Monday, September 29, 2008

Minority Report

OK, does anyone else think this is a really, really bad idea?

Or more interestingly - does anyone think that using a machine to try and read someone's secret terroristic thoughts is a good idea?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ruminations On A Revived Rivalry

This afternoon, at around 3:00, I walked into my neighborhood Harris Teeter for a quick pre-game grocery run. I was wearing my Art Monk practice jersey that I got after the 'Skins won the Super Bowl some seventeen years ago. Approaching the door of the store was a man, about my age, wearing a Troy Aikman jersey. He spotted me and immediately started booing loudly. A little amiable jawing ensued - we laughed, and he went for the beer while I veered into the produce section.

It's tough to capture the full meaning of a rivalry, especially one as intense as the 'Skins-Cowboys rivalry, and explain it to someone who isn't a sports fan, or is a fan of a team that doesn't really have a rival. It's "us vs. them" to the extreme. It's the Apocalypse, good vs. evil, and you're a part of it two weeks per year.

But a rivalry is a relationship, and it needs constant contribution from both fan bases and both teams to keep the passion alive. It needs fans to boo at each other, it needs teams to play spirited, interesting contests, it needs characters to keep us engaged. And for too long, neither the Redskins nor the Cowboys were doing their part. The 'Skins lost 14 of 15 contests to the Cowboys, which threatened to turn the rivalry into Tennessee-Vanderbilt. But more worrisome than that was the complete and utter unhateability of the late '90s-early '00s Cowboys. I mean, who can really say they hate Chan Gailey? Or Dave Campo? Or Clint Stoerner? You're in trouble when keeping up the rivalry means ginning up an honest hatred for Joey Galloway. So eventually the rivalry became, well, less interesting. The 'Skins, battered as they were, began to get a wandering eye - some fans even suggested cheating on the 'Boys with the Santa-haters up I-95 in Philly.

And just when things were at their worst, wonderful things began to happen. Bill Parcells - someone actually worth hating - showed up in Dallas. Terrell Owens soon followed. Terrence Newman joined the Cowboys, as did Roy Williams. The Cowboys had people to hate again.

And then the spark that reignited the flame - Redskins 14, Cowboys 13, the Santana Moss double-bomb game where the 'Skins scored two late touchdowns in Dallas to come back and steal the game. The rivalry was officially back. Several instant classics have followed since. Modern fans can recall the Sean Taylor blocked field goal game, the Jason Campbell pick game. And today's game - 'Skins 26, 'Boys 24, Campbell's coming-out party.

I remember how great this rivalry was growing up - how I cheered for Art Monk and Gary Clark and Earnest Byner and Joe Gibbs against characters like Aikman and Emmitt and Michael Irvin and Leon Lett and Jimmy Johnson. And now? We have iconic, likable guys like Clinton Portis, Campbell, Chris Cooley, Moss. They have iconic, dislikeable guys like Newman, Williams, future reality TV star Tony Romo, and Owens. The Apocalypse is back, and for fans of both teams, that's a wonderful thing.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Subprime Meltdown Explained

Here's a good summary of the financial crisis that I got from, of all places, Fark. It's definitely worth a read, even if he does get a little bit jargony at times.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ebert: Not A Creationist.

So apparently Ebert posted this somewhat ham-handed attempt at satire on his website poking fun at creationists. Of course, pretty much everyone mistook it for being serious, and so Ebert had to publish this explaining himself and then ranting about how gullible Americans are. (For added awesome, check the URL.)

The first thing I thought of is how this will probably remind my Vanderreaders of a certain incident.

The second is this - how accurate is Ebert? Are we really losing our capacity to think critically? Or are satirists and hyperbolists simply not sensing the amount of absurdity already present in our culture, and failing when they attempt to go over the top? And what can be done about it?

The Extreme Southeastern Corner of NC Devolves

Brunswick County, which is the part of Myrtle Beach that doesn't want to be in South Carolina, is thinking about teaching creationism in schools. School board member Jimmy Hobbs brings the crazy:
"It's really a disgrace for the state school board to impose evolution on our students without teaching creationism," county school board member Jimmy Hobbs said at Tuesday's meeting. "The law says we can't have Bibles in schools, but we can have evolution, of the atheists." (emphasis mine - J)

Mr. Hobbs, that could be the dumbest sentence ever uttered. What law, exactly, says that we can't have Bibles in schools? Look, I have no problem with creationists. I don't care whether you accept science or not. But I do have a problem with idiots who don't know what the separation of church and state means.

Oh, and the link includes the requisite "it's just a theory" argument. Standard rant #42 applies.

College Football, Week 4: Revenge of the Nerds

Q: How awesome is the SEC this year?

A: The SEC is so good that even Vanderbilt is ranked.

Of course, Vandy isn't the only top academic school exceeding expectations in football this year. There are 13 Div I-A (FBS, for those who like the new notation) schools in U.S. News' top 30 colleges. (Let's forget the fact that these rankings are mostly pointless.) Of these, five are already known for their football (Notre Dame, Cal, UCLA, Michigan, and USC). But all of the schools that are known for being highly ranked academically and awful football-wise - Stanford, Vandy, Wake Forest, Rice, Northwestern - are doing pretty well. Wake and Vandy are ranked. Northwestern is receiving votes in both polls. Rice is 2-2 with both losses coming to ranked teams on the road. Stanford is 2-2, both losses coming to very good teams on the road.

Your Mountain West watch: three ranked teams (BYU, Utah, TCU). That's more than the ACC, the Big East, or the Pac-10. (The WAC has two, BSU and Fresno State.) Yeah, the MWC is totally a minor conference undeserving of an auto BCS bid.

Anyway, on to the review...

Vanderbilt 23, Mississippi 17: Good win despite the weak road performance. Ole Miss isn't the punching bag they had been under Orgeron - say what you will about Houston Nutt, but Arkansas is sure missing him right now. I didn't get to see the game, but it looks downright bizarre. One offensive touchdown? Eight turnovers, six by the Rebels? Apparently this game was decided on a play when an Ole Miss running back fumbled at the one-yard line and a Vandy player jumped on the loose ball in the end zone. That kind of crap just doesn't happen to Vandy. Someone from our team NEVER falls on a loose ball in those situation. What the heck is going on?

Anyway, we'll see what Vandy's made of in two weeks when Auburn comes to Nashville...

Virginia Tech 20, North Carolina 17: The Hokies find some bizarre ways to win lately, don't they? Their offense couldn't move a knife through butter, yet they somehow put 20 points on the board and played some solid second-half D to win. I still don't trust this team to put up any points, but there are a couple of things that make the Hokies' outlook look good. First, their defense is great as always. Second, they don't play another ranked team the entire way. The only ranked team they would have to face on a BCS run would be Wake Forest in the ACC championship. The Hokies aren't a great team, but they are fortunately in a crap conference.

#20 Utah 30, Air Force 23: The Utes were absolutely, positively god-awful in the first half here. The only thing that even kept them in the game was a great defense - they only gave up 53 rushing yards to Air Force, which was roughly 300 yards under their season average. And fortunately, they woke up in the second half, outscoring USAFA 21-7 after the break. And it seemed like Utah sucked up Air Force's power Peter Petrelli-style: the Utes got almost 200 yards on the ground, including three second-half Darrell Mack touchdowns.

Only three road games the rest of the way, against Wyoming (bad), New Mexico (pretty good), and San Diego State (awful). This is good because the Utes look awful on the road, squeaking by a horrible Michigan team and almost losing to an admittely pretty good Air Force team. The game in Albuquerque will be tough - it's probably the game the Utes are most likely to lose before TCU comes to town.

BCS buster watch: Well, so much for ECU. I know it's harsh to disqualify someone from the elite post-season after laying one egg, but if you can't beat NC State, you don't deserve it. (I say this as a current NCSU grad student.) That leaves the three undefeated MWC teams and Boise State. Of these, BYU established itself as the class of the non-BCS conferences with a 44-0 pounding of Wyoming. Bad news for the Cougs - only three home games left, and road trips to Fort Worth, Colorado Springs, and Salt Lake loom. Good news for the Cougs - the defense looks pretty darn good. They haven't allowed any points since leaving Seattle.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bail Yourself Out, Creeps

I'll use my 600th post to say this:

Worst. Idea. Ever.

I guess I have one question. If a rich person loses a million dollars at Vegas on a blackjack table, am I expected to pick up the cost?

Why is the government intentionally making bad investments with my tax money? Do we really need to? Why not just let the investments sour? (Okay, I had more questions.) We can bail out some smaller investors who stand to lose from investment house bankruptcies via the FDIC - that's what it's there for, after all - but bailing out the houses who knowingly took a risk and lost is just a horrible idea. It's their fault for making stupid investments.

And so what if AIG fails? Market vacuums don't last long - someone will take their place. Like I said earlier - insure some of the individual investors via the FDIC, and let competitors who didn't make dumb choices fill the gap.

Here's what this bailout makes me think of... a bunch of suits walking around on the street with a "The World Is Coming To An End" sandwich-board on and their hands out. Although beggars have more dignity than this.

Update: Hey look, the market's already responding. Morgan Stanley (where I usually invest) and Goldman Sachs are planning on getting into retail so they can have a larger capital pool to draw from in case investments go pear-shaped. The Fed will force them to lower their debt-to-equity ratio, but will give them access to cash if they need it. Oh, and all the investments in other places were all bought up by other banks.

So if the market and the Fed can deal with this okay, and it looks like they can... what's the point of the bailout again?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

AAA Ball

For a while there I was keeping my panic down over the fiscal crisis (all the while being pissed at government decisions to bail out private companies that do stupid crap). Then I read this Reuters article: (h/t: Agitator)
Pressure is building on the pristine "AAA" rating of the United States after a federal bailout of American International Group Inc, the chairman of Standard & Poor's sovereign ratings committee said on Wednesday.

But wait, there's more:
Potential upfront costs to the government of maintaining financial stability could reach 24 percent of gross domestic product in the case of a "deep and prolonged recession," the S&P report said.
Which means that taxes will have to go up and spending will have to go down if that's going to fit into our budget. And if we lose our AAA credit rating, borrowing will get even more expensive.

As many people have pointed out, there are a ton of reasons why we're in this mess right now, but I figure I'll rant a little about one of the hidden reasons for this fiscal crisis. For a while the left has been in high dudgeon over executive pay, and I'm not sure I agree. I don't really care if a CEO gets $30 million a year as long as they're doing their job well. But what bugs me is the fact that if the CEO screws up and costs his/her company billions, the executive will get fired - with an absurd severance package. For example, Merrill Lynch CEO Stanley O'Neal left a smoking crater that required Bank of America's largesse to clean up, and he left with $161 million in exit pay. Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld literally destroyed the company, and gets $65 mil for his services. AIG chief Robert Willumstad leaves a pauper by those standards - he gets a mere $12.8 million.

That's absurd. At least Fannie and Freddie's CEOs don't get squat, but that's because they're government-run enterprises whose very existence probably contributed to this whole thing.

What these severance packages do - and don't for a minute think that the CEOs forget their existence when they're in office - is depersonalize the risk that comes from executive choices. Now imagine that you were an executive, and that you were guaranteed a lifetime of luxury even if you completely screw up. Would you take some reckless chances? Of course you would. After all, there's no personal risk to you - you're set either way. If you succeed, you're a visionary, the very definition of success. If you fail, no biggie - you go home to your family with a few extra million in your pocket while your shareholders and the government pick up the pieces.

And so risks are encouraged, which can be a good thing up to a point. But the severance packages are so bloated that they encourage stupid risks, and this entire crisis was based on a lot of companies taking a lot of stupid risks on these subprime mortgages. If the executives knew that a failed risk would cost them something significant personally, they might have thought twice about these securitized mortgages and our crisis would be a lot smaller.

My point is this: Adam Smith's system was based on "enlightened self-interest." The problem with these severance packages is that they distort self-interest to the point where reckless risks and prudent risks appear the same.

Now I'm not 100% confident that government can regulate severance pay well. Hopefully other companies will leave the financial sector saga with the understanding that their massive severance packages are hurting them in the long run, and will scale back on severance pay in the case of disgraceful termination. The problem is that companies' boards of directors set their own pay, and they're not likely to give themselves severance pay cuts. So barring that, I'm all for a shareholder rebellion. To the barricades, stockholders!

Moron A and Moron B

So let me get this straight. These people are choosing to deny legal recognition for their marriage because the wording on the form isn't what they want it to be? I don't think they thought this cunning plan through. As a protest against gay marriage, this is singularly ineffective.

Quote of awesomeness: "'We just feel that our rights have been violated,' [Ms. Bird/Mrs. Codding] said." Um, what right would that be? The right to a gender-specific form?

Monday, September 15, 2008

College Football, Week 3

Each week this season, it seems like one conference has a day where it just gets embarrassed. Week 1 saw a bunch of ACC teams lose games they shouldn't have lost. In Week 2, the Big East looked flat awful. This week, it was the Pac-10's turn. Sure, USC laid the wood to Ohio State at home, but that was about the only bright spot. Oregon struggled with middling Big Ten team Purdue. Cal got beat by Maryland, a bottom-tier ACC team. Washington got embarrassed at home by Oklahoma. Arizona State got beat by UNLV (who got killed last week by Utah)... in Tempe. Arizona got beat by New Mexico. Stanford lost - badly - to TCU. And UCLA was supposed to lose its road game against BYU, but this is just ridiculous.

Speaking of the Pounding in Provo, here's a few stats that are even more fun than 59-0...

- BYU quarterback Max Hall threw seven touchdowns... and didn't play the fourth quarter.

- UCLA had six rushing yards.

- The Great Depression was just starting the last time UCLA lost this badly.

Which brings me to my annual anti-BCS rant. This week, four Mountain West teams played Pac-10 opponents. The MWC was 4-0 in those matchups. Out of nine teams in the conference, six (the Utah teams, Air Force, TCU, New Mexico, and UNLV) are either legitimate threats to beat good BCS conference teams, or have already done so. The Big East and ACC can't claim that kind of quality. The Pac-10 and Big Ten can barely claim that. Now, it has long been my contention that the MWC is the best of the non-BCS conferences, even though the WAC gets all the press. (The WAC is pretty much a three-team league - four if Nevada decides to play.) And the smart money is still on one of the Utah teams to win the MWC and end up in a big bowl. But answer me this - why should an undefeated MWC winner be passed over for a shot at the championship over a one- or two-loss major conference team, especially if the major conference is weaker than, or just as weak as, the MWC? And why should a one- or two-loss MWC champion be banished to the Las Vegas Bowl even though they played a difficult conference schedule?

We need a 16-team playoff featuring each of the 11 conference champions and five at-large bids. It's only fair to give conference champs a shot.

Anyway, on to my games.

Vanderbilt 38, Rice 21: Before you say "whoopdecrap, we beat Rice," recognize this: Rice was 2-0 before this game, and they're serious competition for Tulsa for the C-USA West crown. Even better news: the traditionally anemic Vandy offense has scored 96 points in three games. I don't think we scored that many all last season. Even better: Vandy has outscored opponents 45-10 in the second half this year. I'm still not buying a bowl game - there are four games against top-20 opposition coming up, plus Tennessee and Kentucky, so to get to six wins we'd pretty much have to win both road games in Mississippi and the home game against newly halfway-decent Duke. And the offense is still suspect - that 38 points disguises the fact that we only had 71 passing yards and were outgained overall by a pretty good margin. We'll re-evaluate after this week's game at Mississippi...

Virginia Tech 20, Georgia Tech 17: I watched part of this game, and I didn't see the ball go into the air once. Then I checked the stat sheet... the teams combined for 22 pass attempts the whole game. Pretty amazing. I'm impressed by Paul Johnson's ability to apply the crazy option offense that worked at Navy in a major conference, even if the ACC barely deserves the label "major conference." They ran all over the Hokies all day, but VT still made the plays when it mattered.

#22 Utah 58, Utah State 10: Sure, this was a good old-fashioned butt-whoopin', but it kind of worries me that USU led early on. Also, three turnovers are bad. Against a bad team like USU, that gets disguised - USU gained 116 yards the whole game. But Utah gets its first real test against a good team (no, I don't count Michigan as "good") in Colorado Springs this week. We'll see what this team is really made of there.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Italy, You're Doing It Wrong

So apparently in Italy it's a crime - punishable by five years in jail - to insult the Pope. Granted, the insult was pretty harsh (provided anyone knows what a "poofter" devil is), but still. Didn't know Benny-boy was so brittle.

Anyway, when I read this article I thought of my kid. She's starting to learn to crawl, but right now she launches herself along the floor with both legs, and she flops down on her belly a lot and the whole thing is just really cute. Italy's actions with regards to free speech kind of make me feel that way about them. Here you have a cute little toddler democracy trying so hard to have freedom of speech, but just falling down on its face a lot. This story would make me angry if it were in America. As it is, this just makes me want to pick Italy up, hug it, say "it's okay, you can get this free speech thing," and put it back on its feet again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Repeat A Lie Often Enough...

Here's a great article on fact-checking that ought to be required reading for everyone planning to vote in November.

Election 2008, #3: Terror/Security Policy

For the founding post in this series, click here. We've done energy and civil liberties, and after those two, the standings are as follows:

Barr - 31
Obama - 30
McCain - 17

So now that terror policy is a big national issue again thanks to Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin's "constitution SUX LOL" bit at the convention, I thought this would be a good time to take a look at what the candidates themselves; you know, the ones actually running for president, as opposed to the ones who look like Tina Fey. To the issues, which each candidate covers rather extensively...

Bob Barr (platform here, more here) is predictably restrictive when it comes to terror surveillance policies. Barr wants to limit the government's surveillance power to only what is absolutely necessary to maintain security. He criticizes FISA and certain elements of the Patriot Act (which, ironically, he helped write). Most notably, he says that any surveillance powers must be consistent with the Constitution, and he has a pretty expansive view of what the Constitution prohibits. If he wants to limit private companies' data-banking, you can be sure he'll limit a lot of the federal government's efforts to do the same.

John McCain (platform here - you'd think a major-party campaign would have copy editors good enough to catch the massive typo on line 4... sorry, that kind of thing really distracts me) talks about a lot of things, but I'll highlight a couple of important issues. First, he supported the Military Commissions Act, which placed responsibility for prosecuting suspected terrorists in the hands of military tribunals. I don't think the act is a horrible compromise, but his platform contains the following line:
John McCain is more concerned with protecting the American people from future terrorist attacks, by killing or bringing to justice those who commit them, than he is with giving terrorists rights that would allow a judge to set them free before they are tried.
Such misunderstanding and misstating of the rights of the accused borders on an automatic DQ, in my book. Second, he wants to beef up the border patrol, which is probably a good thing. Third, he stresses cooperation between federal intelligence and law-enforcement and local and international agencies. He wants terror-fighting funds to be allocated based on risk - which would be a welcome change from the current way of doing things.

Barack Obama (platform here), like McCain, wants money doled out based on risk. Also like McCain, he wants to strengthen security around chemical plants and nuclear power generators. I couldn't find talk about intelligence gathering and detainees on his website, but I'll try to tackle some of this stuff: One, he opposes Bush's ridiculous use of classification, and wants to institute a declassification agency to handle such things. Obama was a critic of the MCA and at least talks like he respects habeas corpus for all. Obama's stance on intelligence, however, is somewhat amorphous - he has spoken out against FISA abuses, but voted not to punish the abusers.

On to the analysis.

The quote everyone loves to use here comes from Ben Franklin: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." But it's often misused in a way that sets liberty and security in opposition. They are not - there are many ways to protect ourselves against attack without sacrificing liberty. Securing chemical plants and spent nuclear fuel are among those ways. The point Franklin was trying to make is that when the two do intersect, we should always choose liberty. It's clear from his support for warrantless wiretaps and opposition to the rights of the accused that McCain chooses security, and for that he gets an automatic third place finish.

Obama's support for telecom immunity in FISA is troubling, even if it was a stance taken out of political expediency. I'm not sure I want a president willing to sacrifice the law for politics, and that's something I know Barr wouldn't do. However, Obama would be excellent on detainees' rights. As would Barr, of course. The questions I have, then: would Barr be too afraid of taking enough of the non-liberty-violating security steps, like securing chemical plants and nuclear plants? And would Barr's admirable zeal for liberty interfere with legitimate, non-liberty-threatening surveillance and intelligence gathering? And when Obama is faced with a choice between expanding his listening powers and preserving liberty, which will he choose? The answer to all of these is, sadly, "I don't know." Obama doesn't seem like a threat to liberty, but the FISA vote makes me queasy. Barr doesn't seem incompetent, but his lack of a security plan bugs me.

Since I have to make a choice, I'll go with Obama, since he appears to have a plan to take care of some of the obvious security risks we face and he's still pretty darn good when it comes to not crapping on the Constitution. We'll keep our fingers crossed that he listens to the Russ Feingolds of the world when it comes to wiretapping under his administration. (Incidentally, if any of you Barr supporters have info that would suggest that Obama would be really bad on privacy issues, let me know please - this ranking is open to change!)

So for this issue, that gives us:

Obama - 24
Barr - 16
McCain - 8

And a cumulative score of:

Obama - 54
Barr - 47
McCain - 25

Sound off.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Good News on the Palin Front

Civil libertarians, take a breath: according to Reason's Jesse Walker, Gov. Palin didn't try to ban books as mayor of Wasilla. Nor is she an abstinence-only fanatic. Good to hear. I'm a little less scared of Palin now, though her disparaging of civil liberties demonstrates that she hasn't read the Constitution past the Second Amendment. Also, her disparaging remarks about community organizers betray a little bit of cultural intolerance. But at least she won't be burning our books and condoms.

Hat tip to The Agitator.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

College Football, Week 2

Here's your Week 2 insights. NFL Week 1 insights coming Tuesday, though the 'Skins have already played.

First off, how weak did the Big Ten look? Ohio State damn near got beat by Ohio at home, Wisconsin struggled early against Marshall before waking up, and Michigan looked awful against Miami (Ohio). At least Northwestern beat poor Duke.

Second, your BCS-crasher watch: East Carolina destroyed #8 West Virginia, and since their schedule is really weak the rest of the way, they should be able to be undefeated with no problem. BYU survived Washington, but only because they paid off the refs or something. Seriously, I wonder if the same people who officiated the Vanderbilt-Florida travesty from three years ago worked that game - it was the exact same B.S. call that led to the 35-yard PAT, which got blocked and thus did the Huskies in. And Utah? See below.

Third, Arkansas looks really bad this year. Maybe they shouldn't have fired Houston Nutt.

On to the games I care about:

Vanderbilt 24, #24 South Carolina 17: Wow. I can honestly say I didn't expect this, especially not after we essentially nuked USC's season last year in Columbia. Vandy actually looked good in this game - the defense was excellent, and we capitalized well on some big USC mistakes. What I especially like: instead of giving the game away at the end as is Vandy's custom, we pounded out a rushing first down and ran out the clock. You know, like a good team would do.

One note on the Spurrier era at USC - the Ol' Ball Coach isn't putting up the kind of offensive numbers he was famous for at Florida - and it's not as if he's facing harder teams. Is he just not as motivated? Is he only able to recruit defensive players? Or has the game passed him by?

Virginia Tech 24, Furman 7: Well, I guess when you're Virginia Tech you're supposed to beat Furman, so I don't have much to say here. I guess the only thing I really have to say is that the loss to ECU doesn't look so bad now.

#22 Utah 42, UNLV 21: After what UNLV did to Utah last year, this feels good. It was dicey for a while, but a good end-of-half score tied it up and the Utes' offense woke up in the second half. However, I don't think Utah can afford the kind of first half they had this week against Wyoming or New Mexico, and definitely can't afford it against the Brig.

And granted, Washington's probably a better team than Michigan, but the fact that BYU had trouble with their mediocre major-conference opponent kinda makes me smile a little.

Friday, September 05, 2008

America's Most Astute Pundit: Dave Barry

Humorist Dave Barry has one of the best observations I've heard from any political analyst in quite some time:
The Republicans are also feeling good about their message, which is that Washington is bad and whoever is in charge there needs to be run out of town on a rail. Interestingly, this is also the Democrats' message. We are now in our fourth consecutive decade in which both of our major political parties are just totally FED UP with Washington. I frankly don't see how Washington can survive this onslaught much longer.

The entire convention series is comedy gold. I had thought Barry had retired... guess not, though. I didn't see how a still-talented comedian could possibly ignore this election, anyhow.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

About Tonight...

Tonight, the world will watch a spectacle of untold importance. The effects will be far-reaching, the emotions will run high. The fate of the world may hang in the balance. Tonight may be the most important night we, as a country, have had for a long time. A night of national glory, or perhaps national shame. Of course, you know what I'm referring to...

Football's back, baby! Hail to the Redskins... Bring it, G-men.

Jake, Elwood, and Sarah

The latest dose of awesome from Sarah Palin - apparently, she told a church that the Iraq war is "a task that is from God."

No word on whether our troops in Iraq are being pursued by Nazis and the Illinois State Police.

Some people try to channel Winston Churchill when speaking in public. Others try to imitate Martin Luther King. I guess now we know where Palin gets her inspiration.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Veep Roulette

Now that both major party candidates have made their vice-presidential picks, I figured I'd take a brief off-the-cuff look at them. I know nothing about Wayne Allyn Root, Bob Barr's Libertarian running mate, other than the fact that he can't spell "Allen." So I won't go into him much.

Let's start with Biden. On a personal level, I like Biden. Nine of the ten best moments from the early Democratic debates were Biden. He's got a ton of foreign policy experience and is an experienced lawmaker who can help the relatively green Obama navigate Washington's black holes and get things done. Policy-wise, though, there's a lot to be worried about. He supported the godawful bankruptcy bill and he supported the war in Iraq. And Balko points out the many reasons that Fourth Amendment fans should loathe Biden. The main thing I take from that isn't that Obama necessarily agrees with Biden on his anti-Fourth Amendment drug-war radicalism, but that he really doesn't care enough about excessive police powers for that sort of thing to be disqualifying. Fourth Amendment violations are bad whether they're a result of fighting drugs or terrorism. The fact that Obama doesn't worry about the former raises the question of whether he cares enough about the latter.

McCain, as we all know by now, picked Tina Fey. I have a lot of reasons to not like Palin, and they have little to do with all the crap the mainstream media likes to throw around. She's a book banner and a fan of ineffective abstinence-only education. She supported federal earmarks totaling about $1,000 per person for her small Alaska town when she was mayor. She places low taxes ahead of fiscal responsibility. True, she's an anti-corruption reformer, which is nice, but there's too much other objectionable stuff there for me to really get excited about that. One of the reasons I didn't mind McCain is that he seemed like a departure from the tired religious conservatism of the Bush era - but that's the mold out of which Palin appears to have been cut.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that there's a lot not to like about both of them. Biden's probably in the right on a lot more issues than Palin is, though. I think Obama didn't have a whole lot of better options available, and Biden's not a bad chief advisor to have. McCain, however, had plenty. Joe Lieberman would have been perfect for the image McCain is trying to project, even if they disagree on a lot. Mitt Romney oozes competence, which is comforting in someone who would be backing up a guy who will be 76 on Election Day 2012. Picking a hard-right cookie-cutter social conservative with one and a half years' gubernatorial experience completely undermines both of McCain's main narratives - one, that he's the maverick willing to take on his own party as well as the opposing party, and two, that he's the safe, experienced choice.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Best moment of either convention so far - the Republicans using AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" to introduce... former AZ school superintendent Lisa Keegan, who looks like a stereotypical soccer mom.

Oh, and comparing first impressions of the two conventions:

Democrats - a bunch of visibly tipsy, happy people dancing to an Earth, Wind, and Fire cover band (or possibly Earth, Wind, and Fire themselves).

Republicans - a bunch of dour-looking old people listening to some old woman blathering on about... something.

I'm just sayin'.

...And Minnesota Cops Go Berserk

Matt, tell the cops in your home state to calm the hell down:
Last night, members of the St. Paul police department and the Ramsey County sheriff's department handcuffed, photographed and detained dozens of people meeting at a public venue to plan a demonstration, charging them with no crime other than "fire code violations," and early this morning, the Sheriff's department sent teams of officers into at least four Minneapolis area homes where suspected protesters were staying.

If you don't trust Glenn Greenwald's impartiality (why would you?), here's the Minneapolis Star-Tribune story, which elaborates a little more on the reasons for the raid. The cops say that they suspected more than just protesting - that they actually suspected that the groups would act to disrupt the convention, and that they raided pre-emptively to stop that.

One still wonders if the St. Paul police department hired the precogs from Minority Report.

Look, I understand the desire to keep order. But you don't raid someone's meetings and arrest them because they might do something illegal. That's just too awful for words. Police - and here I include the overzealous Denver cops as well - need to calm down. Not every protest is going to devolve into violence. Few do, in fact. No one wants another 1968 Chicago, but the chances of that actually happening are remote at best. We need to make the cops remember that their job in a protest is to stand by and jump in only if things get out of hand.

One last thing. Here's my reaction to the news that Sarah Palin's daughter is pregnant. Ready? Here goes...


Next issue.