Friday, March 31, 2006

A Good Quote

Andrew Sullivan points to a quote from Ali Eteraz:

"[F]or every Westerner who calls for the destruction of Islam in order to defend the Western status-quo, there is another Westerner who agitates for change in Islam because has a Muslim friend who has been hurt by what passes for Islam, or has a glimpse (in Hafiz, perhaps in Ibn Rushd), of what Islam could be; and as such, is upset by what Islam today is not. I believe that there are many in the West capable of recognizing beauty — and they have recognized the beauty that Islam was in the hands of Rumi, and also have recognized the potential of that beauty in Islam today, in Muslims today. This is another way of saying that I believe there are many in the West who are driven by the humanity of the Muslim, who faces daily in Iraq, in Punjab, in subversive mosques in Europe, the inhumanity of a utilitarian death theology,"

Indeed, we Catholics know all too well the shame of having awful things done in your religion's name.

Monday, March 27, 2006

I Slam Islam

A more light-hearted case of sharia law can be found in India, where a man accidentally divorced his wife while he was asleep.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Abdul Rahman, potential martyr

The chasm between Islamic societies following sharia law and the civilized world couldn't be any more stark than in the case of Abdul Rahman, who faces a possible death sentence in Afghanistan for the crime of converting from Islam to Christianity, could it? There are moderate Muslims in this world; what can be done so that they can cast these hard-line clerics out to the lunatic extreme where they belong? If a great reform in Islam doesn't come soon, these maniac mullahs are condemning their countries to a future of nothing but barbarism and strife.

Update: The AP is reporting that they've dropped the case against Rahman due to lack of evidence. This saves Rahman's life, as long as he can make it out of Afghanistan without an angry mob killing him. What kind of a phony religious leader goads people into mob violence? Dropping the case is something of a legal cop-out, though; Afghanis in the future could still face the death penalty for the crime of following their conscience.

Illegal Immigration

So, talk about the illegal immigration "problem" is heating up again. I really hate how some people will refer to illegal immigrants as simply "illegals," as if their very existence were illegal. If you ask me, the only problem is with the system that makes immigration illegal. Illegal immigrants get scapegoated as being a scourge on society, when in actuality they're an essential part of the economy. Why not spend our time, money, and effort trying to keep out criminals and terrorists instead of guys looking for jobs?

Of course, that's the crux of the thing, isn't it? Employers need cheap labor. "Cheap Labor" here is still better than in Mexico or Central America, so people still come up here. But these workers who come here illegally don't have any rights. If their working conditions are unsafe or their treatment is unfair, what recourse do they have? None. Anybody who complains can be sent to the INS to be deported.

So how about letting in as many people as the market will bear, under some special status that will keep their basic human and civil rights intact but with a lower minimum wage? Wages would still be high compared to what they are south of the border, they would be low enough to be employable and not turn employers to a black market, and the many many low-wage workers in this country would no longer live in a state of legal limbo. A system could be put in place to transition these guest workers to a full legal status, while at the same time guest workers who aren't working could be deported.

In other words, you're welcome to come here and live legally as long as you're contributing to society. The only people deported would be criminals and freeloaders, not hard workers.

What do you think? Would this be a humane and fair system? What problems do you foresee in it?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Fun with bridal registries

You can still buy gifts off of Mary Kay LeTourneau's wedding registry at Macy*s. Or runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks's. Unfortunately, the TomCruises listed here aren't marrying any of the Katie Holmeses listed here, so you can't get them matching gold-plated e-meters.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Opinions on the Web

The editorialist whom I disagree with the most but still enjoy reading is James Taranto, whose "Best of the Web Today" gets published every weekday on the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal site. Maybe I can still stand to read him because I mostly skip past the "hard news" first half of his column, just giving a cursory look at the items where he summarily pooh-poohs anybody whose causes he doesn't believe in, and just read the bits where he points out inane or poorly-written headlines. Those are pretty funny. Taranto's got that Ivy League smartass thing going for him, where he's a good writer with a real sense of wit whom I think is probably something of a jerk but would probably be fun to hang around with because he can diss people with such panache.

Also, he only posts once a day, which gives the impression that he may actually have a life away from his computer, unlike Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, who never seems to leave his machine. Instapundit's a great resource just for the sheer volume of news links he posts, but for somebody who self-righteously claims to not be a conservative (instead self-identifying as a libertarian), he sure seems to suck up to Bush a lot. It is the ultimate breadth-but-no-depth news and opinion site, though.

Also: I should commend the Opinion Journal's John Fund (not to be confused with John Frum) for his ongoing pursuit of the story of the Taliban spokesman who's now attending Yale. I have to wonder how a Taliban official like Mr. Rahmatullah got clearance to enter and live in this country. Either somebody at the State Department was asleep at their post, or this guy cut some sort of deal with them. I'll bet he's done more for terrorism than half of the people held at Guantanamo.

Update: Despite the Ivy League smartass attitude, Taranto points out today that he's an alumnus of "third-tier Western university" Cal State Northridge.

New Interior Secretary Nominee

Earlier I mentioned that Gale Norton resigned her post as the head of the Department of the Interior and wondered what sort of troglodyte Bush would dig up to replace her. It seems that troglodyte is Dirk Kempthorne, the governor of Idaho. I really don't know much about this guy, but environmental groups are not pleased. What else could you expect? The L.A. Times has a profile of him, and they say that basically he's a nice guy who will get people in a room to feel good and shake hands, but ultimately come out on the side of oil drillers, developers, or pretty much anybody else who wants to cut down trees, pollute the air and water, or drive endangered species to extinction. Oh boy.

You can find out what the DOI does here. They run the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and other similar agencies. The EPA is a separate agency independent of any cabinet department.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

WBC: USA out

Earlier today, I wrote:
Japan advances to semifinals with:
A Mexico win over the United States by a score of 2-0 or 2-1, at any point before a second out is recorded in the bottom of the ninth inning
Well, there you go. Mexico beat the USA 2-1 and didn't need to come up in the bottom of the 9th to bat, so Japan advances. It's weird; if the score had been tied 1-1 and Mexico had scored the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, the USA would have lost the game but advanced to the semifinals.

I'm less bummed about the USA losing --- in a quick tournament, anything can happen, and it's not like it's a shock when a team of USA all-stars gets beaten in an international tournament anymore --- than I am about Cuba getting farther in this thing than we did. Here's hoping they get crushed by the Dominican major leaguers on Saturday. Also, Japan got screwed on that 3rd base call in the USA game, so there's some kind of karmic justice in them advancing. There was a screwy call against Mexico in today's game, too. Major-league umpires aren't immune from making bad calls, but next time around the WBC needs to use the highest-level umpires possible that aren't from either of the countries playing the game. That seems like a no-brainer in international competition.

Also, it would have just been wrong for us to lose the game a la the scenario above and still advance. Here's hoping they come up with a better tie-breaker scenario next time this tournament comes around. The competition, though, has been remarkable. Sure, some of the first-round teams like China and South Africa were dead meat from day one, but certainly in the second round we've seen a lot of tight, well-pitched games with a level of enthusiasm from the players and fans more on par with October baseball than March baseball.

Anyway, Korea gets to face Japan for a third time on Saturday, this time with a trip to the final game on the line. There's been a lot of trash-talking from the Japanese side, but maybe if Korea sweeps their three games they might shut up Japan for good.

WBC Tiebreakers

The World Baseball Classic has been a great tournament so far. Now if only ESPN2 had decided that showing the games live in English (you can see them live in Spanish on ESPNDeportes) was a higher priority than a women's softball game, then it might have been an even bigger success.

The Korea-Mexico game I attended on Sunday was fantastic, with an excellent ballgame played in front of a packed stadium of very enthusiastic fans, with lots of flags and constant cheering. The Korean fans were very appreciative of their team, but the Mexican fans were another thing altogether, with giant sombreros, luchador masks, etc. I liked the guys wearing jackets from various Mexican League teams; they were hardcore.

The WBC's official website explains the tiebreaker scenarios for this afternoon's USA-Mexico game:

U.S. advances to semifinals with:
  • A win over Mexico
  • A tie with Mexico
  • A 1-0 loss to Mexico
  • A 2-0 or 2-1 loss to Mexico, with the United States having played 8 2/3 innings or more on defense
  • A 3-1 or 3-2 loss to Mexico, with the United States having played 12 1/3 innings or more on defense

Japan advances to semifinals with:
  • A Mexico win over the United States by a score of 2-0 or 2-1, at any point before a second out is recorded in the bottom of the ninth inning
  • A Mexico win over the United States, in which Mexico scores three or more runs in a game ending at any point before a third out is recorded in the bottom of the 12th inning
  • A Mexico win over the United States, in which Mexico scores three or more runs and the United States scores one or more runs in a game ending at any point before an out is recorded in the bottom of the 13th inning
  • A Mexico win over the United States, in which Mexico scores 4 or more runs and the United States scores 1 or more runs in a game ending at any point

Mexico advances to semifinals with:
  • A 3-0 or 4-0 win over the United States, with Mexico having played 13 innings or more on defense

So, that clears things up, right?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Julia Louis-Dreyfus stole my schtick!

Did any of you catch Julia Louis-Dreyfus on The Tonight Show this past Thursday? Jay showed an old videotape of a perhaps college-aged Julia performing a trick where she starts with her eyes crossed and then makes them move left and right independently of each other. The thing is, I've been doing that same trick since some time in the mid-80s after figuring it out myself. JLD is the only other person I've seen to do this trick. Do you know of anyone else doing this? For what it's worth, I can do it for longer than she can.

Lots of WBC Action

Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic starts today, and it's wall-to-wall games today, with Cuba vs. Venezuela at 10:00 AM, Japan vs. the USA at 1:00 PM, Puerto Rico vs. the Dominican Republic at 5:00 PM, and then at 8:00, I'll be attending the Mexico vs. Korea game in Anaheim. Should be lots of fun. David Pinto over at is blogging updates to most of the games, and in general maintains the best baseball discussion site I've found on the web.

A few notes of my own:
  • Three cheers for the police in Puerto Rico. A Cuban exile held up a "Down with Fidel" sign at Thursday's Cuba-Netherlands game in San Juan, so some of the Cuban delegation's thugs confronted the guy. What happened next? The police escorted the Castro stooge to the police station and gave him a lecture on free speech! I've heard that (but can't find a link for) MLB quickly instituted a no-political-signs rule instead of calling Cuba's bluff on this incident. A protest zone remains outside the stadium, though, which is far more protesting than you'll see allowed in the "worker's paradise" of Cuba.
  • Puerto Rico and Cuba both advanced from their pool, but P.R. won a mercy-rule victory over the Cubans the next day. It was the first time Cuba had been mercy-ruled since 1983 vs. Taiwan (or "Chinese Taipei," as the communists would prefer us call them).
  • Speaking of the mercy rule, Team USA quickly recovered from its embarrassing 8-6 loss to Canada on Thursday with a 17-0 called-after-five-innings annihilation of South Africa to advance to the next round. Obviously, South Africa is supposed to lose that game, but the U.S., behind Roger Clemens, made sure there was no doubt.
  • But even Clemens didn't have the most impressive pitching performance of Friday's action. That honor goes to Shairon Martis of the Netherlands, who pitched a no-hitter against Panama. What makes that feat extra-remarkable for the Giants farmhand is that he finished the no-hit bid just inside the 65-pitch limit for the first round of the WBC. If his teammates hadn't plated 10 runs behind him to invoke the mercy rule after the 7th inning, the game would have continued and Martis would have had to come out of the game.
  • Team Japan is back in action today, which means we'll get more looks at a bunch of guys whose Beatle haircuts make them look like they have mullets when they're wearing batting helmets. First baseman Michihiro Ogasawara, though, has a bad-ass Fu Manchu.

Friday, March 10, 2006

¡Abajo Norton!

Interior Secretary Gale Norton has kind of flown under the radar with all the attention on 9/11 and the Iraq War in the Bush Presidency, but if you ask me, she's our worst cabinet member after Rumsfeld and Gonzales, doing everything she could to mortgage the future to make a quick buck. Having an oil industry lawyer like her in charge of protecting our nation's resources is like the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse. Today she announced her resignation. I'm sure Bush will dig up some troglodyte to replace her, but good riddance anyway.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Two freaky videos

First, a robot quadruped for carrying supplies. Too bad you wouldn't be allowed to take one of these into a wilderness area; it'd be great for long-distance hiking! Also, you'd think they'd have a more advanced power source than gasoline. Still, the video is rather striking and the technology looks very good.

Second, a live-action re-creation of the Simpsons credits. It's uncanny. It looks British.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Seitz v. Crash

Matt Zoller Seitz delivers the smackdown to Crash.

Man, I've got this thing in my Netflix queue and am really dreading watching it.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Yes, folks, there was a big upset on TV today... Korea beat Japan in the WBC!

But seriously, I might have something intelligent to say if I had actually seen Crash. But I have a sneakin' suspicion that Brokeback Mountain wuz robbed. At least Ang Lee got his Oscar.

Emmanuel Lubezki, the cinematographer for The New World, wuz robbed too. By the way, you guys should all go see that movie while it's still in theatres. Terrence Malick directs like a poet.

Jon Stewart was very funny. Best host in years. And I'm not even a "Daily Show" fan. But please explain to me why we need any montages besides the ones for the honorary Oscar (Robert Altman is the man) and for the dead people (When did they prepare that? They didn't get Don Knotts or Dennis Weaver in.)

Oscar Predix!

Oh come on, you don't really need me to tell you that Brokeback Mountain will walk away with a boatload of awards, do you?

Update: Well, it did get Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score. I think the hype on Brokeback may have peaked too soon. By mid-January, it seemed like such a fait accompli that I think Oscar voters were just tired of it. Heath Ledger wuz robbed, too.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Late Olympic Round-Up

Yes, I know the Olympics ended last week, and that blogs are supposed to be updated as soon as things happen (how else are we going to take down the MSM?) Maybe I can spin this my way and say I'm a "post-blogging" blogger.

My favorite name for an Olympic athlete belongs to Norwegian ski jumper Roar Ljoekelsoey.

Is Apolo Anton Ohno just your quintessential Olympian, or what? I'd seen him win medals before, and he always seemed really happy about it. Then he appears in interviews and seems genuinely gracious, happy merely to have skated his best, supportive of his teammates, and unwilling to trash-talk his opponents even though he's apparently earned the wrath of the entire country of South Korea. Then, he won gold outright in the 500m race, and I don't think I'd seen anyone happier to win. Pure infectious joy, the kind of thing they made the Olympics for. Now if only he'd lose the soul patch.

Through some cosmic sense of balance, snowboard-cross is as fun to watch as parallel giant slalom snowboarding is boring.

I love the Winter Olympics. Snow is just so damn pretty, and there's few enough events that one can do a pretty good job of following close to the whole thing. Most sports columnists in this country, though, treat covering the Winter Games like an audit from the IRS. Most criticism falls into at least one of several camps:
  • "Winter Olympic sports are just so alien to Americans." OK, so we're not Norway, but we aren't exactly Brazil, either. Plenty of Americans ski. There are ice rinks all over the country. Most people do these things for recreation, not at a competition level, but most people don't swim, run, or life weights at an Olympic level, either. What do these people want, bobsled runs at every neighborhood park?
  • "The Americans are doing lousy at these games." There have been well-publicized flops like Bode Miller, but we finished ahead of everybody except Germany. Our 25-medal haul was our second-best in history, and only one fewer gold than in Salt Lake City on our home turf. It's almost twice our previous record (13) for a Winter Games outside of the U.S. As recently as 1988 in nearby Calgary, we only won a total of six medals. Even accounting for the increased number of events, we did great.
  • "The TV coverage is lousy." Actually, I congratulate NBC for covering things like hockey, biathlon, curling, and cross-country skiing live. But how many people besides me watched the 3 AM biathlon coverage (I had it recorded on my DVR)? NBC's not stupid. The marquee events happened while most of the U.S. was asleep or at work. Americans care most about the events where Americans are most competitive, and they want to see the Americans compete. So what options do they have besides a nightly 3-hour compilation program? Do these cranks who complain about the lack of live coverage really think all that many people would tune in during prime time to watch every last run by every competitor in real time down a slalom course or a skeleton run? I even thought NBC was pretty judicious with their use of the human interest cut-aways, using them just enough so that we'd get to know the competitors.
  • "Anything with a judge isn't a real sport---except boxing." This argument is idiotic. Athleticism and competition make an activity a sport. But not everything is easily judged by a stopwatch or just seeing if a ball goes through a net. But how on earth does that make it "not a sport?" Criticisms like this say more about the writer than they do about sports. Why is it that vast swaths of the American public can appreciate figure skating or snowboard half-pipe but professional sportswriters are so closed-minded that they can't appreciate the athleticism of anything that isn't a marquee sport in the U.S.A?
Finally, a lot of people have commented that the Winter Games are dominated by only a handful of countries, mostly full of white people. Well, that's the nature of weather and economics. It's still a fantastic competition and a great way to bring people of the world together. But especially when the World Baseball Classic is starting, it points out what a lie it is to say that baseball is not a game with international appeal. Baseball is played all across the Western Hemisphere, is very popular in the Far East, and has even made inroads in Europe and Australia. It's as international as the entire Winter Olympics.

And yet the IOC has declared that 2008 will be the last year baseball and softball are played at the Olympics. The argument about it not being international just doesn't hold water. So what else do they claim? That the best players --- the major leaguers --- don't play in the Olympics. Whatever happened to the idea that the Olympics were for amateur competition? Was there an official announcement that this part of the "Olympic ideal" now only holds in boxing, or has it just been chipped away slowly over the past 20 years? Remember when they stripped away Jim Thorpe's medals because he had played one semipro baseball game? The plain truth is that the IOC wanted to ditch baseball because they wanted to screw the United States, pure and simple.

Personally I think the Olympics ought to be a showcase of the best talent in the world, or if that is not possible, then we should see true amateurs. The point of this, though, is that the IOC is so inflexible with the enforcement of their rules and holds them up to be on a par with the Ten Commandments, when in reality these rules are changed with each Olympiad. You can see this in their anti-doping rules, where skeleton competitor Zach Lund was suspended for testing positive for anti-baldness medication Propecia, a drug which he had freely declared that he had taken for the past six years but which only became listed on the banned substances list a year ago. So Propecia went from being A-OK to making you into a cheat. Taking a pseudoephedrine for a stuffy nose can strip you of your medals. And training at a high altitude is hunky-dory, but artificially depressurizing your sleeping quarters (almost literally levelling the playing field) is banned. Of course they need to prevent people from cheating, but the pompous moral authority they attach to their rules makes me sick.