Tuesday, July 31, 2007

It's official

Seahawks training camp -- day three!

Some quick notes on Hawks training camp:

1. Jordan Babineaux has a bone bruise and will miss four weeks. If he hadn't already lost the nickel job to rookie CB Josh Wilson, he just did.

2. Remember this name: Leonard Weaver. He may be the most exciting Hawk you've never heard of. A fullback, Weaver has (a) power and (b) great hands, so we may see a lot more of him on passing downs this year. He's also got a wicked stiff arm.

3. For some reason, backup QB Seneca Wallace is returning punts. Uh, isn't that what Nate Burleson is for?

4. Conflicting reports on D.J. Hawkett. Seahawks Insider keeps reporting that he looks amazing; Seattle PI claims he "stood out in a sea of ineffectiveness." Whatever. He's the starter, and bank on this: he'll be the Hawks leading receiver this year.

5. Do you know who David Greene is? Answer: our third-string QB. Do you know that he sucks? Because he does.

6. Biggest concern: Marcus Tubbs is on the "PUP" list (physically unable to perform). No one knows if this is a precautionary move or whether there's been a setback in his rehab. If the latter, you have my permission to start crying now.

7. Happiest surprise: Brandon Mebane is apparently lighting guys up at defensive end. With Kerney looking healthy too, we should have a hell of a pass rush this year.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Exhibit no. 8,367 that Barry Bonds is an A-hole

From today's San Francisco Chronicle:

Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, speaking to HBO's Bob Costas in a show that aired Tuesday, said the refusals of Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire to address steroids accusations are tantamount to admissions they used performance-enhancing drugs.

Bonds' response? He lashed out at Costas.

"You mean that little midget man who absolutely knows jacks -- about baseball, who never played the game before?" Bonds said to a handful of reporters before Wednesday night's game. "You can tell Bob Costas what I called him."

Lemme get this straight: Curt Schilling accuses Barry Bonds of taking steroids, which we all know is true, and thus Bonds makes fun of Bob Costas for (a) being short and (b) not being a professional baseball player. What a revolting human being. Go away, Barry Bonds -- we're tired of watching you.

Meet the newest contributor to the Pro Football Prospectus

***Warning: self-love alert***

Just got word that I'm the first new writer selected to contribute to the 2008 Pro Football Prospectus, produced by -- get ready to hear this name a lot -- Aaron Schatz and the Football Outsiders. In fact, I may also be writing for the Football Outsiders' website this year, albeit in limited fashion (pithy headlines for funny quotes).

Obviously, I'm pleased the hard work paid off, and I'm really excited to write about the NFL. Thanks to everyone for reading my "application" -- now go bookmark the Football Outsiders webpage!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"Gay" or "homosexual"?

Over on Volokh.com, Professor Eugene Volokh is refusing to stop using the word "homosexual" to describe gays and lesbians, after one commentor suggested that such usage is bigoted. According to Eugene:

First, the descriptive assertion that there's a high correlation between use of the term "homosexual" and the speaker's hostility to homosexuals strikes me as entirely unfounded. Search the archives of the New York Times — or for that matter the Advocate — the works of Andrew Sullivan, and a wide variety of other sources, and you'll see.

Second, I'm not even persuaded by the assertion that homosexuals themselves generally prefer "gay" or "lesbian" . . .

My response, as posted in the comments section:

Eugene, you've previously argued that you'd consider abandoning a term for two reasons:

"One . . . is when one term is so often used pejoratively that reasonable listeners might assume that the current user is using it pejoratively. Another is when the term is so archaic that it will make people wonder whether the speakers must have some ulterior motive in using it (the obvious motive, which is that it's a commonly used term that springs to people's minds naturally, being absent)."

Isn't that what this commentor is arguing? Now, the commentor may be wrong about whether the term "homosexual" is really a flag for a Christianist or bigot, for the reasons you articulate, but that involves examining the evidence, rather than rejecting the argument as per se unpersuasive.

And about that evidence. While I'm not sure what Andrew Sullivan references or New York Times citations you found, I think the commentor is accurately describing not only the feelings of the overwhelming majority of gays and lesbians, but those of us who are active in the movement, who hear "homosexual" as an anachronism of a time when "homosexuality" was defined as a psychological disease. I think the costs of switching here are relatively low -- please keep an open mind about whether you need to make a stand here.

In response, Prof. Volokh cited one Andrew Sullivan article in the NY Times and two brief quotes from The Advocate as evidence that pro-gay speakers use the word "homosexual." So I responded once more:

Eugene, thanks for the citations to Sullivan and the Advocate. But do you think they suffice to demonstrate convincingly that "homosexual" is in widespread use among the -- ah, let's use "LGBT" for now -- community? I could point you to this Wikipedia entry on the word "gay":

"Some people reject the term homosexual as an identity-label because they find it too clinical-sounding. They believe it is too focused on physical acts rather than romance or attraction, or too reminiscent of the era when homosexuality was considered a mental illness. Conversely, some people find the term gay to be offensive or reject it as an identity-label because they perceive the cultural connotations to be undesirable or because of the negative connotations of the slang usage of the word.

According to the Safe Schools Coalition of Washington's Glossary for School Employees: “ Homosexual: Avoid this term; it is clinical, distancing and archaic. Sometimes appropriate in referring to behavior (although same-sex is the preferred adj.). When referring to people, as opposed to behavior, homosexual is considered derogatory and the terms gay and lesbian are preferred, at least in the Northwest [of the United States]. ” —Safe School Coalition, Glossary for School Employees

I think the Safe School Coalition hits the mark here. The phrase "incidence of homosexuality" is less offensive than, say, "according to Professor William Eskeridge, a homosexual, same-sex marriage should be . . ." So I ask again: are the costs really that high to switching to "gay and lesbian" for general usage?

He hasn't responded yet, but I suspect he won't change his mind.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Have you created your Simpsons avatar yet?

If not, go to the movie website RIGHT NOW.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A weak fish

A few weeks ago, Stanley Fish -- my favorite foil at the NY Times -- wrote a controversial column about the Supreme Court's decision in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case. Fish not only defended the majority opinion, which held that certain forms of pro-drug speech by high school students could be banned by school administrators, but argued that students (including those in college) should have no free speech rights at all. Here's Fish summarizing his own argument (from his column today, with my emphasis in bold):

But democracy is a system of political organization, not a model for organizing every aspect of daily life. Democracy gives a particular set of answers to traditional questions in political theory: Who governs? How are the mechanisms of government to be established? By what process can they be altered? What are the safeguards against abuses of government power?

Democracy’s answers to those questions are markedly different from the answers that would be given by the proponents of other systems – theocracy, monarchy, oligarchy, tribalism, feudalism – and central to those answers is the obligation of the state to safeguard the rights (enumerated and unenumerated) of its citizens, including the right to assemble and speak freely. The point at issue is do citizens enjoy those rights in any or all contexts, or do they enjoy them only in those contexts in which they are participating in the political process – voting, speaking in public forums, writing letters to the editor, etc.?

My answer would be the latter, and it is also the Supreme Court’s answer (with some qualifications) in a series of cases stretching from Pickering v. Board of Education (1968) to Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006).

There are a number of possible objections to this argument, but one strikes me as particularly powerful: if educational institutions that exist within a democracy do not embrace the same speech rights within education as they do within the political sphere, won't that weaken the intellectual foundation and support of those speech rights? Put another way, shouldn't democracies practice what they preach by letting students preach too? And if they do not, how will students "emerge" from the ivory tower with any devotion to a right they've never been allowed to exercise?

There are good answers to this argument, I think, but this isn't one of them:

I haven’t the slightest idea, and I am not obligated to have one. It’s not my job.

That's Fish's response. Seriously. That's it. "Sorry, not my job. Figure it out on your own." Look, I like Stanley Fish -- I blog about him frequently because I think he's a smart, unorthodox thinker -- but this is facile. You can't argue that "education has no responsibility to instill democratic virtues, among them a love for free speech" by claiming that "instilling such values isn't part of my job description - I'm supposed to educate." Well, yes, but we're trying to define the scope of that education, Fish! This is what you call a "circular argument," and we've just circled back around to a question that you have yet to answer: will free speech survive if we don't teach free speech?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Get to know a football team: the Jacksonville Jaguars

So this is my second-round submission to the Football Outsiders -- a team profile of the Jacksonville Jaguars. I've spent the last 72 hours pouring over websites, articles and other sources for Jags-related items, and now I feel...almost dirty. In any event, let me know what you think.

Jacksonville Jaguars Team Essay

In the summer of 2004, a fledgling television channel called “The NFL Network” broadcast a documentary series titled “Inside Training Camp: Jaguars.” In addition to following the ups and downs of a 12-year-old kicker named Josh Scobey, the six episodes featured a young, brash, charismatic head coach named Jack Del Rio preparing his team for the upcoming season. Standing on the sidelines during one humid practice in July, Del Rio was asked by safety Donovin Darius to explain his vision as head coach. “Like a man on a mission,” Del Rio responded, “trying to find 53 other men going the place I’m going.”

Three years later, we’re still not sure what Del Rio’s mission is (apart from a strange fondness for wearing rumpled Reebok suits), or where the 53 Jaguars under his tutelage are going. The Jaguars’ schizophrenic character last year – they beat the Colts twice; they lost to the Texans twice; they had a dominating defense; they had a moribund passing game – has become the hallmark of Del Rio’s reign as head coach, and is reflected in Jacksonville’s 30.1% week-to-week DVOA variance, first among all 32 teams (see the yo-yoing chart above). Although the Jags tallied a very respectable overall team DVOA of 21.9%, good for sixth in the NFL, they finished with an 8-8 record and missed the playoffs after closing their season with three straight losses. As a result, virtually everyone agrees that Del Rio is on the (keep) chopping (wood) block this year, and must lead the Jaguars to a playoff win if he wants to keep his job. There are reasons to doubt he will be able to do so.

The problem starts at quarterback. Although much was made of the Miami Dolphins’ decision to pass on Brady Quinn, many Florida state residents living 110 miles to the north were wondering why the Jaguars passed on the potential franchise quarterback when he went into draft-day freefall. One obvious answer: Del Rio knows he needs to win now, and thus he decided he couldn’t spend a season trying to develop a rookie quarterback. Indeed, Del Rio caught so much flak for passing on Quinn that he took the unusual step of publicly stating that he wanted the Notre Dame QB but was overruled by the Jaguars’ vice president of player personnel, James “Shack” Harris.

We may never know whether Jack or Shack decided against picking Quinn, but what remains is a very serious question about who will lead the Jaguars’ offense in 2007 and beyond. After the draft concluded, Del Rio publicly recommitted to the mercurial Byron Leftwich as his starter, but this pledge of support was undermined by the front office’s ongoing flirtation with free agent Daunte Culpepper. Meanwhile, David Garrard is wondering how he went from everyone’s favorite backup quarterback to potentially getting cut (answer: Garrard’s -2.4% DVOA last year). Del Rio should forget about Culpepper and Garrard, however, and focus instead on helping Leftwich regain his confidence and developing into the player that showed such promise as a rookie.

But who exactly is Leftwich supposed to throw to? Like the Lions and Falcons, in recent years the Jaguars have spent two first-round picks on wide receivers, and much like Detroit and Atlanta, the Jags have yet to see their investment pay off in any discernible fashion. Matt Jones and Reggie Williams are both oversized number three receivers at best, and Ernest Wilford looked lost last year after he started facing double teams (and dropping balls). During minicamps, new wide receivers coach Todd Monken couldn’t stop raving about Charles Sharon – an undrafted free agent who’s never caught an NFL pass – and the coaches seem way too excited about newly signed Dennis Northcutt, who is horrible at catching balls that have been thrown rather than kicked. The Jaguars also drafted two small school wide receivers, third-round pick Mike Walker from Central Florida and seventh-round selection John Broussard from San Jose State, to challenge for starting time. Jimmy Smith these guys ain’t.

If there is hope on offense, it lies with running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Even in the Great Rookie Class of Aught Six, MJD stood out as an electric, game-changing player who could score any time he touched the ball – he managed to total 26 rushing DPAR on only 166 carries, and 17.1% DVOA on 46 receptions. Ironically, former offensive coordinator Carl Smith’s run-first philosophy would have perfectly suited MJD’s skill set, but Del Rio fired Smith and replaced him with former Arizona State University head coach Dirk Koetter, making Koetter the Jags’ third offensive coordinator in four years. Koetter led ASU to a less-than-impressive 2-17 record against ranked teams during his four-year tenure, but supposedly he’s a “vertical” passing guru who can design a game plan that takes advantage of Leftwich’s arm strength. Hey there Mr. Koetter, here’s a suggestion: instead of passing, try running MJD up the other team’s nose with a rubber hose.

Jones-Drew’s breakout performance was largely due to the surprising success of the Jaguars’ offensive line. The unit isn’t loaded with household names, but they worked extremely well together last year, ranking second in adjusted line yards. As a result, Meester, Manuwai, Naeole & Barnes managed to make Fred Taylor look like an effective rusher again, reversing three years of DVOA decline for Formerly Fragile Fred. The addition of former Raven right tackle Tony Pashos, who excels at run blocking, should only improve their effectiveness.

To have any realistic shot at making the playoffs, the Jaguars will again have to dominate on defense. Last year, Del Rio and defensive coordinator Mike Smith took a unit that performed very well in 2005 (-10.2% team defense DVOA, 7th overall) and turned into one of the league’s elite (-17.7% DVOA, 3rd overall), despite injuries to some of their biggest playmakers, including DE Reggie Hayward and DT Marcus Stroud, and despite recovering only four fumbles – a statistical aberration that almost certainly will not occur again. Given how unlucky this unit was in 2006, the defense can only improve, right?

Well, maybe, but it’s more likely that the Jaguars defense will regress a little (and only a little) toward the mean this year. For starters, it’s still unclear whether their injuries will have healed up by the time the Jaguars play Tennessee on September 9th. Hayward is an excellent pass rusher, and capable of making everyone around him look better due to the double teams he commands, but unfortunately he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon last year, and no one knows whether he’ll be ready for training camp. Hayward’s replacement, Bobby McCray, is no slouch – he recorded a career-high 10 sacks last year – but in Del Rio’s 4-3 defensive scheme depth at end is critical to maintain production over all 16 weeks. Put simply, the Jags need the return of a healthy Hayward.

The defensive line will also benefit from having Marcus Stroud at full strength at tackle. Stroud missed five games in October and November with an ankle injury, and he struggled after returning to the lineup, which may help explain the Jaguars’ limited effectiveness last year against “power” runs: they ranked 25th in stopping short-yardage runs of two yards or less on 3rd or 4th down. If Stroud’s offseason surgery is successful, he’ll play alongside John Henderson, who is arguably the best tackle in the NFL – even if he does sound more like a high-school biology teacher than a murderous pass rusher.

The other potential problem is in the secondary. Rashean Mathis played in his first Pro Bowl last year, and demonstrated that he’s one of the top young cornerbacks in the league – but he’s also a gambler who takes chances to make big plays. That risk can be effectively managed by a smart safety who positions himself properly in case the coverage is blown, which is exactly what the Jags had in Deon Grant. But Grant departed for the greener hills of Seattle in free agency, and in a move the Jaguars may soon regret, the team released veteran strong safety Donovin Darius, who was immediately snapped up by Oakland. As a result, the Jags are left with Gerald Sensabaugh, who stepped in for the oft-injured Darius last year, and first-round pick Reggie Nelson from Florida as their starting safeties. Nelson is a rookie, albeit one with great potential, and Sensabaugh was far more effective against the run than the passing game, so don’t be surprised if offensive coordinators test these two by throwing deep on the Jaguars this year.

But these are relatively minor quibbles. The reality is that, once again, Jacksonville has one of the NFL’s best defenses sitting alongside one of the league’s most disappointing offenses. To succeed this year, Del Rio must prove he can commit to Leftwich at quarterback, gameplan around the team’s strengths (hint: some people call him Maurice), and somehow manage to cobble together a semblance of a passing game. Anything less than this will have Del Rio leading different men on a different mission in 2008 – as a defensive coordinator, not a head coach.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Brooks on Bush

Behind the NY Times Secret Wall, David Brooks -- the conservative columnist for the Paper of Record -- has a remarkable column about President Bush's ongoing delusions. After interviewing a series of despondent Senators on Capitol Hill who are agonized over the Iraq disaster, Brooks then travels through the looking glass to the White House to meet with a bouyant President Bush:

Far from being beleaguered, Bush was assertive and good-humored. While some in his administration may be looking for exit strategies, he is unshakably committed to stabilizing Iraq. If Gen. David Petraeus comes back and says he needs more troops and more time, Bush will scrounge up the troops. If General Petraeus says he can get by with fewer, Bush will support that, too.

Bush said he will get General Petraeus’s views unfiltered by the Pentagon establishment. He feels no need to compromise to head off opposition from Capitol Hill and is confident that he can rebuild popular support. “I have the tools,” he said.

Ah yes, the tools of a 66% unfavorable rating and looming massive defections from your own party as the next round of Congressional elections draw nearer. Brooks makes clear, however, that the obvious interpretation of Bush's beliefs -- that he's living in a delusional cocoon -- can't be true, because (according to Brooks) "Bush is not blind to the realities in Iraq. After all, he lives through the events we’re not supposed to report on: the trips to Walter Reed, the hours and hours spent weeping with or being rebuffed by the families of the dead."

Huh? What the hell does that have to do with anything? Obviously, it's very sad when a soldier dies in Iraq; I have one friend there who I worry about constantly. But this argument makes no sense -- Bush is not blind to what's happening in Iraq because he's met the parents of dead soldiers who were killed because of his war? Can someone connect the dots for me here? If anything, the fact that Bush is responsible for the death of 3,500 American soldiers suggests that he wants to stay the course to salvage some meaning from their sacrifice. After all, how do you ask someone to be the last man to die for a mistake?

But this isn't even the most remarkable part of Brooks' column. He goes on to analyze the two sources of Bush's delusions, er, "courage":

The first is his unconquerable faith in the rightness of his Big Idea. Bush is convinced that history is moving in the direction of democracy, or as he said Friday: “It’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist.”

This statement illustrates nicely just how unfathomably fucking stupid our President is. He thinks that (a) God supports democracy; (b) history is moving toward greater democracy; therefore (c) Bush is justified invading Iraq to bestow democracy on their people. Evidence and analysis is unnecessary because our President has a "theological perspective." Game, set, match.
But wait. There's more. Here's the second reason Bush is convinced he doesn't need to listen to the American electorate:

He is confident in his ability to read other leaders: Who has courage? Who has a chip on his shoulder? And he is confident that in reading the individual character of leaders, he is reading the tablet that really matters. History is driven by the club of those in power. When far-sighted leaders change laws and institutions, they have the power to transform people.

Remember, this is a President who's stared into the "soul" of Dictator Putin's eyes (and liked what he saw); stands by an Attorney General who's lost the confidence of the entire Department of Justice; nominated someone to head the Department of Homeland Security who had ties to organized crime (and also had completely failed at his post as Interior Minister for Iraq); defended a Defense Secretary who allowed international human rights abuses to flourish under his reign of terror; awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor to a CIA director who failed to stop the most horrific attack on U.S. soil in its 231 year history; and nominated a completely unqualified crony to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court because of her devout loyalty to him. So please forgive me if I'm a little skeptical of President Bush's ability to read leaders.

Sadly, history has indeed been driven by the club of President George W. Bush. And he's succeeded in transforming America into an international pariah, a shell of the virtues and idea for which it once stood.

Not exactly getting it

The National Intelligence Estimate on Al Qaeda was released today, and to the surprise of exactly no one, it concludes that we (meaning the US) are less safe because real Al Qaeda is planning to harnass and coordinate its efforts with New Al Qaeda in Iraq. When asked to discuss whether this meant we should consider withdrawing from Iraq, here's what Dept. of Homeland Security representative Frances Townsend had to say:

"So we should leave then, and we should not disturb our enemies anywhere in the world because they may use it for propaganda value? I don't think so," Townsend said when pressed by reporters at a news conference.

"Every time you poke the hornet's nest, they are bound to come back and push back on you," she said.

Uh, maybe we should stop poking the hornet's nest? Just an idea.

All Quiet on the TPV Front

So a month ago, loyal TPV readers will remember that I posted my submission to the "Football Outsiders" to write for their Pro Football Prospectus. The good news: I've advanced to the second round. Now I'm busy researching my second assignment, so blogging could be light this week (a familiar refrain, I know.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Who is the enemy? Al-Qaeda in Iraq/Mesopotamia

As the Bush Administration begins to dig its heels even further on Iraq, you can expect to hear more rhetoric about fighting "Al Qaeda" terrorists. Indeed, yesterday President Bush again misleadingly stated that the "enemy we are fighting in Iraq is the same one that attacked us on 9/11."

Yawn. By now, most sentient Americans understand that (a) Osama bin Laden and members of his "network," which we have named Al Qaeda, attacked us on 9/11, and (b) Saddam Hussein had no significant working relationship with OBL or Al Qaeda before, during or after the attacks. However, the Bush Administration -- and Bush himself -- constantly refer to fighting Al Qaeda within the country of Iraq.

There are two main things to remember to avoid getting sucked into Bush's delusions.

First, Osama bin Laden's "Al Qaeda" is not the same as "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia." The former is a network of jihadists who bin Laden and his lieutenant, Dr. Zawahiri, trained and funded and, on occasion, issued direct orders to attack certain U.S. military and civilian targets. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is not controlled by OBL or Zawihiri. Instead, it is a hodgepodge of foreign -- meaning, foreign to Iraq -- jihadists who have entered the country with the disgusting ambition of blowing themselves up to kill U.S. soldiers. The mission is different in degree, if not in kind, but the main thing to remember is the difference in leadership structure.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, there are strong reasons to doubt that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is the main fighting force that we should be concerned about. As the Iraq Study Group rightly noticed, the main source of violence within Iraq is between sectarian forces and former Saddam regime elements. Here's someone far more knowledgable than me, Malcolm Nance, writing about the insurgency on his Small Wars Journal blog:

We Really Don’t Know Our Enemy That Well - It is well documented that the Sunni insurgency is composed of three wings of insurgents. It is composed of the nationalist Former Regime Loyalists (FRLs) and their former military elements (FREs). This force may be upwards to 29,000 active combatants carrying out over 100 unconventional attacks per day using improvised explosive devices, rockets and automatic weapons ambushes. The FRL-originated Jaysh al-Mujahideen is composed of former Saddam Fedayeen, Special Republican Guard intelligence officers, former-Ba'athists, Sunni volunteers and their families. The second wing is the nationalist Iraqi Religious Extremists (IREs). These are forces including the Islamic Army of Iraq, Ansar al-Sunnah and other smaller groups, which may total approximately 5,000 fighters, sprinkled throughout western, central and northern Iraq. On occasion come into the conversation when one of their attacks is particularly daring or when the coalition claims it is negotiating their departure from the battlefront. Inevitably these “lesser” insurgent groups are portrayed as bit players on the sidelines of the epic.

Finally, the foreign fighters of the Al Qaeda in Iraq and its umbrella group the Islamic Emirate of Iraq (aka Islamic State of Iraq) may be as few as 1,500 fighters and supporters and may also have direct links to the two other tiers. Overwhelming evidence exists that that the FRLs have been waging the lion’s share of the insurgency. Until 2004 they were considered a separate part of the insurgency but recently they have been called ‘Al Qaeda-associated’ because AQI was operating in their area of operations ... by 2007 it wasn’t hard for Washington to make a semantic and rhetorical leap to refer to all insurgency forces as “Al Qaeda.”

* * *

AQI is a microscopic paramilitary terror force that selects very specific weapons for very specific targets to meet strategic goals of their cultish reading of Islam. However, AQI itself has been subject to a significant degradation since January 2005. I believe that since mid-2003 AQI coordinated their SVBIED campaigns in 2004 and 2005 with the support of the FRLs networks. It hard to believe that foreign fighters can enter the Iraqi Sunni community, anywhere, without first kissing the ring of the local FRL or Iraqi religious extremist insurgents.

If Nance is right, the continued rhetoric regarding "Al Qaeda" in Iraq is further evidence of the Bush Adminstration's inability to accurately describe the nature of the war we're fighting, largely if not entirely because of political -- rather than strategic -- concerns. We are not fighting Osama bin Laden, and we're not really fighting foreign jihadists -- they are being used essentially as human weapons by a multi-faceted enemy. Thus, even if we were to succeed in diminishing or even destroying "Al Qaeda in Iraq," this alone could not bring peace to the country. Remember this in the days and weeks ahead.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Rating the new Transformer toy designs

Like every other male aged 25-32, I worshipped at the altar of a Decepticon God from ages 8 through 13. So what I'm sure all of you are wondering is this: are the new Transformer toys sweet...or shit? Let's have a look:

Optimus Prime: Fucking sweet. Although strangely reminiscent of the Mask truck, don't you think?

Bumblebee: Robot-mode, ok; Whatever-the-Hell-this-Dodge-Shitmobile-is, Shit. Bumblebee is supposed to be a Volkswagon BUG. That's why he was a freakin' BEE.

Megatron: In vehicle form, plastic cat vomit; as robot, skinny legged tranny pimp. WEAK.

Starscream: What the shit is this? How can he be a fat fuck of an airplane and an anorexic robot that looks vaguely like the post-plagic surgery Jenna Jameson at the same time? Garbage.
(Note: for some reason, Blogger isn't letting me put headings for my posts. I dunno why.)

Is it time to withdraw from Iraq? A debate summary

If you haven't noticed, the Democrats in Washington have grown a collective pair, and are about to force another showdown with Bush and the GOP over the war in Iraq. Here's a summary of the debate, with appropriate nuance befitting the political dialogue we've come to expect from our elected leaders.

Opening statements

Democrats: Time to withdraw!

Bush: This will embolden the "terrorists!"

GOP Moderates: Holy shit, we have no idea! Both options seem absymal! And ironically, even though we are probably the sanest voice in this whole debate, we are the most vulnerable politically, thus neutering our ability to influence the dialogue!


Democrats: We've spent four years fighting this war. More than 3,500 soldiers are dead, we're spending $12 billion a month, and the country of Iraq is on the verge of disintegrating. Plus, it's Bush's war, and we hate Bush.

Bush: The surge is working. We can't give the enemy a timetable for withdrawal. If we leave, more terrorists will want to kill us. Plus, the only way I can avoid going down as the worst President in US history will be to salvage some modicum of success [note: this is an unstated argument.]

GOP Moderates: Both arguments have elements of truth! If we stay, more soldiers will die, more innocent Iraqis will die. But if we leave, even more Iraqis will die -- and potentially soldiers too, if a Middle East War breaks out between Iran, Turkey, Syria, etc.


We're still fucked.

Monday, July 09, 2007

This blog is not dead yet -- in fact, it's feeling much better!

I apologize for the lack of posts...4th of July last week, plus a trial today (Monday), and I actually haven't had time to post. Not to fear, I should be avoiding work again soon, so come back tomorrow for a smorgasborg of thoughts on:

-- The surprising shift toward withdrawal
-- The Withdrawal Paradox
-- "Ratatouille"
-- Seahawks

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

More thoughts on the Libby semi-pardon

So my initial reaction to Bush's semi-pardon was one of political excitement -- what will the GOP candidates say? -- but philosophical support on the sly. In essence, I thought two and half years seemed excessive -- and it wasn't that long ago that the whole "lying under oath" charge was being used as the basis for impeaching President Clinton. Here's my argument, summarized nicely by Timothy Noah on Slate:

But Judge Reggie Walton went overboard in sentencing Libby to 30 months. This was about twice as long as the prison term recommended by the court's probation office, and if Libby hadn't been a high-ranking government official, there's a decent chance he would have gotten off with probation, a stiff fine, and likely disbarment. Walton gave Libby 30 months and a $250,000 fine, then further twisted the knife by denying Libby's routine request to delay the sentence while his lawyers appealed it. (Libby was duly assigned the federal prison register number 28301-016, but Libby's lawyers managed to move quickly enough to keep Libby out of the slammer until his appeal was denied on July 2, the same day Bush commuted his sentence.) The voluminous pleas for leniency from Libby's A-list friends seem to have annoyed Walton, who erred on the side of severity not in spite of Libby's high position in government but because of it. Walton wanted to make an example of him

What's the matter with that? Two words: Bill Clinton. No fair-minded person can deny that the previous president committed perjury about Monica Lewinsky while serving in the Oval Office. The country knew it, and it let him get away with it. Does that mean no government official should ever again be prosecuted for perjury? Of course not. But it does mean Walton should have wondered whether he was imposing a double standard in treating Libby more harshly because Libby worked in the White House. Is it really fair to treat White House aides more harshly than ordinary citizens when presidents get off scot-free?

I still have sympathy for this argument. But then this morning I read this quote on Andrew Sullivan's blog:

"I don't believe my role is to replace the verdict of a jury with my own," - George W. Bush on why he signed death warrants for 152 inmates as governor of Texas.

The quote is from his own book, "A Charge To Keep."

As Sullivan goes on to write, that's pretty much a debate ender. President Bush is willing to sacrifice his allege principle of non-interference for one of his political allies who helped defend his failed war policies. But for people facing the death penalty? Not his role. Not gonna do it.

What a shameful man George W. Bush is.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Bush semi-pardons Libby

Scooter Libby won't do any time. Moments ago, the White House announced that President Bush was commuting his 2.5 year prison term, but leaving the $250,000 fine and probation requirements in place. Why's that, you ask? Officially, it's because President Bush knows better than a neutral jury what punishment is appropriate:

Mr. Libby was sentenced to thirty months of prison, two years of probation, and a $250,000 fine. In making the sentencing decision, the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation.

I respect the jury’s verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.

Keep in mind that this is the official story! As a matter of policy, the President is claiming that he can decide what punishment is appropriate for the chief of staff of his vice president, who lied under oath.

Unofficially, of course, President Bush was never going to let Libby go to jail for his loyal efforts trying to discredit Iraq War critics. The appellate court refused to stay Libby's sentence, so Bush's hand was forced.

Will this send Bush's popularity into Nixon territory? Possible, but unlikely. That's because Bush has already flattened out with independents and Democrats; the only group he has left to whittle away it is the GOP base -- who, oddly enough, will likely support this decision (because they think Libby was the victim of an overzealous prosecutor).

But the Dems should have fun torturing Republican Presidential candidates as to their position on the semi-pardon.