Archive for July, 2007

Artsy Fartsy Deadsy

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni both die in a week? Man, somewhere a lot of film critics are weeping. Now is as good a time as any to remember my Ingmar Bergman Rule — a critic’s review of an Ingmar Bergman film typically tells you more about the critic than it does about the film.

Bonded

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

I’m not sure what to think about Barry Bonds breaking the home run record. I realize that 90% of America has decided he is a cheating scumbag who should be shot. But I’ve learned to be leery when everyone is agreeing on something. I think Joe Sheehan has the best perspective:

While it’s an unpopular viewpoint, I stand by my argument that Barry Bonds has not failed a test for PEDs in the four years that MLB has had a program. His testimony before a grand jury—subsequently leaked illegally, and to his detriment—was that he did take substances that were identified later as steroids, but he was told at the time that they were not. His testimony has been interpreted as parsing by some, perjury by others, although statements before the same grand jury by others have been granted full faith and credit. That grand jury inspired two reporters to write a book about Bonds, sourced largely by the illegally-obtained testimony, as well as the accounts of people around Bonds, at least one of whom, ex-mistress Kimberly Bell, can comfortably be described as “scorned.”

Baseball now has a small underclass of players—real players, not anonymous minor leaguers or fringe guys—who have tested positive for performance-enhancing substances, been suspended for that use, and returned to play. In virtually every case, those players go about their business without anyone caring. They’re cheered at home for their good deeds, and ignored on the road. The Indians benefit from the bullpen work of Rafael Betancourt, by far their best reliever this season, and a big reason for their contending status. He’s not reviled in Detroit or Minnesota as a steroid user, not booed and forced to endure the taunts of “Cheater!” or worse. No one cares. The same can be said for Juan Rincon, who is essentially the Twins’ version of Betancourt.

Need more evidence that the game is more than willing to forgive and forget? Ryan Franklin tested positive in 2005, serving a 10-game suspension for his guilt. Last month, the Cardinals signed him to a two-year contract worth $5 million. Last winter, the Mets’ Guillermo Mota was suspended for the first 50 games of 2007 off a positive test; a month later, the Mets signed him to a two-year contract for, again, $5 million.

Add it up, and baseball has lavished more than $30 million on players who have been found guilty of steroid use after their use has come to light. These players don’t occupy some gray area, don’t inspire “did he or didn’t he?” discussions on sports radio or the talking-head TV shows. They cheated, they got caught, served their penalties, and went on to earn millions playing baseball without being held up as examples of all that is wrong with America.

The central truth about the “steroid issue” is this: average people don’t care about PED use. They care about tearing down those who they do not like, protecting those they do, and making themselves feel superior in the process.

I’d also add that Jason Giambi has apparently recovered his image.

I agree with Joe 100%. Read the whole thing — it’s not behind the BP firewall. The baseball ownership were happy to ignore the steroid issue when they thought it was doing the game good. Once the fans cottoned on, they threw one of the best players in history to the wolves.

There has been some chatter about the stark racial difference in the perception of Bonds. Blacks are a lot less judgemental than white and a lot more supportive. Not being black, I can’t speak for them. But the imputation that white fans don’t like Bonds because he’s “an angry black man” is frivolous and ignorant.

Fans have never liked angry players. Ty Cobb was extremely unpopular. Ted Williams — when he as a player — was on the most disliked men in baseball history. Rogers Hornsby was unpopular. Richie Allen, Hal Chase and pretty much the entire lineup of the 1890′s Orioles were unpopular. Pete Rose has become steadily more and more unpopular as his scumbaggery and bitterness come to the fore.

I’ll agree that Bonds has a worse reputation than he deserves. The media hate him and have made the fans do likewise. But he hasn’t exactly been helping himself.

In the meantime, this weekend saw the induction into the Hall of Fame of two of the most popular players in baseball history – Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken. And their popularity had a lot to do with their attitudes.

Personally, I always thought Bonds had a chance at Aaron’s record — even before 2003. I know there is little to no evidence that steroids actually help someone hit for more power. I’m willing to give him the benefit of a doubt. And I’m willing to acknowledge that he will be the first man to hold both single-season and career HR records since in 47 years.

Henry Aaron was one of the great players in baseball history and a great man. The fact that Bonds will have hit more career home runs will not change that.

Miscarriage of Justice

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

I don’t know where the time goes. I have a long post on healthcare — two actually — that I’ve been meaning to write for a week. Oh well. I got a great comment today on Bush’s death penalty record. I tend to be a law and order type guy. I think law and order is where civlization starts. If government can not establish it, what’s the point of having free speech?

But that doesn’t mean I can sit around when gross miscarriages of justice – mostly in pursuit of the War on Drugs – go on. To wit:

  • The DEA’s war on the sick continues unabated. And if we thought the Dems were going to be any different, the effort to stop these raids gained an entire two votes with the new congress.
  • This is dispicable. The FBI let four men spend decades in prison for a crime they knew they didn’t commit. I’m not terribly fond of what goes on with undercover informants, who have been known to let people be brutalized and even murdered to protect their cover. But here’s a disgusting quote:

    A Justice Department lawyer had argued that federal authorities couldn’t be held responsible for the results of a state prosecution and had no duty to share information with the officials who prosecuted Limone, Salvati, Henry Tameleo and Louis Greco.

    He’s a Justice Department lawyer so he has to take the position of his client. But would it have been that hard, maybe after the first twenty years to break their cover?

  • In that vein, try this miscarriage of justice in which a man was sentenced to 25 years for 58 legal pills.
  • Don’t we have something better to do? We have limited resources for law enforcement. Can’t we spend them finding murderers, thieves and rapists instead of jailing pot growers, innocent men and pill poppers?

    We’re the Cow

    Saturday, July 28th, 2007

    Good gravy, just when you thought our out of control farm subsidy program couldn’t get worse, the Dems somehow manage to jack spending through the roof.

    Hopefully, the Prez will veto this piece of cow dung.

    Nicollo Would be Proud

    Saturday, July 28th, 2007

    Step One: Coverly support a radical Sunni insurgency in Iraq.

    Step Two: Convince the US to make a$20 billion dollar deal on the condition that you’ll do something about the insurgency you created.

    Yeah, the Bush people are all over that whole Iraq thing.

    Groupthink

    Saturday, July 28th, 2007

    I am currently reading James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds and ran across this quote about diversity:

    The negative case for diversity, as we’ve seen, is that diversity makes it easier for a group to make decisions based on facts, rather than on influence, authority or group allegiance … After a detailed study of American foreing policy fiascos, including the Bay of Pigs invasion and the failure to anticipate Pearl Habor, [Irving] Janis argued taht when decision-makers are too much alike – in worldview and mind-set – they easily fall prey to groupthink. Homogenous groups become cohesive more easily than diverse groups, and as they become more cohesive, they also become more dependent on the group, more insulted from outside opinions, and therefore more convinced that the group’s judgement on important issues must be right. These kind of groups, Janis suggested, share an illusio of invulnerability, a willingness to rationalize away possible counterarguments to the group’s position, and a conviction that dissent is not useful.

    Remind you of anyone? By diversity, he’s doesn’t mean “diversity” the way academics do. He means differences of opinion. (It’s worth noting, however, that the lone voice of dissent in our latest foreign policy fiasco was that of a black man – Colin Powell.)

    We have a President who likes to surround himself with people who think alike – authoritarian in temperament, convinced of American invincibility and viewing the law and the Constitution as obstacles not guides. He’s not unique in this, of course. But we’re know seeing, in vivid red colors, the result of having a bunch of people running the country who agree with each other.

    Reagan was different. His decision were often made after heated discussion among his staff. But even Reagan messed up occasionally – as in the War on Drugs. That’s understandable since most Presidential Administrations have a dearth of crack addicts.

    It’s not just conservatives who are prone to stupid groupthink, of course. “Reasonable rational” iberals are even worse. I work in academia were everyone – man or woman, black white or polka-dot – thinks alike. And the pressure to conform is enormous. I don’t even bother to express my opinion anymore. And they are not only convinced that their dumb political ideas – gun control, high taxes and big government – can work; they are convinced that they are far smarter and far more reasonable than the skeptics. They have letters after their name, dontchya know.

    There is peculiar kind of grand stupidity that comes out of smart people agreeing with each other. Communism, fascism, socialism, neo-conservatism, statism – these are all grand ideas for running the world that have crashed upon the rocks of reality. Rocks the world might have been spared with greater diversity of opinion.

    Iraq can now take its place with our previous foreign policy fiascos and we can sleep comfortably knowing that we haven’t learned anything from our previous blunders. As things began to unravel, we stuck to the groupthink that all was well. And before I get too high on my horse, I was part of the groupthink that stupidly thought democracy could be brought to a multi-ethnic middle eastern nation that was drawn on a map by the French with an army a third of the size we needed. I knew that when everyone around me was agreeing, I should get scared and reconsider my opinions. I didn’t.

    A more intellectually diverse group of people – or more rational, intelligent and articulate dissenters — would have spared us the agonies. Yes, I’m saying the dissenters bear some blame. They could have raised rational arguments against the invasion – or better yet, advocated for far superior management of the post-invasion Iraq. They could have raised their voices when the situation began to get out of control. But they were too busy chanting “no blood for oil” and screaming about Haliburton and hating Bush to bother.

    I keep hoping that the Information Age and the blogosphere will help us make better decisions in the future. But I know politicians. They like their groupthink. They don’t like skeptics who poke holes in their fantasies.

    Crash!

    Saturday, July 28th, 2007

    I’m sure you’ve all seen it – the image of two helicopters crashing during a police chase. I’m sure the fleeing defendant will be prosecuted for homicide, as recently happened in a Missouri case.

    I have always had serious questions about the felony murder statute — the notion that if I commit a felony and someone is inadvertantly killed during the commission of that felony, I’m guilty of murder. It has led to incredibly stupid prosecutions and has served not as a tool of justice but as a way for DA’s to show they are tough on crime.

    This situation is comparable. The fleeing men didn’t intend to kill anyone, but their actions resulted in tragic deaths. We need to be very careful in assigning responsibility. I fully understand prosecuting someone if something happens to those in direct pursuit. But when something secondary happens — miles removed from the scene – I’m not sure it’s their fault.

    But our society has an obsession with fault. Tragedy can never be the result of bad luck. It always has to be someone’s fault. This has become the basis of our entire legal system.

    The Death of Fair Use

    Saturday, July 28th, 2007

    This is fucking insane:

    A 29-second video clip of a toddler dancing to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” is the subject of a new court complaint against Universal Music Publishing Group, which demanded that the clip be removed from YouTube in early June. Apparently, the company believes that a few seconds of music blasting from a background stereo infringes on its copyright, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation disagrees. The EFF filed suit against Universal yesterday, alleging that the music in the clip was “self-evident non-infringing fair use

    How many people out there are being bullied and harassed by these jackasses? We really need to revist the DMCA.

    Friday Linkorama

    Friday, July 27th, 2007
  • Two military salts speak up on torture.

    It is firmly established in international law that treaties are to be interpreted in “good faith” in accordance with the ordinary meaning of their words and in light of their purpose. It is clear to us that the language in the executive order cannot even arguably be reconciled with America’s clear duty under Common Article 3 to treat all detainees humanely and to avoid any acts of violence against their person.

    To date in the war on terrorism, including the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and all U.S. military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, America’s losses total about 2 percent of the forces we lost in World War II and less than 7 percent of those killed in Vietnam. Yet we did not find it necessary to compromise our honor or abandon our commitment to the rule of law to defeat Nazi Germany or imperial Japan, or to resist communist aggression in Indochina. On the contrary, in Vietnam — where we both proudly served twice — America voluntarily extended the protections of the full Geneva Convention on prisoners of war to Viet Cong guerrillas who, like al-Qaeda, did not even arguably qualify for such protections.

    Geneva is not about the enemy. It’s about us.

  • The hysteria over plastic bags continues unabated.

    Myth: Paper grocery bags are a better environmental choice than plastic bags.

    Fact: Plastic bags use 40% less energy to produce and generate 70% less emissions & 80% less solid waste than paper. (U.S. EPA website, www.epa.gov/region1/communities/shopbags.html)

    Myth: Plastic grocery bags take 1,000 years to decompose in landfills.

    Fact: Today’s landfills are designed to prevent decomposition of anything. Chances are your orange peel, milk carton and even last year’s newspaper won’t breakdown. Research by William Rathje, who runs the Garbage Project, has shown that when excavated from a landfill, newspapers from the 1960s can be intact and readable.

    Really, you don’t need to be a scientist here, just use your common sense. Plastic bags are cheaper because they use less resources.

  • Read an interview with the baby gun man. I liked the YouTube debate. The people aren’t going to let the politicans get away with bullshit the way the media does.
  • Unions are outsourcing picket lines. I always ignore protests. I wish I could say I knew about the rent-a-mobs, but it’s more based on my experience in college watching certain groups of people protest anything with no idea of what they were really protesting.
  • I’m sure a lot of libs are defending Ward Churchill, saying he was fired for his political opinions. Um, no. The man was a serial plagiarist. He gets tenure. I’m staring at unemployment next March.
  • Memo to Drivers

    Thursday, July 26th, 2007

    If other cars are passing you on your right side, you are going to slow for your lane.

    Texas drivers are better at understanding the concept of speed lanes than in other states. At least it’s not Maryland. That was a state full of people who think 55 mph is a good speed and lanes are just a matter of preference. And there’s nothing at all wrong with pulling in front of someone in the fast lane and slowing down.

    The Creationists Strike Again

    Thursday, July 26th, 2007

    I’m so proud:

    Via the DefCon blog comes that news that Texas governor Rick Perry has appointed a creationist to head the Texas State Board of Education.

    ..

    Here is a letter McLeroy sent out to his fellow State Board of Education members:

    My Personal Confession

    Given all the time in the world, I don’t think I could make a spider out of a rock. However, most of the books we are considering adopting, claim that Nothing made a spider out of a rock.

    I don’t think I share a common ancestor with a tree. However, most of the books we are considering adopting, claim as a fact that we all share a common ancestor with a tree.

    Brilliant! This guy doesn’t understand the most basic principles of biology, and he’s going to chair the State Board of Education. And hey, if he doesn’t understand something, why should it be taught at all?

    Time to homeschool.

    More Zero Tolerance Nonsense

    Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

    I have zero tolerance for Zero Tolerance policies. And this is why:

    The two boys tore down the hall of Patton Middle School after lunch, swatting the bottoms of girls as they ran — what some kids later said was a common form of greeting.

    But bottom-slapping is against policy in McMinnville Public Schools. So a teacher’s aide sent the gawky seventh-graders to the office, where the vice principal and a police officer stationed at the school soon interrogated them.

    After hours of interviews with students the day of the February incident, the officer read the boys their Miranda rights and hauled them off in handcuffs to juvenile jail, where they spent the next five days.

    Now, Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison, both 13, face the prospect of 10 years in juvenile detention and a lifetime on the sex offender registry in a case that poses a fundamental question: When is horseplay a crime?

    Seriousy, folks, WTF? Ruining a kid’s life because he slapped a fellow twelve-year-old on the butt? Are we so incapable of telling kids “Behave! Keep your hands to yourself!” that our only refuge is draconian law?

    Up in Smoke

    Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

    Apparently, anti-smoking ads make kids more likely to smoke.

    Looking closer at the study, I think it mainly disputes the effectiveness and could equally conclude that they have no positive or negative effect on teen smoking (in which case, why are we wasting money on them?). Gasp! You mean you can’t make people live better lifestyle just by wagging your finger at them? Say it ain’t so!

    Anyway, the implication is that Philip-Morris is deliberately sabotaging their ads. But I haven’t found the cigarette company’s ads to be that bothersome. No, it’s those obnoxious, propagandistic “the truth” which make me personally want to run out and smoke three packs just to show ‘em.

    Airplane Jitters

    Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

    As someone who rarely flies when he isn’t either drunk or gripping the set in terror – yes, I have a Ph.D. in Astrophysics; what’s your point? — this scares the hell out of me.

    You often need a crisis, real or imagined, to get major policy changes enacted. There are two looming challenges in our backwards and bureaucratic air traffic control system that might nudge Congress toward reform. The first is that the government system is having a hard time keeping up with the continued growth in air travel.

    The second, as Government Executive magazine reports today, is that a large group of controllers are nearing retirement and the government might have a hard time finding replacements.

    Privatizing sounds like a good idea. I’d sooner trust Google to guide my plane in than I’d trust the Post Office — even thought they did deliver Deathly Hallows on time.