Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Something's rotten in the church-state of Denmark

TAARBAEK, Denmark - A Danish Lutheran minister who publicly denied the
existence of God said Sunday he was glad to be back in the pulpit, but
refused
to speak about the case that led to his brief suspension last
year.

Rev. Thorkild Grosboell was showered with flowers, hugs and kisses
after
holding a service in a church in this village eight miles north of
Copenhagen.
"It was great, great," Grosboell said after the service, but
refused to speak to reporters about the case, which he described in his
sermon
as "nonsense."

The country's Evangelical Lutheran Church
suspended him in June 2004
because he said in an interview that "there
is no
heavenly God." Earlier this
month, he was reinstated after
renewing his
vows, but will remain under the
supervision of a bishop.


I'll give his parishioners this much. They love their padre enough to follow him to Hell and back. Well, at least half of that anyway. (Hat tip: Catholic Light)

Media Research Center Strikes Back

Somehow, I imagine Media Research Center has something to do with the development of this incredible weapon against MSM bias. If so, I fear what they may cook up next to make leftist editorial boards quake in their little desks.

Vanished

Reason to think twice about hopping in the car with a lone cop. Scary shit, and "coincidence in the extreme" my ass! I'm sure this sort of thing happens ALL THE TIME though. (Via the Pandagon)

$$$ Asking Price $$$

Apparently I was wrong in assuming that Major League Baseball would have trouble selling the Washington Nationals at a decent price without being able to offer a significant portion of the TV revenue. Current estimates on the sale price right now range from $300 million to almost $500 million. MLB is asking the bidders to submit two proposals, one to buy the team without any TV rights, and one with Major League Baseball’s portion of the TV rights, which will start at ten percent and reach 33% in 28 years. Apparently even that small percentage of the TV revenue could increase the sale price by approximately $100 million. Imagine how much more the team would have sold for if MLB hadn’t given away the store to Peter Angelos – allowing him to rake in the TV revenue from a team he will not own. I understand that I shouldn’t be this upset since Major League Baseball owns the Nationals right now, and they (MLB) are the ones who stand to lose money in the sale. But I think the reason this infuriates me is that this is another symbol of the way baseball has treated the Expos / Nationals franchise. Over the last three years, they have been considered for contraction, split home games between Montreal and Puerto Rico, and will now watch their TV revenues from the excitement they create go to a sleazy owner in Baltimore. This franchise, and a team in our nation’s capital, deserves better from Bud Selig and Major League Baseball.

AP Follow-up

This Washington Post article about certain private schools moving away from AP exams tries to give the impression that there is a movement against the strict and focused curriculum demands of AP classes. It is true that AP classes don’t allow for a lot of flexibility – the content is determined for the teacher if they want their students to be successful on the exam. But like I have argued before, AP exams allow students to take classes that colleges and universities recognize as rigorous and good predictors of success in higher education. The reason select private schools can move away from AP exams is that they already have very strong reputations of providing rigor and therefore don’t need the AP seal of approval. By moving away from AP exams, they can feel free to teach American History through film or more focused science classes like “organic chemistry, astronomy, optics and waves, special relativity and biotechnology” – with intense workloads as part of the classes. The point remains that rigor continues to be the key component to successful high schools – but schools without strong stand-alone reputations like University Prep in Seattle will continue to rely on AP exams and the College Board. And as the article points out, there are a select few schools that feel comfortable enough right now to leave AP behind and in fact, the number of private schools using the AP program increased last year (by 15%).

Law and Order's War on Faith

Sorry, I couldn't resist that title. For those of you who have better things to do, you might've missed the war brewing between NBC and Tom DeLay. The issue? An unflattering reference to him spliced into an episode of L&O's Criminal Intent that involved the murder of judges by white supremacists. A detective states, after all leads have been exhausted, that perhaps "Maybe we should put out an APB (all-points-bulletin) for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt." Tom DeLay, upon hearing of this (apparently an aide brought him the bad news), immediately drafted an angry letter to Jeff Zucker about the misuse of his name.

First of all, I doubt DeLay ever watches L&O because he would know this is par for the course. L&O is a show featuring endless parades of wisecracks from smartass characters about politicians, celebrities, and whoever else the writers plan to mock that week. this supposedly emulates more how actual people would talk at work. The character who uttered it also tends to be more on the liberal side in her political comments, which viewers of the show would know. Perhaps it's a verbal jab DeLay doesn't need right now, but it's just a show and it's a line of dialogue that doesn't even suggests DeLay himself did something bad (just, of course, suggestive about the type of people who like Tom DeLay). You don't see Bush drafting angry letters to Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien for suggesting that he's mentally challenged every night. While L&O is notably a serious show, the line is obviously meant to be a joke. But, then again, DeLay doesn't seem like the type able to take a joke.

Standing In His B-Boy Stance

It's out. Ladies and gentlemen, we have Deep Throat. The Watergate exposer revealed himself to Vanity Fair, and it's ex-FBI master W. Mark Felt. Felt is now 91, and partly seems to have come forward at the urging of his children. What took so long? Felt apparently wasn't proud of his deeds as Deep Throat in breaking a scandal that changed the landscape of American politics. While Felt felt like he was doing what needed to be done, his hesitation has long been because he wasn't proud of being a leak.

Whodathunkit?

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle has not only more laughs, but more of a plot than the "classic" Korean War-set "masterpiece" M*A*S*H.

These two movies share only this in common: I watched over the Memorial Day weekend.

Now, yeah, I did watch M*A*S*H on AMC and it was interrupted by many noxious commercial breaks. And yes, I did get exasperated by the lack of plot about halfway through and said 'screw it.' But all the same, I was extremely disappointed in what I had expected to be a great film, a cinematic treat for the senses. But I was wrong. Clearly Harold and Kumar was a better choice for my viewing pleasure this week.

I mean, is it too much to ask that a movie that screens on AMC actually have a plot?

Monday, May 30, 2005

EWWWWWWWW

We have a resounding "no" on the EU Constitution, and the effects will reverberate through the entire Continent and the world. Chirac has officially been pantsed in front of the entire world by his opposition, and while his resignation may even be in the cards, his political career is at the very least mortally wounded. Already his cabinet ministers have begun resigning, and his electoral future is dim. The surprise is that Chirac didn't see this coming a mile a way. His runoff election with neo-Nazi Le Pen was a wakeup call to all of Europe about the rebirth of the far right, especially when Le Pen's popularity was primarily based on his strident opposition to the EU. This is, thankfully, like to deflate Le Pen and other nutjobs' momentum with the prime issue decided firmly in their favor. Pretty much all they have left to run on is xenophobic racism, but that still has a lot of traction in France.

Domestic politics aside, what happened in France has plenty of international significance. Britain has serious concerns, or more clearly can state their doubts without worry. The Netherlands vote on Wednesday will probably follow suit, with opposition to the EU there likely to gain momentum from this vote. All 25 members have to ratify the constitution before it would go into effect, and that looks about as likely as America ratifying Kyoto. It'll never happen. There are two important things to take away from this. One is that the EU always was a better idea as an ECONOMIC integration, not a political one. The EU itself is far from dead, and if it returns to its roots as a regional economic construct, it still has plenty of potential to do a lot for its members. The second is that the expansion of EU has revealed a lot of European racism towards Eastern Europeans and specifically the Turkish. Europe is having serious identity issues, especially with the proliferation of muslim immigrants. This vote is indicative of it and signals the emergence of a new brand of the Culture Wars in Europe.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Big Surprise

Growing up in New York state, the joke was that New Jersey and Massachusetts had the worst drivers. But now we can see that it wasn't just a joke.

The GMAC Insurance National Driver's Test found that nearly 20 million Americans, or about 1 in 10 drivers, would fail a state driver's test if they had to take one today. GMAC Insurance is part of General Motors' finance subsidiary, GMAC.

More than 5,000 licensed drivers between the ages of 16 and 65 were administered a 20-question written test designed to measure basic knowledge about traffic laws and safety. They were also surveyed about their general driving habits.

Drivers in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states did worst. Twenty percent of test-takers failed there.

The state of Rhode Island leads the nation in driver cluelessness, according to the survey. The average test score there was 77, just eight points above a failing grade.

Those in neighboring Massachusetts were second worst and New Jersey, third worst.

College Board’s Continuous Improvements

If there is one thing we have learned about the College Board it is that they are not afraid of change and improvement. Along with recent modifications to the SAT and GRE exams, the College Board is looking to improve its AP courses. There has been some criticism that the AP exams are not allowing students to go into depth in the subject areas because the courses try to cover too much ground. Over the next few years, the College Board will seek input and “best practices” college courses to base their AP classes on. The courses the College Board will focus its improvements on are U.S. history, biology, chemistry, physics, European history, world history and environmental science.

I am a strong supporter of the AP exams – but you could accuse me of being biased. Montgomery County Public Schools leads the state of Maryland in the number of students taking the AP exams and number receiving grades of 3 or higher (62% of AP exams taken in the State of Maryland and 75% of all students that receive a grade 3 or higher are from Montgomery County – and Montgomery County only represents 17% of the state of Maryland’s high school enrollment). The point is that one of the main ingredients to a good high school curriculum is rigor – and offering AP exams is one of the best ways right now to offer rigor in the high schools. It challenges students and helps prepare them for college. Any improvements to the courses will have a major effect on high school education as 1.8 million AP tests were taken in 2004 and nearly 60% of US high schools participate in the AP program.

In case I didn’t do a good job of convincing you of the importance of AP exams and rigor in high schools, watch Stand and Deliver. Edward James Olmos is Jaime Escalante, a high school teacher who teaches his inner city youth to take calculus. An inspiring but often forgotten overlooked movie.

Overcompensating Champ

To Sean Connaughton (to be nicknamed "Champ" from here on out), size matters. Oh, I forgot to mention he's a Republican candidate for Virginia's Lt. Governorship. Best of luck with the campaign Champ.

Freakonomics

Freakonomics. Buy this book. Read it. Better yet, someone buy ME this book. I've read excerpts, had more than one review shoved in my face. On the excitement scale, Freakonomics ranks up there with pre-Episode I fanfare, Breakdancing battles, and Kate Beckinsale. Check out the accompanying blog and bask in its glory.

Friday Fodder

In a fully loaded post over at Bacon's Rebellion (hands down my favorite Virginia blog): The New York Times discovers life in Southwest Virginia, UVA President John Casteen discovers a weakness in his PR profile, and Affirmative Action riles Virginians YET AGAIN. Comments galore!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Early Friday Gatling Blog

Since in all likelihood I won't have a chance to post tomorrow, and since I was Derelict on a couple of these things, I'm giving you the Friday blogistan tour on Thursday. And, in the words of Reverend Black Thought: "Step into the realm, you're bound to get caught, from this early life we'll soon depart." It's a big one, yo! And I'm trying to bring some more right-wing flavors to the table.

Rudepundit thinks Jesus hates Family Research Council's Prayer Team.

2Blowhards laments for the Corcoran Library's architectural woes.

Balloon Juice, known for being Conservative, tries to defend Newsweek's actions.

A shitstorm (Dean's World) ensues (response) all over the place. (Right Wing Nuthouse). This is probably the most intelligent exchange I've seen about the whole Newsweek incident and subsequent fallout about the credibility or not of the story, and for once transcends the low-level media criticism of "Bias! Yeah, that's all I've got," of many right-wing bloggers. (Not you, PoP, before I find a bunch of Media Research Center stormtroopers waiting for me at home)

SMASH also has, as usual, a tough and sensible analysis of it with a nice roundup.

Rantingprofs dissects the media blackout of recent terrorism in Madrid.

Gateway Pundit has all you want to know about the Zarqawi shakeup/injury/replacement and its impact on Iraq and Al-Qaida.

Mr. Sun has the best advice for graduates ever.

As per InstructorA's comments, TigerHawk discusses Al Qaida's West African Connection.

Free Range Librarian defends bloggers from one of her own, and talks about the roots and basic philosophy of blogging as not really a new idea. Was Samuel Johnson the first blogger? He makes a convincing case.

Riding Sun talks the increasing Japan vs. China flaps.

Froggy Rumination thinks the Dems will knife the RINOs in the back sooner rather than later over the compromise.

Ace of Trump thinks Palestine is learning from America, or at least Chicago.

Vodkapundit tells a Principal to grow up.

Bubblegeneration explains how to do NYTDigital better, instead of just showing some rabies like is in-style in Blogistan these days.

Last, but certainly never least, Ambivablog, spiritual nomad, discusses God Without Religion.

And. . .I'm spent.


CORRECTION. . .Free Range Librarian kindly corrected me as to her sex. I apologize and will feign nothing but sexist assumptions (oops!). I'll make sure not to make that mistake from now on.

Extra Cheese

Next time you're upset someone won't deliver pizza to your house, what should you do? Politely request that they do? Get carry out? Order from somewhere else? Those options don't work for you? Well, there's only one choice left. Try to have them arrested! I shit thee not. A North Carolina woman (does it suprise anyone that she's elderly? best argument I've heard for cutting Social Security benefits) called 911 20 times in 38 minutes demanding police arrest the proprietors of a pizza chain that would not deliver pizza to her home. Police showed up and threw her in jail for two nights. Her response?

A police spokeswoman said the octogenarian scratched, kicked and bit the hand of the officer who did not feed her, after her repeated calls provoked a police response.

She has now been released from jail, pending a court appearance in July, after a judge ordered a medical evaluation.


Damn. I could make just about a million jokes about crazy old people, their medication, and their childishness, as the 70 year old man who banged at my apartment door and cursed me out at 5 in the morning for accidentally parking in "his space" aptly demonstrated to me, but I won't. Because this is too funny to warrant additional jokes. (Via Suburban Guerilla)

One Snark to Rule Them All

Of all things to say about the conclusion of this season of American Idol, Defamer once again proves the king of below-the-belt, invective snark. And I thought all the talk about Lucas' neck-wattle was funny! I had no idea:

"And unless you’ve spent the previous 18 hours slowly marinating in a cannibal’s kettle in Uganda, you already know the outcome. The almost-hot-but-not-quite-hot Carrie Underwood will be afforded every opportunity to make music that won’t be appreciably worsened when stripped of its vocals and converted into the vibraphone version that will haunt the nation’s elevators for years. Bo Bice, the “rocker” unexpectedly propelled to the finals by viewers’ fascination with the dusty records moldering in their grandparent’s basements, will tour the red states in the most kick-assingest Allman Brothers tribute band you ever did see.

Fox will collapse in the corner, waiting for the high from the Idol ratings crack to dissipate. Paula Abdul will attempt to seductively raise a come-hither eyebrow for a Ralphs bag boy, but instead activate a wave of uncontrollable facial tics that negate any amorous intentions, sending her scrambling back into the store for a handle of five-dollar whiskey, the most tender lover she’s ever known, Estevez included. Ryan Seacrest will continue to respirate."

Colin Powell to Invest in the Nationals

I hope this doesn’t mean he isn't running for President in 2008. And I wonder if he and his fellow investors know that buying the team will only give them 10% of the TV revenue now, and at most 33% twenty years from now. At least they will not have to pay for the building of the new stadium.

Hindsight is one million / one million

I think this post at the Coalition for Darfur is one of the best comparisons between Rwanda and the Sudan that I have read. It doesn’t go into detail for the two situations – but I don’t think it needs to. You should definitely read the whole post, but basically it describes how at the time, the excuse for inaction in Rwanda was based on how complicated the situation appeard to be. Paul Wolfowitz admits during a panel discussion that more should have been done in Rwanda and it looks in hindsight that a few simple actions could have stopped the killings. The situation in Sudan is very similar in that the excuse for inaction is based on the complicated nature of the problem.

“But unfortunately, it is far more likely that ten years from now, when perhaps another one million Africans have needlessly died, we'll wonder why we did not act when ‘it looks in hindsight to have been so simple to prevent something that was so horrible.’”

Fortress of Solitude

I just finished Jonathan Lethem's opus Fortress of Solitude and I'm starting to understand why people make a big deal out of him. For the record I haven't read anything else by Lethem, but from Fortress of Solitude I can tell he's got astounding virtuosity as a writer. The book is told in two parts, with a short bridge. While the book advertises being about two kids, Mingus Rude and Dylan Ebdus, it's clearly the all-Dylan show. Not a bad thing, necessarily. The thrust of the first part of Solitude is about Dylan's childhood and growing up in the mostly-black area of Gowanus in Brooklyn in the 70s as a white kid. And the terrors of going to public school involved with it. Dylan's an interesting character from the start. He's obviously got all the alienation of Crime and Punishment's Raskolnikov, Midnight's Children's Saleem, and The Stranger's Mersault combined, mixed with the racial tension of Invisible Man (one of my favorite books). It follows him from kindergarten through all of high school in the first part, blending and following the evolution of street language and street music. Dylan is a harassed and brutalized to almost Christ-figure proportions. The only friend Dylan has for most of his childhood is the half-black Mingus Rude, a master of graffiti art that randomly bales Dylan out of his isolated, violent, and lonely neighborhood existence. The two spend much of their time pouring over comic books and tagging everything they can. As Dylan begins to slowly emerge from his poor neighborhood and the inattention of his arteur filmmaker and painter father he starts to take on a more typical middle-class white existence. He rises out of the drudgery of most schools to the magnet school Stuyvesant, falls in with punk music, and even becomes college-bound. Mingus, on the other hand, spirals downward through all the travails of typical problems many black teenagers face, no-showing at school, submerged in vandalism/art, and increasingly drawn into drugs and dealing. In the meantime, Dylan's discovery from a homeless bum of a magic ring gives them both brief careersThe first half of the book ends in tragic violence, Mingus arrested as Dylan prepares to head off to college. The first half is poignant, full of moments that dredge up The Invisible Man, Midnight's Children, and even Great Expectations, all the while infusing them with 70s New York, hip hop, graffiti, funk, and comic books. It's a pretty touching story, frustrating, enthralling, depressing, funny, and interesting all the way. Especially the sideplot of Dylan's father Abraham becoming nearly a demigod once he takes up cover art for bad scifi novels as his day job and the decline of Mingus' father Barry's career as a once-famous soul singer.

The second half brings us to Dylan as a liner notes writer and music junkie, an adult living in Berkeley and still haunted and overwhelmed by his childhood in Brooklyn. It illustrates Dylan's struggle to come to terms with the lose ends in the first half of the book and truly move on in his life that moves through the twisted path of an Anaheim Scifi Convention, his old neighborhood on Dean Street, and a prison in Upstate New York. Briefly, there's a synopsis of Dylan's troubled college years, Mingus' life since the first part in a nutshell, and Dylan's attempts at becoming a superhero through use of his magic ring. The book is mostly biographical, and as such it suffers from much of the same problems biographical novels usually do. The plot seems aimless, sprawling, and more like a collection of vignettes about a life than a real novel. Accordingly, the ending feels like a fade-out more than a resolution and doesn't really leave the reader with much sense of completeness. This, of course, is the weakness of writing biographical novels in general and almost a necessity of them, and Lethem deals with it as well as he can. Fortress of Solitude is definitely worth a read, a study of human alienation, wasted potential, and friendship.

Sloppy Seconds

I'm aware that I frequently cite Slate's articles as gospel, but c'mon!!! How can you turn your head away from this one on C-plus Augustus and his double take on the 'culture of life'? Is killing bad or good? We can predict what percentage of the population will become killers or death row inmates, right? Can't we apply that same percentage to the national stem-cell pool with the hope that one of these embryos will help medical professionals discover a cure for say cancer or alzheimer's?

Marching Two by Two

I have long thought that Christian groups should focus more of their time on helping those in need (and less time focused on humiliating homosexuals and stubbornly teaching abstinence-only education without equipping their followers with the necessary information on how to have safer sex on the off-chance that the person decides to break his or her vow of chastity). David Brooks’ column in the New York Times suggests that evangelical groups might be shifting their focus to do just that.

“And when I look at the evangelical community, I see a community in the midst of a transformation - branching out beyond the traditional issues of abortion and gay marriage, and getting more involved in programs to help the needy.”

...

“I see evangelicals who are more and more influenced by Catholic social teaching, with its emphasis on good works. I see the historical rift healing between those who emphasized personal and social morality. Most of all, I see a new sort of evangelical leader emerging.

Millions of evangelicals are embarrassed by the people held up by the news media as their spokesmen. Millions of evangelicals feel less represented by the culture war-centered parachurch organizations, and better represented by congregational pastors, who have a broader range of interests and more passion for mobilizing volunteers to perform service. Millions of evangelicals want leaders who live the faith by serving the poor.”


What is more encouraging is that these groups are working together with social liberals to deal with problems like poverty and AIDS in Africa.

“A few years ago, U2 took a tour of the heartland, stopping off at places like Wheaton College and the megachurch at Willow Creek to urge evangelicals to get involved in Africa. They've responded with alacrity, and now Bono, who is a serious if nonsectarian Christian, is at the nexus of a vast alliance between socially conservative evangelicals and socially liberal N.G.O.'s.

Today I'll be at a panel discussion on a proposed antipoverty bill called the Aspire Act, which is co-sponsored in the Senate by social conservatives like Rick Santorum and social liberals like Jon Corzine.”


It is about time that two groups where their major difference is in their religious beliefs have decided to work together towards their shared goal of helping those in need. It would be amazing if this turned into a major trend.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Sexual Clarity Called For

I’ve been receiving mixed messages from my television this week, regarding God and pre-marital sex. I’m officially confused – and have to wonder about the confused state of mind of the audience as well.

Let’s keep in mind the same age group (middle school, on) and gender (female) are the primary viewers of both of these shows.

The WB’s 7th Heaven told me on Monday that if you have pre-marital sex, you will probably contract an STD, get pregnant, and/or need counseling to figure out why you are having sex in the first place. No one has sex for the hell of it and gets away with it. There are consequences, people, serious consequences! One of the 25 Camden children on 7th Heaven decides the best way to deal with wanting to have sex is to get engaged to someone because then sex will be ok in the eyes of God. As long as someone’s wearing a ring, everyone is safe from those pesky….evil…evil….(it feels too good, God must be against it) desires.

Morale of the WB story: Nothing bad will happen to you, sexually, if you wait to have sex until you are engaged. Quick, go get engaged at 18 - then you can have sex and all will be perfect!

[This storyline ignores the fact that the older Camden children, those that did get married first are having marital problems – at least 2 are divorced/divorcing. One abandoned her child and her husband. Go figure.]

UPN’s Chaotic: Britney and Kevin told me on Tuesday that the way you know you love someone is determined by how good the kissing/sex is. In this case, hormones come first; love, second. You know you love someone if the kissing/sex is “(sigh)…hot” and you have to take a minute to pause and smile stupidly as you describe it. Marriage is certainly not an issue in this case because “love, itself, is a commitment” according to experts Britney and Kevin. And, again, to briefly recap: you only know that you are in love if the kissing/sex is “(sigh)...hot.” You have to have sex before you can even consider getting married.

Morale of the UPN story: Britney and Kevin do not suffer any consequences after having sex on Day One of their relationship. In fact, they like having sex so much that they do it all the time, talk about doing it all the time, and share their sex life with America. They make sex look like a lot of fun. So come on viewers, start having sex with people until you find that special someone. You’ll know its right when you finally hit on that one special person that makes you all giddy and gives you the desire to slide across the dining room table in your socks.

[The sex that Kevin had with his previous girlfriend resulted in children, not love. You have to give him credit for getting back out there and having sex with someone else - he didn't let those pesky kids put a dent in his quest for sex...ooops, I mean love.]

Hmmm…who to listen to, who to listen to…hopefully 13 year old girls will have an easier time figuring this one out. Both the WB and UPN do offer up consequence-free solutions! It's tough to choose just one.

Do private Catholic schools let you get your diploma if you are pregnant, but engaged??

Filibuster Deal - Part 2

Bainbridge earned his title of Professor today. Money quote:

"The filibuster is a profoundly conservative tool. It slows change by allowing a resolute minority to delay - to stand athwart history shouting stop. It ensures that change is driven not "merely by temporary advantage or popularity" but by a substantial majority. Is it any wonder that it has usually been liberals who want to change or abolish the filibuster rule?"

(Via Andrew).

Mubarak: Flatulating Butthead

Egyptian President-for-life Mubarak shocked many when he said he would be making electoral reforms. Traditionally, Egypt is a one-party state with opposition parties outlawed. Mubarak's "reform" was to allow limited competition, but the government gets to pick who can run in opposition and who can't, which is about as transparent as raw sewage. This "reform" was also set to pass by a referendum. For a number of reasons, all the main Egyptian opposition groups are opposed to this step because it still allows Mubarak to cherrypick his challengers and keep some groups banned. The referendum took place today, and the protesting opposition group got treated to some characteristic Mubarak tactics according to CSM. One such protesting opposition group, a secular pro-democracy group called Kifaya, got especially brutalized:

Kifaya men were dragged into the crowds of Mubarak supporters, beaten badly about the face and kicked repeatedly when they fell to the ground. In one instance, Kifaya member Ragab Mahdi, a young woman, was trapped against the grate for an underground garage with riot police between her and the pro-Mubarak men.

As the riot police began to move aside to allow the men through, she screamed, "What are you doing, they're going to kill us."

An Egyptian journalist off to the side urged the police to intervene, but was told, "Our orders are to allow this to happen." After the men beat her for a few minutes, older men in suits working with the attackers told them to back off and, her clothes torn and her body bruised, she was bundled into a taxi and taken to safety.


Meanwhile this reform is being praised, especially by Laura Bush, as a great step toward democracy. Is it, or is it just more Mubarak shadow-games to give his President-for-life reign some phony legitimacy?

Man, I'd love to sink my teeth into that. But all that cholesterol, I dunno.

Surprises Abound in Baseball

You would think with the Yankees off to a slow start despite all the promise, struggling to catch the Toronto Blue Jays to take over 3rd place, I would be a lot less excited about this baseball season. And you would think that with the steroids allegations that saturated the pre-season I might be thinking about taking some time off from our national pastime. But for a true baseball fan like me, this is turning out to be an amazing season. Before the season started, I thought I could confidently predict who would be in the playoffs at the end of the season. After all, it looked so simple. The Yankees and Red Sox would battle for the American League East title, with the second place team (I assumed that would be the Red Sox) taking the wild card. And in my mind, there was no way anyone would compete with the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central or the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (the stupidest name in baseball history) in the American League West.

As it turns out though, the Baltimore Orioles are smacking around the American League, three games ahead of the Red Sox and 4.5 ahead of the Yanks and Blue Jays. In the Central the Chicago White Sox are five games ahead of the Twins and the Texas Rangers are keeping the West interesting, only one game behind the Angels. Both the White Sox and Orioles still have a lot to prove in the remaining 118 games. But watching pitchers like Jose Contreras for the White Sox and Bruce Chen for the Orioles having resurgences in their careers, and young managers like Lee Mazzilli and Ozzie Guillen turning their teams around is extremely exciting and great for baseball. Even though I am a Yankees fan, I can see how the Yankees and Red Sox dominating the American League every year can get old. I never want to see the Yankees lose (and I am confident they will find their way into the playoffs), but seeing surprising teams succeed thanks to big performances from players who only last year were under the radar is keeping this season very interesting.

The same can be said for the National League. The NL East is extremely close – we knew the Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves would be strong, but not many predicted that the New York Mets and Washington Nationals would still be so competitive (although they have fallen off the pace recently, for a while they were only 1 or 2 games out of first place). In the west, the San Diego Padres of all teams are in first place with the Arizona Diamondbacks only a half game behind (I thought Randy Johnson wanted to leave the Diamondbacks because they weren’t competitive). The two teams many thought would be competing for the NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are 3.5 and 4.5 games out of first, respectively. The Diamondbacks are doing so well because of players like Troy Glaus, Craig Counsell, Shawn Estes, and Javier Vazquez having big starts. And the Padres are also benefiting from big performances from a resurgent Ryan Klesko and strong showings from pitchers Jake Peavy and Trevor Hoffman. In fact, the only division that is not a surprise is the National League Central where the St. Louis Cardinals are running away with it.

A lot of these teams still have to prove they can stay in it – but it will be exciting to watch and see who stays on top and who falls off.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

While The Boss Isn't Looking....

Star Wars Episode III, an average movie (box office receipts not withstanding). Where do I begin?

First, a disclaimer: I WANTED this movie to do well, both box office wise AND among the critics. I spent entire summers watching the original triology REPEATEDLY, I had most of Episodes IV and VI memorized at one point for god's sakes. The reason I vehemently argued with Mr. Proliferation on the issue of "viewing context" was because I felt that these movies (any Sci-Fi movies for that matter) had to be viewed using the eyes of a kid. Mainly because I feel like we get too wrapped up in the whole critical viewing of cinema that we can't always enjoy movies for the sake of enjoying movies. I'm sad to say even though I went into the theater with my Darth Vader t-shirt on, with the excitement of a 10-year old, I still was not able to fully enjoy this one.

I wasn't expecting a masterpiece. I wasn't expecting some life-altering scene with Yoda's version of fortune-cookie wisdom. And I wasn't even comparing this movie to other current "hot" movies (i.e. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Spiderman, etc.). I viewed this bad boy in a cinematic vacuum, with nothing to compare it to but the OTHER Star Wars movies. And even then, I was left wanting.

Lets start with some of the NEGATIVES. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Proliferation. The scenes with Anakin and Padme were beyond painful to watch. Anakin didn't exude "whiny bitch" as much, but a better actor than ANYONE in the original trilogy he is not. Natalie Portman, bless her heart, got screwd over royally in this trilogy. I was hoping that Lucas would write something minimally worthwhile for Portman to recite/act, but Mr. Proliferation got it right that woman are the unsuspecting(?) beacons of evil doers.

I didn't care so much for the battle scenes, though I wasn't necessarily bored while watching them. I'm definitely not part of the anti-CGI camp, but there's something to be said about using straight up miniatures versus computer-generated ships which look more advanced than their future counterparts. Each of the battle scenes (particularly the first one above Coruscant) made me wonder how the hell R2-D2 lost all of his cool droid capabilities. For a second I thought R2 could have been a stand-in for 007s Aston Martin, what with all the neat little gadgets he had up his pipes.

I love light saber duels/fights. I clocked my cousin in the head several times when we were trying to imitate the Luke vs. Vader duel in Episode VI back in the day. But I felt absolutely robbed, ROBBED when the jedi masters got skewered by Darth Sidious in less than 10 seconds. Is the definition of 'Master' basically the equivalent of calling someone an 'Associate' on the corporate ladder? Come on George, if this were extended it would have shortened at least one, maybe two of the excrutiating scenes with Anakin and Padme.

The most heinous scene in this movie involved Anakin's first appearance as the Darth Vader we all know and love from the original trilogy. Not only did that scene make me cringe (and tear up my Darth Vader shirt then and there), I think this scene single-handedly diminished the badass persona of Darth Vader. Instead of screaming "Oh Snap, here comes Vader!", forever will the word 'Pussy' come to mind when I see that black helmet of his. Oh, and Darth Vader is NOT Frankenstein, so he shouldn't move like him (with or without the suit).

I could end this portion of the post with the numerous inconsistencies in continuity from the Original Trilogy and the New Trilogy, but they're a) too numerous to list and b) they'd be a waste of space.

Now for a few POSITIVES:

The killing of the Jedi was one of the better cinematic montages I've seen in some time. I was miffed that the scenes were cut short (i.e. Arguably, there were thousands of Jedi in the universe and we were only treated to the demise of 5 of them), but the length didn't take away from the impact. It was great to finally SEE what the hell Obi Wan was trying to communicate in Episode IV. It was sad, it was frightening, and it was overwhelming all at the same time.

As I mentioned before, I love lightsaber duels. I can't help it, I always though swordfighting was/is a more civilized way of fighting. There was no arms-length separation between you and the enemy, the enemy was right in your face, and you had no choice BUT to fight. Defend yoruself or die, it was that simple. The lightsaber fights, as numerous as they were, were still the best part of these so-called 'battles'.

Yoda: 900 years old and still kicking ass. Too bad he couldn't take the Emperor out, though he was close (Mace was a helluva lot closer, but he couldn't close the the deal either).

As far as some of the individual performances are concerned:

Ewan McGregor did a far better job this time around. His lackluster performance in Episode I can finally be put to rest (unless you're sadistic and actually liked the Phantom Menace). Over the course of the New Trilogy his casting was probably one of the better over all decisions made by the production team. Still a wooden performance compared to some of his other gigs, but he's a jedi. He has no feelings.

Sam Jackson, to his credit, did NOT go out like a chump. I will admit, he was the worst at handling a light saber in the original Trilogy and his death scene was reminiscent of some of his lines in "The Negotiator" (i.e. "You are NOT IN CONTROL!"). Again, to rationalize away his duller than dull on-screen Star Wars persona: Jedi have no feelings. I think I would have preferred Dave Chappelle acting as Sam Jackson acting as Mace Windu in this movie.

Ian McDiarmid as the emperor. If he wasn't a returning character, he would have trumped McGregor's performance easily. Fortunately, he's part of the returning crew and he took his character to town. Even without the 'wrinkles', the emperor was a scary son of a bitch. How in hell did he manage to fool all of those Jedi, the Senate, and everyone else around him into his plan?

The duo of Christensen and Portman couldn't put together a worthy performance as individuals. Add them together, and you're just a few ewoks shy of a full scale rebellion. Hayden performed better than in Episode II. He whined less and grimaced more (I think it was the manly haircut). Portman, unfortunately, lost the will to live in the movie, and lost the will to act well too it seems.

Final analysis: Not unlike many of my fellow fanboys, Episode III is ranked fourth among the Star Wars movies. Possibly DVD worthy, but definitely not worth more than a matinee viewing.

I Believe the Bloggers are the Future...

I am sure many of us in the blogosphere think we are changing the world. And when we investigate stories before the larger news outlets realize their importance or write about topics the MSM is ignoring, we are making a difference. But as Nicholas Kristof’s column points out, bloggers are having an even bigger impact in China where they are investigating and reporting on situations of government abuse and cover-ups at the risk of their safety. With 100 million Chinese accessing the internet, bloggers are creating a highly accessible underground media that is trying to fill in the information vacuum caused by China’s non-existent free press. Although China tries to censor the websites that have content critical of the government, the bloggers are finding creative ways to avoid the censorship.

“The authorities have arrested a growing number of Web dissidents. But there just aren't enough police to control the Internet, and when sites are banned, Chinese get around them with proxy servers.

One of the leaders of the Tiananmen democracy movement, Chen Ziming, is now out of prison and regularly posts essays on an Internet site. Jiao Guobiao, a scholar, is officially blacklisted but writes scathing essays that circulate by e-mail all around China.”


It is a brave new world. Bloggers unite!

Oozin Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is quickly descending into a hellish nightmare on the brink of civil war. Clashes a week ago in Andijan have an official deathtoll of 169 (that is way too precise for a place like Uzbekistan), but local activist put the estimate more on the order of at least 1000, with up to 3000 missing. President-for-life Islam Karimov is continuing the crackdown, arresting Human Rights Activists attempting to report on the events in Andijan to the outside world. Amidst calls from Britain, NATO, and the EU to allow an independent inquiry, Karimov is also standing his ground, declaring that he will "take care" of it. Sure, "take care" of it by disappearing a few more hundred people. Karimov insists that he was putting down a Wahhabist insurgency, but that claim is also looking increasingly dubious.

Why do I bring this up? Well, it's about time we stopped positioning ourselves next to this shady butcher of a dictator that pretends to be a President and who is approaching Saddam Hussein-like levels of atrocity to hold onto power. He is right now our "Ally", but not much of one. In the past he helped us with Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban, and provided a staging ground for the war in Afghanistan. But now he just remains a nice source for rendition and that's just about it. Liberal hawk Fred Kaplan says enough is enough and that our relationship with Karimov is more damaging than helpful. Conservative hawk Caroll Morse says Karimov's days are numbered and that his regime is under assault from a variety of historical forces. I would tend to agree with both. Karimov's not going to last much longer. His brutal attempts to supress his own people are disgusting and make us look bad by association, so it's time to flip Karimov and join in the chorus of denunciation. Uzbekistan is a stewy mess of poverty, resentment, and Islamism, a fertile ground for terrorism that Karimov is doing more to fan the flames of than prevent. Turning the tables on old Islam Karimov might get us somewhere, might help install some democratic roots in the country, and continue the Fourth Wave onto topple another despicable tyrant.

Weapon of Choice

In the assorted nuisance arsenal of adware, spyware, viruses, and spamming and all their associated interconnectedness, we have a new beast. As if being bombarded with popups, having your email address harvested, your online movements tracked, identity stolen, and your computer crashed isn't enough, there's a new weapon deployed for hackers to make your life miserable. It is called Ransomware. Ransonmware is a devious invention, and works differently from a lot of other tactics. The tool burrows into your computer and begins madly encrypting all your files, rendering them unviewable and unusable. In the wake of this malady, it leaves a ransom note demanding money for the digital keys to unlock the files.

The first few incidents of this have been easy to overcome because experienced codebreakers can decrypt the files themselves without having to pay the ransom, but hacker attacks and the associated tools they use only get more sophisticated over time. The open-source nature of cyberterrorism and e-crime allows each hacker or criminal to readily improve on the software and methods of their predecessor. My guess is we're going to see a lot of this sort of thing. Files on computers are often are most private things, and ransomware has the potential to function like blackmail. Do you really want to turn to an outside expert to decrypt the files for you? Afraid of what they might see? You'll likely pay the money. That is, assuming the encryption doesn't get powerful enough to make decryption impossibly difficult without the keys. There was a time when I thought the internet was like the Wild West, a lawless land that was slowly being tamed. Stories and issues like this make me doubt it, because it's more like the gunslingers are creating their own private weapons systems and militias.

DC Catechism

DCeiver lays out a long, thoughtful, and damning case against James F of Why.I.Hate.DC. Given that James F and DCeiver's DCist collective have both graced the pages of El Wapo recently this is an interesting Grudge Match. I wonder if James will come out of the woodwork during his Frisco vacation to answer this. Maybe then I'll get my secret fantasy of these two battle-rapping each other.

Career Change

Defamer has probably the scariest photoblogging I've ever seen, all from Tom Cruise's appearance on Oprah. I think the man should take up horror movies.

Monday, May 23, 2005

"Cats and Dogs, Living Together..."

"...mass hysteria."

Finally. The only sensible folks in the Senate, moderates , have allowed our legislature to finally get back to the business of running the country. Reid and Frist, you may put your penises back where they belong now, in your pants.

Tick Tock

Germany's "Whinin' Chancellor" (I'm coining it, as of now. Please pass it around), Gerhard Schroder, is running out of time. During the UN Security Council Iraq Drama, Schroder sounded out spectacular anti-American notes in his opposition to the war. It boosted his popularity magnificently. But not for long. Schroder's theatrics distracted Germans from a stangant economy that has not improved since, and his party has been suffering state electoral defeats. This is significant, because unlike Britain or France, Germany does have a Federalist system, though it differs from ours. Theirs is often called "marble-cake" federalism because the states appoint their reps to one of the legislatures houses and do have assigned powers under the constitution. For comparative politics nuts, ours is referred to as "layer-cake" federalism, whereas Britain and France are "unitary" governments where the localities are pretty much just subdivisions of the national government and receive most of their funding from above. So, in short, losing power in the states means losing power nationally too for Schroder, and these particular state elections were in a stronghold of the Social Democrats.

Schroder is right now scheduling an early election. Why would he do that when an ill wind is blowing his way? If Schroder anticipates even more declines in the polls, it will help him grab whatever power he can before the bottom falls out. By this logic, he'll cut his losses. It's a risky gamble, and Schroder may not just cut his losses, but cut himself out of a job.

Mr. Proliferation's Revenge

No Mr. Proliferation, I did NOT waste 10 bucks on a substandard movie, but I was highly unsatisfied with Episode III. A detailed post is forthcoming. FYI, my issue(s) did NOT have to do with the wooden script writing by Darth Lucas.

Weakness

Okay, I am willing to fess up and say that I broke down and saw Revenge of the Sith. While it wasn't as bad as I expected it would be, it wasn't much better. I want to make four points about this movie.

1: The anti-Bush tirade is overplayed. Lucas' tale is more an illustration of Aristotle's Politics and Thucydides than anything else. Greek political philosophy contains a lot about how demagogues can corrupt democracy by playing on people's fears and seizing power, which is why Aristotle made the argument in Politics that democracy was a deficient form of government because it was only one step away from becoming a tyranny. Lucas' writing and plotting is very general and echoes way more Thucydides and Aristotle than the Bush Administration.

2: Oh my god the acting was horrendous. Every moment Christensen and Portman were together I had to look away from the screen. I know some people may beg to differ, but Portman is a great actress. The Professional, Heat, and Garden State. Christensen was good in Virgin Suicides, Life as a House, and Shattered Glass, definitely. Samuel L. Jackson turns in the most horrible performance of his career (even when he dies he's unemotional. that's sad. one should feel strongly about dying). Jimmy Smits can change facial expressions. The only good actors are Palpatine, who hams it up beautifully, and Yoda. And, as Frank DeCaro said about Episode II, "When your movie's most natural actor is a computer-generated lawn puppet, you've got problems." Two great groaner moments: "She's lost the will to live" from a droid and "NOOOOOOOOOOO!" from Darth Vader at the end.

3: Monotony, monotony, monotony. I was checking my watch during most of the battle sequences. It's just people shooting with blasters, more people shooting with blasters, droids blowing up, clones dying. During the Wookie sequence, not a single wookie is shot, only clones. Why do I care? Especially since the underlying message of the movie is that the whole war was staged so that Palpatine could grab power. So why do we care about any of it? The original trilogy was all about a struggle for liberation. All great war movies attribute cause to what is happening that makes you care about the outcome. Braveheart. Spartacus. Even Kingdom of Heaven for god's sake. We're basically winked at right away that all of these wars are for no reason, both sides fighting each other as a distraction. And that's what the battle scenes feel like, a distraction from the real plot and point of the movies.

The lightsaber fights are even worse. They get really monotonous because they take up around half of the movie. Originally, the first trilogy benefited from only having a few well-staged fights. That made them fresh and interesting. This one beats a dead horse and drags it through the lava. Literally.

4: The message of this movie: liking girls is evil. Or will lead you to evil. It all seems like a giant gesture of Lucas to himself to make him feel better about his failed relationships and make 35 year old fanboys feel better about their virginity. Half of what makes the directing in the movie so bad is that he wants to direct these big romantic scenes but his underlying message is that romance is bad. It's the same problem as the battle sequences: LOOK AT MY SPECTACULAR WAR SCENES! BUT THIS WAR IS ACTUALLY IRRELEVANT!

And with that, I will stop bashing Star Wars. For I would be doing the same dead-horse beating Lucas has been doing for the past six years.

Keeping the B Movie Tradition Alive

Nuggets from the Sci Fi channels bad movie factory, and my responses.

Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy

An alienated scientist lures his ex-colleagues to a remote island — and turns them into the prey for his bloodthirsty, mutant hammerhead-shark creature. William Forsythe (SCI FI Pictures' Larva) and Jeffrey Combs (SCI FI Pictures' Beyond Re-Animator) star in this tale of science run amok.


Could almost be a Deep Blue Sea sequel. This time: They walk!

Pythons 2

A washed-up athlete, his wife and a CIA agent team up to hunt down an escaped, 85-foot-long, 12-ton bioengineered python that has acidic venom, armorlike scales and a voracious appetite. Billy Zabka (Pythons), Dana Ashbrook (Twin Peaks) and Simmone Jade MacKinnon (Allie Reese on Baywatch) star.


There's a Pythons 1? Is this part of a pre-planned trilogy? And I think it's funny that we need a sequal to a B-movie knockoff of the B-movie Anaconda.

Sabretooth

David Keith (SCI FI Pictures' Epoch and Deep Shock), Vanessa Angel (Weird Science), John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark, TV's Sliders) and Jenna Gering star in this adventure about a killer cat, a sexy scientist, an arrogant Englishman and several unlucky campers. Watch kitty litter the woods — with bodies!

I wonder who the arrogant Englishman is? Oh, right. Those poor Lord of the Rings stars. Who would guess that Orlando Bloom and Elijah Wood would be the only ones getting a career bump.

Dog Soldiers

A squad of British soldiers, training in an isolated Scottish glen, find lycanthropic action under a full moon. It's werewolves vs. hardware ... a gritty, naturalistic drama with relentless action and a band-of-brothers poignancy. See the film Variety acclaimed as "a high-octane werewolf movie ... The Howling meets Rio Bravo."


Wow. It's high-octane and with a band-of-brother poignancy. These tag writers are masters of the hyphenate! Half of these sound like they could've come from here.

Criminal Intent

There's a dangerous precedent in the works back in my ancestral homeland of Washington State.

In the race for Governor (that's right, it's still being contested), the Republicans are finally getting their day in court. The GOP is basically claiming that ineligible felons voted and they more than likely voted Democrat so the election result she be overturned in their favor. What the fuck? The Democrats on the other hand claim that the "Republican base has always been nonunion, white, blue-collar males, and that's who the felons are in the state of Washington". What the fuck?

So the legal argument being decided on is, what would a felon do? What the fuck? Could just imagine the legal ramifications if the court were to decide on the electoral cognition of felons? This is stupid. This is asinine. This is why the doves cry? What the fuck?

It's already been determined that even if you throw out all the felon votes, regardless of who they voted for, the Democrats still win. To the WA State GOP - give it up. Stop. It's over. Come back in four years. Try again. You're starting to look like dumb fucks. You weren't invited to the prom. Go home, have a big cry and listen to some Morrissey or something.

Where Have all the Leaders Gone?

Right now I think we are experiencing a serious lack of real leadership in both the presidency and Congress. In both institutions, leaders are spending too much time on issues that are far from the major problems facing us and when they do talk about the major issues, they are afraid to say what is necessary because it may be unpopular. In Congress, the major issue for the past few weeks has been judicial nominations and the nuclear option. And our President has threatened to use his first veto on a stem cell research bill but has said little about the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Recently, others have made similar calls for stronger leadership. Bull Moose has said that the public is growing tired of the partisan bickering and that a leader willing to ask for sacrifices from the general population (not just soldiers) could gain broad support. Thomas Friedman thinks we need to look the Muslim world in the eye and tell them that their response to allegations that American soldiers were desecrating the Koran and the killing of innocent Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan is wrong and against Islam.

This type of straight talk is not without precedent. Some of the most highly regarded Presidential speeches did just this. President Kennedy during his inaugural address said the famous words, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” And President Reagan, despite advice against it, while in front of the Berlin Wall said the following:

“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

But there was more to the speech than those inflammatory remarks. President Reagan followed up with real requests to unite the city of Berlin.

“And I invite Mr. Gorbachev: Let us work to bring the Eastern and Western parts of the city closer together, so that all the inhabitants of all Berlin can enjoy the benefits that come with life in one of the great cities of the world.”

A strong leader can do the same thing with the Muslim world. We can tell them that the killing of innocents is wrong and that we are inviting them to be involved in the formation of their countries (and it looks like the Sunnis in Iraq might finally be ready for that - which as I am sure you know, excites the optimist in me). And a strong leader can look to the American people and say that our soldiers should not be the only ones sacrificing. We need to significantly decrease our consumption of oil so that we no longer support regimes like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Sudan. We need a leader who will look at these issues, and not spend so much time and political capital on a few remaining judicial nominees and a bill about stem cells.

M(urder) Street

Why am I not surprised? The death of Officer Joseph Pozell is a total tragedy, but it's not one that should shock anybody who has tried to drive on the hyperdangerous M St in Georgetown. He was a volunteer traffic cop stationed on a really dangerous intersection, M St and Wisconsin, and was died from injuries struck by an SUV. He was struck last Sunday and passed away on Tuesday. No charges will be filed against the driver.

M St is anarchy, as anyone who has driven or ridden down it knows. On more than one occasion I have seen people, usually lawyers with penis-envy in H2's of course, execute absurd U-turns in the middle of M St during rush hour traffic as if there's nothing wrong with this. People make illegal turns, run red lights, cut each other off, and park their cars randomly in traffic lanes in an endless succession of disregard for other drivers, law, or their own safety. If Pozell's death does anything, I hope it brings awareness to how unsafe conditions are with traffic on M St and that something should be done.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Rest in Peace, Lopez

An icon in Baltimore radio broadcasting left us far too early. R. Edward "Bob" Lopez, of 98 Rock's morning show, Kirk, Mark & Lopez, passed away today at the age of 52 after losing his fight with cancer.

Now, I wasn't much of a fan of the morning show with KML, but there is no doubting that Lopez is right up there with Les Kinsolving of WCBM and Ron Smith of WBAL as institutions in Baltimore radio. He will be sorely missed.

Requiescat in pace, Lopez.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

I'm still going to vote for Governor Ehrlich but...

... this veto of the domestic partner registry was an objectively bad move, not just bad politics, but bad policy.

Basically, the law, as I understand it, would provide for any two people to register with the state of Maryland as domestic partners which would allow a whole slew of medical visitation and funeral considerations which currently are reserved only for folks related by blood or spouses. This is a great policy which reflects the needs of American society today, and not just for gay couples.

While the media, but particularly liberal papers, are going to portray this as an anti-gay veto, in reality, it is a veto against allowing any set of domestic partnerships, be they sexual or platonic in nature, from having the recognition under law which should be afforded as an act of compassion.

How do I mean? Well, what of two best friends, same or opposite sex as they may be, living under one roof to cut living expenses. Especially if these two are elderly persons and their next of kin live thousands of miles away and are not readily available for consultation in a medical emergency? Right now, were one of those two to be admitted to a hospital, the visitation rights and the medical consulation rights (for when the patient is unable to respond and emergency medical procedures must be pursued) are out of the hands of the best friend domiciled with the patient, and for good reason. But allowing a state registry where the patient beforehand can have it recorded that the cohabiting friend should be the one consulted in absence of or in lieu of family members would be an excellent and unobjectionable policy.

And what of women who are battered and stalked by jealous husbands and are in the process of finalizing divorce, and living with a sister or brother or a friend during this time. The wife may not want her medical decisions to be made by the abusive husband, soon to be ex-husband, during her period of separation from him. She would very well be served by a domestic partner registry where an alternative individual would be given preference over the abusive spouse for emergency care issues.

The Governor was just plain wrong to veto this bill, which was value-neutral regarding the sexual liaisons involved or not involved registered domestic partners. Not wrong enough for me to stop supporting him, the stakes are too high and the departure from wise policy too unusual for me to vote for Doug Duncan or Martin O'Malley. But the governor would be wise in the future to think through all the policy ramifications of so-called gay rights bills which are in actuality bills which empower Marylanders regardless of sexual orientation or practice.

Friday, May 20, 2005

You Will Read the Darth Side...

MrPoliferation linked to a blog in a comment the other day, but I wanted to make sure even people who don’t read the comments get to see this. Matthew Frederick Davis Hemming (aka CheeseburgerBrown) has a blog called The Darth Side: Memoirs of a Monster, which is a mock journal by Darth Vader that starts at the end of Episode IV, Star Wars: A New Hope and finishes at the end of Episode VI, Return of the Jedi. It might sound really nerdy, but the mock journal is actually very good. It is well written with the right amount of humor, sarcasm, and beauty. CheeseburgerBrown gives Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader an amazing depth, creating a version of the character we never get to see. Wednesday was the final post, but if you get a chance, start from the beginning and read the whole thing. He is such a good writer that you can enjoy the blog even if you aren't much of a Star Wars dork. I recommend for those of you who don’t like Star Wars at all to check out his main blog, i am a cheeseburger, and some of his other writings that he has made available.

Friday Gatling Blog

In Tune and In Time, for once. Carnival of the Involuntary, begin!

Rudepundit has choice words for Santorum latest comparison of Democrats to Nazis.

DCSOB praises the DC DMV(?). That's definitely not the word on the street I've heard.

To all you Simpsons fans, All Spin Zone reports (truthfully), that Bart Simpson has been elected Mayor.

Pandagon has another instance of prisoner abuse.

Classical Values, on moonbats, commenters, and self-discrediting politicians on both sides.

India Uncut also has other thoughts on comments and hyperlinks and their role in blogs.

Smash discusses the seemingly neverending corruption and incompetence of San Diego's local government.

Bamacrat explores the continuing Republicanism of Zell Miller, who continues to call himself a Democrat while raising funds for every Republican he can find.

Obsidian Wings lays out the history of blocking judicial nominees. Here's a hint: it ain't nuthin new.

Legal Fiction asks if Originalism can justify the Brown v. Board decision.

Crooked Timber highlights a blatant waste of research effort.

Hypocrisy at Catholic School

I hope I am not the only person who finds this policy completely hypocritical. A female student was banned from walking in her high school graduation at the Catholic school she attends because she is pregnant (despite being banned, she walked on stage and announced her own name). First of all, I do realize that since it is a private school, it has the right to have its own policies. But this is just completely ridiculous. I am very doubtful that she is the only person in that graduating class that is having premarital sex. So she should not be the only one banned from graduation. After all, Catholics don’t believe in birth control, so it isn’t just the pregnancy that is troubling, but the fact that she had sex. It is just shameful to humiliate someone who gets caught, and turn a blind eye to all those who are having sex but are not getting pregnant.

The worst part of this is that not only are the other high school students who are having sex still allowed to attend, but the baby’s father was not banned from graduation. This school is sending an incredible message. “Women, don’t get pregnant because we will keep you from being recognized for your four years of hard work. But men, you can feel free to impregnate anyone you want, because you will have no trouble marching with your class.” If we are going to punish people (although I don't even agree the school should do that), we should at least punish all parties involved - both the man and the woman.

Sometimes I Blame Myself

I wondered for a while if I really missed professional hockey. After all, I didn’t watch many hockey games on TV last year and never made it to a Washington Capitals game despite being a short metro ride away. But I can honestly say that I miss the playoffs. There have been times in my life when I haven’t paid as much attention to hockey during the regular season, but I always tune in for the playoffs. Terry Frei on ESPN says we are missing the best postseason in professional sports and he is absolutely right. There is something about the NHL playoffs that is missing in the other professional sports. To win the Stanley Cup, an NHL team has to win four playoff series, all of which are best of seven. The intensity and physical nature of the sport are magnified in the playoffs, making each game even more grueling. By the time the Conference Finals roll around, the four teams that are left are exhausted – but the thought of drinking champagne from Lord Stanley's Cup keeps them going. It is that thought that turns the most timid hockey player into someone willing to dive headfirst in front of a slap shot – more than willing to take it in the teeth to prevent it from getting past his goalie. It separates the men from the boys – and by the time the finals come around, all that is left are grizzled warriors sporting what hockey calls playoff beards. Even that concept is unique to hockey – where players refuse to shave until their team is knocked out of the playoffs. The younger players will have spotty, ugly facial hair and the veterans will have long, imposing, full beards. Games are more physical, with so much on the line. Fights are uncommon in the playoffs, but the intensity has increased.

As a fan, you stay up late to watch a double or even triple overtime game. You are completely exhausted and might have trouble staying awake through the whole thing. But as you do that, you wonder how these players are still skating strong after almost two hours of hockey. There is not another postseason in any sport that is like this – and we are missing it. We are missing watching the Mark Messier's and Joe Sakic's raise the Cup over their heads - the ultimate prize for the leaders who took their teams all the way. Right about now, I would even be willing to watch Scott Stevens lift that Cup again, so long as I got to see the playoffs. But I don't even get that. I blame the owners and I blame the players – and yes, I even blame myself for taking the game for granted last year. All I can do is hope that the two sides come together soon so I don’t have to miss another post season next year.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Baseball Round-up

So there are some interesting baseball stories in the news. First, on ESPN there is an article about players that have had limited success in the past but have seen dramatic improvements in their performance this year. The two that caught my eye were pitchers Jon Garland of the Chicago White Sox and Bruce Chen of the Baltimore Orioles. Both have had more success this year due to two things; they have learned how to throw a much better changeup and they are both working much faster from the mound. Although you cannot underestimate the effect of changing speeds, I think it is really interesting how many pitchers have seen better results by working faster. Baseball is often criticized for being slow and at times tedious – and that can in part be blamed on the pitcher. Too many pitchers will take a lot of time between pitches as they plan and get ready mentally for the next pitch. But both Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett for the Florida Marlins, and Mark Beuhrle, the White Sox ace that Garland has been learning from, have been dominant this year, partly due to pitching a faster game. And when they work faster, the game moves along faster and feels more exciting. If more pitchers warm up to this strategy, we could see quicker baseball games. But I also know that more pitchers like to take their time and prepare for every pitch, so I don’t seriously expect this to become the norm.

In the New York Times, there is an article about an all-Japanese semi-pro baseball team that will play in the Golden Baseball League out in California. With the decline of an already small minor league baseball system in Japan, this will give good amateur baseball players somewhere else to go (to get an idea of how few chances there are for minor league baseball in Japan, the article said that only 82 players were selected in the most recent annual professional draft). The league hopes to expand from 8 teams to 12 and plans to include teams from Mexico and China. If that is successful, we could see similar teams in independent leagues here on the east coast except they would likely be teams from Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Update: The Nationals beat the Milwaukee Brewers last night to remain in the hunt for first place (only one game behind) in the very competitive National League East. The Yankees 10 game winning streak ended last night against the Seattle Mariners. The question that will have to be answered is if the Yankees can maintain the momentum and make a real effort to compete for first place in the American League East. Before Yankees fans get too excited, we need to realize that all of our 10 wins came against the Oakland Athletics or Seattle Mariners – both of whom are 8 games below .500 and tied for last in the American League West.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Coalition for Darfur: Delays and Complications

The genocide in Darfur began more than two years ago. Since then, more than 400,000 people have died and the international community has yet to take any concrete action toward stopping the violence or helping the nearly 2 million displaced return to their destroyed villages and resume semi-normal lives.

And the longer the world delays, the more complicated the situation seems to become.

Just last week, the UNHCR was forced to pull its staff out of four refugee camps in Chad after five of its workers were wounded in protests over food distribution. The same day, two refugees and two Chadian police officers were killed during a clash in another camp.

Also last week, two drivers for the World Food Program were killed and rebels abducted but later released 17 members of the African Union ceasefire monitoring force.

The UN reported that militia attacks have intensified in the last month and there are now reports that rebels in the East have amassed along the border with Eritrea, potentially creating a Darfur-like conflict there as well.

All the while, the world makes symbolic gestures of concern and assistance. The AU has decided to expand its force in Darfur but lacks the troops, money and logistical resources necessary to fully do so. Help from NATO has been requested but has not yet materialized. For domestic political reasons of its own, Canada recently pledged to send 100 troops to Darfur but has since backed off because of objections from Sudan. Meanwhile, leaders from Egypt, Libya, Chad, Nigeria, Sudan, Gabon and Eritrea jointly announced their rejection of "any foreign intervention in the Darfur problem."

The crisis in Darfur is by no means simple and solutions are going to require serious thought and real political will. Unfortunately, Darfur has not yet been able to garner either. But the longer the world refuses to deal with this, the more complicated the situation is going to become.

Bring out your dead

If you have ever wondered where death estimates come from for major conflicts like Rwanda and Darfur, the Washington Post has a short article describing how the Coalition for International Justice came up with their estimate of close to 400,000 dead due to the conflict in Darfur. Basically they used WHO death estimates in that region and assumed the same rate over the two years of the conflict and interviewed Sudanese refugees in the camps in Chad and asked if they had family members dead or missing. Extrapolating that over the whole population gave them their rough estimate for the number of dead.

The problem with this is that everyone has their own number and most competing numbers are not even in the same ballpark. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoelick uses an estimate that is between 60,000 and 160,000. And the Sudanese government in Khartoum says that all the estimates out there are merely propaganda. Since we cannot agree on a rough estimate of the death toll it is very difficult to get people interested in the problem. And both sides might be exaggerating – Khartoum trying to underestimate the death toll and international groups might be willing to overestimate. Unfortunately the only way to get a good estimate will be after the violence is over, and by then it is too late.

The Glass is Half-full

I am still having trouble deciding when to get excited about what looks like a positive development in the Middle East. I tried not to get too excited when Yasir Arafat died and Mahmoud Abbas was elected President and Chairman of the PLO. Similarly, in Lebanon I remained skeptical following the anti-Syrian protests and Syria’s promise to withdraw. And I didn’t even bother pretending to get excited about very limited local elections in Saudi Arabia (where women were still excluded).

So once again, I don’t know how to react now that Syria’s President, Bashar Assad, is promising reforms. These reforms possibly include the allowance of new political parties, local elections, and a formal endorsement of a market economy. Syria appears to have been embracing change recently as exiles have been allowed to return and a law allowing indefinite detention of suspects may be suspended. But many reformers in the country believe the government in Damascus will embrace the fewest changes possible that will take the pressure off and allow it to stay in power.

I want to be cautious (and there is every reason to be skeptical of Assad), but my idealism always seems to pour through. I look at this and I am optimistic that the moderates throughout the Middle East will see these small changes and demand more. The governments are giving them an inch, and I hope they ask for a mile.

No Protest over Shiites Dying?

Thomas Friedman has a good column in today's New York Times. He talks about the backlash following the Newsweek story. He acknowledges that no US soldier should be doing what was at first alleged to have taken place. But what is more troubling to him is that although the Muslim community was outraged over alleged American desecration of the Koran, it has not reacted with outrage or protests over Muslims killing other Muslims. The suicide bombings in Iraq against Iraqis are talked about in the Muslim press in terms of violence against the occupation. Friedman says that the bombings will continue until the Sunni Muslim community decides that suicide bombings against Shiites are unacceptable. When the Sunnis stop providing shelter and aid to the bombers, the suicide bombings will stop. This is something I have long agreed with him about - the moderates have to be more willing to be vocal opponents of the extremists for any lasting peace and stability to be possible. This might be dangerous - but it is their only chance.

It is also interesting, although not surprising, that many of the suicide bombers in Iraq are coming from Saudi Arabia. I know we are paying for our past crimes of supporting a regime that has spread a message of hate and intolerance, but it is about time we seriously force the Saudi royal family to change its ways. It needs to stop the flow of terrorists from leaving to fight in Iraq, and it needs to stop allowing the spread of anti-Americanism as a way to relieve pressure on their own government.

What I Learned Last Night

I think Britney Spears is on drugs and may have a drinking problem. And why shouldn’t she? After watching her new reality show, “Chaotic (Tuesdays, UPN, 9-10pm),” crack and vodka seem to be the only answers to the situation she is in. Whether or not she wanted to, the singer/dancer/puppet of the masses came across as painfully lonely and depressed over the course of the hour – desperate to latch onto anyone or anything that showed a bit of interest. Which, sadly enough, no one did until 45 minutes into the show.

Britney follows herself, her personal assistant and bodyguards, and her dancers around with a small, handheld video camera (warning: you will be carsick by the end). She asks inane questions of the followed, such as “what’s your favorite sex position?” For those interested, not a single person answered the question – her bodyguard responded with something like, “the bedroom.” No one got it.

It’s not rocket science, people, but that’s not why I was enthralled by her show.

The fascination came in the first 5 minutes, when I realized that Britney Spears was nothing more than a 23 year old girl with no friends, no privacy, and no one to provide her with a sense of emotional security. She’s pathetic and raw and it’s hard to watch. She willingly and desperately puts herself on display for attention – and never gets it. Those that surround her ignore her or roll their eyes at her. Britney is like a noisy 2 year old tugging at their shirts – she pays the bills, but she is nothing more than something to humor and patronize. You can practically see her bodyguards counting down till her naptime.

Enter Kevin Federline, or as my sister and I nicknamed him, Mr. White Trash USA. A very, very white knight that will (over the course of the next 6 Tuesdays) get Britney drunk a lot, have sex with her many times a day, and make her feel “loved” enough to demand that he marry her and share in her fortune. Of course, the fact that he already has a kid and another on its way with his current girlfriend is no matter. Britney explains to us that she met him at a club, she “danced up on him for a few minutes,” and that she felt an unexplainable connection. This is why she decides to fly him out to London and to jump his bones upon arrival - oh, and to never let him leave.

Then she clings to him – it was embarrassing for me, as a female audience member, to watch. Her desperation was omnipotent – you could not avert your eyes from the screen. Girls like Britney Spears aren’t supposed to have to cling, especially not to worthless, dirty guys like Kevin. But, evidently, they do.

This is what I learned last night: even when you are Britney Spears, desired by everyone – you can still feel wanted by no one, and you can still be alone. Sucks, huh? At least money can buy love....right, Brit?

Can the AP maybe "ban" faulty headlines for a change

A pet peeve of mine with the American media is sensationalistic and/or misleading headlines, often employing language which is loaded or slanted towards a certain negative connotation. The headline and story below are an example of this: a private cinema owner decides to not screen the new Jane Fonda/J Lo comedy Monster in Law as a protest of Fonda's left-wing activism, particularly her anti-aircraft photo op during the Vietnam War. Because he owns two such theaters and they are in Kentucky, the headline---Jane Fonda Film Banned from Ky. Theaters---while technically accurate, conjures imagery which is counter to the facts of the story. The lede, fortunately, isn't misleading, but the word "ban" is inaccurately invoked again in the article.

This, my friends, is not a "ban." It is a business decision. What's next, an AP story about a kosher deli "banning" bacon?

Jane Fonda Film Banned From Ky. Theaters


May 17, 7:47 PM (ET)

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (AP) - The owner of two Kentucky theaters has refused to show the new Jane Fonda film "Monster-in-Law" because of the activist role the actress took during the Vietnam War.

Ike Boutwell, who trained pilots during the Vietnam War, displayed pictures of Fonda clapping with a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft crew in 1972 outside the Elizabethtown Movie Palace to show his disapproval. The marquee outside Showtime Cinemas in nearby Radcliff reads: "No Jane Fonda movie in this theater."

Both theaters are just a few miles from the Army post of Fort Knox, south of Louisville.

"I think when people do something, they need to be held responsible for their actions," Boutwell said. "When you give the enemy aid, it makes the war last longer."

Fonda has apologized for being photographed on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, but not for opposing the war.

"Monster-in-Law" raked in more than $23 million last weekend as the top-grossing movie across the country, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. and Nielsen EDI Inc. In the film, Fonda plays Jennifer Lopez's villainous prospective mother-in-law, trying to stop Lopez from marrying her son.

Sal Mancuso, an Elizabethtown resident, said he personally thanked Boutwell for not showing the film.

"I think Vietnam veterans appreciate this," said Mancuso, who fought in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam war. "There is no defense for what she did."

Boutwell also banned previous Jane Fonda films, as well as Michael Moore's film, "Fahrenheit 9/11."




Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Random Gatling Blog

Just because I feel like it, and because I didn't do one last week. It's shorter than usual. Oh poo. I'll probably do another one this week to compensate.

Ambivablog does an about-face on Social Security in the wake of United Airlines.

Random Fate dredges up a new low in Republican howls of bias.

Angry Bear notes a historical parallel to World War II WELL WORTH READING, and is really thought provoking and depressing at the same time.

The Moderate Voice predicts the slow irrelevance of the New York Times (sorta).

Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler finds an important piece of news that laughably downgrades faith in the MSM again. (Answers one of your posts, Chainz)

Jawa Report probably has the most comprehensive analysis of terrorism statistics I've ever seen.

Siberian Light reminds us of the legal limbo fate of Putin's jailed electoral rival.

The Glittering Eye argues rather solidly that our trade deficit with China is worse than we think because of intellectual property.

Obsidian Wings expounds on grading papers with a computer. YIKES! It's got problems now, but just looks like another lazy stumble forward by our zombie education system. BRAIIINS!

Pandagon has something on Episode III and liberal-beating sticks.