Friday, December 15, 2006

Most Important Protest Ever

Janet Jackson, take heart - a judge in Daytona Beach, Florida ruled that breast-baring was not disorderly conduct and so couldn't be prosecuted. The boobies occurred during a First Amendment protest against public nudity laws. (In fairness, the laws had been used against breast-feeding mothers, so the lady had a point.)

Daytona Beach protested, and likely will continue to protest until they realize that a free-boobie zone in Daytona will draw thousands of new residents.

At least, until the new residents realize that the woman who started this was a 40-something biker chick. Yeesh.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pino Egregio

Recently, I was discussing the death of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet with some friends when I remarked that Pinochet was the kind of person that makes me wish I believed in Hell. Between 1973 and 1990, his murderous regime killed over 3,000 political dissidents, tortured thousands more, and exiled roughly 200,000. Since the downfall of his regime, Pinochet has become a byword for despotism and cruelty and, to the left, a symbol of all that was wrong with American cold war policy (the Nixon administration encouraged the 1973 coup against the democratically elected socialist Salvador Allende that put Pinochet in power, and other administrations propped him up against unrest through the 1980s). Whatever he symbolizes, I tend to associate him with that pantheon of leaders whom the world is better off without.

I suppose that I expected everyone to share my sentiments. In fact, most people do. There was much celebration on the streets of Santiago when Pinochet went, and most media outlets have made it perfectly clear that Pinochet was not a figure to be emulated. But I was surprised that Pinochet still had supporters in Chile and elsewhere, even after the truth about the excesses of his regime came out.

In truth, Pinochet was not a genocidal maniac like Hitler. He was no insane power-hungry nut like Idi Amin. He honestly believed that he was saving the country from communism and he was willing to go to gruesome extremes to do it. He often said that Allende was going to turn Chile into another Cuba. Be that as it may, to me that justifies neither the coup he launched nor the havoc he wreaked. But to many people, it does. Hard-liners in Santiago still hail Pinochet as Chile's savior.

It is this fact that, to me, is the most bone-chilling aspect of Pinochet's legacy. While it is hard to imagine a Hitler or Amin taking power in America, you could imagine America getting a leader who is so intent on "saving" our country from one threat or another that he is willing to go to extremes to do it. You could imagine people supporting our strong leader for his brave stance against this threat even as their neighbors get dragged away in unmarked cars, never to return again.

In short, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine an American Pinochet. We may be comparatively short on hate and intolerant of insanity, but we have plenty of fanaticism to go around, and plenty of fear for a fanatic to play on. It wouldn't have been unthinkable for Joseph McCarthy to have been elected President, and how much less extreme would McCarthy have been? How many Americans watch Glenn "How Do We Know You're Not A Terrorist" Beck or read Dennis "Screw the Koran" Prager? And how many Americans would support a general quashing of dissent in order to keep us safe from terrorism?

It is absurd to compare President Bush to Hitler, to Amin, or even to Pinochet. But when people ask me why I rail against the erosion of civil liberties in the name of the "war on terror," and when people ask me why I argue against the use of the legal black hole that is Guantanamo, I will now point them to the torture chambers and death squads of Chile's past. For Pinochet is not a lesson against hatred or genocidal rage, but rather a caution: it is all too easy to support someone who, in the name of defense, crosses the fine line into fanaticism. We must not only be vigilant against threats from without, but we must also be vigilant in protecting our own ideals. If we fail in this latter regard, it is not difficult to imagine a Pinochet as our reward.

Update: Bad week for dictators: Ethiopia's Mengistu Haile Mariam, the "Butcher of Addis Ababa" who murdered some 150,000 people during his 1974-1991 reign, was convicted of genocide by an Ethiopian court. Mengistu is apparently still hiding out in Zimbabwe under the protection of strongman Robert Mugabe. Interestingly, Mengistu and Pinochet can be seen as almost mirror images - they ruled at roughly the same time, were put in power by bloody coups against popular leaders (in Mengistu's case, he overthrew emperor and national hero Haile Selassie), used as Cold War pawns, and murdered people for their political beliefs. The differences - Mengistu was a lot more murderous, a lot more insane, faced a civil war, and was backed by the Soviets rather than by the Americans. Mengistu also had a racial element to his butchery - he hated the lighter-skinned Ethiopians.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Floridan Who Can Count

Apparently the idea of fiscal responsibility isn't completely lost on Florida Republican Charlie "Jesus" Crist, the incoming governor. He is planning on cancelling his inaugural ball because it costs way too much. His predecessor, Jeb Bush, spent $2 million on the damn thing. Crist has received donations for the ball - they will be returned, and any leftover funds will be donated to charity.

Sure, $2 million is chump change when compared to Florida's state budget. And the cynic in me says that maybe this is just a publicity stunt meant to shore up support after a surprisingly difficult campaign. But maybe Crist is actually serious about cutting wasteful spending.

How he treats anti-poverty programs are bound to be another story. But at least there's someone out there who is attempting to practice what he preaches.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

School Pride Moment

File this under "ridiculously cool": Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladesh economist who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in microcredit lending to poor folks who otherwise couldn't get any kind of business startup capital, got his Ph.D. in economics from Vanderbilt. That rules.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Youse Guys Are Insane

Culinary wizard Michael Bloomberg has managed to get a ban on trans fats passed in New York City.

Thanks, Mayor Bloomberg, for assuming New Yorkers aren't smart enough to avoid trans fats on their own. Or responsible enough for their own well-being to not use them. Or mature enough to choose whether or not to eat trans fats. Yes, trans fats are bad for you, but banning them? You gotta be kidding me. Let's hope that in a few months, the enforcers of this ridiculous regulation just, well, fugeddaboutit.

Meanwhile, in Congress, DC is close to getting a vote... stay tuned... it may turn out to be the only useful thing the 109th Congress has done...

Monday, December 04, 2006

White Russians For Everyone!

This has to be the coolest festival ever.

I'm curious about this online church that the article mentions. The church of Lebowski? Do we pray to the almighty bowling ball? On piss-soiled rugs? Is Julianne Moore kind of the not-so-Virgin Mary figure?

Imagine confession: "Your penance: say 'The Dude abides' six times and 'Fuck it, dude, let's go bowling' eight times."

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pardon The Mini-Rant

As you click on this link, skip over Pat Boone's anti-judge douchebaggery, the State Department's Web incompetence, and Will Smith's acting prowess. Read the Think Tank column where experts advise John McCain on where to have his campaign headquarters. Especially read Brookings' Ron Nessen's quote, which I will retype here:

“Anywhere EXCEPT Washington. Voters hate Washington and anything that goes on in Washington. Do it where REAL people live. How about his hometown, Phoenix, Arizona?”

Now I (obviously) have nothing against Phoenix. Good town, great people. But someone needs to inform Mr. Nessen that the 4 million or so people who live in the D.C. area are just as "real" as Arizonans. Walk through Arlington or Georgetown or Anacostia or Kensington sometime, Mr. Nessen. Shake peoples' hands while you're at it - you'll notice that we Washingtonians are real. We exist. We're not holograms or whatever you think we are. So take your geographical bigotry and shove it.

Thank you. Rant over.

(For those of you who don't know me, I live in North Carolina, but I was born and raised in the D.C. area.)

Just How Far Down Do You Wanna Go...

Rev. Rick Warren, the Purpose Driven Life guy who is one of America's more prominent evangelical leaders, is hosting a conference on Christianity and HIV/AIDS at Warren's SoCal church. In my opinion, he rightfully believes that Christian morals dictates that he do something about fighting the spread of a disease that has decimated African populations.

Warren invited over 60 speakers to his event. I suppose he figured that he needed someone who a) was intimately acquainted with the African continent and the problems of the AIDS epidemic there, b) is an openly religious Christian, and c) is a face people could recognize. This is presumably why he invited Illinois Sen. Barack Obama to speak. And not entirely unpredictably, he was met by a group of angry people. Led by Rob Schenck, they believe that Obama's pro-choice stance disqualifies him from any knowledge about AIDS and the role of Christianity in fighting it.

Apparently, a certain point of view on abortion is necessary to understand the AIDS crisis. Funny, I didn't think the two were related.

I'll add Schenck and his ilk to people who need to shut up. Reasonable people can disagree on the morality of pro-choice vs. pro-life stances. But disagreement on one issue should not preclude an alliance on A TOTALLY UNRELATED ISSUE. Send these people a memo on my behalf, please: you and Obama both want AIDS to go away. You are both Christians. You both have a place at a conference on the Church's role in fighting AIDS. Duh.

This highlights a disturbing trend in modern politics - the belief that because someone has certain disagreements with you they are therefore your enemy, and you should always oppose them. This is completely untrue. I don't know if there are too many people in American politics with whom I disagree 100% of the time. Or with whom I agree 100% of the time. Alliances form one issue at a time - bitter enemies on one issue can be allies on others. Generally I oppose what the Christian Coalition stands for, but I'll happily stand alongside them on a certain issue if they agree with me on that issue. But the idea that politics makes strange bedfellows seems to be lost on most political activists nowadays. If Hillary Clinton and Bill O'Reilly can find the time to work together on children's issues, pro-life conservative evangelicals can find it in their hearts to work with Sen. Obama on AIDS. Come on, folks - which is more important? Ideological purity, or getting stuff done? So applause to Warren for keeping his eyes on the prize. The rest of you - and I don't say this often - follow the pastor.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

This Post Needs No Title

Have you ever wanted to visit a third-world country, but you just don't feel like leaving the U.S.? Well, if you believe infamous sodomite Tom Tancredo, you only need to go to Miami.

Making fun of that guy is just way too easy sometimes.

In other news:

Police in Atlanta decided it's a good idea to send an overarmed and overzealous SWAT team to raid a 92-year-old woman's house on minor drug charges. Unsurprisingly, the 92-year-old woman mistook the SWAT team for burglars and met them at the door with a gun. Officers saw the gun and shot and killed the old lady. Good job, Atlanta police. I'm sure the threat Great-Grandma posed to society warranted treating her house like a damn war zone. Maybe someone besides Radley Balko will start paying attention to ridiculous policing tactics now?

So it's officially a civil war in Iraq. Everybody together now: no shit, Sherlock.

Dear Michael Vick haters: shut up. Seriously. I know 9-24 isn't good, but his receivers dropped, like, seven passes. And they weren't off-the-fingertips-difficult-catch drops, they were two-hands-on-the-ball-oops-where'd-it-go drops. Add that to his total, and he's 16-24 and no one's complaining.

Let's hear it for Lebanese jokers who are hoping to show Lebanon how ridiculous its sectarian tensions are. Seriously, I don't know if Lebanese people know just how stupid that makes them look. We have our religious bickering, but dude... it's just not that important. I have a better solution: Israel should bomb them again. That way, all the sects will have a common enemy. It's genius. What could possibly go wrong?

And if you're going to bribe someone in Texas, do so in cash. Apparently it's legal.

Also, if you're wondering why the rest of the country makes fun of South Carolina, look no further than this.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Post-Thanksgiving Football Blogging

Damn, it's been a long time since I've blogged.

Another year, another BCS boondoggle. This year reminds me of 2004, with one exception - instead of eight teams that had legitimate title arguments, there are now ten or eleven teams that are doing everything in their power to not get invited to the title game. Rutgers losing to Cincinnati? Arkansas losing to Louisville? USC dropping one to Oregon State? Really, folks. At least Ohio State looks like the real deal. All the rest of y'all suck.

Oh, and USC being ranked second? Bullshit. Here's who I want to see playing in the title game against the Buckeyes, in descending order:

Boise State. Don't laugh. They're the only other undefeated team in the nation, they beat an Oregon State team that USC couldn't get past, and with the exception of a squeaker against Fresno State they've clobbered everyone in their conference (including ranked Hawaii). They remind me of the 2004 Utah team that went undefeated, was rewarded with a crap game against BCS misfit Pittsburgh (whom they clobbered), and ended up ranked 4th. I have no idea why BSU is ranked lower than 3rd right now. I want them ranked second - hell, everyone else has already lost. My philosophy - if you go 12-0 in moderately impressive fashion, you deserve a shot at the title. It's hard to go 12-0 against anyone. But knowing that BSU will get screwed by the major-conference-obsessed voters, I'll go with...

Florida. Provided, of course, they finish off Arkansas in the SEC title game. Their only loss is to 10-2 Auburn, and even though this year's SEC isn't the powerhouse that it usually is, wins over Tennessee, LSU, and Georgia ought to count for something. The fact is that Florida's a damn good team. And as much as I hate Urban Meyer for leaving Utah, two title-game shaftings in three years is too much for a single coach to have to experience.

Wisconsin. No one seems to have noticed the Badgers, but they're 11-1 in a tough Big Ten with their only loss being to Michigan. Since Michigan has already faced OSU and lost, Wisconsin deserves a shot more than the Wolverines. Yeah, an all-Big Ten final sucks, but the conference is just that good this year.

Louisville. Provided they can squeak past UConn this weekend. Their only loss is to Rutgers. Normally, that's a bad thing, but Rutgers is also 10-1 this year. We can forgive them a road-game hiccup against a legit title contender. Hey, it's better than losing to an 8-4 team like, oh, say, Oregon State.

All these teams deserve consideration for the title game before USC. In my mind, if you lose a game to a clearly inferior opponent, you ought to be punished. Florida, Wisconsin, and Louisville all have big wins and all have better single losses. BSU may not have a marquee win but has beaten the crap out of everyone. Seriously, how much is Pete Carroll paying the BCS people?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

And If I've Learned Anything...

I was just watching Anderson Cooper's analysis of the press conference that Dubya gave earlier today. There was a discussion of how Bush would handle this electoral defeat. Would he reach out? Would he dig in, ready for a fight? My first thought was: "well, that's simple, last time he was beaten in an election, he..."

Then it hit me. George W. Bush has never experienced decisive electoral defeat. He won two elections as governor of Texas, one election for President, and tied the other (winning in penalty kicks, as it were). He gained seats in the 2002 midterms. I don't know about his performance in the 1996 Texas legislative midterms, so I guess I can't say "never", but I don't know that voters have ever expressed their disapproval so resoundingly.

It will be interesting to see how Bush responds. Will he be chastened by the experience and remember the importance of including everyone in the decision-making process? Will he continue his scorched-earth policymaking strategy, this time from the minority - becoming the "obstructionist" that he often reviled Democrats for being? How will Bush work with a group of people who he has been comparing to terrorists for the past six years? In short, given his bridge-burning electoral style, what does Bush look like in defeat? I guess we're about to find out.

And double kudos to anyone who can pick up on the double-reference in the post title.

"Now What?"

First, a sad note from last night. We're down by 380-odd votes right now with provisional ballots still remaining, so it's not over yet, but either way I want to congratulate Greer Beaty, candidate for NC House in District 36, on running one hell of a race. Since I began volunteering for the campaign back in April, I have come to know one of the few politicians that simply oozes integrity. Greer is the kind of person who puts getting results ahead of partisan victory - and instead of being turned off by the heavily partisan nature of today's politics, she set about changing it. Greer's dedication inspired the same in her staff and her volunteers, and we wish her all the best. Congratulations, Greer, on putting a heavily Republican district in play. Should the current results hold, here's hoping you run again - and win - in 2008.

My friend John referred to Election Day as "the geek's Christmas." So come, all ye faithful, to my election musings:

Remember how I said that when the dust settled, Republicans would still hold the house, 220-215? Um... oops. Big, massive oops.

Currently, with 11 seats still remaining, Democrats have 228 seats. Even if all the remaining seats break Republican, the Dems will have a fairly safe 21-seat advantage. Even that is unlikely - Dems are up in CT-02, GA-12, and PA-08, and LA-02 will feature a runoff between two Democrats. If those results hold, we're left with a 232-203 split. The Senate is currently at 48-49-2, with only the Virginia race still out (Webb has a small but significant advantage, but it's going to go to recount and it won't be official for a while).

Here's a few half-baked and partially digested commentaries for you to spit out upon tasting:

- The red-blue divide has been proven to be, for the most part, complete crap. Yes, the Northeast became more solidly Democratic, with both NH seats turning along with a few in NY, CT, and PA. But seats also turned in KS, CO, AZ, IN, and here in NC. And Republican incumbent Barbara Cubin got a good run for her money in Wyoming - that race is still too close to call (but leans towards Cubin). Kansas was just as caught up in the Democratic wave as New York. Incidentally, a lot of people in the Democratic Party have been criticizing Howard Dean for his "fifty state strategy" of strengthening state parties in traditionally Republican areas. After tonight - when Dean's strategy forced a turnover in Kansas and forced Republicans to waste money defending seats in Idaho and Wyoming - those people will be shutting up.

- Rudyard Kipling (an ass, perhaps, but a good poet) once wrote about those who "can keep their head when all of those about [them] are losing theirs." So in that vein I offer a giant, if perhaps premature, thank you to Arizona. Why? They became the first state to reject a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage even as seven other states approved such measures. Arizona is something of a libertarian paradise, so it's not that much of a surprise. But maybe this result, along with the endurance of same-sex marriages in Massachussets, the court ruling in New Jersey, and the passage of civil unions in Connecticut last year (the first state to pass civil union/marriage legislation without being prompted to do so by a court), could signal the beginnings of a national realization that gay marriage will not lead to the imminent apocalypse. Arizona may still be caught up in the immigration hysteria, but at least in gay rights, it has joined the leaders.

- Speaking of Arizona and immigration hysteria, let's all pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that J.D. Hayworth will not be joining us next January. Harry Mitchell may not be any better on immigration, but at least he won't be as much of a pain in the ass. Now if only someone would knock off Tom Tancredo...

- Congratulations to former Orleans lead vocalist John Hall, who pulled the out-of-nowhere upset of the night to beat incumbent Republican Sue Kelly in New York's 19th district. Apparently, he is still the one. (Discussion topic: is Hall's victory at all related to his appearance on The Colbert Report?)

- Let us also pause and imagine a Senate without Rick Santorum. Aaaaaahhhhh. Sanity just sent Bob Casey, Jr. a gift basket. Also, thanks to incumbents Bill Nelson and Brad Miller for keeping Congress Katherine Harris- and Vernon Robinson-free.

- Is religious conservatism on the wane again? Sure, same-sex marriage initiatives passed in seven out of eight states. But Santorum went down hard, Harris never had a chance, Marilyn Musgrave got the wits scared out of her, and stem-cell research passed in MO. Here in NC, our chief justice beat back an attempt by her challenger to rile up the religious conservative base - by some thirty percentage points. Religious conservativism has always had periods where it collapsed on itself and retreated for a while. Are people starting to discover other things to worry about?

- Big winner: minimum wages. All the minimum wage ballot propositions passed. Conservative economists will be befuddled when the economies of these states do not undergo immediate collapse.

- We can thank Bill Frist for giving the Democrats an extra House seat. Frist's gambling ban was sponsored by Jim Leach and Bob Goodlatte in the House. Goodlatte never had an opponent, but Leach did. Leach was well ahead for most of the race and his seat wasn't even on most peoples' radars, but he ended up losing to challenger Dave Loebsack. Think backlash from the gambling ban had anything to do with that?

- Other big winner: Joe Lieberman. If Webb holds on in Virginia, Lieberman holds the Senate balance of power in his hands. Harry Reid is sure to give him a cushy chairmanship (Judiciary or Armed Services) in exchange for his caucus vote. The Republicans will probably try to bribe him with similar spoils.

- Also, let's hear it for the first Socialist Senator, Bernie Sanders, and the first Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison.

- Poor Lincoln Chafee. I liked him. Though he did throw the Republican Party under the bus in Lieberman-like fashion toward the end of his campaign. I'm thinking he probably would have jumped ship had he won.

- First casualty of the post-election fallout: Donald Rumsfeld. He ended up getting most of the blame for the failed Iraq strategy that helped lead to this little electoral disaster for the Republicans. I'm somewhat surprised that Bush would fire him, but I guess even he can take a hint.

That's all. Feel free to comment with whatever insights you have on last night's happenings.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Best. Web Site. EVER.

Politics geeks: are you sick of your jock friends bragging about their fantasy football or baseball teams while you're trying to read the Congressional Record? Do you wish there was something similar that catered to your interests?

Well, take heart, for Fantasy Congress has arrived!

You pick 16 legislators - two senior senators, two junior senators, four senior reps, four moderately tenured reps, and four rookie reps. You gain points based on how much legislative success they enjoy - bills introduced, bills passed by committee, bills conveyed to the other house, etc. You use the weekends to drop and draft Congresspeople. Unsurprisingly, Transportation chair and porkmaster Don Young is the Peyton Manning of the House.

My life has new meaning.

Let me know in the Comments if you want to join a league.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Tennessee Voters Weigh In

Looks like according to the latest poll, Tennessee voters barely prefer Corker's daughter's girl-on-girl action to Ford's Playboy bunnies. But not by much. We'll see how the horny male demographic swings when the Ford campaign comes out with a sex video... of Ford.

Also in the article, I noticed that 61% of Tennessee voters say gay marriage will play a very important role in the way they cast their votes. I have only one question for you, Volunteer Staters:


Education, health care, war in Iraq, terrorism, taxes, civil liberties... and you think gay marriage is important? How does that affect anyone except gay people? In short, what the hell is wrong with you?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

...And We Have A "Winner"

Your winner for the "most shameful ad" award goes to Wisconsin Republican challenger Paul Nelson, who accuses his challenger of spending money attaching electrodes to teenage girls' genitalia while they watch porn. The ad references a vote cast by Nelson against scrapping a series of NIH studies dealing with understanding human sexuality.

You know you've made a bad ad when your own party gets pissed off at you.

That's not even the worst part. North Carolinians might notice, upon reading the article, that something sounds familiar about this ad. That's because the ad was originally made for Republican Vernon "Fiesta" Robinson, who is challenging Rep. Brad Miller in the 13th District. That's right, folks - Nelson not only ran a ridiculous ad, but actually used someone else's ridiculous ad. Robinson gets an honorable mention for conceiving the ad, but Nelson wins for apparently watching this ad and you think, "hey, what a great idea, I should use that in my campaign." Fool.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More Midterm Silliness

I'm serious now - this election is entering the Twilight Zone. Some of the more entertaining things happening now...

- Sen. John Kerry attempted to make a joke at Bush's expense - and ended up insulting our troops. Republicans are trying to make an issue out of it, but fortunately no one actually listens to John Kerry anymore.

- Campaigners are always trying to figure out ways to deal with hecklers. Sen. George Allen's staff has a sublimely effective method: a good old-fashioned butt-whoopin'. That's quite a response - I wonder if Allen's campaign staffers are Israeli or something. Still, anyone who accosts another person asking why they spit at their first wife qualifies for "jackass" status.

- Desperate campaign tactic #308: make your opponent look like a former sex offender.

- A district director for Republican Rep. John Kline in Minnesota was on-record as cursing about "another Jap car". By the way, if you're of Asian descent, "Jap" = "nigger." The director half-assedly apologized. Incidentally, Kline's opponent in the race is former FBI whistle-blower Colleen Rowley.

- A Florida state rep. learns the dangers of drunk-dialing.

On a different note, my official prediction for House and Senate composition after this election:

- House: 220 R, 215 D. Sure, it's tough to get more Democrat-friendly than this election cycle, but thanks to Elbridge Gerry and his famous mandering, I don't see how a fifteen-seat swing is going to happen. A lot more seats need to become competitive before control of the legislature can change that rapidly.

- Senate: 50 R, 48 D, 2 I. Santorum and DeWine are done, Burns is medium-well, and Chafee (sadly) is fading fast. That's a four-seat pickup right there. But I only see one of Virginia, Tennessee, and Missouri going for the Dems. The two Indies are Sanders and Lieberman, who will split their votes, effectively making this 51-49.

Also, Scott Adams weighs in on electronic voting.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Note to Delaware: You Are Not The South

Apparently some folks in Lower Delaware (which a few Wilmington-area folks refer to as "Slower Delaware" - who knew that a state the size of my fingernail could have a north-south rivalry?) are taking some cues from people down here in the Bible Belt. In all the wrong ways.

Some of the scarier moments from the article:

"The Dobrich and Doe legal complaint portrays a district in which children were given special privileges for being in Bible club, Bibles were distributed in 2003 at an elementary school, Christian prayer was routine at school functions and teachers evangelized."

"Mrs. Dobrich, who is Orthodox, said that when she was a girl, Christians here had treated her faith with respectful interest. Now, she said, her son was ridiculed in school for wearing his yarmulke. She described a classmate of his drawing a picture of a pathway to heaven for everyone except “Alex the Jew.”"

"A homemaker active in her children’s schools, Mrs. Dobrich said she had asked the board to develop policies that would leave no one feeling excluded because of faith. People booed and rattled signs that read 'Jesus Saves,' she recalled. Her son had written a short statement, but he felt so intimidated that his sister read it for him. In his statement, Alex, who was 11 then, said: 'I feel bad when kids in my class call me "Jew boy." I do not want to move away from the house I have lived in forever.'

Later, another speaker turned to Mrs. Dobrich and said, according to several witnesses, 'If you want people to stop calling him "Jew boy," you tell him to give his heart to Jesus.'"

In response, I have an open letter to the people of Delaware:

Dear Delaware,

Congratulations; you have now made Mississippi look tolerant. Psychotic disrespect for the religion of others is not a good thing. Please go back to doing what you do best - pumpkin chunkin'. Seriously, you don't need to be embarrassed more.


And while we're on the subject of douchebaggery disguising itself as religion, check this out. The entire idea of the Antichrist smacks of cynicism in the first place (someone unites people and brings peace, and that's a bad thing?), but it's a legit, relatively harmless religious belief, so whatever. But thinking someone is the Antichrist just because they're likable? That's insanity.

So let's add Barack Obama to the list of people accused of being the Antichrist:

- Javier Solana
- Ronald Reagan
- Hillary Clinton
- George W. Bush (thanks Leah)
- all Jews
- this guy who seems to aspire to the job

Anyone with any more fun Antichrist accusations, let me know.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

College Football Made Interesting

...and cue the chaos.

I kind of figured that USC would lose at some point. They had Oregon, Cal, and UCLA still left on their schedule. But Oregon State? The Trojans couldn't deal with the Beavers? (Which is amusing on far too many levels.)

So now there are six undefeateds. Two will face off later in the season (Ohio State, Michigan). Three share another conference and will all play each other later (Louisville, Rutgers, West Virginia - incidentally, how many of you thought you would ever be seeing Rutgers as one of the last six undefeated teams in the nation?). One gets absolutely no respect (Boise State). Should the Big East teams beat each other up (possible) or get screwed by the BCS (likely), there are eleven one-loss teams that could lay claim to a spot too (BC, Wake, Texas, Texas A&M, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Tulsa, Cal, USC, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Auburn). That's seventeen teams still somewhat alive in the title race. That should narrow a bit as BC and Wake play, USC plays Cal and ND, Texas and A&M play, the four SEC teams go through that meat-grinder, and Tulsa continues to play in Conference USA. Even so, we could end this season like 2004, where eight teams had legitimate arguments for title game consideration. Ah, but who needs a playoff?

Oh, and Duke? Good job making Chris Nickson look like Michael Vick. Seriously, there are high school teams that could keep a freshman Vandy quarterback from getting five touchdowns (two passing, three running). Incidentally, Vandy only needs two more wins to become bowl eligible. Unfortunately, its remaining three games are against Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tennessee Confuses Me

The RNC has been running ads in Tennessee against Harold Ford, Jr. Their most controversial spot is apparently one that involves a young actress saying she met Harold Ford at the Playboy party and asking him to call her. (Ford is single.)

So the acme of the RNC's attack machine has accused the Democrat in the race of... being attractive? Exactly how is this a negative ad? Harold Ford. Women find him sexy. Is this who we want representing us?

They've since pulled the ad, since it apparently fueled outrage. I haven't seen it, so maybe there's more to it than that. Anyway, they've replaced it with accusations that Ford has taken money from porn moguls and wants to force-feed abortion pills to teenagers. (Aside: what kind of complete moron actually believes this? Seriously, if you take that ad at face value, you ought to lose your voting rights. Permanently.)

I'd rather have the ad with the woman saying I'm hot, personally. This latest one makes Vernon "Fiesta" Robinson look sane.

Instant Update: The Post's Chris Cillizza discusses the ad, revealing that the party girl was a part of a series of satirical "man on the street" interviews. The ad's actually pretty clever, if disingenuous and factually challenged. Cillizza posts the ad, but I don't have a video connection here so I can't see it. Tell me what you think, especially about the Playboy woman's appearance. I'm still not seeing how a woman insinuating that she has the hots for Harold Ford is supposed to be negative.

Even More Update Goodness: Harold Ford scored points with the "call me" chick, but in the race for the all important horny-man demographic, Bob Corker pulls ahead with these pics of his partying daughter making out with another chick. This has to be the weirdest Senate race in recent memory. Kinda makes me sad I don't live in Tennessee anymore.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sorry, Sir, It Was Subconscious

Apparently two Israeli warplanes attacked a German ship that was charged with preventing weapons trafficking in the area.

Talk about fighting the last war. Except in Israel's case it was, like, eight wars ago. Something tells me that some Israeli pilot has a deep-seated revenge complex. I'm picturing Ehud Olmert coming out on TV saying something like "uh... we forgot the Germans were the good guys now... oopsie."

Update: ...or not, according to Amir Peretz. I lean towards believing Peretz - the Israeli military is famous for overreaching, but not for stupidity. So you can all go on to the next post, now... nothing more to see here.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Midterms 2006: The Good, the Bad, and the WTF?

Not necessarily in that order.

We start off in Arizona's 1st Congressional district, where Republican Rick Renzi faces challenger Democrat Ellen Simon. The R thing is not a mistake, folks - he is married to a woman named Roberta and twelve of his children have "R" names. (I didn't even know there were 12 R names.) But he gets on my "jackass" list for a TV attack ad he ran against his opponent accusing her of being - gasp! - an ACLU member. I was kind of half watching in a groggy just-waking-up state while in Tempe, so I'm not sure exactly what he said and a quick online search doesn't turn up any video of the ad. But he made being an ACLU member sound like an action slightly worse than selling your soul to the devil. (Simon led the Cleveland, OH chapter of the ACLU for a time.)

What's even more frustrating is that in my brief foray into the Renzi-Simon blogosphere, one of the commenters trashing Simon says that Simon is a "freedom destroying commie type." Because we all know that the best way to destroy freedom is to dedicate yourself to an organization whose sole aim is the preservation of freedom. Incidentally, this is probably the nastiest Congressional race I've come across, with both candidates accusing each other of having the approximate moral fiber of a jelly doughnut.

I would rant about this, but that has already been done to perfection, so I'll just quote: "For the record: yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU. But the more important question is why aren't you, Bob? Now, this is an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights, so it naturally begs the question: Why would a senator, his party's most powerful spokesman and a candidate for President, choose to reject upholding the Constitution?" For that matter, why would Rick Renzi and so much of the American right choose to reject upholding the Constitution? I seriously have to physically restrain myself when someone badmouths the ACLU. You may not agree with everything they do, but you can't take someone who spends their time protecting your Constitutional rights and call them un-American.

Renzi may be an ass, but he might not even be the biggest douchebag in his state. For that, we move to Scottsdale, where Congressman J.D. Hayworth (watch out - the web page talks) is running against former Tempe mayor Harry Mitchell.

Caution: what follows hasn’t been verified by a mainstream news source, so beware – this may be one of those blogosphere rumors.

Update: The Arizona Republic confirms, at least in part.

Two of Hayworth's staffers suffered a severe meltdown (from the deliciously snarky Wonkette) at a Jewish synagogue in Scottsdale, apparently lecturing the crowd for several minutes and calling Hayworth - a conservative Christian - a "more observant Jew" than everyone there. When that comment was met with predictable derision, a staffer commented: "No wonder there are anti-Semites." The speakers, Jonathan and Irit Tratt, were Jewish - as some folks at The American Prospect point out, Irit is a modern Hebrew name. (Best comment on that string: "Jesus was a Jew? Then how come he's got a Mexican name?")

This is probably the biggest "what the fuck" campaign moment in recent memory (narrowly edging out Macacagate). I have two possible explanations:

1) Jonathan and Irit Tratt are modern-day Isaiahs. Sick of what they see as the empty rituals of modern Judaism, the Tratts have begun exhorting their fellow Jews to live their lives morally and not just follow the laws for the sake of their laws. Thus, saying that Hayworth was "more observant" is a comment about morality - i.e. that Hayworth's morality is closer to what God wants from the Chosen People than is the perceived moral emptiness of the Scottsdale Jewish community.

2) Jonathan and Irit Tratt are morons.

Given that their boss gone on the record as supporting Henry Ford's "Americanization" plan - an immigrant assimilation plan so brilliant that it was praised by Hitler - and given that the “no wonder there are anti-Semites” comment doesn’t get covered by option 1, I'm going to go way out on a limb and assume the latter.

Update: The Republic article states that the comments were made in the context of abortion, lending a little bit of credence to option 1. Interestingly, Jewish law has traditionally allowed abortion until the 40th day (when it is assumed that the heart starts beating). Still, it’s kind of dumb to call a proud Baptist a better Jew than actual Jews.

Here's another account of the event that supports option 2. This account makes it seem like the Tratts are an Israel-obsessed couple who tried to slam Mitchell for - shocking! - associating with the A-rabs. (Guess that makes me a "fake Jew" since I talk to my Palestinian and Jordanian neighbors.)

I really wish someone had got this on tape since it would make for excellent television.

Note: I've slammed Hayworth on this blog before for his hawkish anti-immigrant stances. Sadly, Mitchell isn't much better in that regard.

For sheer dipshittery, it's tough to beat this one: Kansas Senator Sam Brownback - one of the many decrying Democrats' "obstructionist" tactics on judges - has put a hold on one of Bush's judicial nominees for a court in Michigan. His excuse? She hangs out with lesbians. Dear Kansas: Your elected officials already tried enforcing this "intelligent design" crap. Now this. Please stop electing idiots - you're embarrassing yourselves. At least you had the good sense to elect Kathleen Sebelius as your governor.

In the even-more-WTF department, Nevada Rep. Jim Gibbons is involved in one of the most bizarre scandals I've ever heard of (two Wonkette links here). Gibbons is running for Governor and had his race won... until he either groped a cocktail waitress or helped her stand up while she was drunk. Gibbons was obliterated as well. He was also with several women who were not his wife at the time.

Foley's Follies. Macacagate. The Great Scottsdale Staffer Meltdown. What Happened in Vegas. There are usually scandals in an election cycle, but damn, there have been some frickin' hilarious ones this year. Jon Stewart must be shitting his pants right now.

And finally, the award for "best negative advertisement" goes to this mailer from New Hampshire Congressional candidate Paul Hodes attacking his opponent, incumbent Charlie Bass. This is the kind of brilliant idea that could only have arrived in the heads of the campaign staff at about 1 A.M. after several beers. Anyone whose campaign can pun that prolifically gets my vote.

(The campaign I'm working on is running against a guy named Dollar. Sadly, we have yet to take advantage of the numerous pun possibilities that lie therein.)

I Didn't Know I Could Pitch Like That

So what the hell was on Kenny Rogers' hand? And if it was illegal, why couldn't the Cardinals hit him even after he got rid of it? Did he switch to the clear pine tar? Or was it a Tootsie roll (like Andy Van Slyke suggests)?


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Homestretch

So how, exactly, did I end up completely drenched in the men's bathroom of a women's college dining hall wringing out my clothes and trying desperately to dry myself off? The answer follows.

Yesterday I woke up late (the result of a trip to Phoenix over the weekend). It was kind of a dreary, Seattle-sunshine kind of day. After getting some work done, I decided I needed to go pay my rent (it was a little bit late since I was out of town on the 15th, but my landlady is nice about such things). Unfortunately, to do so I had to ride my bike some 10 miles to her house on Lake Wheeler Road in far south Raleigh. This went without incident, though the entire trip was made on country roads without sidewalks (or really even shoulders) and was a bit nervewracking. After leaving my landlady's, I rode straight up Lake Wheeler to Centennial Campus, where I work. I had almost reached my office when it started to rain. Not a particularly hard rain, mind you - just a few drops here and there. I was moderately soaked when I walked into the office, but within twenty minutes I had dried off.

Then Noah, who coordinates volunteer stuff for my State House candidate, called me and wanted me to man a booth at Meredith College's candidates' meet and greet, since neither he nor Greer could be there. Meredith is only about two miles away from State and three from Centennial, so I sighed and said I'd be there at 5:30.

Little did I know that by 5:30, I would have a driving rainstorm on my hands.

It's roughly a 15-minute ride from Centennial to Meredith. By the time I reached Meredith, there wasn't a dry spot on my body. I locked up my bike in front of the dining hall and dodged into the men's bathroom (the existence of which I wasn't expecting, Meredith being an all-girl school). After a brief and futile attempt to dry myself, I wandered into the dining hall.

There was Noah, dress shirt and tie. And me, drenched T-shirt and cargo shorts. At that point I informed Noah of his impending debt to me of several tasty beverages, to be cashed in at a later date. At which point Noah left. As it was, Meredith students were mostly unfazed by my waterlogged clothing, and I got eight volunteers out of my crowd-cruising.

Of course then I had to get home. I wasn't relishing the ride back to Cary in the rain at night. Fortunately, I made an offhand comment about someone having a pickup truck to take my bike home - and a friend of mine ended up having a pickup truck and time to take me back, thus saving me from getting drenched a third time. Sweet.

I return to four wheels on Friday. I'll give you a nice little summation blog then.

Also, I'd like to call your attention to this delicious tidbit of information. Samuel L. Jackson as God...

"I've had it with these muthafuckin' snakes in this muthafuckin' garden!"

Update: steals my joke.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Il Communication

So North Korea just detonated an explosive device that may or may not have been a miniature nuclear weapon. I've heard radiation test results that both confirm and deny the existence of a nuclear bomb. I've also heard that the bomb tested was approximately one kiloton - roughly 1/60 the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It can still do some damage, but it's hardly apocalyptic.

Anyway, this is another Kim-Jong-Il-wants-attention moment. I guess no one hugged him when he was a kid. I'm glad to see China and Japan start punishing North Korea for the test (there's very little we can do since we don't actually have any sort of relationship with the Hermit Kingdom). I wonder, however, how much closing NK off will actually help the situation. Kim seems perfectly happy torturing his own people with hunger and poverty as long as he gets his self-aggrandizing sideshow taken care of. Any economic activity that ceases because of sanctions will probably not hurt Kim at all.

So what is to be done? Opening ourselves up to NK makes it look like we tacitly approve of nuclear proliferation (not a good message to be sending right now, especially with Iran waiting in the wings). Threats of warfare don't work - I'm sure the entire world knows that we won't be as eager to invade the Korean Peninsula as we were to invade Iraq. (Hell, if Bush applied the same standard to the two countries North Korea would be a parking lot right now.) Some people want to deploy nukes to South Korea - fortunately, Condi thinks that this is a bad idea given our goal of denuclearizing the peninsula.

Is being open to the North and trying to convince them to enter the global marketplace the best idea? Increased openness broke down the Soviet Union as citizens there discovered what they were missing. But NK's propaganda machine is so good that their people might not respond as expected to the discovery of the fruits of prosperity in other places. Hell, they've been living next to booming South Korea for fifty years (though SK only started booming a couple of decades ago). What may be needed is a massive human intelligence program aimed at undermining Kim's propaganda machine and popular support, and once an opposition forms, we'd have something of an opening to work with. But what do I know about foreign policy?

Also: Congress may have failed to address immigration reform, health care, the minimum wage, the tax laws, or much of anything for that matter. But they've banned Internet gambling. The opponents want to ban Internet gambling because it's addictive and because it's populated with dishonest bookies. The dishonest bookies, of course, would be taken care of by legalizing Internet gambling and regulating it - such criminals are only encouraged by making the whole shebang illegal. As for its addictiveness - aren't the supporters of this bill (conservative Republicans) the same people who vote against smoking bans? I hear there are other other addictive Internet games out there, too - are we banning them? Or coffee - I hear that's addictive?

At least the bill the ban was attached to did something good - procured more money and resources for port security. It's probably the best thing the 109th has done, and it's a shame that the news of this got lost in the douchebaggery of the gambling ban.

The Washington Post reveals the real reason Democrats will retake Congress in November - we're way hotter than the Republicans. Think about it. Hillary or Condi? Maria Cantwell or Liddy Dole? Ladies, Barack Obama or John McCain? It's an easy call. Because obviously we should be casting our votes based on physical attractiveness.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Something To Keep Your Mind Occupied For A While

In my Spanish class, I was mild-manneredly taking an exam. The exam asked us to describe the weather in January in Argentina (answer: rather nice). A student piped up: "Where's Argentina?"

Keep in mind that this is a college student. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Well, now you can find out just how much of a geography idiot you are by going to this online geography game. It's how map geeks like me who can keep the capitals of Kazakhstan and Eritrea straight. And if you understood the joke without me having to tell you that the cities I just referred to are the easily confusable Astana and Asmara respectively, this game is for you.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Happy Jeffrey Maier Day

Yes, folks, it was ten years ago today that young Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier reached over the wall in right field and scooped Derek Jeter's long fly-out away from Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco, allowing Game 1 of the ALCS to go to extra innings and eventually be won by the Yanks. The Pinstriped Ones went on to win ten AL East titles and four World Series titles. The Orioles won the AL East the next year but have been in search of a winning season ever since.

So in memory of that fateful day, I give you a random sports post.

- If anyone so much as thinks about placing the blame for the Yankees' ALDS loss to the Detroit Tigers on A-Rod, there will be consequences. The entire Yankees offense - Damon straight down to Cano - took a holiday for three games. Whiffing on a bunch of Justin Verlander 103-mph heat is understandable, but they couldn't even hit Kenny Rogers. Oh, and it's hard to win when your pitching is giving up eight runs a game to the normally light-hitting Tigers.

- College football teams that desperately need a little respect: Missouri, Rutgers, Boise State, Navy. The former three are undefeated, the latter a one-point heartbreaker (against fellow one-loss team Tulsa) from being undefeated. Mizzou is the only unbeaten left in the Big 12, has a legitimate shot at winning the conference... and they're ranked nineteenth? Either way, there are so many unbeatens left that I'm really looking forward to the BCS clusterfuck this year.

- The A's are damn good. That was one heck of a manhandling of the rather impressive Twins (who, granted, had a total of one and a half pitchers since Radke was without a throwing shoulder). If anyone left can challenge the Mets, they're the team to do it.

- The 'Skins are not. What the hell was that against the Giants? Were we suddenly playing the '85 Bears?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Olbermann Deals A Smack-Down

I just thought I'd post the text of MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann's show-ending special comment last night. It's a brilliant smack-down aimed at a President who likes to make up things about what his critics are saying and proceed to compare them to terrorists and traitors. Olbermann's pissed, and most of the rest of us are too. You go, KO.

Also, I'm now 25. Woo.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Congressional Year In Review

There's not a whole lot, unfortunately, to review here. Most major legislation got bogged down in disagreement and never made it to the President's desk. Immigration reform, the estate tax/minimum wage bill... yeah, didn't happen. Hell, I don't even think we have a budget yet. Fortunately, the Stupid Constitutional Amendment Brigade crashed and burned as well. Here's what did pass, to the best of my recollection:

- The Patriot Act got renewed. I don't remember significant changes being made to it.

- Lots of pork got through - the 109th will be remembered as the least kosher Congress in history.

- Congress approved a big-ass fence to go on the Arizona border. Often in places that are unreachable by vehicle, so God only knows how it's gonna get built. Also, there's no appropriation for the necessary manpower to patrol the fence, so any idiot with a shovel can dig under it. And I think Boeing was involved somehow, though I'm not sure how. Either way, I'm sure that this fence will go up as the most expensive proof of Woodhead's Fourth Law (build a better wall, someone will build a better ladder) ever devised. Note to Congress: illegal immigration won't stop until you take away the disincentives to legal immigration.

(Also, there are apparently some people who believe that Hispanics want to vote the Southwest back to Mexico, Pat "Florida Jews Love Me" Buchanan among them. This currently holds the lead in my contest for Most Outrageous Conspiracy Theory, right above the Bush-planned-9/11 yarn.)

- Congress attempted to limit the CIA interrogation program and failed miserably. They eliminated detainees' rights to challenge their detention in court (ah, but can detainees challenge the lack of a right to a court challenge in court?). They decided that any non-US citizen can be picked up and declared an "enemy combatant" - a label that's all too often misused, as this CNN commentator pointed out a couple of years ago. (He makes the excellent point that Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh, shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui were all tried under the civilian justice system with full habeas rights. If the justice system is good enough for them, why isn't it good enough for others?) Most laughably, they told the President that he had to obey the Geneva Conventions, but they give him the power to define what the Geneva Conventions say about torture. I guess Congress only wants to look like they're doing their job while still abdicating even more power to a President who has a fearsomely large amount of it already.

The Republican Congress' refusal to limit the Republican President's power is one of the most disgustingly partisan, unprincipled, and cowardly actions of the past decade (certain Senators excepted). You know they'd be screaming their heads off if a Democratic President tried even a quarter of what Bush has tried. I would say this is the best reason for us all to vote Democrat in November. But that's assuming that the Democrats grow a spine between now and November. Right now, the political will to challenge the President's power simply isn't there in the Democratic Party - the best we could hope for is a Senate Judiciary Committee with Feingold (probably the most outspoken civil libertarian of them all) at the helm.

And finally, I want to share with you the most unsurprising, yet interesting, media study I've seen: Indiana University researchers have shown that The Daily Show contains as much substance as broadcast news programs. Which is less of an endorsement of The Daily Show than a condemnation of so-called "real" news programs.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Random Silliness

I'll blog about something important later on. Don't worry.

In the meantime, consider the hell that it must be to be this woman's child. Imagine getting crap from all your classmates for being the kid whose mommy wants to ban Harry Potter. I bet when her kids all go into therapy in their 20s, she'll blame witchcraft.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

I Don't Understand...

Somebody more perceptive than I am, please tell me why this incident is enough to warrant a Congressman's resignation? Seriously, do we live in an age where every interaction between an older person and an unrelated younger one takes on some sort of freaky sexual connotations? Why do we jump to that conclusion, when these e-mails have obvious innocent explanations? Seriously, people need to chill out.

Update, 10/2: It would appear that Foley actually did have some inappropriate things to say to former pages over IM. Like Barzelay, I'm wondering why such contacts between an obviously competent 16-year-old and a non-attached congressman are so inappropriate, given that your average 16-year-old is perfectly able to consent or not consent (as was the case here), but that's for another post.

Friday, September 29, 2006

More Carless in Raleigh

I haven't talked about my carlessness this week because it was rather uneventful. Honestly, until Thursday I didn't really do anything I wouldn't have done beforehand. I rode the bus in to work Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Monday I had some grading to do in the morning, so I rode in with my backpack around noon. The ride to work has almost become routine - if I don't catch the bus, oh well, I'll just ride in. It's only a 25-minute ride - shorter than a lot of peoples' commutes around here.

Thursday I had a call night for Greer Beaty, who is running for State House in NC's District 36 (South Cary, Swift Creek) and who you should vote for if you live in her district. (Hell, vote for her if you don't live in her district. She's that cool.) It's in Northeast Raleigh - way too far to ride my bike. Also, I had a College Dems meeting on Thursday after the calling - which would leave me on campus at 9:00 with no way of getting home. Fortunately, our president, Drew, was kind enough to take me home. Else I would have been sleeping at the office.

Today I didn't go in to work - I had some stuff to do from home, and had I gone in it would have entailed eight hours of surfing the Web and watching the queue, waiting for my jobs to finish. Anyway, by 6:00 I had discovered three things.

1) Shabbat services were starting in one hour and thirty minutes.

2) I was playing tonight, so I had to bring my guitar.

3) I had no ride, since everyone who would have normally brought me was either out of town or not going.

Wonderful. So I transferred my guitar to Danielle's soft-sided backpack style carrying case, stuffed my music in there, changed, and set out.

It's the little things that really bug you when you're carless, and this was no different. I found out quickly that the compatibility of my bike helmet and my guitar was limited at best. I was forced to ride with my head angled down towards a spot roughly five feet in front of my front wheel. Not good for optimum visibility.

My route takes me through the busy Crossroads area of Cary, which, at one crucial moment, does not have sidewalks. Thus, I am forced to make a left turn from one major road onto another from the middle of the road.

Here's your mental picture. Me, in a blue button-down shirt, slacks, and nice shoes, guitar on my back, bicycle helmet and sunglasses on, head craned slightly downwards from the pressure of the guitar neck, sitting on a bike at the front of a left-turn lane at the busiest intersection in the Triangle. I didn't notice people's looks as they pulled up behind me or next to me, but I'm sure there were a few double-takes. The ride took a lot less time than I expected it to - maybe 20 minutes - meaning that I arrived at shul at about 6:45.

Fortunately, I was not subjected to the night ride back, since our cantorial soloist, Toby, has a giant van and was able to take me and my wheels home. But that would have been even more fun.

Also, it's fascinating how people act when you mention that you are now riding your bike everywhere. The look they give you is somewhere between that you would give someone who just told you that they have a terminal disease and the look you get when you say you're going skydiving with your dog. People feel sorry for you and wonder why the hell you would want to do that at the same time. Toby, when I rolled into the synagogue, told me I had "an interesting mode of transportation."

This from someone who grew up in New York City riding her bike everywhere.

Only the rabbi - a devoted environmentalist who is seldom without a reference to pollution or waste during a sermon - really seemed to get behind the idea. Even my mother, when I told her I was biking everywhere, thinks I've gone off my rocker. Of course, that may not be too far from the truth.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Input From Christians Needed

As October approaches, we reach that time of year where every Hallmark store turns black and orange, houses become adorned with ghouls, goblins, and other such specters, and children dream of becoming pirates or ghosts or SpongeBob or whatever. Yes, it's Halloween time, folks. And along with Halloween come the parties (Franklin Street, baby!), the haunted houses, and the requisite complaining from people like this.

The writer of the aforementioned article is a bit nutty, and he obviously has about as much knowledge of the actual practices of Wicca as Paris Hilton has of quantum physics. Nevertheless, I wonder: is Halloween really that grating on Christians? My Christian readership, your input is requested here. What are your feelings?

Banditos Theorem Proof #9321

Seriously, who thought this would be a good idea? Of course pirated DVDs don't smell any different than legit ones. What made you think that they would?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

300th Post!

First off, due to popular request, I'll give you an update on my carlessness. Seems to be going well - I've gotten used to riding my bike into work or throwing it on the front of the TTA bus (bike racks on buses = excellent). I haven't been run over yet, though I did get honked at for no good reason by a jackass passing me once.

Second, on baseball. Derek Jeter and David Ortiz are good baseball players. Whatever. But why the hell is no one mentioning Joe Mauer in the AL MVP conversation? In my mind, he's the obvious choice.

Third, check out this story from a Milwaukee flyer who was detained at a security checkpoint for writing "Kip Hawley is an idiot" on his quart-size liquid bag. (Kip Hawley is the TSA director.) My favorite line from the story is when the security guard says that freedom of speech exists "out there, not in here." Oh, and the idiot trying to rationalize that statement by saying "you can't yell 'fire' in a crowded theater." Given that writing one's political opinions on a plastic bag will inevitably cause a stampede of epic proportions, I think we can all see the similarity. Hat tip to Fark for the story.

Humor aside, the whole story is pretty sketchy. It's incidents like this that make me reconsider my previous stand in favor of pointless cosmetic security measures.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Television: $200.
Basic/standard cable: $60/mo.
Watching Jon Stewart serve a Twinkie to the president of Pakistan: priceless.

Also, watching the Cardinals blow an 8.5 game lead over the Astros and a 7.5 game lead over the Reds, in the process making the NL Central race actually interesting: equally priceless.

Incidentally, if anyone out there knows why the Cardinals are apparently only playing 161 games this year, let me know.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Days 4 and 5; and, George Allen, Jew?

So my bike tire blew up on Monday. I rode into NCSU about noon, and when I left to go home and grade papers, my back tire was flat. Worse, it wouldn't re-inflate. Fortunately, the TTA buses have a bike rack (about the only thing around here that accommodates bicyclists), and I was able to take my bike back to the shop in Cary. I yet again had trouble finding somewhere to put my bike, since the shop didn't have a bike rack.

I'll repeat that statement so the hilarity can sink in: the bike shop didn't have a bike rack.

Anyway, the folks at the shop told me that the tube in the back tire had blown, and I needed a new one. I get it back today. Fortunately, I didn't really need it yesterday; I got a ride to the call center in North Raleigh, and I rode the bus in to work both yesterday and today. So that's the latest in that department.

Also, I want to make this comment. If you were goyish and had a Jewish grandfather, when in life do you think you would find out? Childhood? High school? Furthermore, if your grandfather were a resistance fighter who spent time in a Nazi concentration camp, when would you find out? At age 20? 30? Or... 54?

I find it hard to believe that Sen. Allen just found out who his own grandfather was. If this is true, I blame Allen's mother for hiding it, not Allen. I do, however, blame Allen for responding to a reporter's question about the matter as "making aspersions about people." Dude, having a Jewish war hero as a grandfather is not an aspersion.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Carless in Raleigh, Days 2 and 3

It's amazing how much your leisure activities depend upon you having a car. Fortunately, my Saturday - day 2 of our little social experiment - was not too action-packed. I went out canvassing for Greer Beaty, my NC House candidate. The meeting point was near where I went yesterday for lunch - fortunately, though, some of my fellow travelers took pity on me and gave me a ride. They also offered to give me a ride for Tuesday night call nights - a very good thing since the call nights happen in northeast Raleigh and that would just be one hell of a bike ride. Greer invited me out to dinner afterwards - that I rode my bike to. Afterwards, I got my first night ride in - a three-mile round trip to the movie theater. Crossing Route 1 was somewhat of a hassle, since the Walnut St. bridge has no shoulder to speak of. But my reflector vest and headlights served me well, and I survived.

I had to look around at the movie theater for a good ten minutes to find somewhere to lock up my bike. Which brings me to rant #1: the lack of bike racks/posts/other things to hook a bike to at major shopping centers around here. Seriously, folks, is it that hard to provide a hitching post for us bikers? I've been riding for a whole three days now, and I've had too hook my bike to two handicapped-parking signs, two trees, and a couple of handrails. Universities are good about that kind of thing - the rest of the world should be too.

So Saturday was good. About nine miles total logged.

Ah, but then Sunday.

I had a football game in northwest Raleigh that I usually go to. The game starts at nine. I had asked the other players to swing by to pick me up if I was on their way - the problem being that all the other players live in the godforsaken wasteland known as North Raleigh. Which means I was consigned to riding my bike for the fifteen miles to the Jewish Community Double-Wide up in far north Raleigh. I woke up a full hour later than I wanted to - I didn't get on the road until 7:30. Good thing, too - I showed up at 8:55, a good ten minutes before anyone else. If I had left at 6:30 like I had wanted to, I would have been really bored.

Then I played football for roughly an hour and a half. I thought it was funny that the guy defending me kept bugging me about going deep on every play. Hey, if you can't keep up with a guy who just biked fifteen miles on approximately five hours sleep, you got other problems.

Fortunately, someone was kind enough to take me roughly halfway back after the game, so I only had a ten mile ride back. Either way, between twenty-five miles of bike riding and 90 minutes of wind-sprinting, I worked out my quads more in five hours than I had worked them in my previous 24 years on this planet.

The ride wasn't that strenuous, really (at least not on the way out). The most annoying thing was the lack of sidewalks in Raleigh. Seriously, after you cross the line from Cary into Raleigh, the sidewalks stop. They attempt to start again occasionally, but fail miserably. And it's not like they replace the sidewalks with industrial-sized shoulders either. Nope. It's either roadway or grass/dirt/swamp/whatever substance happens to be off the right side of the road at the time.

Tomorrow I'll have to ride to NCSU to pick up the homework I'm supposed to grade, so that'll be a good test of my ability to make that daily ride. Though if I can pull off today's exploits, I think I can manage pretty much anything. Six miles? Nothing. Bring it on.

Also, I'd like to thank Rock Cartwright for showing up to play tonight, and I'd like to exhort the rest of the Redskins to join him sometime. It's fun. Really.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Inevitable War On Terror Post

Let's have a hand for John Warner, John McCain, Susan Collins, and Lindsey Graham. They voted with the Senate Armed Services Committee's eleven Democrats to endorse a bill (sponsored by the aforementioned Johnny Mac) restricting the CIA's ability to use - ahem - over-the-top interrogation methods against terror suspects (or anyone for that matter). The vote was seen as a slap in the face of President Bush, who had lobbied for an alternate bill that would protect CIA interrogators from being prosecuted for torture.

Even more heartening was the rationale given by Johnny Mac for supporting his bill: that enemies would be more likely to torture our guys if we look like we're torturing theirs.

And this is the part of the war on terror that I fear the Bush administration doesn't quite get. There is a military and an intelligence portion of it, yes, but these aspects ought to take a back seat to the most important part of the struggle: the PR battle. In a world filled with mass media and instant information, stories like this get latched onto and distorted to fit widely-held stereotypes about America - namely, that we're out to get Muslims. Certainly we all know that Bush doesn't want to make a point of torturing every detainee that comes through the CIA's secret prisons. Nor does he want to take away the right of a fair trial to all accused criminals of Arab or Central Asian descent. We know that he's doing what he thinks is best to protect America from an attack. But it sure looks bad to Arabs and Central Asians, doesn't it? The existence of secret prisons and the appearance of sanctioning torture can be extremely hurtful to our reputation in the hands of al-Jazeera, and even more hurtful in the hands of terrorist recruiters.

Conversely, if we reject torture, abide by the Geneva Conventions, maintain our justice system for those accused of terrorist acts, and keep all our detentions above-board (and most importantly, make a major point out of all these things), terrorist recruiters will be deprived of one of their weapons. The argument that America is out to get Muslims rings that much more hollow. And al-Jazeera might report some good news about us for once.

Of course, the West seems to suck at PR. Ask a certain Danish cartoonist. Or Ehud Olmert. Or the Pope. Not that the Muslim world is any better - ask Ahmadinejad, Haniyeh, Nasrallah... Seriously, if a group of people is convinced that you are out to get them, is the best way to deal with this to act belligerently? What, exactly, will that accomplish?

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Month Without A Car?

So this morning I was driving home from a friend's house when I almost killed someone. My window was fogged up, and so I glanced down to turn on my defogger when I hit a pedestrian.

Granted, she was a) not exactly sober and b) blatantly jaywalking in front of a moving car. She also sustained only scrapes and bruises from the incident. So the cop didn't assess a fault.

In the predictable (and likely deserved) self-flagellating state I was in for the rest of the night, I decided I would never drive again. When I woke up, that seemed a bit extreme.

But. I began to wonder - what would it be like if I didn't have a car, especially in car-happy Raleigh? How much of an inconvenience would it be to not be able to drive? And how much would we have to give up to live in an environmentally-friendly world where we didn't drive everywhere? We have this thing in the Triangle called the "Smart Commute Challenge" wherein folks pledge either to use public transportation, bicycle, or carpool to get to work for one day. In exchange, the Smart Commute bunch awards prizes. I thought: why not expand this a little? Why not try to go an entire month without using my car? Hell, if folks in New York can do it, I can, right?

I'll admit that this is probably going to be easier for me than it would be for most others. I live within a mile of two major shopping complexes, two Harris Teeters, innumerable restaurants, etc. All the necessities are really within walking distance. It's work (fifteen minutes away by car) and play (the Triangle is notoriously spread out - I live some twenty minutes by car from downtown Raleigh, the nearest entertainment district) that prove to be challenges. Oh, and Yom Kippur (Oct. 3) falls within the time frame. Which means that there's a decent chance that I'll be riding my bike from here to south Cary and back in a suit with no water. That'll be fun. And don't worry, I bought a bright orange reflector vest, headlights, and taillights for all my night riding needs.

I'll leave regular updates on this blog about my life without a car. I'll carpool with others doing the driving, ride a bus, and ride my (new - purchased today for the purpose of the experiment) bike to get places. Today was relatively easy. I worked from home and decided around 3:30 that I would go out and get Mexican food for a late lunch. There's an excellent Mexican place on Kildaire Farm Road, so I rode there. It was a calibration run as much as anything else - I wanted to see how much time it would take to make a simple journey so I could more effectively plan my longer ones.

The route I took is shown here. It was roughly three miles from here to there, and it took 17 minutes to complete. (The trip back was longer, but that was because I got lost looking for a shortcut.) My home is on the right side of the map, Torero's is on the right.

Fairly straightforward. But I have to go out to far north Raleigh on Sunday morning for a flag-football game. The game is at 9. The trip would be roughly 15 miles one-way (down and up a bitchy hill at Crabtree Valley to boot). If my time estimates are correct, I'll be budgeting two hours for the trek if I don't get a ride out there. Which makes me wonder if I'm in good enough shape to bike for two hours, play football for two hours, and bike another two hours back. Oh well. Stay tuned.

Correlation Is Not Causation, Folks

Scientists need to learn the difference between correlation and causation. Just because two sets of data have the same trend over the same period of time does not mean that one trend caused the other. The good folks at the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster have demonstrated this with their priceless pirate/global warming graph.

Now, another group of scientists has been so kind as to demonstrate the difference between correlation and causation, albeit unintentionally. Feast your eyes upon the alcohol/income study of 2006. This wonderful paper proves, beyond a doubt, that drinking causes your income to increase.

No wonder the cost of living in Utah is so low.

Given, the researchers make some good points, including the point that social networking is extremely important when it comes to advancing in corporate circles and thus increasing your income. But linking social networking to alcohol is somewhat silly; partygoers could just as easily be drinking Coca-Cola or lemonade as a glass of red wine. Furthermore, the study is skewed by the fact that more well-off people can afford more alcohol than their less affluent neighbors. And the fact that a lot of poorer country areas contain "dry counties" where alcohol cannot be purchased.

But I'm choosing to buy into this study. If you need me, I'll be on my back porch drinking a fifth of whiskey and waiting for the money to roll in.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Science Thursdays: Fat Chance

I'm trying my hand at a recurring piece here in ONAF: science writing every Thursday. Let me know if my idea is a good one or not.

Either way, today I rant about obesity measurements.

The News and Observer recently reported that North Carolina is the 14th fattest state in the country, with 63% of our residents tipping the virtual scales as officially overweight or obese. Mississippi took top dishonors with 67%, while outdoors-friendly Colorado was at the relatively shapely bottom with 55%. Combined with a recent report that being just a little bit overweight can have serious health effects.

Then again, it may not be such a bad thing. A recent study from a Brazilian team demonstrated that people classified as "overweight" are actually at lower risk for heart disease than those classified as normal. So should we all break out the Twinkies and save our hearts? Or is there something else at work here?

The Brazilians certainly think so. The problem, they say, lies in the instrument used to classify people as "obese" or "overweight"; the body mass index (BMI).

Few serious doctors doubt the link between fattiness and diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and other ugly stuff. In an ideal world, we'd be able to find out how much fat we have in our bodies and diagnose ourselves from there. This function is served by the body fat percentage, which is the mass of fat in your body divided by your total mass. It sounds simple, but it's very difficult to measure. Some relatively less annoying methods for estimating body fat percentage are chronicled in the Wikipedia article, but as the article states, the only truly accurate way of going about it is by using dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, or a bone density scan. You probably don't have one of those machines lying around. Most people don't - it's costly, and doctors don't generally want to waste a DXA on someone who doesn't have osteoporosis.

You probably do, however, have a scale, and this is where the BMI comes in. Invented by Belgian Adolphe Quetelet during the mid-19th century, it was intended as an estimate of how overweight someone was. The BMI is simply your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in meters. If that's greater than 25, you're overweight. Over 30, you're obese. Nice and simple.

And it works, too, provided you make a simple assumption: everyone has the same ratio of muscle to fat. And this is where the BMI breaks down. Since muscle is more dense than fat, someone with more muscle than average can easily tip the scales as "overweight" even if they don't have any more fat than someone who is "normal." Similarly, someone who has a good deal of fat but very little muscle could sneak in under the limit and be mistakenly classified as "normal." Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens, for example, has a BMI of 28.2 - substantially overweight. Saints running back Reggie Bush tips the scales at 27.9. Poor 'Skins running back Clinton Portis has a BMI of 30 - he's obese.

Of course, no one in their right mind would accuse these athletes of being fatasses. No one would think to believe the BMI diagnosis where they're concerned. What the Brazilian study demonstrated was that the BMI index was so deeply flawed that its usage was suspect even among everyday people. Perhaps the BMI works among generally sedentary Americans. But if you take a group of people who have gained muscle through more regular physical activity - say, Brazilians - the BMI loses its effectiveness.

Furthermore, the BMI ignores the differences between acceptable fat levels for men and women. Women are generally supposed to be fattier than men; men should limit themselves to a body-fat percentage of 17%, while women can get away with 24% and still be considered fit. This is a distinction that is lost on most people who use BMI to determine risk factors, however, and one that isn't used in determining statistics like the ones I cited earlier.

We need a better way to estimate one's risk of disease from obesity. Fortunately, there are several options. Scientists have proposed the use of waist circumference, waist circumference-to-height ratio, and the waist circumference-to-hip circumference ratio. A German group found that of these measures, waist circumference-to-height ratio was the best at predicting risk of heart disease. So divide your waist circumference by your height. Men, if this number is higher than 0.55, you're in trouble. Ladies, your magic number is 0.53.

This isn't perfect, mind you; shorter people and people with thicker builds are more likely to be flagged by this method. It has its problems, just like BMI. However, in the absence of a DXA machine in every house, quick-and-dirty methods like the waist-to-height ratio and BMI will have to do. Just take them for what they are: an approximation. And most importantly, know their limitations. You'll be fine as long as you don't think that BMI is the alpha and omega of fitness. Now if someone would only tell that to the BMI-crazed statkeepers out there...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Jefferson Is Falling Down...

Fellow Jefferson alums: thanks to today's Wall Street Journal, our school is now known nationwide as the elite public school that's falling apart. Next on TJ's list of requirements: hard hats for its students.

Random Music Post

The Guardian reports that, according to a new poll, the greatest guitar solo of all time is... David Gilmour's solo at the end of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." Which, since most people automatically default to "Stairway," is quite remarkable. Here's the rest of the list:

2. Slash, "Sweet Child O' Mine" (Guns 'N' Roses)
3. Gary Rossington/Allen Collins, "Free Bird" (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
4. Eddie Van Halen, "Eruption" (Van Halen)
5. Slash, "November Rain" (Guns 'N' Roses)
6. Jimmy Page, "Stairway to Heaven" (Led Zeppelin
7. Mark Knopfler, "Sultans of Swing" (Dire Straits)
8. Martin Barre, "Aqualung" (Jethro Tull)
9. Joe Walsh, "Hotel California" (Eagles)
10. Ritchie Blackmore, "Child in Time" (Deep Purple)

Some surprises, some standards. Glad to see the Aqualung solo finally getting some respect - I think the last list I saw had it at #25. Personally, I think that Page's solo in "Black Dog" is a hell of a lot better than his "Stairway" solo, and Terry Kath's excellent solo in "25 or 6 to 4" is ridiculously underrated. And I'm somewhat surprised that Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix both got shut out of the top 10. It's also worth noting that there are no songs on this list recorded after 1990. Anyone else know any solos that don't get the respect they deserve?

Stuart Scott Is My Opening Act

I usually go out to karaoke on Sunday nights at Fat Daddy's here in Raleigh. Tonight, however, the senior PGA - er, sorry, "Champions Tour" - Jimmy V Celebrity Golf Classic decided to hold their afterparty at Fat Daddy's. So I found myself in a crowd that included Charles Barkley and ESPN anchors Stuart Scott and Trey Wingo. Barkley picked up the drink tab for everyone, and Scott, Wingo, and the tournament organizers sang several songs. Scott sang Sister Hazel's "All For You" right before my rendition of Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London." So that was cool.

Anyway, I sang to Charles Barkley with Stuart Scott opening. That's all you need to know.

Friday, August 25, 2006

In Defense of Absurd Security Regulations

Bruce Schneier writes this interesting piece on our response to terrorism. Essentially, he states that by being terrified and obsessing over a relatively uncommon threat, we're giving the terrorists what they want. Most of the points that Schneier makes are dead-on. Those first two cases Schneier lists are downright scary, folks, and indicative of the fact that we all definitely need to chill out. Anyone who objects to flying on a plane with a Muslim simply because of their religion or appearance ought to have their ass kicked.

There is one point I want to address, however. Schneier lampoons security measures like shoe x-rays and liquid removal as "pointless." While I agree that the measures aren't going to stop a well-thought-out terrorist attack, I would argue that the current security measures are not completely pointless. Schneier's idea of fighting terrorism with police work and intelligence is good, and we do that currently, but people don't see it. The mostly cosmetic security measures are there for three reasons. First, they're an idiot check; we may not catch the smart terrorists, but we can definitely stop the stupid ones. Second, it lets potential terrorists know that we're after them, and may therefore serve as something of a deterrent.

But lastly, airport security measures are for the most part cosmetic; they let people know that the government is doing something, and in that way foster confidence that the government can keep us safe. We know that a terrorist plot involving a shampoo bottle is far-fetched and unlikely to succeed (and if you don't, I suggest following the links in Schneier's article to chemists who rightfully ridicule the idea). However, it's good to see evidence that the government is responding to threats instead of being catatonic. If Schneier thinks we're skittish now, imagine what we'd be like if we didn't have that symbolic reassurance.

The problem, of course, arises when people (and the government) become so obsessed with the cosmetic measures that they forget to take the important steps, and in that sense I agree with Schneier. So I don't completely contest the point; I just think that the money going towards new airport security screening methods is not being completely wasted.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Warning: Geekiness Ahead

Is there a way out of the stem cell debate? Robert Lanza hopes so.

A research team headed by Lanza has hatched a new method for producing stem cells that does not involve the destruction of human embryos. Normally, the creation of a stem cell line - a colony of living stem cells with the potential to become human tissue - involves destroying a relatively mature embryo and extracting the stem cells. Lanza instead removes one cell from a younger embryo and induces it to form a stem-cell line. This allows the embryo to continue to grow normally. Nature's Helen Pearson reports (link may not be accessible outside NCSU) that the cell lines have lasted for eight months and have formed different kinds of human tissue.

Of course, the viability of the method has yet to be proven. As Rick Weiss reports (link above), the conditions of the experiment involve contaminants that might make the organs produced unusable. And as Pearson reports, the experimentalists only got two stem-cell lines out of 16 in-vitro fertilization (IVF) embryos. This is horribly inefficient, and the extraction techniques will have to improve if this method is to compete with the current method in the scientists' minds.

Furthermore, no one is sure whether extracting a cell from an embryo at that stage is harmful to the development of the embryo. Lanza claims that the process is actually fairly common in current IVF practice, but he also says that he wants to improve efficiency by taking more than one cell out of the embryo. At that point, it is uncertain what would happen to the embryo's development.

You would think this would satisfy those concerned with the destruction of embryos for therapeutic purposes, right? Not so fast. Some believe that a cell taken from an embryo can itself become an embryo under the right conditions, and so using such a cell would still constitute the destruction of human life. This is a somewhat silly objection; there is no real evidence that this development could occur, and it almost certainly could not occur without some sort of outside encouragement. It is similar to saying that women should not ovulate because their eggs could become human embryos "under the right conditions." And even if it were possible, allowing it to occur would constitute human cloning, which is already taboo. Those who raise this objection are probably just grasping at straws.

A more serious objection is the one raised by the Bush administration in response to the research. According to Weiss, the White House responded to the research with a statement that "any use of human embryos for research purposes raises serious ethical concerns" and that he would just as soon see stem cells developed "without the need for human embryos." This is a legitimate objection, but one that is still on shaky ground from a logical standpoint. Humans give up their cells for scientific research or for other purposes on a regular basis. Babies give up blood cells for disease analysis. Even fetuses often give up some of their genetic material to scientific analysis - this process, known as amniocentesis, is a relatively common part of modern pregnancy. If the embryo's development is not harmed by the cell extraction, as Lanza claims, then how is using an extracted cell for scientific purposes any more unethical than any other use of a person's cells? And if the Bush administration is correct and life begins at conception, why is it any less ethical to take a cell from a person thirty hours after fertilization than it is to take a cell from a person thirty years after conception?

More science news:

- In a rare triumph of science over small-minded politics, the FDA approved the sale of the emergency contraceptive pill over-the-counter to women over 18. There is some grumbling that the pill isn't available to everyone, but the effect of the hormone boost to younger women is uncertain, and so women under 18 will not be able to purchase the pill. Fair enough. However, there was absolutely no scientific reason for restricting the sale of the emergency contraceptive to adult women. The reasons given for the holdup are frivolous at best; the accusation that the pill causes an "early abortion" by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus ignores the fact that fertilized eggs often fail to implant in the uterus naturally, and accusing "the pill" of increasing promiscuity is akin to blaming Kevlar vests for gun violence. The whole difficulty of the process highlights how deeply flawed the FDA approval process is, and how it needs to be simplified, made more transparent, and limited to considering scientific objections.

- Pluto has been voted off the galactic island. Apparently, its orbit is too dependent upon Neptune (whose orbital path it crosses; in fact, until recently, Pluto was nearer the sun than Neptune). However, all is not lost for everyone's favorite iceball: it will now be considered a "dwarf planet." Which means it will be renamed "Sneezy." The asteroid Ceres will be a dwarf planet as well. Perhaps it will be "Happy." And I'm all for renaming the cumbersomely named 2003 UB313 "Dopey."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Remember Me?

I don't know if anyone is still reading this, but I'm back from my time off.

Anyway, since the TV news sources went a few days without broadcasting any actual news last weekend (instead choosing to focus all their energy on a single nine-year-old murder case in Colorado), I figured I'd fill people in on what happened during those few days:

- The cease-fire in Lebanon ran into trouble as Israel bombed a Bekaa Valley Hezbollah stronghold. Apparently, Hezbollah was using the location to import weaponry from Syria and/or Iran. Perhaps we should be a little bit clearer on the concept of "cease-fire." Bombings and weapons trafficking are not cease-fire activities. And here's hoping the Lebanese people realize that as long as Hezbollah continues to have weapons, Lebanon will never be a functioning state. Some experts define a state as an entity with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force - if Lebanon allows Hezbollah to continue using force against Israel (or anyone for that matter), it has no power.

The irony here is that the Lebanese are so fearful of Israel that they run into the waiting arms of Hezbollah, whose entire reason for existence is to provoke Israel into doing things that make the Lebanese people fearful. In a sense, Lebanese fear is self-perpetuating. Lebanon's government could do a lot by disarming Hezbollah and investing more in their own military; it'd be nice if the Lebanese could trust someone besides a bunch of nutty loose cannons with their security.

Reasons I could not be President: I would start an international incident when I got the leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah, Israel, Iran, Lebanon, and the PA in a room together, called them all "fucking idiots," and locked them in said room without food or water until they had resolved their differences. Or when I put Operation Giant Doobie into effect.

- A court in Detroit struck down the warrantless wiretapping program, but allowed it to continue until higher courts weighed in. The Bush administration is predictably calling the decision "partisan" - a bit of cynical hypocrisy from an administration that was allowed to take office by a partisan judicial decision. I guess the Republicans only like partisan judicial decisions that go their way. Oh, and congressional Republicans: none of this would have happened had you actually exercised your powers of oversight. You have no one to blame but yourselves.

Also, does anyone know how FISA's retroactive warrant requirement is such a burden on administration intelligence gathering? It still doesn't seem to me like getting a warrant from a secret court within 72 hours is such an onerous task.

- Budget predictions are in. Looks like we got a windfall this year that kept the budget deficit at a "mere" $260 billion or so. In the long term, we could come close to balancing if Bush's tax cuts are allowed to lapse in 2010 - otherwise, we're looking at a budget deficit in the $700 billion range. Oh, and more money is currently spent on servicing our debt than on all federal anti-poverty programs. (It's about $200 billion right now.) Tax cutters, take note.

- Virginia Senator George Allen was awarded the Mel Gibson Memorial Foot-In-Mouth Award when he referred to Fairfax native S.R. Sidarth, a darker-hued campaign volunteer for opponent Jim Webb, as "macaca" and bade him "welcome to America and the real world of Virginia." Boy, that "welcome to America" bit wasn't condescending to the entire Indian-American community at all, was it? I have the feeling Allen was one brain fart away from making a Slurpee joke. As for what he meant by the "macaca" bit, I quote The Daily Show's Rob Corddry: "I don't know, but it sure as shit sounds racist." (Apparently, a macaca is a kind of African monkey, and so I would definitely treat it as a racist slur if I thought that there was any way in hell George Allen knew what a macaca was.)

- From today, Iran isn't giving up its nuclear program. They say they have a "new formula" for dealing with the issue. The formula, apparently, is this: your indignation + our middle finger + ten years or so of this crap = nuclear weapons. How many years are left on A-Train's term again?