Thursday, December 27, 2007

Congressional Year In Review

I've been moving across country this whole month, so that's why I haven't posted. So if anyone's still reading, here's some random ramblings that have been swimming about my head recently...

David Broder (along with, apparently, the rest of the country) is whining about how Congress got nothing done this past year. Pelosi, for her part, is bragging about how many bills passed. They're both missing the point. Honestly, there are about three or four bills per year that most Americans care about. I count five this year, and I'd say Congress did well on three out of those.

First, the screwups. They failed horribly on the appropriations bill, refusing to drag out the battle over Iraq funding for as long as possible and then sending in a bill stuffed with more pork than a Jimmy Dean sausage, and a military approprations bill which paid off more contractors than even the President wanted. (Rural PA's John Murtha (D) and St. Petersburg, FL's Bill Young - that's your congressman, Mike - are responsible for the most abuse here. It's a bipartisan screwing.) The ethics reforms passed earlier in the year are toothless. The disclosure requirement for earmarks actually, in my mind, increases the incentive for House members to get their pet projects approved - voters function on the assumption that earmarks are wasteful and unnecessary unless the money's coming to their district.

But there were successes. They got the SCHIP expansion through, but Bush vetoed it and you can't blame Congress for Bush's intransigence. They passed a minimum wage increase, which I'm of two minds about but which a vast majority of Americans support.

And they got through a decent - if not perfect - energy bill. They could have gotten rid of the @$#@! corn ethanol subsidies (which, according to the Economist, are driving up my beer prices) and begun approving importation of sugar-based ethanol from Brazil. Right now, ethanol from corn barely produces more energy than it uses, and cellulosic ethanol - which the bill wants to be the source of a significant amount of our ethanol in 20 years - uses more energy than it produces at this point. I'd be a fan of sinking a bunch of research dollars into making ethanol production more efficient, but I don't think we ought to be mandating and subsidizing a process that isn't to the point of viability yet. (In the long run, if the process is made more viable via research, the market would make subsidies pointless. But that assumes that our farm policies make sense. Which they don't.) I would also like to see subsidies for oil and gas production disappear, which would raise gas prices a bit but my car gets 46 MPG so screw y'all.

The biggest part of the bill is the increased CAFE standards, which most people outside of Detroit - myself included - seem to like. Detroit seems stuck in the "any color you want as long as it's black" mentality with respect to fuel economy - they produce a bunch of gas-guzzlers and basically force Americans to buy them. Toyota and Honda produce hybrids, but they don't have the production capacity that GM, Ford, and Chrysler have. All the American automakers are losing business to the lighter, greener cars produced by their foreign rivals - the new CAFE standards may actually save their skins if they stop bitching long enough to design more fuel-efficient cars.

Anyway, the best legacy of this Congressional session is that they didn't really do anything colossally stupid. That's a victory, for Congress. The closest they came was that they, in a fit of Christian insecurity, passed a bill bragging about how important Christianity is. I'd like to ask my Christian readers this: why are some Christians so insecure? Seriously, y'all are 88% of the population, there are churches and crosses and little fish thingies everywhere, there are Christian Bibles in every hotel room, politicians fall all over themselves to out-Jesus each other, we have a bunch of Christian-based legislation such as the online gambling ban and Utah's liquor laws, the phrase "In God we trust" piggybacks on all our currency and we all know what God the 1954 Congress was referring to when they put it there, and yet some Christians still feel the need to jump around like an eight-year-old who thinks he's being ignored, shouting, "Hey, look at me! I'm important!" I don't get it.

Anyway, merry belated Christmas. And my thoughts are with the people of Pakistan, who lost their best hope for democracy today. Bhutto wasn't perfect, but she was probably the only candidate out there who could have led a peaceful transition away from Musharraf's autocratic, Islamist-enabling regime. I sincerely hope that Pakistan doesn't devolve into civil war from here... but I'm not holding out too much hope.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More Bowl Madness

Here's a transcendently awesome college football playoff simulator from I call it "transcendently awesome" because every time I ran the simulator - with four different ranking schemes - Virginia Tech won.

One beef I had - only eight conference champions were represented; the C-USA, MAC, and Sun Belt champions were left out. I think that, like March Madness, the conference champs need to be represented over mediocre BCS conference teams like Illinois.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Those Aren't Spirit Fingers...

There are some pretty bizarre baby products out there, but this one takes the cake.

One wonders if they sell a spectrum of pillowcases to match Mommy's or Daddy's actual skin color.

Going Bowling

The "this season is crazy" theme has been done to death. Let me say this instead: this was the second most awesome regular season I have ever witnessed. The best, of course, was 2004, where we had six undefeated teams going into the bowls and two one-loss teams who fell only to the undefeateds. Either way, the BCS gets screwed up whenever one of the following scenarios occurs: when there is a glut of excellence (like in 2004) or when all the teams are seriously flawed (like this year).

Anyway, on to the schedule...

Poinsettia: Utah (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4). Utah was using the spread offense before most of the country. Navy is still using a goofy 50's-style option offense. That makes this game a somewhat intriguing matchup even if you're not a Utes fan (like me). Pick: Utah

New Orleans: Memphis (7-5) vs. Florida Atlantic (7-5, Sun Belt champs). Fans of ESPN's Bottom 10 will appreciate that both a F_U school and a Directional Michigan school (MAC champions Central Michigan) made the postseason. Pick: FAU

Papa John's: Southern Miss (7-5) vs. Cincinnati (9-3). I love a season where it seems perfectly reasonable to put Conference USA's 6th team against the Big East's 3rd. Pick: Cincy

New Mexico: Nevada (6-6) vs. New Mexico (8-4). You gotta love those bowls that exist for the sole purpose of getting the hometown team into a bowl, sorta like what the Boise-based Humanitarian Bowl was before both it and BSU moved on to greener pastures. Pick: New Mexico

Las Vegas: UCLA (6-6) vs. #17 Brigham Young (10-2, MWC champs). Blowout alert. Incidentally, when did the Las Vegas bowl begin resembling a major bowl? Pick: BYU

Hawaii: #24 Boise State (10-2) vs. East Carolina (7-5). Bobby Henderson (Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster founder) famously blamed global warming on a decline of pirates. I'd say that this matchup is exactly the kind of cruelty to Pirates that Henderson warned about. Pick: BSU

Motor City: Purdue (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (8-5, MAC champs). I know nothing about either of these teams. Screw it, I'm flipping a coin. Pick: Purdue

Holiday: #11 Arizona State (10-2) vs. #17 Texas (9-3). I would have loved to see Texas get matched up with Hawaii - that way we could have two quarterbacks named "Colt" play each other. Pick: ASU

Champs Sports: #14 Boston College (10-3) vs. Michigan State (7-5). BC was a win away from playing in the BCS, and now they're in the Champs Sports Bowl? College football is a cruel, cruel world. Pick: BC

Texas: Texas Christian (7-5) vs. Houston (8-4). Wow, this bowl is appropriately named. TCU is one of the two teams I have seen play live, and I was unimpressed. Of course, that could be because they were playing current #17 BYU in Provo. Pick: TCU

Emerald: Maryland (6-6) vs. Oregon State (8-4). Terrapins and Beavers - it's the Least Intimidating Mascot Bowl! Winner gets to face either the Oregon Ducks or the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs! Anyway, I think the Emerald Bowl organizers picked the wrong 6-6 team - they should have gone with South Carolina. Pick: Oregon State

Meineke: #25 Connecticut (9-3) vs. Wake Forest (8-4). I wonder how many people call up the Bank of America Stadium's ticket office and say "I'm NOT gonna pay a lot for this ticket!" Anyway, UConn coach Jim Calhoun is gonna have to come up with a way of stopping Wake forward James Johnson if they want to... wait, this is a football game? Pick: UConn

Liberty: Central Florida (10-3, C-USA champs) vs. Mississippi State (7-5). Notre Dame fans, answer me this: who would you rather have coaching now, resume stretcher and UCF program savior George O'Leary? Or Charlie "3-9" Weis? Pick: UCF

Alamo: Penn State (8-4) vs. Texas A&M (7-5). I think I trust a coach who's been with his program since the Cretaceous Era over some guy hired a month before the game. Pick: Penn State

Independence: Alabama (6-6) vs. Colorado (6-6). Remember when this bowl used to have Poulan Weed Eater as its title sponsor? PetroSun just doesn't have the same ring. Pick: Colorado

Armed Forces: California (6-6) vs. Air Force (9-3). Wow, Cal just fell off a cliff after beating Oregon, didn't they? I kind of feel sorry for DeSean Jackson - I wonder what kind of numbers he'd be putting up if he didn't have Nate Longshore as his QB... Pick: Air Force

Humanitarian: Georgia Tech (7-5) vs. Fresno State (8-4). The only relevant question for this game: who knows how to play football on a ridiculous blue field? Pick: Fresno State

Sun: Oregon (8-4) vs. #21 South Florida (9-3). I don't know what's more amazing - the extent to which both of these teams yakked away their title hopes or the fact that the words "South Florida" and "title hopes" could be mentioned in the same sentence with a straight face. Anyway, Oregon is the quintessential one-man team, and that one man is injured. Pick: USF

Music City: Kentucky (7-5) vs. Florida State (7-5). FSU is one of five Florida teams to make the postseason. Miami (5-7) is not among them. What the hell is going on? Anyway, I looked at this matchup and said, "Oh, this won't be close, Kentucky will kill 'em." It's a bizarre season, folks. Pick: Kentucky

Copper/Insight: Indiana (7-5) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6). In this crazy, crazy season, we only know two things for sure: Mike Gundy is a man. He's 40. So go after him. Pick: Indiana

Peach/Chick-fil-A: #15 Clemson (9-3) vs. #23 Auburn (8-4). I think these two teams are the same - wildly inconsistent teams nicknamed "Tigers." I can't pick this. Anyway, the winner of this game will be determined not by the team with more points after 60 minutes but by which team can eat mor chikin. Pick: Auburn

Hall of Fame/Outback: #16 Tennessee (9-4) vs. #18 Wisconsin (9-3). You can't spell "Outback" without UT either. Pick: Wisconsin

Cotton: #6 Missouri (11-2) vs. Arkansas (8-4). Missouri risks the "we got hosed" letdown that kills pretty much every team that feels like they got the shaft from the BCS committee (see Michigan last year, Cal the year before that). But they're facing a headless horseman in Arkansas. Pick: Missouri

Gator: Texas Tech (8-4) vs. #20 Virginia (9-3). Can a team that lost to Wyoming stop the Mike Leach Express? I don't see Virginia putting up 50 points, which you almost have to do if you play the Red Raiders. Pick: Texas Tech

Citrus/Capital One: Michigan (8-4) vs. #12 Florida (9-3). A coachless team that lost to Appalachian State faces a talented team with a Heisman winner playing a two hour drive from home? Stranger things have happened, but I just don't see it. Pick: Florida

International: Rutgers (7-5) vs. Ball State (7-5). Heh heh... I said "ball." Pick: Rutgers

GMAC: Bowling Green (8-4) vs. Tulsa (9-4). Do you trust the team that can't beat Ohio? Or the team that can't beat UTEP? Pick: Tulsa

Rose: #7 Southern California (10-2, Pac-10 champs) vs. #13 Illinois (9-3). Illinois beat Ohio State and lost to Iowa. USC beat Arizona State and lost to Stanford. Welcome to the 2007 college football season, folks. Pick: USC

Sugar: #5 Georgia (10-2) vs. #10 Hawaii (12-0, WAC champs). The unstoppable force (Hawaii's run-and-shoot offense) meets the immovable object (Georgia's defense). I think Knowshon Moreno can eat enough clock to keep Colt Brennan off the field and keep Hawaii's scoring down. Pick: Georgia

Orange: #3 Virginia Tech (11-2, ACC champs) vs. #8 Kansas (11-1). Dude, Orange Bowl committee - you picked the wrong Big 12 team. VT-Mizzou would actually be interesting. I just don't see Kansas handling VT. They sure can beat up on Nebraska though. Also worth noting: the computers picked Virginia Tech as their #1 over an LSU team that destroyed them early in the year. This amuses me. Pick: VT

Fiesta: #4 Oklahoma (11-2, Big 12 champs) vs. #9 West Virginia (10-2, Big East champs). A lot of these season-ending choke jobs have been brought on by star quarterbacks getting injured - Oregon and both of these teams can reasonably blame a poorly-timed injury for their collapses. But Oklahoma gagged against a good team on the road. West Virginia? No such excuse. Pick: Oklahoma

National Championship: #1 Ohio State (11-1, Big Ten champs) vs. #2 LSU (11-2, SEC champs). For some reason, I always get LSU DT Glenn Dorsey and '40s Big Band leader Tommy Dorsey mixed up. Also former Miami QB Ken Dorsey. And I live on Dorsey Lane. Anyway, LSU's defense hasn't been the same since Dorsey's tailbone injury. Ohio State isn't that good, but they're good enough to be the champs... this year. Now we can start the next argument - is the winner of this game the worst college football champion ever? Pick: Ohio State

Friday, December 07, 2007

Infamy Revisited

Sixty-six years ago today, imperialist Japanese bombs began to rain down upon Pearl Harbor, Hawaii... so let's take a moment to remember.

I have nothing to add, really.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

We've Got The American Jesus

My thoughts on Romney's big speech today:

It's absolutely pathetic that in this day and age, some people could withhold their vote from someone because of their religious beliefs. I am ashamed to share a country with the sort of jackasses that would do so. Perhaps they should read the Constitution - "no religious test shall be applied" to anyone running for office. This goes for Mormons, mainstream Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists... anybody. If the government can't apply such a test, we as voters shouldn't either. End of story.

There are plenty of other reasons not to vote for Mitt Romney - his religion should not be one of them. So let's all just drop the subject and move on, shall we?

Update: The Post editorial board drives a truck through a gaping hole in Romney's actual speech. Given that, in my experience, atheists tend to be among the most passionate supporters of liberty, the idea that "freedom requires religion" is particularly ridiculous. As is the idea that "religion requires freedom." Insert your favorite historical example here. That one actually made me laugh out loud when I heard it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Weapons of Mass Distraction

You know those nuclear weapons that Iran is trying to get? The ones that will immediately cause Armageddon 2.0 if they're realized? Well, apparently, they're about as real as those Iraqi ones from a few years back. There is some ambiguity in the report - it suggests that Tehran continues to enrich uranium, and could start a weapons program if it really wanted to - but it's clear that the "evidence" of a nuclear program was overblown. Furthermore, even if Iran started reconsituting its program tomorrow, it couldn't get nukes before the A-Train leaves the station.

Regardless of what our president is saying, this constitues a significant development in our relationship with Iran. You know the environment has changed when even right-winger Robert Kagan thinks we should start talking. And David Ignatius points out that the NIE's most significant finding is that Iran doesn't act irrationally. We just have to understand what's driving their decision-making.

But I do think there is something telling in the responses of the two leaders here. First, President Bush is saying that Iran has to tell the world what the hell's going on. It's not Iran's nukes that are cause for consternation - it's their secrecy. The reasons behind this response are obvious - for the past year or so, we've been beating a bellicose drum on a premise that just turned to vapor. Bush is now forced to climb down, and he wants to do so carefully, thinking that the slower he relieves pressure, the less face he loses. To me, this is like pulling the Band-Aid off slowly. Seems to me that if he just admits that we were operating on a faulty premise and that there are new ground rules to the debate, he'll take an immediate hit and recover more quickly.

Second, Ahmadinejad is claiming victory. It's been my experience that leaders claim victory for two reasons. First, if there was an actual victory. Second, if an event occurs that could potentially weaken their country's standing in the world. This is clearly not the first scenario - Iran did nothing here. Certainly A-Train isn't above knife-twisting on Bush, but there's something deeper to this declaration of "victory." Iran definitely sees itself as having had something to lose.

Picture, if you will, two children on a playground. (Almost any diplomatic incident can be explained by an analogy starting with that sentence.) For simplicity's sake, we'll call the children Iran and America. Iran is holding his hand behind his back. America thinks that Iran might have a Super-Soaker back there. America doesn't know - he can't see behind Iran's back. So he starts saying things like "give me your Super-Soaker, kid, or I'll beat the crap out of you, I'm serious." Now imagine some other kid comes along and says to Iran, "dude, why are you holding your sippy-cup behind your back like that?" Doesn't that kind of deflate Iran? I mean, the entire basis of Iran's power trip was that there might be a Super-Soaker hidden back there. Certainty of the Soaker's existence would have caused a beatdown of epic proportions, but if America is sure that he could beat up on Iran without really getting wet, it kind of turns Iran into just another freak.

My point is this: expect some negotiations soon. But don't expect Iran to get everything it wants, or even a good portion of what it wants - it's clearly not negotiating from strength here. The only good bargaining chip Iran had was its nuclear program, and that just got revealed for the vapor that it is.

Get Yer Hanukkah Ham Here

Happy Hanukkah. I'll spare y'all the rant on how Hanukkah is extremely overrated and instead post this link to some incredibly awesome pictures taken in a grocery store in Manhattan.

It reminds me of the time I saw a Whole Foods proudly advertising party platters for Rosh Hashanah... and Yom Kippur.

Kids' Meal

Most kids have grand ideas about what they want to be when they grow up, and most parents try to indulge them. For example, if a kid wants to be an astronaut, you'd get them a toy rocket or space stuff. Or if your kid wants to be a cop, you get them a badge and (depending on your view of such things) a toy gun.

Of course, if you or your kid has somewhat lower expectations, there's always this.

My wife almost fell off the couch laughing when she saw this, by the way.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

...And That Will Be All For Romney

Until November 28, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was the leading Republican candidate on my list. Some of his shenanigans at the debate on Wednesday took him out of first place for me. He still had a chance to regain my support, but any chance he had of that went out the window when I read this piece by Clinton-era negotiator Mansoor Ijaz in the Christian Science Monitor, in which Romney said the following:
Based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration.

OK, let's dissect everything that is wrong with this statement. First, Romney has the bizarre idea that a president's Cabinet nominations ought to be decided by the proportion of a nominee's racial, ethnic, or religious group. Diversity is good, but it's not an exact science and keeping proportions right never should preclude the choice of qualified candidates. (And isn't it usually the Republicans who make this point?). Second, since when did being a member of a small community eliminate you from consideration for a job? Sorry, you can't work here, your religious community is too small? Should we use this argument against Romney, too, since his religious community constitues less than 2% of Americans? Third, the most qualified Republican candidate for Secretary of State right now is probably U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad - a Muslim. Should he be rejected for his religious beliefs (which, in a diplomatic position, could be a credit when we're trying to negotiate with Muslim nations)?

Put more succinctly, what the heck is Romney trying to get at here? Is he saying that he'll only nominate a Muslim if he has to, and he doesn't feel like he has to, so he won't? If so, this is identity politics at its absolute worst. As a member of a historically kicked-around religious group, Romney should know better than to exclude someone based on their religion.

Is Romney saying he wouldn't nominate a Muslim because of a possible association with the crazy-bastard jihadists? I doubt it, since he did say Muslims could serve in his administration. But if so, it's proof that he doesn't understand the difference between a Muslim and a radical Muslim, and thus he's a bigger foreign-policy idiot than anyone thought.

I hope none of this is true. I hope that Romney simply misinterpreted Ijaz's question - maybe Romney thought the question was "would you feel obligated to nominate a Muslim" instead of "would you nominate a qualified Muslim." If so, then he's back in my mediocre graces. But he needs to explain himself - and soon - before this really blows up in his face.