Archive for March, 2005

See You Next Week

March 22, 2005

This week’s political entry has been cancelled on account of rain. (Okay, illness, but you get the idea.)

Al Sturgeon and Alia Martin

March 21, 2005

Al Sturgeon and Alia Martin Posted by Hello

Discovering the World Through People

March 21, 2005

by Al Sturgeon
(published every Monday in Desperate Houseflies)


Alia Martin is a beautiful young mother of two with a charming personality. She is noticeably intelligent, but her unpretentious approach to life leads her to fit in happily with a wide variety of people. When it comes to the mundane task of fixing dinner for her family, however, Alia’s life is anything but typical. Recently, Alia agreed to share with me the concepts behind her macrobiotic lifestyle, the challenges she and her family face as they practice it, and the personal tragedy that led to her unwavering devotion.

DH: For all of us novices, give us a basic overview of “macrobiotics.”
AM: The word macrobiotics actually means “big or long life.” This is actually a way of life with a strong emphasis on diet. Many people think that because people say they are macrobiotic they live a restrictive life, denying themselves many things others thrive on. This idea is false. The simple answer to your question is that this a diet consisting of whole grains, vegetables, beans and bean products (I swear tofu is yummy!), sea vegetables (think sushi or something like that), fish, nuts, fruits, etc. We tend to eat little or no dairy, meat, or refined sugars. But even this limits the idea of macrobiotics because what it really focuses on is understanding what you put in your body and the effect it has on you. You can actually eat dairy, meat, etc., but there is a knowledge of what is in your food and what it does to you. It is really fascinating to read about what is done to things most people call food, and once you start researching you might change your definition of the word food. And don’t worry, I am at peace with the fact that I might eat this way to be healthy and I could still die in a car crash tomorrow without having eaten cake in three years!

DH: Isn’t macrobiotics popular among some celebrities?
AM: Macrobiotics is becoming more and more popular in various groups. One group is celebrities. With beautiful people like Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, Tom Cruise, and Nicole Kidman choosing the macro lifestyle, who wouldn’t want to jump on the bandwagon? But another (possibly stronger) group is cancer patients. Many people are finding that chemo and radiation are simply not going to save them in most cases. Their cancer goes into recession only to come back again or they die of heart-related problems due to the effects from the treatment. And many find that the medicine is sometimes worse that the actual disease. Many people find huge success changing to the macro way of life. I have personally seen many people who have had terminal cases of various diseases live long, prosperous, disease-free lives after switching over.

DH: I know there are a lot of misconceptions about what you do. What are some of the biggest?
AM: One of the big ones is, as I’ve already mentioned, that you can’t eat certain foods. No foods are taboo in macrobiotics. It is actually more about moderation that abstinence. Another misconception is that to do this diet you have to give up every food you like and be completely miserable. This is actually funny to me because the food is actually wonderful. It is hard at first though because in this country we are used to keeping ourselves revved up with sugar and caffeine, so there are withdrawals from these things. But if you are craving meat so badly that you can’t think of anything else, go eat a steak. People tend to think that everything is all or nothing, and deprivation is not macrobiotics.

DH: What was it that led you to such a strong belief in this whole idea?
AM: As mentioned before, macrobiotics is popular with those who are sick. We found macrobiotics about five years ago when my little sister (then sixteen) was diagnosed with a Stage 4 glioblastoma, which is the fastest growing brain tumor there is. Because of her age she was forced to do chemo and radiation, and because she was doing macro at the time, she had no side effects from either. Strangely enough, because she wasn’t burning, losing hair, or gaining weight, they began to doubt that she was even getting radiation. But when everyone else using the machine had side effects, they just couldn’t understand why radiation directly to the brain wasn’t causing any damage. When she finished these treatments, she focused solely on macrobiotics because the doctors could do nothing for her. After a few months of macrobiotics and no medical intervention her cancer had done what the doctors said was impossible – it shrank 60%. The doctors still refused to believe that this could happen from diet alone and put her in a test group for a medicine that they were researching. Unfortunately everyone in the study died, including my sister. But after it was over one of her doctors said that modern medicine had killed her and apologized to my mother, telling her that soon medicine would have to move more towards dietary adjustment to really make an impact on diseases. That was a great victory I think. Maybe more people can be saved because of this doctor.

DH: I know people say things that have to make you mad. Here’s where you can let it all out. What is it that people say that really gets under your skin?
AM: Not much can anger me. People joking about me eating grass or rabbit food or any of that doesn’t affect me. But the only thing that gets to me is when people who don’t really understand what macrobiotics is about talk about my abilities as a mother because I feed my children this way. My children have never been sick, other than the occasional cold. No bronchitis, pneumonia, etc. that everyone else seems to pick up. But still people want to judge me because I don’t keep my kids happy and hyper with sugars and other foods. That’s about the only thing that gets me, but I try to stay calm about it because most people don’t know how what they eat affects them. Plus, my kids love the sweets and other foods and don’t know any difference in the way they eat because they’ve never been brought up eating junk food and fast food.

DH: What’s a typical food day like at the Martin house?
AM: Most of our food is traditional southern cooking, minus the lard and meat. We eat lots of rice, fresh cooked veggies, beans, and all of that. Today for lunch we had brown rice, gravy, cornbread casserole, black bean salad, broccoli, and turnip greens. Some of my favorite foods are hummus, sushi, cornbread casserole, and any desserts of course.

DH: What are some of the greatest challenges you face?
AM: Most of the problems I encounter come from others not agreeing with my dietary choices. When you first start this, it can be hard to know what to eat, but you get used to it. Now we live pretty normally compared to everyone else. We go out to eat with others and have people over to eat. It’s all about choices. Now, I can see some challenges up ahead when our kids get older and want to experiment with food. But my husband and I know that just as we got to experiment and make our own choices, our children will have to do the same.

DH: How does all this work with kids?
AM: Macrobiotics works great with kids. My oldest, Jolee, who is two, loves the food and doesn’t know that others eat differently. If you asked her at any time of the day what she wants to eat she always says “rice and beans.” The only thing about kids is that they need lots less salt and a lot more sweet, so the cooking is modified a little for them. They get more grain sweeteners and desserts and fruits.

DH: If someone out there were interested in pursuing a macrobiotic lifestyle, how would they go about it? Do they do it (pardon the pun) cold turkey? Or, is it best to change gradually?
AM: Unless someone has a serious illness I would never suggest going “cold turkey.” When people try to cut everything out too fast they almost always go back to their old way of eating. That is exactly why fad diets don’t work and why macrobiotics is a lifestyle. not really a diet. I usually suggest cutting things slowly out of your diet. Maybe men start with cutting out dairy or sugar first (because it’s usually harder for men to cut out the meat) and women starting with meat first (because they usually have a harder time on the dairy and sugar – think chocolate!). I do usually suggest totally cutting these three things out of your diet for a while because after a while if you start adding a little of them back you can really notice what it does to your body. For example, if you totally cut dairy out for about three months and then eat cheese or ice cream, you really notice how quickly your sinuses get clogged. Interesting things like that happen when you totally get rid of them for a while. But, to get back to the question, unless you are sick, I really suggest going slowly on changing your diet.

DH: Where would someone go if they were interested in more information?
AM: There is tons of info online. There are also many macrobiotic schools. The one I went to was the Kushi Institute in Beckett, Massachusetts. Also, many, many books have been written on macrobiotics. Most of them are on and Also, I have tons of information myself. Here are a few book recommendations for those interested: Sugar Blues by William Dufty, any book by Michio Kushi, Healthy Life Kitchen by Marilu Henner, and What Would Jesus Eat by Don Colbert, MD

Note: This weekly column will introduce you to all kinds of people. I’m open to chasing down as best I can all sorts of folks who can shed some light on any type of profession, hobby, lifestyle, cause, interest, or question that you may be interested in – so I welcome your suggestions.

Sunday Thoughts

March 20, 2005

by Al Sturgeon
(published every Sunday in Desperate Houseflies)


At a recent spiritual retreat, Ben Overby reminded me of a name for a recurring villain in my messages: spiritual elitism. Spiritual elitism is the belief that because of some level of spirituality to which I have risen, I am now somehow better than you. I seem to write or speak of that often.

The whole concept bugs the stew out of me. It may be because I’ve seen it personally in the Christian religion where it screams violently in opposition to the religion’s namesake (who eschewed any claims on elitism to identify with the messy crowd).

Pharisaic behavior may rear its ugly head in every era of history, but it is at least alive and well in this one. Whether it is directed toward a particular sexual behavior or a socioeconomic level, or whether it is aimed at a race of people or a ____________ (fill in the singular version of the name you derisively use to refer to your least favorite denomination), it is evident that many Christian people, yea Christian leaders, often look down their noses at others who aren’t as smart or perceptive or close to God as he/she/they happen to be – and feel morally superior.

I hate that. It seems to me that of anything we could do to stick Jesus back behind the rock THAT would be the most effective. And sadly, it seems most prevalent.

But it’s a sneaky sucker, that spiritual elitism. It seems that the little villain can sneak right around and bite you on your hindparts while you call it names if you don’t watch it closely.

C.S. Lewis was a brilliant professor who, after years voting for No God, reasoned himself into the opposite conclusion. His original elitist response to conversion was to have at discipleship without the silly church people and their hymns he considered “fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music.” As he went along, however, he concluded that “…the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots.” He said that it got him out of his “solitary conceit.”

Solitary conceit = Spiritual elitism.

This isn’t meant as a “go to church” essay. Instead, it is a call to myself to consider how I look at everyone: not just the poor and lonely and innocent, but even the shallow and pompous and guilty. And how I’m not any better than any of that…

Will Campbell came back to Mississippi from Yale in the 1960s and was promptly fired from Ole Miss for his liberal stance on integration. He then joined the Civil Rights Movement full force, where he often found himself side-by-side with the liberal, non-Christian crowd opposed by fundamentalist Christians. This opposition murdered his best friend. In a stomach-churning attempt to make sense of God in it all, he came to a remarkable conclusion: God loved the murderer, too. He chose to become a self-proclaimed “apostle to the rednecks,” buying a Tennessee farm and spending time with the Klansmen and racists of the world. In his estimation, they need to see self-sacrificing love most of all.

Without a doubt, Jesus called Pharisees on their hypocrisy. He did this just before he laid down his life for them.

So you can expect that I will keep writing on spiritual elitism. Because it seems so prevalent and so dangerous, I will expose it wherever I see it. Even in me.

With patience a soldier is bred

March 20, 2005

Drawing down in Iraq?

According to top army generals, it may be sooner, rather than later, that we see significant troops cuts in Iraq. Apparently Iraqi forces are coming on line more quickly than was planned:

The Army’s second-ranking general said Thursday that the number of American troops in Iraq would probably decline by early 2006, largely because of post-election progress in combating insurgents and training more Iraqi troops to take over security duties.

The officer, Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army vice chief of staff, did not give specific figures, emphasizing that the decision would be made next month by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq, and senior Pentagon officials. But other senior military officials said American troop levels could drop to around 105,000 by early next year from 150,000 now.

45,000 is a significant reduction. If you were to compare it to a modern division, it would be a reduction of 2+ divisions. In this case it will most likely be a division plus and a part of the logistical tail which would be needed to support those troops.

Obviously a full draw down of US troops in Iraq will require a full stand up of Iraqi forces. But today the quality of Iraqi forces vary widely. The US mission has shifted twice now, from combat to security and now to training. The training mission is now the key to success in Iraq, both for the nation and for the withdrawal of US troops:

To speed the training, General Cody announced Thursday that 666 Army officers and senior enlisted soldiers would be dispatched to Iraq to work with the Iraqis as part of a shift away from combat operations.

In addition, he said 1,140 officers and senior enlisted troops would be drawn from Army units already in Iraq to comprise 10-member training teams to work with Iraqi forces. A senior Army officer said a smaller number of Marine Corps and Air Force personnel could also be assigned to training duties in Iraq.

American military commanders acknowledge that the 90 battalions of Iraqi military and police forces vary greatly in quality. “Some of those battalions are good enough so that they can operate independently,” General Casey told reporters on March 8. “But there’s not many of them.

It takes time to build a non-commissioned officer corps (NCO), and it is the NCOs which provide the backbone and day-to-day leadership which will set the standard for the military. While you can run a recruit through basic and advanced individual training in about 6 months to make them nominally trained and qualified, good NCOs develop over years. The same is true about officers. It is those two categories where much of the future work lies for US trainers.

Over the next year the United States will work with the Iraqis “so that you can have truly independent Iraqi operations,” he added. “But it’s going to take some months for that to happen.”

Iraqi military and Defense Ministry officials are slowly building military headquarters and staffs, and American officials cite several examples of steady improvement.

I don’t want to over emphasize it, but well-trained NCOs and officers are key to the ability to conduct independent operations. Just as important is a good command structure and the planning ability of the staff. Right now, I would guess that the US is engaged in intensive and extensive battle staff training with the headquarters and staffs. Once they learn how to properly plan and execute operations, and once we get sufficient NCOs and officers on line and trained, the sooner we can really look at significant cuts in our forces in Iraq.

And now, in true blog fashion … links!

Steamy ABC Segment Escapes Penalty

China Ripe for Media Explosion

Rice says USA concerned at China military build-up…

Genes contribute to religious inclination…

Suddenly, It’s Fast Forward at TiVo

Russia Official Survives Bomb Attack

Kg: Statement of the US Ambassador on the 2nd round of elections

Schiavo’s lifeline removed

Fool Me Once and etc.

March 18, 2005

In my writing classes, I continually stress to my students (every single time we meet) that it is easier to write more about less, to narrow down a topic to something very small. That is way easier than trying to write little bits about a whole bunch of stuff, plus it almost always makes for a better essay. It’s going to be hard to do The Effect of Living Backwards in the space I have. It’s a book of with moral dilemmas on seemingly every page. It’s a book where you aren’t sure what is real or not (and neither do the characters). Sibling rivlary. Shame. The realization that you’ve lived your life according to what you think other people think about you (hence, living backwards). A friend of mine (our own Juvenal, no less, who may well have stolen this) says that a good story isn’t about something–it is something. The Effect of Living Backwards is, indeed, something.

Two quick quotations from the epilogue that really serve no purpose other than I like them:”I soon learned that a little bit of doubt goes a long way; a little bit of doubt can cast everything you thought you knew into question, until everything is related, until every unknown is known to you, because the world is a terrible net of certainty.”

“Despite your fear that the world is a lonely place, it is precisely the opposite that should unnerve you.”

You come to know the characters in Living Backwards by their shame. Not embarrassment, not, oh, I wish I’d done that differently, but shame. The kind of shame that you don’t tell anyone and but yet, see, the thing is, you still spend your entire life trying to prove to everyone that you aren’t like that, that you aren’t defined by that shame. For instance, say you did a stint in a nervous hospital but not too many people know about it. You may well spend your entire waking life thinking everyone is looking at you as though you were crazy, and you are out to prove them wrong. Or if you cheated on your husband but no one knows. You live in a way, not to cover up, but to prove that there is no way you are a cheater.

Alice is the narrator of the story, but as different characters are introduced in the novel, their are short breaks where we find out the shame that defines that character, that helps explain her actions, her thoughts.The novel’s setting is a hijacking. Alice and Edith are sisters traveling to Edith’s wedding in Morroco. Edith is the pretty one. Alice is the smart one (i.e. not attractive) with some direction-in-life issues. The two are not the best of friends, and their rivalry is continually tested against the love they have for each other (albeit, deep down inside) by the hijackers. They lie to each other. Edith cavorts (i.e. well, she sleeps with) one of the hijackers, pretty much just because Alice had been chosen by the hijackers as the liason with the negotiator. Alice and Edith’s rivalry isn’t going to be interrupted too easily by a few militants threatening to kill everyone.

The hijackers, though, aren’t really after anything. It is another case of sibling rivalry. The lead hijacker, Bruno, is trying to outdo his brother. Bruno doesn’t want to kill anyone, and he doesn’t want any money or anything from any government. He’s simply trying to make a point–he’s smarter than his brother. But that doesn’t mean that no one is killed. Bruno is a brilliant reader and manipulator of people. He can sense who is weak and in what ways. He uses this against the passengers, and the only people killed are ones that other passengers kill.

Which brings us to the moral dilemmas in the novel. Edith and Alice’s father used to pose them with dilemmas. Some are seemingly simple dilemmas. Okay, say you were tired from working 16 hours and were riding the bus home. You got the last seat on the bus. A couple of stops later, an elderly woman gets on. Do you give up your seat? Would it matter if it was an attractive older woman or a ragged older woman? Some of the dilemmas are hard. The only one parachute for two people type. The hijackers, Bruno in particular, profiles the passengers, guesses what type of person they are (do they give up the parachute, the seat on the bus) and uses the passengers to play games. One such game involves three passengers in a line and one of the hijackers behind them. The second passenger is given a loaded gun and ten seconds to either shoot the person in front of her or him or pass the gun to the person next in line. If they shoot, the game is over. If none of the passengers shoot, the gun is handed to the hijacker and he is free to shoot or not. None of them know for sure.

Alice comes to know herself when she realizes that she has always defined herself by other people’s expectations. That seems quaint and a little bit of a cliche, and I’m really not doing Julavits’ ideas justice. The novel causes the sort of introspection that can hurt. The sort of introspection that can only be done in the presence of others. Introspection that is created by, requires even, doubt, and only by embracing this doubt can people…I’m not sure what. But this is not just about self-discovery; it leads to a connection with other people. And it’s not just about “we’re all connected.” It doesn’t always make sense, and that’s the beauty of the novel.

Despite how the last paragraph may sound, Julavits isn’t preachy; in fact, she’s anything but. She is a story teller, and she is very good. She creates characters that are memorable and unique. The dialogue in the book is near perfect (I think writing good dialogue is one of the hardest aspects of writing, and I admire writers who do it well). And even though I spent an entire paragraph talking about introspection nonsense, the book is not a philosophical treatise. It is a story that is, even if it lacked the ability to challenge the way we see the world, fun to read.

Next week I’m not sure about. Either Amanda Davis’s Wonder When You’ll Miss Me, or I may just tell a story about my meeting one of my favorite writers (he came to my house, no less).

What I’m currently reading: Perdido Street Station, by China Mielville (very good). Wiseblood, by Flannery O’Connor (one of the best things I’ve ever read). Swan, by Frances Mayes (don’t bother). Under the Banner of Heaven by John Kraukaur (the verdict’s still out).

Building a Better Bracket

March 17, 2005

By the time you read this, two of my final four teams will probably have lost already, but, as I usually fare pretty well in tourney brackets, I thought I would offer to you that most valuable of peeks into my brain and share my philosophy in picking brackets. This is big deal, now; akin to Colonel Sanders, with his wee beady eyes, telling you the eleven herbs and spices he puts in his chicken (makes you crave it fortnightly). But, in the interests of the improvement of human knowledge, and general progress and whatnot, I offer you Uncle Andy’s secret recipe.

Big-time players win big-time games

Exhibit one for this principle is the final four two years ago. Marquette, led by Dwyane Wade (how good has he turned out to be?) knocks off a good but relatively-starless Kentucky team to get in. Kansas, led by Hinrich and Collison also get there to join Carmelo Anthony’s Syracuse team and T.J. Ford’s Texas squad. If not for a sentimental attachment to Kentucky, I might have picked all four teams; as it was I went 3-for-4. This is my overarching principle, and the one which trumps in close calls. (Last year it also worked pretty well, as Okafor and Gordon led my UConn pick to the title).

So, who are this year’s big-time players? This isn’t always easy to pick, as a talented player isn’t necessarily big-time. Two years ago, Kansas beat an equally-talented Duke team to get in, but Hinrich and Collison’s were battle-tested seniors with a gleam in the eye that led me to pick them over the Dookies. “Clutchness” is clearly a tough thing to quantify, but experience counts for me as well as pulling out close games and a history of beating a good teams. In the end, its a bit of a gut reaction; you know a clutch player when you see it. This year, I’m relying on Chris Paul, Dee Brown and Hakim Warrick to lead their clubs into the final four. My fourth pick, North Carolina, will get there because of their overwhelming talent, but will fail to win it all (which there talent says they should) because of a lack of a big-time player. Felton and McCants should be able to take over any game down the stretch, but they seem to find a way to loose them instead. McCants is the most talented player in the nation, but in his biggest game so far, when Carolina played at Dook, he was non-existent. Felton was a turnover machine in the same game. Thus, though they should win the title, I think they’ll find a way to fumble it away in the end.

It should be noted that a big-time player is not enough by itself. Salim Stoudamire and Fransisco Garcia are two of my favorite players in the tournament this year, but I just don’t think they have enough help to get them very far (that, and Louisville got a terrible draw). But, when it’s a close call, go with the studs.

Hot or not

I also put a great deal of stock into this factor. Some teams peak at the right time, while others come into the tournament out of rhythm. Nolan Richardson always seemed to have his team peaking in March, so you could count on a deep run from the Hogs, while Tubby Smith has had trouble the last couple of years with his team peaking too early. Streaking teams this year include Georgia Tech (how scary are they right now?), Florida, and the other Huskies from Wash U. Teams that would have been better served by the tournament starting in early February include the Jayhawks, Boston College, and the afforementioned Wildcats.

Where’re you from again?Conferences have good and bad seasons, just like players, and that’s important to keep in mind, as 20-10 in the Big 10 may not be the same as in the Big12. This year, that comes into play particularly with the ACC and SEC, which are having they’re best and worst years, respectively, in a long time. The ACC probably deserved 3 number 1 seeds, and could have had four in the final four if Georgia Tech wasn’t in Wake’s bracket. They are head and shoulders above any other conference this year, so you have to give a premium even to their middle-tier schools, like NC State, when you put your bracket together. On the other hand, the SEC is way down this year, and you may have to discount their teams seedings a bit. Be cautious in hitching your wagon to an SEC-school this year. Other trends that seem evident this year are strength from mid-majors like the WCC and MAC, and slight down years for the Big 12, Pac 10 and Big 10 (past Illinois).Don’t get ahead of yourself

Work with matchups. There’s a temptation to come into the tournament with certain pet teams and want to have them go a certain distance, and thus ignore who they’re playing. I’ve fallen into this trap with Kentucky the last couple of years, feeling they were a final four team without really evaluating how they match up with who they’re playing. This year, I felt like Louisville and Florida were Elite Eight teams going in, but they drew brutal second round matchups, so I had to back off on those picks. Likewise, Vermont was my Cinderella sweet 16 pick coming in, but I don’t see how they have any shot against Syracuse.

Home cooking

If you’re looking for a deep tourney run from a top seed, it helps if they can stay close to home the whole time and get some crowd support. Syracuse used favorable settings two years ago to propel them into the final four on their path to the title. This year, Illinois seems to have a red carpet leading them to a title, as they would go from Indianapolis to Chicago to St. Louis if they keep winning. It also works the other way; the Dookies have a potential matchup with Oklahoma looming in Austin. Much to the chagrin of Teasips (that’s what we call UT folk down here), Sooner fans could invade Austin to give OU a strong home-court advantage over a higher-seeded team.

This message will self destruct in five secondsThat being said, what does anyone really know? My bracket will probably be obliterated by the end of the first weekend, and, you know what? That’s fine with me. That’s why we watch this crazy thing, to see a cinderella pull off the impossible. It’s gonna be sweet! Enjoy!Quick takes

NBA — check out the run the Rockets are on: Last Sunday they hold the Mavericks to about 80 points, then they went on a road trip where they pulled out a tough one against the Sonics, came from behind to beat the Suns by 20, easily beat the Kings, and survived against the Warriors. To celebrate, they came home and beat the Blazers by a brutal 31-point margin. They’re playing as well as anyone right now, and I don’t think anyone wants to see them in the first round of the playoffs. MLB — The Cardinals could win the NL Central by about 10 games. The Cubs gave up a lot of offense and are having injury trouble with their stud pitchers, and it looks like I’m the favorite for the fifth starter spot in Houston, another team which is depleted offensively. The Cards lost a little, but replaced it with Mark Mulder and a whole season of Larry Walker. Yikes! NFL — Keep your eye on the Bears in the NFC North this year. The Vikings lost Randy Moss (and their coach is busy scalping tickets), and the Packers lost two offensive linemen and a safety out of an already terrible secondary. The Lions are still trying to figure out who should throw the ball to their ridiculously studly receivers. If Rex Grossman can stay healthy and Muhsin Muhammed repeats his big year, Lovie Smith could turn that thing around. College Hoops — Bush league, Stan Heath. Just because you couldn’t pull your team together this year is no reason to quit the season early. What message are you sending your players? When the going gets tough, take your ball and go home? Besides, epecially with a young team like the Hogs, you could catch fire in the NIT and lay a foundation for something special next year. Woman’s Volleyball — Logan Tom, you can’t deny your feelings for me any longer. You’re not fooling anyone with this charade.

Happy St. Patty’s day!

The Breakfast of Champions

March 16, 2005

Breakfast at the Wednesday Housefly household is often a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of dogsandwich. (You’ll have to ask juvenal to define “dogsandwich.”) It’s more fast break than break fast. We are a late-sleeping bunch – at least, those of us who can actually reach the doors of the cereal cabinet are – and this means that the most important meal of the day is often either skipped entirely or is composed of a cup of coffee and Crest Plaque Removing Tartar Control Hyperwhitening Cadavers-Have-Fresher-Breath-Than-This-Dope Fresh Mint Gel. (The blue kind; the green kind is for masochists and/or Anabaptists. Note to any Anabaptists offended by this portrayal: What the heck are you doing using a computer? Hasten thee back to the farm – Harrison Ford doth plow with thy heifer; yea, verily, he danceth with thy women!)

But on those odd occasions – like blizzards, for instance, or perhaps random power outages, post-operative recovery, morning sickness, or your basic total solar eclipse – when we find time for an honest-to-gosh sit-down breakfast, I typically go healthy. A whole-wheat bagel with all-natural peanut butter. (Crunchy, not creamy… what are you, Amish? Live a little!) An apple, an orange, a low-fat granola bar. Or, if I’ve really got time to make breakfast special, I go for the gusto.

Basic Four cereal.

As it says right on the box (which means it must be true), Basic Four is a “DELICIOUS BLEND OF SWEET AND TANGY FRUITS, CRUNCHY NUTS, AND A WHOLESOME VARIETY OF GRAINS.” I know, I know. You’re thinking that’s a pretty general description. After all, who would buy a cereal described as “a strikingly bland combination of rubbery dried fruits, bitter nuts, and some puffed rice the rats in the warehouse wouldn’t touch.” But in this case, the marketing pagans are telling the truth. Basic Four is good stuff.

I was thinking that very same thing the other day as I scarfed down a bowl – behold, even two bowls – of General Mills’ finest. I felt the inner warmth that comes with the knowledge that I was eating healthy (it might’ve been the coffee working its black magic on the ol’ bowels, but that’s a tale of sound and fury), and frankly, I began to feel downright superior. I was better than those who defile themselves with the harlotry of Little Debbie, more upright than the unwashed throng of Twinkies consumers.

The words on the back of the box confirmed my status. I was eating a low-cholesterol, high-in-fiber meal, and the smiling, sultry women on the back of the box cheered me on. I was getting extra calcium to fight bone loss and osteoporosis, baby. I was taking the edge off the effects of menopause. I was…

Menopause? What the…?

It hit me like a ton of shredded wheat. Chick cereal. I was eating chick cereal.

Those self-same marketing gurus who’d sold me on the merits of my cereal o’ choice had just stabbed me in the back. Their dirty tricks – which, silly rabbit, apparently aren’t just for kids – threatened to rob me of not only my cereo-social status, but also my manhood! I realized those women on the back of the cereal box weren’t smiling at me – they were laughing!

In a panic, I reviewed my options. I could throw the cereal away. I could gag myself and upchuck the load of Estrogen Puffs in my gullet. I could write a letter of protest to the Sugar Frosted Council*. I could rush out and get one of those macho cereals, the kind where the box probably tastes better than the cereal itself.

Or I could do what any other 21st century kind of guy would do.

Poured myself another bowl.

* — Sugar Frosted Council: Cap’n Crunch, Toucan Sam, Tony the Tiger, Dig ‘Em, Count Chocula, and, in the name of diversity, Snap, Crackle, & Pop.

Brickabracka, firecracka, sis-boom-bah…

March 15, 2005

real leaders, real leaders,
rah rah rah!

What’s a whipped Democrat to do? Your party’s on a losing streak so long and so wide, it makes the Mississippi River look like the trail a 5-yr-old leaves when he pees down a hill. The last time the Democrats really did something right, Martin and Bobby were still alive. Now their party doesn’t know what it favors, aside from the party itself. It doesn’t know what it opposes, aside from the other party. And it has no serious people in its political leadership positions — I mean, c’mon, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid? You guys are pulling my lariat, right? You don’t actually expect people to listen to — much less, follow — those 2 nincompoops, do you? (In his defense, Reid is an upgrade over Tom Daschle, but let’s face it, Kenny from South Park would be an upgrade over Tom Daschle.)

Proposals for what the Democratic Party should do are various, but they fall into 2 basic categories: swing to the left, swing to the right (“stand up, sit down, fight fight fight” being what they’re already doing). The really interesting thing is, regardless of which category a given proposal falls into, that proposal’s proponents are starting from the same question: which way should we swing to recapture the most voters?

It is, of course, a silly question. For one thing, the American people are, by and large, sheep. They’ll follow anybody who’ll get out in front of them and act like he knows where he’s going, but if you chase them they just scatter. A large enough number of them to swing an election will buy into any plan or proposal or platform that makes them feel self-confident, feel that things are going to be okay. (Devotees of Ronald Reagan are given to calling this the “man on a white horse” phenomenon. Personally, I hate horses, and white makes me look fat.) That doesn’t mean people will follow someone who tells them we don’t have any problems; they know better. It means they’ll follow anyone who convinces them he or she knows how to fix those problems; they’ll get behind most any solution, so long as they’re persuaded it will make the problems go away. It might not be just, it might not be moral, it might not, in fact, be at all what they want once they have it, but they’re willing to try it. The American people, like most people everywhere, desperately want something to believe in. More than anything, they hate not knowing what to do. When someone comes along and says in a clear, firm, authoritative voice, “Here’s what we’re going to do, and here’s what’s going to happen when we do it,” they listen.

Which brings us to the second reason why the question being asked in Democratic circles these days is a silly one: it’s self-defeating. What the Democrats need is not a new set of more conservative positions, or a new set of more liberal positions. What they need is a set of positions they actually believe in. Do they really believe the decision on whether or not to have an abortion is a decision of private conscience? If so, they should come out strongly for Roe and not apologize for it. Do they really believe it’s inappropriate for a state agency like the public schools to be teaching children to favor one religion over another? If so, they should come out strongly in defense of separation of church and state, and say in a clear, strong voice why they believe it’s important. Do they really believe gays have the same constitutional rights as everyone else, and should be treated equally under the law? If so, they should stand up for those rights and not flinch, not quaver, not budge an inch.

Why do Republicans rule the day in the realm of “moral values?” It’s not because Democrats are on the wrong side of the moral issues. It’s because they’re on no side of the moral issues. The Democratic Party doesn’t appear to truly believe in anything. It seems like American voters favor conservative positions on the culture war issues, but in truth, the conservative positions are simply the only ones they’ve been offered. The Democrats haven’t really stood up for the other side of those issues and said, “Hey, this is right. It might mean some things are going to happen we don’t particularly like, but we don’t always get to make other people do what we want them to do.” If the Democrats don’t believe in their positions, why should the voters believe in them?

So, what’s my prescription for the Democrats? (I’m sure they’re dying to know.) Two things.

First, go somewhere quiet where you can think and reflect seriously about what you value in the American political tradition, what you believe in, and what you believe is wrong. Don’t come out till you have some answers you’re willing to go to the mat for.

Second: until then, roll over and play dead. I’m serious. Let Mr. Bush and the White House neocons and Tom DeLay and James “Roundpants” Dobson have abso-freakin’-lutely anything they want. Every judge, every tax cut, every constitutional amendment (yes, yes, I know, the states will have to ratify, thank God), every war, every abridgment of civil liberties, every intrusion on privacy, every slash in every government program, every deficit-swelling missile system, every corporate welfare program, every cancellation of international treaties, every environmental mess in the making. I can’t think of anything that will dry up electoral support for the America they’re selling faster than making people live in it.

Let the American people have what a majority of them apparently think they want. A big, bitter mouthful of it. And hold their nose and don’t let go till they swallow. They won’t be ready for a second dose for a good, long time. Hopefully, by then, the Democrats will have an actual alternative to offer.

Larisa Ivakina and Al Sturgeon 

March 14, 2005

Larisa Ivakina and Al Sturgeon Posted by Hello