Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Listen to Me: Rent "The Aristocrats"

My God - did George W. Bush just blaspheme OIL??? OMG!!! Kenny Lay just fell off his barstool. Easy there, Kenny Boy.

Did he just say "wood chips and switchgrass?" Is this the State of the Union or an S&M convention?

While I'm getting deep into this Maker's, allow me to recommend to you the DVD "The Aristocrats". I'm sure you've heard of it: a 90-minute documentary about a filthy, dirty, disgusting joke.

Prepare to feel violated. And to laugh really, really hard.

The real punchline is that the joke itself is not very funny. The compelling story is the sociological history and underpinnings to the telling of the joke itself. In all, a fascinating look into the closed world of comedy.

Big Ben Goes Crazy

As much as I hate the Steelers, I am a big fan of Ben Roethlisberger. But, Ben, be careful dude.

If you don't pace yourself, you could end up just like Kyle Orton.

Coco Crisp to Boston

Much has been said, and I will defer to Mark Shapiro's record in judging talent.

But I can't help but be concerned about what this trade does to the Tribe's lineup for the 2006 campaign. Yes, there is now a stud, Andy Marte, in the pipeline at third base for next year (or the year after). But what does Michaels do as an everyday outfielder? Will he replace Crisps's .300 (or better) in 2006?

And what of Rhode's absence from a premier bullpen? I liek Mota, but how fragile is he?

And, good Lord, but don't you hate to see Jimmy Thome in a White Sox uniform?

The Perjury of Alberto Gonzales

Why is no one fired up that the Attorney General of the United States committed perjury during his Senate confirmation hearings ('cept for me and Russ Feingold, of course):

During his hearings, Gonzales called warrantless wiretapping "a hypothetical situation".

Per the WaPo, "At the hearing, Feingold asked Gonzales where the president's authority ends and whether Gonzales believed the president could, for example, act in contravention of existing criminal laws and spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant. Gonzales said that it was impossible to answer such a hypothetical question but that it was "not the policy or the agenda of this president" to authorize actions that conflict with existing law. He added that he would hope to alert Congress if the president ever chose to authorize warrantless surveillance, according to a transcript of the hearing."

All of which Gonzales was well aware.

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Tonight's Official Rules

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm carbo-loading in preparation for a long night of tossing back long, deep swigs of Maker's Mark on the rocks.

The excuse, er, reason? Why, the State of the Union, of course. And, finally, the rules for playing have been codified!

To wit:

Every time he says.... ....# of Drinks

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 2 (+1 if he pronounces it correctly)

“(Prime Minister) (Ariel) Sharon” 1 shot of Manischewitz

"Jack Abramoff" one sip of the drink belonging to the person next to you

"fiscal discipline" laugh out loud, then drink

Fill em up, my friends!

Chewbacca Finally Gets Noticed

I always thought that Chewbacca got the rawest deal of all the characters from the original Star Wars Trilogy. He tended to be written out of the more dramatic scenes, he never did find a love interest, and, quite frankly, he was never given the best lines.

But, finally, now, it seems that he has found his voice.

All Democracy is Good - Redux

I won't rehash George Will's typically brilliant, contrarian take in today's Washington Post, except to copy a couple of quotes:

"The beginnings of reform and democracy in the Palestinian territories are now showing the power of freedom to break old patterns of violence and failure."
-- George W. Bush
State of the Union, 2005

"The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations."
-- Edmund Burke

Old Ed Burke was a good egg.

Google is Evil, and AOL Blasphemes!

The Fundies have got their undies all in a bunch over AOL's new "I AM" instant messaging marketing campaign. It seems that "I AM" is the direct English translation of Yawheh, the ancient name for God. Yes, those catechism classes are all coming back to me now.

These folks are very, very incensed at using God's name in a marketing campaign.

I'm sure they were also against Target, Wal-Mart, and other retailers using "Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" for their December sales promos.

Lord, I loves me some hypocrites!

A Big Hilll to Climb

Yikes!
Well, we have misunderestimated him before.

Martek Stock Surges

Too bad I sold all my shares last week.

Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop snorting kerosene.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Google Addendum

I must make note of this with respect to the previous post:

Google's mission statement is "Don't be Evil."

Sorry, Sergei. But your complicity with the Chinese censors has proven you, too, to be a liar.

Perhaps, one day, Chinese freedom fighters will chant, "Google is Evil."

These Clowns Sure Are Persistent

For anyone who might give the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt over warrantless eavesdropping by the NSA - after all, they are only listening in on people talking to bad people, right? - how about this:

THE FEDS RECENTLY ASKED FOR A WEEKS WORTH OF GOOGLE SEARCHES BY EVERYONE - EVERYONE!

And by that, I mean EVERYONE!

Was this front page news someplace? Sure wasn't in Baltimore, home of the supposedly liberal Sun.

Thankfully, Google refused the subpeona.

Did you search Google at all last week? Are you comfortable with the government sifting through any searches you may have made? How about seven weeks ago? Ten? How about all of them? Forever? Is this the type of government you want - that seeks to look at everything you are searching for on Google in the deepest, darkest 3am's of your life?

That is the kind of power this administration seeks. And that's why they scare me. They should scare more people.

T-Shirt of the Day

This big ol' boy was walking toward me on the concourse of the Cincy airport. His shirt was white with black print, and it read, "Mess with Me, Mess with my Trailer Park".

I don't doubt it.

Ah, lovely Cincinnati.

Mike DeWine Was Ahead of His Time

Did anyone notice that the junior Senator from Ohio, nearly four years ago, proposed legislation loosening the rules in the 1978 FISA act? In sum, his revision would
"...amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to modify the
standard of proof for issuance of orders regarding non-United States persons
from probable cause to reasonable suspicion ..."
From probable cause to reasonable suspicion? That sounds like a nice, reasonable, LEGAL way to give our government the tools to keep us safe, no? I think little Mikey had a pretty good idea there.

Hmmm, so, why did the Bush administration respond thusly?:
"This [Patriot Act] modification has allowed us to make full and effective use
of FISA's pre-existing emergency provisions to ensure that the government acts
swiftly to respond to terrorist threats."
Bottom line: We don't need this! The current law is cool! We can live with it! Besides, we ARE the law!

Hmmph, well.

These people are either (you choose): Congenital Liars or Unrepentant Psychopaths.

I report, you decide.

Democracy is on the Move in Iraq

The Senate SOTC Hearings Are a Waste of Time

Let us put aside for a moment the fact that the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee acquitted themselves embarrassingly last week. Ted the Swimmer did nothing more than confirm expectations that he would be little more than a bloviating pile of gelatinous lard. But the others went above and beyond my expectations of self-important self-aggrandizement and idiocy.

Hey - Joe Biden? Shut your lousy pie-hole already!

Pat Leahy? You are nothing more than a helium-filled wrinkled old garment bag. Go home and eat some cheese or something. Please - choke on half a wheel of aged white cheddar. And keep your gassy old trap shut.

But what has really ticked me off is the fact that the Senate is now in the process of wasting a full week of time “debating” the Alito nomination. This guy deserves to be confirmed. He is capable and competent (unlike so many that this same Senate has deigned to confirm with little or no debate). There is no “debate” about that. I may not love the guy or his stands on specific issues or where I think he might move the Court, but the President has the right to name him, and there is no good reason to not confirm him.

(I am especially fired up by those who worry he will “move the court to the right”. Huh? Of course he will, you jackasses. He was named by a – supposedly - conservative president. He has a long track record of leaning to the right. You want to get folks on the court to move it in the other direction? I have an idea - win a few freaking elections.)

And HE WILL be confirmed. Everyone knows that. It is inevitable. And yet, still, the Democrats will waste a full week of the Senate’s time to blast their big words and little ideas out into the ether. One full week wasted and not working on The People’s Business.

I don’t care how crooked, incompetent, unethical, immoral, and simply buggy the Republicans get. As long as they get to run against these bumbeciles, they will win.

I Am Easily Amazed

The General Public (henceforth, the GP) continually amazes me. I am again on the road today, this time a one-dayer to Cincinnati and back. Hauling down I-95 again this morning (7 am this time – I got to sleep in! Yay!), a woman to the right of me rolls her window partway down to throw out a napkin.

Huh?

What kind of moron just throws their crap out the window, to blow around among the flotsam and jetsam of the highway? I hope this woman has no children, as she is clearly unfit to be a mother. I glared at her as I passed. I’m sure she had no idea why. To her, I was just some jerk in a silver Volvo.

Then there was the woman next to me in line at the tunnel, obliviously puffing away on her cancer sticks, windows rolled up tight. I’m sure that the three (three!) tikes strapped into car seats in the back were enjoying their daily commute of carbon monoxide, atomized tar, and sundry other carcinogens. Who wants to bet that they show up at preschool every morning smelling like they just stumbled out of a bar? Or that they’ll all be unrepentant puffers before they can legally drive?

And how about the clown in front of me going through security at BWI? (Note: two days in the security line – two clowns about whom to blog! Truly – traveling provides one with countless fun bogging opportunities!) Here we are, 2006, nearly five (FIVE!) years after 9/11 and all the air travel changes that wrought. And yet, this clown waits until it is his turn to walk through the detector before he decides to check and empty his pockets (pants, shirt, coat) of any and all things metallic.

Buddy – we’ve been standing in this line for 10 minutes, staring at a dozen signs telling us (via cute little cartoon images, so don’t use your illiteracy as an excuse, you dolt) what to do to MAKE THIS LINE MOVE FASTER.) And you wait until now?

You are a clown. And your penance shall be to go forth and FLY NO MORE!

Democracy Is Good – Even When the Bad Guys Win

The blogosphere is rampant with pontificating on what happens when the Bad Guys win. In Iraq, for example, the secular factions (“our” guys) were dealt an overwhelming defeat in December’s elections. The more Islamic fundamentalist, Iran-aligned groups took big majorities, portending a future Iraq ruled as a Sharia-inspired democratic theocracy. Most likely, that wasn’t what the Neocons intended pre-invasion.

And now we have Hamas. They shocked even themselves by winning a large majority in yesterday’s Palestinian elections. The vote was a clear repudiation of the cronyism, corruption, and incompetence of the Palestinian Authority of the last many years (hmm….sounds like the modern-day Republican party). Clearly, the Palestinian people understand the fundamentals of representative democracy: they voted with their feet. Again, when President Bush speaks of the spread of democracy, “freedom on the march”, I’m not so sure a Hamas win was what he had in mind.

So, then, is democracy bad when the Bad Guys win? Many Bush-haters have argued as much, using these examples as a club with which to bludgeon the administration’s foreign policy.

But I will have nothing of it. While I do take some pleasure in watching the Bushies squirm a bit in the face of these results, I argue strenuously that all such representative democracy is a good thing – no matter who wins.

Why? Because, now, the winners are accountable. The must figure out how to make it work.

The winning Iraqi factions must figure out how to bring stability to that wreck of a country – not through an increased foreign occupying force, but internally – both through strengthened home-grown security forces and the underestimated power of political persuasion. No longer will they have the excuse that “the Americans are screwing this up.” It’s theirs. They own it. They own fixing it (which actually is kind of convenient, since we were the ones who broke it. Perhaps Colin Powell’s “Pottery Barn Doctrine” doesn’t really apply). And, as politicians, they realize that if they don’t, they will face an angry and disappointed constituency the next time around.

The same with Hamas. They are today a terrorist organization. But will they be in three or five years? Not if they, too, wish to remain in the political majority. A legislature – whether in Columbus or Annapolis or the West Bank or Baghdad - is, above all, held accountable for making the trains run on time. That’s hard to do if your party – or folks aligned with your party – is perceived to be blowing up said trains. The accountability of representative democracy will force Hamas to abandon their violent ways and adopt more traditional democratic tactics – doling out favors, positions, funds, and getting things done (calling Jack Abramoff!). They will be held accountable by the Palestinian voters for a secure and stable society. They will have to actually govern.

And the political market forces may just help to turn them from Bad Guys to Good.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Kris Benson to the Orioles

But even more important than that - his wife is coming with him:

She's a charmer too. You should read what the National Organization of Women has to say about her.

I'm sure her parents are very, very proud.

Editorializing in the Security Line

So I'm minding my own bidness, standing in security, at about 4:30 this AM (damn, it makes my head hurt to even recall it - seems like, oh, about 16 hours ago). In front of me, Billy Joe Jim Bob is clearly disgusted with the whole process - the line, the nice Pakistani lady checking boarding passes and IDs, the TSA lackeys in their winter uniform maroon sweaters, with the dark blue epaulets (quite dashing).

He makes sure we all know just how disgusted he is, as he mutters on, intending us all to hear: "Gawdamn terrorists guarding this place...wonder they haven't hit us again...f-ing lines...stupid whatever and whatever..."

Even in the haze of a ridiculously early morning, this dude reminded me of that great old joke:

What do assholes and opinions have in common?

Everyone's got one.

Who the Hell is on the Road at 4 AM?

Besides me, that is.

I mean, at least I had an excuse - a 5:50 AM flight from BWI down to Charlotte for a few days work. What were all those other ya-hoos down at such an ungodly hour barreling south down I-95?

Yikes, but 4 AM is dark.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Tapping the, umm, Wire

The Rude Pundit has a, uhm, well, uh, typically rude take on the whole NSA kerfuffle.

Rude, yes, and guffaw-generating.

Adults only, Puh-Leeze!

Interesting Waste of Two Minutes

Another Perspective on The Big 3 Automakers

These Religious Types Give Me the Willies

Now, I'm a pretty religious guy myself, and no fan of abortion.

But when I hear a fellow Christian spouting off like this, "It has been told by the prophets in the land that there is a president coming out of Texas, a Burning Bush,' (the Rev. James) Nesbit prayed (at this week's March for Life in D.C.). 'He will deal with abortion in the land. We ask you to give him an executive order and mantle him and give him a mandate with the fear of the Lord."....

...well, it just gives me the willies. Seriously - this guy claiming that God is somehow annointing political figures here on earth is not so far removed from the Iranian mullahs claiming that the Lord looks with favor upon those who kill the wicked infidels.

Disney to Buy Pixar?

I'm well into James Stewart's fascinating review the Disney Corporation through the Eisner years, Disney War. In fact, I'm just at the point where the relationship between Eisner and Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Pixar, is totally breaking down. In fact, Jobs ended up personally loathing Eisner, stating that he wouldn't sign another contract with Disney as long as Eisner was CEO.

Which makes today's news (Disney is close to buying Pixar) kinda interesting - to me, at least.

Of course, Eisner is gone. His replacement, Bob Iger (who doesn't come off entirely well in the book, though better than his boss) tried to keep their relationship together from day one. So I guess it's no surprise that Jobs would do a deal with him.

What did surprise me is that the deal would put Jobs on the Disney board. If anyone fares the worst in the book, it would have to be the Disney Board. They were weak, vacillating, totally cowed by Eisner's threats, and unmoved to act in the face of year upon year of missed targets and poor results by the company's leadership. The Board seemed a cozy, steady-as-she goes group of non-boat rockers.

(Of course, most of that board is gone, aside from Gary Wilson, who I'm sure doens't trade Valentine's cards with Mr. Stewart, the author, and George Mitchell, who comes across as the new guy hoping to be all buddy-buddy with everyone - demeaning himself in the process.)

Mr. Jobs' in-your-face, nontraditional, break-it-if-it-ain't broke ethic will be interesting to observe.

Terps Lose McCray for the Season

Ugh. What a moron.

Nice to see that his mom took such an interest in how he was doing in his classes. Or, not.

NIT, here we come!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Supreme Court Rejects Blackberry Appeal

AAArrrggghhhh!!

Noooooooooooooooooooo........................

The Media Machinations of Bode Miller

Per Howard Kurtz (and others), the recent media infatuation with Bode Miller is an example of how much the press loves a controversy-generating bad boy.

Actually, I see it more as an example of how the press uses someone to generate a controversy, build it up, and then exploit it to sell more copies.

In this case, they took Miller's comment about skiing drunk (he had been parting all night after winning the world championship) and turned it into the entire story: "Hey - this Olympian skiis wasted! What kind of message does that send? Yadda yadda yadda."

A single, lighthearted, offhand comment. A single story. A single instance. They way the media has been playing it, you'd think this guy throws back a fifth of gin at the top of every run.

The press loves a controversy. They over-cover it to build it up and attract more eyeballs. And this is simply another such case.

Ford's Latest Restructuring

Another significant sign of the decline of the modern industrial welfare state.

This also struck me as interesting:

Ford said Monday it would no longer provide earnings guidance beginning in
2006. "We must be guided by our long-term goals of building our brands,
satisfying customers, developing strong products, accelerating innovation, and,
most importantly, producing a sustainable profit from our automotive business,"
the CEO said.

Allow me to translate the corporatese into plain English:


"Long term goals of building our brands" = Don't expect us to make any money for the foreseeable future.

Indians to Deal Coco Crisp to Boston?

The Pee Dee has the latest on the impending trade with the BoSox. While it would hurt to lose perhaps the great baseball name in Cleveland history (seriously - give me a better name that Coco Crisp), I've got to give Shaprio the benefit of the doubt. If he says that this Marte kid is one of the best 10 prospects in all of baseball, I'll believe him.

I am concerned what this does in the short term, though. Clearly, the resukt will be a net loss in offensive pop for the 2006 season. That sure won't help us catch Chicago.

Best Buy Will Rule the World

And here's why: I went in to buy a simple USB cable (for a new HP printer - which didn't come with its own cable - which I didn't realize until I was in the middle of hooking up the damn thing - which I think sucks, on HP's part) for 25 or 30 buckets, and I walked out half an hour later after dropping about 120 bucks.

The USB cable was $30. Then there was that stack-out of TurboTax (which I needed anyway) for $40. Plus a new mouse pad. And then there was that new game for the new super-fast PC.

Suddenly, $100 was gone - just like that.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Ted Kennedy Has a Bad Week

First, his love child rises to the top of the froth. What's cool is that he has his own myspace site, just like all the crazy kids these days. Frankly, I think he looks a lot like his uncle, aside from the pieces of foreheard scattered around Dealey Plaza, no?

Second, it looks like Uncle Teddy is finally getting into the publishing biz. Like all my creative writing teachers preached from day one: write what you know:

Cheers! I'm gonna freshen up my Makers Mark on the rocks right now....

Dow Plunges More Than 200 Points!

Thank God I sold all my GE and Citi last week!

Still, it looks like I picked the wrong week to stop drinking whiskey.

The Cleveland Brown's Defensive Line...

...is going to the AFC Championship Game!! Woohoo!!!

Well, uhm, the line of 2004, last year. The line that, well, sucked, as we all said. And rationalized. And explained away.

Of course, this year, they are playing for the Broncos. I remember when they signed nearly the whole lot of them last year, and their coach, too, and I laughed at their idiocy. Remember - they were, what, the third worst defensive line last year? They who gave up so many rushing yards each game (didn't Jamal Lewis send them each a TAG watch for Christmas?) Clearly, Shanahan was making a huge mistake. Hmmm.

But, now, they are playing for a trip to the Super Bowl.

Maybe it is time we stop blaming a poor line? Especially when that line turns out to be nearly good enough to play in the Super Bowl.

Terry Pluto is the Greatest Sports Columnist in the World

When you read through Bob Ryan's column, below, you get a pretty strong sense of how he, among others in the business, views Terry Pluto: he is among The Best.

For those of you outside of NE Ohio, Terry is a longtime sports columnist for the Akron-Beacon Journal, one of the great smaller papers of our day.

Simply put, Terry is one of the finest local sports columnists writing in this country today. He has contacts and connections that rival anyone.

More than anything, he has a moral compass second to no one. His work never takes shots, never degrades, never takes the easy road to making a point. He is a classy, simple, and brilliant writer.

Simple is his essence - and not in that way that "simple" can be denigrating - but rather that he can capture a feeling, a scene, a presence, in a few, everyday, conversational words. He does not write with a flowery flourish, like the Damon Runyons of our day. He does not try to make every other sentence an ironic observation, like Bud Shaw. He does not try to turn baseball into brain surgery, like Gammons was wont today in his last free days.

No. Terry just writes. He writes like you and I talk. He writes of conversations that you and I could have but are not privy to, though in a way that makes us feel as if we are. He writes as we might, if we were there, and if we could.

But we can't, as he can. And that is why you should read him. And sign up for his weekly newsletter. It will be the most insightful thing you recieve in your inbox each week.

Albert Belle and the Hall of Fame

Bob Ryan, at the Boston Globe, had a great column on Albert recently, his statistics, his career, and his chances for the the Hall. It's a great look at the balance between the career and the person.

The Big Question: can the Career overcome The Person?

In Albert's case, I've long argued that no, it can't. He was brilliant, but not for long enough. Another two or three huge years , then, yes, he'd be on the bubble, if not in. Another five? A definite.

Look - I followed his career from his first suspensions at AAA Colorado Springs (and who out there can tell me how long it's been since the Tribe has had a farm team in Colorado Springs?). I remember watching his crazy strong stroke first make its way to the end of the E 9th St Pier, down at the old Municipal Stadium. All those games he could dominate and suddenly take over once the Jake rose brilliantly above those slum parking lots. In 1995, was there a better ball player in the world than Albert Belle, when it came down to simply hitting a baseball in order to win a game?

There was no better, not in my life, not in what I've seen with my own two eyes.

But the Hall of Fame? No. My own personal Hall of Fame of Guys I've Seen Play Myself, yes, definitely, yes. But Cooperstown, no. Sadly, no, for I have always been a fan of Albert Belle, the Ballplayer.

His productive period didn't last long enough, especially when you take into account how many voters he totally alienated. His body of work, though great, wasn't great enough to obviate the personal offenses.

Tonite's Menu - Very Beefy!

So tonight was our night to host the monthly dinner party. We had expected a wintry Friday eve, not tonight's sultry and 60 degree weather, so the menu had called for a classic pot roast with rich gravy, over noodles. We stuck with it, fine weather be damned.

The beef was seared early this morning, on all sides. Onions and celery and carrots were carmelized. All then was thrown into the Crock-pot, along with some nice Cab, a twig or three of rosemary (still lush in my garden), enough garlic to choke an armadillo, a handful of peppercorns, a can of beef broth (seriously - who makes their own broth? hello? hello?), and a half stick of butter (most forget that last one).

Let me be the first to say that the CrockPot can be used to produce many awful, awful dishes. But this is not one of them. There is no cream of mushroom soup here, no sour cream, no cream cheese. This, my friends, is a beautiful winter dish. And a long, slow heat helps make it.

The Pot is set on low and cooks all day. I arrive home after a couple or three happy hour beers with the buds, and the place smells like yummy. Mmmm. I steam some broccoli, toss it with olive oil and another five pounds of garlic for a side. The noodles are boiled to just south of al dente.

The guests arrive. The corks fly, the many martinis are made very, very dirty. The roast splits with a fork, simply melts apart, is spooned into bowls with a gorgeous sauce, over buttery noodles.

Yum. Welcome, Winter, in all your 60 degree splendiferous glory.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Statistics, Damn Statistics, and Lies - Again

Robert Sameulsen has some fascinating tidbits from the newest edition of Historical Statistics of the United States.

What really struck me was how much, in many cases, the conventional wisdom is simply wrong in the face of the facts (Steve Levitt's terrific Freakonomics does much the same thing, in highly readable fashion).

To wit:

The CW states that urban sprawl is rapidly laying waste to our farms and to the forests and countrysides that surround us.
The Reality is that, from 1945 to 1997, the amount of croplands and forests has actually increased; urban areas today account for less than 3 percent of our total acreage

The CW states that we are an increasingly secular culture, turning our backs on organized religion
The Reality is that, in 1984 60% of all Americans belonged to an organized church. Compare that to 34% in 1890. Of course, it is down slightly from 64% in 1970, but the authors believe the 1994 number is understated by the growing movement of store-front evangelical churches, most likely missed in the study.

The lesson here: don't trust the CW unless they come bearing facts.

Better Tap Bob Ney's Phones - Quick!

Did you realize that Bobby Bribe was fluent in Farsi? (I'm a sucker for alliteration.)

What a renaissance man!

Someone - alert the NSA! Who knows who he's talking to on the other end?!

How is the Congress Just Like Rick's Cafe?

This whole Jack Abhramoff kerfuffle reminds me of that great scene in Casablanca: "I'm shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"

All those formerly feed-bagged Congressman now stepping gingerly away from the trough - all the while commenting on what a despicable - DISPICABLE! - trough it is!

Much the same, no?

Roberts Court Upholds Oregon Suicide Law

Some much for dreams of a Conservative court.

Of course, it all depends on what your definition of "conservative" really is.

If your definition includes abrogating states rights and imposing a theocratic rule of law, well, then I've got to imagine you're pretty disappointed.

If, however, conservatism to you means allowing the states self-determination and keeping the federal bureaucracy's nose out of extremely personal, private affairs, then this must at least give you some hope for the future.

Selling Panic Closes Tokyo Stock Exchange

YIKES!

Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Apparently, I Am a Widely Regarded Expert

This gave me a chuckle.

Google "AJ Hawk's Girlfriend". The boys in Mountain View have ordained yours truly as the primo expert on the topic. Shows what one offhand comment made during the Fiesta Bowl halftime can get do for a guy.

I am easily amused.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Big Government as the Root Cause of the Abramoff Scandals

Many, including Professor Bainbridge, have ridiculously argued that "Big Government is the root cause of the Jack Abramoff influence peddling scandal."

Uhm, but, no. Big Government is not the root cause. If the Federal government were half the size, such a scandal still would occur. Of course it would. It's not about the size of government.

It's about power, and who holds it. And who wants to keep on holding it.

The Republicans have held it all since 2000, and they have gone above and beyond to hold it. That, my friends, is the root cause - the desire to hold and grow power.

The same thing happened to the Democrats when their Congressional hegemony came crashing down in the early Nineties, and Dan Rostenkowski and Cleveland's own Mary Rose Oakar and all the rest were swept out (of course, many of them did nothing more than take advantage of the Congressional mailing program - they stole a lot of stamps, in effect).

Here's the root cause, my friends: concentrated Government, as in, when one party controls it all. When the Dems had it all, they did bad things in order to keep it. When the Repubs have had it all? They are doing bad things in order to keep it.

Let me now praise the virtues of divided government. The years under Clinton gave us many great advancements: welfare reform, fiscal discipline and a balanced budget, a tremendous growth in military spending. Would a Democratic President have done all these without the contrary influence of a Republican Congress? Of course not.

An opposing legislature forces the executive to bend, to compromise across the aisle, to work to get a deal done, to move to the center, to avoid overreaching.

When we have a divided government, good things happen. Or, at least, bad things are prevented from happening. Centrism is forced upon both parties. That is why I will not align myself with either party. In Maryland, we need more Republicans as a check against the historic Democratic majority. (In fact, this latest Wal-Mart health care travesty has completely convinced me of this necessity.) At the Federal level, we need more Democrats in Congress to counterbalance an executive gone wild with power-hunger.

Clinton was made a better President by a Republican Congress. A Democratic Congress would have done the same for President Bush.

Sadly, it is too late.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Wal-Mart Should Run the Medicare Drug Plan

I didn't realize that the Republicans were so infatuated with Government-funded job creation programs.

But they just expanded the Medicare drug program call center. It was 150 folks. It's now 4,500 folks. That is a, hmm, I don't know, a 10x or more increase?

Yikes! Maybe they all live in Ted Stevens' district.

And I guess this is what they mean about "states rights":

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered an emergency plan Thursday
allowing the state to pay for the drugs for the next two weeks. The state
will temporarily supply seniors and the disabled with "lifesaving medications
they are in danger of losing because of significant problems with the new
federal Medicare prescription drug program," Schwarzenegger said in a
statement.

DNA Proves VA Execution Not Innocent

You have to give credit to outgoing VA Gov Mark Warner. Here is a guy positioning himself to run for President in 2008, a Democrat, pro-death penalty, from a strongly Red state.

And, yet, he pushed to test the DNA of a guy executed in 1992.

Why? He wanted to make sure that the truth was known.

After all, isn't our justice system about finding the truth? Even after the fact?

What had he to earn from this exercise? The way the results turned out, the topic will fade from the headlines. Had it turned the other way, he would be in the difficult position of arguing for the death penalty when the facts showed that his state had, in fact, executed an innocent man.

Thank God it didn't turn out that way.

I am fundamentally opposed to the death penalty based upon moral and religious beliefs (as I tell my pro-life, pro-death penalty, Fundie friends, "You don't get to choose which life to be pro about." That shuts them up pretty quick.)

Which only increases the respect I have for a pro-death penalty guy who seeks to find the truth. Gov. Warner is one Democrat I'll keep my eyes on.

Iraqi Palaces Looted After Handover

Hmmmmmmmmmmm. So how about those nice Palaces in Tikrit?

Either:

1. We haven't learned a freaking thing since we broke up the place and took it over, or

2. The bumbeciles we are training to take over are, uhm, incompetent bumbeciles.

We report. You decide.

The Junkies Are Back in Baltimore!

Sorry, but this is a local thing. All you loyal Ohio readers (both of you) can feel free to move along if you like.

Now that Howard has ascended to satellite, the Junkies have returned to Baltimore. Yee-ha!

This has been a good week. I think Lurch has been getting more sleep than usual, since he has been in great form. I loved the discussion of hot babysitters (yikes!) earlier, and the talk about taking care of the kids' fish had me rolling this morning.

Now, I find myself spinning between NPR and HFS during my morning commute. So, call me eclectic.

Welcome back, Junks. We missed ye'.

NASA's Stardust About to Meet Earth

In amongst all the foolish stuff we debate, this is about to
happen
:

NASA's Stardust mission return capsule will land Sunday, Jan. 15, at
approximately 2:12 a.m. Pacific time (3:12 a.m. Mountain time) on the Utah
Test
and Training Range. Stardust is completing a 2.88 billion mile
round-trip
odyssey to capture and return cometary and interstellar dust
particles to Earth.

What is cooler than that? I know I'm a nerd and all but, frankly, shit
like this makes me pretty proud of this nation and what it can
accomplish

Here's to the dirt!

Maryland Passes the Wal-Mart Health Care Bill - Millions Die!

I had hoped to comment on this earlier, but the idiot Democrat bastards in the Maryland Statehouse went and overturned the Governor's veto of this law yesterday - before I had a chance to get to it.

(An aside - the MD Assembly meets for only 90 days each year, a refreshing little term, from mid-January to mid-March, and then they are done. Done. No more annoying, unnecessary laws. No more petulant politicking. No more hubris and ego and starched-shirts. It's kinda old fashioned and nice.)

First off, I personally don't care for Wal-Mart. I don't like to shop there. I much prefer the Target experience for my everyday sundries and fertilizer and clear Christmas lights and jump drives and bird food and stuff.

But that doesn't entitle the state government to legislate the level of benefits a corporation must provide to its employees. And that's what this law does.

Essentially, it requires all corporations employing more than 10,000 to provide at least 8% of their payroll expense in the form of health care benefits.

Of course, Wal-Mart is the only business in the state to meet that requirement.

The local papers and talk radio shows have been filled with folks venting their spleen over how Wal-Mart, a gazillion-dollar corporation, fails its employees. Of course, who roots for Wal-Mart, the killer of mom-and-pops, the defiler of environments, the exporter of jobs, the exploiter of workers?

So what motivated these Maryland lawmakers? Idealism? A sincere hope to stick it the greedy Man? A desire to help those who are underinsured? A chance to strike at big bad corporate America? Actually, none of the above.

Here's what motivated them: Giant Foods, Superfresh Groceries, and Safeway. Yup. Wal-Mart's competitors. Other big corporations. Multi-billion dollar, actually. Apparently, they figured they couldn't compete without the Statehouse taking a billyclub to a potential competitor's kneecaps. Nice.

This is a case of Democratic lawmakers finding corporate benefactors to help them hide their true disdain for a large, successful corporation. And win more contributions for the future.

And that truly is Wal-Mart's biggest sin: they have been successful. They are big, they sell billions of dollars of stuff, they make a lot of money. Surely, thet must be able to spend more for health benefits.

Huh? Wal-Mart's margins are just slightly higher than those of other mass merchants, most likely in the mid-single digits. They are judged by their shareholders on raising that number every quarter (which they haven't been so good at doing, lately). So when I hear folks talk about spending "excess profits" on health care, I realize I am listening to someone who has no idea what they're talking about.

Not only that, but they do provide health care benefits, well in excess of most other mass retailers (Target, Kohls, etc). In fact, an employee can get health coverage for as little as $11 a month. Does your employer offer a deal that good? Does anyone? Perhaps Wal-Mart should take over Medicare, eh?

But, of course, they don't subsidize health care to the levels commensurate with the local legacy grocers. Of course, they are all unionized. Their employees earn well more than the market can truly bear, and they have more generous health coverage than you and I.

Of course, they have to charge more for their stuff, too. Veggies, steaks, skinless chicken breasts, cans of Progresso, Gala apples, Paul Newman's Light Caesar dressing, honey ham - more, it all costs more.

Therein lies the rub: force increased costs upon Wal-Mart, so that I can then compete with them.

In essence, lower the bar for us all.

Sorry, but that won't cut it. That is antithetical to all that I know and understand about markets and human nature (at my tender age, at least). The market doesn't work that way. People don't behave that way.

From now on, I will avoid Giant, I will vote against those who voted to override this veto, I will vote for this Republican Governor (if only to help maintain a divided government in this very, very Blue state), and I will shop at Wal-Mart....uh, no...actually, I won't. I hate Wal-Mart. They suck. What they sell sucks. Their stores suck. In general, Wal-Mart sucks. I'll avoid them.

So I'll still shop at Target. I hope you will too.

Earthquake Strikes Cleveland!

Yikes! Centered off the coast of Mentor, it hit 2.3 on the Richter scale. Don't worry, I called my folks, and they're okay.

It reminds of the last "big one" to hit NE Ohio. I was a junior or senior in high school, so this was around 1989 or so. It was either a Saturday or a winter school Monday holiday (Presidents' or MLK day) because I was getting dressed for a day of skiing (Boston Mills was my training ground back then - yee-haw!).

I was in my bedroom struggling into my LL Bean silk long johns when I noticed the TV on my dresser begin to dance about. A low rumble purred through the air. For five seconds, or ten, or two, the walls danced over so slightly back and forth, my mirror rocked, the shelves clattered a bit.

Then, silence. I called through the house: "What the heck was that?"

Turns out it was a 3.4.

Hell, 2.3 ain't nothing. Call me when you got more than that.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

"Am I in Heaven?"

Hajj Stampede Kills Hundreds

Good Lord, don't these people know how to wait in line to use the Porta-John? It seems like, every time a big group of them decides to pilgrimmage someplace, folks end up dying.

That's a sign of a pretty screwy religion, you ask me.

Then again, they were commemorating an ancient stoning ritual. Pretty appropriate then, no?

I'd take a stampede over a stoning any day.

Is There Such a Thing as a Fictional Memoir?

Yes, I know that everyone and their dog has already commented on The Smoking Gun's revelation that James Frey's memoir of drug- and booze-addled craziness and Criminality is, in large part, a work of fiction. But this dude claims to have run rampant over some of my old stomping grounds, so I figured I'd take my pass at it too.

A Million Little Pieces had been on my "to read" list (just after I finish James Stewart's fascinating Disney War, and Doris Goodwin's latest Lincoln epic).

But, no more. What had made it seem a compelling read (at least from the reviews I saw) was the fact that it was true - that this guy really did sink to such depths. When reality is better than stuff you can make up, that's a good read.

But, apparently, anyone CAN make this stuff up.

The novelist told Oprah, ""If I was gonna write a book that was true, and I was gonna write a book that was honest, then I was gonna have to write about myself in very, very negative ways."

Hmmm. Maybe, not so much.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

NSA Spies on Baltimore Peace Group

And they expect us to trust them to act without judicial review?

Maybe they had intelligence showing that their picnic balloons were inflated with Sarin?

Uh oh - it looks like they're back to using those black highlighters again.

Pat Robertson Pisses Off the Israelis

How to Make These Alito Hearings Bearable

Since I'm always looking for another excuse to drink, how about the Samuel Alito Drinking Game?

While watching the hearings on CSpan, if someone says stare decisis? Take a drink!

Someone says, subpoena? Take a drink!

Someone refers to Brown v. Board of Education? Two drinks! Huzzah!

Oh course, this entails drinking throughout the afternoon. Ah, well. What the hell.

Complete rules available at Wonkette.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Boehner for Majority Leader

If the GOP is interested in returning to the true principles of Conservatism, they will elect John Boehner as their Leader, to replace the icky Bugman DeLay.

Not only is he a Buckeye, but, "...in 15 years in the House, Boehner has never put an earmark in an appropriations or transportation bill."

Huzzah!

Marcus Vick - Idiot of the Week

Apparently, Marcus Vick is following the Mo Clarrett formula for success in football.

What GM is going to take a flyer on this guy?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Power Corrupts

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Civics 101 and the Rule of Law

While I tend to lean Libertarian, I am by no means an ACLU-enamored civil libertarian absolutist (though I do believe that the existence of the ACLU and their ilk are good and necessary to help question, prod, and generally harrass the other side of the extremist tendencies in our culture).

On this whole question of domestic (civilian, even) spying, eavesdropping, wiretapping, letter reading, window peeping: I am not necessarily saying that it is wrong, evil, and should never be done.

I am saying, however, that it must be done within (to quote Bob Barr and all our other illustrious impeachment-niks of the 1990s) THE RULE OF LAW. Ah, what lovely words. Didn't the GOP used to believe in them? (Actually, to Barr's credit at least, he's stayed consistent on this. Bully for him.)

Allow me to quote from my sixth grade social studies textbook: "The Congress, or Legislative Branch, has the authority for writing laws. While the President has the opporunity to either sign or veto all proposed legislation, it is the Congress's responsibility to write the laws of the land."

There you have. Even a sixth grader can understand that. Nowhere is it written that the President may pick and choose which laws to follow or ignore. Except maybe in his own diary.

If this administration doesn't like the FISA law or thinks it's out of date or too slow or cumbersome to meet the needs of our current era, then he needs to work with the Congress (which, news flash, his party controls) on new legislation to fix that.

It's that simple. Anything else, like, oh, ignoring laws currently on the books is called, well, breaking the law.

This lesson is now over.

Let's Think This Through Logically...

The administration is arguing that its ability to conduct warrantless surevillance of known terrorists has prevented additional terrorist attacks - and could have prevented 9-11.

Well, that's a good thing, isn't it?

Of course, the occasional non-terrorist may get swept up in the net, but if it helps to protect us, then we need to be willing to take that risk. Right? Those are the sacrifices we must make in order to protect - guarantee, even - our security.

After all, if you're not doing anything wrong, then why worry about someone listening in or looking at your stuff? You have nothing to worry about. Right?

So, if wiretapping phone calls helps protect us, why not also read their emails and open their snail mail? I'm sure that also could have helped to prevent 9-11.

Now, there must be some folks out there who are scheming to do some pretty bad things - and the government probably doesn't know a thing about them. Wouldn't it be helpful if the NSA - or CIA or Office of the Vice President - could also listen in on their phone calls, read their emails, and potentially learn about what evil they may be plotting? Shouldn't we do everything in our power to identify and catch as-yet-unknown evildoers?

There are some pretty powerful data mining technologies out there that could enable the government to "scan through" mountains and mountains of all of our stuff - cell phone calls, personal and business email, private snail mail, what web sites you surf (yikes!). Why shouldn't the government, which is first and foremost charged with protecting national security, have free and easy access to all that stuff - in order to find the needle in the haystack? It could prevent future 9-11's, couldn't it?

After all, if you're innocent, you have nothing to be concerned about.

Right?

Cheney on Unauthorized Wiretaps

Yesterday at the Heritage Foundation, the VP continued to attempt to sell the warrantless NSA eavesdropping program to the American public. His overarching theme was that, with such wiretaps, we may have been able to prevent 9-11. Yikes!

Typically, his arguments were incomplete:

Cheney: Without the warrantless taps, ..."we didn't know they were here plotting until it was too late."

The complete story: Actually, we did know they were here, and we knew they were bad, and they were on lists saying the shouldn't be here. As the WaPo explains, "...the government had compiled significant information on the two suspects before the attacks and ... bureaucratic problems -- not a lack of information -- were primary reasons for the security breakdown, according to congressional investigators and the Sept. 11 commission."

Cheney: If the administration had the power "before 9/11, we might have been able to pick up on two of the hijackers who flew a jet into the Pentagon."

The complete story: Actually, we did have the power - just get the warrant. Or, through the FISA court, place the tap, then get the warrant. Again, the Post: "...the administration had the power to eavesdrop on their calls and e-mails, as long as it sought permission from a secret court that oversees clandestine surveillance in the United States."

Cheney: "This wartime measure is limited in scope to surveillance associated with terrorists," so just trust us.

The complete story: Unchecked executive and intelligence powers are a frightening thing and a dangerous precedent. As much as their sincere aim is to protect us and focus only on terrorists, mistakes will - and have - happened. Recall the example of Khaled al-Masri, a German citizen who was wrongly kidnapped by the CIA and spent several months in one of our prisons in Afghanistan.

According to a CIA source, the local CIA station chief “believed he was someone else”. The official added: “She didn’t really know. She just had a hunch.”

And we should trust these guys to operate without the checks and balances our Founders intended?

Sorry, Dick, but I don't.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Holy Shit!

You never know what you may find on Craigslist.

Yikes.

A Very Public Performance Review

It is annual performance review season, and Ravens head coach Brian Billick received his yesterday, in front of the public at a press conference. Owner Steve Bisciotti apparently likes to keep everything out in the open (take note, Randy Lerner).

Of course, an effective review highlights your successes: "We have a Super Bowl-winning coach here who never experienced anything but over-achievement from the very first time he stepped in here," said Bisciotti, with Billick seated to his right.

But you don't want to beat around the bush when it comes to the, uhm, development needs: "This is the first year that I think that Brian underachieved ... but this is not a trend."

Always following is the personal improvement plan: 'Look at the changes we need you to make and decide whether you'd like to change and stay here, or don't change and go somewhere else.'

Hm. Well. Good luck with that then.

Rumors of Buckeye Misbehavior

This had better be nothing more than your standard Deadspin rumor-mongering. After all, we have a National Championship to go after next season, my friends.

Anyone know anything about this foolishness?

They Didn't Lie About Iraqi Intelligence...

...but they also didn't tell us everything they knew.

From James Risen's new book, as excerpted in Time:
Risen devotes a chapter to Sawsan Alhaddad, an Iraqi American recruited by the
CIA as part of a "Hail Mary" prewar effort to gain intelligence on Saddam
Hussein's weapons program by tapping the relatives of Iraqi scientists. Alhaddad
was one of at least 30 Iraqi expatriates who risked their lives to travel to
Iraq to ask their relatives about Saddam's arsenal. According to Risen, all of
them reported that Iraq had abandoned its WMD program--but the CIA never
informed the White House.

That would have been nice to know, eh?

Wonkette, My Wonkette

Farewell, sweet Ana. We hardly knew ye.

Well, maybe this will at least mean fewer anal sex jokes.

We can only hope.

Why (Effective) Regulation Matters

One aspect of the WVa mining tragedy now being getting some play is, quite simply, how could a mine continue to operate when it had been flagged with so many safety violations?

Maybe that ain't so hard to do when the fox is guarding the henhouse.

Look - this isn't about simply throwing around the old brickbat that "Bush is responsible for the coal mine tragedy", "Bush is responsible for Katrina", "Bush is responsible for my dog throwing up all over the carpet last night".

This is about the culture of corruption, of largesse and privilege, of cronyism and incompetence that seems to have taken root. Yes, all administrations stack the bureaucracy with their buds. But it seems as if this one has taken to it with a real disdain for the good works of government itself, with a lack of desire to actually have the bureaucracy function.

And a growing sense of unease with the powers-that-be could easily build into a throw-the-bums-out crescendo just in time for this fall's elections.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Collins Out as Browns President?

It looks like this whole "is Savage getting fired?" craziness has been resolved in the best possible way. WTAM has reported that Collins is gone (perhaps kicked upstairs to Lerner's family trust holding company?).

Now Savage can really run the show.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Buckeyes Win!

All I can say is, Smith is the man.

And let us put our trust in Tressel.

AJ Hawk's Girlfriend - Enough Already!

Ok, please. Can we stop hearing about OSU lineback AJ Hawk dating the sister of the Notre Dame QB? She's hot and wears really cool sunglasses, but enough.

Did Brent Musberger just refer to AJ as "The Linebacker Who Came to Dinner?"

Ugh.

Fiesta Bowl 2006 - What We're Drinking

It appears I have neglected over these last several months to provide much commentary on the drinking arts.

So, tonight, let me share with you:

And, now, back to our game.

Fiesta Bowl - Halftime Thoughts

I figured OSU would outclass Notre Dame; I didn't expect this level of domination. Both lines are winning the battle at nearly every snap. The Buckeye's defense is suffocating a very, very good offense.

But what has been most spectacular is the way Troy Smith has truly led this offense. As I've said before, he is a quarterback unlike any Ohio State has had before. And, as Large Bill, among others, has earlier pontificated, you can't help but ask, what if? What if Smith hadn't been a knucklehead, lost a couple early games to get into form, then come in and led the entire Texas game? A Buckeye win? Rolled into Happy Valley, and won that game too?

Then, my friends, we would be waiting for the Rose Bowl, two days hence, and another shot at a National Championship.

But this is no time for what-ifs. Yes, there is a lot of football left to be played. But let's enjoy this. And let's give some early kudos to Jimmy Tressel and his team for another buttoned-up game plan.

OSU - Notre Dame Fiesta Bowl Preview

Actually, not so much a previous as a look back.

I lived in Columbus in the mid-90s, when the Buckeyes had a home and away series with Notre Dame. They hadn't played each other since, like, the mid-thirties or something ridiculous.

We had been tailgating since some gawdawful early hour that morning (as usual), and I needed to take a serious leak. So we ambled over to the Fawcett Center, where two large buses were parked outside the lobby. Inside the buses sat the surviving members of the last Notre Dame team to play the Buckeyes.

Fueled by, oh, about a dozen Natty Lights by that time, I climbed aboard the bus in front. Row after row of 80 or 90 year old dudes, all decked out in proper woolen fall caps and fedoras looked up at me. They each clutched a special "reclaiming the rivalry" pennant. What a sight!

"Welcome to Columbus!" I shouted. "God may smile on the Irish, but today is for the Buckeyes!"
That is why college football is the greatest of all our big time sports.

Go Bucks!
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