The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A requiem for a Lightweight

Poor little Pluto is so damn small
Some people don't think it's a planet at all
Clyde thinks so, that's good enough for me
It beats Planet X, which you can't even see.

The Phenomenauts, "Earth is the Best" Rockets & Robots

Apparently the thugs at the International Astronomy Union think otherwise.

9-11 Anniversary a Boon for Dems?

I'm pretty sure journalists call it the Rule of Three: three examples make a trend. And over the last few days, I've seen at least 3 promotions for major bin Laden documentaries & books. CNN's "In the Footsteps of bin Laden," National Geographic's "Triple Cross: bin Laden's Spy in America," and Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower. Plus, Slate is running this (somewhate bizarre) comic book of the 9-11 Commission's Report.

Now what struck me about all this is the focus on Osama himself. Because, as you may recall, we never caught the son of a bitch (as Paul Hackett brilliantly put it the other day, "Where's the six-foot-two, left-handed guy with the flowing white robe and the kidney problem? [This Republican yahoo on TV with me] doesn't understand the war on terror."). And, especially with Americans doing a better job of distinguishing between the (failed) war in Iraq and the (stalled) "War on Terror," I think that reminders that Bush and the Republicans took their eye of the ball mere months after the attacks (indeed, Ground Zero was literally still smoldering when Iraq talk began) are definitely not in the Republicans' best interests. If the Dems have the guts to call them on this - and I think that signs are that they're ready to do it - then we may not have competing pageants over the next couple of weeks, with Dems pumping up Katrina memories and Rove going back to the smoking well one last time. Instead, it may be more like a one-two punch for the Dems.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

And then there's Murtha.

A smaller piece in the paper today is on John Murtha. It does a pretty good job of describing the remarkable arc of his career - for years he was a classic small-city US Rep, bringing home some economic development/pork to his Rust Belt district and having a fairly low national profile. But since he came out strongly for withdrawal, he's become a national lightning rod. Yet the hometown folks still seem to love him - and with good reason. He really embodies his district: conservative, but not reactionary, devoted to the troops but not to the Administration, and ultimately worried about domestic issues most.

The PA Legislature article I discussed below doesn't mention him at all, but he's turned into a bit of a Democratic star. His district is right at the border between blue SW PA and bright red Central PA ("Alabama in the middle"), and his high profile should be a very good thing for nearby Dems, who will have a strong Dem with ironclad bona fides to point to, as opposed to the culturally liberal national Dems that so frighten rednecks.

PA State Legislature Update

Big story in the Post-Gazette this morning about Dem chances to retake the PA House. As I've written before, there are several factors at work here, the primary one being the notorious middle-of-the-night payraise that spurred more voter outrage than anyone ever imagined. Add to that 10 years of not especially glorious Republican rule in the Statehouse, and the times may be a-changin'.

Tom Barnes' article is a bit thin - maybe the first third is just useless he-said, she-said between Dems and Reps (although it's worth noting that the Rep response to Dem confidence is tired old "Dems will raise your taxes!" talk - not a hint of substance in strategy or actual policy). But later on Barnes gets into specifics, and raises some other factors that could turn this into a perfect storm: Rendell is running for reelection, and he remains popular - Lynn Swann (yes, ol' 88) hasn't laid a hand on him yet; Bush is, of course, bringing down the Republicans across the country; and, although the article barely mentions him, Santorum is also not exactly bringing glory on the GOP here in PA.

I would say that Casey-Santorum is the bellwether for Dems in PA this fall - if Casey can really spank Santorum, pulling away as we approach Election Day rather than seeing his big lead whittled down, then I predict a huge November for us.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Moving backwards...

jr's birthday 026.jpg
Originally uploaded by JRoth.
Aside from that little introduction, I think this is a good place to start. For my 30th birthday, we had a great big bash. My wife surprised me with a visit (from Denver) by my sister and her then-new girlfriend (soon to be wife; first time we'd met). But really, it was all about the pig.

Purchased at Farmer's Choice in the Strip District, herb-rubbed and chilled overnight in a trash bag, then slow (really slow) cooked over a homemade pit from noon 'til 10 pm on a chilly November day. And it was amazing.

For the serving and the aftermath, just click through.

Chow Time

Huevos Rancheros.JPG
Originally uploaded by JRoth.
OK, finally time to do something I've wanted to for years: food blog.

I've always loved eating, and food's only grown more central to my life as I've grown older. What started as fried eggs with David Letterman in high school has become a near-obsession with elaborate - or at least detail-oriented - meals from all sorts of cultures. There's little I won't try in the kitchen, but I've at least learned to restrict my biggest efforts to the weekends. Weeknight meals at 11 pm are a thing of the past, thankfully.

But cooking remains my primary recreation, the part of the day when there are no clients, no contractors, and no codes to get between me and my creation, whether it be panaeng curry with homemade curry paste or a really nicely fried egg that came from a friend's duck.

[These are not, in fact, from the duck. But they were delicious]

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Whither Cuba?

In an ideal world, I would figure out the Spanish equivalent for whither. Anyway....

With some reluctance, I read Christopher Hitchens' Slate piece on Raul Castro taking over for Fidel. The reluctance derives from Hitchens' uniformly contemptible work over the last 5 years, following on his often contemptible work of the previous decade. But I figured his twin obsessions - the Clintons and "Islamofascism" - wouldn't play in this story, so he might be readable, especially with his Trostkyite history. The blurb suggested that his thesis was that Raul's leadership is, in fact, a coup, which I found absurd. But I was curious to read his argument, plus they called it the 18th Brumaire of Castro, and I've never known what the hell that phrase meant, so I read on.

He is, in fact, arguing that last week's events constitute a military takeover - that "the army has replaced the party as the source of authority." But he quickly backtracks, admitting that Fidel always wore a uniform anyway, so maybe the army was the authority all along. Yeah, I know - kind of dumb. I think he has a lead, and a narrative, and he refused to alter either to make them harmonize. I guess they call that contrarian.

His ultimate conclusion is that the future of Cuba is military dictatorship, whether under Raul or someone else. He points out that the Army already runs much of Cuba's commerce, so this may be a stable situation. He doesn't make the comparison, but I think the analogy to China, with the Party running enterprises, is clear.

It's all interesting to ponder. For so long, Fidel=Cuba=Bad has been about as thoughtful as Americans have been on the subject - and I don't just mean the man on the street. The infantile treatment of Cuban issues in this country is a true shame on us all. And so not much serious thought has been given to Cuba post-Castro, just a vague sense that it'll go back to the way it was, maybe with fewer Mafioso. And goodness knows, that's where the money is. But I don't think there's anyone left on that island who thinks that way.

The greatest failure of our 47 year failed embargo is that it has sapped us of nearly all influence in our nearest non-contiguous neighbor. Not that our role was always, or even often, benign, but at least sometimes America does the right thing, and smart foreign leaders can leverage our idealized self-image to force us to promote the interests of other peoples. But for 47 years, every other country in the world has been ahead of us in developing relationships in Cuba. If American peacekeepers show up in Havana, rest assured that there will be no flowers, candy, or rum on offer.


I finally remembered to look up something that has bugged me literally for years.

What is the actual expression designating an improvised solution? If you've used scraps of electrical wire to strap down your latest IKEA purchase, have you jerry-rigged it? Jury-rigged it? Or, as I've heard from less-progressive workmen, have you n_-rigged it?

I always figured the second option was just an odd misuse of a known phrase to stand in for something misheard. And I feared that the first was a bowdlerization of the third, original term. Either way, I was always leery of the expression, however worded.

Well, apparently it's all OK. According to (citing a few other sites and the OED2), the middle phrase is the correct one. And it's nothing to do with how Mafioso get out of jail time - it's a nautical term, with the jury being a mast. The first one is, in fact, a deterioration of another expression, jerry-built, meaning shoddy construction (origins English, and unclear, but ca. 1865). And the last one is apparently wholly disreputable, yet another example of the poisonous legacy of race in America.

So: jury-rig a solution. Avoid that jerry-built house from Maronda Homes. And wash your mouth out with soap if something else slips your lips.

Forgive me, Mother, for I have sinned....

The (headless) Diocese of Pittsburgh is sending formal notice to the Office Formerly Known as the Inquisition ("Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith") regarding the dozen women ordained as priests here last week.

For clarity's sake, I'm just going to skip all the scare quotes that last sentence seems to require. Interesting point in the article: apparently, these women are excommunicated by the very fact of their actions. That is, according to the local Monsignor, by undertaking this process, the women excommunicated themselves, and the Pope doesn't have to lift a finger. Canon Law is a crazy, funky thing.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Progressive Pittsburgh?

Well, we're ordaining women as Catholic priests on the 3 rivers, so that's got to be worth something.

Here's an article with video from the Post-Gazette.

And here's a decent radio story from the local NPR affiliate. Incidentally, the Diocese spokesman quoted, Fr. Ron Lengwin, is a complete tool, based less on this story than on other things he's done.

¬°Ay Caramba! Li'l Ricky's gone loco!

Pennsylvania's Most Embarrassing Senator* came out in favor of more civilian deaths in the cause of Israeli failure yesterday.

The Post-Gazette reports that "Santorum urges total defeat of Hezbollah." Now, as some of you may have noticed, what the last few weeks have shown pretty conclusively is that Israel cannot, in fact, totally defeat Hezbollah. For those who may think that it's just a matter of time, of waiting a few more weeks, you may want to cast your memory back to the nearly two decades Israel spent occupying southern Lebanon. Didn't eliminate Hezbollah. So what, precisely, does Li'l Ricky think is different this time?

Well, he doesn't know, of course. After all, it's not his house getting bombed at 1 am. So if a little tough talk wins over a few more suckers who learned everything they need to know about the Middle East from Rush, that's good enough for Ricky. And what's a few hundred - or thousand - more civilian casualties? Not his constituents.

*Astonishingly, he only makes the National Top 5