Monday, June 30, 2008

Just Because

Your Morning Opinion Dump

-It's baaaack! Everybody's favorite situational federalists in the Senate have decided that it's time to defile the Constitution with some super-fun gay-bashing! We have Roger Wicker, formerly Mississippi's king of pork, to blame. And it seems that Larry Craig and David Vitter have signed on as well, having decided that gay couples wanting the same rights as straight couples is a greater threat to marriage than, say, soliciting sex in a bathroom stall or frequenting a high-priced D.C. prostitute. The amendment's in no danger of getting 67 votes in a Democratic Senate, of course (it probably won't make it past Pat Leahy and the Judiciary Committee). It's just dumbdiddlyumptious.

For another laugh, read this unintentionally hilarious explanation of why the sky will fall if gays are allowed to marry. Bonus: he uses a sketchy example of a state-run church as proof of what will happen here.

- Next time anyone from the right bellyaches about "judicial activism," please show them the results of the latest round of Supreme Court cases. In two cases - the Heller case striking down the D.C. handgun ban and the Davis case striking down part of McCain-Feingold - the conservative wing of the Court took the judicially active path (i.e. contravened the will of the legislature). Conservatives are hailing both cases, especially the former - and apparently missing the irony.

So shut up about "activist judges," already. They're supposed to be activist. Isn't that what Marbury vs. Madison was about? The right of the Court to strike down unconstitutional laws? Perhaps a danger greater than an "activist" judge is a judge who makes decision based on his/her own political leanings... which is exactly what the right-wing nominee hawks want.

- More stupid African dictator tricks. This time, it's a petrostate dictator propped up by Exxon's tax dollars in a 500,000-person country you've never heard of. Bonus: Margaret Thatcher's son tried to overthrow him. Good times!

- And this might be the dumbest story ever (thanks be to The Agitator).

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hold Me

A Kossack posts an extremely interesting description of how holds in the Senate work. A hold, for those of you who don't know, is when one senator informs the Majority Leader (for all intents and purposes, the speaker of the Senate) that he/she intends to impede passage of a bill. The poster explains why holds work sometimes but not always, and what factors cause a hold to fail. It's a really good read.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

My All-Star Ballot

I just cast my ballot forbaseball's all-stars (thanks Matt), and here are my choices, along with a brief description of why I picked that player...

American League

1B: Justin Morneau, Twins: This one was between Morneau and Boston's Kevin Youkilis, who are about equal. Morneau is hitting slightly better, though, and drove in more runs.

2B: Brian Roberts, Orioles: There's no shortage of good choices here - I could have picked Detroit's Placido Polanco, Texas' Ian Kinsler, or KC's Mark Grudzielanek here. I picked Roberts because a) he's got 21 stolen bases, b) he's a good fielder, and c) I'm an O's fan and a massive homer.

SS: Orlando Cabrera, White Sox: Preferably, we'd take the glut of second-basemen - either Grudzie or Kinsler - and move them here because there are no good options at short for the AL. No one's hitting well, and Cabrera's the best fielder, so there you go.

3B: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: Really? You're going to vote for someone else here?

C: Joe Mauer, Twins: You'd have to be brain-dead to pick anyone else here, too.

OF: Milton Bradley and Josh Hamilton, Rangers; J.D. Drew, Red Sox: Lots of options, but Hamilton's a no-brainer and Bradley and Drew are hitting really well. I wrote in Baltimore's Nick Markakis here too - he should be the AL's fourth option.

DH: Hideki Matsui, Yankees: It's either Matsui or Oriole Aubrey Huff, and while Huff's a better power hitter, Matsui's average is way better.

National League

1B: Lance Berkman, Astros: No-brainer.

2B: Dan Uggla, Marlins: Either Philly's Chase Utley or Arizona's Orlando Hudson would go here. But Uggla gets the edge because he's a better hitter than Utley and a better fielder than Hudson.

SS: Ryan Theriot, Cubs: I could have gone with Washington's Cristian Guzman, but if I hadn't picked Theriot here despite his awful glove, I would have been leaving the NL's best team without an All-Star. Which is just weird. Guzman should be the tenth guy though. Florida's Hanley Ramirez can't field either.

3B: Chipper Jones, Braves: Really, if you vote for anyone else, you're either a massive homer or you're an idiot.

C: Bengie Molina, Giants: That's how bad the catching in the NL is - I had to vote for Bengie Molina.

OF: Matt Holliday, Rockies; Xavier Nady, Pirates; Ryan Braun, Brewers: After the no-brainer pick Holliday, I just kind of drew names out of a hat. Nady's a solid hitter, and Braun's a slugger with a potential Gold Glove. I wouldn't fault anyone for picking SF's Randy Winn here.

So there you go. Only difficulty with this lineup - no one from the AL's second and third best teams (TB, the Angels). Discuss.

Update: Mike tells me that Orlando Cabrera plays for the White Sox, not the Tigers. Noted and changed.

We Don't Negotiate With Terrorists... Except When We Do

The Bush administration is taking North Korea off the terror list after they dismantled their nuclear program. This also comes along with increased food and fuel aid for the hermit state, and a slight relaxation of sanctions.

In other news, the right wing continues to call anyone who suggests we do something similar with the more reasonable Iranians "naive" and "dangerous."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Actually, I'm Quite Happy With It

North Carolina is offering a replacement for all license plates beginning with the letters WTF. As the proud owner of one of such plates, I won't be taking the DMV up on that offer.

Islamic Law Okay for Blackwater

The sheer amount of cognitive dissonance in this bizarre story made my head explode. I gotta admit, though - suggesting that a U.S. court ought to hear a lawsuit by Americans against an American company under Shari'a law takes massive chutzpah. Let's hope this gets rejected - Afghan Shari'a states that a company can't be sued for neglect caused by its employees, which is a horrible precedent if that neglect is systemic. It would just make military contractors even less responsible for their duties.

What are the chances, though, that Erik Prince is the kind of conservative who will wax philosophical on the horror that would be caused if Islamic law came to America? Until it fits his personal purposes, of course.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Baby Picture Dump

I've been meaning to post baby pics for a while, but haven't gotten around to it... until now.

This is from her baby-naming ceremony, where we take her up to the bima during Shabbat and the rabbi gives her a blessing and we give her a Hebrew name. It's supposed to happen earlier, but oh well.

The dress is definitely her...

...the kipa, not so much.

A tune, Maestro...

That's one cute duck!

Is this a form of child abuse?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Goodbye, George

George Carlin, 1937-2008. Carlin was one of my first exposures to stand-up comedy. He was one of my dad's favorites, and he became one of mine. He's famous for his shockingly offensive routines - but unlike too many other "shock humorists," Carlin was side-splittingly funny and, once you realized there was a purpose behind all the naughty words, rather cerebral.

For kicks, here's his famous "Seven Words You Can't Say On Television" routine. Or one of my favorites, on sports. And for those of you who like your comedy clean, enjoy the Hippy Dippy Weatherman.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Barfing in Memphis

It's old news, but I just stumbled upon it - here's a bizarre flyer circulated against Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) of Tennessee's Ninth District, which is basically Memphis:

Astute readers will notice that the flier gives the name and address of the responsible party - a certain Rev. George Brooks in Murfreesboro, TN - which is conveniently located nowhere near Memphis.

Cohen, as you might be able to tell from the name, is a white Jewish guy representing a majority-black (60%) district. The flier was circulated presumably in support of Cohen's August 7th Democratic primary opponent, Nikki Tinker. Tinker was criticized for being slow on the reaction to the issue, but to her credit, the first thing you see as you visit her website is a statement roundly condemning anti-Semitism or racism (presumably of the anti-white variety as well).

My first reaction, of course, is that this is yet another reminder that while anti-Semitic opinions are mostly marginalized, they still rear their ugly head every now and again. It's something of a shock to see it put out there that blatantly, and from a guy who lives near a city - Nashville - where I spent my undergrad years.

But there's a deeper issue here, and this Memphis Commercial-Appeal editorial touches on it:
The flier is the product of an African-American minister from the Middle Tennessee town of Murfreesboro. Rev. George Brooks said he distributed it because the 9th District is "about 90-something percent black." (The actual figure is close to 60 percent.) Does the Tinker campaign agree with the Anti-Defamation League that the document "attempts to incite tension" between African-Americans and Jews? They aren't saying.

Inciting tension between African-Americans and Cohen was the aim of several members of the Black Baptist Ministerial Association who took Cohen to task last summer for his support of federal hate crimes legislation. The real motive behind the attack was revealed in later comments by at least one of those involved.

"He's not black," said Rev. Robert Poindexter of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, "and he can't represent me, that's just the bottom line."

Congratulations, Rev. Poindexter, you've just demonstrated identity politics at its absolute worst. But Poindexter's not alone in exploiting identity - he's just really blunt about it, and doing so in a manner to which much of America is not accustomed. Replace "black" with any number of identity groups - evangelical Christians, the middle-class, blue-collar workers, you name it - and someone has said it. Often the media fans the flames, disguising their plays at identity politics with questions like "Can candidate X connect with (insert group here)?" It's the same crap, and if we're shocked by that flier and by Poindexter's statements, we shouldn't be. It's a pervasive part of modern politics, and it stinks.

I've gone into this before, so I don't want to repeat myself. I'll say this: it's appealing to vote for someone who looks and acts like you. But to think that someone who doesn't look or act like you can't stand up for your needs? Or that someone who does will be a better representative because of it? Pure 200-proof bullshit. Whites can represent blacks. Jews can represent Christians. Rich people can represent the working class. Sushi-eaters can represent KFC diners. Get over yourselves, voters. Your membership in some identity group isn't that important.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Middle East Truce?

The BBC reports that Israel and Hamas have agreed to a truce, whereby Israel will open Gaza to the outside world a little bit while Hamas will quit with the rockets. This will hopefully snowball into Hamas letting go of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier whose capture set off the latest round of violence, in exchange for the opening of the Gaza-Egypt border.

This is good news, but needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Hamas hasn't exactly been 100% faithful to its truces of late. Israel should - and surely will - take steps to make sure that food and supplies are the only things getting through the open borders, not guns and rocket fuel. But this time it may be different - Gaza's economy has gone even further into the shitter since Hamas began hostilities with Shalit's capture (and maintained them with repeated rocket fire). Hopefully Gazans recognize this and are turning on Hamas' hard-line tactics.

It is perhaps too much to hope for that the Palestinian leaders are beginning to realize that the only thing Palestinian violence is truly hurting (on a geopolitical level) is the Palestinian cause. But maybe the economic consequences of a policy of violence have finally been made clear...

Monday, June 16, 2008

That's Some Fine Campaign Work, Lou

Your next governor of New Jersey may be... Lou Dobbs?

First order of business - build a fence along the Hudson River. Can't have all those illegal New Yorkers invading the Garden State causing havoc and taking New Jersey jobs, right?

Friday, June 13, 2008

They Have A Fight, Triangle Wins

I've often described Raleigh as "a nice place to live, wouldn't want to visit." Apparently MSNBC agrees with me in part - they've ranked Ral-town America's best place to live. So there.

(Yes, I know I technically live in Cary. It's close enough.)

Oink Oink, Bizzatches

The Post reports that - surprise surprise! - earmark spending is going back up again. Sure, it's small potatoes when it comes to fixing the deficit, and if we want to get into the black, we're going to have to fix Social Security and Medicare and quit trying to fight wars without raising taxes.

(Tangent to anyone who wants to fight a war in the future: don't assume it'll pay for itself. Assume that we'll have to foot the bill for the whole thing. And make the budgetary tweaks necessary to raise money for the war. And if you support a war, don't bitch about the higher taxes that are going to come along with it. War means sacrifice, kids.)

It doesn't matter who's in power - earmarks go up under Republicans and Democrats alike. Personally, I don't think we can do away with earmarks entirely, but we can have a system where the entire House votes on each earmark. That oughta trim some of the fat out of the process, since I'm sure no one wants to be on record as having voted for a "bridge to nowhere."

Anyway, Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who I have a lot of respect for as a legislator, hits it on the head:
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said the budget system almost demands that lawmakers use earmarks to win support from voters. He said his colleagues also award earmarks with the expectation that they will generate campaign contributions from happy recipients and their lobbyists, a dynamic that Taxpayers for Common Sense describes as the "pay-to-play system." Lawmakers often boast of the earmarks they have obtained.

Earmarks happen because voters and donors like them. End of frickin' story. You want earmarks eliminated? Don't ask the federal government for funding for your cat museum, and don't congratulate your rep if you get it. You think you have an appropriation that's important for defense or for the welfare of your district's population? You better be prepared to defend that appropration before the entirety of Congress and the court of public opinion.

I've said it (more than) once before, but it bears repeating now. (Ah ah ah ah ah ah...)

One more thing, for anyone who has been watching Euro 2008: how the heck is Tommy Smyth doing color for the early game and then doing studio commentary for ESPN afterwards? Does he have a teleporter that takes him from Austria/Switzerland to Bristol and back? And if he's commenting on the game from Bristol, does that mean Derek Rae is there with him? Because I'm not sure how they could function with the play-by-play guy in Salzburg and the color guy in Connecticut...

Monday, June 09, 2008

Wait, What?

So now Israel has a Muslim cabinet member and the small Arab nation of Bahrain has a Jewish ambassador.

I'm sorry, did you say something? I can't hear you over all the cognitive dissonance.

Fahrenheit Four-Fifty-Dumb

Somewhere near Shreveport, LA, some genius had the following brilliant thought: "You know what would make the Gospel seem welcoming to non-Christians and would make our area's churches seem like vibrant communities that people would actually want to join? A book burning! Let's hear it for some Christian nihilism! Woo WOO!"

Bonus: the guy who's running the show heads a church called "The International House of Prayer." The sad part is that if the pastor weren't making douchey remarks like "It is allowed for Harry Potter to be taught in our schools, but not the Bible" (patently false) and "I'm not a doom-and-gloom preacher... but we are at the threshold of dark days" (in the same category as "I'm not a racist but..."), the awesomeness of the church's name might actually draw people in...

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Bert Plays Soccer

Euro 2008 kicked off yesterday, and as with most international competitions not involving the U.S., I have no one to root for. That is, until yesterday, when I decided to root for Portugal. Why, you ask? Here's why:

Best. Unibrow. Ever.

Seriously, anyone with the balls to sport that much brow has to be badass.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

On Obama and Iraq

OK, this is worth noting: 99% of the time, conservative 527s (like their liberal counterparts) are bloviating about nothing - the most strident example of this being the Swift Boat Vets from 2004. And I'm sure we'll have 527s trying to convince us that we should care about Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers and Rod Parsley and McCain's ex-lobbyist staffers and whatever insignificant issue you can imagine. But the ridiculously named right-wing attack 527 "Vets for Freedom" may have hit on something when they talk about Obama's lack of visits to Iraq or meetings with Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus.

Here's the VfF founder, Pete Hegseth, explaining why he thinks it matters. Essentially, if you filter out all the right-wing talking points, the argument boils down to this: you can't understand what's going on in Iraq unless you go over there and talk to army leaders, rank-and-file soldiers, and Iraq's political leaders.

Obama would counter that the military puts on a dog-and-pony show for visiting luminaries, and that the truth on the ground is obscured. But certainly there's only so much that the military can hide. And if Obama's not getting his information from meetings with Petraeus or al-Maliki and if he's not meeting with troops in the field, he's getting his info essentially the same way we are - through the media and through anecdotes from soldiers he knows. I wouldn't feel confident about making a decision on the proper course of action in Iraq from what I now know. I can't see how Obama would either.

Obama has been to Iraq once, in 2006 - but a lot of things have probably changed since '06, when the war was at its darkest. The rigors of the campaign and the safety requirements for a candidate will likely not permit him to visit before November 5. But I think Obama should pledge to visit Iraq and meet with Petraeus and al-Maliki as soon as possible should he be elected. In fairness, I suspect Obama probably will make that visit. And if Obama should choose Joe Biden (who practically lives over there) or Jim Webb (who has forgotten more about the military than I'll ever know) as his running mate, these criticisms have less validity since there'll be a highly knowledgeable advisor at his side.

But I worry, and here's why - one of the more off-putting things about Bush's presidency is his seeming tendency to make uninformed decisions based on ideology, and his seeming lack of intellectual curiosity. We don't need more of that out of our next President, be that Obama or McCain.

Friday, June 06, 2008

We Are Your Overlords

Allow me to take this opportunity to reach back in time 64 years and say: Suck it, Nazis.

Communism WOW!

The London Times is holding an awesome Communism joke contest. Mike, Ben, I'm hoping that the guy we met in Hickory doesn't win... (h/t: Chad)

Anyway, one of the commenters on the site - read the comments, there are a lot of clunkers, but some of them are actually funny - points out that the Communist Party of the US has a website... and they use it to sell crap. Word has it, though, that if you order something you'll be charged double the advertised price, it'll take two years to get to you, it'll look absolutely nothing like what you actually ordered, and it will fall apart in a week. And I don't even want to know what happens if you complain to the website about it...

Just for Andy: Bush. That is all.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Warrantless Wiretapping, Revisited

Name that country:
The law allows security forces to gather evidence through surveillance methods such as wiretapping without obtaining a court order, and authorities can withhold evidence from defence lawyers if it is considered to be in the interest of national security.
The answer: Venezuela.

OK, I don't want to go into a full-blown reductio al Chavezem here, but I do have this to say to Bush and the Republicans: if Hurricane Hugo is getting ideas on how to consolidate power from you, shouldn't you be just a little bit concerned?

One last note: I was watching McCain's speech last night, and I can't help but notice that every time he delivers an attack line he grins ridiculously - you can imagine him thinking "hee hee, I'm a bad boy." It's not a reason to vote for or against the man - it's just funny.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Game Over

It seems that Barack Obama has just wrapped up the Democratic nomination. I think I'll let the fans of recently relegated EPL team Derby County speak for me: