Friday, March 31, 2006

Stylin' the new look

Officially, this is post #300 - a new look for the Hive, since the old format was about a year old. Hopefully old comments haven't been lost. For the next few days I'll be tinkering, since any template change requires one to redo the whole sidebar. If your link is somehow 404, please let me know!

In the meantime this isn't mere housekeeping. Via It Comes In Pints? (who were clued in by caltechgirl), behold the First Church of Xenu. The "Xenu for Kids" button is absolutely a killer - and be sure to check out the Graphical Representations. Number Three is not to be seen with any sort of beverage in one's mouth.

Enjoy Xenu's wrath!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Three times a-fisking

[Welcome back! I decided that this was too much fun to let sit, so this is going up a day early. Those of you who are welcome (but not back) may have missed part one and part two of this exercise. Well, go ahead, we’ll still be here when you return. The rest of us, on to the rest of “what Republicans believe.”]

15. “A president lying about an extramarital affair is an impeachable offense. A president lying about WMD existence to enlist support for an unprovoked, undeclared war and occupation, in which thousands of soldiers and civilians die, is, somehow, solid defense policy in a War against Terrorism.”

Again, let’s quibble about the grammar for a second – “A president” cannot be “solid defense policy,” regardless of the president or the policy. For that matter, he can’t be an impeachable offense, he can only commit one. As things stand, it takes a few tries to finally figure out that lying is the subject modified by the subordinate clauses, not the president. Sorry, but if it’s confusing, it’s not correct.

More substantively, President Clinton DID commit four impeachable offenses. The “about” makes no odds; he perjured himself and tampered with witnesses. This is less-than-becoming behavior for the chief executive of the United States. On to the next – lying about WMD. Well, I’ve seen the sixteen words, and they were not nearly the only thing in that speech, so – no. Unless, of course, one is also willing to state that the Democrats also lied about WMD throughout the 90’s. It seems much more likely that the current sense of outrage has to do with Bush actually acting on this intelligence, instead of merely sounding good in speeches. (As we’ve all heard, he often doesn’t.)

This was flawed intelligence that Hussein himself contributed to – his own generals were astonished that there were no chemical and biological weapons to use against the Coalition forces; how were those forces supposed to know better? AH – increased intelligence. Glad to see the Left is on board with the need for a stronger intelligence program.

Leaving all of that aside for the moment, were WMD the only reason to invade? By no means. The “unprovoking” included refusal to comply with any of the terms of the original cease-fire, which according to convention means that a state of war still exists. The current action wasn’t ‘declared’ because one does not need to declare the same war over and over again.

The “deaths of soldiers and civilians” thing is too silly and banal to reason with. War kills things? You don’t say! You never saw that “War is bad for people and other living things” bumper sticker? But I will grant this much: a lot of the current unrest could have been spared if the US had actually done one of the things it’s being accused of here – occupation. Had we simply conquered the country outright and then worked from there, there would be less civil unrest. But there'd also be less freedom, and that's the point of what's going on out there.

16. “Government should limit itself to the powers named in the Constitution, which should include banning gay marriages and censoring the Internet.”

Point of fact – gay marriage is not now currently lawful. In many cases, the states have never ruled, and in every case, lack of ruling indicated lack of need, since nobody ever imagined a challenge to the definition of marriage that has existed since history dawned.

I’m tempted to give a pass on “censoring the Internet,” since this blogger’s column came three weeks before the FEC’s ruling that
blogging is protected political speech. But I find that I can’t. Really, who shows the most disdain for bloggers? (A helpful rundown from the inestimable Ms. Malkin begins to answer the question.) Remember the howling by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Jim Boyd in 2004? (Hopefully you do, because the Tribune’s site no longer offers access to the editorial.) Remember this hoo-hah from last year? More recently, we had some holiday fun: according to some, the unwashed, untutored masses cannot possibly be trusted with a public voice. These people are in favor of democracy?

17. “The public has a right to know about Hillary's cattle trades, but George Bush's Harken Oil stock trade should be sealed in his Daddy's library, and is none of our business.”

According to this report (nearly four years old, btw), the Harken Oil trade came to light via the Freedom of Information Act. It doesn’t sound like anyone was locking anything away. The SEC investigated it at the time and found no illegalities. Contrast with this. This came to light precisely because of illegal practices by those who were also advising Ms. Clinton:

“The records the White House released yesterday were part of an investigative file from 1979, when the exchange charged Bone and Refco with violations of its record keeping and margin requirement rules. Bone was suspended for three years; Refco paid a $250,000 fine, then the largest in the exchange's history. Internal memos from that investigation cover transactions from the same period in June in which Clinton was trading, but not the same trades. In one instance, the Merc found Bone and a fellow broker were ordering 1,000 cattle contracts at a time – far over the limit allowed at the time – and then allocating them to other customers.”

Conclusion – the public has a right to know about both. They can then make up their own minds based on what they know. Horrors!

18. “What Bill Clinton or John Kerry did in the 1960s was of vital national interest but what Bush did in the 80's is irrelevant.”

There’s a good reason to treat Clinton and Kerry’s past differently from W’s – they are, in fact, different things. Clinton dodged the draft, and Kerry repudiated his own service. Bush partied hard, but unlike Clinton and Kerry, there is no evidence that he advocated the defeat of his own country’s armed forces in war, much less actively worked to make it happen. It’s also important that Clinton and Kerry are proud of their dishonorable pasts, while Bush has turned from his – he’s been clean and sober for quite some time.

19. “Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is communist, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to a spirit of international harmony.”

This is hardly universal. I think that some of our policy toward Cuba, in fact, is shameful – we ought to welcome anyone who tries to cross, even if they aren’t yet ashore. In fact, I’d have the Coast Guard patrolling international waters to rescue and welcome to America anyone they can reach. And that truck with the homemade 55-gallon pontoons would be on permanent display in the Smithsonian as an example of what lengths people will go to in pursuit of freedom – except for the Fourth of July, when it would be paraded down Broadway and showered with ticker tape.

There are, however, one or two things to consider that suggest that it isn’t hypocrisy to treat Cuba and China differently. First, Cuba is about 1/10,000th the size, and second, China is a nuclear power that could incinerate several of our allies in the Pacific Rim. It deserves a little consideration – dare I say, a little nuance?

20. “Affirmative Action is wrong, but it is OK for Bush's Daddy and his friends (here and in Saudi Arabia) to get him to graduate from Yale without studying much, to dodge the draft in the Texas Air National Guard, to bail out his companies (Harken Oil and the Texas Rangers), to get the Governorship of Texas and then to have the Supreme Court appoint him President of the USA.”

Here, at we careen into the homestretch, we are beginning to see frothing and fatigue. This whole screed wobbles precariously on one quite unlikely point, like an upside-down pyramid - somehow the Bush family secretly runs everything. (I mean, hasn't anyone heard of the Illuminati or Xenu? Get your secret cabals straight!)

First, I have no idea how anyone from the House of Saud has anything to do with running the undergraduate program at Yale. Bush didn’t do any worse than Kerry in the Ivy League; maybe the French helped Kerry skate by?

Second, entering the National Guard is enlistment. How does one dodge the draft by volunteering for the armed forces? One may as well say that I dodged my last temp assignment by finding a full-time job, or dodged traffic court by paying the fine three weeks in advance.

Third – Harken Oil was not Bush’s company. It took over Bush’s company. It’s not uncommon for companies to purchase competitors, even ones that are insolvent. It could be for the tax write-offs, for access to new markets, or to reorganize and then resell the acquisition… Whether or not this involved people Bush knew doesn’t seem like a big deal. Most people just call that “networking.” Likewise, the Texas Rangers purchase – Bush was
one of many investors. The team got a sweetheart stadium deal from the City of Arlington that people like to suggest as evidence of the eeeevil of W. Such a deal was par for the course, however, in the 90’s, which saw a huge boom in stadium construction: Baltimore’s Camden Yards, Chicago’s New Comiskey Park (since renamed), Cleveland’s Jacobs Field… The trend has accelerated, with new ball parks also going up in Seattle, Houston, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, and San Francisco – and that’s just baseball. AND that doesn’t include new stadia built specifically for expansion teams, such as Denver’s Coors Field, Bank One Ballpark in Arizona, or the Trop in Tampa.

Bush (along with his fellow owners) pulled in a good profit on the sale of the team, ten years later. This ought to be expected in the midst of a boom in the value of sports franchises. (Tom Hicks, who bought the Rangers for $250 mil, could sell the team today
for a tidy profit of $76 million.) What's more, the Texas Rangers were a terrible mess before Bush's team bought them - a bad team in a crappy facility with woeful attendance. By the time Hicks took over, they had the new facility, in which millions of fans watched their most successful seasons, led by major stars stars such as Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez. (An excellent book called "Seasons in Hell," talks about these days in gory detail.)

Fourth – and most importantly – Bush was twice elected Governor, and since then, twice elected President. I’m reasonably sure that he doesn’t have 60 million relatives (with about 2.3 million in Texas alone), so his support was broader than merely family.

21. “You are a conservative, but it is OK to spend like there is no tomorrow and run up deficits that your grandchildren will have to pay, while at the same refunding as much tax money as possible to rich people who do not need it.”

Anyone who thinks that “(R)” stands for “conservative” hasn’t been listening to McCain, Chafee, Snowe, or Specter for the past ten years. This could easily and more truthfully be turned around – you are a liberal, so it is OK to complain about Republicans whether they seek to cut or increase government spending, while completely not noticing the Democrats' role in the growth of federal government's budget and scope. But as it stands, the above statement betrays a flawed argument common on the modern Left – rich people don’t need the money, therefore it is allowed (indeed, laudable) to take it by force of law. Philosophically, it’s part of the larger trend toward class warfare, fueled by the firm belief that wealth is de facto proof of dishonesty and greed, matched only by the belief that the Left Knows Best where our own money is concerned.

I’ll gladly grant that the current Congress is spending like a pack of drunken sailors, which even in peacetime would be irresponsible. But I’m not going to bitch if they pass some tax cuts, even if they do give back more money to other people. Soros earned his, and I earned mine, and I don’t begrudge him his extra million. Where does he get off begrudging me my extra hundred? If rich Democrats really think the government doesn’t do enough for the poor, they have the same freedom as every other citizen to give to their favorite charity, or the local panhandlers, or whatever they please. The key there is, whatever they please; not whatever the government so orders.

That brings us to our stirring conclusion:

“Contemplating these illogical paradoxes can take a toll on a healthy mind.”

They sure can, but this three-part guide should get you through the worst of it safely. For example - a paradox is not the same as straight illogic. The word they’re looking for is “contradiction,” since paradox, by definition, is something that only seems contradictory on the surface. My service to you, the reader!

“So if a friend of yours has been acting a bit dazed and confused lately, be nice: he or she may be a Republican.”

And can you blame this hypothetical friend? Half the people he knows think him daft and wish him ill, and he has to spend all day refuting the dullest, silliest misconceptions about his positions on life and society. No wonder I've gone a bit peculiar.

Seven and the Ragged Fisking

[Welcome to part II of the mass fisk of alleged Republican stupidity! Part one is here, holding #1-7 of “things Republicans must believe.” Part three will arrive tomorrow.]

8. “If condoms are kept out of schools, adolescents won't have sex.”

Grossly simplified. The position is a bit subtler: schools are meant to teach children math, science, history, and language, leaving the teenagers’ proposed love affairs to the guidance of parents, clergy, and doctors. This, you’ll note, does not question whether condom usage is good or bad, only their elevation to “school necessity” on par with textbooks and teachers’ pay.

One could argue further that condoms mask consequences for sex and thus undermine learning how to handle adult privileges with responsibility; but again, that would be an argument between the kids and their parents, not kids and their teachers.

9. “A good way to fight terrorism is to belittle our long-time allies, but then demand their cooperation and money.”

Belittle? Such as: “Romania and Bulgaria were particularly irresponsible. If they wanted to diminish their chances of joining Europe they could not have found a better way.”

Or: “France is doing everything it can, but the problem is that it is impossible to stop Bush from pursuing his logic of war to the end.”

Of course, those are quotes ABOUT the Coalition and George Bush from Jacques Chirac. But credit for the consistency – they aren’t on board with the war even when it flares up within their own borders.

10. “HMOs and insurance companies make huge profits and have the interest of the public at heart.”

Whether or not any company makes a profit is a matter of public disclosure and not political voting record. But of course they don’t have the interest of the public at heart. Like any other business, they have the interests of their sharholders at heart. That’s why there are proposed alternatives, such as letting individuals set aside pre-tax income for medical expenses, under their direct control and outside the reach of HMOs.

The Democratic alternative can best be described as “mass government takeover.” A cynic may look at that and think that politicians were simply envious of insurers’ profits and hoping to get their hands in the pie themselves. I’m not that bitter, but I don’t like the thought of an already-overlarge state apparatus, creating yet another department (with all of its bureaucratic overhead) to take control of people’s ability to pay for medical services. It doesn’t sit right with the notion of a well-informed and active citizenry; and more practically speaking, it doesn’t work. “Good money after bad” is never a sound plan. (And as you’ll see in #21, rampant government spending is a Bad Thing, a realization that comes late to the Left.)

11. “Providing health care to all Iraqis is sound policy. Providing health care to all Americans is socialism.”

I missed where we were ‘providing health care’ to Iraqis. We’re building hospitals and training doctors, and the most reliable sources of medical care are currently military doctors or civilian outfits attached to the military. But the main difference between part one and two of the above is that nobody expects us to provide health care to Iraq for the rest of our lives. And the second difference, not really much smaller, is that health care is readily available to all Americans, as well as to anyone else who happens to be sick. Every emergency room in the nation has notices in multiple languages: nobody can be turned away, even if they have no insurance provider and no means to pay.

This raises difference number three – the issue isn’t who gets care, but who pays for that care. Some people propose that the government ought to, and that is socialism – “A philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy; its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.” (Winston Churchill)

12. “Global warming and tobacco's link to cancer are junk science, but creationism should be taught in schools.”

The global warming debate centers not so much on whether it’s happening, but on whether man is at fault or merely the witness of long geological cycles. Nobody seriously proposes or thinks that smoking isn’t linked to cancer. Some people merely state that the right to smoke, risks be damned, belongs to the citizen. You’d be hard-pressed to find a lot of consensus on creationism, either. Certain hard-core conservatives are
way, way down on intelligent design or the thought of having it in the schools. (I've got an eye cocked askance, myself - see point #8 above.)

13. “It is okay that the Bush family's Carlisle Group has done millions of business with the bin Laden family.”

It’s Carlyle, actually –
formed in 1987 by nobody named Bush, and never owned by anyone from the family. W was on the board for about two years, ending in 1992. His father served for five years, ending in 2003. Some others associated with the group: Clinton administration honchos Mack McLarty (White House Chief of Staff), William Kennard (then-FCC Chairman, now Managing Director of Media for Carlyle ), and Arthur Levitt (then-SEC Chairman, now a Carlyle Senior Advisor). Oh, yes, and George Soros.

The bin Laden family divested from Carlyle in late 2001, thus denying everyone, Republican or Democrat, the pleasure of their business.

14. “Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him and Rumsfeld reassured him he was our buddy, a bad guy when Bush's daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney did business with him, but then a bad guy again when Bush junior needed a prop for his re-election campaign as the war President.”

Once again, spectacularly incorrect. Saddam Hussein was NEVER a good guy. The US supported him against the Ayatollah, in a war which Henry Kissinger once famously hoped that both sides would lose. Under George H Bush the US cooperated in a joint operation against him, officially under the banner of the United Nations. Failure to remove him permanently was hailed by way too many people as an excellent sign of restraint, which was then used by Hussein against the interests and safety of the American people. (Again – bad guy, not good.)

The alternative to correcting this initial mistake, as openly stated by many on the Left, is that he should have been left there. That’s an excellent way to look good in the eyes of appeasers, but rather less helpful in actually doing anything about terrorism.

[This is too much fun, really. And just think, part III is just ‘round the corner… For those who came in halfway, here’s part I.]

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Easy to be hard

The following is stolen from a blogger who stole an email from his sister...

It resonated with my very soul,” he gushed. Given that kind of press I had to read it for myself. Alas – I’d seen it before. It’s been winging around the Interweb with “FW:” stuck to the front like gum under a school desk.

It’s a little long to share with you all at one hunk, like he did, but I thought I’d have a go at providing some rebuttals… Look for the second and third thirds in a little while. For now:

“It is very tough to be a Republican in 2006, because somehow, you have to believe concurrently that:”

Hey! My manifesto is finally here! Thank the Maker – the Rove Rays have been faint lately.

1. “Jesus loves you, but shares your deep hatred of homosexuals and Hillary Clinton.”

Hm. All Republicans are Christians, and all Republicans “hate” homosexuals and Hilary Clinton.
News to Tainted Bill, I’m sure. Let’s just confine ourselves to the Christian Republicans, then. How many hate homosexuals? Was there a poll I missed? Hilary, I could see where you get that idea, although my own point of view (being a Christian and all) is that I don’t care much for her proposals for our government. As a voter, I’m allowed that much. But hate her? I’ve never met her.

Back to gays and lesbians. I’m still trying to figure out the hate thing. Presumably it’s the assumption based on two things: Romans chapter 1 and opposition to same-sex marriage. My own observation is that the first is interpreted variously, and the second is hardly universal.

2. “The United States should get out of the United Nations, but our highest national priority is enforcing UN resolutions against other nations.”

Incorrect. The highest national priority is defending the nation. Whether UN resolutions support or oppose this goal is immaterial.

3. “Standing Tall for America means firing your workers and moving their jobs to India.”

Hell, I think we should have a stronger manufacturing base. Should I turn in my W bumper sticker?

4. “A woman cannot be trusted with decisions about her own body, but multinational corporations can make decisions affecting all humankind without regulation.”

Oy. Humankind is a crappy word. Use “mankind” or “humanity,” not both at once. OH – ok, back to the fisk. How are abortion legislation and interstate commerce related? If the author is actually trying to make a point about
how much profit Planned Parenthood makes from this practice, we may be going somewhere…

Anyway, I think someone’s mistaking “less regulation” with “no regulation.” There are already plenty of laws in place controlling how people conduct their business affairs. But there’s one glaring difference being glossed here – one is always free NOT to buy whatever is being offered for sale, a freedom that a child in utero does not have.

5. “Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you're a conservative radio host. Then it's an illness and you need our prayers for your recovery.”

Rush bashing is fun! Apparently, the reverse is true – drug addiction is a disease deserving treatment, unless you’re Rush, in which case he ought to be driven from the airwaves. But leaving that aside - who said this? Who ever said that ONLY a few people deserve prayer? And whoever said that you can’t also pray for someone who’s gone to jail for his crimes? I mean, people prayed for Tookie Williams, right?

6. “The best way to improve military morale is to praise the troops in speeches, while slashing veterans' benefits and combat pay.”

Silly GOP. The best way to improve military morale is to undermine support for their missions with one’s every utterance, and to spit on veterans in parades and call them baby killers!

No, no – that’s not an answer. If this accusation is true, it is shameful, especially in wartime. My search so far, however, turns up evidence (
according to this site) that monthly pay has gone up from 2004 to 2005 to 2006. This is just base pay, not accounting for housing and food allowances, health benefits, and so on. Neither could I find the combat scales. We’ll have to score this one a draw until I can get more information – in fact, I may as well go begging. Cullen? Ms. Sister?

7. “Group sex and drug use are degenerate sins, unless you someday run for governor of California as a Republican.”

Well, I won’t cut and paste from number 5, that’s lazy. But if you checked, I think you’d find some skeletons in a lot of Democrats’ closets, as well – or in some cases, in Democrats’ cars, at the bottom of a canal.

[More? Sure, why not! Part II is now up, and part III will follow in due time…
update - ok, it's due time.]

Monday, March 27, 2006

I have no post, so I must meme

Right now I'm stumped... Ebb tide, no juice, no ideas, no enthusiasm; it's too nice a day to be of so grey a mind, so I'm going out to rollerblade fall down lots while the weather is nice. But I will leave you with this: the Three Things Meme.

Things you do when you’re -
Sad -
1. mope; 2. sleep; 3. think about how much worse things could be instead.
Bored -
1. mope; 2. sleep; 3. take epic walks (we're talking on the order of five miles or more).
Happy -
1. write; 2. seek out friends for good long talks (usually over a meal); 3. sing (poorly).
Angry -
1. kvetch; 2. write (but much less productively); 3. cuss. (As Twain wrote, "When angry, count four. When very angry, swear.")

Places you’ve been -
1. South of the Border. The kitschiest place on earth.
2. NYC. A collective salute to the City that Sleepeth Not - I've actually gotten a chance to do a fair amount of neat stuff in the city: Broadway, Central Park, the Intrepid, a couple of nice restaurants, a concert, and even Windows on the World, before the end.
3. Down the Shore. I've never stayed in a bed and breakfast or anything like that, but I've been able to hit a lot of the landmarks: Ocean City, Ocean Grove, Red Bank, "Sleazeside," Jenkinson's, Wildwood, and the Sodom by the Sea itself, Atlantic City. If you're in shouting distance of the Jersey Shore, you ought to take advantage and check out the sights.

Places you’d like to be -
1. Nassau Coliseum. I've seen the Islanders play in the Garden, the Meadowlands, and in Philly - but not in their own arena.
2. My own home. I've yet to earn my way out of shared living arrangements. Some have been much nicer than others, but it would still be pleasant to have my own front door before much longer.
3. In print. I think that this is closely linked to #2.

What’s the last thing you -
Watched on the tube - I saw the Sopranos last night. This brings my total number of episodes to six. It's not bad stuff.
Heard on CD/radio - currently listening to one of the many PC mixes, a 60/70 pop blend, as it turns out. The last three songs were Al Stewart's "Year of the Cat," Van Morrison's "And it Stoned Me," and the Bee Gees' "Nights on Broadway."
Read in the news - the FEC affirms that blogging on political issues is protected speech. (w/t to the Coalition, as usual)

Three memories -
1. I was very small, maybe five or six. I was in the car with my parents driving home from someplace or another, and bawling my eyes out, unconsolably, for reasons long forgotten. But I remember the song on the radio - Barry Manilow, "Looks Like We Made It." That's why I held silent while Sheila and company had their little Manilowpalooza - they brook no guff on this topic, and I am stuffed with guff. It's not Barry's fault, but he happened to be the soundtrack to the first abject misery of my conscious life. Them's the breaks.
2. I was there when my brother took his first steps - from me to our mother, and then back again. He was the happiest kid in the world.
3. Our arch-rivals, the Mad Surfers, had the better of us one day. We were down 9-2, just getting mugwhumped. With ten seconds left, one of their players gets the bright idea of calling time-out, in order to pull their goalie for an extra attacker. "We never get to practice that sort of thing," the little snot told me in the handshake line. "The next time we play, you'll need that time-out," I shot back. We met in the league championship the next month. Final score - Rockets 3, Mad Surfers 1, with 26 saves for your humble narrator. Hells yeah.

Three favorite things -
1. Reading. There's a reason I didn't list this in the first section, "things you do when ____." I'm always reading, regardless; the real surprise is that for all my consumption of printed words, I'm not that well-read compared with my peers.
2. Sports. Grew up watching, and going out to run around with whatever ball was in season at the time. Another real surprise - for all my running, jumping, dribbling, and passing, I'm not all that coordinated. I get by more on reflexes and practice than I do on raw skill.
3. Music. The radio was on all the time. Mom tells me that, as a wee tot, I would stand in my playpen and bob up and down in time to whatever was on. My favorite is reported to have been Paul Simon's "Kodachrome."

Three pastimes -
1. You're reading it right now. Some of you have also read more conventional examples of my favorite pastime.
2. Games - board games (including a few I've invented), computer games, games of chance and skill, more conventional athletic contests... I'm a competitve creature.
3. I'm dating right now - six months and counting. Pastime seems like a poor choice of word for it, actually. Blessing is obvious, and adventure is accurate but a little deceptive if you don't know me well. I have an imaginative and romantic turn of mind that turns errands into quests and day trips into fantastic journeys. Come to think of it, that's probably why I'm always writing and singing... But whatever you call it, I'm happy.

Three reasons I’m not tagging anyone –
1. It never works, anyway.
2. I'm going to assume that people either already have their subject matter for the day and won't need the nudge, or will like the idea and do it on their own.
3. Time's a-wasting. As I said before, I have falling down to do.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Hardware Wars

In the famed words of Emperor Joseph II* in Amadeus – “Well, there it is.”

Let Thursday, March 23 stand as the day that my tournament bracket officially fell off a cliff and caught fire on the way down. Since I’d seen this coming last week, when Sports Guy’s bracket eerily coincided with mine, I’ve decided to go Simmons-style and dish awards:

The John Starks Golden Brick - Duke’s JJ Redick, 3-18 shooting in a loss to LSU. Apparently this was simpler than faxing all the GMs in the NBA with a letter saying, “Take me in the second round.”

The Powerball - Duke’s Shelden Williams, who should buy Redick the car he can no longer afford after his 23 and 13 kept the Blue Devils in the game. He had a man’s game and moved himself up the board.

The “This is Our Year – Starting in October” Award - Gonzaga. I went to bed with them up a dozen. OK, it was a better tease than they usually give us in the Sweet 16, but from now on we’re just going to call this the “Zagged When We Should Have Zigged Award.”

The “Bigger Numbers are Better” Trophy - Two 11’s, two 12’s, and one each of the 13 and 14 seeds won in the first round; three others (#13 Pacific, #14 Murray State, and #15 Winthrop) gave a lot of bracketeers the heebie-jeebies. Then two of the three opponents of those schools lost in the second round – UNC and Tennessee. (Only BC survived, primarily because their second-round opponent was #12 Montana.)

The Routine Thing that Only Seemed Strange - Memphis 80, Bradley 64. Given the setup above, it was a little surprising to see a number 1 manhandle a lesser squad.

Random Bobby Riggs Moment - to Jason Whitlock for this essay. I’m not sure that I agree with the whole “dunking is bad” bit. The macho poseur stuff is the problem with the men’s game, and you don’t need dunks for that. (Think of Dikembe Mutombo’s finger-wagging act after blocks.) But the sudden notice of Candace Parker for her ma’am dunks illustrates something I find a little ridiculous: instead of enjoying it for what it is, people are looking for cosmic significance in the only two rim-touching plays in women’s tournament history.

It’s insulting to the women to only value them inasmuch as they can play like the guys. Really – I think that people enjoyed those plays simply because they were “moments,” and not because they were good plays. (Parker’s ball-handling and passing don’t lead Sports Center, do they?) And deep down, it also illustrates something few people are willing to hear: the women’s game is not as deep, not as athletic, and not as skilled. When was the last time that a double-digit seed made their Sweet 16? (Answer below.) To me, that’s not really a problem. I enjoy the women’s game and I hope that Rutgers can finally stop being the Lady Zags in the NCAA’s. But enough already with the “we’re just as good” business, because it’s patently not true, any more than my roller hockey team could hit the ice and beat a team of pros. That doesn’t stop me from playing anyway, and it shouldn’t detract from the women’s tournament either. In fact, I hope that Parker dunks in every game she plays for the rest of her life, so people can stop acting like it’s the second coming of the 19th Amendment.

The Henry Ford “History is Bunk” Award - according to Sports Center, the last five champions all won their first two games by double-digits. The only two teams remaining to which that applies? Florida and Memphis. Neither has yet played anything stronger than a ninth seed, and Florida’s opponent tonight is #7 Georgetown, who is perfectly capable of beating the Gators.

The “Will You Shush, Already?” Award - Georgetown. By typing the previous item, I probably broke Ashanti Cook’s ankle. Seriously, I ought to be quarantined this year.

The Not Dumb Enough to Be Smart Award - yours truly, I’m afraid. Our pool’s scoring system means that, if you picked every single game correctly, you'd earn 183 points. (It also would mean that you should use your powers for something more lucrative than the NCAA Tournament.) Our winner typically has 140-160. Since my bracket didn’t seem that strong I actually filled out a second bracket and changed my mind a bunch of times. (This is NEVER a good idea.) That second bracket is already totally cooked, at 45. But here’s the twist – it’s not even the worst bracket remaining, because a coworker put up a 44. AND that first bracket? Three of my Final Four are gone, so even if I win out I’ll only have 65. So I was right about that bracket but, given the chance, made even stupider choices. BOTH brackets wouldn’t add up to a competitive total. I shall now jump into a pile of rusty nails.

The Annie Oakley Medal - Texas' Kenton Paulino. Anything WVU can do, he can do better. What a finish.

See, that's what I was talking about - solid in-depth coverage, intriguing stories, and a minimum on the "gee whiz, look at us, we play basketball too!" nonsense.

The Gonzaga Memorial Gack - The New Jersey Devils, who blew a 4-1 third-period lead and lost to Atlanta. They may decide to give Ken Daneyko his jersey back, instead of hanging it in the rafters tonight.

The Nixon Award - to ESPN, for missing 18 minutes' worth of boxscore. Notice a few missing items? Like, half the goals? Compare it to's scorecard for the same game. It's a little silly for the Worldwide Leader to screw up something so simple, unless they stopped caring the moment they gave up the NHL broadcast rights.

Just a hunch - Adam Morrison will go back to school. It just can't sit well with him to leave his college career on such a note.

The Head of the Classiness Award - UCLA's players helped Morrison off the court and consoled him.

Dispatches From the Metal Shop - again, ESPN seems to forget that there are still other teams playing - like the entire NIT. I know it's smaller news, but how about a bracket or something? I mean, Maryland was the NCAA champion a few years ago - did they stop using the Internet, even if it's bad news?

The Real Reason We Build Arenas Award - Go Frozen Four. Any dedicated puckhead has to pay attention to the college game, the source of much of the NHL's young talent. Besides, it is very exciting hockey, and that's the whole point.

And the answer islast year. 13th seed Liberty became the lowest-ever seed to make a Women’s Sweet 16, but they were waxed, 90-48, by LSU. Before that:
2004: UC-Santa Barbara (11)
2003: Notre Dame (11)
2002: BYU (11)
2001: Missouri (10)
This year’s bracket has nobody below an eight (Boston College).

Here’s the men’s list for the same time, btw:
2006: Bradley (13), George Mason (11)
2005: Wisc-Milwaukee (12), NC State (10)
2004: Nevada (10)
2003: Butler (12), Auburn (10)
2002: Missouri (12), Southern Illinois (11), Kent State (10)
2001: Gonzaga (12), Temple (11), Georgetown (10)

Bold indicates winners – very rare, of course, though George Mason has a good shot against Wichita State (7).

*update, March 27, 7:00 pm - I had Franz Josef at first, not Joseph II, and as reliably mentioned by Dave J in the comments, that's the wrong dude. Drat. But howzabout George Mason! They've been recognized accordingly with the bold text.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

I did not have relations with that steroid, Stanozolol

According to ESPN, Barry Bonds' lawyers have announced that he plans to sue the authors of "Game of Shadows" for their extensive documenting of Bonds' relationship with steroids.

Note that they aren't suing for libel. The suit "will ask a federal judge to initiate contempt proceedings 'for the use of illegally-obtained' grand jury transcripts the authors used in writing the book." And PS, we also want "a temporary restraining order forfeiting all profits from publication and distribution."

Oh, please, oh pretty please, go right ahead...

Apparently Barry's ego is so large even his oversized skull cannot contain it. It's unbelievable that he'd want an open airing of this evidence in court, before media hordes. Either he's managed to convince himself that he's innocent or he's taken so many steroids he thinks he's now bulletproof. This is like a circus with better pitching - you've got clowns, a freakshow, a ringmaster, concessions of dubious quality, and now the announcement of a high-wire act. Step right up to that plate, young man - let's see if you can ring the bell!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

We are outraged! but only if it's OK with you

updated - March 23, 12:55 pm - if you don't want to plough my rocky, furrowed thought, the Coalition offered an excellent summation of the problem: "This Sharia stuff is gonna bite us in the butt sooner or later; especially when we seem bent on pulling down our pants and bending over." Man, I wish I'd thought of that. But read on anyway, please - there's also an update at the bottom.

By the way, guys, I tracked you back and it seems not to be working.

Other bloggers hither and yon are getting out the word on Abdul Rahman, the Afghani in peril of execution for becoming Christian.

The West is not to blame for this - at least, not in the sense that we're the ones holding Rahman in a cell, trying to decide whether he is fit to be killed or just crazy for leaving Islam. Luckily some people are doing all that can be done. I will be calling myself. But outside the blogworld I see a lot of blasé about it all.

Try to follow me here.

I was angered when some fool decided to dunk a crucifix in a pot of piss and call it art - and used my money to pay for it all. It was meant as an insult and taken as an insult. But that is not persecution. Nobody was killed or jailed. Now we have the real thing. It deserves a stronger response from the civilized world, and yet all I hear (officially) is a nancy-boy Official Statement about "respecting personal freedom" and "raising the case" with the proper authorities.

In other words, we are so caught up with our own little niceties that we are missing the big picture. We can't storm the jail and free him by force - but why can't we openly condemn this act? Why can't the President say, "We didn't pound on the Taliban so you could act just like them." The blogworld is up in arms, and thank God, but where are the self-approved social bellweathers?

Susan Sarandon is arm-in-arm with Cindy Sheehan, and will shortly be portraying her on-screen. George Clooney is bravely accepting awards for opposing Joseph McCarthy, who's been dead nearly fifty years. I bring them up not to have a go at Hollywood-bashing but to raise a point - the real red-letter moment in Edward Murrow's campaign against McCarthy wasn't that a dangerous fascist was finally brought to account. In fact, McCarthy's accusations have turned out to be accurate, and the Soviet Union really HAD infiltrated many levels of the US Government. Murrow, however, succeeded in making the image the message. McCarthy was also a demagogue and a bully - at least, the parts of him that Murrow and CBS chose to exhibit. Because of this, his warnings were discredited as well.

By and large, the West has fallen for image over substance ever since. So, when the Piss Christ and the Danish cartoons are set side-by-side, there is a certain parallel appearance, so the media stop there - but the Christian reaction to the one is peaceful protest, and the Muslim reaction to the other is rioting and pillaging. This suggests that the Piss Christ is a lot less accurate than the Mohammed Bomb Turban; it also suggests that the surface similarity ends the instant anyone tries to find supporting evidence.

But that brings us back, full circle, to the tepid protest from our government. We are, quite simply, afraid that this will be another Cartoon Moment, and that a strong protest will get Muslims tossing rocks and decrying the new Crusade descending on their shores. We are so afraid of it, in fact, that we go out of our way to fail to mention certain inconvenient truths. Ironically, let's let a blogger named Crusader drop the clue: He quotes an article where a neighbor of Rahman's describes why he was turned in.

"For 30 years, we have fought religious wars in this country and there is no way we are going to allow an Afghan to insult us by becoming Christian," said Mohammed Jan, 38, who lives opposite Rahman's father, Abdul Manan, in Kabul. "This has brought so much shame."

This guy neglects to notice that it was his side launching those wars, and is more insulted by the conversion than he is by the great swaths of fellow Muslims who endorse or carry out murders, honor rapes and killings, tyrannies, ethnic warfare, and too many other brutalities to mention. Meanwhile, the man who has done this "shameful" thing has also left behind all the things in the current Muslim world that pass for virtue, things they don't bother hiding.

Only a willfully blind society could hear the open declaration of hostility and the stated motives and yet bend over backwards to deny both the motive and the hostility. Why else wouldn't you believe the chants, the deeds, and the open declarations? Maybe people think we're being nice about it, trying to prove our tolerance and fairness. In doing so, we prove that we aren't fair at all, since we're not willing to stand up for fair treatment of ourselves.

But in the long run, honesty is much less insulting. This inability to admit what we see every day says that we don't take the enemy seriously - that we don't even take them seriously enough to use the word "enemy." On some level we watch the demonstrations and burning cars and intifada and say, "Isn't that cute? They're being international!" Then we set them up at a kiddie card table in the UN and treat them with a legitimacy they value only as a strategic asset in their continuing aggressions.

In effect, we're doing to them what was done to McCarthy - we miss the substance of what is said because we're distracted by non-essentials. We're trying to appear equal instead of working toward actual equality.

An open condemnation of religious persecution would say that we think of the new Afghanistan as a liberated country of adults who can handle a little criticism maturely. Ironically, they're the ones dealing with us as adults - "We want to kill you and make our religion pre-eminent on Earth, by force" - and we are too childish to admit it.

double update - March 23, 1:12 pm - from MSNBC (w/t to the Coalition): Senior Muslim clerics said Thursday that an Afghan man on trial for converting from Islam to Christianity should be killed regardless of whether a court decides to free him.

... "He is not crazy. He went in front of the media and confessed to being a Christian," said Hamidullah, chief cleric at Haji Yacob Mosque.

... "He is not mad. The government are playing games. The people will not be fooled," said Abdul Raoulf, cleric at Herati Mosque. "This is humiliating for Islam. ... Cut off his head."
Raoulf is considered a moderate cleric in Afghanistan.

So? Are we going to call them on this barbarity, or keep our fingers in our ears?

Mr. Clutch vs. Not So Much

Ladies and gentlemen of weak disposition, sit down before you read the next four words.

Adam Viniateri, Indianapolis Colt.

Peyton has got a smile wider than that kick Mike Vanderjagt honked against Pittsburgh in the playoffs. The Village Idiot of kickers has been replaced by a guy who won two Super Bowls with last-minute field goals. Without him, Tom Brady is a talented young guy who may soon break through to stardom - no glamorous supermodel dates, no Five Layers of Protection, and no Bill Belicheck, Sooper Geeenius. Peyton probably signed on to wash Viniateri's car for the next six years - with a toothbrush. "Wanna go to Sonic, Adam? How about doing a Gatorade spot with me? Sit next to me on the team bus, won't you Adam? Huh? Huh? Awright!"

And for this to happen in New England? This is like the Return of the Curse. If you're a hockey guy, you remember how wrong it seemed that Bryan Trottier, Islanders Hall-of-Famer, coached the Rangers... It was so wrong that Isles and Rangers fans AGREED it was wrong. Well, this is about as bad. The only thing possibly worse than this in New England would be if Larry Bird, before Game Seven at the Garden, whonked Kevin McHale with a folding chair and then stripped his warmups to reveal a Lakers jersey. Then picture him standing at center court, right on the Blessed Leprechaun, flexing and mugging with Kareem while Johnny Most howled "NOOOOO! This isn't happening! Somebody stop this!"

Adam Viniateri, Indianapolis Colt? The hell, you say. April Fool's must be a week early.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Right post, wrong daily QB

Though I sometimes link Mr. Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback, I am no player of favorites among days of the week. Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback is also a fun read, and unlike TMQ, he posts during the off-season as well.

This week I got to him a day late, and the final item of his "Ten Things I Think I Think" caught my eye. Specifically, #10-B: So I didn't follow college basketball this year at all, but I'm like everybody else: I wanted to fill out a bracket... I woke up Thursday morning, knowledge-less, and said, "I've got to get a bracket filled out here. What do I do?''

He tuned in to sports radio, listened closely to the show's guest, former coach Fran Fraschilla, and cribbed heavily.

Well, it turned out about as badly as did my own entry in the Big Al Annual Five-Dollar Disappointment at work. Personally, I knew I was hosed when I saw Sports Guy's bracket and realized that two of his four regionals were nearly identical to mine. Whenever our football picks coincide we usually drag each other down to the bottom, so I was cringing most of the first round. (I hit 23 of 32, not terrible, but that just got me to unclench enough to watch my brackets go bye-bye on Saturday. In fact, I did marginally better than Simmons, who lost one of his Final Four about three hours into the tournament. We shall now light each other on fire.)

Oh - back to Mr. King. This sentence shot out as I read: In the Washington, D.C., regional, Fraschilla is bullish on Seton Hall. ... I'm listening to Fraschilla, and saying, "Seton Hall? Are you high? They lost to Rutgers -- TWICE -- and to DePaul, and to Richmond, Northwestern and St. John's.'' But OK, I dutifully fill in Seton Hall for two wins.

I could have told him that it could only end in tears. Scroll down to comment number three. And Mr. King, next time, I promise I'll post it here as well so we can both avoid embarrassment; for unlike you, who trusted expert opinion, I wrote that reply and STILL took the Hall in the opening game. I shall now jump off a tall fixed point, face-first.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A blast from my past

Usually my first online stop is the Coalition of the Swilling. (Surprise, surprise, right?)

Well, today's first stop reminded me of my own first stop - way back on September 30, 2004. Compare and contrast:

THS, 3/20/06: "Doesn't It Just Suck... to have to deal with people you so thoroughly despise?"

NF, 9/30/04: "Tonight's debate is the first in a three-game series, and Kerry's counting on his Yale-honed debating skills to make up a few points in the standings. My personal experience in school was that the 'champion debaters' were the ones who best aped the favored opinions of their instructors. Trying that approach may surprise him here; appealing to those whom he naturally disdains (AKA us) is difficult for him."

The DNC seems to be living out the old joke: "Sincerity is everything. Learn to fake that and you've got it made."

Friday, March 17, 2006

In no particular order

...for Lent, I chose to give up my impatience with other drivers. It's not going that badly, but there's room for improvement. As is usual in such cases, I had no idea exactly how much junk I had to spare.

...the Coalition folks have been mentioning this event off and on. That's not the only reason that I recognized the name "Oriskany."

It's in Freehold, New Jersey
The details of the good ship Oriskany are here. You can also read about the New York town it's named for, and where the town's name came from, and all sorts of other fun.

...and speaking of fun - here's the post that started it all. It kept on into May, and kicked up from time to time afterward.

...during the actual hustle and bustle of the weekend, there's one thing I didn't mention here, publicly: Happy Birthday, Ladybug! And since me bonnie lass is a Seahawks fan, I'd like to extend belated congratulations to Seattle's Shaun Alexander for his big payday. Not bad for a guy who went #19 overall, but he earned it. As TMQ would say, it's pleasant to be paid $62 million to run past people who have been knocked to the ground.

...Faux Sports Dept. - I'm enjoying NHL '06, but there are some frustrations. For one, the goalies were turned from supermen into flounders. Oh, the goals I've seen. Keepers used to block incoming shots like Jedi Knights; now they dive out of the way as if they were allergic to the rubber. But the biggest is the system where the staff and owners email you all the time.

It's always dumb stuff, which would be OK if it were realistic dumb stuff, but my coaches don't seem to notice what actually happens in the game. For example, you have 15 different areas that you can spend money on to improve, so my coaches tell me that I have to upgrade them - but they either pick ones that I've just upgraded or that I can't upgrade any more.

And can I, the GM, fire these dunderheads? Hells no.

And the owner is worse. Wow, unrealistic demands from an owner! Just like real life! Well, no. First, is that the kind of realism a gamer wants? Second - owners want to turn profit and win the Cup, right? Fine. But the owner also gives you tasks like "finish first overall in the regular season" or "have the league's leader in goals scored."

Sorry, boss. In the game I've won four straight Cups, and this past season one of our forwards did in fact lead the league in scoring: goals + assists. But his goal total alone fell three short, so the owner threatened to fire me.

Can I, the GM, quit and find better work? Nope. And if fired, I can't join another team, but am forced to start over. It's the reverse of the Hotel California: I can leave any time I like, but I can't check in. My only recourse is the off switch. Click.

...and finally, happy St. Pat's Day to all and sundry. Enjoy that dispensation! Or, if not, rememeber that you can pop that Guinness regardless. Bishops may wear funny hats, but it don't mean they don't have something going on underneath them.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Load of hooey, print edition

Here's a flaming turd from Matt Zoller Seitz of the Newark Star-Ledger.

His target is ostensibly "American Inventor," an Idol-esque show designed to give One! Million! Dollars! to the winner of an amateur inventor contest. He doesn't like it, and moreso because Simon Cowell is the behind-the-scenes brainchild.

Well, fine. He's entitled to spell out every flaw he sees. But this line caught my eye: "I despise both these shows for their essentially undemocratic spirit, which puts an ugly bait-and-switch at the heart of their formats."

This is laughable. Undemocratic? America votes on the winner of Idol. America even votes on Idol itself, via their remotes and TiVos. And on top of that, once the CDs hit the racks, they vote with their wallets. The whole process is so democratic that it even has voter fraud, with groups dedicated to machinations worthy of Tammany Hall or Richard Daley's Chicago.

But read on and it becomes clear what Seitz's problem really is.
"Idol's recipe for popular success is more or less photocopied here: Praise the ideal of America-as-land-of-opportunity, draw anonymous dreamers into the audition room and let them do their thing, then send most of them away wishing they'd never been born."

"Both "Idol" and "Inventors" make a big deal out of giving average folks a chance to bypass the cruelly indifferent big media gatekeepers, then they substitute a different bunch of big-media-employed gatekeepers who insult you on TV instead of through a form letter."

Translation - Simon is a big meanie!

Well, my response is, who exactly is Matt Zoller Seitz? Answer - a big-media television critic who is paid to give intelligent opinions on the watchability of an entire slate of TV shows. Simon, Randy, and Paula are a panel of judges paid to do exactly what Seitz does, with one key difference - they are all recording industry veterans. Simon, in fact, is a high school dropout who started in the mail room at EMI and worked his way up to producing. What has Seitz done except professionally complain about other people's hard work? This? Well - maybe; click the title and "Matt Seitz" comes up as the writer of the piece. That leads you here. Same guy? If so, a 'thanks' in the credits of Chasing Amy makes for slender cover. This is a thimble calling an industrial cauldron 'black.'

Besides which, Seitz routinely rips stuff he doesn't like, more often than Randy or Paula tend to. As for Simon - given the great variety of shower-stall voices he hears weekly, it's not surprising that he is willing to say so. If I were an Idolist, I'd rather hear Simon tell me that I'm flat and ghastly than hear Randy blow sunshine up my porthole. (In fact, I had a dream where Simon did precisely that. I asked, "What should I do?" He shot back, "Produce." And I immediately turned to Ryan Seacrest and said, "OK, you're fired." I wish I were that quick-witted when I'm awake.)

Besides, Idol has not only launched Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Clay Aiken. William Hung made a CD and went on tour! Even non-fans of the show have seen "She Bangs." It was the musical equivalent of Howard Dean's "I Have a Scream" speech - yet Dean's presidential candidacy fell in smoking ruins. Hung? Eh, he's doing all right.

Seitz doesn't like Idol, it's his business. But give us a real reason - or admit that it's a matter of taste. "Undemocratic"? What hypocrisy.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Giant sucking sound

This doesn't surprise me. This is why:
The Giants have already sold about 2.5 million tickets, nearly the same number as last season at this time. [Team owner Peter] Magowan isn't concerned about a fallout from the steroids reports, saying: "I'm pretty confident. I think we know our fans pretty well and the fans like Barry and they show up to see him perform. I suspect they will again."

Well, would it be a tremendous accomplishment? Was it a tremendous accomplishment when Nykesha Sales set the women's scoring record at UConn? She took great heat for it, in fact, because she had wrecked her knee the previous game, ending her senior season just one point short of the record. Her next opponents allowed her an uncontested layup to set the mark, and then UConn let them score uncontested to make it 2-2, and then they started playing for real.

Now, if I were the previous record holder, I'd have wondered why they had bothered to honor the mark I'd set honestly if they were just going to conspire with an opponent to give it away - especially since that new mark is bound to fall sometime. (The actual previous holder, Ms. Kerry Bascom, signed off on the plan. And contrary to that article, Ms. Sales played 17 MORE games than Ms. Bascom, not the reverse. It's all in the media guide. [PDF link])

It's simple - "tremendous accomplishment" implies that one had to work to achieve it. What has Bonds accomplished by cheating his way to a mark that Hank Aaron came by honestly? One he came by, in fact, at considerable risk to his safety? Aaron received thousands of death threats for daring to break a mark held by a white man. Now baseball is going to spit in that man's face? How is this different from hitting "reset" in Madden when you're about to lose the Super Bowl? Seriously - Bonds and the Giants can cram it with walnuts. I don't care if steroids wasn't officially banned until 2003, or that Bonds filled seats and moved merchandise. The Giants and he cheated and profited grossly from it, and continue to do so, and it is grotesque.

This is how you do it, folks. Notice that they had to sneak behind Mr. Haasis' back, and once he found out, he wanted no part of it, because cheating is beneath a true competitor. (And no, I don't consider Mike Strahan the single-season record-holder for sacks, because of Favre's monkey business. That should have gone down in the official scoring as a rush, loss of four yards.) Bonds isn't worthy to carry this kid's gear bag to the team bus.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Feast days on Fridays always get me down...

Via the Coalition, concerning St. Pat's and Lenten observance. On Fridays during Lent, Catholics share a pretty simple sacrifice - we all forego meat. (I'm eating a little pasta primavera even as we speak.) Then on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we also fast.*

These aren't very hard to do. Fridays used to be meatless for the whole year, until the Church decided to relax that particular discipline. The idea remains the same, though - the mortification of physical desires is meant to make us mindful of the One who gives good gifts, and make us appreciate them (and Him) more. It's Biblical basis is the Temptation of Jesus in the desert.

Not everyone digs it.

That's what I don't get about Catholicism - you need some authority extraneous to the Bible to tell you what's moral and what isn't? An authority that doesn't participate in the most vital function in society (family life)? An authority that covers up heinous crap within their own ranks? WTF do they know about life? They can take their dispensation and stick it - if I'm doing something wrong, I'll take it up with the Lord myself on Judgement Day - and if I am doing something wrong, who are they to make it right with some BS penance?
John's welcome to his opinion, and to urge all and sundry to go Protestant. But it's only fair to point out that in this case, most of the opinion is based on misapprehension. need some authority extraneous to the Bible to tell you what's moral and what isn't?

Two errors, here. First, the authority of the Church is not extraneous to the Bible but contained therein, most specifically where Jesus tells Peter that he will build His Church on him (Matthew 16:18-20). In general, it's hard to picture Christ wasting His time in building a Church that had no function. Ah, but aren't we all the body of Christ, and therefore the Church? Yes. Exactly so. We are all of a piece, not individual units but pieces of a large, intricate puzzle.

This brings us to the second objection, that the Church (meaning, just the clergy) is telling us what's moral. In this case, the thing in question is the corporate worship of God's people - what they do together to observe the Forty Days before Easter Sunday. Individually, of course, you're free to do as you like in addition, according to your conscience - "What did you give up for Lent?" (I gave up chewing out other motorists, to cultivate more charity and patience. Ironic, right?) But together, there has to be some sort of consensus, and it does legitimately fall to the clergy to help organize it - that's why they're here. ("What you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.") God deals with us as a body, a people, not solely as unconnected persons, so it is fitting that we offer something to Him in the same manner. If nothing else, it shows that we're trying to look at ourselves the way He Himself designed us to be.

To revisit the first objection - do we need a moral authority? It's like asking if we need human nature. We have it already. That's how we're made. On the spiritual level, well, we ARE a Church, like it or not, and the shepherds of that Church by necessity have to have some authority if we are to intelligently and coherently live as one body in Christ.

An authority that doesn't participate in the most vital function in society (family life)?

This puzzles me greatly. Priests didn't grow up with mothers, fathers, siblings? Were they grown in pods? Further, some eastern Catholic rites do permit married clergy. It's a discipline, not a doctrine, and can be changed at discretion.**

An authority that covers up heinous crap within their own ranks?

Well - let the guilty be punished. There's no question what happened in Boston (and dozens of other parishes) was heinous. But to declare that therefore everything the Church says must be wrong is akin to saying that math must be bunk because one can't do a sum. "They sit in the seat of Moses - do as they say, but do not follow their example," to paraphrase the opening of Matthew 23. And this makes sense. Nixon covered up Watergate - does that mean that we should stop electing Presidents? Teachers have been known to seduce underage students - should we shutter every schoolhouse in the state? Of course not, but people think that such a standard should apply to the clergy - and that assumption itself demonstrates that they are not merely some helpful extra, but serve an intrinsic role in our life and worship.†

WTF do they know about life?

The clergy obviously know more than they get credit for. St. Pat's day is a huge cultural celebration to all Americans, not just Catholics (Irish or not), and so the clergy have made provision to permit celebrations to go forward as is customary. St. Joseph's Day celebrates a more important figure than Patrick: Mary's husband, foster father to Our Lord and Savior. In the order of the Church that would call for a bigger party (and I daresay that St. Patrick himself would agree - Joseph is every Catholic's patron saint at least three times). But when San Guiseppe falls on Friday, you don't get nearly the fuss because that feast day isn't a cultural phenomenon. The Church accordingly takes a different approach.

They can take their dispensation and stick it - if I'm doing something wrong, I'll take it up with the Lord myself on Judgement Day - and if I am doing something wrong, who are they to make it right with some BS penance?

Wow. I'll simply chalk this up to frustration, because it's not at all close to Christian thought no matter how you slice it.

First - if I'm doing something wrong, I'd much prefer to take it up with the Lord long before I have the final reckoning. Why would any Christian want to spend forty or more years continually screwing up? St. Paul has so many admonitions about living according to the spirit and being a new creation that it's astonishing that anyone could let this statement pass the same lips that profess the faith of Jesus Christ.

Second - we've already established "who are they to make it right" - they are the shepherds of the people of God chosen by Christ. It is their job to offer guidance on moral choices. We still have to decide how that applies to us personally, but it is no light matter to presume that a common observance is not binding on us individually. Do people decide to scrap the Book of Common Prayer for no reason? For that matter, do people decide to scrap the Book Itself? Lenten observance is a small example of the larger pattern of living as a single people called to the Lord, with a particular way of conducting ourselves in concert. ‡

I won't quibble with other denominations' forms of collective worship. The issue here is the casual assumption that, if it doesn't suit one's personal tastes, that one can choose to ignore one's brothers and sisters - acting as a discouragement and obstacle to them in word and example. We all do things in a family that we don't prefer in order to show that the family itself is more important than our whim of the moment.

This may not be a whim to some people observing from the outside. Fair enough - we all find issues worth mounting the ramparts for. All I ask is recognition of the reverse, that it's no whim to us either, and that there may be larger issues than whether corned beef is a vegetable for Lenten purposes. (Besides, as the Coalition well know, the meat of the meal is poured, not carved.)

* And by fast, I don't mean "eat nothing." The Church has loosened the definition considerably; healthy adult Catholics are asked to limit themselves to one full meal. And ill health, age, youth, or medical standing (pregnancy, for example) would confer automatic dispensation. It's not like we're trying to clear an impossibly high bar.

** For that matter, fast and abstinence are also discipline, not doctrine, and can be changed at discretion - but that discretion doesn't lie in the whim of the individual believer any more than the individual seminarian can decide to go to the drive-thru chapel before ordination.

† We can also get into another Coalition discussion here, on forgiveness. Unquestionably pedophilia among priests is a graver sin than most of us face. But if we then decide that we deserve forgiveness more readily than they because of our venial faults, are we asking forgiveness or trying to justify ourselves apart from God's mercy? Also remember that forgiveness doesn't preclude punishment for those faults - in fact, true repentance for the sinner involves restitution, i.e. turning oneself in for a lengthy jail term, even as the Church's repentance is involving a good deal of paying settlements and submitting to lay review, all welcome developments.

‡ "Concert" is intentionally chosen - we in the body are meant to operate like an orchestra, each playing its own part with individual excellence, but also in cooperation and not competition with the other parts. The violins must not only play on key, but must not drown out the oboes; and the second viola can't suddenly decide to break out with "Devil Went Down to Georgia" halfway through the Beethoven. Like them, we have a written score (the Bible) and a conductor (the clergy), and neither can be dispensed with.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Waiting till next year

Some teams raise the bar; others raise the white flag.

Sparky waves the Isles' freak flag high

Over the course of the past 24 hours the New York Islanders (whose mascot you see above) have traded four veteran players for two prospects and draft picks.

Granted, one of these vets, Oleg Kvasha, has long been a shaggy albatross round our necks. After signs last season that he may actually know what to do on a hockey rink, he's regressed, clogging the works and generally sucking the life from the team every shift he skates. I saw the Isles play New Jersey last month and he was so dreadful that I tried to start a chant mocking him. They benched him the last two periods and the Isles forced OT. Turning him into any sort of asset is a good move.

The rest? I like the deal with Los Angeles, even though it hurts losing the guys we gave up. Tambellini was the leading scorer for LA's top minor league affiliate and could do well given regular shifts the next four weeks. Not sure about the other kid yet. And draft picks, even modest third-rounders, are always an opportunity, and you never know who you may unearth.

In the meantime, we won't be seeing this any time soon.

Those stripes on the uniform sleeves?  These are the guys that earned them.
Gillies looks like he could still lace 'em up, actually.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Semi-Carnival of Good Reads

The main show goes up this Sunday at the Jersey Goddess. Until then, stroll the fairgrounds and see a few of the booths that are already set up:

Fausta's got a new look, but the same ripping-good content. Today she reruns Michael Ledeen's testimony before the House Committee on International Relations, and it is a blast of blazing sunshine in the cavefish world of willfully weak-sighted diplomats. Don some Oakleys and read the whole thing. (Or, if you prefer, the New York Sun also ran it, as is, in their editorial pages.)

Related content: Mr. Bingley asks a very good question.

Don't miss the great nature-nurture post over at Sluggo's place.

Equal Time Dept. - without any burning opinion one way or the other, I'm mildly in favor of the new Meadowlands deal for the Giants (with the Jets tagging along). It strikes me as a better deal than about any other in the past ten years - the Giants are financing the entire construction and paying rent to the state. Many, including current Sports and Exposition Authority boss George Zoffinger, sharply disagree, and Enlighten NJ has their back.

Suzette has a post about a Welsh incident near and dear to the heart of the Jersey commuter - driving while distracted. (In this case, driving while Avon, as the lass in question was dolling up while in motion.) Do take her advice (Suzette's, not the driver's) and read the comments following the article.

Picture this - you're making a show about life 1000 years in the future. An episode requires a parodic warning film about the dangers of humans dating robots. Who do you pick as the alluring robot? In this case, the writers came up with the Marilyn Monroebot. It's more than how the last name works. (They could have said "Paltrowbot," and in fact they do get a dig in on poor Gwyneth.) It's about Monroe's presence and the easy (and 100% correct) realization, from the writers, that their audience would have no trouble believing that Monroe would be known in the year 3000. Sheila remarks on the enduring Marilyn phenomenon.

I've had good stuff too, I daresay, for which one can scroll a bit downward. But any more would threaten to steal the thunder of our fair hostess this week, and that's poor carny etiquette.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Puck everlasting

6:22 pm - Be sure to check the update below!

I want to show you something.

..G. .AB. Runs Hits .2b 3b .HR .RBI .BB ..K. .AVG .OBA .SLG
1783 7244 1071 2304 414 57 207 1085 450 _965 .318 .360 .477
1785 7003 1007 2153 442 20 222 1099 588 _444 .307 .358 .471
1626 5321 _938 1430 239 26 282 _934 740 1398 .269 .359 .482
1898 6621 1364 1917 403 63 411 1216 1357.1050 .290 *** .556

The top line belongs to Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, recently deceased. The second line is the man who is most similar to him statistically (according to Baseball, Don Mattingly. (The others, we'll get to later down.)

Mattingly has an AL MVP award; Puckett finished top five three times but never won. Each has one batting title. Puckett was the faster runner, and made more All-Star Teams; Mattingly has ten Gold Gloves to Puckett's six (and was so good afield that the Yankees once tried him at third base, even though he's lefthanded). They each suffered career-ending debilitative injuries (Puckett's glaucoma, Mattingly's back).

The difference is that the Yankees never played the World Series in Donnie Baseball's 14 years, while Puckett was the hero of two championship teams in Minnesota, not known for its title-winning ways. And though Puckett's "ambassador of the game" status took a major hit with allegations of sexual misconduct (he was acquitted of these charges), he was always the more likable player.

ESPN re-ran a great column about Puckett, from the mind of Ralph Wiley. You owe it to yourself to give it a read. One of many money quotes, if you please:

"Think about that. You 'hate' a guy in sports because he's hurt you. He's hurt your team. That's why you hate him, basically because he's done a good job for his team, and made some other people deliriously happy. 'Hating' him has nothing to do with the actual guy. You don't know the actual guy.

Think about this: same thing goes when you 'love' a guy. You don't know him then either. He's helped your team win. He's helped your philosophy, your way of life, you. But you don't know him. So don't act like you do."

That was Wiley's way - slinging barbs down from the heavens. Like them or not, agree or disagree, they stung more than a little because the man had such good aim. His writing flowed like a graceful river, complete with rocks and rapids. And in a weird way, that made him a hero of mine, more than any of the three ballplayers whose stats got us started. No, not that I knew him, of course, but as he said, he helped my philosophy. He made me think and got me to be more clear about what's what in the world. Not many sportswriters do that - as Pantheon as he is, Bill Simmons doesn't make me think like Wiley did.

Wiley, by the way, is the fellow who brought up our third player. The red line of statistics belongs to Eric 'the Red' Davis, who like Mattingly was incandescent until injury stole his considerable gifts - in his case, a lacerated kidney in 1990 and colon cancer in 1996. Wiley says, in the column, that he'd take Davis in centerfield over Puckett. Interesting, but again, take it in the light of the quote above, and with other thoughtful opinion about Frank Deford's SI story - the one that first shone light on Puckett's darker side.

Now Puckett and Wiley are both on the other side, before their God. One can only imagine the conversation; my own imagination leads me to think that if either of them brings up the article at all, it will be as a joke - it won't be a difference to settle at all, since all accounts have already been squared. Usually one feels embarrased or awkward when at one's most self-conscious. What use is that once you've stopped trying to look better than you are, and are just yourself at last?

**post-script - SI is at it again, this time taking a whack at the Bonds piñata. Easier target, and much more likely to be true, especially since even Bonds' fans acknowledge that's he's generally unlikable. But... is that all? If Bonds is tried, does it change what we thought we knew? Let's face it, there's "exonerated" and then there's "getting over," and Bonds' alleged juicing definitely falls in the latter class, should he ever be acquitted.

update, 6:22 pm - thanks to the Coalition for their quick take. I asked in reply, does Bonds make the Hall of Fame without the tainted numbers?

Pretend that, instead of 'roids, he went for the nose candy like Darryl Strawberry. That leaves you with the fourth line in the stat box, italicized - Bonds' numbers from '86-'98, 13 seasons. I have to say yes. Even if you disqualify everything he did under afterward, those numbers are a mortal lock, first-ballot. (The on-base number is blank because I couldn't figure it with the limited time involved.) That makes the considerable evidence that he DID cheat even more puzzling. He was only 33 in 1998, and healthy (156 or more games played each of his last three years); while he may have begun to dip in the next five seasons or so, he was still good to reach about 550 dingers, maybe even 1750 rbi (that's top-ten all time actually, it would be 17th, ahead of Honus Wagner's 1732 and behind Frank Robinson's 1812), plus all the stolen bases. He was Barry Freaking Bonds! Damn it all.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Step back, Wunder-san, step back!

And indeed, he is. Thanks for all the kind words and great posts!

WunderKraut's hiatus demonstrates two important things for us blog-stained wretches. First, it's not just about traffic or links, although those things are fun and rewarding. This is about who you meet and what you learn. From his output hither and yon, it's safe to say that the Wunder has been making good friends. I'm pleased to have met you myself, WK; don't be a stranger.

Second, the writer is the master, and not the blog. If it's time to take a break (or a permanent vacation), then do it and don't look back, except to smile for the times gone by.

I'll go now, before this breaks into song.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Volcano update

The Prussian Tiger comes through in the comments below, finding this information online from the Indonesia Digest. The eruption not only affected climate around the world but caused disastrous famine; over 90,000 died, and nearly 90% of those were in the aftermath. That link will take you through to one of the few eyewitness accounts of this eruption.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Not Atlantis, but they're working on it

When you think of lost civilizations you don't readily think of Rhode Island. That's why this article, filed from Narragansett, caught my attention.

Then I read a little further. The actual digging is going on in Indonesia, which makes much more sense, as the Atlantic is not known for its volcanos.* The diggers, however, are led by a gentleman in the employ of URI, with the delightful name of Haraldur Sigurdsson.

Guided by ground-penetrating radar, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and the Indonesian Directorate of Volcanology recently dug in a gully where locals had found ceramics and bones. They unearthed the remains of a thatch house, pottery, bronze and the carbonized bones of two people, all in a layer of sediment dating to the eruption.

That's just wicked cool.

The eruption shot 400 million tons (363 million metric tons) of sulfuric gases into the atmosphere, causing global cooling and creating what historians call "The Year Without a Summer." Farms in Maine suffered crop-killing frosts in June, July and August. In France and Germany, grape and corn crops died, or the harvests were delayed.

Mind you, this took place at Mount Tambora in Indonesia,** about 9900 miles away from Bangor, Maine - over the North Pole. (Paris is a relatively-short 7800 miles or so north-westward.)***

Dr. Sigurdsson has been at this for a while (note the date of this); no word whether he will continue his researches in the ruined plains of Osgiliath now that Barad-Dur has been overthrown.

* The good doctor is a native of Iceland, which in fact IS volcanic. The mental image of a frigid volcanic island reminds me that, as fun as fiction is, the real Earth is often strange enough.

** This website provided the Tambora info. It, too, is quite the bomb diggity.

*** Distances were calculated with this dandy web tool. Thanks, folks!