Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A war to start all wars

MANIFESTO

For months going onto years I've been trying to put my finger on just why the so-called Global War on Terror is such a crock. To be sure, I understand that it's a war that ipso facto can never end, but the sheer insanity of the situation was something I was unable to put into words adequately. Fortunately, Digby has been able to articulate better than I've ever seen it stated just how grotesque the Bushies' policy is.

Free speech?

MANIFESTO

In what is surely one of the most confusing decisions in years, the US Supreme Court has decided that there are two kinds of free speech: one for public employees and one for private citizens.
Justice Kennedy [who wrote the majority] opinion drew a formal distinction between two kinds of speech by public employees: statements they make "pursuant to their official duties" and those made as citizens contributing to "the civic discourse." The first category was not protected by the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, Justice Kennedy said, while the second retained "the prospect of constitutional protection."
Huh? (Justice Stevens saw this stance as ludicrous.)

Anyway, read the article and see if it makes more sense than I can make of it.

Consumer Confidence

MANIFESTO

Juxtaposed with Hank Paulson's Treasury appointment is the release of the May consumer confidence numbers; the latter aren't real positive.
Consumer confidence soured in May, as Americans fretted about the overall economy and the job outlook. The drop in a widely watched barometer of sentiment was the steepest since hurricanes pummeled the Gulf Coast last year, increasing worries about the health of consumer spending.
The apparent reason for the decline is the rising cost of gasoline: "the question is what will it take for consumers to dramatically cut their spending." (Whew! Talk about waiting for the other shoe to drop.)

Certainly, the process has already begun as Wal-Mart, for example, is indicating that it's seen declining sales especially from lower and middle class customers.

Needless to say, the oligarchs don't care about this situation and would no doubt think, à la Marie Antoinette, that if such customers won't go to Wal-Mart, they can always go to Cartier.

R.I.P.

SPORTING GOODS

Some contributors and maybe a few regular readers will understand why this means something to me. Steve "The Miz" Mizerak died today:
MIAMI -- Steve Mizerak, a winner of multiple pool championships who became one of the game's more recognizable figures by appearing in training videos, beer commercials and a movie, has died at age 61, his wife said Tuesday.
Although for me his training videos, rather than inspire improved pool play, instead inspired some ridiculous home movie imitations. Ah, good times.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Today's Heroes

MANIFESTO

George Christian, Janet Nocek, Barbara Bailey, and Peter Chase.
Four ... librarians from Connecticut spoke out bitterly for the first time Tuesday after being subjected to a months-long gag order when the FBI demanded records about library patrons under the Patriot Act ...

"Free public libraries exist in this country to promote democracy by allowing the public to inform itself on the issues of the day. The idea that the government can secretly investigate what the public is informing itself about is chilling."

[It is ironic] that the gag order was lifted only after Congress voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act.

"The fact that I can speak now is a little like being permitted to call the fire department only after a building has burned to the ground."

"[Librarians have a duty] to speak out about any infringement to the intellectual freedom of library patrons. But until today, my own government prevented me from fulfilling that duty."
This case is just another example of how the Bushies are attempting to create a nation of sheep. Thank goodness there are still some radical militant librarians fighting against such fascism.

Home is where ...

MANIFESTO

Right now in DC it's 92° with a heat index of 94°. The dew point is 64°. I think it might be time for a rather lethargic DC denizen to get in a run—just for health purposes of course.

A new Treasury Secretary

MANIFESTO

You know, with all the good economic news that the US has experienced lately, it seems somewhat ironic that Dear Leader would want to replace the Doctor of Economics who's served as the Secretary of the Treasury for the last three years.

Seriously, it was a Goldman Sachs CEO who served as Bill Clinton's Secretary of the Treasury when the booming economy was equitable. Unlike with most things, it seems the oligarchs are willing to follow in his footsteps.

Good luck to the Dartmouth alum in a job that seems more and more inconsequential the longer the Bushies stay in office.

UPDATE — One Harvard MBA said of the other,
Hank ... understands that the government should spend the taxpayers' money wisely or not at all. He will work closely with Congress to help restrain the spending appetite of the federal government and keep us on track to meet our goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009.
I'm always amused (but not in a good way) when Dear Leader starts to weigh in on the voracious "spending appetite of the federal government" when his disastrous invasion of Iraq has already cost the same federal government nearly $285 billion.

And as for the pipe dream of cutting the federal deficit in half in a mere two-and-a-half years, let us not forget that when Mr. Credit Card took office in 2001 he inherited a $290 billion budget surplus from his predecessor. If the insane tax cuts remain intact, the budget deficit will be almost exactly the same amount by 2012.

SSS, cont'd

MANIFESTO

I see that one can view three campaign ads on Holy Joe's campaign web site, none of which is the one he's currently running wherein Ned Lamont is attacked for so-called anti-labor and anti-environment votes he made while serving on Greenwich's Boards of Selectmen and Finance. (The venue for these votes is conveniently omitted.)

Grasping at straws are we, Joe?

UPDATE — Thanks to spazeboy, the ad can be viewed here.

Monday, May 29, 2006

White Guilt

Manifesto

So George Will writes another article about race. Write is a little kind because all he really does is paraphrase a book by professor Shelby Steele:
In "White Guilt," Shelby Steele, America's most discerning black writer, casts a cool eye on yet another soft bigotry of low expectations—the ruinous "compassion" of a theory of social determinism that reduces blacks to, in Steele's word, "non-individuated" creatures.
...
"By the mid-sixties," Steele writes, "white guilt was eliciting an entirely new kind of black leadership, not selfless men like King who appealed to the nation's moral character but smaller men, bargainers, bluffers and haranguers—not moralists but specialists in moral indignation—who could set up a trade with white guilt." The big invention by these small men was what Steele calls "globalized racism." That idea presumes that "racism is not so much an event in black lives as a condition of black life," a product of "impersonal" and "structural" forces. The very invisibility of those forces proved their sinister pervasiveness.

The theory of "structural" or "institutional" racism postulates a social determinism that makes all whites and American institutions complicit in a vicious cultural pattern. The theory makes the absence of identifiable adverse events in the lives of individual blacks irrelevant to blacks' claims to victimhood. Victim status is a source of endless, sometimes lucrative and always guilt-free leverage over a guilt-ridden society.
I'll do best not to critique Mr. Steele's book. First because I haven't read it and I don't trust Mr. Will's representations of it. Second, because I don't know nearly enough to rebut any single point as paraphrased by Mr. Will. But I would like to look a little at Mr. Will's motivations. Rather than offer his own opinion, Will instead hides behind the cover of Mr. Steele. You see, this is classic George F. Will. Find somebody who takes a controversial position, paraphrase and cite it. In this way, he can avoid "controversy" because "he didn't say it." This is especially more true if you can find a black writer to criticize black culture. Note how important it is for Mr. Will to note that Mr. Steele is black in the first sentence.

But this is just the start. Mr. Will loves pointing out and reveling in the fact that affirmative action failed. He loves it. And he blames those crazy liberals who promoted it for its failures, constantly implying that it was/is an idea doomed to failure. But Mr. Will should look in the mirror. It was he and his conservative brethren who fought affirmative action and equal rights every step of the way. Affirmative action and equal rights were/are tremendous goals that need the entire society behind it. Mr. Will and other conservatives have fought these goals for 50 years. And their fight was successful. Isn't it more than a little disingenuous for Mr. Will to now blame the program itself as a failure? Conservatives have spent the better part of half a century insuring its failure, shouldn't he be taking some credit for it now? Right, it is always more fun to blame liberals. That and the fact that it is better to publicly say that the idea failed because it was bad, and keep in the dark your complicity in ensuring that equal rights always remains simply an ideal and not a reality.

Barry Bonds who?

Whatever

This is so ridiculous that it has taken me out of my self-imposed exile from the blog. Here's the headline: Robertson’s 2,000-pound lift raises eyebrows
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson says he has leg-pressed 2,000 pounds, but some say he'd be in a pretty tough spot if he tried.

The "700 Club" host's feat of strength is recounted on the Web site of his Christian Broadcasting Network, in a posting headlined "How Pat Robertson Leg Pressed 2,000 Pounds."
...
Clay Travis of CBS SportsLine.com called the 2,000-pound assertion impossible in a column this week, writing that the leg-press record for football players at Florida State University is 665 pounds less.

"Where in the world did Robertson even find a machine that could hold 2,000 pounds at one time?" Travis asked.

Andy Zucker, a strength-training coach at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, said leg presses of more than 1,000 pounds represent "a Herculean effort, and 2,000 pounds is a whole other story."
Robertson wasn't available for comment this weekend because he was "out of pocket." Why do I think that when he does comment "God" or "God's will" or "faith" are going to be the primary explanation offered.

P.S. - Don't forget to check out the link just to see the picture. Definitely worth a look.

A short leash

MANIFESTO

Apparently, Tony Blair's speech at Georgetown on Friday had to be vetted by the White House, and, indeed, there appear to have been some significant emendations.
Mr Blair ... seems to have watered down his original insistence that "change should not be imposed on Iran" to leave the door open for military action. He dropped his original insistence that the US and Europe give up their monopoly of the top posts at the IMF and the World Bank. He scaled back his plea for action on climate change.
Just another day at the kennel.

On this Memorial Day, let us not forget that the US death count in Iraq currently stands at 2,462.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Haditha

MANIFESTO

Right now, the Haditha incident is just a blip on the radar, but it has the potential to be a full-blown political and military catastrophe. If the massacre actually occurred, the Bushies will no doubt blame the individual American forces involved; that's certainly what happened at Abu Ghraib even though higher ups in the Bush administration clearly countenanced such activities. The truth of the matter is that Iraq is hot, it's dangerous, and contains all the elements that'd make one blow his cool.Viz.,
the killings of civilians also reflect frustration among young troops fighting a difficult war with no end in sight ... [T]hese young fighters have been thrust into an alien culture for repeated tours in a war whose strategy many of them do not understand.

"What we're seeing more of now, and these incidents will increase monthly, is the end result of fuzzy, imprecise national direction combined with situational ethics at the highest levels of this government," said retired Air Force Col. Mike Turner, a former planner at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
GI George can claim all he wants that the goal in Iraq is "victory," but it's clear that he and his coterie have no idea how to achieve it.

UPDATE — I see that this event is now receiving fairly significant media coverage.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Kenny Boy

MANIFESTO

Like too many reprobates, Ken Lay has decided to get religious on us after his conviction yesterday on fraud and conspiracy charges.
"God's got another plan right now," Lay could be heard telling each of his five children and other family members [after the verdict was announced].

About an hour after the verdict, Lay, 64, gathered his group of supporters in a corner of the nearly empty courtroom to hold hands in a circle and pray, led by a pastor from the Baptist church he has long attended.

"We'll all come through this stronger and more reliant on God," Lay told his supporters. "God will answer prayers."
I suppose He did answer the prayers of the former employees and stockholders who got robbed by this guy to the tune of billions of dollars.

On the other hand, God's plan apparently doesn't include letting this felonious creep out on the street any time soon to continue his peculative ways.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

What could have been

SPORTING GOODS

Always hurts to think back on the trade that saw the Red Sox let Jeff Bagwell go, which I'll rank as a bigger blunder than leaving Buckner in for the 10th inning in 1986.

But throw a new wrinkle in with this interesting Rob Neyer article - if only the Sox had someone like current employee Bill James working for them, it never would have happened. Bill James's comments and calculations from 1991 are impressive to say the least, and certainly painful to read 15 years later.
"You never know exactly how good a young player will be, but with some luck (for Bagwell) Lou Gorman will hear about the Bagwell trade until the day he dies. It could be one of those deals, like Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio, Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi and Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, that haunts the man who made it."
-- Bill James, The Baseball Book 1991

Play nice

SPORTING GOODS

Another sign of the apocalypse:
Expect New London High School football coach Jack Cochran to operate next season as he always has, and if that means his team wins by 50 points or more, so be it. And expect Cochran to be suspended for doing so.

In what some are referring to as the "Cochran rule," the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference football committee passed a score management policy to be instituted next season. The rule says if a team wins by 50 or more points, the coach is suspended for the next game.
Look, I'm no fan of Cochran, but this rule just seems silly. Football is football; it's not supposed to be gentlemanly, and if the solons of the CIAC think it is, they might as well ban the sport outright.

Essay Question

MANIFESTO

Matt Yglesias posits at Talking Points Memo that "[t]he odds are overwhelming that six months from now there will be more Democrats in both the House and the Senate than there are today" while Eric Boehlert at The Huffington Post asserts that
anybody on the left who's crossing their fingers hoping the press puts down its RNC talking points long enough to come in from the cold for the [upcoming] campaign and finally treat Democrats fairly, is simply kidding themselves.
Discuss.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Darlucky's good news / bad news

SPORTING GOODS

A number of sports issues near and dear to my heart that I wanted to comment on, so here's a quick good news bad news.

Good news: Goldman Sachs has put together a world cup probability study and preview (guess they don't have anything better to do), and they put the US odds at about 45:1. Good news? Sure, that's better than the bookie odds of 80:1.

Bad news: Italy and Czech Republic both have better odds (about 20:1), so we're still not expected to get out of our group. BTW, if any readers who know my email want the 59 page report, just let me know.

Good news: The US has three more games to get prepped for the World Cup, including two in the US. With their interesting mix of international players and MLS players, it will take some time for them to get together, so we'll know how good they are soon. I will be at their warm-up on Sunday, can't wait!

Bad news: If they play the next two games the way they played last night, there is no way I can pick them to get out of the group, even as a huge homer.

Good news: Despite the loss last night, the Sox have still won 4 of 6 from the Yankees this year, and as a Sox fan in New York I get to watch all the games.

Bad news: Who scheduled a Sox-Yanks game the same night as the LOST finale? DVR won't cut it in this case, as there is no way LOST won't be the talk of the office tomorrow.

Dig This!

FOOD FIGHT

As I'm sure everyone knows, the FBI is currently digging around a farm in Milford, Michigan looking for the remains of late Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa. Well, it seems the folks of Milford (po. 6,300) are having a little fun with all the attention. In addition to the 95-cent (!) cupcakes being offered by the Milford Baking Company, an art store is selling T-shirts for $15 that read "The F.B.I. Digs Milford, Do You?"

This is great stuff. Here's to hoping they find Hoffa rolled up in that carpet and the town of Milford will be forever known as the answer to one of the great mysteries of the 20th century.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Another hat in the ring

MANIFESTO

This story received front page attention from this morning's Courant:
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd said Monday he has "decided to do all the things that are necessary to prepare to seek the presidency in 2008."

The Connecticut Democrat will hire staff, raise money and travel around the country in the next few months as he tries to enlist support.
I don't know if I think this is a good idea. I don't think he'll get anywhere with this attempt, and I'm tired of sexagenarians running for public office. (I realize that the last president the US "elected" is under 60, but he's being manipulated by a bunch of aged dementos.)

Monday, May 22, 2006

Serious snark

MANIFESTO

The subject is tragic, but, God, this is humorously written.

It's the economy ..., cont'd.

MANIFESTO

Even though the Bushies like to say that the US economy is going great guns, it sure doesn't look that way even to a casual observer. As I've noted before, a vast number of middle and lower class Americans are really feeling the pinch these days.

Moreover, with the major stock indices each losing around 2% of their value last week, it looks like the 80% of Americans who own equities (frequently through mutual funds) might have a couple of tough years ahead of them, too, since a new phenomenon has reared its ugly head. Viz.,
Slowing home sales and falling home prices led Banc of America Securities analyst Daniel Oppenheim to lower his profit expectations and price targets for home builders.

"Even a 'soft landing' would lead to significant earnings declines," the analyst wrote in a note to clients Monday.

Oppenheim cut his 2007 stock-price targets by 17% and his earnings forecasts by 15% on average, saying he now expects earnings for the group to drop 22% from the previous year on lower margins.
Let's face it: One of the few areas that made anyone any money in equities since 2003 has been the home builders. If their value is about to drop, the equities markets (and shareholders) may be in real trouble.

The major indices are almost exactly where they were five years ago. The runup in stocks since March, 2003, has been almost wholly ascribable to the successes of the home building companies. (Take a look at NVR's chart since 2002 for an example.) Further, almost all the increases in Americans' assets (besides for those fortunate few who happen to work for such companies as Halliburton) have come about as a result of the increased equity in their houses. Now, with even Bush apologist Alan Greenspan stating that the housing boom is over, Americans will be hard pressed to increase their assets in the near future.

I think everybody pretty much knew this time was coming, but it's one of those things that was better left ignored. Now it can't be ignored, and buying shares of Microsoft aren't going to make things any better for at least the next six months. Perhaps those running against Republican incumbents will be able to use this situation as material for victory.

UPDATE — I heard this story on the way home from work today: Foreclosure activity in some portions of the Northeast has increased by nearly a factor of ten in the past year. This situation isn't going to get better any time soon.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A different kind of preview (pt. 4)

SPORTING GOODS

Time for the final part of our preview looking at World Cup finalists and their MLB alter-egos, along with any other thoughts I have on the groups.

For groups A and B, see here. Groups C and D see here, and Groups E and F, see here:

Group G:

France - Atlanta Braves : Their fans are generally disliked for being obnoxious, but you can't argue with the results. They are always a threat, maybe they should have won more often, but they have some titles to their credit and are always in it.

South Korea - Philadelphia Phillies: They had a good run not too long ago, and are a nice little team, but really, they are in that second tier of teams who won't surprise you if they pull off an upset, but would shock you if they actually won it all.

Switzerland - Cincinnati Reds: A long history, not too exciting but decent overall. Some people may still choose to associate them with the shady financial dealings that they have had in the past (not to compare hiding Nazi gold with betting on baseball).

Togo - Kansas City Royals: They are playing the same game, but they are not really in the same league.

I think that France is likely the second best team in the world, and they sport the guy who I enjoy watching more than anyone else in the world at this point (striker Thierry Henry) and the best player I have ever seen in person (Zinedine Zidane). It's fun to root against France, sure, but in actuality the tournament will be better if they make it to the semi-finals. Besides, as a quasi-England fan, it would be fun to see France make it far enough to lose to the English. South Korea has a good chance to get through here. In a case of what might have been, the US easily could have been drawn into this group instead of Korea. Sigh.

Group H:

Ukraine - Minnesota Twins: One superstar (don't miss striker Schevchenko or pitcher Santana if you ever get a chance to watch them) that makes them scary.

Spain- Boston Red Sox: Great players, exciting game, and a long history of disappointment. Fun World Cup fact: Spain is pretty much always one of the best teams in the world, but have never made it past the quarterfinals in the World Cup.

Tunisia - Baltimore Orioles: Style of play may mean exciting games, but it doesn't mean it's effective against better competition.

Saudi Arabia- Arizona Diamondbacks: Not very good, you can't name any of their players, and it's stinking hot where they come from! Yawn.

My prediction for a "surprise" winner, I'll take Ukraine over Spain in this group, but won't have the guts to pick Tunisia to also knock off the Spaniards. The hardest thing to do is try to figure out how good these African teams are. Even European teams will admit they don't know as much as they should about their African opponents.

That about does it - it all kicks off on Friday June 9th when the Ticos take on the host nation. USA plays their first game that following Monday at noon. Plan your lunch break accordingly.

A qualified "yes"

MANIFESTO

That's my answer to Atrios's query at the end of this post concerning Connecticut's junior senator. Nevertheless, this is how I see Holy Joe playing this thing out:

Scenario 1 — Clueless Joe wins the August primary. He goes on to be the Democratic nominee for Senator and wins since the Republicans offer no legitimate opponent. (Cf., the Phil Giordano debacle in 2000.)

Scenario 2 — Clueless Joe loses the August primary. He runs as an independent and wins because in addition to getting the votes of the Democratic diehards, he garners quite a few votes from Republicans since the Republicans offer no viable candidate.

Atrios, CTBob, et allia, can gloat all they want this weekend, but I just don't see how we're going to avoid another six years of the mewling piosity of GI George's favorite Democrat.

On a related topic, while Senator Sanctimony's allegiance to Dear Leader certainly allowed LaMont to do well on Friday night, the scuttlebutt in the Constitution State is that Holy Joe's callous comments regarding the morning after pill for rape victims really pushed delegates into the LaMont camp.

Not that I believe it'll ultimately make any difference.

UPDATE — I forgot to mention that Connecticut Republicans have actually selected a candidate for US Senate. Inconsequential as he'll turn out to be, it's one Alan Schlesinger of Derby.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Movie Review: The Da Vinci Code

UNIVERAL REMOTE

There is no other way to put it; The Da Vinci Code is an overlong, slowly paced, not-very-thrilling letdown. While from afar it would seem Dan Brown mega-seller would make a perfect movie, unfortunately this turns out not to be true. The story simply has waaaaay too much exposition to ever be shaped into an effective screen thriller. It seems like half the movie is spent explaining who did what to whom and what it all is supposed to mean. After about the fourth scene like this, I felt like I should start taking notes. When I read this, it didn't bother me so much. I think that's because I, like most people, read it in several sittings. One or two monologues at a time are fine. More than that it starts to get tedious. And surprisingly, the puzzles throughout the book are easier to follow on the page than the screen. I think this is because you can go back and look it over whenever you want. In the movie, you're dependent on the filmmakers to make it clear. I don't think they did a very good job with this aspect of the storytelling.

I really enjoyed the book back a few summers ago, probably because I didn't take a lick of it seriously. (The whole this is patently absurd from the start. Am I really supposed to believe that dead guy in the beginning of the movie had time to leave that many clues before he died? Why didn't he just call for help?) But I think Dan Brown does take it seriously and probably resents it when when his work is dismissed as a "beach read." Unfortunately, director Ron Howard & Co. also play it straight and the whole enterprise becomes almost boring. There is nothing worse than a solemn thriller.

Despite my reaction, I actually had a fun time at the movies last night. It's been awhile since I went to see a Big Fat Blockbuster on opening night. The place was mobbed, the crowd was excited, and I got to get a giant bucket of popcorn. These are some of the simple pleasures that haven't really changed much since I was a kid and I hope I never stop appreciating that.

the world's smallest violin

SPORTING GOODS

Hey, I'm not feeling sorry for them or anything, but you have to be amazed at the Yankees' current injury problems. Just take a look at this article, it just keeps going and going....

Friday, May 19, 2006

Jumping the shark

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

Since I'm always behind the cultural learning curve, I wasn't aware of the popularity of NBC's Deal or No Deal. (I certainly wasn't aware it was popular enough to be telecast three times a week.)

It's clear that when I become aware of a cultural phenomenon, it's pretty much run its course as same, but a local car dealership is currently running a promotion called "Deal or Better Deal" wherein after a customer buys a car s/he picks a numbered envelope (it's not a briefcase) and gets a certain amount of money off his bill. The dealership is maintaining that the discount can be as much as $5000.

Anyway, my point is that it's curtains for Deal or No Deal if I'm aware of its impact and car dealers are using its theme to promote sales.

Star Chamber and/or Vacuous Politics

MANIFESTO

In case you missed it:
A Senate panel approved a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage as Democrats accused Republicans of staging an election-year stunt to stir up their voting base.

The GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee approved the amendment on a 10-8 party-line vote in a meeting marked by an angry exchange between the Republican chairman and a Democratic member.

The measure heads to the full Senate with little chance of passage because it would require a two-thirds majority and Republicans have just 55 of the 100 seats. Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee plans a floor vote on June 5.

Sen. Russell Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, announced he was walking out of the committee session, saying he objected to the meeting's location in a small room off the Senate floor with limited public access.
Needless to say, "bringing up the amendment is a purely political move designed to appeal to the GOP's conservative base in this year of midterm elections" since Frist, a whore if there ever was one, insists on bringing this to a vote in a few weeks.

And speaking of the all show, no substance policies of our leaders, I see that The Decider was in Arizona yesterday for the specific purpose of getting his picture taken. Just another opportunity for the cravens in Congress to let their constituents know that their party is really onto this illegal immigration thing.

While all of this nonsense is going on, an interesting exercise is to count the numbers of times the word "Iraq" is uttered on television and radio newscasts these days.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Bird Fever … and other tidbits

FOOD FIGHT

New York magazine has questioned NYC’s love of fried chicken. Who doesn’t like fried chicken? I know we all shouldn’t be eating it, but do you really know anyone who doesn’t like it? It’s not like New York is so health conscious that we’re passing up fois gras on red meat or not lining up around the block for butter cream laden cupcakes. Guess it’s the low brow profile, but I’ve seen it grace the menu on many a fine dining establishment. So, while I was informed by two people this past weekend (albeit two people sharing a gene pool) that Popeye’s was the best, check out these two new places – Rack & Soul and Dirty Bird to Go.

Rack & Soul (109th St & Broadway) – “And the chicken, ordered with a fluffy round waffle as one of the two included sides, was as we’d remembered—a crisp, golden-brown crust, moist meat, and a well-seasoned flavor that induces uninhibited bone gnawing and finger licking… Tender sauce-slicked barbecued pulled pork combined moist, succulent meat and crispy bits, and the beef short rib unabashedly lived up to every fall-off-the-bone cliché. Baby backs glazed in a sweet sauce were meaty and satisfying, and of all the textbook sides, we liked vinegary collards and soupy black-eyed peas best.” Note to those going on a date – not much ambience and people complain its cold (good or bad depending on how close you’d like to get with your date).

Dirty Bird To Go (14th St & 7th Ave) – Service lacks (“It doesn’t help matters that the counter staff seems prematurely sprung from a narcolepsy trial-clinic.”) and they did give it four tries. Personally I’ve heard good reviews and they are known to sell out early so they do have a following, but apparently there is debate over the double-dipped deep-fried chicken: “One of us found the crunchy- skinned, juicy-fleshed bird delicious and compelling despite its slightly sweet and overbattered exterior. The other couldn’t see past the thick clumps of bland batter to the bird. It was as if Lucy and Ethel had commandeered the kitchen, lost count of how many times they had dunked the assorted wings and thighs, and just kept on dipping to play it safe.”

In other food news, chef Masayoshi Takayama of Masa fame road tested 10 Santoku knives that New York magazine picked from the growing crowd. I swear by #6. It’s unbelievable. Can’t comment on the sharpening aspect of the knife that the Masa mentions … I leave that to my sous chef. But, there is still space on my knife strip for the Shun Classic 6.5” (#1).

Andrew Carmelli left Café Boloud and opened A Voce with three stars. Sounds like great Italian and a beautiful setting without any fussiness.

The A.D.D. Kid

MANIFESTO

Displeasure on Capitol Hill:
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who has pushed a tough border security bill through the House, accused President Bush on Wednesday of abandoning the legislation after asking for many of its provisions.

"He basically turned his back on provisions of the House-passed bill, a lot of which we were requested to put in the bill by the White House," Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., angrily told reporters in a conference call. "That was last fall when we were drafting the bill, and now the president appears not to be interested in it at all."
The Wisconsin Republican shows he's hardly the brightest bulb in the box by apparently being surprised by Dear Leader's loss of interest in an issue. I mean, it's not as if Gorgeous George hasn't walked away from any number of things he once heartily promised great things for. Remember Iraq? New Orleans? New York City? Rep. Sensenbrenner obviously doesn't.

Plus ça change ..., cont'd.

MANIFESTO

I suppose the editors of Newsweek felt that if a graphic motif worked once, it could certainly work again. At any rate, as I've said before, it's galling to see a similar situation occur a generation after the first hideous episode.

Below, on the left, you'll see Newsweek's cover from July 30, 1973. On the right is the magazine's current cover. Plus ça change, indeed.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Rube Goldberg Would Be Proud

WHATEVER

I'm loath to ever bring others' attention to a chain email I received, but this one has to be seen to be believed. It's from 2003, so you may have seen it already. It's a 2-minute Honda ad called "Cog."

Despite the breathless copy that accompanied the email, I dug around a little and found out that it was not completely accurate. The spot was not shot in one take, but two. CGI was used to make the two takes seamless. (Apparently it's at the part where the muffler rolls down the ramp though I couldn't tell.) It tooks five months to plan and four days-and-nights to film. The crew suffered through 605 takes.

As for the tires that seem to roll uphill, they have weights inside them that are pulling them up the ramp. And the windshield wipers automatically turn on when they sense water. Why the window rolls down, I don't know.

All and all, unbelievable. Somewhere, Rube Goldberg is smiling.

Tony Snow

MANIFESTO

What in the name of Coco Chanel has Tony Snow done to himself? I don't mind the dye job too much, but at yesterday's press briefing, he appeared to be wearing more makeup than a DC trollop. His cheeks were nearly as orange as Ronald Reagan's used to be.

A different kind of preview (pt. 3)

SPORTING GOODS

Time for part three of our preview looking at World Cup finalists and their MLB alter-egos, along with any other thoughts I have on the groups.

For groups A and B, see here. Groups C and D see here, and Groups E and F, see below:

Group E:

Czech Republic - Houston Astros : A solid team, relatively new to this concept of being considered one of the best teams, but strong all around. Still, despite being one of the best, not that easy to get excited about. Not a parallel, but the Czech Republic may have the best goalie in the world, strangely enough named Peter Cech.

Italy - Oakland A's: Some people may find them boring, but they have found a style that works for them, and are very good. They were strongest in the early '90s, but they are always dangerous. Physically, they look unkempt, and they have a bit of a reputation for being whiny (see: Italy and Oakland). On a personal note, after Mexico Italy is probably my second least favorite team, due to their (albeit effective) defensive style of play, and propensity for flopping more that Vlade Divac.

USA - Milwaukee Brewers: Up and coming, possibly overlooked, and definitely looked down upon by fans of the teams with a longer history of winning. With good young players, fans are starting to notice. As these young players develop, offers are going to start coming in for these players to follow the money and get out of town. Then, the fans can go back to not paying attention.

Ghana - Detroit Tigers: You don't want to face them, and they may get hot, but they are not really a threat.

According to an unscientific study based on FIFA rankings, this is the "group of death," and with the 6th, 7th, and 11th (my rankings) best teams in the world, it may be. No matter what happens, one of the top 11 teams in the world will not make the round of 16. You may have noticed (or not) that I usually put the teams in order of how I think they will finish. This group, I really haven't decided yet, and will put more thought into it before early June. But you have three physical teams, and not to sound like Joe Morgan, but the two teams that are playing the best at the time of round-robin play will probably make it through. The US either needs to tie both teams, or beat one of them, in order to have the pleasure of playing Brazil in the 2nd round.

Group F:

Brazil - New York Yankees: Who else? Have won often, and are THE team to beat. Flashy, with stars occupying nearly every position on the field. They are the players you will see in the commercials, and the jerseys you will see on the streets. Not only does Brazil have ridiculous offense (2002 World Cup MVP Ronaldo and 2005 FIFA world player of the year Ronaldinho), but they have some of the best defenders in the world. Scary.

Croatia- Seattle Mariners: Both teams had a good surprise season a few years back, and are usually solid, but are a bit down right now.

Japan - Los Angeles Dodgers: No real connection here (besides Nomo-mania of course), but they are popular among fans, they have a shot at moving to the next round despite not being great, they are in the middle of the pack overall, and wear blue and white. Hey, I tried.

Australia- Washington Nationals: We're just happy to be here! Australia is in the World Cup for the first time in 32 years.

It truly will be a surprise if Brazil does not go 3-0 in this group. Despite their expected dominance, I would love to watch every one of their matches. Croatia and Japan are decent teams, probably in the third tier (where a team like France is in the first, and a team like Mexico is in the second). But looking at this group, it shows how hard the US, Italy, and Czech Republic will fight not just to emerge from Group E, but to win. Assuming Brazil wins Group F, winner of Group E will play Croatia/Japan, while the runners up will face Brazil.

Groups G and H coming soon!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Tabloid News

WHATEVER

The big gossipy news in Connecticut today has to do with Michael Skakel's appeal regarding his murder conviction.

I'll leave the big legal questions to others on the Daily411 team, but I've never thought Skakel was guilty, and the fact that the legal rules seem to have been changed in the middle of the game makes his conviction even more problematic.

Baby I got your number

SPORTING GOODS

I used to groan when I would see that Rodrigo Lopez was facing the Red Sox. Like Ted Lilly, he just seemed to be one of those guys that killed them.

Looking at the numbers, it holds true. Coming into this year, Lopez was 10-5 against the Sox in 17 starts, with an ERA of 3.78, a batting average against of .246, and over 6Ks per 9 innings.

Not bad for a pitcher with a career ERA near 5, who would barely be over .500 without those wins. Those 10 wins represented 1/5 of Lopez's career total.

This year, Rodrigo is 0-3 against the Sox, with an ERA over 9.00. Law of averages? I say no. Fact is, this is a different offense than in years past. While Lopez strangely owned the high-scoring Red Sox of Damon-Mueller-Millar, this lighter hitting version with Lowell-Youk-Wily Mo has no reason to fear this mediocre pitcher throwing meatballs in a hitter's park.

Next up, if they could only figure out how to solve Lilly and Scott Kazmir...

It's official

MANIFESTO

Acknowledging he expects another hard fought re-election campaign, U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, Monday formally announced his plans to seek a fourth term in Congress Monday. Simmons called himself "an independent voice."
And so it begins. I won't entirely derogate Mr. Simmons. As he says, he promised that he'd keep the Groton submarine base open, and he did. This feat alone may propel him to victory.

However, his independence is questionable. While he's been reasonable in the area of reproductive rights, there's a long list of Bush-backed policies he's voted for or supports. Viz.,
  • Voted yes on restricting bankruptcy rules.
  • Voted yes on making the PATRIOT Act permanent.
  • Voted yes on constitutional amendment prohibiting flag desecration.
  • Supports limiting interstate class-action lawsuits to federal courts.
  • Voted yes on replacing illegal export tax breaks with $140B in new breaks.
  • Voted yes on allowing school prayer during the War on Terror.
  • Voted yes on requiring states to test students.
  • Voted yes (more than once) on passage of the Bush Administration national energy policy.
  • Voted yes on speeding up approval of forest thinning projects.
  • In favor of reduced liability for hazardous waste cleanup.
  • Voted yes on limited prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients.
  • Voted yes on retaining reduced taxes on capital gains & dividends.
I'll admit I'm cherry picking here, but there should be plenty for Simmons's opponent, Joe Courtney, to talk about in the coming months.

And, by the way, WTIC reported this morning that Simmons's top priority (at least as of last evening) will be transportation. Talk about ignoring the elephant in the corner.

Monday, May 15, 2006

National security letters

MANIFESTO

I've blogged about the heinous national security letters before, but they're sure getting a lot of ink tonight.

Kevin Drum probably has the best post thus far of how they're being used to listen in on reporters' phone conversations.

The more I'm reading about this whole "national security" issue (as in national security letters and National Security Agency), the more I'm becoming convinced that the "NS" should, in fact, stand for National Socialist.

A different kind of preview (pt. 2)

SPORTING GOODS

Time for part two of our preview looking at World Cup finalists and their MLB alter-egos, along with any other thoughts I have on the groups.

For groups A and B, see here. Groups C and D below:

Group C:

Argentina - San Francisco Giants : Despite being booed a lot of places they go, they are generally always good, with few off years. The Barry Bonds / Diego Maradona paralells are somewhat obvious. Each is one of the most exciting, dominant offensive players of all time, but also hated by many because of his attitude. Throw in the obvious drug problem that each had, and the only thing we have to wait on is for Bonds to get fat later in his life. And go ahead and ask England and Dodger fans, and they will tell you that Argentina and the Giants cheated in some of their biggest ever wins. (click the links to see what I'm talking about, if you don't know).

Netherlands - Cleveland Indians: Exciting, high powered teams that aren't the true elite, but still scare the elite teams. Always a bit flashy, both teams fell out of prominence for a little while, but seem to be bouncing back very nicely.

Ivory Coast - Toronto Blue Jays: Being the best team in Africa is somewhat like being the best team in Canada. It means you are pretty good, but it doesn't mean you're going anywhere when it counts. OK, maybe that doesn't work any more now that Montreal has moved. The real connection is that people seem to think Cote d'Ivoire and a reloaded Toronto are a threat, but when you look at the two teams that they have to go against, you know that they will have to settle for third place.

Serbia & Montenegro - Hardware City Rockcats: Alright, they aren't that bad, and they somehow qualified out of Europe (while teams like Ireland, Norway and Greece did not), but S&M is ranked 46th in the world and is going nowhere in this group. Unfortunately, there are 32 teams in the World Cup finals and 30 in MLB, so I'll give a shout-out to New Bri'n.

I'll complain about the US draw, but despite what FIFA rankings say this may be the real "group of death," with the best team in Africa, a qualifier from Europe (which is no easy task), and what I rate as the 4th and 5th best teams in the world. If you enjoy soccer at all, don't miss the Argentina vs. Netherlands match. Argentina has some amazing strikers including Chelsea star Hernan Crespo and "the next Maradona" Lionel Messi, who will turn 19 during the Cup. Netherlands has some stars themselves, including Jaap Stam, whom you would not want to meet in a dark alley. Should be a fun group.


Group D:

Mexico - Chicago White Sox: Although they mostly do it by stopping the other team from scoring, they are starting to gain some offensive weapons. They are often better than their geographic rivals, but their neighbors don't necessarily think so.

Portugal - Anaheim Angels of the Western Hemisphere: When you think of this team, you think of speed and offense. Whether you like them or not, they are usually pretty fun to watch. Throughout history, they have had some success, but really it's been mostly disappointment for their fans.

Iran - Florida Marlins: Well it is often said that the Marlins owner is holding Florida hostage in his bid to get them to pay for a new stadium. Seriously though, with their history, who wants to root for these guys, even if they are better than you'd expect?

Angola- New Haven Ravens: Angola is the second lowest ranked team in the entire tournament, and since Togo is the lowest...well, let's just say where have you gone George Brett?

Group D is really a tale of two levels: Portugal and Mexico are probably top 10 in the world. Iran can actually play, but they shouldn't be a threat. Portugal is legendary for falling short of expectations, so their draw was pretty lucky. And I know that the recent anti-Mexico furvor has gotten out of hand for some people, but when it comes to soccer, it's completely warranted. We hate them, and they hate us. So, who do you root for in the Iran - Mexico match? Go Angola!

Groups E through H coming between now and the opening kickoff!

Extra! Extra!

MANIFESTO

Here's Exhibit A showing why newspapers' circulation numbers continue to decline. I always thought a newspaper was supposed to have, you know, news in it. Kids use the Internet for research? You don't say.

Excuse me, but I think this is where I came in

MANIFESTO

The plumbers have returned.

I ingenuously believed in the heady days of 1974 and 1975 that I would never again see the kind of lawbreaking despotism that Nixon and his cronies had foisted upon the United States. With the passage of a special prosecutor law, the War Powers Act, various campaign contribution restrictions, and, ultimately, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, I felt that the country had legislated itself to safety and reason: that I would never again see the type of subversion of civil liberties I had seen during the dark days of the Nixon administration.

I was wrong.

This morning, a
senior federal law enforcement official [told] ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers [it has called] in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told [ABC News] in an in-person conversation.

ABC News does not know how the government determined who [is being called], or whether ... phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.

Other sources have [reported] that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.
So, we're right back to the paranoia and tyranny of an enemies list: a latter day '70s show.

I'm especially disgusted by this because I've seen this egregious act before.

UPDATE — I see that Digby also sees the unsettling similarities between the latest Bush episode and the bad old days of the Nixonians.

Alternate Universe

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

I doubt many people saw this Saurday night since SNL has been so awful this season but it is defintely worth a look. I laughed out loud a couple of times. I especially like the return of "lockbox."

And dammit if I didn't get a little wistful and wonder "what if."

(Just in case the link doesn't work, you can also try here or here.)

It's the economy ...

MANIFESTO

While the Bushies are going nuts over the rise in the GDP, it might be instructive to be aware of the cautionary concerns of Ezra Klein:
The macroeconomic numbers are decidedly robust, but the public remains determinedly glum.

If you dig a bit deeper than the base growth statistics ... the picture clarifies considerably. Our economy has grown so starkly unequal that the statistician's view now says surprisingly little about the average American's experience. Last quarter may have seen 4.8 percent growth, but hidden in those numbers was a depressing factoid: Wages had only grown 0.7 percent -- slower than housing, health or gasoline costs.

That's been the story of the last few years, a rising tide that lifts only yachts. It used to be that economic growth ensured wide benefits across society. But the last four years of economic expansion have been historic for the steadily increasing poverty rate -- a depressing sign that inequality has so split the poor from the rich that the two hardly inhabit the same economy.
It certainly seems that there's a correlation between those who fear for their economic survival and the minuscule approval ratings Dear Leader is currently receiving.

Fantasyland, cont'd.

MANIFESTO

I see that one of the recommendations Desperate Leader will float tonight in his speech is the notion of having National Guard troops patrol the US-Mexico border. (Josh Marshall says of the plan, "[I]t's one more example that there is simply no gambit too craven or silly for this president not to resort to it.") While various administration talking heads were falling all over themselves on the talk shows yesterday assuring listeners that this plan really didn't show an enmity toward our good friends to the south, the plan seems ludicrous on its face anyway.
[E]ven a few key Republicans voiced skepticism or outright opposition to the reported plan yesterday, calling it a politically motivated move that will only further strain units already stretched by duty in Iraq without solving the underlying problem of illegal immigration.

"We have to be very careful here," Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said yesterday on ABC's "This Week." "That's not the role of our military. That's not the role of our National Guard ... That's a short-term fix, and I'm not sure that's a very wise fix."
Indeed. The Bushies simply don't have extra manpower to set up such a patrol on a freakin' 2000 mile stretch of land. This looks like yet another instance where GI George will propose something that he has no intention of following through on.

If Dear Leader is so optimistic about inventing something to cure various woes, perhaps he can think of a way to concoct additional human beings who are actually willing to serve in the National Guard.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A different kind of preview (pt 1)

SPORTING GOODS

On a recent cross-country plane trip, I set out to put together my own World Cup preview for readers of this blog. Even those without much interest in soccer will concede that this is the biggest event in world sports this year, even though the Winter Olympics occurred just a couple of months ago.

But, it's not as if I could preview the World Cup better than a site like Soccernet or the BBC, so I've decided to do something a bit different. In four parts, I will be comparing each team that has qualified for the World Cup finals to a team in major league baseball. I have tiered both types of teams, and used their overall strengths, success both current and past, and team dynamics to try to draw comparisons. In the end, I think it was largely effective, with only a few teams I really had to stretch for.

So, without further ado, here are 2006 World Cup finalists group A and B, and their MLB alter-egos, along with any other thoughts I have on each group.

Group A:
Germany - NY Mets : Some readers of this blog might not be too thrilled about that one, but the host country draws its comparison with the Metropolitans. The teams are good, but there are still questions as to how far they can really go. They have won in the past, but have not lived up to expectations over the last 2-3 years. Things may change this year, however. Both teams face an immense amount of pressure to win, perhaps more than any of their competition.
Costa Rica - San Diego Padres: The best team in Central America, by a slight margin, matches up with what (at least last year) was the best team in the NL West. In both cases, that isn't really saying much. Still, you won't hear anyone complaining, as if you live in either place how much is there to complain about?
Poland - Chicago Cubs: Been rolled over in the past by stronger foes. There are often high expectations, and often some very good players that create those expectations, but never the results to meet them.
Ecuador - Pittsburgh Pirates: A bit of a stretch, but both are boring, and used to be better. A team that you can look past on the schedule.

Host country Germany got an easy group, so even though the team is weaker than usual, they should have no troubles. Call me crazy, and maybe it's my fond memories of my honeymoon and talking to a number of Ticos about football, but I think Costa Rica is a real threat to Poland to snag the second slot in the group. They played very well at the end of qualifying after switching coaches; almost all of their players come from two teams, so familiarity is not an issue. If they can go into halftime 0-0 with Germany in the opening match, it could get very interesting...

Group B:
England - St. Louis Cardinals: A high number of stars, with solid role players filling out the roster. Winning history, but have largely come up short in recent years despite fielding a consistently strong team. They are now considered a heavy favorite if their stars remain healthy. Both teams have hardcore fans that truly enjoy holding dominance over their major regional rivals, who pretty much stink most years.
Sweden - Texas Rangers: Young, talented, punishing. Probably underrated overall, but haven't proven selves. Yet.
Paraguay - Colorado Rockies: Play at extremely high altitudes, making them difficult to beat at home. But on a neutral field, not really much to worry about, despite showing flashes that they could be more than a pretender.
Trinidad & Tobago - Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Young, some exciting players, but in the end not a threat. One can certainly find nice things to say about each team and its players, but the results don't impress. TNT!

This one should be a cakewalk for England and Sweden. Sweden is underrated, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them go far. England has got to be one of the top 3 favorites, but if young star Wayne Rooney can't play due to his broken foot, that may change things. England has defenders and a midfield that stacks up with anyone in the world; put a healthy Rooney up front and you can pencil them in to the semi-finals.

Groups C through H coming between now and the opening kickoff!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

An Oldie but Baddie

MANIFESTO

I'm reminded of this post (particularly item #9 in its list) when I see an article like this:
Americans value their privacy and are eager to keep the government away from most private matters - but they're willing to tolerate intrusions if the snooping is done for the purpose of hunting terrorists.

A poll conducted Thursday, as news broke that the National Security Agency has been compiling phone records of ordinary citizens, found that by a 2-1 ratio, those surveyed think it is more important for the government to root out terrorists aggressively than to respect personal privacy.
I just can't see it. If Americans are so deathly afraid of the bogeyman in the closet, they don't deserve, as Ben Franklin so astutely observed more than two centuries ago, either security or liberty.

And, as long as I'm referring to bon mots, it's also instructive to remember the Sage of Baltimore's
The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear - fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants beyond everything else is safety.
Certainly, the Bushies have been able to play up this weakness to the hilt.

Those who can't ...

MANIFESTO

This item recently caught my eye:
Teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are for the most part no more effective in producing student academic progress than teachers without the special status, a long-awaited study concludes.
Of course, there's more to the story than this because
The research, which draws on one of the largest data sets used so far to examine the credential, was completed well over a year ago. But the board did not provide any public information about the less-than-flattering portrait until earlier this month, when an “overview” was posted on the organization’s Web site. And it put out the summary only after being pressed by a prominent education blogger. National-board officials say they do not intend to release the full study.
You can bet your life that if it'd been shown that nationally certified teachers actually were "more effective in producing student academic progress than teachers without the special status," the National Board would've released the results of the study when they came out, and certainly would've released the entire study by now. By doing neither, the Board shows itself for the arrogant self-centered institution it is. How like the Bushies, who, when they don't like the facts, either change them to fit their view of reality, or repress them. At any rate, the report certainly does a bit of damage to the entire raison d'être of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Even though the program was set up to make
teaching "a profession of well-educated teachers prepared to assume new powers and responsibilities to redesign schools for the future" [by creating] a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards that would establish high standards for what teachers need to know and be able to do, and to certify teachers who meet those standards
it was clear to me that it wouldn't do anything other than allow some teachers to make more money per year and/or make them even more insufferable than they already were. (The vision of some egotistical pedant bragging to her colleagues that she's nationally certified is more than I can bear.) Now, it appears that the program has no educational value.

And this is exactly why a plan like the one in Florida to tie teachers' salaries to the results of standardized tests is such a crock. If even those teachers who have demonstrated "high standards" are unable to markedly improve student academic progress, then the whole thing is really dependent on the luck of the draw—just how bright the students are who happen to be in a teacher's classroom during any given year.

What Digby says

MANIFESTO

Link here.

Not so local politics

MANIFESTO

Thursday's Wall Street Journal had an article discussing "Republicans' ... swimming against a national tide of voter unrest in the presidential midterm elections" using as a synecdoche the race in Connecticut's 2nd Congressional district. Viz.,
[When Congressman Rob] Simmons [recently sat down] for an interview at radio stations WMRD and WLIS, he [couldn't] avoid the latest national controversy. Don DeCesare, station president and general manager, [said], "I want to talk about local issues," but first he just [had] to ask about the forced resignation of President Bush's Central Intelligence Agency director, Porter Goss, and Republicans' criticism of problems at the agency.
May this type of concern be sustained for the next five-and-a-half months, but homo sapiens is notorious for its inability to stay focused on one issue for too long, so we'll see.

This lack of an attention span is no doubt responsible for Dear Leader's ultra-hyped speech on Monday evening, which, his aides breathlessly assert, will be his first prime time speech having to do with a domestic issue.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Dies IrÆ

MANIFESTO

Every so often, the news is so bad that it's astonishing we've got a country left at all (of course, that happenstance is probably problematic at this point). Here are some items to ponder on this bleak day.

ITEM — The NSA phone trolling case is just astonishing and a clear demonstration of just how far the Bushies will go to quiet dissidents. It's no surprise that phone companies (those same companies that'd like to take possession of the Internet) are oh so willing to comply with any fascistic request the Bushies throw out there. At least some legislators (from both parties) are concerned about it.
[D]isclosures ... about the scale of domestic surveillance -- the most extensive yet known involving ordinary citizens and residents -- touched off a bipartisan uproar against a politically weakened President Bush. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) vowed to haul telephone companies before his committee under oath to ferret out details the Bush administration refuses to supply, and more than 50 House Democrats signed a letter demanding a criminal investigation by a special counsel.
Needless to say, Dear Leader (aka "The Decider") insists that the only thing we have to worry about are those traitors who are disclosing odious programs of this type.
[T]he president complained that any leak about "sensitive intelligence" methods "hurts our ability to defeat this enemy." Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who said he has been briefed on "all aspects of the NSA's activities," likewise said he is "increasingly frustrated with the release of sensitive data regarding our nation's best defenses" against terrorist attack.
When Roberts, a congenital idiot if ever there was one, complains about stuff of this type, you can be sure it's questionable.

ITEM — In the midst of all this, Dear Leader is standing by Gen. Michael Hayden, the same anti-American who oversaw this tyrannical setup, to be head of the CIA. At this point, as Jack Cafferty says, Arlen Specter "might be all that stands between us and a full blown dictatorship in this country." Cripes, if we've gotta depend on Arlen Specter to retain what civil liberties we've got left, we're in profound trouble.

ITEMS — The FOMC has raised interest rates while
The Senate gave final approval Thursday to a five-year, $70 billion tax package that would extend deep cuts to tax rates on dividends and capital gains for two years, effectively locking in all of President Bush's first-term tax cuts through the end of the decade.
So, this morning, here's what we've got in George Bush's Amerika: a government that feels it can snoop on anyone's telephone conversations at any time while emptying the nation's treasury. These are wins for the despotic plutocrats and severe losses for the 71% of Americans who now oppose Dear Leader's policies. It's clear that the Bushies will continue to pillage both Americans' rights and money until they exit, leaving a country that will take decades to recuperate—if it ever recovers at all.

UPDATE — I almost forgot ... Add to this violation of the American citizen's privacy the fact that the Department of Justice actually attempted to undertake an investigation of the administration's warrantless domestic spy program, but had to close it "because investigators were not granted the necessary security clearances."

This incredible turn of events (one portion of the Executive Branch denying access to another portion of the Executive Branch) shows just how far we've descended. Essentially, there is no justice, and what there was of it has now been replaced by the latter-day Star Chamber that is the NSA.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

One ringy dingy ...

MANIFESTO

I was prepared—I swear I was prepared—to pretty much ignore the latest NSA story indicating that the agency has been secretly collecting records of the domestic phone calls of ordinary Americans. After all, those of us who get junk mail or spam are all too aware that we essentially have no privacy.

But, Gorgeous George kind of changed my mind. As usual, he wants to downplay an issue that Americans, he assures us, have nothing to be alarmed about. Unfortunately, we've heard this tune before.
In a prepared statement, Bush insisted that the administration's actions were legal and were solely directed at foreign groups like Al Qaeda. However, the president did not directly address a published report that the NSA had collected millions of phone records.

"The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities," Bush insisted. "We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Our efforts are focused on links to Al Qaeda and their known affiliates."

Bush took no questions from reporters. He then left to give a commencement address at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Biloxi.
This performance makes me uncomfortable because I'm at the point where whenever Dear Leader speaks, I assume the opposite. Therefore, his contention that spies aren't "mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans" carries no weight with me. Further, it's quite unclear how "efforts [can be] focused on links to Al Qaeda and their known affiliates" if the tens of millions of phone calls saved haven't been investigated in some way. And, of course, the fact that he had no talking points prepared on this issue is quite suspect.

I think this story has legs, so I hope we'll eventually see some details about what appears to be an illegal program.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Get Your War On

Manifesto

Haven't linked to GYWO in a while. I especially like the Operation Iraqi Freedom anniversary strip.

Freakonomics

Whatever

The best book I read in the last year is Freakonomics. In short, the authors take an economists looks at interesting questions to try to figure out why. Rather than review the book to tell you why you'll like it, I'll point you to this short article in the NY Times. The question:
If you were to examine the birth certificates of every soccer player in next month's World Cup tournament, you would most likely find a noteworthy quirk: elite soccer players are more likely to have been born in the earlier months of the year than in the later months. If you then examined the European national youth teams that feed the World Cup and professional ranks, you would find this quirk to be even more pronounced. On recent English teams, for instance, half of the elite teenage soccer players were born in January, February or March, with the other half spread out over the remaining 9 months. In Germany, 52 elite youth players were born in the first three months of the year, with just 4 players born in the last three.

What might account for this anomaly? Here are a few guesses: a) certain astrological signs confer superior soccer skills; b) winter-born babies tend to have higher oxygen capacity, which increases soccer stamina; c) soccer-mad parents are more likely to conceive children in springtime, at the annual peak of soccer mania; d) none of the above.
Now I guessed the reason why right away. Is this because I previously read Freakonomics or because I grew up playing youth sports? I don't know, but if you find this interesting, finish the article and then check out the book.

Wow

Whatever

Found through this post by David Pogue is this amazing artist.

Mets Notes

Sporting Goods

The Mets lose three starting pitchers to injury and won't move Aaron Heilman to the rotation. Blah, Blah, Blah. I think this is crazy but maybe, just maybe the Mets think they'll get two of their injured guys back in the next week or so and only have two or three starts by the likes of Jose Lima and Jeremi Gonzalez (shudder). Anyway, rather than belabor my well-documented man-crush for Aaron Heilman, I'd like to look to options for the Mets bullpen.

Today, the Mets called up Heath Bell. A wise move since he has been lights out in AAA (again). However, Bell might be a AAAA pitcher, great in AAA, not good enough for the majors. He certainly wasn't lights out last year. And tonight he looked both great at times and very hittable. It doesn't matter really because he is likely to be sent down when the Mets call up Gonzalez for Saturday.

So where else can the Mets get bullpen help. How about down in AA, where the Mets have a phenom on their hands. A co-worker and I are now in the habit of checking in on right-hander Henry Owens. Owens has 14.2 innings out of the pen, a 1.23 ERA, a .61 WHIP, and 5 walks. Impressive enough but nothing compared to this number: 33 Ks. 33! in 14.2 innings. Unbelievable. Call him up now.

Of course, in writing this article I realized that those stats hadn't changed in a week or so. So I googled Owens. Turns out he has a small tear in his ulnar collateral ligiment in his right elbow. He says he is fine and the team doctors cleared him to play catch again. Let's hope he's okay and keeps putting up nasty numbers.

Mother of Mercy! Is this the end of Randy?

SPORTING GOODS

It was with a certain amount of glee that I watched the Red Sox thrash the Bronx Bombers last evening. My joy was tempered, however, by the feeling that Yanks starting pitcher, Randy Johnson, would be absolutely butchered in the New York press, and, indeed, it came to pass.

Lupica calls Johnson The Big Mess in the Daily News, and in the Post, George King refers to him as The Big Salad. Both are pretty clear that they think his best days are behind him.

I have to admit that Johnson seemed eminently hittable last evening as his fastball didn't always hit 90 mph. Mortality always saddens me and thinking that Randy Johnson, one of the most dominant pitchers of my lifetime, may be nearing the end of the line certainly isn't a cheery thought.

The latest poll

MANIFESTO

Dear Leader garners a paltry 31% approval rating.

Somewhat buried in the article is the following:
Americans said Democrats would do a better job dealing with Iraq, gasoline prices, immigration, taxes, prescription drug prices and civil liberties.

Fifty percent said Democrats came closer than Republicans to sharing their moral values, compared with 37 percent who said Republicans shared their values. A majority said Republican members of Congress were more likely to be financially corrupt than Democratic members of Congress, suggesting that Democrats may be making headway in their efforts to portray Republicans as having created a "culture of corruption" in Washington.

By better than two to one, Democrats were seen as having more new ideas than Republicans. And half of respondents, the highest number yet, said it was better when different parties controlled the two branches of Congress, reflecting one of the major arguments being laid out by Congressional Democrats in their bid to win back the House or the Senate.
It'd be nice if this momentum could be held, but we're sure to see serious desperate tactics on the part of Republicans to hold on to their power.

And, as the article reminds us, "the composition of Congressional districts will make it hard for the Democrats to recapture control of Congress in the fall."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW: United 93

UNIVERSAL REMOTE

I don't have it in me to write a full-length review of United 93. Roger Ebert's review is probably the best I've read and the most indicative of my own feelings. Please do not let my brevity be mistaken for indifference. It is nothing short of brilliant. Paul Greengrass has made a masterwork.

United 93 is one of the most gripping films I have ever seen. ("Thrilling" seems inappropriate.) There was a point in the theater where I actually became aware of my own heart pounding in my chest. The first hour, which mostly protrays air traffic controllers piecing together the terroist plot, is some of the most riveting filmmaking I have ever seen. It feels absolutely authentic. (It should since most of the actors are non-actors playing themselves, including Ben Sliney, the FAA’s operations manager, who is terrific.) There is no exposition in the entire film. You, the viewer, are figuring out what is happening exactly as the characters in the film do. This is why I reject Frank Rich calling the characters in the film "nameless stick figures." Because we are in the moment for every moment of the film, there is no place for backstory or exposition. We are those stick figures. We are those poor souls trying to figure out what to do in the face of unprecedented crisis.

The last third, when Flight 93 is taken hostage and the passengers decide to fight back, is alternately moving and horrifying. I haven't seen a film this gut-wrenching since Schindler's List, and that was all the way back in 1994. If this film had come out in 2005, it would have been my #1 film of the year. If you are a true film lover, there is no excuse not to see this movie.

NOTE: Here is an article from Popular Mechanics debunking the "missile theory," among others. I found it very convincing. Go to pages 7 and 8 for the Flight 93 specific investigation.

Monday, May 08, 2006

It's in his kiss


MANIFESTO

The antipathy some Connecticut denizens hold for Senator Sanctimony is described in an interesting piece in today's Courant. The article discusses a number of blogs that've been started censuring the Republican-in-everything-but-name junior senator from the Constitution State.

Alas, Daily411 isn't mentioned, but we'll stay in there swinging.

UPDATE — It occurs to me that only (some?) Boomers might understand the reference to the title of this post. Take a look here to see the extremely obscure musical reference.

Headline

Cursed

SPORTING GOODS

A few years ago I got into English soccer through a colleague, and he got me rooting for a team (Tottenham Hotspur) that we joked had a similar heartbreaking legacy to the Red Sox.

This year, Spurs put together their best season ever in the Premiership, and after setting a lofty goal of coming in the top 6 (which they had never done and would mean they would play in one of the two European competitions), they went into the last day of the season 1 point ahead of their arch-rival Arsenal for 4th place (which would mean entry into the Champions League, the top European competition).

But, Spurs fans had to endure another heartbreak as not only have they been playing without 3 of their top 6 players over the last month or so, but the day of the final match, all but 4 of their players got food poisoning at their hotel. Spurs went on to put together a very uninspired performance, losing to an inferior team, while Arsenal won their match to pass Spurs for 4th place and secure a place in the Champions League.

This isn't just about bragging rights and a chance to compete for the most prestigous club trophy in the world, losing out on going to the Champions League will cost the Spurs an estimated $17m.

No word on whether there are any Arsenal fans in the kitchen of the Marriott where the Spurs stayed on Saturday night.