Out of the mouths of babes

It appears the tide is turning against the Heenes, and that the literal meaning of boy’s remark is increasingly likely. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it turned out the other way, though. As with adults, kids can answer questions in a rather tangential fashion.

For example, I was talking to a neighborhood kid the other day, a year or so younger than the “balloon boy,” and I asked him, in a purely non-accusatory and joking way, if he was the one who’s been feeding push pops to my dog through my backyard fence. Keep in mind that the boy was consuming a push pop while I asked him this and habitually rides his bike over and over past said fence.

He responded, a trifle defensively, “I didn’t have one last night when they got out of the fence.”

Now that’s not what I asked him at all. To understand his response, you have to know that H and I recently rescued an odd yet inseparable pair of dogs straight out of a Pixar movie  – a pit bull and a Chihuahua – and had stored them overnight in the backyard until we found their owner the next day. Apparently the dogs had gotten out of our fence sometime that night, though, and the neighborhood kids had rounded them up and secured the gate. I knew this story before I asked him this question, so I knew he had misinterpreted my query, which was about my dog – my single dog, a boykin spaniel, who is usually the backyard’s only occupant – who I have discovered carrying around the still-sticky remains of a push pop in the backyard.

I’m still impressed by how he realized his possession of a push pop implied some sort of guilt by association, and he countered with a statement that is, as far as I know, truthful, yet did not deny any past acts of nefariousness – not that I care that Kara is getting push pops in the slightest.

You said we did this for a show

The little boy who was not, after all, lost in an errant homemade balloon came up with a zinger in an interview the other day. “You said we did this for a show.”

What this line means depends quite a bit on how  ‘show’ is understood. If it means ‘show’ in a general sense of ‘putting on a show,’ then the entire affair may be a hoax. However, if ‘show’ means a specific ‘show,’ such as the TV program the family has participated on in the past, then the boy’s confusion is far more innocent; he thinks he messed up an important shoot for a TV show.

There are two more complications when parsing this sentence. The first is the past tense verbs ‘said’ and ‘did’ – both are very unspecific about when the boy was told ‘this.’ Before the balloon left? After? Just before the interview?  The second complication is ‘this’: What is the antecedent? The entire balloon incident? The interview that was going on at the time?

English can certainly lack preciseness. My instinct is the boy used some unfortunate syntax – stuffing a vague relative clause into the object slot of ‘You said’ – that has been interpreted rather freely to implicate his parents. The next few days will tell.

On Peace

Apparently, the President won the Nobel Peace Price this morning. Knee-jerk reactions predominate.

On first glance, it’s a little odd. He’s barely out of the gate. And the U.S. is still fighting two wars. What gives?

On second glance, I can’t think of anyone in the last year that has done more to promote world peace. His election has completely changed the world political stage, and his foreign policy is, so far, largely consistent with what he campaigned on.

On third glance, I wonder if he should turn it down. I don’t see any downsides to doing so, and quite a few upsides. The GOP storyline about Obama is dependent on interpreting everything that he does as snobbish, elitist, naive, disconnected, and in Europe’s pocket. A polite decline undercuts all of that. He has to word it right, though.

UPDATE: Well, Obama took a middle road while I was typing, accepting it but saying that he doesn’t deserve it: “Let me be clear, I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.” I’m not sure that was the best move. We’ll have to wait and see what his acceptance speech consists of.

You don’t get my ninja skills

While eating in the UHD cafeteria today (see last post) I saw a student with a T-shirt that said, “You don’t get my ninja skills,” and I wondered about how the verb “get” should be parsed. There are five different possibilities that I came up with immediately:

1) I will not waste my ninja skills on you.
2) I will not impart knowledge of my ninja skills to you.
3) I have ninja skills, and you will not be acquiring similar skills anytime soon, from me or anyone else.
4) My ninja skills are intrinsic and you cannot take them from me.
5) My ninja skills are beyond your comprehension.

There are two questions that are central to understanding here. One is whether or not the verb is active or passive, and the second is the nature of the  ninja skills in terms of transferability. I’m fairly certain 5) is the intended meaning. I should have asked him.

We’ve got this notion that we’d like to sail the ocean…

Is there no mercy? How can I still know this song after eight long years and have it stuck in my head? What horrible crime did I commit in a previous life? I suppose actually playing the game was a sort of cardinal sin for which a period of penance is required, but this long?

It’s not so much the first ‘wood’ version of the song that I remember (which the above-linked video supplies), but the ‘grain” and “meat”  songs that follow it.

I simply can’t leave for my first class without some meat.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum is like drinking a Coke in a glass bottle from the freezer after working in the yard for a few hours. There simply isn’t anything better. A game that approximates being Batman, even roughly, crudely, is an astounding feat. The source material is lovingly respected, it’s got Harlequin, and Mark Hamill voices Joker, having apparently recorded dozens of hours of the Clown Prince of Crime taunting Batman from afar.  I really could not ask for more from a game. The single-player experience was wonderful, and the challenge modes continue to be endlessly entertaining, especially the downloadable content level that allows the Dark Knight to fight limitless hordes of asylum inmates.  I suppose I could have asked for more boss fights, and perhaps a little less Scarecrow, but I simply am not in the mood to complain in the slightest.

My favorite conceit about Batman is his apparently limitless ability to plan ahead, which makes any “real” superpower pale in comparison (that fact that Joker has a similar ability contributes to their many parallels).  My oh-snap moment in the game (very mild spoiler) is when Batman offhandedly mentions that he has built a spare Batcave in Arkham… a massive undertaking done solely  in case the asylum is ever overrun. When asked how the hell he managed to do that without anyone knowing, he replies, “It’s me, remember?”


Ok, now something that is a political judgment. We should get out of Afghanistan very soon. I’ve been leaning toward this for awhile, having been of the opinion in previous years that more attention to Afghanistan was good; now, though, it’s become a military version of the  sunk cost fallacy. Obama’s upcoming decision should not be to add more troops, but to pull out, let Karzai sink or swim, and yet maintain a covert, unofficial presence to keep a check on the Taliban. Oddly enough, the U.S. has been the most successful in influencing what happens in that country when we haven’t been there officially; the initial plan that drove the Taliban out was done with a small group of “advisors” and air support.

Charming Texas

Now that I am a Texan, at least on paper, I have been watching the case of Cameron Todd Willingham closely. Death penalty opponents have been waiting for a case like this for years. Willingham was  convicted of murdering his three children by arson; he was executed in 2004. Now, it appears, he was innocent (in a very well-written piece in the NY), according to independent follow-up investigations that revealed the evidence of arson was poorly interpreted and that his children were victims of a electrical fire.

The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, has suddenly removed and replaced three members of the state Forsenic Science Commission, which has been reviewing the case. That Perry was the governor who signed Willingham’s death warrant, and remains flatly convinced that he was right to do so, is probably not unrelated to the timing.

When we speak of justice, it is useful to keep in mind that no justice exists if people can be convicted of crimes without evidence. If evidence becomes optional, or hazy, or trivial, then it effectively ceases to be a requirement, and trials, too, cease to be trials and become sentencing hearings, judgments from on high rather than down here on earth.

When Perry claims to the media that “clear, compelling, overwhelming evidence” exists that he was right, I have to wonder exactly what his standards for evidence are.  Let me be clear that I’m not making a political judgment, or even a statement about the death penalty by saying this; I’m merely asking what evidence WOULD the governor take that would convince him that the man was innocent, because I have to consider the possibility, given the current state of the facts, that there is no amount that would convince him.