Saturday, December 31, 2005

Connecticut's distinction

MANIFESTO

Connecticut's junior senator has just garnered the coveted "Wanker of the Year" award from Atrios.

It'll be interesting to see if the state's Democrats want to do anything about this albatross in 2006. Likewise, it'll be intriguing to see if Connecticut's Republicans can do anything about this situation besides putting up a pedophile to run against Senator Sanctimony.

Friday, December 30, 2005

George's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year

MANIFESTO

An end-of-year appreciation (in roughly chronological order):

The Terri Schiavo debacle. Who can forget Dear Leader cutting short yet another Texas vacation to rush back to Washington to sign the bill transferring the case from state to federal courts? Who can forget his immediate loss of interest in the case not after Judge James Whittemore ruled that the feeding tube did not have to be reinserted, but after polls showed that 63 to 28 percent of Americans backed the removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube and 67 to 19 percent believed that politicians urging that she be kept alive were demagogic and unprincipled?

The Social Security debacle. After attempting to screw lower and middle class Americans by removing much of their retirement benefits, Dear Leader found that when you try to mess with other people's money, those people become a little bit upset. Even legislators from Dear Leader's own party saw this loser for what it was.

The Cindy Sheehan episode. Who can forget the image of Bhagwan-like Dear Leader's motorcade racing past the Gold Star mother, whose son had died in Iraq, in order to get to a lunch with big party contributors? Once Ms. Sheehan camped out beside the road leading to the president’s ranch, asking him to explain the "noble cause" for which her son had given his life, no one was able to see the Iraq fiasco in exactly the same way. (Of course, this didn't stop the usual suspects from impugning Ms. Sheehan's integrity ad nauseam.)

Hurricane Katrina. What can one say unless it's, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job"? If ever there was evidence of the utter callousness—or incompetence, or both—of the administration it surely was demonstrated in the streets of Mississippi and Louisiana in late summer.

The Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination. While laughable on its face, the nomination demonstrated just how insular Dear Leader had become. His explanation for the nomination, "I picked the best person I could find," was sadly true as it showed just how out of touch the president had become in the latter day Versailles.

The new Bush. The president hoped to erase the year’s reversals (including the discovery that he'd sanctioned spying on Americans) with the election in Iraq on December 15. He delivered five major speeches regarding Iraq, none of which included anything other than the old "stay the course" mantra. In one speech, Bush mentioned "victory" 15 times, against a background embossed with the slogan "Plan for Victory," and the White House issued a document entitled "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." This after Dear Leader had begun the year proclaiming "a turning point" in Iraq. (And it goes without saying that the latest Iraq elections may or may not solve anything in that hapless country.)

Now we discover that, Nixon-like, the White House is employing a latter day "Operation Candor" wherein we'll see a more forthcoming Dear Leader, although the new strategy appears to have to do only with opponents being heard. That is, no policy changes will occur.

For those who would like a more studied review of Dear Leader's year, click here.

In the meantime, a very happy new year to all, and may the United States regain some of its glory and reputation in 2006.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

NCLB in 2005


MANIFESTO

According to USA Today,
President Bush's signature education law took a bit of a beating in 2005. The No Child Left Behind law of 2002 saw challenges in federal court and state legislatures.

The law is Bush's effort to improve education by making schools accountable for the progress of all children, including minorities, the poor and the disabled.
Can we please not kid ourselves and recognize that the law has nothing to do with any of those things? Dear Leader showed how concerned he is with minorities and the poor with his actions during and after the Katrina fiasco. New Orleans and parts of the southeast are still waiting for the nation's leading compassionate conservative to make good on his September promises.

The so-called No Child Left Behind Act has never been anything else than a thinly veiled attempt to destroy public education as we know it. The law is yet another attempt by the oligarchic Bushies to limit the possibilities of middle and lower class advancement.

It's about time that states and professional organizations challenge the Bushies on their transparent attempts to restrain lower and middle class Americans' educational opportunities. Now what's needed is for USA Today and other media to recognize the law as something much more heinous than "Bush's effort to improve education."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

One person's top ten list

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

Herewith Salon.com's Stephanie Zacharek's list (subscription required) of her ten favorite movies (along with a few codicils) of 2005.
"Kings and Queen" -- Arnaud Desplechin's story of an unlikable woman (played by Emmanuelle Devos, with the fury and vulnerability of 12 Greek goddesses combined) for whom, by the end, we feel something more fiercely protective than love. In one of the finest performances of the year, Mathieu Amalric plays her ex, a haunted elf of a man who looks and acts as if he can't afford to give away even the smallest bit of himself, and yet whose compassion turns out to be boundless. A complicated, fascinating picture -- it left me exhilarated and devastated.

"The Best of Youth" -- Marco Tullio Giordana's stunning six-hour picture, originally made for Italian TV -- spans 30 years in the life of one Italian family. This is a modest yet generous work: It never strains to be a work of art; instead, it humbly acknowledges that, even in the course of six hours, it can capture only a small corner of the range of human experience.

"Pride & Prejudice" -- Joe Wright's smartly, sharply condensed and intelligently imagined adaptation of Jane Austen's work is a love story with a deep awareness of class boundaries. We know at a glance how much, or how little, money means to any given character: We can read anxiety or confidence in the cut of an overcoat, in the type of knickknacks that decorate a room, even in the set of a character's shoulders. In this "Pride & Prejudice," realism isn't a punishment, but a kind of music. There isn't a frame in the picture that doesn't feel alive and immediate, instead of merely faithful.

"Old Boy" -- This operatic picture from South Korean director Park Chanwook begins as a revenge fantasy and evolves into something much more complex and redemptive. Though it's thrilling, violent and funny, it can't be classified as an action picture or a comedy -- it's too infused with tragic poetry to be so conveniently buttonholed.

"Tropical Malady" -- The first half of this supernaturally beautiful picture from Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (who goes by Joe, for short) is a love story between a village boy and soldier. In the second half, a soldier -- it may or may not be the same soldier -- tracks a tiger in the forest, who may or may not be the reincarnation of the soldier's lost love. "Tropical Malady" is a haunted dreamscape of memory and longing, its plot more like a piece of music than a conventional story.

"The Beat That My Heart Skipped" -- Jacques Audiard makes a brash, vital version of James Toback's "Fingers," about a thug with music in his soul (played here by Romain Duris, who artfully peels away layers of his character's mystery scene by scene). The first time I saw "The Beat," I wasn't sure it was as interesting as the original; the second time, I realized Audiard had not only built on, but surpassed, "Fingers." It's a movie made with equal measures of bravado and humility -- the same mix of qualities you need to play Beethoven, Mozart or Bach.

"Breakfast on Pluto" -- Neil Jordan adapts Patrick McCabe's novel, set in the early '70s, about an Irish transvestite named Kitten (Cillian Murphy, in just one of the three stellar performances he gave this year) who leaves her repressive home for London. Her home country's political turmoil follows her, but never undoes her -- Kitten, like so many women during wartime, is far tougher than the men around her. A bracing picture about self-knowledge and self-love, and the search for a long-lost mother.

"The Skeleton Key" and "Land of the Dead" -- Two classic horror fables about the chasm between the haves and the have-nots. In George Romero's sharp, funny "Land of the Dead," zombies relegated to the outskirts of town revolt against the rich -- and the alive. Iain Softley's "The Skeleton Key" -- a picture that feels even eerier now that so much of New Orleans is now a ghost of its former self -- is less about revenge than about pure survival, over several lifetimes. A mordantly funny little number about regeneration and rebirth, all at the expense of the Man -- and beautifully made.

"Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" and "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" -- It's unusual to have two stop-motion animation pictures in one year, but to have two so intelligently written, and so artfully put together, is pure heaven. Clever, lively and boisterous, "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" also has a quiet heart. And "Corpse Bride," with its acknowledged debt to special-effects genius Ray Harryhausen, is a lush, modern valentine to old-fashioned sentiment, and to old-fashioned moviemaking, too.

"King Kong" -- In which Peter Jackson heeds the words of Dino DeLaurentiis before him: "When the monkey die, everybody cry."

HONORABLE MENTION: The Turkish-German romantic drama "Head On," about the mutable boundaries between countries, and people; George Clooney's smart, and gorgeous to look at, "Good Night, and Good Luck"; Jane Anderson's "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio," a true feminist picture that too many critics misread as cheerfully retrograde and, correspondingly, trashed; Robert Rodriguez's sick, twisted and totally fabulous "Sin City"; Carroll Ballard's wondrous coming-of-age fable (for all ages) "Duma"; and Roman Polanski's devastatingly Dickensian "Oliver Twist."

AND MORE STILL: Yvan Attal's "Happily Ever After," Paul Provenza's and Penn Jillette's "The Aristocrats," Michael Almereyda's "William Eggleston in the Real World," Shane Black's "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," Rituparno Ghosh's "Raincoat," Zia Zhangke's "The World," Hou Hsiao Hsien's "Café Lumiere," Mike Newell's "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," Joss Whedon's "Serenity," Martin Campbell's "The Legend of Zorro," Seijun Suzuki's "Princess Raccoon," Greg Whiteley's "New York Doll," Johnny To's "Throwdown," Craig Brewer's "Hustle & Flow," Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry-Alex Rubin's "Murderball," David Dobkin's "Wedding Crashers," Judd Apatow's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," Luc Jacquet's "March of the Penguins," Wes Craven's "Red Eye," James Mangold's "Walk the Line," Marco Bellocchio's "Good Morning, Night," Ekachai Uekrongtham's "Beautiful Boxer," Claire Denis' "The Intruder."
For what it's worth, I saw two movies in 2005: "Good Night and Good Luck" and "In Her Shoes" (the latter because Sergio recommended it so highly). I thought both were excellent, and I'm surprised "In Her Shoes" didn't make Ms. Zacharek's lists.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Yankees All-Time Win shares

Sporting Goods

Readers of my previous blog may remember my "fun with win shares" series, which sometimes didn't say much but hopefully helped to put the contributions of today's players in perspective. At my parents house in CT, I don't have access to my reference books to update all of those posts, but I can start by looking at the Yankees, with a little help from last year's post, and hardballtimes.com.

For a brief explanation of win shares, a useful measure for quantifying and comparing players' overall performance, see here. Note that Win Shares listed are only for the player's win shares while with the Yankees.

Yankees Career Win Shares leaders: through 2005

1. Babe Ruth - 574 - Shocking. It's only this close because he played for the Sox for so many years before coming to the Bronx.
2. Mickey Mantle - 565 - Mick's contribution to the pinstripes was almost as large as Ruth's, and well above anyone else.
3. Lou Gehrig - 489
4. Joe Dimaggio - 387
5. Yogi Berra - 375 - it doesn't get much more impressive than the Yankee top 5.

6. Bill Dickey - 314 - You think of the Yankees having scores of legends, but the rest of the old timers I would consider less than legends. The difference between the Yankees and everyone else is their top 5. Most teams are lucky to have 2 guys wih the impact of the guys in the Yankees top 5.
7. Bernie Williams - 303 - Last year I expressed shock that Bernie was #7 on the Yankee list, and despite a mediocre year, he crept closer to #6 in 2005. He would need to repeat his 2005 number in 2006 to reach Dickey. However, about 20% of his value came from his fielding, which will be significantly reduced assuming that our friend Mr. Damon stays healthy and Bernie stays at DH.

8. Red Ruffing - 265
9. Don Mattingly - 263 - I will not debate that he meant a lot to the team and Yankee fans, but his career win shares total is less than Steve Finley, Luis Gonzalez, Larry Walker, Jeff Kent, Jim Thome, Jim Edmonds, Chipper Jones, and John Olerud, to name a few. While some of these guys have probably held on a bit too long, others are still kicking along. Would you consider any of them but Kent and Jones even potential hall of famers?
9. Roy White (tie with Mattingly)
11. Whitey Ford - 261
12. Willie Randolph - 251 - Chill's favorite Yankee turned manager.
13. Derek Jeter - 245 - Captain Intangible tangibly climbed from 16 to 13 in 2005, and now holds a lock on "greatest Yankee SS of all time" rights. A repeat of his strong year, and we'll find him at #8 next year. No offense to Willie, but I'd think that Jeter already holds the title of greatest middle infielder in Yankee history.
14. Tony Lazzeri - 243
15. Phil Rizzuto - 231

I'm never sure what to make of closers and Win Shares, but Mariano is 4-5 years from making this list. In other words, it ain't gonna happen.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Mmmmm....meme-y

Whatever

Via Washington Monthly, via...well via at least 8 other people going back, so that I stopped trying to figure out where it originated, the meme of four.

What do you got?

Four jobs you've had in your life: Analyst, Chemist, Assistant Janitor, Camp counselor

Four movies you could watch over and over: Austin Powers, Spaceballs, Airplane, Star Wars

Four places you've lived: New York, NY; Madison, CT; Hanover, NH; Maynard, MA

Four TV shows you love to watch: The Daily Show, Lost, The Office (US), West Wing

Four places you've been on vacation: Grand Bahama Island; Montpelier, France; Geneva Point, New Hampshire; Puerto Rico

Four websites you visit daily: Surviving Grady, Hardball Times, Atrios, and Daily411!

Four of your favorite foods: Cheese, Ice cream, Sausage, Burgers (generic, I know)

Four places you'd rather be: Right now? My apartment, Madison, the Carribean, Costa Rica - pretty much anywhere but work.

What's good for the goose?

MANIFESTO

Ever since her tenure began, Connecticut's governor, M. Jodi Rell, has studiously tried to portray herself as the Anti-Rowland—a politician who was above the smarmy behavior of her felonious predecessor.

In the past few weeks, though, the governor's squeaky clean image has suffered a setback. Specifically,
Rell's top aide violated her boss's own ethics policies by handing out fundraiser invitations to top appointees on state time at the Capitol.

Chief of staff M. Lisa Moody also directed those appointees, the governor's commissioners, to distribute the invitations for a big fundraising reception ... That was less than two months after Rell publicly reminded commissioners that it is against the law for them to solicit campaign contributions.
Now, prior to this incident, the governor insisted that anyone guilty of ethics violations of this sort would be summarily fired. However, since then, she has changed her mind and placed the miscreant Moody on two weeks leave without pay because Moody is "a 'dear friend' and one of the most hardworking, loyal and honest individuals she has met." So strike one: the governor is using the rules as it relates to individuals and not to policy.

Today, we find two postscripts to this story.

First, even though she assured the state last week that she'd release the names of the contributors who were shaken down for the fundraiser, the governor has once again changed her mind.
"Those contributions will not be reported because they were not deposited," campaign press secretary Rich Harris said. Accordingly, he said, state election law does not require them to be listed on campaign finance reports [and that] Rell's decision Dec. 16 to return all of the contributors' checks, uncashed, relieves her of any legal obligation to list the names or contributions on the report to be filed next month with the secretary of the state's office.
Strike two.

Finally, the unfired Ms. Moody was well aware that what she was doing was improper since she distributed and signed the employment policy herself in May. Strike three.

For someone who wants to bring herself off as a paragon of integrity, Connecticut's governor has had what might be called a slight lapse. These slips in ethics by her and her staff don't bode well, and, to be sure, are disconcertingly similar to the types of slimy operations her predecessor seemed always to be involved in.

Just Shut Up

Sporting Goods

Johnny Damon's father, on the departure of the Red Sox third best hitter to the Yankees:
"Mark it down: It's going to be another Babe Ruth. They sent Johnny off just like they sent off Babe Ruth. It's going to be another big, big mistake. They made the biggest mistake of their lives."
Even the ESPN News anchors were laughing at the old man last night.

For the rest of us

Whatever

Happy Festivus, everyone! My last day in the office until January 3...it's a Festivus miracle!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Underrated scenes in Simpsons history

SPORTING GOODS

During a game of sandlot baseball (may have the exact quotes a bit off):

Bart: (at bat) "I'm Tomokazu Ohka of the Montreal Expos!"
Milhouse: (pitching) "And I'm Esteban Yan of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays!"
Nelson: (behind the plate) "And I'm the person at the baseball game that nobody likes!"
Bart: "Who, the umpire?"
Nelson: "No. Billy Crystal."

We'll forgive the writers for having Bart pretend to be a pitcher while batting.

A $ad Day

SPORTING GOODS

A transit strike, flu-like symptoms, no laptop, and a 4:55am wake up call left me finding out about Johnny Damon in the worst possible way - on my voicemail from an obnoxious Yankee fan.

I feel kind of the same way that I did about the Pedro Martinez farewell last year. Yes, I will miss him. Yes, I loved watching him. Yes, I think he'll continue to be a great player. Yes, his departure makes the Red Sox worse. No, I don't think the Red Sox should have matched the offer.

This isn't just an arms race with the Yankees, and although they can afford to, New York overspent on this one. But no Yankee fan is really going to care about that as they cruise to the playoffs yet again, and when the Red Sox are playing Graffanino, Loretta, and Dave Roberts (or whomever) up the middle, we won't care about that either. Even if economics make this the right move, it is still a move that makes the Red Sox worse and the Yankees better, and that can't ever be good.

I'll try to break out the calculator soon and see if I can quantify the difference Damon makes, to both offenses.

Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye

SPORTING GOODS

So the Sox lose both a leadoff hitter and a center fielder in one fell swoop.

This can't be good.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I have a bad feeling about this

MANIFESTO

Just something to put on the back burner for now:
Sunni Arab and secular political groups joined forces Wednesday to decide whether to call for a repeat of parliamentary elections that gave the Shiite religious bloc a larger than expected lead.

The main Sunni coalition has said the elections were tainted by fraud, including voting centers failing to open, shortages in election materials, reports of multiple voting and forgery.

The election commission, known as the IECI, has said it received 1,250 complaints about violations during the Dec. 15 elections, 25 of which it described as serious. But the commission says it does not expect the complaints will change the overall result, to be announced in January.
With the vast majority of victors in the Iraq parliamentary elections being Muslim clerics, this can't be the kind of outcome the Bushies wanted.

On the other hand, with all the voting irregularities that may have occurred, the Bushies should be congratulating themselves that, sure enough, Iraqis are experiencing their brand of democracy.

Mad Mel

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

The teaser for Mel Gibson's new Mayan-downfall adventure movie Apocalypto is up. I defy anyone who doesn't think he's nuts to look at this picture. He actually put a frame of himself into the trailer. (It's about 1:46 in, just before the monkey screams.) Jeffrey Wells describes him as looking like "a mad prophet from the outback on Ecstasy. Nutso smile, lit cigarette, eyes a-poppin', wild-ass hair..." No argument here.

Another Feather in his cap

SPORTING GOODS

I see that Joe Paterno has been named the AP's college coach of the year. It must have been a very tough call for AP's staff to venerate someone they've been obsequious toward for four decades.

My hope is that this turns out to be another incentive for Joe Pa to call it a career. I don't think it can get any better than this for him: a 10-1 regular season, a very good shot at winning a major bowl, and now coach of the year.

Of course, the accolade is ridiculous as Joe had to be dragged kicking and screaming into a new offensive plan, the source of the 10-1 season, and so any actual coaching he did is at best problematic. No, if Joe had had his way Michael Robinson would've been as immobile as his predecessor, Zack Mills.

Just another Joe who must go.

Smoke and Mirrors

MANIFESTO

À La Harper's Index® ...

Amount of money saved in today's Senate budget vote by cutting funds available for (among other things) Medicaid, Medicare, and student loans: $40 billion.

Cost of a tax bill, which Republican congressional leaders hope to bring to a vote early next year: $70 billion.

As Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the top Budget Committee Democrat, observed: "Put the two together, and guess what: You have increased the deficit, not reduced it."

Ah, but you have screwed middle and lower class Americans by making it more difficult for them to better themselves via decent health care and advanced education. And, when all is said and done, isn't this kind of divisiveness what the Bushies are after?

A nation of sheep

MANIFESTO

Salon's Peter Daou pretty much nails the current modus operandi.
The dynamic of a typical Bush scandal follows familiar contours ...

1. POTUS circumvents the law - an impeachable offense.

2. The story breaks (in this case after having been concealed by a news organization until well after Election 2004).

3. The Bush crew floats a number of pushback strategies, settling on one that becomes the mantra of virtually every Republican surrogate. These Republicans face down poorly prepped Dem surrogates and shred them on cable news shows.

4. Rightwing attack dogs on talk radio, blogs, cable nets, and conservative editorial pages maul Bush's critics as traitors for questioning the CIC.

5. The Republican leadership plays defense for Bush, no matter how flagrant the Bush over-reach, no matter how damaging the administration's actions to America's reputation and to the Constitution. A few 'mavericks' like Hagel or Specter risk the inevitable rightwing backlash and meekly suggest that the president should obey the law. John McCain, always the Bush apologist when it really comes down to it, minimizes the scandal.

6. Left-leaning bloggers and online activists go ballistic, expressing their all-too-familiar combination of outrage at Bush and frustration that nothing ever seems to happen with these scandals. Several newspaper editorials echo these sentiments but quickly move on to other issues.

7. A few reliable Dems, Conyers, Boxer, et al, take a stand on principle, giving momentary hope to the progressive grassroots/netroots community. The rest of the Dem leadership is temporarily outraged (adding to that hope), but is chronically incapable of maintaining the sense of high indignation and focus required to reach critical mass and create a wholesale shift in public opinion. For example, just as this mother of all scandals hits Washington, Democrats are still putting out press releases on Iraq, ANWR and a range of other topics, diluting the story and signaling that they have little intention of following through. This allows Bush to use his three favorite weapons: time, America's political apathy, and make-believe 'journalists' who yuck it up with him and ask fluff questions at his frat-boy pressers.

8. Reporters and media outlets obfuscate and equivocate, pretending to ask tough questions but essentially pushing the same narratives they've developed and perfected over the past five years, namely, some variation of "Bush firm, Dems soft." A range of Bush-protecting tactics are put into play, one being to ask ridiculously misleading questions such as "Should Bush have the right to protect Americans or should he cave in to Democratic political pressure?" All the while, the right assaults the "liberal" media for daring to tell anything resembling the truth.

9. Polls will emerge with 'proof' that half the public agrees that Bush should have the right to "protect Americans against terrorists." Again, the issue will be framed to mask the true nature of the malfeasance. The media will use these polls to create a self-fulfilling loop and convince the public that it isn't that bad after all. The president breaks the law. Life goes on.

10. The story starts blending into a long string of administration scandals, and through skillful use of scandal fatigue, Bush weathers the storm and moves on, further demoralizing his opponents and cementing the press narrative about his 'resolve' and toughness. Congressional hearings might revive the issue momentarily, and bloggers will hammer away at it, but the initial hype is all the Democrat leadership and the media can muster, and anyway, it's never as juicy the second time around ...

Rinse and repeat.

It's a battle of attrition that Bush and his team have mastered. Short of a major Dem initiative to alter the cycle, to throw a wrench into the system, to go after the media institutionally, this cycle will continue for the foreseeable future.
Note that the co-operation of the media is crucial to this process. Fortunately, the Bushies can count on a media with the backbone of a string of cooked spaghetti.

The cynicism of this post is striking, but how many times have we seen this same scenario played out? In my ingenuous way, I've frequently thought that this, this, was the incident Dear Leader would get nailed on (To give an example, I still think the long-forgotten AWOL story should have legs.), but it has yet to happen, and this episode will no doubt play out as the others have.

When Ronald Reagan was president, he was referred to as the "Teflon President" because none of the incredible screw ups (Iran-Contra, massive budget deficits, etc.) that occurred on his watch stuck to him. Dear Leader makes President Alzheimer look like a piker in this regard because, while Reagan was among the least comptetent presidents the US has ever had, at least he never knowingly committed a crime.

Reason to Love New York #55

SPORTING GOODS

I was confused by the time I got to the third rule but knew deep down I would love this game if I were a nine year-old. From New York magazine's "123 Reasons to Love New York:"
Because You Can Give Kids a Ball and Some Concrete, and They'll Invent a Game Called Pegacide
If dodgeball and handball have proved anything, it’s that a kid doesn’t need much more than a rubber ball and a patch of pavement to have fun. This year’s playground sensation, Pegacide, is a cross between the two. Like all games kids love, its rules are byzantine and seem to resist adult understanding. Here’s how it’s played. Take a breath.
(1) Players gather in a circle about ten feet from a wall and toss the handball into the air. The person who catches the ball is “It.”

(2) The other players scatter, running to touch the wall before “It” can peg them—gently, of course—with the ball.

(3) If a player is pegged, he receives one out. However, if “It” misses his mark, he then must run to the wall to avoid being pegged by the other players. If he is hit, he gets an out.

(4) If a player runs to get a faraway ball, the other players can yell “challenge” and have him attempt to hit the wall from a distance. If that seems too tough, he can yell “safety” and have someone else take the throw, at the risk of getting pegged himself.

(5) Once a player has three outs, he can become a “ghost” and continue playing—without pegging anyone—by catching the ball and tossing it against the wall to keep it in play.

(6) When the game is down to two players, they take turns throwing the ball against the wall and trying to catch it. When Player 1 misses it, Player 2 will try to grab the ball and peg Player 1 before he can reach the wall. If he does, Player 2 wins.

(7) If you throw the ball too hard at someone, you get an out. If you throw the ball out of bounds on purpose, you receive two outs.

The game’s secrets? “You have to run fast and be able to dodge,” says Isabelle Romero-North, a 9-year-old Pegacider from Forest Hills. “You don’t want to nail the person,” adds fellow player Henry Schwartz, 9. Still, accidents happen. “I once threw the ball against the wall and it hit me in the eye,” says Henry’s friend, Diego Martinez, also 9. “Teachers don’t like Pegacide at all.”
Pegacide. That is one of the best game names I've ever heard. I would buy tickets to watch a game called Pegacide.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Blinding Them with Science

MANIFESTO

A Federal judge has ruled that "'Intelligent design' cannot be mentioned in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district." Thank Jesus.

Desperate Measures

MANIFESTO

Jonathan Alter at Newsweek reports about the Boy King's desperate attempt to stop the Times from exposing his shredding of the Constitution. On December 6th, BK held a meeting with Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller in the Oval Office "in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story." Sure would love to have been a fly on that wall.
The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference...(he) was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story —which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker.
Like most big political scandals (and this one is going to be waaaaaay bigger than Plamegate), Snoopgate should never have happened. The court that issues the warrants the White House was required by law to obtain is designed to respond almost instantly to government requests.
(It can approve) eavesdropping in hours, even minutes, if necessary. In fact, the law allows the government to eavesdrop on its own, then retroactively justify it to the court, essentially obtaining a warrant after the fact. Since 1979, the FISA court has approved tens of thousands of eavesdropping requests and rejected only four. There was no indication the existing system was slow —as the president seemed to claim in his press conference —or in any way required extra-constitutional action.
The retroactive thing is what gets me. If there really were a "ticking-bomb" scenario like BK implies, this part of the law is designed to be a contigency. Instead, the White House just ignored it. In 27 years, only four requests have been denied. Four. This law is practically a rubber stamp. Why did BK authorize a secret program that was wholly unnecessary?

As I said before, almost all major political scandals needn't to ever have happened. Nixon was a fool to break into the DNC because he was going to trounce McGovern anyway. Clinton shouldn't have lied to the Grand Jury because the American people would have forgiven his adultery. The Boy King should have just followed the FISA laws since they already gave him all the power he needed to investigate terrorist ties. Each of these Presidents made colossal errors in judgment and will always be haunted by them. I'd say I hope BK gets thrown out of office like Tricky Dick but then we'd be left with the guy who probably thought up the whole evil thing up in the first place.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Supreme Court? Bring 'em On

MANIFESTO

You'll pardon me if I continue my shocked silence over the president's admission earlier today that he broke the law and plans to continue to do so. I don't know how his handlers hoped the press conference would go, but I can't believe they foresaw a recidivist meltdown.

Kevin Drum offers a "nickel version of the legal issues involved" here.

Post #500

Whatever

Wow, who would have thought that we would have reached 500 posts so quickly. So I'm going to take this milestone and do a little self-congratulatory thing here. This little blog is 8 months old or so and I think it is now time to review the niches each of us has carved out since we began.

Monocle - Our newest member and the original godfather of this blog. Our resident coherent, rational, well-informed political blogger. Solely responsible for getting us to 500 posts about a month sooner than we otherwise would have.

Sergio - Our movie nut. Almost too knowledgable about movies. Also our photoshop genius.

Darlucky - Stat-head. Provides us all with better analysis and opinion about professional sports than you get from most other sources.

B - Food provider. Thanks to B, I'll never go hungry. The post about best take-out in Manhattan has probably been the most viewed post from this site. I go back to it all the time.

Chill - Thanks to me this site will never be without rants about sports and politics, and occassionally, movies. Long, bitter rants. Almost pathologically obsessed with the idiocy of the media. Left speechless by the idiocy of the current administration. Deeply saddened by the idiocy of the Democratic party.

Hopefully this will keep going. We've seem to have worked up quite a head of steam. I know I enjoy the comments more and more every day. So for that, thanks to those who read us every day. Even if it is barely more than those that contribute, at least it gives us all a way to keep in touch.

Lazy Sunday

Universal Remote

This is the best SNL skit I've seen in years. May be funniest to New Yorkers, but definitely the hardest I've laughed at SNL since the Will Ferrell days, or at least since Justin Timberlake hosted.

Worth the wait for the video to load. Of course, kind of sad that SNL's best output this year has not been "live," but I won't complain as it's brilliant.

Misleading headline

SPORTING GOODS

"Indians beef up bullpen with deals for Graves, Karsay."

Anyone who follows up NY baseball knows that this move is nothing more than a way to get some warm bodies who used to be decent into spring training. However, as I hold out hope that all the preseason hype that is building around the Indians for 2006 comes nowhere near fruition, the idea that these two clowns may take up roster space in Cleveland next year is enough to make me happy.

I just don't see any way that Cleveland doesn't have two guys in AAA (with no real shot of making the roster) that are better than Karsay and Graves. Some day teams will figure out the concept of replacement players - a player is only valuable if he cannot be replaced easily and cheaply. Indians fans can only hope that their manager has a good grasp on the idea.

This just in ...

MANIFESTO

Dear Leader will hold a news conference at 10:30 this morning, his first since October.

Dear Leader's recent visibility is testament to just how panicked the White House is these days.

UPDATE — Well, the press conference has come and gone, and to paraphrase a famous New York Daily News headline: Bush to US: Drop Dead.
President Bush said Monday he intends to continue using secret wiretaps to monitor activities of people in the United States suspected of being connected to al Qaeda.

"To save American lives we must be able to act fast and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks," Bush said during a year-end news conference at the White House.

"So, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, I authorized the interception of international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations."

"I've reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September 11 attacks and I intend to do so for so long as the nation faces a continuing threat from an enemy that wants to kill American citizens," Bush said.
What a crock. In other words, he won't abide by the laws of the country no matter what they may be.

What he's done is by no means "consistent with US Law and the Constitution." The wiretapping is counter to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and certainly is counter to the Constitutional Presidential Oath.

Furthermore, his excuse that "we must be able to act fast" is fallacious on its face. The FISA mandates warrants for wiretapping to be written as much as 72 hours after the initial action has occurred. If GI George can't get his high-powered lawyers to take care of this within three days after the order, he needs new staff.

All in all, this is another revolting performance by Dear Leader showing yet again that the Bushies really do believe they're above the law.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Movie Review - King Kong


Universal Remote

When Sergio began his countdown of his ten most anticipated movies of the fall I hadn't even considered going to see King Kong. To be honest, I didn't care one whit about a love affair between an overgrown ape and a 30's vaudeville performer. And then the reviews came. It was called the best movie of the year one of the best movies of the year by Roger Ebert. The New York Times published a generally positive review. Everybody seemed to be on the same page. So I figured I would be missing out if I didn't see it on the big screen. I got tickets for 10:00 Friday night and headed out. This was going to be great.

It is not great. It is not good. It is awful. It is a bloated, self-indulgent, overwrought special effects mess. With all of these blockbusters, the story is supposed to be secondary. But at some point, every movie has to offer something more of a plot than simply that which is necessary to advance from one special effects set piece to the next. Oh a few story lines are advanced but they are quickly dropped. Instead we got special effects action. And lots of it. Scene after scene of Kong and humans fighting various creatures. Over and over. And each scene is longer than the next. And they never end. Moreover, ther is no reason to care what happens because none of the characters are ever developed in any way that you would care about them. So you are left to watch in awe at what Peter Jackson has created. At least, that is what is supposed to happen. It is hard to be in awe when some of the special effects look so horrible. For example, in the Pamplona like running of the Dinosaurs, the contrast between real and computer is so obvious that it completely takes you out of the movie. Perhaps it would not matter if it was thrilling and compelling. But there can be no thrills if you don't care about the characters. I simply didn't care.

It did not help matters that the theater was packed with Peter Jackson nerds. I knew I was in trouble when they started clapping at the opening credits. It got worse when they clapped when Kong appeared. It became intolerable when they oohed and ahhed at the special effects, and laughed at all the creepy creatures. It is impossible to build suspense when people are laughing at everything. The inability of the modern movergoer to discern what is irony and what is not might be a sign of the apocalypse. I thought for a moment that this might be the reason I hated the movie so much. Luckily, Time's Richard Schickel convinced me otherwise. He writes, "[a]nd our response to the ape's doom, once touched by authentic tragedy, is now marked by relief that this wretchedly excessive movie is finally over."

Security and Liberty

MANIFESTO

Over at Washington Monthly, Shakespeare's Sister hits the nail squarely on the head when she says, in discussing Dear Leader's justification of spying on Americans:
The question each American, irrespective of political leanings, has to ask her- or himself is whether the circumvention of checks and balances, the evasion of official oversight, the subversion of civil liberties—including, possibly, your own—is, in the end, a bigger threat to freedom than the threats (of terrorism? of peaceful demonstration?) used to justify an abandonment of the rule of law in the first place.
Indeed. GI George's implication that law-abiding Americans have nothing to fear from this snooping (and have much to fear from its not being implemented) has an alarming "First they came for the Communists" aura about it. That is, if a few of us are not safe, then none of us is safe from this kind of unwarranted (I use the word purposely) surveillance.

(And it should be noted that, among others, even the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, hardly a radical newspaper, sees a real threat to the nation in this dangerous practice.)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Just a reminder

MANIFESTO

The Presidential Oath of Office:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Kind of rings a bit hollow today, doesn't it? (Of course, with a President who has an IQ of 85, one must always consider the proviso, "to the best of my ability.")

How did I miss this?


MANIFESTO

Thanks to NPR's Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me, I find that a week ago the New York Times reported that no less an institution than the Federal Bureau of Investigation has identified librarians as "radical" and "militant."

Cripes. I've really been slammed in the last few years. Who can forget Rod Paige's assertion that teachers are terrorists?

Needless to say, given their proclivity to insist that black is white, the Bushies' accusations can only be taken as compliments.

Friday, December 16, 2005

USA! USA!

SPORTING GOODS

I never really get into the Winter Olympics (or the "Winter Games" as former Apple II owners might know them), so the next time for me to display my battered patriotism appears to be the World Baseball Classic.

While there are some interesting subplots (Will Cuba be allowed to play? Does anyone want A-Rod on their team? Can I really root for Roger Clemens?), the main plot will be how will the center of the baseball universe (USA) fare against countries who put baseball at the center of their universe (Dominican Republic, Venezuela).

There are a lot of stars on those teams (how is Soriano/ Tejada/ Pujols/ Manny/ Vlad/ Ortiz for a murderer's row), the fun part for me will be watching to see how the US squad gets put together. It's hard to predict who might come on board, or who will drop out for health reasons, but the MLB has released a list of players who have said they will play.

Taking a quick look at who has said yes, here is the current US lineup as I see it.

Johnny Damon, CF
Derek Jeter, SS
Barry Bonds, DH
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Lance Berkman, RF
Eric Chavez, 3B
Jason Varitek, C
Vernon Wells, RF
Michael Young, 2B

Bench: Joe Mauer and Michael Barrett (catchers), Derek Lee (1B), Jimmy Rollins (middle infield), Craig Biggio (2B/OF), Chipper Jones (3B/OF), Carl Crawford (OF)

I hate to cut Adam Dunn, David Wright, and Juan Pierre, but I had to do it for the flexibility that Biggio, Chipper, and Jimmy Rollins provide. The team has to have three catchers.

Starting pitchers: Roger Clemens, Roy Halladay, Dontrelle Willis, Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle
Middle relief: John Smoltz, Andy Pettite, Barry Zito
Short relief: Billy Wagner, B.J. Ryan, Brad Lidge, Huston Street, Chad Cordero, Jason Isringhausen

There are going to be some restrictions on how long pitchers can pitch, due to the MLB wanting to protect their players. So having a stacked bullpen, including some starters working out of the pen, will be a huge advantage. I wanted to keep Ben Sheets for sentitmental reasons (2000 Olympian) but just couldn't find him a place on this star-studded pitching roster. If 14 pitchers turns out to be excessive, the US could sub in Wright or Dunn for one pitcher, but they have to carry 13 per the rules.

In the end, the US will have by far the best pitching in the tournament. The DR has the best lineup in the tournament, although the US offers more depth from 1 through 16. It will be just if these two teams end up meeting in the final. Anything else would have to be considered a disappointment. No offense meant to Venezuela, Japan, and Puerto Rico.

More Black is White from the Bushies

MANIFESTO

Yet another reason for the Senate to be very cautious in extending the USA PATRIOT Act:
High-level administration figures, reacting to a report that the National Security Agency eavesdropped without warrants on people inside the United States, asserted Friday that President Bush has respected the Constitution while striving to protect the American people.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said Bush has "acted lawfully in every step that he has taken." His top spokesman, Scott McClellan, said that Bush "is going to remain fully committed to upholding our Constitution and protect the civil liberties of the American people. And he has done both."

But neither Rice nor McClellan would confirm or deny a New York Times report saying the super-secret NSA had spied on as many as 500 people inside the United States at any given time since 2002.
Respected and upheld the Constitution, my ankle. Dear Leader wouldn't know a constitutional principle if it fell on him as he amply demonstrated yesterday.

Of course, it can also be argued that extending or not extending the USA PATRIOT Act is moot since the Bushies have shown in this episode that they'll do whatever they want to, anyway, and the rules be damned. Furthermore, they'll discuss it only when they get caught—and then lie about it.

They that

MANIFESTO

can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. — Ben Franklin

I'll be watching the goings on in the Senate today as the nation's solons try to decide what to do with the hideous USA PATRIOT Act. At this point, it looks like they won't vote to extend it. Should that occur, it'll be very interesting to see how this all plays out in a conference committee.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

30,000 Iraqis

Manifesto

I've often wondered in this space about the number of Iraqis that have been killed during the Iraq war. Well, apparently the number is about 30,000. There has been a lot written about this lately, including much about how the President cracked a joke almost immediately after, but I think the important thing is the context in which this number was revealed.

The President is in the midst of a tour of the country, making seven speeches about the merits and benefits of the Iraq war. In these speeches the President has offered much of the same rationales we've heard over the last two years. My favorite has always been the "flypaper theory." The "flypaper theory" is the "we fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here." That's great and all, but how in the hell did the Iraqis get so lucky as to be the chosen victims of our little preemptive war. There are now 30,000 dead Iraqis. As the President admitted, he is "responsible" for taking us to war on "faulty intelligence." As such, the President impliedly admitted that Iraq presented no imminent threat. There was no danger. There was nothing.

30,000 Iraqis are dead. And yet we have no investigation into how all of these decisions were made. Somewhere, the powers that be in the commentariat have determined that Americans are more interested in solving current problems and not "reliving past decisions." I wonder if the families 30,000 dead Iraqis might want to know why their loved ones had to die.

And maybe we, as Americans, might want to know what we could have done differently to prevent this slaughter.

I know nothing in this post is groundbreaking. I write this more because I can't believe this isn't being written in every paper, every day.

On Torture

MANIFESTO

The Bushies have apparently decided that "[w]e are ... a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are."

The nation has come to a pretty pass when Dear Leader's "giving in" to a bill that censures torture is considered newsworthy.

From those who actually vote

MANIFESTO

America's seniors have spoken:
U.S. seniors show slightly more approval for President George Bush, but are distinctly unhappy with Congress, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll indicates.

Of 1,006 people surveyed by telephone, Bush's overall approval rating was 39 percent ...

For Congress however, dissent among those 65 and over is high. Just 19 percent approve of Congress, and 65 percent said they are unhappy with its performance. Those under 65 are also negative, with 58 percent unhappy vs. 27 percent who are satisfied.
Yeah, yeah. I'll believe it when I see it. Over and over again, poll numbers like these are released, but they don't play out in actual voting results. The truth of the matter is that people may not like Congress, but an overwhelming majority approve of their own Congressperson. Thus, little changes. Furthermore, congressional districts have been so gerrymandered in the last twenty years that almost all districts are "safe."

Finally, it's all well and good to point out that Dear Leader has an approval rating of 39%, but his support wasn't much more than that last November, and he still somehow managed to win the election.

Don't Mess with Mahoney

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

Steve Guttenberg, everyone's least favorite 80s star, tells it like it is and it is hilarious. The guys over at HBO should sign him up to play himself on Entourage, bro.

You had a string of hits in the 1980s. What have you been up to lately?
There are 100,000 actors in the Screen Actors Guild. Only 2,000 of them make more than $75,000 (£42,000) a year. That means 98,000 actors make less than $75,000 a year. From 1980 to 1990, I shot more films than any other actor in the Screen Actors Guild apart from Gene Hackman. Everyone keeps asking me that stupid question: "What are you doing?" I say: "Why do I need to do anything? I'm rich." Do you want me to be poor again? Do you want me to go back to making tomato soup out of ketchup and water? Or would you like me to be a multimillionaire and be rewarded for all the entertainment I gave you for all those years? I'm enjoying life now. If I was a plumber and I'd done the most plumbing jobs between 1980 and 1990, everyone would be saying: "What a great plumber" - he says "f**k you to the world and he's enjoying himself." But for some reason, as an actor, you're not allowed to say: "I'm f**king rich, bro."

If you're so rich, why do you work at all any more?
I love the fame and the money and the power. You have to keep working to have that. Listen to Hugh Grant. He freaking hates acting but he still works to have the money, fame and power. If he didn't work, they'd forget about him - and when he arrived at a restaurant, a new Hugh Grant would have the best table. Fame, money and power: that's why people become actors, directors or producers. They love the juice. I don't care who you are. I'm sure if you dig deep, Joe and Ralph Fiennes do it because they want to be noticed. It's great to see people liking my work but [sigh] I'm just saying what the truth is.

Thanks, it makes a change.
I'm not going to say "I'm an actor and I'm changing the world." Ewan McGregor - who cares? God bless you, Ewan, you're cute and adorable but just do your job. Jude Law, Sean Penn, any of these guys, they'll tell you they're not doing it for free.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More Development?

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

Arrested Development may not be dead after all. The Hollywood Reporter and Variety are both reporting that ABC and Showtime are each in negotiations to take over the show from Fox.

Frozen bananas for everyone!

MOVIE RECOMMENDATION: The Climactic Death of Dark Ninja


UNIVERSAL REMOTE

I highly recommend this short film that is being shown on IFC this month. I stumbled across it by accident, after a family member asked me to record another short that IFC is showing this month.

I enjoyed the short I was asked to record, Right Foot, Left Foot, about a guy (who you'll recognize from commercials) with a crappy life and crappy job, who deals with it all with his imagination. There are some funny moments, and it's all very well put together.

But another short included in the same half-hour or hour, "The Climactic Death of Dark Ninja," steals the show. I don't know if it's the fantastic timing of (some of) the actors, the clever little twists that really made me laugh, or the fact that its plot (about a bunch of kids making a movie about ninjas) hit so close to home, but I highly recommend it. Especially if you've ever filmed, or been involved in the production of, an amateur ninja movie.

You can catch both short films on IFC, but because of the strange schedules, I suggest setting your Tivo.

Show times:
Wednesday, December 14 3:45PM
Tuesday, December 20 5:00AM
Thursday, December 22 5:05AM
Saturday, December 24 5:00AM
Saturday, December 24 3:30PM
Monday, December 26 5:45PM

Da Trailer

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

A few thoughts from the new full-length trailer for Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code.

1) Tom Hanks' hair is, well, unexpected.
2) Paul Bettany looks awesome as an albino.
3) No one speaks portentous dialogue better than Ian McKellan. (Ex: Lord of the Rings, X-Men, etc.)

I feel like a bit of a tool writing about what will be next year's least surprising blockbuster. (Does anyone not know the twist?) Movies like this are far more interesting to me six months before they are released than six months after.

The Sleeping Bear, cont'd.

Lowell Weicker was a guest co-host on Colin McEnroe's radio program yesterday and was certainly forthright in his statements. Here's Mr. McEnroe's précis of the former governor's appearance.

Geniuses

MANIFESTO

Whoever set up the transit workers contract to exprire 10 days before Christmas was a genius. Between the holiday crowds and the temperatures in the teens, there really couldn't be a worse time for this strike.

Priorities

MANIFESTO

Recently our benighted federal legislators have, among other things:
  • passed legislation making it difficult to declare bankruptcy under even the most trying conditions;
  • passed legislation making class action lawsuits all but impossible to pursue;
  • attempted to protect the Ten Commandements, the Knights of Columbus sanctioned Pledge of Allegiance, and the homophobic Boy Scouts of America;
  • attempted to investigate the college bowl system.
While pursuing these foolish and/or dangerous issues, our oligarchic Congress has ignored one big issue.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said Tuesday that Congress had run out of time this year to act on legislation that would have saved millions of taxpayers from the grasp of the alternative minimum tax in 2006.

The tax was created decades ago to prevent the wealthiest citizens from sheltering most of their income from the Internal Revenue Service. But because inflation has driven wages higher over the years, it increasingly threatens more taxpayers considered to be middle class, with incomes of $50,000 to $75,000.
So while Congress passes or considers legislation that either doesn't affect or harms Middle Class Americans, it refuses to do anything to lessen their potential tax liability. They'd much rather reduce capital gains taxes and tax rates for the wealthiest citizens. It beggars belief how the Middle Class continues to put up with these ripoffs.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Food Buzz

FOOD FIGHT

So much buzz in NY magazine's latest food tidbits..

I have two favorite Italian places in Manhattan. Apizz is one. It tiny, but marvolous. The chef, John LaFemina, has been having some non-Italian interests of late so he's opened a second place (also on the LES) called the Orchard. Still some Italian items on the menu, but not a strictly Italian menu. Oh, and he's not only a master in the kitchen, he also literally helped build the restaurant.

Since I've yet to travel to Japan (the Tokyo layover doesn't count), it's Momofuku that has taught me the beauty of a Japanese Noodle Bar. It's a tiny bar, but worth the wait for amazingly delicious and fresh food...the piece de resistance being the steaming bowl of Momofuku Ramen with a rich pork broth, tender noodles (he won't say where he gets them from, but had tested a ton of noodle shops in the area before opening), Berkshire pork, nori, and a soft boiled egg cracked on top. Mmm. But, now they've made it better (as NY magazine reports) by adding dessert. "Sunshine Flagg, a veteran of WD-50’s daring pastry dept, has set up shop in the basement where she bakes tiny cupcakes in unusual flavors like kabocha squash with maple–star-anise buttercream." I know these aren't your childhood favs, but c'mon food should be a good adventure.

Also, in that article is a funny food mix up. Stoufer's has a new line of panini's that they are branding "Corner Bistro." For any fans of my personal second fav burger in the city, don't worry, they are not related. Corner Bistro didn't sell out. Just a common term for the neighborhood place.

À La Harper's Index®

MANIFESTO

Number of Marine Reserves usually available for the Hartford area Toys for Tots program: 200

Number available this year after unit members were deployed to Iraq: 7

Read of the sorry situation here.

Monday, December 12, 2005

"Emboldened by the inattention"

MANIFESTO

Here's Courant political columnist Michele Jacklin's last column for the paper.

Should one consider it a valedictory or a maledictory? Whichever, it concerns the all too familiar theme of the media's willingness to let government leaders at all levels act with impunity.

Damned if you do ...

MANIFESTO

Here's an interesting story that's making the rounds in the Constitution State:
Yankee Gas customers have apparently done too good a job with conservation, because the company is now asking for a rate hike based, in part, on a drop in use ...

"The main driver for this is the high cost of the commodity," [spokeswoman Sandy] St. Pierre said. Yankee Gas needs working capital to buy and store the gas, the cost of which doubled in the past year.

But the company also said customers who can't afford to pay their bills, and people who are using less to avoid higher bills, are part of its problem.

"We're not saying conservation is bad at all," St. Pierre said, but Yankee Gas needs a certain amount of revenue to run the business. The company is predicting a $1.5 million shortfall next year between money — included in the charges customers pay — used to offset uncollectable bills and the amount of those bills.
Just when you think you've seen it all when it comes to ripoffs of the American consumer, some avaricious company comes up with something like this. It's pretty ridiculous when consumers attempt to sacrifice in good faith and get screwed for it.

Yankee Gas gives its imprimatur to conservation. Isn't that nice, but it's clear that it's much more concerned with its own interests.

Meanwhile, "Attorney General Richard Blumenthal vowed to fight the hike."

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Sleeping Bear, cont'd.

MANIFESTO





The Courant's Bob Engelhart brings a fitting conclusion to an interesting week in Connecticut politics with this cartoon. For those who don't understand Engelhart's—or my earlier—reference, take a look here for a short history lesson.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Holy Joe

MANIFESTO

Roger Ailes discusses Connecticut's junior senator in a post today. Needless to say, the post isn't complimentary.

Ailes' first point is the similarity in the leads in two stories printed today concerning Senator Sanctimony—one from the New York Times and one from the Washington Post. The similarity is easily explained as the leads pretty much echo what the Courant has been saying since Tuesday. Two more stories regarding the senator appear in the latter newspaper today.

The bottom line is this: Joe must go. Not only do liberal bloggers realize this, but he's seriously irritating the leadership of his own party. When he last ran for the Senate in 2000, Lieberman's opponent, Philip Giordano, got virtually no support from the Republicans. Clueless Joe may have a similar lack of support from the Democrats in 2006.

Be that as it may, there still seems to be no viable candidate to put up against him. I don't think there's a state Republican I'd vote for to take his place. The current Republican Congresspeople are Johnson (a Bush toady), Simmons (likewise), and Shays (a loose cannon, but still an Iraq invasion proponent). Perhaps Democrats Larson or DeLauro will get interested in challenging the junior senator in a primary. Obviously, that'd be risky and is probably not something they'd like to do. However, I think either of them would make excellent senators.

We have miles to go before we sleep on this one. It's probably unfortunate that all of this has hit the fan in December of 2005 and not October of 2006.

Where They are Now

MANIFESTO

For those interested in the present and near future doings of Connecticut's former felonious governor, today's Hartford Courant supplies the following information:
Rowland ... began his sentence April 1 and, with an automatic 15 percent reduction for sentences more than a year, he is scheduled for release [from a federal prison camp in Loretto, Pa.] Feb. 12 ...

[A]fter Rowland gets out, he will have to serve three years of supervised release, including four months of home confinement, and perform 300 hours of community service.

In addition ... he had to pay $35,000 in taxes he owes on illegal gifts he received from state contractors and others, and must reimburse the state $72,000 for gifts he accepted. [The case's judge] also imposed a $10,000 fine.
Given the onerous financial obligations of the state's former chief executive, I thought I might want to throw him a few bucks. Alas, it appears as if the Rowland Legal Defense Fund is no longer extant.

Connecticut Shoreline Quote of the Day

MANIFESTO

"One of my former wives was French, and that's the same as being Italian."

Click here for the whole wacky story.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Urban Legend?

SPORTING GOODS

In poking around the web this evening, I came upon this nugget, which explains the origin of baseball's seventh inning stretch.

While I'm not sure I believe this story, it's clear that the practice was never supposed to be used as an opportunity for jingoism.

Sony Baloney

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

I just got a notice from a jobber I use to return all Sony CDs I may have purchased from them so that they can be replaced. Not having bought any Sony CDs, and not being aware of what this was all about, I did a little investigating, and what a sordid tale it is. Apparently, the company placed a "type of content protection software known as XCP (Extended Copy Protection)" on some of its CDs in order to make it impossible to copy them. The technology works, but also allows "'rootkits' to mask [their] presence on a PC [and allow] access [to] a computer’s innards without being detected by the operating system." Swell.

So, in order to protect its outrageous profits, Sony has seen fit to jeopardize the computers of many of its customers. This is hardly an exemplar of customer service.

This fiasco wouldn't be so bad if Sony had done the right thing and taken care of this situation. Rather, the company is employing an alternative technique for copy protection, which isn't much better than its original technology.
Sony has tried to recall the problem CDs in the last few weeks and has issued security patches for new vulnerabilities that have been discovered, but security experts warn that Sony hasn’t done enough to protect consumers ...

"I don’t think the issue is going to die down,” said Alex Stamos, founding partner with iSEC Partners, a San-Francisco-based application security consultancy. “What Sony is doing is inherently dangerous and because the software is so pervasive and puts its fingers into a lot of spaces in the operating system, the attack surface remains large."
This whole situation is somewhat reminiscent of various Bush Administration policies (the horrid USA PATRIOT Act comes to mind) wherein, in trying to ameliorate a situation, the solution created turns out to be appreciably worse than the original "problem."

Only the Lonely

MANIFESTO

Atrios points out this Think Progress post regarding Connecticut's junior senator. The comments, especially, are interesting.

Group of Death

Sporting Goods

Well, it looks like the US has ended up in the toughest group in the World Cup, being paired up with Italy, Czech Republic, and Ghana.

Ghana is a good African side, but the Czech Republic is currently ranked second in the world, and Italy 12th. A group's tougness can really be measured by its top three teams, since only two go through. So, the US will have to either send Italy or the Czech Republic home early. What a disappointment as I sat with my coworkers and watched the draw come up - we had been strongly hoping against being put in group B, C or E, and almost squeaked through before seeing the US name get dropped down to E.

Italy always finds something to complain to FIFA about - I would say being picked as a number one seed and then being put in a group with two of the top 8 ranked teams in the world will give them a great chance to bitch.

What is very cool is that we can already see who we're playing and when:
Monday June 12, noon, US vs Czech Republic
Saturday June 17, noon, US vs Italy
Thursday June 22, 10am, US vs Ghana

I wouldn't be surprised if that Thursday game leaves us needing a win, and a win from the Czech Republic over Italy, for us to go through.

But for more bad news, if we come in second in the group, we are likely playing Brazil in the round of 16. So to have a chance to get as far as we did in 2002, we really need to win our group. Anything can happen, but yikes!

Bits and bobs

Sporting Goods

Sorry for the title, I've been talking to British people all day.

So is the rumor about a potential Miggy for Manny swap more than just speculation, or is an actual possibility? You can make me root for Tejada, but you can't make me like him! For those that haven't been subjected to my rant, he's on my list of top 5 players that I hate with Roger "Pass the Krispy Kremes" Clemens, Erubiel "I f***ing hate that guy" Durazo, Karim "who is Karim Garcia?" Garcia, and Jeff "That security guard is looking at me funny" Nelson.

World Cup Draw is today, I'll probably post on it later. Two notes on the US: the England coach has (smartly) listed the US as one of the teams he does not want to draw in the tournament, and it turns out that on the FIFA rating system, the US lost out by one measly point in getting a top seed (they had 43 to Argentina and Italy's 44 - Brazil was tops with 64).

HOLIDAY party last night, so it's going to be a long day for me. Already has been, actually.

Great Movie Dialogue

Universal Remote

Great movie speeches are awesome. This is from Stephen Gaghan's Syriana. I'm not sure this rises up to Michael Douglas' "Greed is good" speech from Wall Street but it's pretty good.

"Danny" is played by Tim Blake Nelson and "Bennett" is played by Jeffrey Wright.
DANNY
Some trust fund prosecutor, got off-message at Brown, thinks he’s gonna run this up the flag pole, make a name for himself, maybe get elected some two-bit, no-name congressman from nowhere, with the result that Russia or China can suddenly start having, at our expense, all the advantages we enjoy here. No, I tell you. No, sir.
(mimics prosecutor)
“But, Danny, these are sovereign nations.” Sovereign nations! What is a sovereign nation, but a collective of greed run by one individual? “But, Danny, they’re codified by the U.N. charter!” Legitimized gangsterism on a global basis that has no more validity than an agreement between the Crips and the Bloods!
(beat)
...Corruption charges. Corruption? Corruption ain’t nothing more than government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulation. That’s Milton Friedman. He got a goddamn Nobel prize. We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption is what keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are prancing around here instead of
fighting each other for scraps of meat out in the streets.
(beat)
Corruption... is how we win.

BENNETT
You broke the law, Mr. Dalton.

DANNY
Oh, who gives a shit!
I pulled this from Roger Ebert's four-star review. Check it out and see once again why he is our best film critic and I am not.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I'm officially a cranky old man

Sporting Goods

Maybe its because I'm in a pissy mood but this really bothers me. Two years ago Miguel Tejada flees the Oakland A's for the Orioles' money, 6 years for $72 million. Now the A's were in the middle of a streak of playoff appearances, a streak that ended only after Tejada left. The O's, well, not only have they been awful for the last half a dozen years or so but they play in the most competitive division in baseball. Tejada knew this when he signed with the O's. So you gotta figure that Tejada knew he was just doing it for the money. Well, now we have Tejada demanding a trade:
"I've been with the Orioles for two years and things haven't gone in the direction that we were expecting, so I think the best thing will be a change of scenery," Tejada told The Associated Press during a telephone interview in his native Dominican Republic.
I realize this is par for the course these days, A-Rod, etc. And as regular readers of this blog know, I'm not a huge fan of ownership or management on most issues. But this is just ridiculous.

Dear players,

You have every right to sign with any team that you want, for as much money as you can demand. You have no right to win. And there are no guarantees that your team will win, even if you, with all your greatness and talent, choose to sign with them. In fact, if you sign with a second-rate team that has been poorly run for years, take up 1/6 of the payroll yourself and they fail to turn it around, suck it up. What did you think was going to happen?

Just to be clear, it isn't the money that offends me. Hell, if I were a player I would find it really hard to take less money to guarantee that I would play for a winner. And I suspect most fans, despite the loyalty they expect players to have to
"their team," would do the same. But don't take the money one season and then claim you "just want to win" two years later. I have no sympathy for you. You knew what you were getting into.

Christianity returns to Capitol Hill

MANIFESTO

God, that's a relief.

Making sense

Sporting Goods

I am keeping faith that someone has a plan, as the Red Sox roster is very strange looking right now. The current infield is Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis at the corners, and Mark Loretta and (fill in the blank but for now Alex Cora is the only SS on the roster) up the middle. Meanwhile, the backup catcher is gone, the center fielder hasn't signed yet, the left fielder wants to be traded, and the right fielder was rumored in trades yesterday.

So there's no point in really trying to figure it out now, as there have to be at least three more significant moves on the way, even if one of the "moves" is not trading Manny.

At least we still have Papelbon!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The sleeping bear, cont'd.

MANIFESTO

I stand on my prediction that Lowell Weicker won't run for the US Senate next year, but Atrios points out that in a very unscientific poll at the Courant he's appreciably more popular than Senator Sanctimony.

The big issue in a possible challenge by Weicker is his age. He'll be 75 by the next election. He says he'd prefer to live the life of a septuagenarian, and who can blame him?

What's not being stated is that the senator from Tel Aviv is no spring chicken, either. Were he to run and win re-election, Connecticut's junior senator would be 70 years old by the end of his term in 2012. I'm really getting tired of these old men clinging to their jobs with all their huge office staffs and cheap haircuts. It's time to give another generation a chance. We've seen what old age and its related ills are doing to the Defense Department.

MOVIE REVIEW: Syriana

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

They were right, Fat Clooney delivers. George Clooney's Bob Barnes is the heart of Syriana and he gives the best performance of his career. Conveying an undercurrent of despair absent from his previous performances, Clooney's weariness and disillusionment mirror the mood of the whole film. Syriana was #2 on my list of most anticipated films of the fall and perhaps that is why I was a touch disappointed when I left the theater. It is undoubtably an accomplished film worthy of great praise. It tackles issues movies rarely touch and doesn't pull any punches. (Given its politics, it was a small miracle the producers got anyone to pay for it.) It tells a complicated and sometimes confusing tale without really stopping to explain anything to the audience. Instead, it immerses us into a world where politics and business are one and the same and forces us to figure out the connections between each character and their actions. Few movies are this smart and treat their audiences the same.

Gaghan won an Oscar for writing the brillian Traffic and Syriana is an obvious companion piece. It you liked Soderbergh's see-how-everything-connects film about the illegal drug trade, then you will undoubtably like this film. But make no mistake, Traffic is a superior film. All three of its storylines were compelling and sometimes breathless whereas I would argue Syriana only has one (Fat Clooney) that really succeeds. The Matt Damon and Jeffrey Wright sections are interesting, but in the end, are missing the emotional component of say the Michael Douglas trying-to-find-his-daughter section of Traffic. Hell, even the Catherine Zeta-Jones part was more interesting and she was completely dispicable right from the start. It's not that Damon and Wright are not good, it's just that their stories seem a little lacking. Usually I think films are too long, but Syriana is one that may have been better a little longer.

I know this review sounds like a negative but it really isn't. In fact, in the week since I've seen it, my opinions of Syriana have only grown more positive. But I think if you see it with slightly lowered expectations (or at least not sky-high like mine), you will enjoy it more.

Brokeback Mountain

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

If anyone is interested, E. Annie Proulx's short story "Brokeback Mountain" is available online at The New Yorker. It is an absolutely exquisite piece of work and reading it is a far better use of thirty minutes than watching that re-run of The Simpsons for the eighth time.

World Cup update

It's been a while since the last World Cup post, after the US came through as group champions. On Friday, we'll find out who the US will have to go through to get to the second round of World Cup play, but we've got some clues, as the seedings have been announced.

The top eight seeds (for the eight groups) are Germany, Brazil, Spain, England, Mexico, France, Argentina and Italy. That means the US will be paired with one of these teams.

I'm not shocked that the US is not included in that group. However, what is surprising is that US is not included while Mexico is. In case you forgot, US won the CONCACAF group over Mexico, have dominated them over the last several years, and beat them in the last World Cup. And before you think that the difference must then be their FIFA rankings, the second and third ranked teams did not get #1 seeds.

So that makes the US road slightly more difficult. But we do know that the US won't be matched up with any of the following teams: Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago.

Great. So it will be the US with one of the #1 seeds, a European squad, and an African or South American side. We could realistically be in a group with France, Ecuador, and the Czech Republic (the second ranked team in the world). Or, we could be in a group with Spain, Toga, and the Ukraine.

Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Sleeping Bear has awakened

MANIFESTO

The political hubbub in Connecticut today has to do with a speech and accompanying Q-and-A session by former Senator and Governor Lowell Weicker yesterday at the Hartford Rotary Club. During it, Weicker averred that he disagrees "100 percent with the position [Senator Lieberman has] taken on this war. It mirrors that of the president, and obviously I disagree with the president."

These fighting words lead to the obvious question: Is Weicker thinking of running for the office he lost to Lieberman in 1988? I suspect he's not, but the septuagenarian seems not to be discounting it entirely.

Typically, Connecticut's junior senator (who has been held up as a paragon of administrative loyalty by both Dear Leader and Rummy in the last week) continues to meander around in a fog, thinking that everything's hunky dory.
Lieberman declined to comment on the possibility of facing his old adversary in a rematch. Instead, his office issued an all-purpose statement on the 2006 campaign.

"I am accustomed to having opponents and I look forward to putting my record before the Connecticut voters again next year and to earning the privilege of serving as their senator for another term," he said.
To which I say good luck given that 60 percent of voters favor withdrawing from Iraq and 54 percent believe going to war was wrong.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Ace Rip 6 Y Shallow

SPORTING GOODS

If you read Moneyball, then you have to read author Michael Lewis' "Coach Leach Goes Deep, Very Deep" from this Sunday's New York Times Magazine about Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach. He basically turned a piss-poor program into a Division-1 offensive powerhouse by throwing away the old playbook and rethinking how a football offense can be run. He is also a crazy eccentric who likes to give his players hour-long dissertations about pirates. (Very amusing.)

I watch football but know almost nothing about how it is played. That is to say I can recite old maxims like "you have to establish a running game in order to have an effective passing attack" but I have no clue about Xs and Os. Ace Rip 6 Y Shallow means nothing to me. But to Mike Leach, it is a whole new way to play football.

Like Billy Beane in Moneyball, Mike Leach has brought new thinking to a sport and a coaching establishment that doesn't really want it. And like Beane before him, Leach is seen as an outsider, as someone not to be trusted. But he is also someone who may revolutionize how the game is played. I don't give a lick about college football, but I will now play close attention to Leach. Not knowing about the intricacies of formations and play calling may make the article more interesting because you don't have any preconceptions to overcome. Kudos to Lewis for once again shining a light on a true innovator. (He is fast becoming my favorite sports writer anywhere.) This is truly fascinating stuff. Ace Rip 6 Y Shallow indeed.

The tape

Sporting Goods

No, not another "leaked" sex tape, this one you can access from the NY Times website. Click on video under the picture.

The Tape is of Reggie Bush's high school highlights. He often lined up as a receiver, so they could do more with him by getting him out into space. But some of his moves, including the first highlight, are just unbelievable. Make sure you watch on high bandwidth so it is fluid.

The funniest part of the article about this legend in the making:

When Bush was 9 years old, his stepfather put him in a Pop Warner league because the boy was too hyper to keep around the house all the time. In the first game, Bush reportedly finished with seven touchdowns and 287 yards. In the second game, he had eight touchdowns and 544 yards. "I couldn't believe what I saw," said his stepfather, Lamar Griffin.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Movie Review - Masters of Horror: Homecoming

Universal Remote

On Friday night, Showtime aired Homecoming, a psuedo-zombie movie that was basically a critique of the Bush war in Iraq and the politicization and exploitation of the war by conservative commentators.

I won't get too much into the plot because we've been living much of it. Short version: a conservative speech writer states on "Larry King" that if he had one wish it would be for those who have given their life in Iraq to come back and tell us how important their sacrifice was and what a good cause it was for. After the President uses this line at his party's convention, dead soldiers (only those that didn't believe they died for a just cause) rise from their graves with one solitary purpose, to vote. The movie tracks the conservative attempt to exploit these soldiers for political purposes, and then, when they realize that they oppose their party and the war, to intern the zombie soldiers and prevent them from telling their story. In doing so, the movie-conservatives parrot many of the things that have been said about all those who oppose them and many of the things used to sell the war.

In the end, the movie isn't very scary. In fact, it is a completely ineffective "horror movie." But one thing struck me as fascinating. As the first movie to address the War in Iraq, it offered something that needed to be done, but just hasn't yet. Because of the format, a one-hour short, they condensed all of the arguments that conservatives have used to support the war and attack their opponents into one neat little hour-long package. As such, all of the illogical contradictions and all of the pure hate were on display in one place. Even as somebody who has been paying attention and knows about all of this, I found this simple act to be very effective in exposing the simple-minded hate and the purely political nature of how the war was, and continues to be, sold. It simply reinforced my belief that the most effective opposition starts with somebody putting all of the facts together in one place, from the criticisms from Richard Clarke and Paul O'Neill, to the statements about WMDs by Cheney, Rice and the President. Taken individually, it is easy to dismiss each of these pieces of evidence. But gathered together in one place, the truth is undeniable.