Friday, May 20, 2005

On How President Bush Talks About the First Lady's Trip

It's pretty common for President Bush to refer to the First Lady in his speeches' introductions. Usually, he uses her as something of a foil, contrasting her grace favorably with his own rough edges or casting her as straight-talker who is able and willing to call him on his mistakes and shortcomings. Having recently embarked on a visit to the Middle East, Laura Bush is being cast by the President as a messenger of freedom, representing the United States and trumpeting democracy.

Granted, my description of the First Lady's trip is pretty lame, but it ends up not really being any better than the President's. Look at how he described her trip at the recent International Republican Institute Dinner:
I regret Laura is not with us tonight. You probably think she's working on some of her one-liners. (Laughter.) She's actually packing her bags because she's off for Jordan and Israel and Egypt, to continue to deliver the freedom message -- and I can't think of a better messenger. (Applause.)
Then, the next day, when Bush spoke in Milwaukee:
But before I get there, I've got some other things I want to say, if you don't mind. (Laughter.) First, I'm sorry Laura is not traveling with me today. She is -- you probably think she's home preparing a few one-liners. (Laughter.) She's not; she's home packing her bags. She is off to Jordan and Egypt and Israel to represent our country. I can't think of a better representative than Laura Bush. (Applause.) She's going to help advance the freedom agenda -- which is really the peace agenda. The more freedom there is in the world, the more this world will be a peaceful world. (Applause.)
And, most recently, at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast:
I am sorry that Laura is not here. You probably think she's preparing a couple of new one-liners. (Laughter.) But, in fact, she's winging her way to Jordan and Egypt and Israel to spread the freedom agenda. (Applause.) But I know if she were here, she would join me in thanking you and millions of others whom we'll never get to say thanks to in person for the countless prayers. It's an amazing experience to be the President of a nation where strangers from all religions pray for me and Laura.
Certainly, there are some who might object to the idea of sending the well-off wife of the President of the United States to deliver the message of freedom, as if she were peace's pigeon. Others might critique the notion that freedom, as a concept and a practice, is so easily packaged and delivered to the world's sandier corners.

I, however, hardly know about such things. Instead, what I object to is the rather flippant way in which the President casts the First Lady's trip. Laura's off after having just packed her bags, rather than after she fastiduously prepared for the trip's more abstract and symbolic needs. Once her bags were packed, Laura Bush then winged it to Jordan. Though the language suggests otherwise, I hope that when she goes and enacts freedom for the Middle East, she does more than just wing it. By Bush's own words, after all, this is a significant trip with a significant message. I just wish he would characterize it in a way that differs from how I would describe a trip to Michigan to visit the folks!

I wonder, too, what a feminist critique of the First Lady and all this packing would be like. Would it point out that despite representing the United States and freedom as a woman--in an area of the world not known for feminism or gender equality--the First Lady is being "contained" by presidential descriptions that place her in the very domestic scene of the suitcase-strewn bedroom?

Monday, May 16, 2005

On A MOMA Site

The MOMA has a site about Tall Buildings that is very neat. (via, mediabistro: UnBeige)

I especially like number six; it's what I expect a skyscraper to look like with an acknowledgement of history that doesn't seem too wierd.

On A Police Chief's Imagery

As the case involving Wendy's, chili, and an unknown finger comes closer to its denouement, San Jose's Police Chief has an interesting way of putting things:
"The jig is up. The puzzle pieces are beginning to fall into place, and the truth is being exposed," Police Chief Rob Davis said.
Is it that police cases always involve a conceptualization of pieces coming together, or is it because this case was about a finger piece that the Chief talked about it like this?

On How the National Trust for Historic Preservation Casts a Threat

James Traub wrote a piece for the Times Magazine that explores the ironic twist inherent in attempts to preserve examples of Modern architecture--the buildings enacting a philosophy that eschews the preservation of older buildings and their former ways of life. In a margin was a list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historical Places, as designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Dedicated to protecting significant works of architecture from deterioration or destruction, the Trust's approach to framing these 11 projects bears examining. Look at how the Trust talks about one of them, the Historic Cook County Hospital:
Although the building suffers from the effects of deferred maintenance, its overall condition is good. The only true threat to the property is manmade: The administration of the Cook County Board of Commissioners is set to execute its plan to demolish the hospital, despite the fact that its plans have failed to take into account the architectural and historic value of the building, as well as the desires of the public.
Rather than casting the building as a building, the Trust describes the hospital in ecological terms that suggest a certain living quality to the place. Not a building, the "property" can now "suffer" and is cast is opposition to a "manmade" threat.

Strictly speaking, of course, the hospital is as manmade as its threat. But, through those words, the building becomes naturalized and any action "executed" on it through demolition can now be understood as an abhorrent desecration of nature. All the more threatening is the sense that the hospital's "suffering"* comes not from a recognizable man or woman--a natural human enemy--but, rather, a faceless "Board of Commissioners." How much more terrible things become when the perpetrator turns out to be that most un/inhuman of manmade creations: the bureaucracy. The very entity that drains and denies its parts the smallest drops of humanity in favor of mindless and soulless groupthink/speak that claims and acts in the names of Efficiency, Officiously, and Officially; the very entity that lives on when all of its members have been dead and replaced by others equally destined for death; the very entity that acts, naturally, in contravention of the "public's" desire and the building's spirit--two deeply vibrant notions.

*Shouldn't a hospital's suffering occur from within and not from without?

On A Structure

The Washington Post has a good piece on Phillip Johnson, retired Berkeley law professor and proponent of Intelligent Design Theory. Michael Powell, the piece's reporter, does a fine job at highlighting Johnson's irascible personality, strong objections to Evolutionary Theory, and his place within the scientific sphere. But, more than that, the piece offers an interesting structure: it narrates Johnson's life in evolutionary terms.

The article begins where much of evolutionary science must begin: with an awareness of the present. Powell neatly starts his piece with a description of the scene he arrives at, when he meets up with Johnson for an interview:
BERKELEY, Calif. "The Washington Post is not one of my biggest fans, you know that."


The Washington Post reporter has just walked out of a spray of Pacific-borne rain into the living room of a modest bungalow west of downtown. There's a shag rug, an inspirational painting or two and Phillip Johnson, dressed in tan slacks and a sweater and sitting on a couch.
Third person objective point of view. Very scientific. This blogger can almost imagine the reporter entering this strange scene and examining this even stranger beast, the Intelligent Design Theorist.

Powell continues with a description of how Johnson and Intelligent Design Theory currently intersect with Evolutionary Theory :
Johnson and his followers, microbiologists and geologists and philosophers, debate in the language of science rather than Scripture. They point to the complexity of the human cell, with its natural motors and miles of coding. They document the scant physical evidence for the large-scale mutations needed to make the long journey from primitive prokaryote to modern man.

They've inspired a political movement -- at least 19 states are considering challenges to the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution.

None of which amuses evolutionary biologists, for whom intelligent-design theory inhabits the remotest exurb of polite scientific discourse. Darwin's theory is a durable handiwork. It explains the proliferation of species and the interaction of DNA and RNA, not to mention the evolution of humankind.
Like any young person fresh from her visit to the zoo, we now know what lion and tiger and beast walks among us, but we hardly know where they came from. Looking at the record, Powell begins to piece things together:
Johnson's early life was, by his own accounting, a rationalist lad's progress. He grew up in Aurora, Ill., a cocky kid so razor sharp that after his junior year in high school he packed off to Harvard. "I attended church in high school, but it was just part of the culture, like the Boy Scouts," he says. "We'd drop my father off at the golf course on the way to church."

He finished Harvard and then law school at the University of Chicago, where he graduated first in his class. He dabbled in Christian philosophy, read some C.S. Lewis. "I found it mind-stretching but I remember thinking: It's a real shame it's not true." Johnson became a clerk to Chief Justice Earl Warren at the Supreme Court. In 1967, with a wife and two young children, he went west to Berkeley, where he would gain international renown as a teacher of criminal law and legal theory.
Starting from the very beginning, looking at the “progress” Johnson’s life made, allows us to better understand how Johnson got to be where he is today. How much, I wonder, did Harvard, Chicago’s law school, and a wife and family adapt Johnson’s “razor sharp[ness]? Not much, apparently. But changes were occurring within the world and his life, nonetheless:
Johnson possesses a tenured professor's inability to hold his tongue, whether assaying a reporter's dumb question or his own life's arc. In the 1970s, Berkeley was roiling. Johnson opposed the Vietnam War but grew disillusioned and turned right. His wife, an artist, found feminism and wandered another way. Their marriage swept away like flotsam.

"I had been very happy for a long time," he says. "I was shaken to my core."
Examining his life’s arc, that curved path that Johnson walked, the world and its inhabitants seemed shaky and unsure, with tumult all about. The “core” of Johnson’s life seemed to change. Which, in turn, led to another series of changes:
The night his wife decided to leave in 1977, Johnson attended a church supper with Emily, who was 11. The pastor spoke passionately of Christ and the Gospels. The professor doesn't remember a Lord-sundered-the-heavens moment; he wasn't rending his tweed jacket.
There was no bolt of lightening, the hand or image of God. Johnson was no Saul on the road to Damascus. Instead, one might say that Johnson was … evolving.

Powell goes even further in casting Johnson’s life in terms of subtle changes, more fully exploring and explaining Johnson’s conversion:
Johnson drove home that night and pulled out his books of law and philosophy. If this was to be his epiphany, he would experience it with his rationalist lights on.

"I was concerned that I could be just throwing my brain away," he says. "I needed to know if I was adopting a myth to satisfy my personal hunger."

He was nudged along by his interest in "critical legal studies," a left-wing movement that holds that the law is prejudice masquerading as objective truth. Asked to contribute a conservative critique for the Stanford Law Review, Johnson embraced the movement -- sort of.
Through passages like these, Johnson is seen as a person adopting (adapting?) —however willfully—to his life and his environment. And what was the result?
In time, he converted and married his present wife, Kathie -- who also was an adult convert.
Slowly, but certainly, Johnson changed. And from this point on, that change—that adaptation—spurred along another development: Intelligent Design Theory.
All of which laid the groundwork for Johnson's sabbatical in 1987. He traveled to London nagged by the sense that his intellectual gifts had been put to mediocre ends. One day while browsing in a bookstore, Johnson picked up a copy of "The Blind Watchmaker" by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins argued that life was governed by blind physics, that free will was illusion, that religion was a virus.

"I was struck by the breadth of Darwin's claims as opposed to how scanty were the observable changes." He peers at you with that unwavering gaze. "I said to my wife that I shouldn't take this up. I will be ridiculed and it will consume my life.
Once again, Johnson is seen in terms of change.
Stephen C. Meyer, then a young graduate student studying the philosophy of science at Cambridge, got word of this "law professor who was getting some odd ideas about evolution." Meyer, who harbored his own doubts, walked to a tavern with Johnson and they talked for hours.

"Phillip understood that the language of science cut off choices: Evolution had to be an undirected process or it wasn't science," says Meyer, who today directs an intelligent-design think tank affiliated with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. "He knew the rhetorical tricks.

"By the end of that day I knew we could challenge Darwin."
This change, in turn, led to other changes and compelled Meyer to grow in a new theory and establish his own institute. And Johnson only continued:
Johnson composed a sort of prosecutor's brief. Natural selection? It strengthens existing species, but there's "no persuasive reason for believing that natural selection can produce new species and organs." Mutations as a driver of new species? Much too slow to account for grand changes.

By the end of his 1991 book, "Darwin on Trial," Johnson was convinced that he had peppered Darwinian theory with intellectual buckshot. So he posed the question: Why won't science consider that an intelligent hand operates alongside chance and physical law?

Let it be said that Johnson's book did not change the world. The scientific reviews weren't so hot and a few law school colleagues looked at him as if he had lost half a brain lobe. But Meyer, director of the Center for Science & Culture, remembers reading it and feeling a sense of relief.
Not convincing everyone, Johnson still developed the Intelligent Design Theory and established a spirit of thought and argument that maintained and maintains the arguments:
The building blocks of the intelligent-design movement slowly took form. A few like-minded souls in academia e-mailed Johnson. He called back, connected one with the other, and often traveled to meet them.

"I found a lot of people ready to challenge the culturally dominant orthodoxy, but they didn't know how," Johnson recalls. "They thought if they just dutifully presented evidence, the Darwinists might listen. I said we have to think more strategically.

"I evolved -- if I may use that word -- as a leader of that group."
There! Look at that. Evolution, evolution, evolution. And what are Powell’s last words?
He [Johnson] smiles and catches himself. "I'm content just to open science up to an intellectual world that's been closed to it for two centuries."
Well, they are Johnson’s words, of course, but they were selected by Powell, and they seem to suggest that, in the end, Johnson is concerned with just making a few changed in scientific debate about Evolution. How very evolutionary!

Perhaps I am overstating the obvious (I’m certainly over-quoting!). Inasmuch as a narrative usually adheres to a chronological arc, and inasmuch as evolution occurs over time, then it makes sense that Johnson’s story would have an evolutionary feel to it. But, there's still some irony there.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

On A Blog Entry About Someone Writing About Blogging in the Times

David Greenberg, a historian at Rutgers, took a stab at blogging, didn't take to it, and wrote about it in the New York Times. He concluded this:
The best bloggers develop hobbyhorses, shticks and catchphrases that they put into wider circulation. Creating your own idiosyncratic set of villains to skewer and theories to promote - while keeping readers interested - requires as much talent as sculpting a magazine feature or a taut op-ed piece.
A while back, I tried to make something of a villain out of Greenberg for making something of a villain out of Nixon. I think that's sort of funny.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

On Taxing

With revenue scarce and financial obligations many, states and cities have begun to look at cell-phone taxes as a way to fill their depleted coffers. As the New York Times article describes them, however, the legislators' attitudes are troubling.

First, it seems vaguely sinister to target something for taxes just because there are budgetary needs to be met.
Last year, the City Council in Baltimore faced a budget shortfall so bad that it considered laying off 186 city police officers, reducing some fire department operations and scaling back trash collection. Then it found an untapped honey pot: cellphones.

"I can't remember the last time we've had such an easy budget year," said Sheila Dixon, the president of the City Council. "The bulk of our taxes come from property tax, but when you can't diversify and the federal and state taxes are drying up, you need other income."
Though I understand that taxes serve multiple functions, one of which is to provide the state with revenue, it still strikes me as rather capricious to select cellphones for taxation simply because they are around and easily taxed. Isn't there a sense that taxes are a response to a cost associated with what is to be taxed? Property taxes, for instance, are used to pay for the services and costs that are created by people living in a particular city or state. Sales taxes help pay for the wear-and-tear commerce places on the roads and environment. Utility taxes pay for the costs associated with ripping up the land to lay electrical and telephone lines. What sort of costs arise from the odd cellphone tower placed here or there (or, are there really that many?)? And why is the cost so large that a city needs to impose a 5% tax on a person's monthly cellular phone bill? And all of this is beside the point if the tax is being levied to make up budget differences that would exist regardless of whether or not cell phone exist.

I am not well versed in the theory of taxation, so I might be hopelessly wrong about all of that. However, I can--with great certainty--rebuke the skulky-attitude some legislators seem to have regarding these kinds of taxes:
Officials are particularly eager to tax cellphones because the amounts individuals pay each month are small enough to go virtually unnoticed, but in aggregate can be substantial. Cellphone subscribers nationwide paid an estimated $17.8 billion in federal, state and local taxes last year.
Virtually unnoticed? Regardless of whether one can virtually unnotice something, why are legislators taking into account the assumption that most folks won't even notice the taxes!? This is not a case where the cellphone companies are adding hidden fees in small print on the back of a bill; these are governments of the people, by the people, and for the people, sneakily slipping people this tax. I think that they shouldn't be acting like slimy snake-oil salespeople.

If this is the type of stuff that goes into their calculations, no wonder governments are (morally) bankrupt.

On Referring to Little People

The New York Times, doing a piece on an Iraqi television show, uses a term that sounds pretty jarring these days:
Fawzi's friend Ahmad (played by Behjet al-Juburi), a midget who had been pursuing an unlikely romance with a beautiful young woman next door, finds happiness. They marry and have twins.
Is there no better term? It's like referring to people with Downs Syndrome as mongoloids. (Incidentally, says midget is as offensive as mongoloid.)

And, while the Times is trying to be less offensive, it might try viewing a relationship between a little person and "beautiful young woman," as something other than "unlikely." That sort of observation is pretty condescending and probably more editorial in nature than necessary.

On the Definition of a Library

The New York Times reports that a small library on the University of Texas-Austin campus is replacing their books with a computer system that holds (it's hard not to employ material words!) digital-copies of the texts in its memory. A student expressed his surprise and offered a definition of what a library is:
"Well, this is a library - it's supposed to have books in it," said Jessica Zaharias, a senior in business management. "You can't really replace books. There's plenty of libraries where they have study rooms. This is a nice place for students to come to. It's central in campus."
I think the first part of her definition is pretty good: a library is a place where books are stored. The second part, however, makes it sound like a library is a destination for socializing and getting together. Certainly, I don't think the two are mutually exclusive, but, given the context, I would emphasize the repository sense of the library. If not, a person might begin to sound like this:
"The library is not so much a space where books are held as where ideas are shared," said Geneva Henry, executive director of the digital library initiative at Rice University in Houston, where anyone can access and augment course materials in a program called Connexions. "It's having a conversation rather than homing in on the book."
Given this definition, why, a coffee-shop could be called a library, since folks meet there for conversations. I suppose I don't really care all that much, though. In the end, I bet it would be nice to read a library book at three-in-the-Minnesota-morning without battling the cold.

But, if this is one of those battles against progress, then I think the conservative arguers should stick to the ideal of a library as a place where books are materially stored. If they must, perhaps they can cautiously point-out that the physical presence of texts creates an atmosphere for thoughtful conversation and debate, but not more than that. Otherwise, they might be left with computer tables everywhere. And I know that they would not want anyone to gather in a place flooded by the harsh glow of flourescent-lamp and LCD light.

Friday, May 13, 2005

On An Ivy League Graduate

Reporting on Connecticut's first execution in 45 years, the New York Times seemed to emphasize the fact that the executed was an Ivy League graduate. No fewer than three times did the article mention and underscore Michael Bruce Ross' Cornell credentials. Once,
A graduate of Cornell University and a former life insurance salesman, Mr. Ross convinced judges he was competent, smirked at psychiatrists who said he was suicidal and often seemed exasperated by his inability to reshape his image.
Then, twice.
While rough edges defined that man, Joseph Taborsky, Mr. Ross was an Ivy League graduate with a sometimes condescending manner and a masterful grasp of the nuances of death penalty law.

He was first arrested on murder charges in 1984, three years after he graduated from Cornell. Six of his victims lived in eastern Connecticut; two lived in New York. He was sentenced to death in 1987 for four of the Connecticut killings.
A serial killer with rough edges!? I can't imagine. It was a good thing for Mr. Ross that he had good academic pedigree; otherwise, people might have thought that he was just a run-of-the-mill murderer. Maybe it was Cornell's legendary stressful atmosphere that pushed him over the edge.

Or, maybe his school had nothing to do with it.

On Uncertainty

The Dallas Morning News has a column that discusses religion in public life. Jean Power argues against religious reasoning in public debate because there are too many Biblical interpretations to be found:
I do not claim to know all the answers to solve the problems of this nation and its people. And I certainly do not believe myself to be a theological scholar. Religion is an incredibly personal matter open to many interpretations.

It is of great danger to our community if we allow our leaders with obvious agendas to use our faith to achieve their often less-than-Christian goals. There will never be agreement among Christians, much less those of other faiths, on which scriptural teaching should prevail. And it is for this very reason that we must strive to permit our government to work objectively and fairly for all persons regardless of their faith.
It seems to me, however, that lots of evidence is open to multiple interpretations. One of a fact's unsettling features is that it can be pretty malleable. You know, one person's unemployment figures say that the unemployment rate is down. Another person says that unemployment figures don't take into account the people who have stopped looking for a job altogether. In this case, the fact that there are lower unemployment numbers might just mean that more folks have just decided to give up looking for a job--hardly good news as far as unemployment is concerned.

I wonder why the polysemic nature of religious support should disqualify it from public debate when other types of evidence get a pass.

On A Scrabble Score

A little thing, via The Little Professor.

Pholph's Scrabble Generator

My Scrabble© Score is: 54.
What is your score? Get it here.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

On Percentages

Joni Bolter in the Seattle Times suggests that we should start paying attention to men, in regards to their education. Acknowledging that gains in female matriculation and graduation rates were significant and worthy of praise, Bolter suggests that men are slipping behind and that this might be cause for concern. She points out:
For many years at the University of Washington graduation, the university president, in his welcoming remarks, offered a tally of female graduates in various fields. After the female percentages were announced, Husky Stadium would erupt in a roar of cheers. Many years, similar figures for male students were not offered.
Given that there are only two categories, female and male graduation percentages, isn't the male percentage implied whenever the female percentage is offered?

On Words

A neat little paragraph in a Washington Post article that talks about words and China/Taiwan relations:
The disputes over wording may appear arcane and trivial to outsiders, but the governments on both sides of the Taiwan Strait regard them with utmost seriousness and sometimes threaten to go to war over them. At stake in these battles over nouns and adjectives is the definition of the Chinese nation itself, with the mainland defending its claim that Taiwan is part of China and the self-governing island territory struggling to present itself as an independent, sovereign country.
A nice example of how words create worlds.

On A Friend's Conception of Citizenship

Yesterday, I talked on the phone with a friend from college for an hour and so and we moved here to there on a variety of topics. He's currently at a crossroads-of-sorts, deciding where his next ten years or so will be. He's interested in both law school and the Marines, and decided to yoke the two together by going to law school and heading off to the Corps after he's through with reading the law.

When I mentioned this to a few of my graduate student friends, I detected something of curiousness in their reaction, as they were surprised that a smart guy like my friend would want to sign-up for the military. Left in their outlook--like many--it probably seemed an incongruous thing for him to do. Coming from a home with a father who served in the Marines, and being more to the right of my graduate-student friends, I didn't experience the same sort of cognitive dissonance, though I recognized it and understood where they were coming from.

In my own feeble way, I attempted to explain to them that my future-Marine friend had a conception of civic obligation that led him to this decision. He explained it much better than me, of course, and said that apart from a small sense of adventure that might come from joining, he thought the military a just and honorable path to take. Now, my friend is not right-leaning; he's a liberal-sort with seemingly libertarian leanings, but, he has a conception of citizenship that finds it an unsettling and bad thing that US culture has developed to a point where the idea that a smart and competent person would willingly choose the military is sufficient to elicit shock and surprise out of many folks. The way he figures, it's not a bad thing for smart and liberal people to join the military and if some folks think that the service is more vice than sir, more diverse perspectives and outlooks in the ranks can help. It doesn't seem to make much sense to him that the left would uniformly abandon the armed forces.

I thought this was all very reasonable and asked him more about his conception of citizenship, since he seemed a person who reflected on his role as a member of society. Plus, I'm sort of interested in how folks think about themselves before and after they engage in the public. Here is what he said, in a paraphrased kind of way:
When you look at individual people, by and large, you get a sense that folks are insular and self-absorbed—not worth too much commitment and sacrifice. But, when you conceptualize community and society as a whole, it becomes easier to pledge your allegiance to people once you remember the more active-types who take time to develop, debate, and vote on the issues, who do good works for society, and seem all-in-all dedicated to others. These model-citizens, in a way, redeem society, and make it easier to establish and maintain commitment to the citizenry.
In order to become and stay committed to society, my friend relies on a fairly active visualization of good citizenship and good citizens. It seemed like something out of Habits of the Heart and went a long in way in explaining his decision to go into the law and the military.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

On the Christian Carnival

This week's Christian Carnival is up. If you visit you can read my post about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King again and many other interesting ones!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

On Happy Travels

Later tonight, Temporary Egg goes to the other side of the world. She's decided not to dig her way there, preferring to fly instead.

Happy Travels!

On An Episode of The King of Queens

Watching a rerun of King of Queens, I was shocked to see this plot:
Doug, Carrie, Deacon and Kelly all head upstate to a cute B&B for a relaxing weekend. But, Doug and Carrie become anything but relaxed after they realize that the R&B song coming from Deacon and Kelly's room means the couple is having sex. It wouldn't be so bad, but when the song begins to play all the time, Doug and Carrie realize how inadequate their sex life is in comparison.
If you’re unfamiliar with the series, you should know that Deacon and Kelly are African-American characters. This means, of course, that the short, stocky, white character, Doug, is intimidated by his tall, fit, African-American friend’s voracious sexual appetite. Ughhh.

On A Nice Bus Driver

To get to the grocery, I can choose between a three-minute bus drive or a thirty minute walk. Depending on the time of day, weather, and amount of groceries I need to puchase, the difference can be significant. When I choose the bus, though, I have to be careful, since the buses come by infrequently--a one minute-delay on my part means an hour-wait for the next bus.

Today, I walked to the store, planning to shop and catch a bus on the way back. I goofed, though, and got through with my shopping too early. Knowing that if I waited at the stop I would be there for thirty minutes, I decided to walk. Just before starting, however, a bus on its way to the garage stopped and its driver offered me a lift, even though he wasn't on the clock. Pleasantly surprised, I accepted his invitation and made small talk for three minutes. He dropped me off where I needed to go and I left feeling good about knowing someone was willing to pull to the side of the road, pick up some stranger, and not kill him in the end.

On A Governor's Advice and Body

Arkansas' governor, Mike Huckabee, is teaming up with Bill Clinton to get Americans thinner. Governor Huckabee has even written a book, Quit Digging Your Grave with A Knife and Fork. From what I understand, it utilizes a "12 Stop" method that tells folks what not to do, if they want to get thinner. The article linked above appears to list these 12 "Stops,", and I thought that the last one was worth mentioning:

12: Stop "Neglecting your spiritual health."

Is there something problematic about a sitting (no, exercising!) governor of Arkansas imploring people not to neglect their spiritual health? Probably not. For one, "spiritual health," is probably a sufficiently bland enough statement in regards to faith as to be inoffensive. Second, it's a book published, distributed, and sold nationally; Gov. Huckabee isn't mailing these to every Arkansas home. And third, it's fairly personal advice that seems to work well with a public figure making his private figure even more public.

What needs to be examined, more, I think, is what is involved in a public campaign that draws attention so specifically to these politicians' actual bodies. It's as if their political identity is providing the warrant for the significance of their physical identities. Usually, I suspect, we go the other way: we imagine our physical bodies and needs, use our bodies as evidence, and then establish our political identities. This seems to be different. I bet there is a dissertation in here, and probably a whole body of literature to cite, too!

On An Overseas Reception

The Washington Post has an article that explores off-shoring jobs to Pakistan. One company even off-shores its receptionist!
As receptionist for the Resource Group, Musa greets employees and visitors via a flat screen hanging on the lobby's wall. Although they are nine hours behind and nearly 7,500 miles away, her U.S.-based bosses rely on her to keep order during the traffic of calls and meetings.
But, can a receptionist all the way around the world get a person a cup of coffee? Perhaps I overestimate the role that face-to-face communication plays in the office, but I think that a receptionist needs to be available to offer the small things to folks waiting for whatever it is they are waiting for.

On a Patch

I saw a commercial for the new Ortho Evra birth control patch. Throughout the ad, a doctor explains the patch, answering our questions in a clinical--yet empathetic--voice. She addresses one question at the end that I didn't think was much of a selling point:
I had a few questions myself, like, “Will it stay on?”

Swimming. Showering. The Patch stays where you put it. It won’t come off.
Yikes, that sounds frightening! Wouldn't it be easier to sell the product if it didn't seem like the hormone-sapping applique was forever welded to the swell of her back?

Monday, May 09, 2005

On a Comparison Between the Words of Rev. King and a British Reporter

The BBC sent a reporter down to Mississippi to look at how the locals enacted religion in this most-religious state in this most-religious country. It ended on a fairly positive note, pointing out that though Republicans might be "overplaying" their religion-hand with their recent spate of seemingly religious motivated actions, religion still offers some impressive and touching effects at the grassroots level.

Early on, however, the reporter has a little passage that reminded me of an even more significant passage. The reporter said this, while describing the South's scenery:
Pristine Catholic cathedrals with long, pointy towers, cool and confident looking with wide lawns and copious car parks.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described the South like this, forty years earlier in his Letter:
I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God?
Naturally, King put it better, but how striking it is that people are still visiting Mississippi, seeing the same kind of things, and asking the same kinds of questions, forty years later.

On the Times Assuming Too Much

Yesterday's New York Times had a piece about a former Letterman writer retiring early and writing a book about his experience. Here's a paragraph that struck me as plain inaccurate:
Few people younger than 35 undertake any activity these days without first contemplating its potential value as intellectual property, and that is especially the case for a comedy writer with an agent, a manager and a host of contacts in the TV world.
Few people!? Rest assured, all my younger-than-thirty-five readers who have endeavored to breathe, eat, or sleep without thinking about these activities' potential intellectual property, that I haven't done so either and suspect that hardly anyone actually does.

I think that in the rush to come up with a smooth transition in article about someone who actually did, this reporter has slipped into one of those sloppy assumptions that must be easy to make for impressive and smart people who work with other impressive and smart people on stories about impressive and smart people. If this reporter was being more reflective, however, I am sure that he would have conceded that there are more than a "few" people who don't think about writing a book before undertaking any activity.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

On the President Accepting Three Stars

During his visit to Latvia yesterday, President Bush was presented with the Order of Three Stars. He accepted. Unfortunately, he wasn’t especially eloquent when he did:
PRESIDENT BUSH: Madam President, I gratefully accept. I am so honored and so thrilled to be here in your beautiful country.

I was telling the President that it's such a joy to come to a country that loves and values freedom, and to be in the presence of a President who speaks so clearly about the need for people to be free, and her recognition that a free world will yield peace.

And so Madam President, thank you for your hospitality, and thank you so much for this great honor. Appreciate it.
In general, I think that the President of the United States has much ceremonial responsibility. Even though we are a government of, by, and for the People, we still elect someone to be a little bit different from the rest of us and I think it behooves this person to speak with a sense of that difference—especially when he is in another country representing us.

So, Mr. President, no "so"s; you should just be honored and thrilled—your position as President is sufficient-enough a qualifier for your sentiments. And, while we’re on the subject of your feelings, I’m not thrilled by the fact you’re "thrilled"; that feeling seems more appropriate for a roller-coaster ride than a visit to a fledgling democratic state--regardless of the ups-and-downs analogies one can make about growing a democracy. Also, I’m sure that Latvia would have appreciated it if you appreciated them enough to actually include yourself in that last sentence; “Appreciate it.” seemed a little too clipped and made me wonder if you were issuing an order to them or expressing your sense of appreciation.

Latvia may have given the president Three Stars, but I am only giving him one.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

On A Terrible Word

There are some words you hate. The New York Times uses one of them in an article about the proposed Texas law that would prevent cheerleaders from dancing too provacatively:
But the Texas House of Representatives, concerned that high school cheerleading is becoming too raunchy, has approved a bill that would allow state education officials to prohibit "overtly sexually suggestive" cheering and drill team routines.
Its only redeeming quality is that it sounds just like what it is denoting.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

On A Smart Person's Response

In discussing the National Academy of Sciences' election of 17 women, Stanford Chemistry Professor, Dr. John I. Brauman, responds to the reporter's connection between the significant number of women elected and the controversy surrounding Harvard President Summer's remarks about "innate talent":
Dr. Brauman replied that the complicated process of winnowing candidates was well under way before Dr. Summers spoke.

He added that it would be dangerous to draw large conclusions.

"You have to be careful about the statistics of small numbers," he said. For example, 22 of this year's new members are from institutions in California. "I would not know how to put a value judgment on this," Dr. Brauman said.
Smart people always have something to teach us!

On Senator Dayton's Church and State Position

Recently, Minnesota's senior senator, Mark Dayton, discussed his attitude towards the relationship between Church and State. I think he started out very shabbily:
Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist recently appeared on a national television program which accused his Democratic colleagues of acting “against people of faith.” During the same broadcast, self-proclaimed evangelist, James Dobson, called the United States Supreme Court “the despotism of an oligarchy” for its supposed “campaign to limit religious liberty.”
Even though I think it is within the limits of decorum to criticize other public figures, I think that this criticism should be tempered with good will. It seems salient to point out that, even in jail, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King referred to his opponents with respect and restraint:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
Though very few people would succeed, I don't think it would be wholly damaging to public discourse if we all aspired to Rev. King's language and eloquence. Given this, I think it would be appropriate for and courteous of Senator Dayton to acknowledge that James Dobson is not just a self-proclaimed evangelist, since other people probably think he's an evangelist too.

I think Senator Dayton commits an even greater error when he makes an analogy that we all need to be better about avoiding:
Unfortunately, religion can be misused by charlatans to serve their own ambitions. Guess what aspiring politician, in the midst of a national election, stated, “I am convinced that nothing will happen to me, for I know the greatness of the task for which Providence has chosen me.” It was Adolf Hitler, in 1932. While no one in our nation’s politics today compares with Adolph Hitler, his statement shows that there is no limit to the misuse of “Providence.”
There is something weak about having to quickly follow-up an analogy with the statement that the comparison really isn't accurate.

Now, on to Senator Dayton's position regarding the relationship between Church and State:
I know many people of religious faith and serving in public office, including myself, who sincerely pray for God’s wisdom in our personal and professional lives. However, praying for Divine guidance is very different from publicly proclaiming always to have it.
This opinion, I think, is a very powerful one, in as much as it rests on a very redeeming admission of human frailty. Political discussion and decision-making, after all, occurs because we live in an imperfect world inhabited by imperfect people who are forced to compromise and negotiate on complex matters in the legislative halls of our governments. And, to a certain degree, adamant (dare I say, zealous?) comittment to a position rooted in religious faith and belief does not leave much room for compromise. As Richard Neuhaus elegantly puts it in The Naked Public Square:
Compromise and forgiveness arise from the acknowledgment that we are imperfect creatures in an imperfect world. Democracy is the product not of a vision of perfection but of knowledge of imperfection. In this view, compromise is not an immoral act, nor is it an amoral act. That is, the one who compromises does not step out of her role as a moral actor. To the contrary, the person who makes a compromise is making a moral judgment about what is to be done when moral judgments are in conflict. (1991, p. 114)
But, the willingness to compromise on an issue does not necessarily mean that one must water down her conviction that a belief is valid and true.

And, just as much as I think that Dayton has become hyperbolic with his assertion that the Right thinks it's always right, I think he hasn't left a enough room for those who do become engaged in public life on public issues because of their religious conviction(s). Certainly, politicians must compromise, that's a particular cross the faithful politician must bear. But, I still expect politicians and public figures to act on their convictions as if they were right, however much they expect things to get watered-down in the end.

On Saying All That in the Same Breath

Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid, has a lot to say about social security, but I am more interested in what he has to say about what Republicans have to say and how he says it:
“President Bush has a lot of new Social Security rhetoric, but the facts remain the same. His risky privatization scheme is an assault on middle-class seniors and would mean deep benefit cuts even for those who choose not to risk their money in private accounts.
I doubt that I want to argue that rhetoric is a neutral thing, a tool of sorts to be used for good or bad, well or poorly, but I am willing to claim that Harry Reid has used rhetoric himself--not only on other occassions, but on this one too.

For one, it's not as if President Bush is walking around and spouting-off made-up things; he too is using facts, just different ones. How rhetorical of you, Mr. Reid, to imply that the facts were only on your side.

And of course, what could be more rhetorical than renaming something? How scheming of you, Mr. Reid, to refer to President Bush's plan as a scheme.

Surely, this is nothing new and I have heard it before. But, I have never heard one so smoothly go from talking down about rhetoric to then employing it so quickly in the next sentence.

Monday, May 02, 2005

On A Pleasant Little Passage

Ordinarily, I don't take note of the good phrases and passages that I read in newspapers; it's easier to tear down than build up, I guess. But, this Atlanta Journal-Constitution article about two developer's Marietta gentrification project has a real gem in it:
It's a dream of reclamation, of homeowners and longtime neighbors rather than transients, of what the partners believe will be rather than is.
What a great sentence! I like how the solid and concrete characters of homeowners and longtime nieghbors anchor the lofty dreams and uncertain future found on the sentence's edges. Plus, it sounds more poetic than most of the writing you find in newspapers, which is nice, if a little favorable to the developers. But, I suppose business writers have some leeway, since they are presumably writing for business readers from a business perspective.

On Taking a Joke Too Far

All right, I think that the "look at how funny Laura Bush was" routine is now getting a little old. All the major papers have some little piece about her performance at the correspondents' dinner, blogs have analyzed it, and now the President is even referring to it in a Rose Garden speech, today, that honors American Preservation.

Look at how Laura Bush cheekily introduces the president, after briefly talking about the connection between preservation and history, and look at how President Bush responds:
MRS. BUSH: The projects we honor instill love of our great American traditions. They educate Americans about our past and about our natural world. And they demonstrate how communities can increase local pride and improve local economies when they restore and showcase their history.

This month is National Preservation Month. It's a great month for Americans to visit Preserve America sites. They're wonderful destinations for school field trips, for family adventures, or even for a romantic getaway. (Laughter and applause.)

It's now my honor to introduce America's history-buff-in-chief, George W. Bush. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: A couple of funny lines one evening and she gets carried away. (Laughter and applause.) Laura Leno Bush. (Laughter.)
Yes, it's a cute little routine, but, remember, this is the President and the First Lady of the United States of America. Besides, there's something a little jarring and uncomfortable about hearing the president imply that the first lady is getting a little too big for her britches.

A little later in the speech, Laura Bush seems to interrupt the president to correct him on something he forgot to say:
THE PRESIDENT: Our third award recipient has restored a site almost as old as America, itself. In St. Genevieve, Missouri, Bolduc Historic Properties has fixed up some of the state's first French Colonial homes, right on the banks of the Mississippi River. The restoration of the 18th Bolduc House has attracted visitors from around the country and has drawn rave reviews. Historical restoration is a job for --

MRS. BUSH: Eighteenth century. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: You've become a comedian and an editor. (Laughter.) We're glad you're here. (Applause.)
Given the president's propensity for minor verbal gaffes, I think it's bad precedent to start correcting these things when they happen. But, even more importantly, this type of thing is just a plain old interruption; all it does is draw attention away from the speech's subject and emphasize the speech's speaker. Sure, it's a minor speech about a minor thing in a pleasant little garden, but I still think everything deserves its full due. If we want to see people using humor to make others laugh and attract attention to them, though, we can just turn on late-night TV--Conan is better anyway, I think. No, I hope and suspect that folks go to a Rose Garden speech to hear something other than cheesy jokes and banter.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't object to humor in presidential speeches. After all, Presidents have frequently done that sort of thing with a good-nature and necessary self-deprecation; I think this sort of thing enacts a good type of democratic egalitarianism that is important for our system. And I also realize that, to a certain extent, a funny or witty line always refers back to the person delivering it. My objection is to how this type of joking just comes across as being too self-aware and self-referential. I think it's something of a truism to say that that a joke is not funny if you have to always point it out to people.

On Peering Into the Future

Magazines insist that they will still be relevant in the future, and created mock covers of future issues to begin a three-year $40 million campaign to convince advertisers that magazines will be around for a while:
Here's a Newsweek cover from 100 years into the future: an aerial view of the United States with California split off from the mainland and floating in the Pacific. The headline: "California Island: More popular than ever 62 years after the Big Quake."
But how can you convince folks about your future relevance by displaying a news story that seems as irrelevant and un-newsworthy in 100 years as it would be today? Would anyone want to read a cover-story, now, about Hawaii?

On the New York Times

From the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (via Romenesko):
[Conservative FOX commentator, Bill] O'Reilly, he noted, denounced the Times at least 60 times on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" last year.

"I think if Bill O'Reilly didn't have the New York Times he might be selling Ginsu Knives on late-night TV," he joked.
Looking at the number of my critical posts, I suspect that without the New York Times, I would be working on my thesis!

On Becoming a Member of a Clan

Last Christmas, while visiting with my family, my aunt approached me with the suggestion that I become active in the family clan, the MacIntyres. For those of you that don't know much about Scottish clans, well, count me in your company. As far as I can tell, there are many Scottish names and clans that have documented histories and contemporary associations dedicated to keeping the names and their heritages alive. My aunt, a daughter of a Macintyre, is quite active in the MacIntyre Clan and mentioned that the clan is having a hard time recruiting younger members—particularly ones for leadership roles. Though never out rightly saying so, she intimated that if I expressed an interest, I would more or less be assured a spot on the clan's leadership council. (In this case, how could it not be nepotism?)

At the time, I demurely deferred decision-making. Recently, however, I received a packet in the mail filled with information about the clan and was reminded of my earlier promise to think it over. There are at least two different aspects that I have to consider.

One: the costs. Becoming an active member in the leadership requires an annual commitment of time and money. There are two annual events that must be attended: the annual family get-together and an annual meeting of the clan's governing body. Both are held at different times of the year, usually six months apart, and both would require airfare and hotel costs. The costs are not prohibitive, but I am not exactly a rich person.

Two: the decision to self-affiliate with a clan. At first blush, the notion of joining a clan seems odd. For good or for bad, I am not consciously or actively aware of my ancestral roots. Like most white men in this country, I come from a fair mix of European ancestry far enough in my past to have eliminated all but the faintest connection to the "homeland." Instead, my history is America's and my culture is what we, as a people, are trying to figure out and enact as we go along. Despite this, however, I can apparently pinpoint some connection to not just a country, but to a clan and its name. How weird it would be, though, to proclaim allegiance to just a name--no matter how old and fabled! I can fathom dedication to an ideal, country, or family; I can’t do that as easily for a family name. So, despite--to some degree--the fact that I share some familial blood with these other folks, I don't expect to have a connection that might invite the same sort of love, sacrifice, and unity that I would expect from my parents or siblings. A person only has so much loyalty to offer, can I give up some of it to a mere name?

Regardless, by the MacIntyre's standards, I can call myself a MacIntyre. And people in this country have been doing so for many years through annual gatherings and festivals--not bad things to do. But, according to my aunt's telling, not as many are choosing to do so these days. It seems that this old family name needs some new blood--just they type I could offer. So, even though I have never given such things too much thought, I think there is something poignant about a bunch of older folks struggling to keep the sap running through an ageing trunk connected to fewer and fewer flowering branches. In the end, joining wouldn't be a painful thing to do and it might even be neat to see kilts at different scenic places throughout the country.

Any thoughts?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

On Complimenting A Friend and Myself at the Same Time

It's always a pleasure to tell others about someone cool you know; it's even more pleasurable when you can let everyone else know how cool you are at the same time. It is with this truism in mind that I point out my friend's clever and well-written blog: Secondhand Rants. You should read this post from a couple years ago--I only say so because the character is loosely based on me.

On New Suburban Developments

The summer before I left for college, my parents moved the family to a new house in Loudoun County, one of the faster growing counties in the country. Overnight, it seemed, a new place developed--schools, shopping centers, roads, and housing development, after housing development, after housing development. Whenever I returned home on break, I would notice yet another completed cul-de-sac and think about how very new everything looked. I knew that in twenty years everything would look pretty old and lame, but didn't really mind since I wisely waxed that this was the nature of new things.

Every now and then, while driving to Jerry's Subs and Pizza, I would pass an older looking house set off by itself. Its wooden exterior, the rusted swing-set in its side yard, and a very tall, thick, and old tree in its backyard all spoke to the house's other-ness. When I drove by the house, as a part of a long line of minivans, SUVS, and increasingly upscale sedans, I thought of how frustrated its owners must be with all the development in the area; all of these cars, after all, were driving right passed the house's driveway. I imagined how easy it must have been for them, just a few years earlier, to leave their house and their driveway without waiting for a break in the traffic.

I never though, however, that they were probably frustrated for other reasons too. The Washington Post has a nice piece on the alienation some older-house owners are feeling as more and more folks move into housing developments in the area.
Scattered across such rapidly suburbanizing counties as Loudoun and Prince William in Northern Virginia and Charles and Frederick in Maryland are scraps of communities left behind. They are remnants of places where people live the old-fashioned way: in a house, on a road open to other roads, forming a place that anyone might pass through on the way to somewhere else.

Increasingly, these places have become balkanized by self-contained communities, now the dominant form of home building in suburban America. In Prince William and Loudoun, for instance, virtually all new homes in recent years have been built that way.
As more and more folks move into more and more housing developments and subdivisions, there is an increasingly stark line being drawn between the newer houses and the fewer older ones:
While life inside such places as Brambleton often is vibrant with block parties, poker nights, book clubs and a sense of identity, life on the outside feels quite different these days, altered in ways large and small.

"I don't know what community means anymore," said Nancy Siler, who is retired. "Do they mean subdivision? Or can it be a group of houses spread out?"
Though the piece is too somber and mournful for my tastes--it probably romanticizes a few cases here and there a little too much--it does raise some interesing questions about place, class and identity.

Though it may have been implied, the article doesn't discuss one of the more striking differences between the new housing divisions and the older houses left in various pockets throughout the area: the new houses are filled with increasingly wealthy people. I think some of the uncomfortableness the older-home owners are feeling stems from the realization that all of a sudden an area formerly occupied by a few agriculture and blue-collar homes is being populated by whole lot of households annually earning six-figures. These new divisions and their houses are like wagons circled up at night, and the older homes must feel like coyotes.

How much, I wonder, can this new type of development and displacement sustain parallels between the older narrative of western development: settlers moving in who ignore the native people at first, only to eventually get rid of them? There is, it seems, given all of the developing homes, businesses, and infrastructure, a spirit of progress--even Manifest Destiny that seems inevitable, regardless of all "smart growth" talke--a phrase, it should be noted, that never denies the growth. And, at the same time, there is strong sentiment regarding the land and its beauty echoed throughout the discourse by those people left standing outside of the new developments:
In eastern Prince William, Anthony Mullins, who lives in a neighborhood built in the 1960s on a small hill in Woodbridge, is struggling with the effects of the changing geography.

"We're like an island," said Mullins, 42. "An island in dirt."

His back yard, which used to overlook trees, now overlooks a vast, dusty, denuded valley where a subdivision called Eagle's Point is being built. With no trees, the sun is brighter these days and the wind so stiff that once it blew over his weight-lifting bench.
And what of the communities formed by these new developments? In previous times, practices like redlining and processes like white-flight maintained and established geographical communities in response to the emergence of other peoples and identities. In other words, the geographic and material space emerged in response to the community's sense of identity. In today's situation, however, with older and poorer folks being displaced and ignored by newer housing developments, it seems that identity has emerged after the geographic and material space was created.James Kline, 62, noted that a way into the neighborhood is being sealed off because of increased traffic.

"We've been here all these years, but they're the ones who are going to benefit," he said, referring to new residents. "They're isolating us. They're penalizing us. The way they treat us now, I guess they call us white trash."
A poorer-house class has developed because a newer, fatter, and more contented-house class has emerged--a class that has probably developed because they are seeing the occasional lonely old wooden house next to the busy new roads they're driving on.

On A Joke Most Probably Missed

Though plenty of folks are talking about Laura Bush's funny speech at this year's White House Correspondant's Dinner, I doubt that as many people have noticed something funny President Bush said while helping plant a tree for Arbor Day:
THE PRESIDENT: Glad you all are here. Ready, Mr. Secretary?


THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I'm honored -- we're honored to be here with the Secretary of Agriculture, as well as Marshal Case, who is head of the American Chestnut Foundation. We are planting an American chestnut tree here at the White House. This is the 133rd year of Arbor Day. Our message is to our fellow citizens, plant trees -- it's good for the economy and it's good for the environment.

As well, Marshal informs me that the American Chestnut Foundation has worked very closely with the Agriculture Department to coming up with a disease-resistant strain of the American chestnut. And he says we're making good progress, and that one day the American chestnut, which had been wiped out by blight, will be coming back. And this is our little part to help it come back.

So, Mr. Secretary, are you prepared?

SECRETARY JOHANNS: I am ready. Let's --

THE PRESIDENT: A man known for shoveling a lot of things. (Laughter.)
Even though I might be inclined to say it's a little undecorous for the President of the United States to imply that his Secretary of Agriculture is accustomed to shoveling shit, especially in light of recent criticism about the new Food Pyramid, I think that the earthy atmosphere created by a digging up of the ground to plant a tree makes it okay to talk a little dirty.