Friday, June 30, 2006

Supreme Court disses Bush

You can find analyses of yesterday's Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision by Eugene Volokh, or as a dialogue between Slate's Dahlia Lithwick and Walter Dellinger. As far as I can tell, the main result here is that detainees in Guantanamo need to be treated according to the rules of the Geneva Convention. Good job, Checks and Balances.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Defending Andrew Sullivan

I know Andrew Sullivan is perfectly capable of defending himself, but there have been a number of commentators who seem willfully dense in comprehending the difference between his criticism of George W. Bush and taking "sides" with the Islamic fascists.

This post on Protein Wisdom and some of the followup comments inspired me to respond:

First off, waterboarding is torture, no matter how you slice it. The U.S. waterboards prisoners. Ergo, the U.S. tortures prisoners.

While there are certainly some leftists who claim "moral equivalency" between the U.S.'s torture program and the Islamic lunatics who get their jollies off of blowing people up and cutting their heads off, Sullivan (and others, including me) have NOT said there is a moral equivalency at work there.

The point that he HAS made on torture is that there is a distinct difference between a U.S.A. that prides itself on always treating prisoners with respect and is thus able to claim the moral high ground in any battle and the new U.S. military that only tortures moderately and can thus only pride itself on being able to say "Hey look, we're not as bad as Saddam Hussein." It's gone from being a difference in kind to a
difference of degree.

Not only is that intrinsically immoral, but it hurts our position in Iraq. Part of the whole purpose of the war in Iraq is to win over the hearts and minds of the Muslim and Arab world, to set up an attractive example that proves that democracy and Western ideals are superior ways to order society than the tyranny of a dictator or theocracy. When the U.S. rounds up suspects willy-nilly, throws them into Abu Ghraib, and tortures them to get worthless intelligence, the locals tend to take it personally.

Moreover, people discuss and debate the behavior of the U.S. military instead of
discussing and debating the behavior of Islamist insurgents because the U.S. is a democracy where public opinion and criticism matter, while the Islamist thugs are, shall we say, not exactly open to reasoned debate on their goals and tactics.

We need to be aware of the depth of the evil of our enemies, but the U.S.--- a country founded on universal principles, not on geography or ethnicity--- needs to be able to convince everyday Iraqis that we're the people whose example they should follow, with whom they should ally themselves.

One point on which I do agree with Sullivan's critics is that his criticism of Bush's policies in general coincided awfully nicely with his realization that Bush was actively opposed to gay marriage. Before that, Sullivan held out for quite a while trying to convince himself that Bush was somehow in favor of a libertarian, hands-off approach to gay marriage. Does this lessen Sullivan's argument? It does make his criticism of Bush seem personal, yes, but he's done a pretty thorough job of explaining his position, and of defending the right to change one's mind.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

McDonalds pisses me off

For many reasons, of course, but today I would like to talk about how their commercials always seem to be aimed at idiots. Lately the radio spots have been touting their "100% pure beef" hamburgers, emphasizing it with such passion as to make you actually think that making hamburgers with "pure beef" was some sort of rare treat that you can only get from the gourmet cooks at McDonalds. Look, bub, everybody's burgers are pure beef. The remarkable thing is how they take that pure beef and make it taste like sawdust, which might be why they have to reassure us that it's the real deal and that those rumors that they cut it with worm meat or pig eyeballs are false.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Congratulations, Beavers!

Yes, that's right, Oregon State won the NCAA College Baseball World Series. You hadn't heard? Heck, neither had I until a few minutes ago. And I'm a pretty big baseball fan. ESPN's Skip Bayless ponders the question of why baseball players are invisible between Little League and the Major Leagues. Actually, some start to get back on the radar if they're tearing up the minor leagues, but his point certainly holds for high school and college baseball. What gives?

While we're at ESPN, three cheers for the always-entertaining Bill Simmons's round-up of the best videos available on YouTube. Simmons is like Chuck Klosterman with more sports. He did miss this citizen addressing the Charlotte, North Carolina City Council on the issue of a "rogue helicopter pilot," though, nor Connie Chung's sung farewell to cable TV.

And for those of you interested (not my sister, apparently), Fox Sports adds a couple of photos to that gallery of World Cup babes every day. But tantalizingly, they stick the new shots in random places. This lovely senhorita appeared in the #12 slot today, but she may have been bumped to a different position by the time you look at the gallery:

Sunday, June 25, 2006

New Stale Urine Tracks!

A couple of days before I got married in April, Stale Urine got together and recorded some tracks for our next album. This new album (Stale Urine's Bachelor Party! 3) is still a work in progress and we may re-record some of these songs, but you can take a listen to .mp3s of them now. We should also have our version of Jeff Wayne's "Horsell Common and the Heat Ray" up soon, maybe even within a few days.

If you want to hear what I sound like when I'm singing kind of lamely, I have the lead vocals on "The Whiteness of the Whale," for which I also wrote the lyrics. For this session, the original six Urines participated, plus Alex Dunn on clarinet, plus guests Lance Morris (bass guitar), Monica Muñiz (percussion), Richard Graham (percussion), and Gina Malfatti (synth). Not everybody participated in the recording of each track, of course.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Soccer Babes, A.K.A. Purely Prurient Post

Say what you will about soccer, it seems to attract a lot of beautiful female fans. Fox Sports kindly offers us an extensive photo gallery.

The Brazilians, of course, brought a remarkable babe contingent with them:
The local Germans have babes of their own:

Italy, of course, has also sent many beautiful women to Germany:

Yowza, how 'bout them Swedes? And even Iran does its part to contribute to the beautification of Germany:
Take that, Ahmadinejad!

More photo sources:

FIFA's most-viewed list, and an example:

Sports Illustrated's Soccer Wives and Girlfriends:

From ESPN:

United 93 is very good

Seeing as how the movie's just about out of theaters, I should have mentioned it sooner, but I just got around to seeing United 93 a few days ago, and it's very, very good. Writer/director Paul Greengrass plays it smart by telling the story in as straightforward and realistic a way as possible, with a pitch-perfect sense of what tone to take. I haven't seen the TV movie version of this, but this theatrical presentation is an example of Hollywood doing things right, using big-budget resources and craftsmanship instead of big-budget schlock and grandstanding. Watching it is definitely an uncomfortable experience, filled not with suspense but with dread and helplessness but also, when we see the choices made and actions taken by the passengers on Flight 93, that small amount of hope that comes from knowing that there are good people in this world who, by doing what was necessary in a dire situation, prevented 9/11 from being even worse than it was.

Very early Oscar prediction: this movie wins Best Editing.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Lego Outsources Production

Lego, which in the past had only manufactured bricks in Connecticut, Denmark, and Switzerland (not the cheapest sources of labor in the world), is going to be outsourcing production to Mexico and Eastern Europe. They'd been struggling to pull in a profit; lets hope they can maintain their high quality standards that have long been a selling point of the brand.

Monday, June 19, 2006

More Presidential Trivia

Last Friday, James Taranto posted another Presidential trivia quiz. At first glance, this one looks even tougher than his last one. Off the top of my head, the only question that I think I can answer is #7. If no one's come up with the answers by Friday, he'll post the answers then. I think it's implicit in these types of trivia contests that one is supposed to attempt to look up the answers and not just have the answers known already. I'll give it a stab myself.

Update: Taranto has the answers posted. I was right with #s 1, 5, and 7... some of the others seem simpler in retrospective, some were pretty tough.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Belated Trivia Answers

Way back in April I posted two trivia questions, one about large mammals and one about large state capitals. I never got around to finishing giving the two-part answer about the state capitals, so here we go. The most populous state capital is Phoenix, AZ, the 6th-largest city in the country. The second-largest capital city is Indianapolis, IN, farther down the list at #12. Columbus is next, at #15, and Austin is at #16. Boston is #20. Washington, the national capital, is next at #21. Here's my source, from the Census Bureau.

I thought this was an interesting question because it illustrates the tendency in the United States (followed later in Brasilia, Canberra, and New Delhi) to place the government off in its own purpose-built city, separating political power from economic power, selecting capitals based on centralized geography, and balancing rural vs. urban needs. I'd be willing to bet that in no country with multiple first-level divisions (i.e., states, provinces, prefectures, etc.) do they even come close to having 9 of the 10 biggest cities in the country not be capitals of their respective provinces.

Incidentally, another acceptable answer for the second-largest capital city in the U.S. would have been Honolulu. There are no levels of government in Hawaii below the county level; the counties there are merely divided into administrative districts. So if one considers Honolulu as just the unincorporated contiguous urban area that the Census Bureau calls a CDP, or Census-Designated Place, it comes in at #47 in the rankings. But if one considers the whole of Honolulu County as the equivalent of a city government, its population of 876,156 would supplant Indianapolis for #12 on the list of city populations.

You can see a whole bunch of ranked Census lists on this page.

Update: I checked Canada, and up north 4 of the top 10 cities in the country are capitals of provinces, and the capital of the country is also in the top 10. Going off of the metropolitan areas in Mexico, 5 of the top 10 are capitals of states, plus the equivalent of the incorporated part of Mexico City is coextensive with the Distrito Federal. Each of the 10 largest cities in Brazil are capitals of either their state or the Federal District. In Australia, where there are only 8 states or territories, 6 of the top 10 urban areas are capitals, and the largest city in each state or territory is its capital.

San Francisco Handgun Ban Overturned

Back in November I wrote about the handgun ban in San Francisco, and I'm happy to see that it was ruled invalid by a judge.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

R.I.P., Gyorgy Ligeti

Avant-garde composer Gyorgy Ligeti, whom you know through his haunting music from 2001: A Space Odyssey, has died at the age of 83.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Misheard Lyrics

You know that Rolling Stones song "Shattered?" And how there's a part where Mick Jagger says, "Don't you know the crime rate's going up, up, up, up, UP!"? Until this morning, I thought he was saying, "Don't you know the prime rate's going up, up, up, up, UP!"

I thought it was pretty odd for the Stones to be concerned about finances, though I suppose these days if some lending company asked if they could re-record it with my lyrics for a commercial, they wouldn't think twice.

Guantanamo: Kafkaesque, in a Good Way

A blogger who goes by the moniker Jon Swift nails the absurdity of our Guantanamo Bay prison. If we have good evidence against these prisoners, why don't we press charges? And if we don't, then why the hell are we keeping them locked up? And if they're just footsoldiers in a war, the time has long passed when anything valuable could come of doing anything other than just detaining them.

There used to be a time, not very long ago, where an enemy combatant knew that if he surrendered to the U.S.A., he'd be treated fairly and humanely. That's what set us apart from countries like North Vietnam. It's why the Germans knew they'd be better off being overrun by America and Britain instead of the Soviet Union. How much damage has George W. Bush done to America's reputation? I want my country back.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

More Internet Crap

In the great Vern's review of X-Men: The Last Stand, he describes an incident during the screening:
I never understood all this talk about "geekgasm" and what not until I saw the reaction to Juggernaut's big scene. Alot of people were whooping and hollering but one particular guy got so excited he actually jumped to his feet and pumped his fists in the air yelling "YEEEEEEAAAAAAAHHH!!!! FUCK YEEEAAAAAHHHH!!!" well into the next scene, and I swear people were ducking for cover just in case he really did shoot his wad all over the rows in front of him.

If you scroll down the page, this fellow "Quint" explains that what set off the geekgasm was that at one point, Juggy says "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" This is a reference to one of those mysterious internet memes where somebody cobbles something together, puts it on the web, and then the sort of people who get obsessed with these sorts of things get obsessed over them. Seeing the internet meme get referenced in mainstream culture provides some recognition and acknowledgement of their subculture, hence the geekgasm.

This "Juggernaut Bitch" meme is, as Quint describes it, "a fucking hilarious over-dubbing of an X-MEN cartoon." One commentator says he "gut-laughed during that video." Wikipedia claims that "the video has become so popular it has inspired spin-offs." Plus there was the guy at Vern's screening.

So this "Juggernaut Bitch" video must be really funny, right? Well, see for yourself, from somebody who proclaims that if "
the actual cartoon was dubbed over by this guy, it would have made it about 10,000 times more appealing."

Uh, no. If you sat through that past the first minute, then you're a far more patient man than me. This is the sort of thing that might have amused me for an afternoon in 8th grade if a friend and I had sat around one Saturday doing the voices, but beyond that, this is completely idiotic. I can't believe this thing is 9 minutes long and people beyond this guy's circle of friends at school have sat through it. Is it too much to ask for geeks to geek out over something original, or witty, or in some other way showing evidence that it was made by somebody with an ounce of talent?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Cinnamon Regrowth in Tsunami Areas

This is a nice silver-lining article about how cinnamon plantations in Sri Lanka that got wiped out by the tsunami apparently have richer soil than ever now, making replanting very successful.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Calm down, dude

BoingBoing's always-excitable blogorrheal contributor Cory Doctorow read the new Douglas Coupland novel "about how the novelty-seeking, irony-soaked, instant-nostalgia, gross-out culture of the Internet can corrode your soul, so that when you crack wise, there's nothing underneath it but more wisecracks," about people who "use Google and eBay to scour the globe for anything to make their lives meaningful" and "don't find it."

Apparently this hit close to home for Cory, as he says "it made me think hard about my own life and values."

Maybe that means that in the future, he won't watch an old Homestar Runner episode and be so enthralled by the "completely dead-pan, dead-on parody of the narration on the Disneyland Jungle Boat Cruise [sic]" that he feels is "is so completely perfect in its savage lampooning that I wanted to watch it again and again. Which I'm about to do. Bye." It's like a six-year-old watching a videotape of their favorite cartoon every afternoon. Remember, Cory, think hard about those values.

Star-News: Easy to Mock

Surely it's no news-flash that many bloggers have an inflated sense of the worth of blogging compared to the much-reviled mainstream media (especially since ultimately most of their commentary derives from news reported by the so-called MSM*), but it's worth acknowledging when somebody in that mainstream media has such a remarkable display of "not getting it" disease as the Pasadena Star-News's Robert Rector:

they call them citizen journalists. Which is like being a citizen thoracic surgeon.
I had no idea journalism school was so rigorous! After explaining that Mark Cuban can't possibly have anything to say because he's rich, Rector then goes on to explain that in "real" journalism, "unbiased, balanced and thorough reporting and an ability to write is a requirement," unlike the "unsubstantiated drivel that we call blogs." Golly, thanks Bob.

I guess Rector felt especially proud of the journalistic profession today because the lead story on the front page of the Star-News was actually a real news story, albeit one I found out about online shortly before going to bed two nights ago, instead of a photo of dogs playing in the park or a story about people brave enough to go outside during a light rain shower.

*"MSM" is also an abbreviation for "Men who have sex with men," a euphemism for gay men used by the medical profession since some MSM don't identify as gay.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Grant McMicken for Superintendent of Public Instruction

I'm filling out my sample ballot, dutifully checking what I can find online about the candidates. I won't bore you with a candidate-by-candidate breakdown, and since every election is a compromise, I have a hard time actively endorsing any candidates or positions.

The one low-budget no-chance candidate who really seems inspired, though, is Grant McMicken, a candidate for the non-partisan Superintendent of Public Instruction. Check out his website. He's the wacky but smart and very dedicated math teacher who's come up with a comprehensive, innovative, and sensitive plan to really fix public schools. Maybe his plan wouldn't all work, but dammit, our schools are in rotten shape and someone needs to demand that schools educate our kids better.

I've also heard from several reliable sources that Assemblywoman Judy Chu, running for the Board of Equalization, kicks ass, as does her husband Mike Eng, who's running for her vacant Assembly seat. And in this debate, Debra Bowen seems much more on the ball on voting issues than her opponent, Deborah Ortiz.


So I went in to vote at my local polling place, the parish office of the Catholic church across the street. After passing by multiple signs posted informing me that it was a polling place, and that electioneering was prohibited, there was a big 24" x 36" framed poster of Pope Benedict XVI right outside the door to the polling room. Nice. (Unfortunately, I cannot vote in papal elections.)

Update #2:

Oh, and by the way, I went with Steve Westly over Phil Angelides, essentially because Phil, though I've heard he's a smart guy and a quick wit, is pretty much your central casting More of the Same candidate from the Democratic Party and Steve, the former CEO of eBay, seems more innovative. Also, he's perceived as being more centrist, which may be an advantage for his thankless next task of trying to beat Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I don't really buy the Angelides = developer = environmental scourge angle; in many ways his Laguna West was forward thinking, but in talking about land development, that can be a pretty relative term. There were good planning ideas in Laguna West, but the notion that it was anything but another sprawl-contributing bedroom community was naive, to say the least. (Not to say that New Urbanism itself is all it's cracked up to be, but that's an argument for another day.)

Trivia: Jackie Speier, candidate for Lieutenant Governor, proudly notes that she was wounded investigating the Jonestown cult in Guyana back in 1978. Maybe she'll go after the Scientologists.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Shortage of Yellow Shirts in Thailand

They're to honor the king's 60 years on the throne.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The World Cup is Coming

And that means one thing: people writing articles implying that there's something wrong with the U.S. because we don't care about soccer. Or futbol, or whatever. Yes, it's true, soccer is the #1 team sport in the world, and it's a distant fifth, by my reckoning, in the U.S. So what? Are newspaper readers in Canada subjected to this crap because they like hockey? How about Cuba? Does Fidel Castro berate his nation and tell them they must give up beisbol if they want to be taken seriously on the national stage? And who is poor Afghanistan going to compete against in the World Cup of Buzkashi?

The ignorance of the writer of that article regarding the worldwide popularity of sports besides soccer is astounding, implying that America's "troika" of baseball, basketball, and football is only enjoyed in the U.S.A. while the rest of the world is soccer-mad. In reality, football is the only one of those major team sports born in America that has not become widely popular in the rest of the world. Basketball is very popular in Eastern Europe, with the Basketball World Championship being dominated in recent decades by the USSR and Yugoslavia. Argentina is the reigning Olympic basketball champion.

And how thick-headed are some people that they still insist that baseball "hardly reigns supreme anywhere else?" Baseball is the top draw in many Caribbean nations, as well as Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. It's the #1 or #2 sport in just about every Western Hemisphere country north of the Equator. And it's catching on in Australia, Europe, China, and South Africa. And hey, remember the World Baseball Classic earlier this year, where the final featured a competition between one team from across the ocean and the other one of our most outspoken enemies on the world political stage? So much for baseball only being an American game.

And by the way, we "console ourselves" by calling the Chicago White Sox "world champions" because the Major Leagues are acknowledged to be the highest level at which baseball is played. And by the way, those 2005 White Sox featured, on their roster, players born in Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Japan, and, yes, the United States.

One last irony that the article alludes to is that "Nothing would trigger more anti-American resentment worldwide than the U.S. winning the World Cup someday and hardly noticing that it had done so." Indeed, in the latest FIFA rankings, the USA stands at #5, higher than France, higher than England, higher than Italy, and fourteen slots higher than host nation Germany. It could happen, and after dutifully watching the final, American sports fans could then go back the next day to managing our fantasy baseball teams or worrying about the upcoming NFL preseason.