Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I got to Rochester around 4:30 or so Friday afternoon. We just had a little time to kill before a charity dinner for hurricane Katrina relief. A campus dining hall attempt at cajun food wasn't pretty, at least not to me. "A funny thing happened after I graduated from college: my taste buds grew back," as I said at the time. The show afterwards was fun too.

Kenny and I left Saturday morning to go to Syracuse. Despite waking up and getting in the car early, we were worried about not getting there in time, but we shouldn't have - the first flight of the main events was at 10:30 or something, but there were others as well. Out of four rounds, I won two and lost two. Didn't do well enough to win any prizes, but still, can't complain. I got some great cards out of it, and my initial tournament deck (75 cards, some of which are lands) plus two booster packs (15 cards each) seemed amazingly slanted towards a red-white deck. I also splashed green in it for a couple elves.

After that I entered a booster draft (you get the cards to make your deck out of by opening a booster pack, taking the card from it you like the most, passing it to the person next to you and repeating the process). I got eliminated in the first round, partly because I was all over the place in my drafting, taking some cards because they'd go well with decks of mine or with the cards I'd got earlier rather than because they'd work well in the draft deck. I made a few trades with other people at the tournament, and dollarwise I think I didn't do so well, but (with one exception) I traded cards I don't use for cards I will use, so in the end I can't complain too loudly.

It took us forever to get back to Rochester - I got us lost on the way. We finally got there, though. Sunday I slept in, we had brunch at good old Danforth, and played a few games and went shopping before I had to go. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the CT meeting even though it is apparently at 5 p.m. this semester instead of 8 like it was when I was around. The drive home is about six hours, so...

At the tournament I forgot, or just missed the announcement in the first place, that I could exchange the basic lands I had used in my deck for another booster pack. And when I left Sunday I forgot my towel and washcloth in Kenny's room, and my razor and shaving cream in the bathroom. At that rate, I suppose I'm lucky I didn't take a bus home and leave my car there...

I went to Magic night up at Quarterstaff Games on Monday, and people were suitably impressed with the cards, but it's not like I dominated the night or anything. I really need to make some decks intended for multiplayer, since that seems like all I go up against. Kenny and Seth and a bunch of other people they recruit at UR, four-person games or more on Monday, etc.

Work's going all right. Nothing big here. I'm doubting I'll come anywhere near my goal of 100 paying guests to the national conference in November, but it's not like my employment depends on that alone and there's still time to get more.

Monday, September 26, 2005

FUCK. I wrote a long and detailed post about the weekend, but for some reason I got logged out of blogger so I lost it. And now I have to get going or I'll be late for work.

Well, a summary: I had fun in Rochester, I saw a lot of people again even though I feel a little bit guilty about the people I didn't say hi to just because it was a brief and busy visit, the tournament went well, and I'm really looking forward to using my new cards at the game night tonight.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I should add to my sidebar there a heading for things that make you say "that's just wrong." Still funny, though.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Appearance can be deceptive. For example, as a news editor of the Campus Times someone gave us a link showing the salary of UR President Thomas Jackson. It was around $500,000, if I remember correctly, and even worse, it had doubled in the past eight years or so. We wanted to do a story, but a little research showed two things. First of all, he wasn't the highest paid UR employee (he wasn't even the 5th highest), that honor went to some heart surgeon at Strong Memorial Hospital. And second of all, he was on the high side for presidents of colleges in our weight class, but not really out there.

A little research showed that the main reason for this is simply market forces. Even a small college is a business (the same basic ideas apply to public colleges as well) with hundreds of employees and, between teaching and research activities, tens thousands of customers. The president of a major college has to be a good public speaker, a good diplomat, good with names and organization, has to have experience at something similar, and maybe most important of all has to be willing to work a 12 hour day, and people like that are pretty damn rare. So while I'm sure that a lot of CEOs are overpaid, setting their own salaries at a whim, and getting their jobs through who they know rather than what they know, not all are like that.

I was reminded of that on Friday. Rick, the boss around here, is bad with computers and has little appreciation of how much time and effort goes into lots of the more background, clerical work of managing this place. It's easy for us to make jokes at his expense. "Dilbert boss," stuff like that, although he's never been that bad. Well, he was working from Connecticut Friday and he asked me to forward his e-mails to him down there. I went to his computer and I saw the FreeCell program open. Out of curiosity, I checked his win percentage. Out of a little over a thousand games, he had won %97. Now, in case you don't play, that's fucking amazing to me. The record on my parent's computer is in the high 60s/low 70s. Sometimes I've had a record around %85, but even that was only on short runs when I was in that experiment last semester - in the long term, my record averages out to around my parent's.

Hardly a useful skill, of course. But damn, you think you know a guy...
This started out as a comment on another blog, but it got so involved and off-topic that I thought it would make a good post of its own.

Russ Feingold in 2008: Why Not?

People on some blogs, here for example, are already talking about 2008 Democratic candidates. And I've seen three names mentioned so far that aren't leftovers from 2004: Russ Feingold, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Notice anything odd about that list? It's a Jew, a black and a woman. And in all of American history, Kennedy was the only president who was not a male, religiously observant* WASP.

Some are wondering how this will affect things. The country seems like it's in as bad a state as it's been in my lifetime, the progressives in America are as weak and divided as they've been since Clinton, terrorism is the greatest threat to the country since the Cold War**... should the party that's not hopelessly corrupt and %110 in the pocket of the oil industry really nominate a candidate who a certain fraction of the country are just too bigoted to vote for***? On the other hand, would those people vote Democratic anyway?

I think Hillary and Obama would be bad for other reasons, (he's inexperienced, and she would bring a former President as First Husband), and I don't know much about Feingold, but I think the only response to those concerns in general is "What have we got to lose?"

The thing I don't think many liberals have noticed is, Bush's current unpopularity doesn't really reflect all that much on conservatives principles in general. For every person who looks at the Islamic Republic of Iraq and what's left of New Orleans and says "Wow, people who want to minimize government shouldn't be running it," even more people are saying "Wow, the feds can't do anything right." And hell, they're wrong, but not totally - competent management of FEMA has always been the exception rather than the rule, I think.

What Bush's %39 approval rating (%38? %35?) does show is distaste for blatant, naked politicking and the use of power for its own sake rather than accomplishing anything. Not reacting to a disaster until it's already hurting approval ratings, rampant patronage and cronyism, rewarding loyalty above all else, putting Karl Rove in charge of reconstruction... People obviously weren't happy to start with, but I'll bet history would show that "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" was the part that was really beyond the pale.

With all that at the heart of the Republicans, the Democrats would have to be even dumber than usual to look for electability and universal appeal. Kerry was supposed to be the most electable candidate, and a guy who spent the Vietnam War in Louisiana and presided over Abu Ghraib beat him by three percentage points. It's clear that the Democratic base has a tone-deaf ear for electability, and/or putting so much emphasis on that looks like soulless political maneuvering.

So if "electability," "centrist appeal" or "inoffensiveness" appears anywhere close to "principles" and "leadership ability" on the list of qualifications of whoever the Democratic candidate is, I'll probably be making my own threats to move to Canada.

*Actually, Thomas Jefferson was a Deist, and several others of his era probably were as well. But that's just details.

** Which isn't saying much. %90 of the fear-mongering has been just that, but there's still the %10 that isn't.

*** To be more diplomatic, and also more optimistic, I'd substitute "reactionary" or even "anti-PC." But claiming that bigotry doesn't exist anymore is, pardon the pun, a whitewash, so...

Friday, September 16, 2005

Random thought of the week:

The word "mentor" comes from the name of Odysseus's advisor/confidant, according to a pamphlet I've put in about 400 binders over the past few weeks to get ready for some workshops. Mentor had at least some hand in raising Odysseus himself - I don't remember the pamphlet exactly and who knows how accurate it is in the first place - and when Odysseus went off to war in The Iliad, he left his young son in the care of Mentor.

The interesting thing to me is, the French word "menteur" means "liar." Quite a difference. When I first noticed that coincidence, I assumed it was just a case of different roots. The French thing would have come from some Latin word rather than a Greek name.

However, a couple days ago I remembered a factoid from literature classes: Romans believed, or at least their cultural heirs in medieval and Renaissance Europe believed, that Rome was founded by refugees from Troy and Romans were descended from Trojans. This means that even though today Odysseus is considered the good guy, it wasn't always that way - through most of European history he was the villain of the story. The deception that went into making the Trojan horse, the arrogance that offended Poseidon and doomed him to a 10-year odyssey home... to us he's a quick-thinking tragic hero, but a view of him could go either way, and to people who associated themselves with Troy it did go the other way. Dante put Odysseus in the eighth circle of hell, if I remember correctly.

So what I wondered was, do "mentor" and "menteur" have the same root after all? To the Greeks he was a teacher, but to the Romans he was a teacher whose pupil was a liar?

Etymology is the study of words and their roots and history, I think, and entymology is the study of bugs. Or is it the other way around?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I went to Gretchen's wedding Sunday. It was a little weird. Totally secular, not that that's too unusual, traditional vows and dress code, except she was barefoot and wearing a dress much less frilly than a traditional one and had a sort of, for lack of a better term, wreath on her head. As far as I know (and I think I would) there's no real Wiccan/pagan belief in that family, so I guess it was just because they decided they would like this way the best. So... a very unique wedding. Several times during the ceremony the bride and groom were cracking up laughing. I'm not really sure what at since I was standing more to the back, and it was never at an important part like the vows. It's just that I've never seen such an upbeat wedding. The last couple weddings I was at, the groom was in tears or very nearly, and now this, where everyone was laughing and he said he wasn't even frightened. Later on, the DJ played the song "Mrs. Robinson" - hardly a normal wedding choice.

Most of the crowd there were Gretchen's family and friends of the groom. I didn't dance at all for, well, obvious reasons.

Also, I saw Johanna for the first time in more than ten years over the weekend. So she's a lot shorter than I remembered. :) And I saw Georgia with her boyfriend Todd. He seems like a nice guy. Though even quieter than me, and that's saying something. You know, I actually asked Georgia to my senior prom. (I went alone in the end, since her prom was the same night, and it was just a friendly/cowardly safety date anyway.) It's a tiny bit creepy that Gretchen looks so much like Georgia, who I'd known since we were little kids together. I mean, no one would mistake them, but the haircut, the hair color, the build, to some extent the shape of the face... if not for the fact Gretchen and I had known each other long before we dated, my parents might have been disturbed by me dating a near look-alike to a cousin.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

I haven't written anything about New Orleans here yet. Partly because much better writers than I, obviously, are already writing about it, partly because it's not just my quality but also my content - I don't have anything to say that I haven't already seen. And partly just because this has been overwhelming. I mean, it's unreal. I read somewhere - sorry, no link, couldn't find it again - about a woman who couldn't fit on a bus out of the city, so she begged people on the bus to take her baby with them. We'd think a little less of a movie that had such a clich├ęd scene, but it's happening. FOX News anchors were on the verge of tears in some videos I saw.

I started writing this post several days ago but stopped because a) still wasn't sure that what I had to say was worth it, and b) thought I'd wind up looking like an ass. But since then I've gone from anger - why the fucking fuck did it take so long for help to get there - to despair. It's entirely possible that I'm looking at it from too close, especially since I've barely gone outside my usual channels, but it looks at the moment like this won't matter. I mean, it looks like the morals of this story, both the obvious ones and whatever new ones are revealed, will be ignored. Bush slashed the funding to FEMA and appointed as its head a friend-of-a-friend who's greatest accomplishment until then was getting fired from the International Arabian Horse Association? What do you expect, the federal government can't do anything right. The problem was too big for state governments and it says right in the charters of FEMA and DHS that being the first responder and/or organizer to this stuff is their reason for existence? But the Democrats in Louisiana didn't do everything perfectly, so the feds are off the hook.

I'm sorry. My disconnect from local issues and disinterest in the Missing White Girl of the Week means that I get most of my news from blogs, which is probably bad in general and certainly isn't helping here. And the more mainstream media really is noticing that FEMA fell through as well as many other problems, which seems like unusually good coverage to me. But when I see people attacking the federal government in general rather than the administration that's running it into the ground, when I see people as outraged by reaction to the government's conduct as to that conduct itself, when I read that Bush is trying to appoint Roberts to Chief Justice in the middle of all this...

I saw a quote I liked somewhere - again, sorry no link.

"If one good thing comes out of this tragedy, it will be the repudiation for decades of the idea that people who don't believe in government have any place running the government." --Jeffrey Dubner

The jury is still out on whether or not that will happen. Unfortunately.

On a lighter and more personal note - when I was a kid, I didn't like having such a weird name. It got twisted all kinds of ways by other kids - not necessarily that they wouldn't have made fun of me anyway, but it was easy ammunition, and for that matter chances are most of them didn't mean any harm by nicknames in the first place - and it's a pain having to spell it for everyone. But lately I've come to appreciate it more and more. For example, I can always tell when a caller is a telemarketer. And right now, well, the girlfriend of a good friend of mine is named Katrina. That will never happen to me.