Monday, October 31, 2005

Congratulations on Your Use of the Language, George

Normally when I hear George W. Bush’s voice on the radio I just turn it off, on the assumption that whatever he says is either going to be (a) hyperpatriotic mush or (b) patently untrue. This morning, however, I was in the process of dressing and couldn’t get to the snooze button in time to avoid hearing him announce Samuel Alito as his latest Supreme Court nomination.

The fact that some people are calling Alito “Scalia Lite” is probably enough reason to devote an essay to him, but that’s not the topic here. What I want to discuss is what Bush said at the end of his speech this morning. He turned to Alito and said “Congratulations on your nomination.”

And I thought: “Did this dumbass forget he was the one who nominated him?”

You don’t congratulate someone for something that wouldn’t have happened to him if you hadn’t made it happen. Other people can come up to Alito and congratulate him on his nomination, but it makes absolutely no sense for Bush to do it. Bush can congratulate himself if he wants to.

This would be like a baseball player hitting a grand slam and then congratulating the runners who were on base: “Way to go, guys—way to score those runs!”

You know, it’s not that hard to use the language in a thoughtful, logical way. The alternative is to do what Bush does and repeat stuff he’s overheard in other conversations and hope it’s appropriate.

And by the way, how would you like to be the second choice behind Harriet Miers?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Now That's What I Call Rapture

Back when I was a churchgoin’ sort of fellow, there was a pretty catchy hymn I liked that contained the lyric “When we all get to heaven/What a day of rejoicing that will be.”

That sounded pretty good to me at the time: all your old friends and relatives gathered around, praising God, whooping it up, looking forward to an eternity of more praising God and whooping it up. It seemed to me that anyone who had the opportunity to get in on something that sounded like so much fun would be crazy to take a pass on it.

Yes, sir, after praising God for a billion years, you’re just getting warmed up for the next trillion.

Anyway, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but these days I take a more rational view of the world. There are enough solvable problems on this planet that everyone ought to be able to find a niche in one of three categories: (1) people trying to solve the problems, (2) people trying to entertain the people trying to solve the problems, and (3) people who have sense enough to stay out of the way of the people trying to solve the problems.

But the way I see it, there’s a fourth category of people who want you to believe that it doesn’t matter if anyone solves these problems or not, because in just a few years it’ll all be over anyhow and several million people will be taken up to heaven in something called the rapture.

What a day of rejoicing that will be—particularly if you have any inclination toward looting. But I digress.

Sad to say, there’s a lot of energy diverted from problem-solving into rapture-preparedness. I refer you now to a website known as Rapture Letters (, a site for people who are convinced they’ll be among the raptured. These people are encouraged to submit the names and email addresses of people they’re pretty sure won’t be raptured, so that when the big day comes, an automatic email will be sent to these people, explaining that their friends and neighbors have been taken up to heaven and offering them an opportunity to get on the right track, too, for whatever comes next. The post-rapture, maybe, or the rapture wrap-up.

Now, call me a cynic, but I think they’re collecting those email addresses for a whole ‘nother reason. I think they’re just trying to build the world’s largest database of heathens and free thinkers. If you read the site carefully, nowhere does it say “We will not spam the person whose email address you send us.”

If you haven’t checked out the site yet, here’s how it’s supposed to work: You send in the name and email address of your unbelieving buddy. That address is added to the database of people scheduled to get the “rapture letter,” which begins “This message has been sent to you by a friend or a relative who has recently disappeared along with millions and millions of people around the world. The reason they chose to send you this letter is because they cared about you and would like you to know the truth about where they went. This may come as a shock to you, but the one who sent you this has been takenup to heaven,” etc etc.

Now, the superpowered mainframe computer at Rapture Letters Headquarters has been programmed to send the rapture letter to the entire database every Friday—unless the head man in charge manually resets it before then. Naturally, the man in charge has no doubt he’s going to be raptured, so if he’s not around to hit the reset button, there can be no other explanation: It’s rapture time.

(The website says that the mailing list will receive the rapture letter on the first Friday after the rapture. So if the rapture happens on a Saturday, it’ll be six days before you get your letter. You could drop a note in the corner mailbox on your way up to heaven, and it'll get there faster than the email.)

The website doesn’t indicate whose brilliant idea this was, but I just imagine that someday, many years from now, the programmer on his deathbed will call his firstborn son to his side: “Son—I’ve been pressing the reset button on the rapture letters program every Friday for the last 57 years. I’d like you to take over for me, son.”

“I promise, Dad.”

And then two hours after the funeral, delete goes the database and Dad’s old computer gets tossed in the landfill.

It’s free to have a name added to the database, but there’s also a section of the website that says they accept “love offerings.” They assure us that only 10 percent of donations are used for administrative costs, while 90 percent are used to “further the kingdom of God.”

I suspect that furthering the kingdom of God covers about as much ground for these people as it does for charlatans like Pat Robertson.

If you think a rapture is going to occur in your lifetime (and it would pretty much have to, if they don’t want all those emails to bounce back), by all means, send the folks at Rapture Letters a name or two and pat yourself on the back. But once you’re done doing that, take a look around and see if there’s something helpful you can do now.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Grasping For A Harriet Miers Analogy

To help you fully understand my position on George W. Bush’s nomination of his personal legal counsel Harriet Miers to a seat on the Supreme Court, I have to take a paragraph or two to discuss a game called Strat-O-Matic Baseball.

Strat-O-Matic, or Strato, is a simulated baseball game using one red die, two white dice, charts for fielding and baserunning, and individual cards that reflect each player’s statistics for the previous year. There are three columns on each card: The hitters’ columns are numbered 1, 2, and 3; the pitchers’ 4, 5, and 6. Under each column is a list of 11 possible baseball results (strikeout, single, groundout, etc) numbered 2-12. Let’s say Bob Gibson is pitching to Carl Yastrzemski, and you roll a 4 on your red die and a total of 7 on the two white dice. You look under Gibson’s 4 column, find the 7, and note that Yaz has struck out.

That’s Strato in a nutshell. Every year you can buy all the major league teams from the previous year, replay the whole season or part of it, trade players between teams without hurting anyone’s feelings, and jot it all down in a notebook—or, if you played as much as I did, in dozens of notebooks.

Basically, playing Strato is how I spent a great deal of my time from eighth grade on through college. I was the manager of 24 big-league teams, and even though I had unlimited power to throw games, make lopsided trades, or shred the cards of players I didn’t like, I maintained the integrity of the game by keeping it as realistic as possible. There were no light-hitting shortstops batting cleanup in my leagues, no iron-horse pitchers throwing all four games of a series.

It was a clean game, by golly. I wouldn’t let myself play favorites.

But usually, somewhere late in the season, I’d get the urge to do something a little strange—and usually it involved giving some lame middle reliever a spot start, even though he had a horrendous ERA, an embarrassing strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a tendency to give up a couple of home runs every time he pitched. We’ll call this incredibly luckless pitcher Harry Myers.

Harry would spend most of the season in the bullpen, only coming in to get some mop-up work in games his team was leading or trailing by ten runs or so. I wouldn’t put him in a close game because it’d look like I was throwing the game to the other side. He was just there to fill out the 25-man roster.

But then once in a blue moon, just to see what would happen, I’d let Harry Myers start a game. The imaginary fans would go berserk: What’s Myers doing in there? What’s the manager thinking? Who in their freaking right mind thinks this weenie-armed righthander deserves a start?!

At no time did Harry Myers ever reward my confidence—he always got shelled. There was a possibility, of course, that the dice could have fallen the right way every time and he could have defied the odds by twirling a three-hit shutout. But he never did. In the whole league, there were dozens of middle relievers who would have performed better in a spot start—but in my more impish moments, I decided to start the worst possible pitcher.

So I don’t know if Harriet Miers would be a good Supreme Court justice or not. She’s been quoted as saying George W. Bush is the smartest man she’s ever met, which would seem to indicate she’s not that bright herself (that or she’s carrying one hell of a torch). All I know is that this nomination is the work of a complete dingleberry, a guy who’s just screwing around, a guy who won’t put out the slightest mental effort to do the right thing. From Iraq to the Supreme Court, he’s like a kid who starts playing with a chemistry set without reading the instructions: “Let’s see what I happens when I do this!”

You think there might be a handful of brilliant, experienced jurists with slightly better qualifications than Harriet Miers? Two or three, maybe? It doesn’t matter to this president. At least when I started a goofball pitcher in a game of Strato, it had no effect on the other 250 million Americans.