t seem to know that, though. The strength of the Constitution is its ability to protect citizens from the government when elected representatives become overzealous in their effort to “lead” America. That means they try to take too much power, which you understand without understanding. Today’s elected officials are being overzealous and you’re leading the charge. The Constitution is the method by which we the people are ultimately able to curtail your efforts.

There are different ways for the Constitution to protect we the people. One of them is through the balance of power between the legislative branch, the executive branch (that’s you), and the judicial branch. As I said earlier, the legislature passes laws, which you then accept or reject (veto). If a person or persons believes his rights have been restricted against the intent of the Constitution by one of these laws, the impacted person(s) can request that the law be voided by the legislature. This rarely happens, so the judicial system becomes involved. Usually that means the court interpreting the Constitution to protect everyone. It’s the easiest and most common method for the Constitution to work. It’s helped that we’ve had some very good judges throughout our history who believe in limiting the government and protecting the rights of all Americans, no matter how small the minority.

This works especially well as our country grows and improves its definition of freedom, but you don’t seem to understand that. You have decided that you don’t like freedom as much as you claim. You don’t want our country to lose its morals, you say, about which you’ve decided you know best because yours come from your interpretation of a book that you like rather than our Constitution. It’s a good book, no doubt, but it’s not the basis for our laws. So you’re fighting against the judiciary. But you can’t openly do this and overturn the court’s decisions as easily as you’d like.

To fix this, you and your friends have come up with a three-pronged tactic for accomplishing a change in the judicial system. First, you and your friends throw around the term “activist judges” to decry any decision you don’t like. You understand that if you control the language, many people will adopt it and embrace it. You’ll have won their minds to your viewpoint, even if your supporters are wrong in proclaiming the foundation of our laws.

You hoped that your first tactic would be enough, but you realize that there is opposition to this, even among your political compatriots. Consider this quote from United States Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist:

Let us hope that the Supreme Court and all of our courts will continue to command sufficient public respect to enable them to survive basic attacks on the judicial independence that has made our judicial system a model for much of the world.

He wrote this based on the accusation of “judicial activism” levied against the judicial branch. He makes a strong argument against that unwise label, no? Deep down, I hope you agree, but I’m not sure. You realized that controlling the language was insufficient, which is why you added tactic number two. When realizing that you might not get your morals legislation, you and your friends in Congress stripped the federal judiciary of its ability to hear federal challenges to your morals legislation. This is essential for you because you know that you’ll achieve a higher acceptance of your morals legislation if you fight many little battles within the states than one large battle within the country. This proved very effective for you last year, which is actually bad because it will encourage you and others to use this power against the people in the future. You’ve even used the term for this scenario, slippery slope, so I know you’ve heard of it. I suspect that you seek power more than persuasion, so the obvious negatives don’t matter as long as you’re the one who decides what gets thrown down the slippery slope.

You also know something else, which influences your final tactic. You know that American tradition favors ever-expanding freedom. If you just stick with the state battles, you understand that you’ll eventually lose, just as all previous attempts to hinder freedom have ultimately failed. You haven’t let that stop you. You are again asking for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. I suspect that our founding fathers would’ve agreed with your abhorrence of same-sex marriage, but they were also extraordinary thinkers. They knew that knee-jerk reactions to quell new ideas wouldn’t be wise, so they built a strict process into the Constitution by which amendments could be added. The Constitution requires a super-majority in Congress and among the states rather than just a simple majority in Congress. They instilled this wise burden in the Constitution to protect the people. It’s been so effective that, despite thousands of attempts to amend the Constitution, the process has succeeded only twenty-seven times. As I noted earlier, ten of those passed three years after the states ratified the Constitution, so there have only been seventeen amendmnets in the last 212 years.

I don’t think you have the votes to surpass that high hurdle, but another point matters more. Every citizen has the right to not be physically harmed by another. The role of the government in passing laws that limit rights is to protect citizens from physical harm. No citizen has the right to not be offended by someone else’s life. The power of the government must not be used to allow one group of citizens to control another group of citizens. Remember, the majority rules but not at the expense of the minority’s basic rights.

The path you’re leading our nation is not wise. The Constitution has been amended to limit rights of the citizenry only once, when the 18th amendment passed, prohibiting the sale or consumption of alcohol within the United States. You’re probably aware that this led to significant crime around the sale and consumption of alcohol within the United States. And yet, freedom marched forward. The prohibition of 18th amendment was such a disaster that it was later repealed with the 21st amendment. Common sense prevailed but history preserved the assesment of the 18th amendment as a blemish on our Constitution.

There is a simple lesson in all of this. History is full of examples of government, in conjunction with a moral majority, siphoning rights away from the citizenry as a whole. Even if I know I will never exercise that right, it is still mine. Removing it because a majority will never use it mocks the principle of freedom.

he Constitution was designed to adapt to changing times and when the hysteria of fear and anger and righteousness fade, the Constitution is still the same, governing the government for the people. The oppressed will rarely change their minds. The oppressors don’t have to change their minds. The march of freedom always continues. It comes from the people who did nothing aafter they realize that they’ve allowed something awful to occur. This has always happened and will always happen. Freedom always prevails. The only question surrounding this issue is your place in history.

Take a moment, step back from your politics of division and your thirst for power long enough to imagine how history will judge you. You needn’t look far, for history holds the examples easily. Our nation was divided into black and white, male and female, young and old for no purpose other than the power of the majority. While remnants of those divisions remain, most of them have faded into their rightful place in the history of human mistakes. The nation waits to see your true character. Will you allow yourself to be a president responsible for discrimination or will you stand for the rights of everyone, whether you agree with their lives or not? Which is it, Mr. President? History is waiting.

Thank you,

I’m way cool Beavis, but I cannot change the future.

I drove to the metro today, happier than most days. I got up early, so I would be early for work, which is great because I’d be able to settle in early at home to watch a little Jeopardy!, some American Idol, and then behold the joy that is The Amazing Race finale. All that and I was listening to Howard Stern discuss cops using the taser on uncooperative people. I love me some taser, so it was a great morning.

Like every morning, I pulled into my metered parking spot and incorrectly aligned my car with the rear end further away from the curb than the front end. I don’t bother to park my car more parallel to the curb if my car is within the bounds of the painted lines. I was today, so I turned off my car and got out to put quarters in the meter. And this is where the morning slipped into suck-ass interesting.

I looked ahead of me and saw a dog walking in the primary street that passes through the metro parking lot. He was walking back-and-forth across the street, slowing down the occasional car. He loped towards the random people walking on the sidewalk before walking away from them. I hoped someone would stop and get him out of the street, but everyone kept walking. He ran to the parking lot entrance ramp that feeds from the highway. I imagined a dead dog in the street very soon, but he moved away from the cars and onto the sidewalk.

I dropped my quarters into the meter and walked to the metro about twenty yards behind the dog. I still hoped that someone would help the dog, but no one stopped. The few people who looked at the dog looked only long enough to lock eyes before he’d run away. He ran back in my direction before stopping to linger in some bushes.

I normally would act like everyone else, but as I approached the dog, I had one simple thought in mind. WWDD? What would Danielle do? That, of course, would’ve involved slamming on the brakes in my car, blocking traffic to protect the dog’s path, jumping out of my car in the middle of the street, scooping up the dog and depositing him in the backseat of my car. I would’ve then driven around the surrounding county until I found his home. That wouldn’t work, so I judged the next best possibility. None of the other passersby were going to do anything, so I had to fix this situation.

Since he was lingering in the bushes, I quickly gained on his position. I walked up to him and stood still. I reached out my hand and he bent his head down for me to scratch his head. I scratched his head while grabbing his collar to read his tags. Seeing that he had tags, I called the number. No answer. I pondered what to do next before the dog Laser leapt from my grasp and ran away. Time to find out how committed I was to this situation.

I walked after him, quickly cornering him against a patch of trees. When I reached him, I tucked my hand under his collar and calmed him down. I was now involved, like it or not, so I walked him to the station. I had to hunch over to keep my grip on his collar so that he wouldn’t run away again. Laser was cooperative, but anxious to explore. We struggled our way to the station.

At the station, I saw my savior anti-Christ in the form of a metro security guard. I explained that I’d found this dog running loose through the streets of the metro. Without rolling the window of his jeep down, he explained that he wasn’t going to do anything about it, that he “wasn’t going to touch the dog.” I tried to reason with him, pointing out the obvious possibility that the dog would either get hit by a car or cause an accident. He suggested I call 911 and ask for a number to call.

Allow me to repeat that last part: he suggested I call 911 and ask for a number. How is that helpful? He should’ve just gotten out of his jeep and clubbed me in the knee. I asked him if he was serious and he said yes, he couldn’t do anything for me. He then said I could either deal with the dog or let the dog go. I gave him a look and walked away.

Laser.jpgI stood on the sidewalk with the dog and called the owner again. I didn’t get an answer again, so I called the veterinarian’s number on one of his tags. The receptionist called the owner’s numbers but received no answer. A woman on her way into the metro walked up to me and asked what was going on. I explained the situation to her. She mentioned that she had a leash in her car if I wanted it. Absolutely. She retrieved the leash from her car. While I locked Laser into the leash, the woman searched through her phone and found the non-emergency number for the local police. I swear that part is true. I don’t know why she had that programmed into her phone, but she did. I waited through the automated system until I finally got a live voice. I explained everything to the officer, so he dispatched animal control.

I hung up with the police and thanked the woman for her help. I asked her about the leash. She said she would pick it up from the animal shelter later in the day so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it. She left to catch the train while I waited.

Did I mention that I had a meeting this morning? No? Guess what? I had a meeting this morning. I still had time to make it to work on time, but that quickly faded. Thirty minutes later, the animal control officer arrived. He gently picked up Laser and put him in the cage in the back of the van, then thanked me for waiting with the dog until he arrived. We shook hands before I left to catch my train. I caught the train, which only made me five minutes late for my train.

Anyone care to guess what the security guard did the entire time I waited for the police to arrive? You can have multiple guesses, but you’ll only need more than one if you’ve never dealt with the lovely beast that is the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The correct answer? He sat in his jeep and watched the world pass him by. It’s a good thing there was nothing else for him to do or he might have tired himself out.

Real men use hot dogs

Scientists in Norway discovered that “worms squirming on a fishhook feel no pain — nor do lobsters and crabs cooked in boiling water”. I’m not sure I believe it’s that simple, but they’re scientists and I see little reason why they would slant the study on purpose. The details of the study are interesting, at least to me as a squishy-hearted, tree-hugging liberal. Consider:

The government called for the study on pain, discomfort and stress in invertebrates to help in the planned revision of Norway’s animal protection law. Invertebrates cover a range of creatures from insects and spiders to mollusks and crustaceans.

[Professor Wenche] Farstad said most invertebrates, including lobsters and crabs boiled alive, do not feel pain because, unlike mammals, they do not have a big brain to read the signals.

Some more advanced kinds of insects, such as honeybees which display social behavior and a capacity to learn and cooperate, deserve special care, she said.

“We have particular responsibility for animals that we have in our custody. That is not a scientific opinion, but the ethical side of the issue,” Farstad said.

Aside from the obvious American school-boy humor of the professor being named Wenche, I’m impressed that the Norwegian government would consider such a study. It shows a willingness to understand that, even though we’re the dominant species, that doesn’t mean we should kill animals indiscriminately. Of course, the rational side of me understands that this study will be mocked, whether out of bravado or ignorance. It’s not practical to assume that the use of animals for the purpose humans will stop just because a government wants its citizens to be sensitive, but Professor Farstad is correct in acknowledging that ethics matter. Yet, I can’t help noticing the absurdness of another statement by Professor Farstad. Consider:

Norway might have considered banning the use of live worms as fish bait if the study had found they felt pain, but Farstad said “It seems to be only reflex curling when put on the hook … They might sense something, but it is not painful and does not compromise their well-being.”

That may be true, but doesn’t dipping the worm into a body of water moments after impaling it on a hook so that a fish will chomp on its mangled body compromise its well-being?