Where do Washingtonians learn to drive?

I’d planned to catch up on a few quick items yesterday, since I was away in New York for a few days. Unfortunately, the Great Blizzard of 2007&#153 struck, snarling traffic. Danielle and I made it back to Northern Virginia in about 3.5 hours. We stopped at the grocery store before finishing our journey home. This should’ve been a minor detour, but it turned into a giant misadventure. We left Whole Foods at 1:50. We pulled into our driveway at 5:20.

Witness the white-out conditions that caused this:

While Danielle’s Jetta handled the conditions without incident, even big vehicles can’t help most drivers in the area:

This happens every year at this time in D.C. It should scare everyone that these are the same people leading our nation through actual crises.

Rep. Don Young will be my inspiration

I know how I’m planning to avoid dangerous military service if the draft returns¹: I’ll spend like a Congressman.

Thousands of U.S. troops are being barred from overseas duty because they are so deep in debt they are considered security risks, according to an Associated Press review of military records.

The Pentagon contends that financial problems can distract personnel from their duties or make them vulnerable to bribery and treason. As a result, those who fall heavily into debt can be stripped of the security clearances they need to go overseas.

While the number of revoked clearances has surged since the beginning of the Iraq war, military officials say there is no evidence that service members are deliberately running up debts to stay out of harm’s way.

Damn, they might be on to my brilliant plan.

The problem is attributed to a lack of financial smarts among recruits, reckless spending among those exhilarated to make it home alive after a tour of duty and the profusion of “payday lenders” — businesses that allow military personnel to borrow against their next paycheck at extremely high interest rates.

My brother is in the Navy, and I’d suggest that the first suggestion is the issue. Perhaps this is just another data point suggesting economics education for kids while still in school? Of course, the red flag went up when I read mention of payday loans. Good grief, we know where this will end up is already going:

Runaway interest rates at payday lending businesses, many of which are clustered outside bases, are another source of the problem. Several states have cracked down on payday lending practices, and President Bush signed legislation this month limiting how much these businesses can charge military personnel.

Is President Bush taking economic advice from that model libertarian, George Allen? He’s clearly absorbed the “trust free people with free enterprise” lesson. All military personnel are now affected because some military personnel may degrade their financial health with stupid loans. Well done.

¹ I do not believe the draft is coming back any time soon. It’s just a literary device, so no crackpot ranting about its inevitable return if we elect Democrats or fail to re-elect Republicans next month.

Education strikes out

This weekend, I encountered three stellar examples of how our system of education provides. In order:

  • I heard a college student use the phrase curled up in the fetus position.
  • I heard a fan say ignorantest to describe a poor call by an ACC official in Virginia Tech’s win against Cincinnati.
  • I read this quote by Macho Harris. He’s explaining how he finally made one of the big plays expected of him.

    “I knew it, but I wasn’t pressurizing myself about it,” Harris said. “I knew my chance would come.”

Why bother teaching the English language if these are the results we can expect?

Five Years Later

I don’t want to belabor any of the obvious points about this anniversary. We all know what today is. We were all there in our own way to witness the horror, wherever we were that morning. Today is different only because we have the perspective that time alone can bring.

What irks me about today is that we’ve had a clear failing in leadership. It would be easy to pick on the president or some other member of the administration or in the Congress. No, that’s the wrong answer. We’ve had a failure in leadership among every politician who has used that day to sell us fear rather than answers. We’ve had a failure in leadership by every government official charged with keeping us safe who has acquiesced to believing that the ongoing threat is so existential that the ends justify any and all means. Worst of all, we’ve had a failure in leadership among every voter who has accepted the fear and the acquiescence to obtain some sense of safety, no matter how irrational or illusory.

Despite the rhetoric to the contrary immediately following the events of that day, I should’ve expected the nature of the partisan political desire to provide the only solution and to claim credit before achieving success. That’s the nature of the job, although it doesn’t have to be. And government officials are charged to follow orders, despite the options to defy unconstitutional orders built into the system through years of need. Again, this is not surprising. The failure to lead in any of these positions is foreseeable. It’s this failure in ourselves to reject elected representatives who care more about their careers than our lives that I think about most today.

This failure is not in politicians of any specific party. The Republican quest for a permanent majority has blinded them to their supposed core principles of liberty and limited government. They want us secure from attack, but not secure in our minds. They wish to walk the balance of these two contradictions by using fear as a campaign tactic to assure us that pulling the (R) lever every November is the only way to prevent that day from happening again. This is crass and shameful, not deserving of even a temporary majority.

The Democratic quest to oppose an administration they’ve hated since 2000 blinds them to the clear need for opposition to provide a vision of success when the majority has strayed. They forget that good people can possess bad ideas. Someone must remind them that the failure of this president is not desirable. Too many Democrats believe that opposition should rejoice in the majority’s failure. They have also settled for believing that America can act as a turtle and retreat to the apparent safety of our shell. They are wrong. They do not deserve to replace the Republicans.

But we accept this. We believe it’s more important to know who to blame for government failures leading to that day than to know how we can fix those problems before they fail us again. We hate President Clinton or we hate President Bush. We believe we are in a religious war or we believe that we are fighting a few fringe lunatics who justifiably hate us for our alleged arrogance. Those coarse generalizations are insidious. The truth, of course, is somewhere in the middle. We know this even when our representatives pretend that we don’t. But we do nothing about it. The venom has carried on for nearly five years. This is dangerous.

When the inevitable push for November begins, with its parade of symbols from that day, we must say that we’ve had enough. We must say that we do not believe that day’s lesson should be permanent fear and hatred. We are strong for the principles we stand on. They have led us to our power and standing in the world. We must show that our ideals are true. Revenge against our enemies, across oceans or across the street, does not serve us. Justice and peace are all that matter.

We must demand that our representatives lead. If they refuse to be accountable, we must vote them out and find new representatives. We must expect solutions instead of fear and blame. We are all on the same side. Disagreement does not equate to a desire or willingness to lose. We showed that we could be united following that day. We must return to that. That is the way to respect America and our continued strength. By leading we find a safer future.

That is how I want to honor those who died that morning.

Cleaning out the aggregator

My server died last Tuesday, locking me out of my site. My hosting company finally resurrected it late Wednesday, but by then my vacation interfered. Rare access to the Internets, as well as general mental decompression, stood in the way of regular posting. So I disappeared for almost a week. In no particular order, here are a few items filling my news inbox while I was away.


From Reason’s Hit and Run, I think I might be the only person in America who answers Yes and No instead of some other combo.

…, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer fielded two questions on marijuana. One: Would he legalize medical marijuana? Two: Had he ever smoked marijuana? The answers: No and yes. The terror of Wall Street has picked up and run with the old Clintonite maxim: Do as I say, not as I did.

Spitzer should’ve been discredited as a candidate for any number of actions he’s taken, but this is just further proof that the people of New York need to see more than (D) when they get in the voting booth. I suppose it should be comforting to know that Virginia isn’t the only state with hack politicians.


Is anyone shocked by this:

The federal government will need to either cut spending or raise taxes down the road to pay for extending President Bush’s recent tax cuts, the Treasury Department said in a report released [last Monday], dismissing the idea popular with many Republicans that such sacrifices can be avoided.

My question should be rhetorical, but there are many people in this town who will probably be genuinely shocked. Okay, actually, the shocked people will be voters. Those who are not shocked, but are bitter that the Treasury Department could be so treasonous as to impugn the American economy this way, will complain among themselves that their secret is revealed.


Maybe I can start a network and force Comcast to air it:

After more than a year of inaction, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin yesterday addressed a dispute that has kept Washington Nationals games off the region’s biggest cable network.

The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), which carries most of the team’s games, asked the FCC in June 2005 to order Comcast Corp. to begin carrying the games immediately, but the agency took no action.

MASN now has the right to seek a resolution to its complaint through the FCC process or take the path of arbitration.

Shouldn’t customers decide whether or not MASN is important to them? Of course, lack of competition due to regulatory monopolies prohibits customers from having a sufficient voice, say to cancel and switch to a cable provider that carries MASN, but I’m certain the answer is not to push the regulatory hand deeper into the industry.


Tomorrow MTV turns 25. Being old enough to remember the early days of MTV, and young enough to enjoy them, the present-day celebration is good for reliving fond memories. But this explanation of why MTV evolved (devolved?) into what it is broke the spell:

“I think we started as an idea with very little content; it was more like a radio station with songs and cheesy, hair-metal videos,” says Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks’ music/film/Logo group. “But we quickly realized the novelty of music videos wore off and was not repeatable with thousands of viewings. So we evolved into being more about TV production — yet still sloppy, live and organic.”

Forget that my musical tastes are stuck more in early MTV than current MTV, which means I don’t watch most new videos. The video has not gotten old. Look at iTunes and its music video sales. There is a market, meaning the novelty didn’t die. MTV killed it with its repetition of the same tiny number of videos.

Early on this was necessary due to the newness of the form. But by the late ’80s, that didn’t hold. MTV abandoned it. Today, when I watch music television, I watch the extra music video channels like VH1 Classic. Even when I’m watching country music videos, I’ll flip to the all video channels rather than the regular channels. When original programming appears on any regular music channel, I almost always pick up the remote. I understand that I’m not MTV’s target audience, but I didn’t age out of that audience. MTV decided my viewership didn’t matter. But that makes sense, because my money is not green, it’s plastic.

Satan hates our Constitution

In 1706 crazy people in Ms. Sherwood’s village decided she was a witch, so they tied her up and threw her into the Lynnhaven River. Since she floated, she was apparently a witch. Fascinating. So, which angle should I take on this news?

The Witch of Pungo is no longer a witch. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine on Monday gave an informal pardon to Grace Sherwood, who 300 years ago became Virginia’s only person convicted as a witch tried by water.

“I am pleased to officially restore the good name of Grace Sherwood,” Kaine wrote in a letter Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf read aloud before a re-enactment of Sherwood’s being dropped into the river.

“With 300 years of hindsight, we all certainly can agree that trial by water is an injustice,” Kaine wrote. “We also can celebrate the fact that a woman’s equality is constitutionally protected today, and women have the freedom to pursue their hopes and dreams.”

It’s nice to know that our state’s commonwealth’s governor can find time for an extra kooky publicity stunt in which to babble about a woman’s constitutionally-protected equality. We’re so much more enlightened now than ever before. Except when we’re not, of course. We can’t take this as a clear lesson that the citizen mob can go bonkers and adjust our civil protection of liberty further. Nope, that’s too obvious. So here’s what I propose: Ms. Sherwood’s guilt should be maintained forever. After all, the will of the people is most important. Besides, there’s a long tradition of prosecuting witches. Who are we to question the wisdom of that history? It’s older than our republic!

Long live traditional defenses against magic.

We can’t be this superficial

Enough with the fake hysteria over 06/06/2006. Nothing is going to happen. Forget that it requires specific manipulation of the date to get to the feared satanic nonsense. Forget that this date occurs every one hundred years. Considering the world hasn’t ended in any of the other occurrences, I’m willing to tell you more than 7 hours in advance that tomorrow, 06/07/06, will arrive.

If we really want to obsess about today’s date, please, for all that is sacred, honor what deserves to be honored, not some quasi-religious garbage.

For posterity, my Fantasy Football Super Bowl adventure

Before I get into this story, I know that what I’m about to tell you is pathetic.

All the time and energy invested in fantasy football provides little more than self-inflicted headaches, most of the time. But sometimes, usually on a few glorious weekends throughout the football season, it provides more. It satiates a competitive fire that just wants to dominate and to, hopefully, win not lose. When a draft strategy works to put together a team capable of winning, after factoring in various bye weeks and favorable matchups, a gleeful accomplishment overcomes all accompanying frustration. It compels me to keep playing every year, in spite of finishing no higher than 7th in the last four seasons. Throw in the small fact that the top 6 teams makes the fantasy playoffs each year and perseverance becomes more amazing. (I don’t feel like I’m complementing myself as much as I’m admitting that I can’t not play, if that makes sense.) So it goes.

This season I finally did pre-draft research and walked away from the draft pleased with the team I drafted. Correctly, as it turned out. I jumped out to a fast start, scoring the most points each of the first two weeks. My team went on to score the most points for the week five times in the thirteen game regular season. Some guys produced as I’d hoped. A few produced beyond my modest expectations. Regardless, my strategy worked as expected, for the first time. As such, I made only one relevant transaction throughout the season, picking up Mark Brunell to replace the injured Chad Pennington. I didn’t always start the best quarterback after picking up Brunell, but it usually didn’t matter. The few times I botched the decision worked out in my favor, for I finished sixth and made the playoffs for the first time.

I’ve made the playoffs in other leagues before, but those weren’t competitive leagues most of the time. Even when I made the playoffs, it never worked out for me. One year, I entered the playoffs in first place, having crushed the competition all season. I lost maybe two games in the first thirteen weeks. I lost all three playoffs games to finish eighth. I had little expectation this year.

In the first two matchups, my team scored just enough to beat my opponent. If the playoff brackets worked out any differently, I’d have lost either of the first two games because I outscored no one else in the playoffs. I finally had some luck. I earned a spot in my fantasy league’s Super Bowl!

Taking place Christmas weekend, I asked Santa for nothing more than big weeks from my players. As the first games started that weekend, I thought I might get my wish. Throughout the early games on Christmas Eve, my opponent’s players outscored mine. As the day progressed, my players came on strong. Going in to the last two games, my opponent had Thomas Jones and I had Tom Brady going. I led by two points. I felt optimistic.

When Jones scored 19 points on Christmas, I worried a little. Seventeen points down wasn’t insurmountable, especially since Brady faced a bad Jets team. I lamented my decision not to start Brunell, since he’d scored 19 points on Christmas Eve. The would’ve given me the title by two points. I didn’t obsess too long, though, since my opponent sat Julius Jones’s 41 points. Woulda, shoulda, coulda meant nothing in that context. And I still had Brady, with only seventeen points standing between me and a championship. (I would win the first tie-breaker, so a tie score was acceptable to me, although the desire to dominate was still strong.)

I didn’t have the stomach to watch Brady and the Patriots on Monday the 26th, since I’d fret every play. Mostly, this aversion to obsessing over games I don’t care about is why I don’t gamble on sports in any way other than fantasy football. I watched other shows that night and went to bed only aware of my fantasy score with three quarters to play in the game. Brady had scored four points by then, so I trailed by thirteen. Certainly a moderate obstacle, given the ability of my players to score late in their games. I could wait until morning to find out.

Only, I couldn’t wait. I woke up at 1:30. When I saw the clock, I knew the Monday night game would be over. My score would be final, and I could do no more. I had to know. I turned my computer on and waited for it to load. I opened Firefox and clicked the link to my league. Getting nervous, I covered the part of my screen where just the score would show up. I clicked the game link to give me the total score, with each individual player’s score detailed. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and waited a moment. I opened my eyes. This is what I saw (my team is the Underwater Allies):

Tom Brady scored sixteen points. I needed seventeen to win (by tying). I lost. By one point. Because Patriots coach Bill Belichick benched Brady in the fourth quarter of a blowout. I now know how Tennessee’s Kevin Dyson felt as time expired in Super Bowl XXXIV, the game-tying touchdown one yard away. I wanted to vomit.

Finishing second won’t mean any lingering devastation, but no fantasy loss will ever be worse. I can’t imagine winning would’ve been as good as this loss was bad. I just can’t. At least I got this out of the deal:

There is nothing that maroon and orange can't improve.

Is it Draft Day for Fantasy Football 2006 yet?