Thursday, November 30, 2006

President Bush: Time for Opposite Day?

Yesterday, the news services reported that, in a leaked memo from National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, Hadley questioned the competence of Iraqi President al-Maliki.

President Bush's immediate response: We support al-Maliki and will continue to do so.

Today, the Iraqi Commission that was formed by President Bush, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, issued its report that calls for the beginning of the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

President Bush's immediate response: There will be no withdrawal.

I'm starting to wonder if Bush has adopted a "Slate-like" contrarian approach to national security matters. Is this how his mind works? "Screw the conventional wisdom, I'm sticking with my failing approach." Who knows anymore. Still, it'd be interesting to see what would happen if we tried to fool him. For example:

Hadley reports that al-Maliki is firmly in charge of Iraqi security forces and moving decisively to quell the insurgency. President Bush immediately responds by calling for a new round of Iraqi elections.

The Baker Commission recommends a full escalation of troops to Gulf War I levels -- approximately 500,000 troops. President Bush responds by announcing that troops will be gradually withdrawn over the next year, to a minimal force of 25,000 by the end of 2007.

It's come to this: I'm proposing we fool our President through crafty use of "Opposite Day." And I'm only half-joking.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006



(Sung to the tune of Pearl Jam's "Jeremy")

Wide open, drawing coverage …from defensive backs
with him on top, yelling too much, tattooed arms raised in a v
Celebrating because he finally caught one

86 didn’t give attention
Oh to the fact that the fans didn’t care
King Jerramy the head case…oh

Jerramy quit on, quit on
Jerramy quit on…a play today

Clearly I remember drafting him in the first
Seemed a harmless little pick
Ooh, but we unleashed a head case...
Ran his mouth but dropped three passes in the Show...

How can I forget?

And he kneed me with a surprise in my groin
My balls left hurtin...ooh, dropped wide open
Just like on Sunday...the day he makes me cryyyyyyy

Holmgren didnt give affection, no...
And Hasselbeck swore he wouldn’t caaaaaare

King Jerramy the dipshit...oh, ruled his world
Jerramy Stevens…go away
Jerramy Stevens…go away
Jerramy Stevens…go away


Try to forget to forget him...
Time to cut him...ti-yi-yi-ime to cut him...

Jerramy dropped one, dropped one
Jerramy dropped one, dropped one...
Jerramy dropped one on Sunday

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

President loses grip on reality based community

President Bush, speaking earlier today in Estonia, as reported by the NY Times:

“There’s a lot of sectarian violence taking place, fomented, in my opinion, because of the attacks by Al Qaeda, causing people to seek reprisal,” Mr. Bush said, adding that he planned to work with Mr. Maliki “to defeat these elements.”

Referring to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda leader in Iraq who was killed by American forces over the summer, he added, “The plan of Mr. Zarqawi was to foment sectarian violence.”

Mr. Bush’s remarks are at odds with statements made in recent weeks both by American military commanders and by Mr. Maliki.

Stupefying. Absolutely stupefying. The President is under some hysterical delusion that the growing civil war in Iraq is the result of al Qaeda, the supposed terrorist network run by Osama bin Laden, instead of sectarian reprisal killings between Sunni and Shiite militias.

I need to pause for a second here.

President Bush is no longer running for anything. He is as lame duck as lame ducks come -- by the next election cycle, the GOP will have nominated someone else to run for President. So his comments, which I would typically dismiss as political "terrorist" pandering to the GOP base, cannot be interpreted as such. Instead, Bush must really believe the blatant nonsense he is spewing about al Qaeda in Iraq.

Our President is delusional. In a time of war. What more can be said?

[We are doomed? -- ed. ]

Monday, November 27, 2006

Poker scenes in "Casino Royale" (WARNING: SPOILER ALERT)

So I watched "Casino Royale" this weekend. One sentence review: Daniel Craig is great, it's the best Bond film in 20 years, but it could have been about 20 minutes shorter and slightly more coherent at the end. In any event, I thought it might be fun to provide an analysis of the poker scenes that take place 2/3rds through the way of the movie. Although I won't give away any major plot points, stop reading now to avoid being spoiled (is that a word?).

The setup is this: The bad guy, "Le Chiffe" has, for reasons that aren't entirely clear, set up a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro. When Le bad Guy says high stakes, he's not f***ing around: the buy-in is $10 million, with one $5 million optional rebuy. The format: Ten players, winner take all -- which is ludicrously unfair, but never mind -- and the game, of course, is no-limit Texas hold'em. James Bond is being staked by Her Majesty's Goverment via an extraordinarily attractive brunette accountant who we'll call here "The Attractive Dipshit." The other eight players are various ethnic movie stereotypes common to all Bond films and can be essentially ignored (e.g., the Arabian shiek, the Asian gangster etc.)

The first hand of importance takes early on. With the blinds at an absurdly low $5000/$10000, Le Bad Guy raises on the turn to $50000. The board is showing 9-9-6-4 rainbow, so Bond decides to stare long and hard at his opponent -- perhaps because he knows that Le Chiffe sometimes bleeds from his eyes when he plays poker (I'm not kidding) Le Chiffe doesn't bleed, but he does press hard against his temple with two fingers. Bond decides to call. The river comes a 2 and kills the flush draw. Le Bad guy bets out $200,000, and Bond again calls. LBG shows a pair of 22s, making him a full house, 2s over 9s. Bond mucks his hand and gets up for a drink.

While getting his drink, the Attractive Dipshit angrily confronts him about the hand -- apparently, her Majesty's Govt. is stupid enough to believe that Bond should win every single hand he plays (even though the amounts at stake were trivial compared to the $10 million buy in.) Bond patiently explains that, even though he lost the hand, he now knows Le Bad Guy's "tell" -- the aforementioned temple-pressing -- which, according to Bond, indicates that LBG is bluffing.

A couple of observations: first, strictly speaking, betting with 22 into a board of 9-9-6-4 is not necessarily a "bluff" per se. Given the lack of high cards, LBG may well have been betting for value -- his pair of 22s were likely good at that point, but he wanted to destroy Bond's odds to draw to a higher pair (or a straight or a flush).

Not only that, only an amateur would believe such an obvious tell as LBG's temple-press was genuinely indicative of his hand. Presumably, LBG is willing to play for $10 million stakes because he knows a thing or two about poker, so if anything, his temple-press should have been seen as a possible "counter-tell" -- i.e., an obvious tell designed to fool idiot poker player like, er, James Bond.

The next major poker scene takes place after Bond has killed a few guys during the break (no joke). This time, we see that Bond has accumulated a healthy stack of chips, as has Le Bad Guy. With the board showing A-K-A-J, we see Bond looking down at his cards -- AK, the stone cold nuts. LBG bets out, and Bond just smooth calls (questionable but defensible, given that we know LBG likes to play aggressively). The river comes a J. Guess what Le Bad Guy does? Why, he starts rubbing his temple! And of course Blonde Bond, convinced he has correctly read his opponent's tell, decides to call for all $10 million or so of his chips. And Le Bad Guy turns over...JJ, for quad jacks, knocking Bond out of the game (temporarily).

Now here's where I got a little angry: instead of consoling Bond for the insanely bad beat he just took, the Attractive Dipshit actually berates him for his play, and refuses to stake him another $5 million. This, even though there was only one card out of 45 that could have beaten Bond's Aces-over-Kings fullhouse, and Bond was a 98% favorite to win the hand. Seriously, should Bond have not called the all-in with second hand to the nuts? If you really think so, AD, you are welcome to join my monthly tournament anytime.

Also, it's worth noting how absolutely irrelevant LBG's tell was -- or should have been -- to this hand. With AAAKK, you don't care if the other guy is scratching his temple or scratching his nuts; all that matters is you have an incredibly strong hand, one that holds up -- lemme say it again -- 98% of the time. So you call the all in, tell or no tell.

In any event, Bond is out of cash. Luckily, one of the black guys at the table happens to work for the CIA, and he offers to stake Bond the $5 million rebuy. Why? Because, according to the CIA officer's astute analysis, "you have him where you want him." Really? Le Bad Guy just doubled through and is a monster chip leader, and Bond will be buying in at half his original stake -- that's where you want him, eh? On the other hand, at least the CIA seems to understand that Bond has played solid cards, unlike the pretty-but-vapid accountant who refuses to pony up any more money.

After the previous two hands, the final scene is almost anticlimatic. With only four players left, the board shows As-Ah-6s-8s-9s. Asian Gangster goes all-in for his last $5 million. Big Black African goes all-in for his last $6 million. Le Bad Guy raises to $12 million. Dramatic pause. Bond moves all-in. LBG calls. Showdown: Asian Gangster has Ks-Qs, so he's clueless and clearly losing the pot. BBA turns over pocket eights, which I'm sure looked a lot better before the action behind him demonstrated he was beat. Then LBG turns over A6, for a higher full house. Our blonde hero turns over 5s-7s, for the straight flush, even though A9 would have won just as easily (and would have actually been more dramatic, since A9, unlike the 57s, was not the stone cold nuts).

So the poker lesson from Casino Royale? James Bond can be fooled with fake tells, the Brits don't know how to play poker, and you probably shouldn't play for $10 million stakes when you are prone to bleeding from your eye during games.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Random thoughts

I've been busier than usual at work lately, so blog posting has been light, and will be nonexistant over the Thanksgiving holiday. So here are some random thoughts:

-- The 2006 Seattle Seahawks are hard to fathom. We are 10 weeks into the season, and I'm still not sure if they -- we -- are a good team or not.

-- I'm putting the over/under on Nancy Pelosi's reign as Speaker at 42 weeks. Bet the under.

-- Thanks, Michael Richards, for doing what I thought was impossible: making me uncomfortable watching "Seinfeld" reruns. For an added layer of awkardness, check out his apology on Letterman on Monday -- it's up YouTube. In addition to calling them "the blacks" and "Afro Americans," Letterman's guest, Jerry Seinfeld, is forced to shush the audience for laughing during the apology.

-- Where does George W. Bush rank right now on the list of worst Presidents of this century? Has he taken the crown from Nixon? I say no, due to the lack of personal corruption -- but he's closer than I would have ever thought possible.

-- Thanks, Donovan 'Torn ACL when jogging out of bounds' McNabb, for ruining my chances at winning $1500 in my fantasy football league. Time to step up, Jon "I was a teenage QB" Kitna.

-- HBO has cancelled "Deadwood," but its creator, David Milch, is returning with a new series about a surfer from Cincinnati. I'm not excited about this at all.

-- Would you like to read more about the flag football league I play in? Check out the site here. Stay tuned for when I score my first touchdown (more of an impact defense player thus far -- 3 sacks and 1 forced fumble.)

-- At what point do we recognize Putin as a dictator? Does anyone think he really is going to give up power in 2008? Put your hand down, Fidel.

-- Speaking of which, is Fidel alive? Did we ever get confirmation on this?

-- "The best team in the NFL right now is the San Diego Chargers." I hear this a lot right now. Problem is, they've trailed by 20+ point for two straight weeks. Sure, they came back to win, but the defense without Merriman is not good.

-- Here are the football players I can remember seeing in non-NFL promotional commercials this year: Peyton Manning. That's it. No joke. Wait, I did see Big Ben in a "Fat Head" commercial.

-- Darren Afnsosky (not his real spelling) has a new movie out. Nobody is better at making creepy movies that you can't stop thinking about that aren't exactly logical but nonetheless compelling. Case in point: "Requiem for a Dream."

-- My new favorite writer is David Mitchell. He's English, so I guess he's my favourite writer. "Cloud Atlas" is basically a fun, readable Thomas Pynchon novel.

-- Why is it, in poker, if you lose $200 early, but then battle back to -$10 by the end of the night, you feel great, whereas, if you win $200 early, but then dwindle down to +$10, you want to stab something (or someone) with an icepick?

-- Does this column remind you of a bad Larry King column in USA Today? If so, consider it a parody.

-- If I had to sleep with a man -- I'm saying, if my life depended on -- it sure has hell wouldn't be Bill Parcells. Have you seen Giant Tuna lately?

-- Which of the following things did my girlfriend do for my birthday last week?
(1) Cook a huge dinner for eight people
(2) Rent a helium tank and fill the apartment with balloons
(3) Make arrangements to have one of my closest friends fly in from out of town
(4) Purchase four tickets to see the Seahawks-49ers here in SF
(5) Buy not one, not two, but five books for me, including Michael Lewis's excellent new book on football
(6) Help arrange a poker game with friends
(7) Purchased a customized piece of art that shows a little Ben figurine sitting on the couch in a Seahawks jersey, underneath a little picture of me with my girlfriend, surrounded by my favorite toys, books, and CDs
(8) All of the above

Yes, I have the greatest girlfriend anyone could ever hope for.

Happy Thanksgiving all, and thanks for reading.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Will Wii or Won't Wii?

So I haven't owned a video game console since the year 2000, when I bought an xBox that I used approximately four times before selling. But since I got a new HD television, I've thought about getting one, even though I'm not really that into video games (mostly because, as a child, I managed to support every single failed gaming and computer platform ever invented -- remember the NEC Turbografix? Of course you don't.)

Anyway, Nintendo, which I thought went bankrupt, is apparently planning to introduce a new console to compete with the Sony PS3 and the aformentioned Microsoft xBox. On Slate, they have competing reviews that suggest (a) the Wii is about to revolutionize gaming or (b) the Wii sucks and will fail spectacularly. Here's the compare-and-contrast, starting with the pro-Wii guy:

Every Wii console comes packaged with Wii Sports, which features a set of simple but addictive games. Wii Tennis, for example, is pretty much a trumped-up Pong with a Wii Remote, and it's exactly as fun as that sounds. More important, it felt like playing tennis, despite the cartoonish graphics and music. The realism in Wii Tennis, like the rest of the games in Wii Sports, comes from the gameplay mechanics of the motion-sensitive controller, not the graphics. To serve, you "toss" the ball in the air by flicking the Wii Remote upward and then serve overhand toward the screen. You must hit forehand or backhand volleys, depending on which side you approach the ball from. You can lob and smash by lifting the Wii Remote upward or downward. I even found myself getting into a slight crouch and dancing on the balls of my feet as I awaited an oncoming serve. In Wii Baseball, I stood in a batter's stance and unconsciously backed up in the box before a pitch.

Well, that actually sounds sort of fun -- a game machine that doesn't give me carpal tunnel syndrome from flicking buttons at 400 mph? That could work! That is, unless the remote doesn't actually sense motion very well:

Sure enough, when I tried hitting a baseball in another game, it was another exercise in round pegs versus round holes. The ball came in, I swung, and the ball flew away. After a few whacks, I realized that the Wii isn't asking me to simulate a realistic swing. There's no reason to assume a batter's stance, and no reason to bother swinging the controller fast or following through—flicking the controller like a pingpong paddle works just as well. This is the Wii's biggest letdown—you don't need to stand up, leap around, or otherwise leave the warm embrace of your couch. The console senses motion, but compared with the full-body workout of a game like Dance Dance Revolution, you're not getting any kind of exercise at all.

Call me a skeptic, but I bet the second guy is on to something here. If you can play Wii Baseball without actually simulating a baseball stance, you are basically playing a crappy carnival game that happens to be electronic. Kids will figure this out quickly and get very annoyed.

[Ed: Does this mean you are recommending a short-sell strategy for Nintendo? Heck no. By predicting that the Wii will suck, I'm practically guaranteeing its success. Whatever I say about electronics, do the opposite.]

Mistaken views of Iraq

Family friend and loyal reader/commenter "JohnBai3030" wrote a long comment in response to my "Up and Out" of Iraq strategy. (Astute TPV readers will note the news today that the Baker Commission is about to recommend "Go Long," "Go Deep," or "Get Out" -- this war is all about pithy catchphrases!) Here's JohnBai3030, in his own words:

The "mission" in Iraq (as far as our publicly stated goal - and not the covert goal of securing Iraq's vast oil reserves for ourselves) has been accomplished. Saddam has been arrested and is standing trial. The dictator has been overthrown. At this point, there is nothing wrong with leaving. If Iraq can't sort itself out and develop an independent government that looks after the affairs of Iraqis and takes Iraqi values to heart... then maybe the UN should get involved. Our continued presence only ensures that Iraq will NOT have a strong independent government that looks after the best interests of Iraqi citizens. And in the meantime, any Iraqi civilians that are worth a damn (the doctors and social workers and such) are fleeing the country because it's a hellhole occupied by an unfriendly military. Things probably have to get worse before they get better... but worse for whom... and better for whom? If we send more troops, things get worse for us, and we may get more oil out of the deal. If we withdraw, things will get temporarily worse for Iraq, but at least then they'll have a shot at a autonomous, respectable nation... rather than a dysfunctional puppet government that we might set up. (See the US's long history of dysfunctional puppet governments for clarification of what I mean.)

At the risk of alienating my most loyal reader, every single argument advanced in this paragraph is wrong. Let's break it down, piece by piece:

1. There was no "covert" motive of obtaining Iraqi oil fields. The neoconservatives have been nakedly transparent about their motivations, and getting oil isn't one of them. There is also the troubling fact that the amount we have spent on the Iraq War thus far could have paid for Iraqi oil, at maximum daily production, for approximately 30 years.

2. The mission has not been accomplished, despite President Bush's premature adventures on the aircraft carrier. The mission was not, "Invade Iraq, remove Saddam, then pull out and watch what happens and hope for the best." It would make no sense to remove Saddam, only to have his replacement be an equal or greater threat to American interests. There was always a recognition that this was not a simple undertaking -- recall Colin Powell's "Pottery Barn" quote, "you break it, you bought it" -- as the unheeded warning to the Bush Administration about the follies of invading without a coherent reconstruction plan. If only Bush had listened.

3. Say what you will about the Iraqi government, but it is not a puppet government. It is, in fact, one of three democratic states in the region (in addition to Afghanistan and Turkey). To be sure, the government wants us to stay in Iraq, but that is not evidence of "puppet" status but rather, evidence that there is real fear in Iraq that wholesale civil war and slaughter will result if we leave. Of course, it would be wonderful if the UN would step in and provide security forces, but the UN never gets involved in internal civil wars -- and it's certainly not going to get involved in Iraq.

There is a troubling notion floating around out there that the Democratic victory was a vote for withdrawal from Iraq. It was not. Many people, myself included, voted Democratic because of the frustration over the lack of progress in Iraq and the apparent blindness of the Administration to the growing problems there. But if we withdraw now, and civil war ensues, and we create the world's most violent haven for terrorists, the consequences will be catastrphic -- for Iraqis, for Americans, for the world. The Democratic Party will destroy itself if it thinks such an outcome is palatable.

(JohnBai3030, in the interest of fairness, I will happily post any reply on the main blog.)

Short oil strategy

Back in May (or was it April), I predicted that oil was waaaay overvalued, and that fear and confusion were driving the price of crude barrels to unsupportable levels. Right after I posted, oil jumped another $10 -- thanks, Lebanon! -- and I thought, "gee, I'm glad I don't follow my own investment strategy."

OOPS. Oil just hit $55 a barrel, a new 17-month low.

[How about that prediction that the 49ers -- you know, the team that just crushed your Seahawks -- would go 1-15? --ed. I don't want to talk about it.]

Kramer the Racist

Label this Monday "weird comedian" news story day. Check out this clip of Michael Richards, aka Kramer from Seinfeld, losing his mind and going off on a racist -- I mean, really, really racist -- tirade at a comedy show. He yells repeatedly to a black heckler, "He's a nigger! A nigger! A nigger!"

This raises an interesting question: can I still laugh at Kramer on Seinfeld, knowing now that he's a complete racist asshole? Relatedly, can I still watch and enjoy "Road Warrior" or "Braveheart," knowing as I do now that Mel Gibson's an anti-semitic bastard?


Here's a link to the tirade.

Borat defends Borat

Sasha Baron Cohen, the creator of "Borat," has been promoting his movie exclusively in character. Exclusively, that is, until this interview with a UK newspaper.

The two most interesting points? First, the UK version apparently has a scene from the HBO Borat, wherein Borat sings "Throw the Jew down the well" to a bar of drunken southerners in Arizona. This scene is not in the US version (perhaps replaced by the mangled Star Spangled Banner scene).

Second: Borat used to work for Goldman Sachs?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Impressive debut, Speaker Pelosi

Just a quick to note that, one week after taking power, Nancy Pelosi has managed to (a) embarass herself (by failing to get John Murtha appointed House Majority Leader), (b) embarass the Democrats (because Murtha went on television to claim the new House ethics rules are "total crap" -- he's actually right, but maybe now was not the time to bring it up), (c) sound like a megomaniacal bitch (because she pointedly asked the incoming freshman congresspeople what committee assignments they wanted -- the keys to real power in DC -- while discussing their support for her man Murtha), (d) squander the positive press coverage the Democrats should have enjoyed for at least a month.

I'm glad I finally have a Democrat to whack as often as I've been attacking Bush. Equal time here on TPV.

Ben on Breasts

Today, the FDA reapproved the use of silicone-gel breast implants, after 14 years of the stupidest prohibition of all time. I say stupidest because all non-quack scientists have known, for some time now, that there is no link -- none -- between a leaking implant and poor health.

What happened was this: thousands of women obtained silicone implants. Many of these same women had implants that leaked. Many of these same women also got sick. Ergo, these women concluded the leaking implants were the source of their illnesses.

This, of course, is a classical logical fallacy. When actual scientists studied the problem -- from Harvard, the Mayo clinic, etc. -- they found no causal connection between a leaky implant and any form of disease or health malady. But this didn't stop the trial lawyers, or the FDA, or the general public, from attacking the safety of silicone-gel implants and virtually ending their use in the U.S.

All that has now ended. Amazingly, however, the Associated Press story today makes every effort to make it sound as if the FDA had just licensed mandatory masectomys for all women over age 15. Here are some of the more egregious quotes:

Mentor [a breast implant manufacturer] called the decision a ''historic moment.'' Allergan [ditto] said it created new options for women.

However, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, a longtime opponent, called the implants ''the most defective medical device FDA has ever approved.''

Of course, Dr. Wolfe is completely outside the mainstream scientific community on this subject, but the AP doesn't bother to mention this.

Some researchers also worry that the platinum used to manufacture the implants can seep into the body and cause harm. The FDA says there is no evidence of that.

Who are these "some researchers?" What evidence do they have to support their claim? The AP doesn't say, but does this compare-and-contrast sound fair and unbiased to you? If you had to guess, do you think the AP writer believes "some researchers" or the FDA?

Women whose silicone implants ruptured have reported years of pain, swelling, numbness and other symptoms that they blame on the devices. Leaked silicone gel can migrate throughout the body, forming lumps. Implants also can cause infection and form hard, painful scar tissue that can distort the shape of a breast.

Yes, the women blame the implants. But the problem is, the implants are not the cause. This is why the FDA is lifting the ban. The AP seems willfully oblivious to this basic fact.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Rogue Sea Lion Menacing San Francisco"

We interrupt our regular political-and-Seahawks-based diatribe to bring you this terrifying front-page story from today's San Francisco Chronicle, with added commentary by yours truly.

Rogue sea lion in S.F. menaces swimmers Marauding mammal bites at least 14, chases 10 from Aquatic Park Lagoon

Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer
Thursday, November 16, 2006

A California sea lion lurking in San Francisco's Aquatic Park Lagoon is terrorizing swimmers, biting at least 14 on the legs and chasing 10 others out of the water this week.

No one has been seriously hurt, but the surprised victims have been advised by Marine Mammal Center staff to take antibiotics to ward off infection. San Francisco Department of Public Health physicians aren't recommending rabies shots.

Biologists are at a loss to explain the eccentric behavior that has forced the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park to close the lagoon to swimmers until the marauding mammal moves on. Experts say the animal could be protecting his harem of mates or might have brain damage from toxic algae.

Bit of background: San Francisco's "Aquatic Park Lagoon" is a small semi-circle of water on the north side of the bay that people swim in regularly (obviously, as evidenced by the sea lion attacks). I have long suspected, and experts have now confirmed, that the lagoon is festering with toxic algae that causes brain damage.

The creature from the Aquatic Park Lagoon hangs about the shore, keeping an eye out for swimmers. When they go into the water, it moves under them, first brushing their legs. Then the nipping and biting start.

Celeste McMullin, one of the swimmers bitten Monday, saw the sea lion near the shore before her swim but didn't think much of it.

"I was swimming along, and I felt a brush under my feet. And I thought, 'These feel like whiskers.' So I stopped, and the animal popped up. He/she looked at me.''

[And thought, "First I must nip, then -- I will bite! OH, how my brain has been ravaged by toxix algae."]

McMullin, an Oakland resident and member of the Dolphin Club swim group, had a decision to make -- keep on swimming or go to shore.

"I decided I'd head to shore. Then it started bumping and biting in earnest."

Not just nipping and biting, but bumping too! Oh, the horror, the horror.

McMullin, who was about a quarter of a mile from the shore, tried to climb onto a nearby boat but couldn't get over a rail. When she plopped back into the water, the sea lion was waiting for her.

"I was really scared,'' she said.

With nobody around to help her, McMullin swam as fast as she could back to shore, the sea lion biting her all the way. She said she kept yelling "Stop it," as if that would do any good.

In the original version of this paragraph, the journalist wrote "McMullin kept yelling 'Stop it' like a giant dipshit, because sea lions don't speak English."

When she got out of the water, blood running down her leg, a fellow swimmer said he had watched the surprising scene from shore. McMullin had six bites: two puncture wounds and four cuts.

Nice way to help out, fellow swimmer.

She went to California Pacific Medical Center, where a second Dolphin Club member, Andy Stone, came in with a bite on his foot.

"The nurses were laughing. Everyone was laughing. I was laughing," McMullin said.

"Then, everyone started screaming -- the sea lions were attacking the Medical Center! They were...they were....they were eating the children. Blood everywhere. I will never laugh again."

A third Dolphin Club member, Omar Thompson, had been bitten on the back of the leg earlier Monday. Another, John Mervin, was bumped by the sea lion that same day, club officials said.

"I've been swimming here for 70 years almost, and nothing like this has happened before,'' said Lou Marcelli, the commodore of the Dolphin Club, which is based at Aquatic Park.

Uh, you don't say, "Commodore."

Nobody saw the sea lion Tuesday.

On Wednesday, two more swimmers from the club got nipped -- Andy Pinetti was bitten on his middle toe and Don Reid on the back of his calf.

NOTE TO DOLPHIN CLUB: FIND SOMEPLACE ELSE TO SWIM. And change your name to the "Nipped by Sea Lions" club.

Wayne Black manages the South End Rowing Club, a 136-year-old nonprofit group for people who like to swim and row in the bay. He came to work Wednesday and heard stories about "people getting bitten.''

" 'What's biting them?' I said. I didn't think of a sea lion.''

Instead, said Black, he imagined a large, Nessy like sea monster with giant breasts and six-foot long tusks.

Nine members of his club were bitten Wednesday morning, he said.

NINE? NINE? Where is the "Commodore"'s leadership? Find a f***cking pool!

"Not only do the swimmers have to deal with the cold water, but they have to deal with this sea lion? Only at the South End Rowing Club,'' Black said.

The South End Rowing Club then declared that the Dolphin Club was a bunch of sea urchins, and challenged them to a swim-off.

He heard about two sisters and a friend who were bitten Wednesday.

"One of the sisters got bitten two times, once in the thigh and once in the calf. The sea lion followed her out of the water and then bit her again. They couldn't get out of the water fast enough. Now one of them is at the point where she's scared to go back swimming.''

Do you know why? Because, from an evolutionary standpoint, we are supposed to adapt and learn to avoid injury from other mammals. This sister is apparently the only member of the swim club not affected by toxic algae.

At the Marine Mammal Center, veterinarian Frances Gulland said she can't say for sure what's wrong with the animal.

"I can only guess that something's wrong with its brain,'' Gulland said. Poisoning from toxic algae can damage the brain, she said.

Yes, we now have abundant evidence of that.

Gulland advises swimmers to stay out of the water until the animal disappears.

"The migration has started, and the animals are moving north to Washington state and Oregon," she said.

The animal will either move or die, she said.


Stan Minasian, director of the Animal Fund, a nonprofit group dedicated to animal welfare issues, said he has seen male sea lions become aggressive when they think females are threatened.

"That's nothing unusual when you're swimming near females, and the males get ticked off,'' Minasian said.

He's dived and filmed for more than 30 years and has underwater film of a sea lion ripping the lens shade off of a camera to protect his harem and his turf.

Nice work, sea lion! Filmed being a bad ass, then go home and hump your harem. Not a bad life at all --- assuming no toxic algae to the brain, of course.

Kimo Fouts, a scuba diver and spear fisherman for many years off the Sonoma County coast, said sea lion encounters are commonplace.

"It never gets reported. Seeing a sea lion in the water is as reliable as getting wet,'' he said.

"They sneak up behind you and nip at you. They're annoyed, but they're not trying to fight.''

Annoyed that humans are in the ocean? Selfish motherf**king sea lions.

Two men bumped by the sea lion Wednesday morning think their wetsuits could have saved them from bites.

Craig Scibetta and Brett Ladove, who swim at Aquatic Park with the Water World Swim Club out of Corte Madera, also saw the sea lion near the beach.

Wait, a THIRD freakin' swim club? Seriously? We need three swim clubs for this little lagoon?

The animal bumped them, then looked at them from a distance of 3 feet. Then he zoomed by.
At 100 yards out, they thought they'd better go back.

"All the way, he kept bumping us,'' Scibetta said. "He kind of herded us out of the water.''

Then attacked him on shore and drank his blood from the skull of Kimo Fouts.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Iraq: Up and Out?

Yesterday, the NY Times ran this important "military analysis" article that quotes a number of retired generals who think it would be a mistake -- some would say disaster -- to reduce troop levels in Iraq, including General Zinni -- one of the Bush administration's chief critics, and the former CENTCOM commander in the Middle East.

The problem, of course, is that the Democrats just seized power by running -- on somewhat vague terms -- "against" the war in Iraq. The political mandate for increasing troop levels? Nonexistant!

But that's exactly why the Democrats have an incredible opportunity here to (a) do the right thing, (b) demonstrate independence from the Bush administration, and (c) begin the phased withdrawal from Iraq that most of the country wants. How, you ask?

Proposal: "Up and Out"

First, the Up: The U.S. commits to increasing ("upping") troop levels in Iraq -- immediately. Not by 10,000, not by 50,000, but by another 150,000, double the forces currently in theater. Speech soundbite: "Donald Rumsfeld was unwilling to commit the troops necessary to finish the job. We are not."

Then, the Out: The U.S. informs Iraqi President Maliki that troops will begin a phased withdrawal from Iraq in one year's time (around the spring of 2008). By the end of 2008, we plan to reduce to a 50,000 soldier contingency devoted to securing American interests and hunting for al-Qaeda. General security/policing functions will no longer be the province of American forces.

The obvious problem, of course, is that if we "upped" we might not "out," particularly if the security situation worsened after the increase in troop levels. Rebuttal: yes, but if violence increases even if we commit more troops, then the troop levels themselves are part of the problem! Alternatively, if the violence decreases, a phased withdrawal will be more palatable to the Iraqis (since the situation will appear, and will in fact be, more stable). Either way, by "upping" first, we set the stage for a justified "outing" in the not-too-distant future.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006


So I saw "Borat" on Friday. (Quick review: funny, but could have been funnier.) The basic plot, in case you've been under a rock, is that a television reporter from Kazakhstan wanders the U.S., interviewing Americans from all walks of life. Along the way, there are a few uncomfortable moments of honesty, which led some people to argue that "Borat" exposes just how backwards/crass America really is.

Enter Christopher Hitchens. Writing for Slate, Hitchens actually points to Borat's interviews as evidence of how nice Americans truly are:

Among the "cultural learnings of America for make benefit glorious nation of Kazakhstan" is the discovery that Americans are almost pedantic in their hospitality and politesse. At a formal dinner in Birmingham, Ala., the guests discuss Borat while he's out of the room—filling a bag with ordure in order to bring it back to the table, as it happens—and agree what a nice young American he might make. And this is after he has called one guest a retard and grossly insulted the wife of another (and remember, it's "Americana" that is "crass"). The tony hostess even takes him and his bag of shit upstairs and demonstrates the uses not just of the water closet but also of the toilet paper. The arrival of a mountainous black hooker does admittedly put an end to the evening, but if a swarthy stranger had pulled any of the foregoing at a liberal dinner party in England, I wouldn't give much for his chances.

Hitchens has other examples too:

I have to say, I didn't like the look of the elderly couple running the Confederate-memorabilia store, but considering that Borat smashes hundreds of dollars worth of their stock, they bear up pretty well—icily correct even when declining to be paid with locks of pubic hair. The only people who are flat-out rude and patronizing to our curious foreigner are the stone-faced liberal Amazons of the Veteran Feminists of America . . . .

What I find is curious is that Hitchens leaves out the two most disturbing (and non-funny) moments in the film. The first takes place behind the scenes at a rodeo, with "Borat" interviewing a 60-year old grandpa in a cowboy hat. For reasons I won't explain, Borat states that in Kazakhstan, gay people are hanged, which prompts right-wing grandpa to reply, "Well, we're working on that here too." And then laugh.

(In San Francisco, no one laughed.)

Later in the movie, Borat finds three drunk frat boys heading down the highway in a trailer. They proceed to tell Borat how black people have all the power and rights in America, and that slavery should be reinstated. Not segregation, slavery. Of course, the frat boys are now suing the producers of Borat, claiming they were duped into drinking so much. Call it the Mel Gibson defense.

So yes Hitchens, some Americans are polite. But some are racist, homophobic assholes. I'd say Borat gives both equal time.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The curse of the blog

So there I was, hurriedly working on a legal brief at work today, when suddenly I realized, "crap, it's 4:30 pm on Monday, and I haven't blogged today!" And I felt a crushing sense of guilt.

But what's weird is, I don't really have anything to blog about today. Elections are over. Bush hasn't done anything weird for a couple of days. The Seahawks won -- huge, huge, HUGE win -- but I usually wait a couple of days before I say anything about the game. So what's a blogger to do?

Ok, here's something I came across that you might enjoy checking out: a legal analysis of Gilligan's Island. Seriously.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ben tries to get a reservation at a popular Korean restaurant -- a transcript

Woman who answers phone: [Incomprehensible Korean]

Me: Yes, I'd like to make a reservation for tonight.

Woman: Busy!

Me: Yes, that's why I'd like a reservation.

Woman: Dinner!

Me: Er, yes, for dinner.

Woman: Very busy tonight!

Me: Yes.

Woman: How many?

Me: Four.

Woman: Eight?

Me: Four. Four people.

Woman: Eight?

Me: No, just four.

Woman: What name?

Me: Ben.

Woman: Pao?

Me: Ben. B-E-N.

Woman: [uncomfortable silence]

Woman: What time you come?

Me: Eight fifteen.

Woman: Six?

Me: No, 8:15.

Woman: Six?

Me: No. How about 8 pm?

Woman: Six?

Me: Eight!

Woman: Ok, see you.

Ultimate Frisbee Freaks

From a recent NY Times article (hat tip: Daniel Drezner):

Forget college guides, U.S. News & World Report rankings, average SAT scores. The best gauge of an institution’s excellence may actually be … its ultimate Frisbee team. At least that’s the theory of Dr. Michael J. Norden, a Univer sity of Washington professor of psychiatry.

Ultimate started in the 60’s as the hippie’s anti-sport — a coach-free, referee-less, noncontact game combining the free-form elements of Frisbee with the strategy, athleticism and goal-making of football or soccer. Players call their own infractions, and “The Spirit of the Game,” the ruling document, says that while competition is encouraged, it must not be “at the expense of the bond of mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed-upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play.” More than 500 colleges and universities now have teams competing interscholastically.

Dr. Norden analyzed the Ultimate Players Association “power ratings” of private national universities over a decade (the ratings assess strength based on past performance), and he discovered a startling pattern. “All the schools with above-average ultimate teams also have above-average graduation rates,” says Dr. Norden, whose son is, not coincidentally, a serious high school player looking for a university with a good team. “They average a 90 percent graduation rate, while the average graduation rate for private national universities is just 73 percent. Statistically, that just doesn’t happen by chance.”

As far as the thesis of this study, I'm pretty sure Prof. Norden is confusing causation with correlation. But I just wanted to say that, as someone who's played Ultimate for more than 15 years, I'm disappointed to learn it was started as the hippie "anti-sport." No wonder I recently made the switch to "hardcore" flag football -- I hate hippies. And I've also been annoyed that the so-called "Spirit of the Game" has prevented Ultimate from becoming an Olympic sport, even though it's probably the only purely "amateur" sport being played in the world today. Ultimate players refuse to have referees (because of the stupid Spirit), therefore the Olympics -- quite rightfully -- refuses to sanction the game (because of the potential for cheating and collusion).

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Seahawks mideseason awards

Well, we're half way through the NFL season, so it's time for my first annual Mideseason Seahawks Awards. Without further ado:

The "Player who looked really good in the preseason, but managed to stink it up when it counted" Award
Rob Spencer, left guard. We'd knew we'd miss Hutch, but Spencer made me miss Pork Chop -- that's hard to do.

The "Offseason acquisition who's failed to live up to even the most minimal of expectations" Award
That'd be Nate Burleson, our soon to be #5 WR.

The "Guy who should've have been starting for us from the beginning of the season and would have saved us from watching Nate Burleson's uncomfortable drops" Award
D.J. "Clutch" Hackett, who continues to shine whenever he's put on the field. I really should have bought the #18 jersey like I wanted to.

The "Genuine Team MVP but it pains me to say it" Award
Take a bow, Steve Hutchinson. I thought for sure it'd be Hasselbeck, but Seneca Wallace has played just fine in reserve. But our offensive line is in shambles, and we didn't have a running game even when Shaun was healthy.

The "Offseason acquisition who is playing well, yet may be upsetting team chemistry and detracting from overall performance" award
Here's your trophy, Julian Peterson. There's no doubt this guy is a playmaker, but what's happened to Lofa Tatupu? He seems almost invisible at times -- has his leadership role been diminished because of J-Pete?

The "Glaring weakness on the team" Award
Take a collective bow, Seattle secondary. Where to start? Kelly Herndon started the season strong but now seems content to stand three yards off his man and tackle him after every catch. Michael Boulware got burned so often, he now gets to join Shaun Alexander's midgame prayer circle while sitting on the bench. Ken Hamlin enjoys laying huge hits -- being in position to prevent the deep pass, not so much.

The "Wow, I guess Shaun Alexander is actually pretty good and I do actually miss him" Award
2.9 yards per carry Maurice Morris, ladies and gentlemen.

The "Blow out both knees and still perform at an elite level, even though no one ever talks about me" Award
The one and only D-Jax. When will people start giving this guy his dues?

The "Most predictable call by Holmgren in the entire Seahawks playbook" Award
Hello, third-and-long. Hello, handoff to Mack Strong inside for a gain of 3. Hello, me ripping my own back hair off in frustration.

The "Play that appeared to have salvaged our entire season, even though absolutely nothing has gone right since" Award
"Josh Brown lines up for the kick...54's good! The Hawsk win! Rams lose!"

Speaker Bug-Eyes

Let's say you're a certain major American political party that's been out of power for twelve years. You've just won the most important election in 25 years, and have recaptured both houses of Congress. You did so by playing it smart and safe, offering up candidates who were palatable to independents and moderate conservatives (such as pro-life Senator-elect Bob Casey in Pennsylvania). You now have a narrow majority, but the Administration remains in the hands of Bush, and he still controls the War in Iraq.

Accepting all this as true, do you really want to nominate a San Francisco ultra-liberal who is incapable of speaking in anything but Democratic talking points as Speaker of the House? Really?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rumsfeld resignation

A few quick thoughts:

1. What would have happened if Rumsfeld had resigned one week ago? Sure, it would have damaged Bush politically, but Bush was already toxic, and also elected. Arguably, a Rummy resignation would have provided GOP candidates with a helpful talking point to moderates -- "see, we're not staying the course, we're forcing change, etc." -- and might have boosted candidates in certain swing states, such as, oh I don't know, Virginia and Montana.

2. I don't think I've ever changed my feelings about a politician/administration official as much as I have on Rummy. Way back in 2000, I thought he was a remarkably smart, blunt bureaucrat who'd bring much needed change to the military. Afghanistan seemed to confirm that. It was only when I watched the BBC documentary, "Power of Nightmares," and realized that Rumsfeld had been convinced that Russia had secret, hidden nuclear weapons that were going to destroy us that I realized that, no, he's just a paranoid right-wing asshole. My bad.

3. With all that said, you have to admit he gave a great quote. Some highlights:

"We do know of certain knowledge that he [Osama Bin Laden] is either in Afghanistan, or in some other country, or dead."

"Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war."

"Needless to say, the President is correct. Whatever it was he said."

"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."

"Secretary Powell and I agree on every single issue that has ever been before this administration except for those instances where Colin's still learning."

"If I know the answer I'll tell you the answer, and if I don't, I'll just respond, cleverly."

Donkey Kong

In the past 24 hours:

-- The Democrats have taken control of the House
-- The Democrats have taken a majority of governorships
-- The Democrats have gained +4 seats in the Senate, and may well get the two more needed to take control
-- And Rumsfeld just resigned

On that last point, this is what CNN and NY Times are reporting. Remember, Rumsfeld offered to resign after Abu Ghraib, but Bush refused to accept it. Wonder if he'll take the same position this time around (answer: no). I wonder too what medal Rumsfeld will get.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Early exit polls

From a variety of sources, including lefty New Republic and righty National Review, these are the early exit polls:

Democrats leading:
Virginia (52-47)
Rhode Island (53-46)
Pennsylvania (57-42)
Ohio (57-43)
New Jersey (52-45)
Montana (53-46)
Missouri (50-48)
Maryland (53-46)

Republicans leading:
Tennessee (51-48)
Arizona (50-46)

Of course, early exit polls showed Kerry winning in 2004, so take these with a grain of salt, followed by a shot of tequila.

Ok, maybe it's going to happen again. Here's the early hard data on Virginia:

Webb: 49.49%
Allen: 49.33%
19.69% of precincts reporting
07:56 pm EST

Christian Slater, football maniac

Last night, the Seattle Seahawks beat the Oakland Raiders on Monday Night Football. You might not have noticed, because the ESPN game crew got bored approximately 10 minutes into the game, and cohost Tony Kornheiser found about 37 different ways to distract themselves for the duration of the contest, including:

(1) Yammering about whether Tony Kornheiser's fantasy football team was going to beat Mike Tirico's team. The only problem? Tirico was unaware he even had a fantasy team, much less that he was playing Kornheiser.

(2) Handing out "Tony" awards -- clever! -- to various players for various bullshit reasons. You know, like Madden's been doing for more than 20 years.

(3) Having his daytime talkshow cohost join him in the both for the last half of the game, ignoring Theismann and Tirico completely.

But by far the most distracting moment was when Christian Slater, whose face looked as if it had been stretched skin-tight across his skull and polished with a wax enamel, joined the team in the booth for quite possibly the most unintentionally hilarious 10 minutes in MNF history. Here, as best I can remember, is a transcript of what transpired:

Tirico: Joining us now in the booth is Christian Slater. Christian, I understand you have a new movie coming out soon?

Slater: Thanks Mike. Yeah, I'm in "Bobby," the new movie about Bobby Kennedy. It's got a great ensemble cast, including Lindsay Lohan. You know, a great ensemble is like a great football team! Like this Seattle Seahawks!

[First awkward pause while Theismann stares at Slater, wondering who he is or why he's in the booth]

Tirico: Sounds terrific, Christian.

[Seahawks punt the ball]

Slater, voice over: Woo-hoo, looka that punt!

* Note: Punt was for 28 yards, touchback in the endzone.

[Raiders run the ball for 2 yards]

Slater: Woo, looka that!

Theismann: So, Christian, do you follow football?

Slater: Oh yeah, I have tons of friends that love football. I flew up from LA for this!

[Cut-away to Theismann, staring incredulously, while Tirico shuffles awkwardly in his seat]

Kornheiser: So, uh, what team do you follow?

Slater: Oh man, growing up, I dad loved...the Jets?

[Audible sense of relief that Slater has named an actual NFL franchise]

Slater: Hey, can I do something? Can I say something?


[Painful, building tension]

Tirico: Uh, sure, go ahead.


[Unbelievably pained silence]

Slater: There's a story behind that!

Theismann [laughing awkwardly]: Haha, you mean Michelle Tafoya, our sideline reporter, haha!

[Slater gives an icy stare]

Tirico: Ok, thanks for stopping by, Christian. Make sure to check out "Bobby," the movie about the asssassination of Bobby Kennedy next week.


Final note -- here's what Wikipedia has to say about the mysterious Michelle that Christian gave his "shout out" on MNF:

On August 11, 1997, Slater was arrested by police in Los Angeles and charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon and one count of battery. Slater, drunk and high on heroin, punched his then-girlfriend, fashion editor Michelle Jonas, in the face at a party and biting a man who attempted to protect her. Slater did not go quietly, but hid in a stairwell and fought with officers, reportedly shouting, "the Germans are coming and they will kill us!" He then attacked a police officer. All the felony charges against him were eventually dropped. He was sentenced to three months in prison, serving 59 days for good behavior.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Election predictions

As you know, I've been out of the country for a week, so unfortunately I missed out on a chance to timely comment on the John Kerry "botched joke" story, or as I like to call it, "the stupidest fucking non-scandal I have ever witnessed in my almost 30 year life" story. But it seems the GOP has picked up a little momentum, particularly among the all-important "likely voter" category (since "likely voter" increasingly means retired religious nutjob).

So here's my one-week-out-of-the-loop-so-probably-worthless predictions:

Split 49-49-1, with that all important "1" being Tailgunner Joe Lieberman. From bastard Democratic stepchild to the most important swing vote since Al Gore on welfare reform -- good times!

Democrats win control with 229 seats. Annoyingly, in my family's moderate home district in Washington state, Republican Dave Reichart defeats what must be one of the weakest Democratic nominees ever, Darcy Burner. Note: I know absolutely nothing about Darcy Burner, other than her name is slightly offputting. But if she can't win a moderate district in Washington state in a year where Dems are threatening a nationwide sweep, she must Suck with a capital S.

No idea. But Arnie is going to win big in California. For some reason, this upsets a lot of people, even though he's (a) made positive improvements on the budget, (b) taken on the state prison workers' union, possibly the most evil union of all time, and (c) generally provided good entertainment for the state. Here's our governor describing state assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia:

"I mean Cuban, Puerto-Rican, they are all very hot. They have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it."

Honest-to-god quote. Even better -- Garcia said she wasn't offended. California politics -- there's nothing more bizarre. (By the way, did you know former Governor "Moonbeam" Jerry Brown is about to become state attorney general? Again, I don't make this stuff up.)


The mysterious "Lil Bro" makes the astute observation that there are, in fact, 100 U.S. Senators. So, er, make it 49 Dems, 50 GOPs, one very loose cannon.