Friday, January 30, 2009

change we can believe in

Blackwater lost their contract with the State Dept.

25 random things about the Super Bowl

King Kaufman in fine Facebook form. My favorite ones:
14. Tomlin, not Whisenhunt, got the Steelers job because he blew the brass away at his interview. He may have gotten that interview in part because of an NFL rule requiring teams to talk to at least one minority candidate for any head coaching job. That's the rule the Detroit Lions flouted when they hired Steve Mariucci in 2003. It's known as the Rooney Rule, after the Steelers owner, Dan Rooney, who headed the committee that introduced it.

15. It would be overly simplistic, maybe even downright juvenile, to say, "See for yourself how following or not following the Rooney Rule has worked out for the Lions and Steelers." But see for yourself.

Rooney's vocal endorsement of Barack Obama also may have a key factor in John McCain failing to make up enough ground in western PA to offset Barack's crushing majorities in the Philadelphia area. There are a couple of Steelers fans reading this who should feel pretty proud, no matter what happens on Sunday.

the 60th Senate Democrat?

Hysterical. Clever, clever Obama. Judd Gregg is a Republican Senator from New Hampshire. The person who would appoint his successor is John Lynch, the Democratic governor.

This is where we see just how "bareknuckle" Obama is. If he wanted, he could use this opportunity to create a Democratic supermajority in the senate and ram through his entire agenda, Parliament-style, Republicans be damned. Or, he could hold out this possibility to Mitch McConnell to extort something big out of the GOP, say a big climate change package or a well-functioning government health insurance program.

My suspicion is that Obama will do neither of these and pass up a golden opportunity for the sake of comity with Senate Republicans, as much as I hate to say it. He may even publicly disavow such a hardball move as a gesture of good faith. I think Obama's a true believer when he talks about bipartisanship. Let's hope his faith in the better angels of the GOP is justified.

The main argument I've heard against the possibility of this happening is the question of Gregg's motivation to go along with something that forever tarnish his name in his own political party. Well, here's his incentive: Gregg's up for re-election in 2010 and under 50% against Democrat Paul Hodes in rapidly bluing New Hampshire. Interesting fact about the 50% mark: those senators who polled above 50% during the year of their re-election in every poll all won their re-elections. Among the incumbents who had even one poll in that entire year show them under the magic 50% mark, fully half lost their elections. And let's not forget that he'll be running in New Hampshire, which booted the other Republican senator from office in November, both of its Republican congressmen, 7 of state senators (out of a total senate of 24), and 102 state representatives (out of a total assembly of 400) in 2006, and just re-elected its Democratic governor with 74% of the vote.

According to the odds, there's a 50/50 chance that Judd Gregg will not be senator in 2011 no matter what he does. Looks like plenty of incentive to me. I imagine that, if this coup doesn't happen, it will have been aborted by the president, not the senior senator from New Hampshire.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

President Obama signs his first bill-- and it's a big one

The Lily Ledbetter Act is now law. I would like to point out exactly what the law does. From the text:
To amend title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and to modify the operation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, to clarify that a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice that is unlawful under such Acts occurs each time compensation is paid pursuant to the discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide more effective remedies to victims of discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex, and for other purposes.

The point of this change is to get around the bizarre reinterpretation of existing congressional law from the Supreme Court, in which the act of breaking of law via paying unequal wages only occurs the first time the pay is made unequal and that the statute of limitations for pressing charges is 180 days after that. Now the statute of limitations is effectively 180 days after the last time pay is meted out unequally.

There's also the change in how the violations accumulate as well, though. Now each occurrence of paying unequally is a separate violation of the law, implying that beforehand any continuous period of unequal was only one violation. Theoretically, then, does this mean that a company who pays its workers on a biweekly basis could now be guilty of as many as 12 violations of the law for paying a woman less for 6 months (one count for every paycheck)? If so, awesome.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

majority support for Obama stimulus package

So the polls say. Worth keeping in mind through all the inevitable "The American people believe in X" pronouncements we're bound to hear from opponents of the stimulus package. One of the most common forms of ideological blindness (or perhaps intellectual cowardice, if it's done consciously) is conflating one's personal views with the views of the majority. There's nothing wrong with being agin' what most people are fer, but politicians shouldn't kid themselves (or us) about the views of "most Americans." "Most Americans" are not center-right, not rural country folk living in The Andy Griffith Show, and are not against massive government spending to help the economy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pope Benedict reinstates Holocaust-denying schismatic bishop

The new face of the Catholic Church, same as the old face of the Catholic Church. With every passing year, I become less impressed with the moral compass of Christ's vicar, the Pope.

Obama talks to Al-Arabiya

I would like to note, for the record, that this was a masterful stroke from the new president. If you're going to slip the dagger to an electorally weakened but still belligerent Ahmadinejad, while calming people down and getting the Middle East thinking about peace again, this is how you do it. And there's just nobody out there can do this kind of thing better than Barack Obama.

If nothing else, the fact that Bush dead-enders are livid with Obama for it probably means it was the right thing to do.

Mr. Obama, please don't "swing for the fences"

I've been thinking a lot lately about the TV show Sports Night and how Sorkin makes sports relevant and meaningful by juxtaposing it with "real life" and showing just how similar the two often are and how sports can, in fact, offer some insight into human behavior and even the occasional "nugget of wisdom," and not just in the way of trite, saccharin life lessons and cliches about sportsmanship and the human spirit.

For instance, in one episode the show they work on is focused on an Olympic long jumper, Oscar Parrish, who's come close to breaking the world record several times, but each time before he got sidetracked somehow: his father's death, an injury during practice, etc. Finally, at 33, he makes it back to the competition at what is obviously his last chance, he's primed and ready, he jumps, and he's done it. A new world record.

And the 18 year old jumping after him lands a foot further.

The lesson for three characters, Dana, Jeremy, and Dan (in very different situations), is that you can try your hardest, and you can even accomplish the things you have control over, but you can't guarantee how long the fruits of your labor will last because of circumstances outside your control. The time you spend at the top of your personal mountain can be short indeed, so enjoy it while it lasts.

I wish Keith Olbermann would talk more about sports and less about politics, not just because I think he's a better sportscaster than political pundit, but because sports and politics share something in common that I find truly fascinating: often people in the media will use a sports analogy for politics, and in the process they typically use a misreading of sports to give a misreading of politics.

A couple of years ago, for example, there was the example of "doubling down." It was used to describe a tactical move where the president seemed to "double" the amount of effort he was investing in something (I think funding for the surge). The problem is that "doubling down" is what a poker blackjack player* does from a position of strength, whereas the president was actually working from position of desperation, giving the same idea a second go in the hope of winning. That is not "doubling down," but rather "going double or nothing" which describes a very different situation.

With this sports/politics mangling in mind, I read David Brooks' column about Ryne Sandberg's 2005 induction into the Hall of Fame this morning. From that column, a quote from Sandberg's speech:
“I was in awe every time I walked onto the field. That’s respect. I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponents or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never, ever your uniform. You make a great play, act like you’ve done it before; get a big hit, look for the third base coach and get ready to run the bases.”

Sandberg motioned to those inducted before him, “These guys sitting up here did not pave the way for the rest of us so that players could swing for the fences every time up and forget how to move a runner over to third. It’s disrespectful to them, to you and to the game of baseball that we all played growing up.

Sandberg's point obviously is as more about respecting the game as it was meant to be played, but there's a lot of practical advice in that as well. From what I gather, swinging for the fences is generally a bad thing in baseball except under optimal circumstances. If you send your players out swinging for the fences, what you're most likely to end up with is 3 outs and a very short time at bat. Similarly, when a defense has a really bad inning and allows a ton of runs, it's usually not because they suffered a string of home runs, but rather a long string of base hits. Players who always swing for the fences do so out of misplaced priorities, out of preferencing their stats and sponsorships and spot in the recaps over the success of their team. Sure, they're more likely to get home runs, but they're also more likely to pop out or strike out and, thus, to contribute to their team losing. Politics, like baseball, is a game where incremental gains can quickly lead to an avalanche, and where gaudy, selfish plays are not only unlikely to succeed but can backfire spectacularly.

George W. Bush got a massive influx of political capital after 9/11, and decided to just swing for the fences (make the Middle East democratic). He failed, and it sidelined his domestic agenda for the rest of his first term and sidled him with the bane of 20th century presidents: an unpopular war. He won re-election and swung for the fences again with privatizing Social Security. He failed again, and it doomed his agenda for the remainder of his administration. His failures also contributed substantially to his party losing everything they had won over the last 20 years.

So President Obama, go for the smart play. Don't just go out there swinging for the fences. Get a few base hits, get a couple of fast runners on base. As you've said yourself over and over, this is not about you. It's about your team and your sport and everyone who's affected by it. You've got a lot of things to fix, both big and small, and the political capital you've built up has to last. There will be opportunities to swing for the fences, and some will be early, but smart playing also involves a lot of base hits, stolen bases, smart defense, and a bunt here and there.

*: See Rene's comment for explanation of the fix. The benefit of blogs is that there's always people out there checking your work who know more than you do about the subject.

stupid science

I switch from 3 cups of coffee a day to green tea for the antioxidants, calcium (because coffee supposedly leeches it) and better teeth, only to find out that I should've stayed on the coffee to keep my genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's at bay. Go figure.

long past time for this myth to die

Teens: still not as bad as you think they are. Less bad than the boomers, even.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

and speaking of interesting

A former enemy of the United States, Muammar Qaddafi, pens an op-ed in the New York Times on peace in Israel.

NYT on Obama's options in Palestine

I thought this article was pretty helpful in setting the game board. It's interesting, and unfortunate, that Hamas seems to have come out of the Gaza invasion more popular than before, at least in the West Bank. It's especially interesting and unfortunate that such an advance for Hamas is coupled with the likely victory of Benyamin Netanyahu and the bloody-minded Likud party next month. In fact, polls show both Likud and the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party making huge gains.

The cause of peace has apparently been outflanked after eight years of Republican negligence. I have a bad feeling that Gaza was just the prelude, and I doubt anyone can stop what's coming now.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

non-inauguration fun

For those of you who enjoy this kind of thing, The original Starbuck launches into a misogynistic tirade over the new Battlestar Galactica. It's great on many, many levels. The comments section, loaded with wankers from the conservative blog Ace of Spades, is pretty hilarious as well.

a video to rev you up for the moment

November 4, 2008: the recap.

This Land is Your Land

Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen, along with a giant choir and a gajillion other people, channel Woody Guthrie for the occasion.

Monday, January 19, 2009

thought for the day

I've been wondering since yesterday whether Kurt Warner will be the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two sepHOLY GOD OBAMA WILL BE PRESIDENT TOMORROW. AND GEORGE W. BUSH WON'T!!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sunday is now Sanctity of Human Life Day

Yes, I'm serious. And yes, "every person waiting to be born" gets special mention.

And yes, he does still have the authority to do this shit to our calendar.

the real reason Clinton pardoned Rich

I don't often recommend Joe Conason articles, though he is generally thorough and honest with the facts. While we're on the subject of Washington blasphemies, however, I have to recommend this one.

the Bush legacy: the big-ass hole on Church St.

I would like to assert, for the record, that everyone will expect the incoming president to start protecting us Tuesday afternoon. If terrorists engage in a major attack on American soil 9 months from now, the Republican party and the nation's media will have no compunction about placing the blame for it squarely at the feet of President Obama. This will be especially true if it becomes clear that President Obama was warned beforehand by such things as a National Security Memo titled "Bin Laden determined to strike within U.S." and sidelined his Terrorism Czar to shut up his constant yapping about the gathering threat.

To this day, I still find it maddening that even liberals in the papers and on TV persist in giving Bush a pass on what is without a doubt his single most egregious failure as President, and one of two moments at which his neglect led to the deaths of hundreds (or thousands) of Americans. Quite the contrary: he was able to ride that failure to 80+% approval ratings in 2002 and 2003. It was the defining event of his first term (perhaps of his entire presidency) and the root cause of his re-election. It was the justification for Afghanistan and Iraq, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, for warrantless wiretapping, the War on Terror, and the USA PATRIOT Act. It was the pretense for his entire foreign policy, and to my knowledge he had no domestic policy aside from tax cuts.

I still have yet to see any evidence refuting the biggest political blasphemy of the 2000's: that 9/11 was George W. Bush's fault. The only thing I see refuting it is the almighty narrative that Republicans Are Better On National Security Than Democrats. It is one of many reasons why our grandkids are going to cackle at our unending stupidity when they read about the turn of the 21st century.

Joel Salatin in Michiana

For those of you who are local and hip to The Omnivore's Dilemma, Joel Salatin will be at the Goshen Theater on Tuesday.

The Onion delves into NFL playoffs


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

President Barack Obama: the official photo

This photo is the one you'll see when at embassies, and in the airport security office when you forget your passport. I find it a little jarring, personally. It's weird that he's off center and not smiling, and that there's so much space at the top over his head.


Tom Friedman, always so "serious" about foreign policy, writes a column implying that it's okay to inflict massive civilian casualties because Israel's enemies are "implacably hostile." Apparently, the "Arabs only understand force" line of argument is still all the rage in sensible centrist circles.

Luckily, the New York Times made sure to balance Friedman's column with an editorial by former Israeli soldier Jeffrey Goldberg arguing, instead, that Israel's enemies are implacably hostile and only understand force. Fair and balanced, bitchez!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Weakest Senate Majority Leader ever

Harry Reid, owned again, this time by an impeached governor and a guy who isn't even a senator yet. Perhaps it's all part of Reid's ingenious "strength through weakness" strategy.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sports Night

Sap and I are into the third disc of this series, and it's really good. It was Aaron Sorkin's first show, and you West Wing fans out there will recognize the dialog, as well as several of the actors. It's lighter than The West Wing also, and straddles the comedy and drama genres. This appears to have given the producers some trouble early on, who inexplicably inserted a laugh track. It's particularly jarring because a) the show is clearly too high quality for that nonsense, and b) the track only gets used once or twice per episode, making it that much more noticeable.

The characters are endearing (I really thought I was going to hate the anchors at first, but they quickly grew on me), the dialog well-timed, and the relationships tangled and interesting, but it's the way that Sports Night makes sports meaningful and relevant that most impresses me. At the end of the pilot, all the characters, with their messy lives and hard, New York shells, have to stop and recognize the inspiration and connection with humanity they feel when a 41 year old South African distance runner born into poverty and hardship shatters a world record. In another, a talented and brilliant college athlete puts his scholarship in jeopardy by refusing to play under the Confederate flag that graces his school's stadium, which presents a particular moral question to Sports Night's black producer (Robert Guillaume).

I've read some reviews that try to entice savvy TV viewers by arguing that the show "isn't really about sports." I strongly disagree, in the same way I would disagree with the common argument that The West Wing isn't really about politics. Yes, both of these shows are also about relationships, but in both cases the context matters. The characters in both obsess about, and are affected by, what they see and do in their professional capacities, in both moment-to-moment emotional reactions and in their personalities and relationships. It matters that Jed Bartlett is the president and that the characters are Democrats working in the White House. The political topics they discuss aren't mere Star Trek technobabble, incoherent jargon designed to make the scenery more believable. A more accurate statement is that Sports Night is accessible to people who don't like sports, perhaps even moreso than The West Wing with non-political types. This is probably because SN is more precisely about sports media than sports per se, so it also discusses journalism, making a TV show, dealing with "the network," etc.

Nevertheless, this show is most definitely about sports. It's about sports as a repository of great deeds and amazing people, and the inspiration they can be to everyone watching. It's about the dark side of sports, the idolizing of misogynistic meatheads and the cruelty with which the female victims of sports stars are treated. It's about sports as a crucible for the culture wars, and as a way to humanize different sides by giving them a face. And that's just in the first 10 or so episodes.

Perhaps I feel so strongly about this because I really like seeing a show where you have a bunch of successful, highly intelligent, educated liberals (and even a geek or two!) who are unapologetic in their love of sports. People tend to forget that Keith Olbermann was a sportscaster first, and that the smartest guy on TV is probably Bob Costas.

Elizabeth Warren on TARP oversight

Elizabeth Warren heads the oversight board, and speaks more frankly and accessibly on bank practices in general, and this crisis in particular, than anyone I've found so far. For those of you who are interested more in media and personalities and whatnot, notice how much deference the talking heads give this amiable, frumpy professor with a soft southern drawl. Warren somewhat forcefully corrects the blonde stepford reporter on the sloppy and sensationalizing way she interprets Warren's "$350 billion lesson" remark, and virtually owns the air for the next 5 minutes.

Friday, January 09, 2009

the BCS "champions"

Congrats to the Gators. Interesting fact: Florida's margin of victory against Oklahoma was exactly the same as Texas' (10 points). Mack Brown's crew, however, didn't have a month to prepare for the Sooner hurry-up offense; they got mugged in the middle of the regular season like everyone else.

This is all, of course, beside the point made yesterday that Florida's other major win, the one against Alabama that justified sending them to the Mythical National Championship, was surpassed by Utah, who finished at number 2 in AP poll (ahead of Oklahoma) and got 16 first place votes. As in, one quarter of AP voters think Utah, not Florida, is the best team in the country (at least, now that they've finally bothered to watch them play).

Furthermore, maybe Tebow and Harvin could hang 24 on the Sooner D with that sloppy effort, but how much do you think they'd manage against Rey Maualuga and the Trojans (who finished number 2 in the coaches poll, ahead of Oklahoma)?

Thanks to the BCS, you'll never get to see these matchups!

I'd like to say a little more about Utah. We've now seen definitively that a non-BCS conference team has no chance of becoming champions even if:
    * they've already won a BCS game several years before,
    * they're the only team to go undefeated,
    * they beat four top 25 teams in the regular season,
    * they smoke Nick Saban's former number 1 team in a BCS bowl, and
    * both of the teams in the Mythical National Championship Game play poorly.

That, my friends, is ineligibility. As if that's not enough of a slap in the face to the non-BCS conferences, I learned something new about the way money is allocated for BCS bowl bids yesterday. Did you know that, when a BCS conference team lands a spot in one of the big games, they get $16 million split among the teams in their conference, but non-BCS teams have to split that $16 million among all 5 non BCS conferences?

That means that, assuming the money was split evenly in all cases, Virginia Tech, for instance, received $1.3 million, USC got $1.6 million, and the University of Cincinnati received $2 million. In the Sugar Bowl this year, the University of Alabama received $1.3 million, plus another $1.3 million for Florida's appearance this week, giving them a $2.6 million bonanza. Their victorious opponent, the University of Utah, went home with $355,556.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

CBS shows segment highlighting humanitarian crisis in Gaza

If there's anything promising to be found in what's going on in Gaza, it's that news organizations are giving the Palestinians a fairer shake than at any time I can remember. Still not fair in the fullest sense, mind you, but better. In fact, this segment contains the first reference (however obliquely) to the ongoing and systematic oppression in Gaza that I can remember seeing on TV.

Dems will seat Burris

I swear to God, I was telling Sap just the other day that the smart money was on Burris in this fight, that Reid's ability to get steamrolled by strong opponents is matched only by his ability to get steamrolled by weak opponents. I've never seen a boxer so afraid of a fight. Furthermore, Blago is not yet facing any formal charges, and I'm not sure what argument Reid could use in a courtroom to justify not seating someone legally appointed by a sitting, and still technically innocent, governor. I even wrote a post about it yesterday, but deleted it thinking that perhaps McConnell would figure out a way to keep Burris out just to keep the spectacle going.

Reid really is the poster child for Democratic spinelessness.

Utah AG investigating BCS for anti-trust violations

He has a point. Utah didn't just go undefeated; they defeated 4 top 25 teams and smoked an Alabama squad that spent most of the season at no.1 (beat them harder than Florida did, by the way). They really are playing at a speed equal to that of the championship contenders. Utah was also in a BCS game 4 years ago, and they won that game, too. There is literally nothing they could have done to get into the Mythical National Championship Game.

They were, for all practical purposes, ineligible, just like TCU, Boise St., and several dozen other teams because they don't belong to a BCS conference.

In my opinion, this should bring up some uncomfortable questions among the non-BCS conferences about just how welcome they are in NCAA Bowl Subdivision football. How much sense does it make to play in a league in which you're permanently barred from the championship, no matter how strong your team is?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

whatever the reason, good for Today

The premise of Ann Coulter's body of work is that one quarter of all Americans are subhuman monsters who deserve to be put to death. As much as our prestigious media loves handing a microphone to the most incendiary of morons, gasping at the left-wing ones and treating the right-wing ones like they're constitutional scholars, perhaps Today is not an appropriate avenue for that level of "discourse" at a time when this country has real problems to worry about.

"I can't disagree with that, really"

More proof that the success of Leach's program is utterly inexplicable. In every interview I've seen of him, he seems to have no idea what he's talking about. Here it appears that Scott Pelley (who went to Tech! I had no idea) has called a drunkard in from the shelter to do his best Mike Leach impersonation.