Friday, September 29, 2006

Republicans: The Party of Pedophilia

Rep. Mark A. Foley (R-Florida), just resigned. Apparently, Rep. Foley had been sending sexy emails to Congressional pages (read: male interns) who worked on the House floor. According to the NY Times (itself stealing from ABC News):

ABC News reported Friday that Foley also engaged in a series of sexually explicit instant messages with current and former teenage male pages. In one message, ABC said, Foley wrote to one page: ''Do I make you a little horny?''

"Do I make you a little horny?" Is he serious? What's former-Rep. Foley shooting for here -- a gay pedo-political Austin Powers? "Do I make you randy, Page -- do I? Yeah Pagey Yeah!"

Rep. Freak continues:

''he's such a nice guy,'' Foley wrote about the other boy. ''acts much older than his age...and hes in really great shape...i am just finished riding my bike on a 25 mile journey now heading to the gym...whats school like for you this year?''

C'mon Foley, focus -- are you trying to seduce him by claiming you went on a long bike ride? Mental image: pedophile in spandex. No good.

In other e-mails, Foley wrote, ''I am back in Florida now...its nice here...been raining sounds like you will have some fun over the next few old are you now?'' and ''how are you weathering the hurricane...are you safe...send me an email pic of you as well.''

At this point, I should stop to remind people that the former Rep. Foley was not, in fact, a twelve year old girl. "Its nice here...been raining today..." That's some deep shit. Of course, deep shit is exactly what Rep. Foley is in vis-a-vis America's prohibition on creepy child seduction.

Move this seat on over to the Dems. And ponder just how ridiculous our government has become.

Blogs I read

My girlfriend's father asked for a list of American political blogs. Here's what I read:

Rightish blogs -- "libertarian" law and politics blog run by Prof. Eugene Volokh at UCLA – probably my favorite blog -- international relations from former U. Chicago professor; I agree with Drezner often -- Andrew Sullivan's blog (former journalist for New Republic, now writes for Time magazine) – he's gay and Catholic, so it makes for interesting reading -- Law prof. Glenn Reynolds; probably the most popular blog in the US, for reasons not quite clear

Leftish blogs -- Jonah Marshall, also former New Republic journalist – very "DC insider" -- Considered the biggest blog on the left, its founder, Markos Moukalitas, is considered the new kingmaker in Democratic politics – even though he's yet to successfully crown a king -- The "instapundit" of the left; I actually don't read this very much because the layout is annoying -- Prof. Juan Cole, Middle Eastern affairs expert – smart guy, and he drives the right bananas, though he sometimes gets his facts wrong

Neutral/entertaining -- Makes fun of DC culture – "The Note" is the ultimate political junkie website; must-read for actual politicians and political operatives's "kausfiles" -- Mickey Kaus is probably the most annoying blogger of all time, but I can't stop reading his blog!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Pointless picture of the day

We have a new motto here at TPV: "Less heated political discourse, more pointless pictures of dogs in silly costumes." Stay tuned for regular updates.

This just in: Democrats still spineless

So Congress is about to pass President Bush's detainee bill, which prevents "enemy combatants" from being tried in a genuine court of law. Democrats have enough votes to filibuster, but they've decided against it, clearly because they don't want to be seen as soft on terrorism.

Pathetic. A sad day when a President with 40% approval can still ram his bullshit political agenda down the throats of Congress. Can we just blow up the Democratic Party and start over?

(On a less tragic note, check out "tinyurl," a free service that lets you shrink long url's into short, easy-to-read format, like I just did with the NY Times url above. In 1999, this company would be worth 17 billion.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Unfalsifiable beliefs about Iraq and Terror

Over on (yeah, I like his blog, so sue me), Drezner is getting attacked for claiming that, in light of the declassified NIE report, "there simply is no way to claim that the invasion of Iraq has made the United States more secure against terrorist attacks." So I posed this question in the comments: for those who dispute Drezner's claim, what evidence would you accept that would change your mind?

1. For those who say "Iraq is a long-term strategic move, so we cannot judge by the short-term results reported in the NIE," clearly *no* evidence will suffice to convince you the War in Iraq was a bad idea. We have to wait. Thus, you can happily *concede* that the invasion of Iraq has made the U.S. less secure in the short term against terrorist attacks, since you can wait for the "long run" -- that happy, far-off day when we bring peace, tranquility and the NFL to the people of the Middle East. Of course, in the long run, we will all be dead.

2. For those who say, "But we don't know how bad things would be if we had refrained from invading Iraq," there can be no debate with you. You are living in the ivory-colored world of the hypothetical, the Donald Rumsfeldian paradise of "unknowable unknowns." For you, the claim that the War in Iraq is helping the War on Terror is literally unfalsifiable.

3. For those who say "Ah, but we've preserved American interests by taking the fight overseas, because thus far we've prevented another attack in the U.S.," the question becomes one of bloody calculation. For you, the *potential* for another catastrophic terrorist attack on the American "homeland" dwarfs the $250 billion spent on the Iraq war, the tying down of the American military, and of course, the 3,000 dead American soldiers (and counting). Moreover, your argument critically depends on there never being another substantial terrorist attack on U.S. soil (unless, of course, you claim that there would have been more such attacks absent invasion of Iraq -- if so, join your friend above in the unknowable unknowns club, please.)

So how about it, folks who disagree? Which camp do you belong to?

The Enlightment suffers another blow

Stop me if this story sounds familiar. The Berlin Opera just cancelled one of its fall programs because its director is afraid of unruly Muslims. Apparently, the fall showing of Mozart's "Idomoneo" included a scene where someone carries the severed heads of Mohammed, Jesus, Buddha and Poseidon.

(Before we get to the political commentary, two thoughts: (1) Doesn't this lineup of severed heads make you 5000% more interested in attending this opera? and (2) How did "Poseidon" sneak into that lineup of religious heavyweights? What, Zeus and Odin weren't available? Moving on.)

Back to Berlin. Here's what irritates me, beyond the blatant capitualition of Western values to absurd religious extremism -- there wasn't any real threat to the opera at all! According to the International Herald Tribune:

This past summer, the Berlin police said they received a call from an unidentified person, who warned that the opera was "damaging to religious feelings." The caller did not make a specific threat against the opera.

"All this came in light of the cartoon controversy," said a police spokesman, Uwe Kozelnik. "We started to investigate, and finally concluded that disturbances could not be ruled out."

Wait, so all I have to do is call an opera and complain about damage to my religious feelings, and I can force the cancellation of said opera? ("Wait, all I have to do is pretend I can make bombs out of hair gel, and I can shut down air travel in England for three days and make air travel miserable worldwide?") What's happening here is a lethal mix of religious zealotry combined with terrorist paranoia. Muslims claim to be offended by anything, anytime. Security officials in Western nation therefore warn against the potential for any "disturbances." Add the two together, and we cancel operas because some dipshit picked up the phone.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A picture is worth a thousand grenades

"America: we like pretty pictures." (I stole this photo from -- credit where it's due.)

From the recently released National Intelligence Assessment

"We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and
perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the
struggle elsewhere.

The Iraq conflict has become the cause celebre. for jihadists, breeding a deep
resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for
the global jihadist movement."

Democrats, there's your message. Hammer, hammer, hammer away until November, and you will win back Congress.

Bush, Iraq, Politics, Hypocrisy -- all in one!

President Bush just declassified the National Intelligence Assessment he was given in April that suggests the War in Iraq is contributing to terrorism. Unfortunately, the website with the report is crashing right now, but in the meantime, enjoy this little tidbit of hypocrisy (from the NY Times):

The president was clearly unhappy that findings from the report, a National Intelligence Estimate completed in April, had made their way into news reports. The New York Times disclosed some of the findings over the weekend.

Noting that evidence-gathering for the assessment had been concluded in February, and that the report itself had been finished two months later, Mr. Bush said: “Here we are, coming down the homestretch of an election campaign and it’s on the front page of your newspapers. Isn’t that interesting?”

Sure. Also interesting: the fact that, in the last two months, Bush mentioned the alleged hair-gel plot in London seventeen times, transferred Kalik Sheik Mohammed (the 9/11 mastermind) to Guantanamo for trial, and gave five major speeches about the War on Terror. Gee, that's an awful lot of legislative activity and hype regarding "terrorism", coming down the homestretch of an election campaign, from a President who's party is floundering on every other issue in America. Isn't that interesting?

Seahawks v. Bears, a preview

My amateur observations regarding the Chicago Bears:

(1) Rex Grossman's played decently the first three games, but he almost lost them the game last week against the improved Vikings defense. The Hawks secondary is going to have to stop the deep throw, particularly Bernard Berrian who has good speed and (as evidenced from his fingertip touchdown two weeks ago) good hands. Muhsin Muhammed is the sort of WR that can give us fits over the middle, and the TE, Desmond Clark, has been a surprising factor in the passing game (he sprained his foot, though, and apparently was in a boot yesterday -- rumor is ankle sprain).

(2) The defense is obviously the biggest strength of this team. But last week, the Bears promoted a rookie safety, Daniel Manning, to starter. Struggling Vikings WR Troy Williamson managed to put up some decent numbers, so I'd expect to see us test the Bears secondary with a few more deep throws than we're used to seeing -- ironically, the player who'd be best suited for this, D. J. Hackett, will probably be inactive for the game (because of Deion Branch).

(3) Although you don't hear it as much, the Bears are also incredible on special teams -- an area where the Hawks struggle a bit. Last week, the PR (I believe Davis) made a huge return after freezing the contain with the fake-pump pass. In other words, we need to plan for trickery, and not lose the battle for field position.

Monday, September 25, 2006

File under "Not exactly helping your case . . ."

The NY Times has an overwrought (and overly long) piece on New York's system of village courts. If you read the article, retain measured skepticism: these courts get about 40 complaints a year. With that said, some of the "judges" -- read, local yokels -- sound almost comically stupid:

Eeric D. Bailey, a 21-year-old black soldier from nearby Fort Drum, was facing a disorderly conduct charge after a tussle with a white bar bouncer. Sitting three feet from Mr. Bailey, the bouncer identified him as “that colored man.” Mr. Bailey’s jaw dropped.

The soldier, who did not have a lawyer, told the judge that the term was offensive. But Justice Pennington said that while certain other words were racist, “colored” was not. “For years we had no colored people here,” he said.

The commission had heard worse. After arraigning three black defendants arrested in a college disturbance in 1994, a justice in the Finger Lakes region said in court, “Oh, it’s been a rough day — all those blacks in here.” A few years before that, a Catskill justice reminisced in court that it was safe for young women to walk around “before the blacks and Puerto Ricans moved here.”

In an interview, Justice Pennington said the commission had treated him unfairly. But he may not have helped his case when he told the commission that “colored” was an acceptable description.

“I mean, to me,” he testified, “colored doesn’t preferably mean black. It could be an Indian, who’s red. It could be Chinese, who’s considered yellow.”

I wonder if Judge Pennington is watching the new CBS show, "Survivor: Apartheid."

Common sense 1, irrational hysteria 0

Seahawks v. Giants, a quick recap

For all three readers who love the Seahawks as much as I do, here's a quick recap of yesterday's game:

The good

Went into halftime leading by 32 points; Hasselbeck threw for five touchdowns

Offensive game plan was creative; newly acquired WR Branch was a shoestring away from breaking a huge run off on a reverse

Defense played a perfect first half; Ken "The Hammer" Hamlin hammered Eli Manning for two early picks, and Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey did nothing all day

The bad

Shaun Alexander had less than 100 yards, and clearly his foot is bothering him

Lost another member of the o-line (Chris Gray), who hasn't missed a start since the stone ages

Nate Burleson -- who generally played well -- dropped yet another pass; Seahawks on pace for twice as many drops as last year

The ugly

Seahawks clearly took the fourth quarter off, allowing 27 points (!)

Up next: the undefeated Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football. Should be a great one.

Iraq and Terror

For some reason, President Bush continues to enjoy (relatively) strong ratings for his handling over the War on Terror. But over the weekend, an important story broke regarding the U.S. intelligence study of the effect the Iraq War is having on the Terror War. To quote the NY Times' summary of the classified report:

The intelligence estimate, an assessment by America’s 16 intelligence agencies, found that the war in Iraq, rather than stemming the growth of terrorism, had helped fuel its spread across the globe.

As any six-year old could tell you, "no duh." The Iraq War is turning into an unqualified disaster as far as terror goes -- about the only positive, if it can be called that, is that the casualities being inflicted are confined to the U.S. military. But in the years ahead, I have no doubt we'll see more and more civilian attacks carried about by jihadists who cut their teeth on the streets of Baghdad.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Slow news day

Not much happening today, but I did think this exchange at Pakistani President Musharraf's press conference with Bush was pretty funny (as reported by the Associated Press) :

"The intelligence director told me that (Armitage) said, "Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age,'" Musharraf told CBS' "60 Minutes" in a report to air on Sunday.

The president said he first learned of the purported conversation from news reports. "I just don't know about it," he said. "I guess I was taken aback by the harshness of the words."

Musharraf declined to comment further, citing a book deal.

"Buy the book," Bush quipped.

(Every once in awhile, you have to admit, the President cracks a good joke.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Did the CIA refuse to operate its own secret prisons?

According to the Finacial Times, the answer is yes:

The Bush administration had to empty its secret prisons and transfer terror suspects to the military-run detention centre at Guantánamo this month in part because CIA interrogators had refused to carry out further interrogations and run the secret facilities, according to former CIA officials and people close to the programme.

The former officials said the CIA interrogators’ refusal was a factor in forcing the Bush administration to act earlier than it might have wished.

The Bush Administration is denying the Financial Times' report. But judge for yourself:

John Negroponte, director of national intelligence, who was interviewed by Fox News on Sunday, said in response to a question of whether CIA interrogators had refused to work: “I think the way I would answer you in regard to that question is that there’s been precious little activity of that kind for a number of months now, and certainly since the Supreme Court decision.”

Not exactly vehement, is it?

Iraq -- doomed from the start?

There's a debate raging through the blogosphere whether our intervention in Iraq was doomed from the start (see Matthew Yglesias here) or whether the deterioration is a result of Bush's particular brand of incompetence (see Ravin Chandrasekan here).

I'm sad to say I'm slowly tilting toward the "doomed from the start" position, largely because of an essay I read by John Stuart Mill, written in 1859, titled "A few words on non-intervention." I haven't been able to find a copy online, so I'll rely instead on this summary by Prof. Joe Miller:

As a number of posts have already mentioned, Mill’s Harm Principle famously prohibits the state from interfering with self-regarding actions. Less well known is that in 1859 (the year which saw the publication of On Liberty), Mill also wrote a short essay entitled “A Few Words on Non-Intervention.” There Mill applies the Harm Principle to international relations, arguing that the citizens of a nation cannot be forced to be free, and that liberty can flourish only where people “are willing to brave labour and danger for their liberation.” Mill argues that only those who are capable of seizing liberty for themselves are ready for free institutions; history has shown that those who are given freedom by outsiders rarely keep that freedom for long. Thus, for Mill, intervention in the internal affairs of despotic nations is almost always prohibited.

"Liberty can flourish only where people are willing to brave labour and danger for their liberation." I wish I had read this essay in 2002, because I assumed (just as our vice-president assumed) that the Iraqi people would rejoice in the overthrow of Saddam, and would rush to embrace democracy and freedom. Sadly, every day that passes confirms the wisdom of Mill -- having braved neither labour nor danger to liberate themselves from Saddam, the people of Iraq slide toward religious and ethnic civil war.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Seahawks and the Law

Are you familiar with the legal concept of desuetude?

According to a leading treatise: "Desuetude [is] the name of a doctrine whereby if a statute is left unenforced long enough, it will no longer regarded by the courts has having any legal effect even though not repealed."

This Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks face off against the New York Giants at Qwest Stadium in Seattle, a rematch of last year's epic overtime battle. You may remember that in last season's game, the deafening crowd noise caused the Giants to commit 11 false start penalties. Coach Holmgren was so pleased, he awarded the game ball to the "12th Man," i.e., the fans in the stadium.

This year, the Giants are so scared that they've apparently complained to the NFL, and because the Giants are the NFL's favorite team -- the NFL league office is located in Manhattan -- the league has promised to "investigate" the crowd noise this Sunday. According to the Seattle Times:

Both the Seahawks and New York Giants have been notified the NFL will be monitoring this weekend's game, according to a league source, and the notice mentioned allegations that artificial noise has been piped into Seattle's stadium.

* * *

The crowd-noise guidelines state the league does not try to restrict spontaneous crowd noise, but the guidelines do mention the rules passed in 1989 to deal with crowd noise that is so loud the opposing team can not hear its signals. A team can lose timeouts or be assessed 5-yard penalties. Those rules resulted from the noise inside the Kingdome — the Seahawks' former stadium — but are rarely enforced now.

Let me go on the record here. After what happened in the Super Bowl, if the referees flag the Seahawks for "excessive noise" this Sunday, there will be riots inside of Qwest, and a zebra will end up dead. So the NFL better hope the officials understand the concept of desuetude -- see, I tie it all back together -- lest they have a riot on Sunday. Sunday, bloody Sunday.

Doonesbury, 1976

It may be too small to read, but there's a Dick Cheney reference in the first panel -- from a cartoon more than 20 years old! Head on over to Slate Doonesbury archives to see a full-size version.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Plame flame out

Way back when the Valerie Plame scandal broke, I thought it was much ado about nothing. In my initial view, the "outing" of Valerie Plame, a DC socialite cum CIA agent, was one of those stories that sounded a lot juicier than it really was.

But something funny on the way to Scooter Libby's indictment happened, as the story grew "legs" and got weirder with each passing month. A New York Times reporter goes to jail for protecting a source -- but that reporter is suspected of being in bed (literally) with members of the Administration. Robert Novak bizarrely storms off the set of a CNN news show with James Carville. Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, writes an influential op-ed in the Times but then is caught lying. Karl Rove is presumed to be the leaker, but isn't. Bob Woodward knows the source of the leak, but isn't telling. Patrick Fitzgerald indicts Cheney's chief of staff, the aforementioned Scooter, but maybe he shouldn't have. And as it turns out, the actual leaker -- Richard Armitage, a Colin Powell protege -- could have revealed himself whenever he chose.

What a bizarre, and ultimately overhyped, little scandal. And I bought into it. Oops.

Bush at the U.N.

President Bush actually gave a semi-decent speech today at the United Nations. One passage I found somewhat curious, however:

Imagine what it's like to be a young person living in a country that is not moving toward reform. You're 21 years old, and while your peers in other parts of the world are casting their ballots for the first time, you are powerless to change the course of your government.
While your peers in other parts of the world have received educations that prepare them for the opportunities of a global economy, you have been fed propaganda and conspiracy theories that blame others for your country's shortcomings.
And everywhere you turn, you hear extremists who tell you that you can escape your misery and regain your dignity through violence and terror and martyrdom.

Hasn't this thesis about the creation of suicide bombers been roundly disproven? Here's an interview with Prof. Robert Pape, from the University of Chicago, who's written a book about suicide attacks in the Middle East and their source. Takeaway point from Pape:

Over the past two years, I have collected the first complete database of every suicide-terrorist attack around the world from 1980 to early 2004. This research is conducted not only in English but also in native-language sources—Arabic, Hebrew, Russian, and Tamil, and others—so that we can gather information not only from newspapers but also from products from the terrorist community. The terrorists are often quite proud of what they do in their local communities, and they produce albums and all kinds of other information that can be very helpful to understand suicide-terrorist attacks.
This wealth of information creates a new picture about what is motivating suicide terrorism. Islamic fundamentalism is not as closely associated with suicide terrorism as many people think.

* * *
The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir to the West Bank, every major suicide-terrorist campaign—over 95 percent of all the incidents—has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw.

Let me be clear about this: I think that the decrepit backwardness of most Middle Eastern countries feeds into anti-American sentiment and religious fundamentalism of the worst sort. But I separate that from the very different aim of bin Laden style jihadists, who use their soldiers as willing suicidal weapons in the battle against the West. Bush, apparently, does not.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Pope vs. Mohammed -- Irony wins!

So as I understand it, last week the Bishop formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger -- now "The Pope"-- insulted Muslims by quoting an old, dead Pope who accused Islam of being too violent.

That's right. The Pope, the head of the Roman "Nobody stops the Spanish Inquisition!" Church, berated another world religion for being too violent.

Predictably, some Muslims then reacted to The Pope's offensive comments by, well committing acts of violence, burning a church and killing a nun. (Savor the irony.) Many leading Muslims called on The Pope to apologize for offending Islam, just as they did when the Danish cartoons were published.

(You remember the cartoons, right? Do you also remember when the Pope denounced the Danish newspaper for having published them? No? Savor that irony, too.)

In any event, the world outrage forced The Pope's hand this weekend, leading him to give one of those half-assed apologies usually reserved for people like Terrell Owens' agent, wherein The Pope didn't really apologize for saying Islam was a bloodthirsty religion, but rather, apologized for the "reaction" to his provocative remarks. Unsurprisingly, Muslims saw right through the half-assedness and are calling for yet another apology.

I'm rooting against everyone: The Pope, for being a hypocritical bastard with no sense of history; the outraged Muslims, who need to calm the fuck down and realize that their religion does not exist for the purpose of being righteously indignant; and organized religion in general, which is making an impressive stand against the forces of science and reason in the 21st century. Enough is enough.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bush's Cluelessness: Exhibit #4,592

From President Bush's press conference this afternoon:

QUESTION: Mr. President, former Secretary of State Colin Powell says, The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. If a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretary of state feels this way, don't you think that Americans and the rest of the world are beginning to wonder whether you're following a flawed strategy?

BUSH: If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it's flawed logic.
It's just -- I simply can't accept that.
It's unacceptable to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.

The question here is whether Bush is consciously evading the question, or whether he really thinks Powell and other critics are comparing "American decency" with terrorism. Powell's point is so simple and obvious, I think it is beyond argument: if the rest of the world thinks America has ceded the moral high ground -- whether because of our use of torture as an interrogation tactic, our secret CIA prisons, our not-so-secret Guantanamo Bay prison, or our general refusal to abide by international law -- then America has lost the moral high ground. Perception is reality. It doesn't matter if most Americans are decent people. It doesn't matter if, in the grander scale of things, our transgressions are minor -- as I think they are, ultimately -- in comparison to the horrors that are, or would be, inflicted by Islamic fundamentalists. The only thing that matter's is world perception -- and who can honestly claim America has improved its moral standing in the world community over the last four years?

Contrast our present situation with the ideological struggle against Communism. Throughout the entire Cold War, Europe -- all of Europe -- was a staunch and unquestioning ideological ally in the battle against totalitarian communism. This alliance translated into tangible, visible support for American foreign policy, through NATO, the UN, and other international bodies. There were serious missteps along the way, but no one (apart from a few random outliers largely confined to academia and the staff of "The Nation") seriously doubted the ultimate rightness of freedom and democracy, and the wrongness of totalitarian communism. But even more importantly, the people -- not the governments, but the citizenry -- living under communist regimes actively yearned to be free, and were in constant struggle against their own governments to obtain that freedom. They did so because the West, with a capital W, was an undeniably happier, more humane place to live.

President Bush, admirably, wants the Middle East to yearn for the same freedom and democracy. He is right to want this. But his mistake is thinking that the U.S. can therefore ignore important moral principles in pursuit of this vision, simply because "Americans are decent." Unlike, say, the Soviet Union circa 1986, it is not at all clear that the people in the Middle East today would prefer western capitalism & democracy to fundamentalist Islamic theocracy, or even or more moderate form of Islamic government. In order to convince them they should reject the religious vision, it is imperative that America conduct itself in a manner consistent with its own moral principles. If we do not, as former Secretary Powell has stated plainly, we lose the moral high ground -- and we lose the war against terrorism, the war against Islamic fundamentalism, and -- without sounding too melodramatic -- our soul.

This is not a sophisticated point. But today, in contemporanous remarks during a press conference, President Bush not only failed to grasp the point, he became actively hostile to it, confusing those who recognize the need for American moral stature with those who think we are no better than the terrorists. He is either ignorant or deranged. And I'm not sure which is worse.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Email from the Seattle Sealhawks

The Seattle Seahawks emailed me today! I found this in my inbox just moments ago!

It's a picture of "Seal." Apparently, "Seal" is holding a concern in Seattle. Apparently, someone at "Seal"'s record label thinks Seahawks fans would enjoy watching "Seal" perform. In reality, I would rather watch baby kittens getting microwaved than be subjected to a "Seal" concert.

Bush in Iraq: December surprise?

Mickey Kaus of tipped me off to this story in "Insight" magazing that suggests President Bush has lost confidence in Sec. Rumsfeld, and is leaning on former Sec. of State Jim Baker to cobble together an exit strategy in Iraq.

This is good news, if true: Baker's pragmatic, realist school of international affairs will be a welcome relief from neoconservative delusion. The problem, of course, is that the realistic solution to this conflict will be phased withdrawal, followed by a civil war, followed by creation of hundreds if not thousands of anti-American terrorist. Sure hope Baker thinks of something brilliant!

(Also, for those who don't know, "Insight" is a right-wing rag, so retain skepticism.)

Rock Star: Novasuper

Some observations about last night's "Rock Star: Supernova" finale:

(1) Although I was shocked when Lukas won , it makes more sense to me this morning. The band needs to appeal to men and women. Oddly, if they had picked Dilana, I think the number of teen males aged 12-19 who would have bought the first "Novasuper" album would have plummeted. Also, how could Tommy Lee engage in Tommy Lee-like activities with an
earth mother in the tour van?

(a) In light of the above, does Dilana have an actionable case of gender discrimination?

(2) The first song Lukas sung last night was actually pretty good, albeit a complete "Louis XIV" ripoff.

(3) This is the best possible thing for Dilana. She's gotten tons of national exposure, but won't be stuck playing garbage stadium anthems for the next ten years with three talentless members of formerly huge bands. She will also be freed to rip on people in the press over the next few days.

(4) In contrast, we will never hear from Magni again. Bye, Magni.

(5) Last night, at about 11 pm, the Brook Burke robot was returned to the the basement of the NBC offices and frozen in carbonite; her next thawing date is scheduled for May 2007, for E's "Wild On: Tijuana!"

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Racist Redskins

A few days ago, over on, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh posted some statistics regarding how native Americans feel about the name of the NFL's Washington Redskins. Nut sentence:

Asked if they were offended by the name Redskins, 75% of Native American respondents in SI's [Sports Illustrated's] poll said they were not, and even on reservations, where Native American culture and influence are perhaps felt most intensely, 62% said they weren't offended. Overall, 69% of Native American respondents--and 57% of those living on reservations--feel it's O.K. for the Washington Redskins to continue using the name.

In the comments section, I posted the following reply:

Does the racial status of those who are offended matter? I'm white, but I find the name Redskins offensive, just as I would be if my beloved Seattle Seahawks renamed themselves the Seattle Sambos. Plus, as Gregg Easterbrook has long suggested, the Washington team could rename itself using a cool tribal name from the local area.

This set off a flurry of responses, many of them hostile, including one that accused me of being a "guilty white liberal." Thus, I commented once more at some length:

I've never been called a "guilty white liberal" before -- though admittedly, the name "Attorney SF" connotates a certain ACLU-loving wishi-washiness. I like the name so much, I just renamed my fantasy team.

Professor Volokh's post cited data that suggests many American Indians alive today are not bothered by the name "Washington Redskins." As one of the commenters rightly points out, this data is useful if your decision to be offended by a potentially-racist moniker is based on whether members of the group are, in fact, offended by the potentially racist moniker. And I grant there are many people who fall into this "I will be offended if they are" group.

But that's not the basis of why I dislike the name of the Redskins. I don't like it because it's *racial* slur. As someone who dislikes all forms of race-based identification and classification -- hence my opposition to affirmative action in all forms (still a guilty white liberal?) -- using an outdated term like "Redskins" reinforces, ever so subtly, the notion that native Americans are "red," and that color is important to classifying Americans. The fact that it was once used to disparage native people just adds to the odious quality of the name.

This isn't an issue that keeps me up at night, and I understand fans of "the 'Skins" feel a deep allegiance to their team and its name. That's why I second Gregg Easterbrook's great idea to rename the team after a local tribe -- seems to me that changing the name is relatively costless, and could even be an improvement.

By the way, the mockumentary movie "The Confederate States of America" has some great-albeit-squeamish commercials updating products that were really sold in the 1800s and early 1900s, such as "Nigger Hair Cigarettes" and "Aunt Jemima" syrup.

* * *
(As of this afternoon, no one's caught the "Aunt Jemima" reference, which -- indefensibly --remains widely sold throughout the U.S. Along with "Uncle Ben's" rice.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Harry Reid gets it

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, responding to comments by Republican Rep. Boehner related to Pres. Bush's "address" last night, as quoted in today's New York Times:

Mr. Reid was asked for his reaction to remarks by Representative John A Boehner of Ohio, the Republican majority leader, who wondered aloud at a news conference “whether Democrats are more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people.”

Mr. Reid said he had “great respect for Leader Boehner.”

“He’s a good guy,” Mr. Reid said during a question-answer session. “I like him. But haven’t we moved beyond that? Haven’t we moved beyond, the Republicans are more religious than Democrats? Haven’t we moved beyond the fact that Republicans are trying to save us from the terrorists and Democrats aren’t? I think we’ve moved beyond that.”

This is the strategy! Stop ceding the rhetorical high ground to Republicans, and make them look silly by highlighting the insanely partisan ramblings of the Administration and Congress.

November is gonna be interesting.

Worth reading

More advice for Democrats

President Bush, yesterday:

"The regime of Saddam Hussein was a clear threat . . . .The world is safer because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power."

Of course that's true. The world would also be safer if Kim Jong Il was no longer power. The world would also be safer if fundamentalist mullahs bent on acquiring nuclear weapons weren't running Iran. While we're at it, the world would be safer if Israel and Palestine stopped fighting, Hezbollah disarmed, Hamas disbanded, the Taliban evaporated, Bin Laden surrendered, and al Qaeda collapsed. But we haven't made much progress on these other safety measures because our military is tied down in Iraq.

Isn't this the key November message? That yes, Democrats and Republicans agreed that Saddam was a threat, but the complete failure to plan for the occupation, the complete lack of an exit strategy, was all due to the failure of the Republican Bush administration. Lay the blame at the door of Rumsfeld, and the votes will follow.

Money(foot)ball and the Seahawks

Yesterday, the Seattle Seahawks traded their first round draft choice in 2007 to the New England Patriots for wide receiver Deion Branch. The Seahawks Nation is all a twitter over the move -- some, like me, think it was a brilliant move to shore up our aging WR corps with an elite talent, while others think the asking price was far too steep. Here's what Hawks President and resident genius Tim Ruskell had to say yesterday:

(On draft choices given up for Branch…) “Worst kept secret, it’s a first-rounder. I’m big on draft picks, I always will be big on draft picks, but this is a known commodity. The first round can be a crap shoot from top to bottom. We did research back in Tampa, and when you analyze that over a 15 to 20 year period, 50 percent of the guys become players, 50 percent are bust, of the 50 percent that are players it works out to about 20, 25 percent are rank-and-file good players, 20, 25 percent actually live up to the expectations that you put on them by picking them in the first round. As opposed to that this is a known commodity, that we know fits our system, going to be a good player for us, going to fit with our guys, going to be good for our quarterback, who is in his prime and we want to give him as many tools as we can to help him, and that’s a good thing, and that’s a positive and it’s not going to be a period of development, he’s ready to go.”

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the decision to trade for Branch, this is encouraging news. Instead of arbitrarily deciding "yeah, Branch is worth a first rounder," the Hawks front office is evaluating research and making informed and calculated risks -- the sort of intelligent, sports-related decision making championed in Michael Lewis's fantastic book, "Moneyball." Essentially, Ruskell decided the 25% potential to get a star player next year was worth less than the 100% surety of getting an elite WR today. Again, you may disagree with the conclusion, but you can't argue with the approach.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Nancy Pelosi -- Republican operative?

My local Representative, Nancy "Bug Eyes" Pelosi, is in line to become the next Speaker of the House if the Democrats can capture Congress. So surely she's done everything in her power to help improve the Democratic chances of winning, right?

Well, not exactly. About a year ago, California's Governator proposed creating an independent panel to oversee legislative redistricting in California -- basic premise being, one a party gets in power, it shouldn't be able to jerry rig electoral districts to create safe, uncontested seats. For reasons completely self-interested, Rep. Bug Eyes actively campaigned against the measure, which went down in flaming defeat. (Confession: I didn't vote for it either -- I went to two different polling stations in my neighborhood, and both were closed for some reason. I was bummed.) As a result, similar ballot measure in Republican-controlled states also failed. And thus in the coming fall elections it will be much, much tougher for the Democrats to pick up the 15 seats they need to takeover Congress.

Why did Pelosi oppose the measure? Probably because it was sponsored by the Republican Governator (and would diminish the Democrats' stranglehold over California politics). Kos, by the way, saw through Pelosi's shenanigans before the election.

Seahawks recap

The Good

-- Matt Hasselbeck completed 25 of 30 passes, and looked as good as he did last year

-- Our rookie punter can kick, and our new kick returner can return; special teams overall looked great

-- Darrell Jackson played the whole game, and DJ Hackett made another clutch catch

-- Overall, the defense looked solid and kept us in the game

The Bad

-- Shaun Alexander went nowhere all day; the huge offseason contract may have been a mistake

-- Mike Holmgren's horrific clock management is beyond my ability to explain

-- Tom Ashworth subbed in for one play at Left Tackle, immediately gave up a sack

The Ugly

-- Speaking of sacks, the o-line gave up five, including two in field goal position, and generally looked confused out there; game one jitters, or was the loss of Hutchinson that significant?

-- Nine points? Against the Jon-Kitna-led Lions?

-- Shaun Rogers completely dominated us; five tackles, two sacks, and a blocked field goal -- he was clearly the player of the game, and totally crushed Pork Chop Womack


Seahawks just traded for wide re receiver Deion Branch. Super Bowl MVP Deion Brach.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Parallax NFL Predictions

AFC East
Miami 10-6: Steelers win game one by virtue of soul-crushing mistake by refereers in nationally televised game; "We are all Seahawks now" says coach Nick Saban
New England 9-7: Bill Belichick, certified genius, will somehow guide this team to nine wins despite having Pepsi Machine starting at wideout by week six
NY Jets 7-9: Chad Pennington is comeback player of the year. That, or he snaps his arm in half in week one.
Buffalo 5-11: The Bills waived Peerless Price four years ago. Price signed in Atlanta, rode the pine for three years, then cut. Immediately resigned by the Bills for $1.5 million in the offseason, and now is starting at WR. Can't be good.

AFC North
Pittsburg 12-4: Helps having the zebras as your 12th Man.
Cincinnati 11-5: NFL Network runs -- virtually nonstop -- advertisements promoting Chad Johnson, Bengals WR. Sample lyric: "Where ya at 85? Been all around this crazy world just to see you do all the things you do." Meanwhile, the NFL itself banned touchdown celebrations this year to stop Chad Johnson's self-promotional touchdown celebrations. The NFL owns the NFL Network.
Cleveland 7-9: Possible the most boring team in the NFL.
Baltimore 6-10: Possibly the most unlikeable team in the NFL.

AFC South
Jacksonville 12-4: The AFC's version of the Seahawks -- constantly play well, no real weaknesses at any position, completely ignored by national media, and perpetually taken for granted.
Indianapolis 10-6: Wouldn't it be interesting to watch the Colts without Peyton Manning? And don't you suspect that, though they would lose more regular season games, they might go further in the playoffs than they ever have?
Houston 5-11: I was one of six people who thought it was a good idea to pass on Reggie Bush. I also supported the Iraq invasion. At least there's hope in Iraq -- the same can't be said in Houston.
Tennessee 2-14: The Titans have yet to pick a starting quarterback. The season starts in two days. Wheels have come off this franchise.

AFC West
Denver 12-4: At some point, Jake Plummer will implode. Then Jay Cutler will come in and pull a Big Ben Roethlisberger on the AFC West, winning out the regular season and going deep into the playoffs before a heartbreaking loss in the AFC Championship game. This team will be around for awhile.
Kansas City 11-5: Larry Johnson is worth six lumberjacks. Whatever that means. It means he's good.
San Diego 9-7: Team would be favorite to win the AFC if it'd kept Drew Brees. At least the weather's nice.
Oakland 4-12: Just stop, baby.

NFC East
Philadelphia 10-6: If Andy Reid and Mike Holmgren switched places midseason, would anyone notice?
Ny Giants 9-7: Jeremy Shockey started writing a blog for the NY Post. Over/under on Lindsay Lohan references for the year is currently standing at 182.
Dallas 8-8: Channeling the spirit of Pat Summerall: "Bledsoe drops back...dumps to the gain. TO just punched Bledsoe...seems to be eating his spleen...oh my."
Washington 5-11: Mark Brunell was a sweet quarterback for the UW Huskies last century. Literally.

NFC North
Chicago 9-7: Virtually impossible to pick anyone else in this shithole of a division.
Green Bay 8-8: Just make it end quickly.
Detroit 7-9: The RB sucks, the WRs are mediocre, and the QB is backup masquerading as a starter. Still good for seven wins in the NFC North!
Minnesota 3-13: Ugly. Just ugly.

NFC South
Tampa Bay 10-6: Only place where you will NOT be subjected to a pat-down search before watching an NFL game is at the Buccaneers' home stadium. Al Qaeda take note.
Carolina 9-7: This team has one good player on offense, yet is the consensus Super Bowl favorite. That player currently has injuries to both his legs. Problematic.
Atlanta 9-7: Team would be better off with the Matt Schaub Experience.
New Orleans 6-10: If Deuce McAllister breaks something, they win two more games by virtue of Reggie Bush.

NFC West
Seattle 12-4: The Qwest begins.
Arizona 8-8: Almost named their new stadium "Pink Taco" in the offseason. Needs to get serious to get taken seriously.
St. Louis 6-10: Not very good.
San Francisco 3-13: Complete shit.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Beatles or Stones?

So I got this email from Brian Kehoe, an incredibly talented musician here in SF, raising the classic debate: Stones or Beatles? Kehoe's take, and my reply, are posted below.

The Kehoe Nation wrote:

Well Shit Howdy all you boys and girls and flying squirrels;Okay, imma stir up some shit! I wanna hear from you folks on this one! Give me yer honest opinion. Don't be shy, don't be some voiceless sissy!It's an age old one, but sure to get the folks good and pissed off!Beatles or Stones?

I pick The Beatles each and every time! Here's why:Beatles - Always trend setters. They cultivated their own sound and look with originality. They were leaders in recording technology and paved the way for generations to come with their inovations.

Stones - Followers. When it was hip to play "The Black Man's Blues", they did that. When the "British Invasion " was hot, they did it. Psychadelic... did it. When it was cool to go country, oh yeah they were following that wave too. THEY DID A FUCKING DISCO RECORD FER CHRIST'S SAKES!! People do you remember that one. Yep, followers.

Beatles - Great songwriting. They shit out melodies for days, with lyrics that told stories, hit you in the heart, and rocketed you to the moon.

Stones - Okay you got me there! They have written a ton of great songs, with amazing lyrics and groundbreaking subject matter.

Beatles - Knew when to hang it up.Stones - Draging their corpses to the new "MEGA MEGA CENTER NEAR YOU!!" again and again and again... $1000 tickets, $2000 tickets... and no fucking guest list... ever!So, there you have it, I bet that pissed some folks off. I wanna hear from you!Oh yeah, The Kehoe Nation will be playing our last show in town for awhile, until the CD release party in a couple of months. So, get your asses on down to the Pound SF this Friday night 9/8.Also, ripping it up, our neighbours from the north, Lions in the Streets. They hail from Canada and are a solid Rock and Roll party!But really folks, gimme early WHO and early KINKS any old time. The true first punk rock!Fuck yeah!

(My reply)

You advance some powerful arguments, Kehoe. But a couple of other things to consider:

-- Bad Beatles songs are almost always much, much worse than bad Stones songs. "Hello Goodbye" is just absolute garbage. Same for Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da. Now, the Stones have put out some crap too -- I missed the disco record, apparently -- but I don't know I've ever wanted to hurl the stereo out the window.

-- What's more embarassing: still rocking at age 95 (or whatever), charging $2000 per ticket for fans apparently willing to cough up the dough, or selling your musical cateloge to Michael Jackson, releasing various compilation Beatles albums on a semi-annual basis, and suing Apple Computer over the use of an apple as a logo?

Plus, the Stones still push the envelope a little from within the confines of their corporate rock world. Witness Mick Jagger swearing last year during the pre-Super Bowl interview, or slamming Bush in "Sweet Neo Con" (though that song sucks too). Also, Keith Richards fell out of a tree in Fiji. In his underwear, I think. Meanwhile, "Sir" Paul McCartney never does anything wrong, never says anything controversial, is content to sit in his freakin castle collecting "Wings" royalty payments. And Ringo? An embarassment.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Beating Republicans on Terrorism

Today, the Center for Strategic and International Studies -- a nonpartisan international relations think tank -- released its report, "Five years after 9/11: Accomplishments and Continuing Challenges." It's a quick read, broken into McKinsey-style bullet points, but one well worth reading.

Included in the CSIS report was the following list of challenges:

Ideology & the Battle of Ideas
-- Public diplomacy undermined by perceived U.S. unilateralism
-- U.S. moral authority/image eroded by Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, etc.
-- Public diplomacy weakened by domestic security paranoia (visa frustrations, Dubai Ports, etc.)
-- Democracy and development assistance agendas viewed skeptically in many countries
-- Fortress mentality at embassies stifl es public access and outreach
-- Failure to create counternarrative to global radicalism

If I were to advise a Democrat running for national office how to beat a GOP candidate on the issue of terrorism/national security, my talking points would start and end with this list. Indeed, I can envision the stump speech already:

"Ladies and Gentlement, for six years, George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld have conducted this country's War on Terror by sending American soldiers to the Middle Eastern nations. But while we have had tremendous success in combat battles, we are losing the War of Ideas. For every terrorist we kill in Iraq, three more join in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iran. We are losing this war because the Admistration has no ideas, no plan, no alternative to the anti-American zealotry so pervasive in that corner of the world. Indeed, that anti-American hatred has grown exponentially as a result of the contempt President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld have shown for international institutions and international allies.

"This is not a viable long term strategy. America cannot rely on its overwhelming military superiority to maintain its influence over the world -- this is how empires fall. Instead, America must stand as a beacon of the noble ideals that formed the basis of this country's creation: liberty, justice, and freedom. These ideas cannot be shot from the barrel of an M-16. They require engagement -- engagement with the people of the nations that profess to hate us -- and a strategy of changing the perception of America. Far from changing that perception, Bush and Rumsfeld have forcefed it down the throat of the world, until even our strongest allies have choked on the rhetoric of war and invasion.

"Thus, this election offers a choice. Continue to fight this battle militarily, and more U.S. soldiers will certainly die -- not just in the deserts of Iraq or the streets of Badghdad, but in every corner where fear and hatred of America foment. Or instead, hold this Adminstration to account. Demand that we live up to the promises contained in our Constitution, the ideals embodied in our Declaration of Independence. Reverse the tide of terror by reclaiming the moral high ground, and start winning the Battle of Ideas. That is the choice we face this election. That is the choice you must make."

Or something like that, anyway.

Hawks love

ESPN power rankings have the Seahawks at #1. So does Fox (per the informed analysis of the Football Outsiders).

Believe the hype.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Immigration insanity -- seems to have passed!

About four months ago, the pressing political issue of the day was illegal immigration from Mexico. President Bush made a prime time speech. California's Governator activated the National Guard. Republicans promised massive, comprehensive reform of the "broken" system.

Meanwhile, I kept wondering: who cares? The immigration equilibrium seemed relatively stable -- Mexico would continue to supply American business with cheap labor, keeping consumer prices low, and in return, many Mexican workers would make 5 to 100 times as much as they could expect in their native land. And while one can reasonably debate methods of improving the system -- should we provide political rights to workers? should we limit drains on border-state social welfare systems? -- nothing seemed particularly pressing about the issue.

Once again, turns out I was 100% right. The Republicans appear to be abandoning the issue. There will be no immigration reform. The Republic will continue to function as it did last year, and the year before, and the year before that.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Bonds and interest rates

My girlfriend asked me this morning, why do bond prices fall as interest rates rise? Here's my extended answer, for those who are curious about such things:

First, let's say you DIJA Incorporated, and you decide you want to borrow some money (to invest in improving your fantasy football spreadsheet). You do so by selling bonds. In this case, you decide you will sell one $10,000 bond with a five year maturity, earning 7% interest. What does that mean? It means that, if Mr. Bond Investor buys the DIJA bond, he will:

1. Loan DIJA $10,000 today (by buying the bond)
2. Earn 7% interest on his $10,000 every year for five years
3. Get his $10,000 back in five years (when DIJA pays off the principal)

Second, where does that 7% interest come from? Well, lots of thing, but we can simplify: we'll say the DIJA-bond interest rate is made up of two components: the risk-free rate, and the DIJA "risk premium."

What is the risk-free rate of interest? Well, that's the interest rate that the U.S. government pays on its bonds – essentially, the safest investment you can make. That interest rate is set by the Federal Reserve Bank, through a complicated process I won't explain here. Let's say that the risk-free interest rate is 5% (in reality, it's much lower right now).

If the "risk free rate" is 5%, but a DIJA bond is paying 7%, that means that DIJA Inc. has to pay investors 2% more to invest in DIJA, rather than simply loan money to the US government. That 2% is the DIJA risk premium.

Keep rereading that until you understand it. Got it? Ok, let's move on.

So Mr. Investor decides to buy the DIJA bond (I'll explain why in a moment). Now, once he owns the bond, he doesn't necessarily have to keep it, right? He can sell it anytime he wants, as long as he can find another investor. That way, he doesn't have to wait the entire five years before getting his principal back. In this way, bonds are traded like any other financial instrument. Certain people do it so much, they are known as "bond traders."

Now, enter Federal Reserve Chairman Bernake, the man who controls interest rates. Let's say that, one week after Mr. Investor bought the DIJA bond, the Fed decides to lower interest rates. Big time. The Fed decides that, henceforth, the risk free rate should be a miniscule 1%.

Imagine what this means for companies that plan to issue bonds. Last week, they had to pay investors 5% plus whatever risk premium. Now, the risk free rate is only 1%. So DIJA Incorporated, for example, if it decided to issue another $10,000 bond, would only have to pay a 3% interest rate on the bond. By lowering interest rates, the Fed has made it much cheaper for companies to borrow money.

And now let's return to Mr. Investor. The DIJA bond he purchased last week is now paying an extra 4% than all future DIJA bonds, or any other company with a risk-premium of 2% – pretty sweet! In fact, it's so sweet that if Mr. Investor decides to sell his bond to someone else, he can demand they pay him a little extra for his sweet bond, since the Buyer will be getting an above-market rate of return. Hence, the bond price rallies as interest rates are lowered.

By the same logic, we can see what happens when the Fed raises interest rates too, right? If the Fed shoots interest rates to, say, 10%, now DIJA Incorporated will have to issue its new bonds at a whopping 12% interest rate. Mr. Investor, sitting there with a bond paying only 7%, now feels like sh*t. If he wants to sell his bond, he'll have to lower his price to compensate for the sh*t interest rate his bond is paying. So bond price fall as interest rates rise.