Saturday, December 22, 2007

Get rid of the jitters

I'm all about social justice. Really, I am. I agitate for fair wages and health care, as much as I can. I give change, when I can, unless somebody gets right up in my face.

But I'm still worried about fair trade coffee.

I know, I know: It's the only decent thing to drink, and I'm an awful, fascist-supporting bastard because I opt frequently for different varieties, frequently *gasp!* Starbucks. I know, it's as evil as drinking Darth Vader's sweat. Or is it?

I've long wondered why Starbucks is such a bogeyman for many activists on the left. I mean, I understand that a corporatized chain of coffee places strikes right at the blood supply of the left wing -- at least in the David Brooks-popularized fantasy of political culture -- but you'd think that liberals would have better things to do than fight against a company that consistently tops lists of best companies to work for.

Plus, I wonder if the whole fair-trade labeling idea isn't getting a bit politicized. Fair-trade only certifies certain kinds of independent, family-owned co-operative (et cetera) coffee farms, which produce something like 2 percent of the world's coffee. Starbucks has their own deal, and they consistently pay above-market prices for their beans. They're hardly the evil empire.

Finally, there's this: I'm all for my coffee purchase making a difference in somebody's life. But I don't want my coffee to taste like honest toil. I'd rather it tasted like sweet, sweet imperialism; evil and rich.

Sometimes, the big green machine is the best of both those worlds.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Nobody's perfect

I've been seeing Ron Paul's name pop up on a number of really sickening websites -- examples here and here (definitely NSFW) -- for some time now. Apparently, there's something about him that appeals to unhinged racists. While I wouldn't suggest for a moment that Ron is a stupid bigot, he's sure trying my patience. Watch this at about 3:20.

Zowie. First of all, "it's a ridiculous idea that [he]'s supposed to screen these people?" This is what we'll get under a libertarian president: "You mean we're supposed to check all those steaks for e. coli? That would cost literally thousands of dollars!" Jerk.

But my favorite part was when he suggests that other candidates would have returned white supremacist Don Black's donation simply "to brag about how pure they are." Yeah, really! Get off your pedestal, mainstream candidates! Who doesn't have a little Nazi gold socked away? What a bunch of goody-two-shoes!

One little segment on FOX news proves nothing, especially with Cavuto, who conducts this "hatchet job" with wretched ineptitude. But you could be forgiven for thinking that Ron Paul's self-righteous rationalizing, coupled with his face's continued presence in some of the internet's worst rogues' galleries begins to paint an ugly picture indeed.

UPDATE (from littlegreenfootballs via Wonkette): Speaking of ugly pictures...

From left to right, that's Ron Paul, the aforementioned racist Don Black, and Black's son, Derek.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Follow the money

Want to see what Congress is doing for the American people? Just follow the money. Tonight CNN reported that President Bush again vetoed a health care program that would provide health coverage for poor children. SCHIP (sounds familiar, right?) would expand such coverage by $35 billion over a five-year period. Congress should override the president's veto, but the word "should" often falls on deaf ears, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, CNN also reported tonight that Congressional staffers are quietly reporting that Congress is about to approve another $70 billion for the war in Iraq--without a timetable, of course. If you know anything about basic math, this is easy to figure out: The president vetoes $35 billion for poor kids for the second time while Congress gives him twice that amount ($70 billion) for his pointless war.

It's difficult to take any Democrat serious these days, including many that are running for president. If their party can't stand up to President Bush after Americans voiced huge dissatisfaction with him in 2006, can you expect this party to represent the American people in the future?

Shame on the president, yes. But shame on the Democrats, too, for folding so easily...and predictably.

The Voice of Reason: Creationism meets Evolution

(I've decided to "seriously" tackle issues that have become the foundation of the conservative movement--of course, this can only be accomplished with a sense of humor. That said, why not start with the Grand Daddy of them all (not the Rose Bowl, either): Creationism!)

If you stare directly into the sun and squint just right, you can see the Creator's eye. To even suggest that creationism could meet evolution, as the title of this piece suggests, is incorrect, as they've never co-existed. An example of creatures that have co-excisted: Dinosaurs and man. You can't squeeze the entire history of Earth into a few thousand years without overlapping, right?

The Bible should be taken literally because, though its content reads like a fantasy novel, it's the word of God--the Creator. We've been told this by clergy, who have never steered us wrong in the past. What has science created? Doubt, perhaps, but nothing useful. No, evolution is simply a theory, much like global warming actually. Deep see creatures that eventually lose their eyesight (or eyes altogether) are merely chosen by the Creator to lose that eyesight. Why, if they cannot see in the dark and murky water, the Creator is brilliant in His decision to remove those eyes altogether. Spokespeople for the Creator deny future plans to equip humans with the gift of flight, however. In a press release, His PR department indicated that, with rising fuel efficiency standards, human flight just isn't in the cards.

Besides, creationism has evolved itself. We creationists are reasonable, and, responding to calls for a scientific base, have introduced intelligent design. The premise is simple and scientific. The earth has changed (not evolved) because a designer guided those changes. It wasn't natural selection. This is scientific for several reasons detailed here:

See, doesn't that make sense? Your computer didn't evolve from a calculator! No, somebody created the technology that allowed for your calculator to play solataire; download porn; and religiously (no pun intended) read the DI blog. In the same sense, somebody designed us, changed us when necessary, and helps us along. SCIENCE!

It may be confusing, and you may not agree. But with time, and faith, you'll see the light. Now I know what you're thinking: If it takes faith to accept this idea, then it must be religious and not scientific. Not true! You have faith that your TV will work when you turn it on, right? But that's not the same type of faith, you argue. I respond, ever so politely, of course it is!

Are you even more confused? Good. You should be. The answers should never be clear. When did clarity do anything? Keep wondering, questioning, and assuming. No, believing!

Best wishes,

The GOD Squad

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bring out the comfy chair!

Last night I was watching my favorite reality TV (C-Span) and caught part of a show titled, "Is it torture yet?" It turns out that the show was actually a field hearing held by Senator Benjamin Cardin to investigate the new hot topic. With all the talk of waterboarding, destroying of interrogation tapes, and "enhanced interrogation techniques," there was plenty to talk about.

When I tuned in, a Human Rights attorney was talking about the cruel and inhumane treatment received by the interrogated (or are they called interrogatees?) Of course she talked about the cruelty of waterboarding, and basic indecency (as seen in photographs from Abu Ghraib.) With every technique, she mentioned the potential risks and dangers involved. Some involved possible organ failure and other serious risks, but many also held the risk of "mental illness, such as depression."

Depression? Are you kidding me?

I'm no advocate of torture, but Depression? I'm not a psychologist either, but guilty or not guilty, if someone lands themselves in a position to be interrogated like that, it's probably not their first experience with mental health issues.

The Human Rights attorney went on at length about the danger and cruelty of sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation? Is that really in the same league as waterboarding? As frustrated as I am with the Bush administration's reluctance to denounce torture, I had a hard time taking this woman seriously. Maybe we should tickle people until they confess! No one likes to be tickled, but I know from experience it wouldn't be an effective interrogation technique. Do you know how many "uncles" I surrendered? They really weren't my uncles. I just wanted the tickling to stop.

But this is all part of the problem, every interrogation technique can lead to a bogus confession, which is why many people just want Bush & Co. to denounce torture for once and for all. Why won't he do it? I have no idea. Is it damaging to our international reputation? Absolutely. But does dialogue like this help?

I understand that we do not want the reputation as a country who advocates torture. We intend to be above that. But on the other hand, do we want a reputation as a country who hands out Prozac to our detainees? I can't help but think that there's some middle ground here that's being overlooked.

The Bush administration has handled accusations of torture horribly with disingenuous insistence that "the U.S. does not torture." Well, we'd have to define torture before we could make that claim, and for some reason that seems to be the big hurdle. Until then, we can expect the verb "waterboard" to remain a household word.

While I was perplexed by the civil rights attorney, other witnesses made a valuable contribution. A man with a commanding presence was introduced as Malcolm Nance, a 20 year veteran in the intelligence community combating terrorism. Maybe it's just me, but when I hear a man talk about what he experienced when he was waterboarded, I find myself at a loss for smart remarks. When that man talked, I listened without condescension. Perhaps someone should introduce him to George W. Bush.

Unfortunately, I rarely hear voices like Malcolm Nance talk about torture. I hear legislators talk about it, and I hear reporters try to get politicians to admit and condone it. I'm guessing those are the voices heard abroad.

My point is this: when our President refuses to denounce torture, it does not reflect well upon the country, and it doesn't bode well for any potential American POWs in the future. So, people speak up to try and separate the American people from the American president. That leaves two voices: the people saying that Bush sucks, and the Bush administration and supporters saying things that actually suck. What does it do for our reputation abroad when all we do is argue about the important issues? Because, I find that to be rather shameful as well.

I don't know who the next president will be, but I look forward to a day in the future when I have a president that is articulate. It would really be nice if the president's efforts to seem intimidating didn't appear to be a childish refusal to cooperate. Actually, I think I'm really starting to appreciate Ronald Reagan.

(By the way, the hearing really was titled, "Is it torture yet?")


"Who the hell is Mike Huckabee?" a friend asked while we watched a GOP debate earlier this year.

"He's the former governor of Arkansas," I said. "He's polling about the same as Tommy Thompson."

"Who's that?"


I liked to poke fun at Tommy Thompson. I'm also a Wisconsinite, and he's something of an embarrassment to many of us; granted, not as bad as Joe McCarthy, but still. So comparing Mike Huckabee to Thompson was a jab. I admit it. But honestly, I never expected I'd have to relive that conversation months later. Mike Huckabee just wasn't the real thing.

Then again, a lot of people said that about another Arkansas governor in the early 90's. Yeah, it happens. I take it back.

In March, Huckabee was polling at one percent. With a margin of error somewhere around five percent, there was a possibility that almost negative-four percent of Americans would vote for him. He was flirting with mathematical impossibilities.

Between March and October, nothing really happened. Just before Halloween, Huckabee was still polling in the low single-digits. As Midwesterners, we know exactly what those temperatures feel like. Voters were giving him the cold shoulder.

And then November happened. I don't know if it was a combination of too much turkey, a brilliant campaign ad that featured Chuck Norris, or a slew of religious Conservatives receiving free campaign buttons, but Huckabee happened. And he happened fast.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll in early November finally showed Huckabee breaking into the double digits, at 10 percent. By the end of the month, Huckabee fever gripped cable news, and a new CNN poll conducted last week has our pal Huck within the margin of error of Rudy Giuliani (whom you may have already heard of). If you include the margin of error, he might actually be ahead of "America's Mayor." Has the "I was the mayor of New York on 9/11"-slogan finally run its course?

We're just a few weeks from the cacuses now, in case you forgot. Could it be possible that Mike Huckabee (the Tommy Thompson impersonator) might actually have a shot at the Republican nomination? He seems a good fit; many Republicans like his conservative record. Plus, he is Chuck Norris approved.

Well played, Huck-Chuck. Well played indeed.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A purely emotional response

There's a man on TV saying that he's so glad Jeanne Assam was at the New Life Church in Colorado.  His son was killed a few hours earlier by a lunatic with a grudge.  It happens all the time.

It looks like that same lunatic went to the New Life Church with the intention of continuing.  He did, killing two sisters leaving after a service.  It happens all the time.

Jeanne Assam says that she leapt up and shot that lunatic inside the New Life Church before he could kill others.  It happens all the time.  Jeanne Assam, according to CNN, is one of several church members licensed to carry firearms who patrol its sacred precincts.  She was on the third day of a three-day fast, during which she prayed to god for guidance in her life.  She says god was present when she shot 24-year-old Matthew Murray, the aforementioned lunatic.

Investigators have said that Murray, after being shot by Assam, may have died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  To him, I could only have expressed my regret that there is no hell for him to go to.  (With half-hearted apologies to Christopher Hitchens.)

To Assam, I say this: That was all you, Jeanne.  You were brave.  You scarred yourself for life for the sake of others.  I don't think that was god.  I think that was humanity.

Things like this; too, happen all the time.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

An array of alliterative agonizing

Previous political prediction: Pathetic, it now seems. It's a good thing that I didn't actually bet any money on this one, like that time I bet on Wile E. Coyote. He's gotta have a good day sometime, right? Ugh.

I had the first inklings that my confident, zanily-phrased prediction of a few weeks ago was complete bilge when I saw Romney and Giuliani going at each other like aggrieved crocodiles in the most recent GOP debate. It was undignified and petty, and I was unsurprised that it neatly coincided with Mike "The Amiabilinator" Huckabee's sudden rise in the polls.

See, I'd thought that Romney was the inevitable result: Business Republicans love him, and social conservatives -- you know, the doltish crowd -- are at least amenable to him. He'd gotten that endorsement from Weyrich, which I thought meant more than it apparently did. Because the dolts are much, much more influential, apparently, than the business types, the candidate that appeals most to them -- Huckabee -- gets stronger and stronger as the caucuses approach.

I use the term dolts in a specific sense. I'm not necessarily saying that anybody who has a problem with gay marriage or abortion is, by definition, an idiot (as tempting as it is.) I'm simply saying that anybody who votes based on those issues is a dolt. Why not worry about the things that a. actually matter, and b. you can actually do something about? But I digress.

Anyway, I'm not picking any winners at present, and you folks can read poll stories just as well as I can. Yeah, Obama and Huckabee are in the ascendant, while Clinton and Romney are in decline, but these things turn, as we've seen, in the blink of an eye. Much better to gamble on things like the Patriots going undefeated, or that horrible prick Tancredo making another stupid, fear-mongering ad.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The high ground awaits

Like most others, I had almost no difficulty choosing a political party. Growing up with a specific set of beliefs tends to make the decision an obvious one. As a liberal, criticizing republicans quickly became second nature, as it seems to be for most liberals. Of course, this is a process that goes both ways. One has only to take a brief glimpse of any Fox News broadcast to see that few punches are pulled at the left wing’s benefit.

It seems that even the slightest personal misstep is sure to make any politician the butt of the opposition’s jokes, regardless of its relevance to political discussion. All too often, both sides attack arguers, but not arguments—politicians, but not policies. For every extraneous conservative attack, the left is quick to present one of its own—for every Ann Coulter, an Al Franken. As such, we begin to act if the opposing party is little more than an inside joke, which, of course, any “intelligent” person is sure to find hilarious. Thus, I believe this is a problem worthy of bipartisan recognition, regardless of its potential to be corrected.

Perhaps the best example of this is our current president, whom hard-nosed liberals will remember for little more than starting a pointless war and a tendency to choke on both big words and pretzels alike. While it appears the former is a perfectly reasonable reason for criticism, the latter too often becomes the object of left wing attacks. Amusing as they may be, Bush’s fumbled words are no more relevant to politics than they are intelligible. In spite of this, the President’s lacking verbal proficiency still seems to draw almost as much criticism as his failed policies.

Like most, I rarely make an effort to defend the political opposition. But perhaps I should. After all, we tend to be skeptical of any argument that does not consider the strong points given by its objectors. The public is not ignorant to this common oversight. Voters want a party they can be proud of—not merely the lesser of two evils. As such, the public is likely to respect any party unwilling to engage in the closed-minded squabbles initiated by the opposition. However, because politicians are so intent on kicking their opponents when they’re down, it seems any movement to eliminate these irrelevant discussions will have significant difficulty getting off the ground.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A relativistic con

I read, with some confusion, an op-ed in Saturday's New York Times which said, if I understood it right, that science and religion are both based on faith.  In the words of Scooby-Doo, gwuh?

Perhaps I misunderstood the terms.  Isn't religion, almost by definition, faith?  That is to say, the idea that even though one cannot see something, one nevertheless believes that it is there?  This is the antithesis of science.  Science is merely the "belief" that something one sees in front of one's face is there.

I put belief in quotation marks because it's such a silly word to use to describe the function of science.  I don't "believe" in the laptop I'm writing this on right now, nor do I "believe" in you or anybody else, good reader.  The laptop simply exists.  And unless nobody ever reads this, so do you.

Getting back to the op-ed, the author (Paul Davies, who is, confusingly, a noted physicist) bases his argument on the premise that science assumes a natural order to life and the universe.  At first glance, this is garbage; pure creationist prevarication: Science assumes nothing of the sort.

On closer inspection, however, one can see a subtle point in Davies' thesis.  As he correctly points out, it would be impossible to study the universe if one did not "believe" that there was
 a discernable order to it.

But there's that word again.  Though Davies might have me outgunned by several orders of intellectual magnitude (in addition to being a noted physicist, he's British), doesn't science, correctly understood, merely interpret the patterns in the evidence that are actually there?

In short, I think Davies badly mischaracterizes science when he equates it with faith, though he does raise some interesting points.  If a real scientist was confronted today with convincing evidence that, say, god is alive and well and residing somewhere in the 
constellation Orion, "belief" would not be involved.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Brand an asterisk on the indictment charges...

Is it already that time again? Time for ol' Barry to take over every sports section of every paper in every state of every country on every planet. I hate using words like "flabbergasting," but this is a necessary evil...

The death grip Barry Bonds has on media is flabbergasting.

I mean, Double B didn't even say or do anything this time, but you knew something was going to happen. It was that odd sensation, an Admiral Ackbar type of sensation, where things were quiet...

Maybe too quiet...

Then televisions everywhere exploded with images of Barry Bonds hitting home runs despite the fact that the text bubble on the bottom of the screen said that the man pictured above has been formally accused, by the government, of purgery and obstruction of justice.

My first thought was, "Why are they showing him hitting home runs? This is their chance to run the ultimate Barry Bonds blooper reel."

Then it hit me.

I'm going to have to read about this cheating, media-hating, team-isolating, lying, manipulating, steroid-using, scar on baseball for months to come. This might be worse than Kobe being accused of raping that girl because at one point in that trial we all thought, "I'm pretty sure Kobe is innocent," but in BB's case, we're going to have to hear about it every time someone hits over 50 HRs in a season, or comes close to the single-season record, and lord knows when ARod comes close to Barry's record, it will be all about Bonds. He is going to be the lingering cancer on baseball that simply cannot be operated on. He's spread too deeply in the system, the record books, and the club houses, to ever be fully and successfully extracted.

What's worse than the act itself are the people that defend Barry.

"He still has to hit the ball, and that's not something steroids can help you do," they all say.

What an asinine argument. That's like saying about a swimmer, "He still has to jump in the pool, that's not something steroids can help you do."

Of course he has to hit the ball, hell, give me some hacks at it, I'll make contact eventually, the fact that his balls go 450 feet and land in a pool of screaming fans who pay Barry's enormous salaries, that's what the steroids are doing.

You can't look me in the eyes and tell me, with a straight face, that you thing Barry didn't cheat, that he hasn't hurt the Giants organizations and the game of baseball in general, you just can't do it, because every human who knows what a baseball even looks like can tell you that Barry's been juicing.

When he came into the league, his head was 8 hat sizes smaller than it was last season.

Simply put; you cannot make your head grow that much without assistance from HGH or other steroid-esque drugs. While it may go without saying, some will try and convince you that this is at all possible.

In the end we all suffer. Tax dollars are being senselessly wasted on this conceited douchebag, baseball will never fully recover, and now I have to see Barry Bonds during football season as well.

You want a punishment that fits the crime? I say we brand an asterisk on Barry's forehead and tattoo a footnote on his back reading:

* - Only a shell of human being, void of all normal (and required) human emotions such as self-respect and respect for others.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Private letter to Hillary Clinton

Okay, Mrs. Clinton- it's just you and me here, woman to woman. Ever since that last debate, all I've been hearing about is you and your non-answer to the question about drivers licenses for illegal immigrants. Listen, I'm a woman too. I understand your ability to agree with Eliot Spitzer even though you don't agree with him. I totally get it. You don't know all of the details, you just know that you don't fully agree with them. More importantly, you're not going to let anyone put words in your mouth. I watched that sausagefest of a debate, and I agree that it wasn't fair, your non-answer to that question was just as relevant as any of the other candidates non-answers.

This is not hyperbole, I honestly thought the whole drivers license debate was nothing more than theatre. But I need to speak my mind, women are like sisters, right? We support each other, we vote for each other, we give each other pep talks and occasionally steal each others boyfriends. But through it all, we stick together. It is in this spirit of sisterhood that I feel the need to tell you something about that last debate. Everyone's hedging on issues, but girlfriend it is time to whip out those ovaries and smack them down on the podium the next time Tim Russert produces a document signed by your husband. That was just madness.

Yes Hillary, this focus on the drivers license thing is nothing. The real issue is the unreleased records from the Clinton Library. If you are running on your reputation and experience as First Lady, then you need to show us the goods, sweetheart. You can be as wishy-washy as everyone else about the drivers license issue as far as I'm concerned, but to say in the debate that whether or not to release relevant White House documents is 'not your decision to make'? Well, it kinda' is, and it doesn't help your credibility to blame the archivists. Actually, that ticked me off. Every archivist I've known (admittedly not many) is incredibly passionate about their work with artifacts. To make them look bad for being too slow to release those papers you won't allow them to release, well, that just makes you look bad. You said that the archives were releasing documents every day, and I have no doubt that's a fact. I also have no doubt that none of those documents will be related to the policy memos that are currently restricted.

Now, don't get me wrong, this is a pep talk. I would tell you if your bra strap was showing and now I'm telling you it's time to stop letting those guys bully you. Tell your husband what for, and release those documents to the public. Show everyone for once and for all what you're made of, and let the public see your years of White House experience with our own eyes. Stop blaming the archivists and show us that experience you're running on. Those 24% of Republican women that are supposed to vote for you would really appreciate it. I know you can do it!

Monday, November 5, 2007

The internet is for memes

This, as I'm sure you can tell, is homemade. Hooray for 21st century arts and crafts!

The hairdo cometh

Hold on to your hats, kittens and cats, because Papa Jon is making a prediction: Mitt Romney wins the GOP nomination. I'm basing that largely off the news that arch-conservative and Moral Majority co-founder Paul Weyrich is the latest right-wing celebrity to endorse him. If you've got them by the Moral Majorities, their hearts and minds will follow.

I don't know if this is good news or bad for those of us who would, on the whole, prefer not to elect another Republican president. (Journalists are supposed to be objective. This is, in a word, difficult for those of us in the opinions section.) On the one hand, Mitt Romney is an opportunistic hairpile who trims his sails to the political wind like some sort of Mormon buccaneer. Let that image sink in for a moment: "Avast there, you dogs; and answer us this question: Do ye ever feel as if yer searchin' fer meanin' in yer life?"

Seriously, though, it's comforting for liberals to think that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is simply a run-of-the-mill politician, rather than a god-bothering half-wit with tyrannical advisers. It would even make the unlikely event of a Republican victory in 2008 that much more tolerable: How bad could he really be, compared to this guy? Even if Hillary gets the Democratic nod and puts this proposition to the test, I really don't think that the electorate is dumb enough to vote for the "just folks" candidate after eight years of President Bush screwing them over. And although I think Hillary Clinton would make a fine president, I think the Dems could make the question academic by nominating somebody else.

On the other hand, though, he's clearly the biggest GOP wheel still spinning. Rudy Giuliani is the kind of Republican that "values" voters love to hate, in addition to being mildly insane. By contrast, Mike Huckabee is mother's milk to those same "values" voters, but this makes him a total non-entity in the general election. (Although as a fellow bass player, I give him some grudging props. Also, he's pretty bright, for a far-right-winger.) John McCain is...well, life support is putting it generously. Fred Thompson is the most underwhelming celebrity candidate ever, and that's saying a lot. (Hear that, Colbert? That'll teach you to punk out after one puny little state party turns up their noses at you.) Ron Paul is, well, a space alien -- very much the conservative equivalent of Dennis Kucinich, sans statuesque, red-headed wife. (Remember, Ron Paul internet militia -- keep the comments clean.) And, of course, the only way Tom Tancredo could make his racism more explicit would be to hand out white hoods with his campaign logo on them.

Actually, Republican or Democrat, everybody ought to be happy with the prospect of a Romney candidacy. All hail the hairdo!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Oh God, here come the Creationists

I've been reading A.J. Jacobs' new book "The Year of Living Biblically" where the Esquire editor attempts to follow the Bible as literally as possible for an entire year. I love the idea, but I can't help shuttering at the thought of trying it myself. The book is chock-full of funny moments on the subway, "stoning" adulterers in the park, and responding to the obligatory Unabomber references (if you saw his beard, you'd understand). But what interests me most is, among other things, his battle with the ideas of creationism.

I remember a conversation I had with a family friend some years ago; I was probably in my early teens then. While discussing the evolution v. creationism issue, he said it was silly to think that an explosion (The Big Bang) could create a universe. "When's the last time you saw a bomb do that?" he asked me. At the time, I was stumped.

I'm now befuddled by the claims creationism sets forth. In his book, Jacobs documents his journey to a creationism museum in northern Kentucky. It's a beautiful building, Jacobs says, and after visiting the website, I agree. Somehow, though, this museum doesn't appeal to me. Dinosaurs and man living together--in peace? Or claims that "dragons" were actually dinosaurs that existed into the Middle Ages?

And you're telling me an explosion can't create a universe?

Nothing against creationism, but it all sounds a little far-fetched to me. How can somebody accept the "fact" that man and beast co-existed peacefully but a series of explosions in space couldn't begin the process that would eventually lead to our planet being formed?

So here's what I'm thinking: Yeah, evolution doesn't make complete sense (just enroll in Human Origins here at the UI and see the leaps of faith involved in accepting it), but the utter lack of reason in creationism just doesn't cut it for me. Or scientists.

But believe what you want. Me, I just believe you're kind of crazy.

Monday, October 15, 2007

In defense of myself

Today's piece seems to have drawn the ire of a few commentators. Rarely do I ever feel the need to defend my writings, but some of the charges leveled at me go too far.

Paul comes out of the gate firing, taking issue with my line: "It seems never again means never again- until the next time." Paul seems outraged by this, though he failed to actually read the statement. If he had, he would have recognized that I was lamenting this fact, not white washing it. In fact, I suggested that those concerned over the Armenian genocide should focus their energies on Darfur - a genocide occurring at this very moment. It's hardly fair to accuse me of not caring.

Paul ends his thought-provoking comment with the question: "What message are we sending - you can kill your minorities as long as you help us with Iraq?" I never suggested anything of the sort, so Paul's conclusion here is way out of place.

Next up is Pete, who frankly committed blatant libel. He blames "apologists and isolationists" like me for genocides. Pete, you have no idea what my actual foreign policy views are, and they are far from being of the realist school, as you described me. And to call someone an apologist for genocide is simply sickening.

Kat seems to have actually read my column, unlike the two posters before her. This piece is about interest groups and the harm that narrow interests can inflict on America, not the resolution itself.

As I wrote in the piece, the passage of time doesn't excuse past atrocities. But if we're going to have an honest debate about this resolution, it's unfair to call opponents of it apologists and isolationists.

Monday, October 8, 2007


The Hawks stink this year. On ice, on carpet, and especially on grass; they stink for all seasons. My question is: Why didn't we see this coming?

Answer: we never do. Football fans at this school act like 14-year-old girls every year. Pre-season:
"Oh my god, the Hawks are going to be soooooo good this year! We're going to be, like, eight and four!"
"We're totally going to be ranked. It's going to be sweeter than unicorn sweat!"

This year is, of course, no different. We've got the same solid defense that looks absolutely crushing against early-season creampuffs, but gets humiliated when they're stuck on the field for 90 percent of the game, which they usually are against real opposition. Like, not even cool.

It was ever thus. Remember our big-time world-beating quarterback, Drew Tate? Aside from the odd concussion and, admittedly, one of the most memorable passes in Hawkeye history, he never really did all that much. We started 2005 (I think it was 2005) ranked in the top freaking ten, and hid under the bed whenever anybody showed us a picture of a quality opponent. Infinitely annoying.

Am I angry because of the ridiculous expectations or the poor performance itself? I'm not sure it matters, nor do I know for sure.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Spotlight on Justice

For the last 24 hours, I've not been able to turn on the television or pick up a newspaper without hearing about Clarence Thomas. I can't put my finger on the exact reason why, but I find it unbecoming of a Supreme Court justice to publish a memoir to coincide with the new term of the Court. I will concede, it's difficult to offer an intellectual argument to support my distaste, it's based on my emotional reaction rather than any wrongdoing on his part. I have a great appreciation for the Supreme Court. Their job is to operate in a non-partisan manner to interpret the constitution and maintain the system of checks and balances with our elected officials in the other two branches. A justice may serve for life, and their decisions often have significant effect for years thereafter. I appreciate the reclusive nature of many justices who have always avoided the media spotlight. Since I can't really base my feelings on anything other than personal respect for the sanctity of the court, I decided to keep my unsavory view of justice Thomas' media blitz to myself. Until now. I reached my saturation point when I turned on the radio this afternoon and heard justice Thomas being interviewed by Rush Limbaugh. It was not just a quick plug either, he gave a 90 minute interview.

At first, I was saddened, pleading with the oblivious voice on the radio: Please! Please just maintain the facade that the Court operates in a nonpartisan manner. I know it's unrealistic, but please, radio voice of Clarence Thomas- let me live in my fantasy world where the Court is somehow above all of the entangled politics of Washington.

My pleadings went unanswered as Limbaugh and Thomas bantered like old friends, and at that point I realized a couple of things. First, that the sanctity of the court is a myth and second, I seriously need to get a life. How long could I truly revere the Supreme Court? They are the folks who brought us "separate but equal."

So, if Long Dong Silver wants to be in the media spotlight this time, who am I to judge? I should welcome it- in fact, let's bring cameras into the Court so that they can all get their mug on television and in the spotlight. Mattel can make action figures so kids can collect all 9 and add to their collection with each new confirmation. I know I would shell out a pretty penny for a Limited Edition William Howard Taft figurine! Little girls can dress up Ruth Bader Ginsburg in miniskirts and brush her hair. It would be a great way to raise awareness for the highest Court in the United States.

And while we're at it, let's really bring the Supreme Court into the spotlight. Instead of watching CourtTV, Americans can watch the suspension of Habeas Corpus in real time. In case you hadn't heard mention in any of the numerous interviews in the last few days, a new term began today. If Clarence Thomas wants to be in the spotlight, I'd much rather hear his decisions regarding voting rights than details of his childhood or Anita Hill.

The decisions of the Supreme Court are crucial, and they shape our society by establishing precedent for all legal matters thereafter. Unfortunately, the reclusive nature of the court has kept it largely below the radar of the American public. The majority of Supreme Court coverage revolves around confirmation hearings and the dirty laundry that they bring with them. Beyond this, other than brief media coverage of some landmark cases, it's easy to forget that the Supreme Court is in session at all. Maybe justice Thomas has the right idea, maybe it's time to bring the Supreme Court and its justices into the spotlight after all. Until that happens, maybe I really should get a life.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A journalist's work is never done

I've always used the O.J. trial as an example of a mass media extravaganza-slash-orgy-slash-"there sure are a lot of blonde women with microphones here all of a sudden" gone absolutely amok. Now there's going to be another one? I'll have to add a clarifying Roman numeral, like people do for the second President Bush! O.J., you inconsiderate dolt!

What's this guy's deal, anyway? Is he deranged? Greedy? The victim of circumstance? I don't know. Frankly, I don't care. Why does everyone else seem to?

This has been a brief public service announcement from your severely irritated opinions editor.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Cheer up, Charlie

There's something about watching Notre Dame suffer that makes me a little giddy inside. Maybe it's their arrogant student body. No, I don't know enough of them to really care. I'm pretty sure it's their consistently overrated football team. Yeah, that has to be it.

Good old Notre Dame is almost always ranked among the best college football teams in the country. They may be famous for their gold helmets, die-hard fans, and Rudy, but lately they haven't done a whole lot for their football program. I couldn't be a happier Notre Dame hater this season.

If you haven't heard, Notre Dame has started the season 0-3. They haven't even scored an offensive touchdown. (Because I'm an Iowa fan, I'd like to take this moment to point out that we haven't allowed a touchdown this season. Maybe we should play ND.) To add insult to injury, their schedule isn't looking any better either. They play Michigan State this weekend, a team they struggled to beat a year ago. Next comes Purdue and UCLA, followed by Boston College and USC. Yes, USC. It may be premature, but is it possible that Notre Dame might start the season 0-8? Hell, even if they beat two of those teams, we're still talking 2-6, right? Beautiful!

Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis is on the hot seat--sort of. He signed a huge contract extension in 2005, so it looks like he may be around a while longer. It'd be nice if this overrated coach helped this overrated team finish one of their worst seasons ever. But then I realized something. Even if Notre Dame fails to make it to a bowl game this year (you need six wins to qualify), I wouldn't be surprised to see them ranked in the top 10 next season.

Why? Because Notre Dame is always ranked. Always overrated. Always a win (or 12) away from a national championship. So cheer up, Charlie. It'll be okay. And if you're not convinced, hum this excerpt from Gene Wilder's 'Willy Wonka.' It's frightening, but I think it was written for you, Charlie.

"Cheer up, Charlie
Give me a smile
What happened to the smile I used to know
Don't you know your grin has always
Been my sunshine;
Let that sunshine show..."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Never Forget" the rest of the story

The flag waved at half-staff above the Old Capitol today, September 11, 2007. Six years ago, nearly 3,000 Americans were killed in the worst terrorist attack ever on our native soil. The courageous and patriotic response that day is often replayed on the anniversary; the names of those murdered are read aloud at the site of what was once the World Trade Center towers.

"Never forget," they say--in fact, everyone says it. And I haven't forgotten. No, I'll never lose sight of what the United States lost that morning. But perhaps more important than remembering those we lost, we should make an honest effort to never forget what happened afterward, either.

September 11 is a touchy subject, so I'll tread lightly. I've been critical of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani using the attacks to highlight his foreign policy resume. Shame on him--or anyone else--for politicizing that dreadful day.

The fact remains, though, that the response wasn't handled properly. President Bush, whom I admired for uniting the country in the days and weeks after the attacks, has squandered his opportunity to bring justice to those who murdered our friends, relatives, and loved ones that day. I believed Mr. Bush when he stood at Ground Zero a few days later and assured every American that our nation wouldn't stand idly while our enemies attacked us on our own soil.

Osama bin Laden was wanted "dead or alive," remember? T-shirts with his image centered behind cross hairs were popular online, and as American troops zeroed in on him in Afghanistan, it seemed a matter of time before NBC would interrupt its evening coverage to announce his capture.

Six years later, and bin Laden is still on the loose.

I disagree with the president's misadventure in Iraq. If only he dedicated the same time and resources in Afghanistan, perhaps our military could have arrested bin Laden as swiftly as we toppled Saddam Hussein's government. I don't think anybody anticipated that bin Laden would remain at large six years after the 9/11 attacks; how can the president justify invading Iraq and hanging its leader when he still hasn't finished off al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden?

I'll never forget that day--can anybody? But as long as we're preserving the memory of the dead, let's make an effort to remind ourselves of what they died for and how they were avenged. If you think about it that way, it's depressing. The mastermind of that assault on America is alive and releasing messages to commemorate the anniversary of the day he fought America--and won.

I'd certainly like the president to keep that in mind while he considers what he's done since taking his oath of office to defend our land. Frankly, President Bush should be ashamed of himself.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Da Al G Show

Maybe it's because I prefer British humor, but I found Sacha Baron Cohen's Ali G a riot when the white, ghetto wannabe-turned politician infiltrated Parliament. The inevitable American remake featuring Alberto Gonzales--Al G--as Attorney General was somewhat less successful--and not nearly as humorous.

President Bush's administration is full of jokes, but none nearly as funny as Cohen's British romp. Or maybe I'm confusing this Cohen with another. Yes, the dark humor so expertly executed by the Coen brothers would better suit this presidency. Then again, President Bush hasn't exactly been the definition of "expertly executed," now has he?

So what the hell is so funny about President Bush? Maybe this administration is like a drama so bad it's funny. You know, like Showgirls. But like Showgirls, it's only funny the first time--then it's just sort of embarrassing. Yeah, that's what this administration is--a bad drama.

I used to find 365 day calendars that included a new daily Bushism funny. Now I find it a little sad that companies can devote an entire year to mocking the leader of the free world and his struggle with the English language.

The vice president shooting a hunting partner in the face was hands-down Coen brothers. The subsequent cover-up was Showgirls. The Attorney General's numerous mental lapses on Capitol Hill was Coen brothers. His job security was--well, you get the idea.

I'm sick of giving this president and his administration second chances, because--if you really stop to think about it--there is only one second chance. Then it's a third, fourth, fifth--sixtieth. When is it going to end? This administration is like a bad sequel that won't go away. Yes, it's the Pirates of the Caribbean 3 of the political world.

Oh, who am I kidding? This president and his co-stars are a joke. Excuse me if I don't laugh. I'm just too terrified of the punchline to understand the humor.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Poor Little Dumb Girl

1/5 of Americans may not be able to locate the U.S. on a world map, but they have surely seen the clip of Miss South Carolina at the Miss Teen U.S.A. pageant. In case you've somehow missed it, you can find it here: and the U.S. can be found here:

This video has been passed around and it has been used to support the point of view of many critics. Some use her to support a feminist argument, others use her to show the flaws in the educational system, and I even heard Sean Hannity used the education argument as a segue into how Democrats are going to ruin the health care system. Then, of course there are the more simple arguments: blonds are dumb, beautiful women are dumb, South Carolinians are dumb. I have yet to hear anyone give voice to my reaction, so here's my take.

At first, I laughed, then I felt sorry for the poor girl. She was obviously nervous and clearly had prepped for the humanitarian question rather than the education question. Then I watched it again and looked into her vacant eyes as she struggled through it. It was like she didn't even hear the question. Her mind was so filled with, "bright lights- huge audience- everyone looking right at me- Mario Lopez- oh krap, what was the question?- Mention Iraq and starving children- I am totally blowing it- big smile- look pretty- time's up." Her rambling reminds me of an essay test that I took in High School where I hadn't read the material and tried to make my rambling b.s. sound intelligent. It didn't work any better for me than it did for her. Her question was easier, though.

So, is she dumb? After I was done being amused by her, I heard all of the critics talk about the problems with the educational system, the pageant process, etc. All of these things may be true, but there's something else that the Miss Teen SC video clip demonstrates. When I watch that clip, I realize how much we truly value bullshit. I don't know how intelligent Miss SC is, but she is certainly lacking in b.s. skills. That will get her nowhere.

I don't think it's unfair to criticize her performance- it was part of the pageant process and she blew it. But as the entire country watches and calls her stupid, we're surrounded by successful people who are stupid- perhaps even more stupid than Miss SC- every day. Sure, the pageants are all about physical appearance- so why is it so funny when this contestant fumbled? Intelligence may not be of much value in the contest, but is intellectual facade is an expectation? So, the entire country continues to talk about how stupid this girl is, and eventually she will fade away and at some point re-appear on a reality TV show. But, I guarantee you that there are many people, some in very powerful positions, with a lower IQ than Miss SC that is hidden beneath a talent for bullshit.

That naughts show

All week, I've been thinking the same thing, with brief pauses for things like food and coffee: "Why does the White House remind me of That 70s Show?"
I picture it like this: President Bush and Vice President Cheney are teenagers. (I know the time frames don't fit. Keep still.) They are sitting in a basement, experimenting with what we'll call certain botanical products. They enjoy said botanicals, but are aware that they are highly illicit. Suddenly, old man Leahy is home!
"Oh, crap, Dick!"
"You said it, George!"
"We're screwed! Hide the stuff!"
Weird, huh? Probably just my imagination running away with me.
On a completely unrelated note, Alberto Gonzales's departure -- hard on the heels of Karl Rove -- reveals a serious flaw in the administration's political strategy. They seem to believe that if their more vicious hatchetmen aren't on TV all the time clearly labeled as members of said administration, congressional Dems pushing subpoenas will recede back into the woodwork. Guess again, guys.
After the brief flurry that the departures have caused, it's true that the public will stop paying so much attention to the ongoing legal "battle of the branches." But it's a legal fight now, and the fact that Rove and Gonzales are no longer public figures doesn't matter in the least to Leahy and company.
You can hide stuff in the sofa, but it'll get found all the same.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

When satire becomes reality

I never knew President George Bush wrote for The Onion.

Of all bizarre rationals, arguments, and statements he's uttered over the previous six years, none have matched his complete rewriting of history he managed Wednesday. In a speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars annual convention, he twisted history on its head with comparisons between the two conflicts.

To his credit, Bush did recognize that there are numerous similarities. The catch: the evidence he referred to wholly contradicted the argument he put forth. Yes, there is likely to be a humanitarian disaster if the United States precipitously withdraws. This was indeed the case in Cambodia.

What Bush didn't say was that U.S. policy during the Vietnam War created the vacuum that allowed the Khmer Rouge to come to power. If the Nixon administration hadn't carpet-bombed Cambodia, the context for the future massacres wouldn't have existed. If the US hadn't embroiled itself in the Vietnamese civil war, there wouldn't have been any "boat people."

If Bush really wants to use this point, he should carry it to its conclusion: any further humanitarian disaster in Iraq will be the result of his unnecessary, pathetically-run war. Furthermore, if the Iraq War were not undertaken, there wouldn't be any clamoring by massive amounts of Iraqi refugees, fleeing en masse to wherever will take them.

For all his caring about a possible human catastrophe, Bush failed to compare what would happen regionally if we withdrew with the actual results in Vietnam. He has continuously argued - correctly, in my view - that withdrawal would prove disastrous for U.S. interests. But to be fair, Vietnam hawks argued that withdrawal would start a "domino effect" of Southeast Asian countries turning Red. Obviously, this failed to happen.

This administration ran from Vietnam comparisons in the early years of the war, claiming the situations were totally different. Now, they claim that Vietnam is a model for why we must stay. And people said John Kerry was the flip-flopper.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

When Sports Mirrors Politics

There aren't too many things I miss about my childhood. I was glad to shed myself of curfews, weekly allowances, and limitations on how far I could ride my bike. That being said, the last few weeks have indeed caused me to lament on something I've lost since becoming an adult: A fondness for professional athletics.

It probably began a long time ago, but it really hit home last month when a professional wrestler killed his wife and son before committing suicide in his home. As a child there was no doubt in my mind that everything I saw on WWF (not WWE) pay-per-views was legitimate. Maybe I just had a great imagination (and I did); but it's more likely that I didn't want to know that it was staged.

Chris Benoit was never my favorite wrestler, but I can't say that I ever cared a whole lot about Michael Vick, NBA referees, or Barry Bonds either. As Bonds looks to pass Hank Aaron's all-time home run record (he is three shy of passing him as of Monday), I get the feeling that most people would rather discuss the controversy than the record. And I'm one of them.

One of the greatest records in sports history is about to fall, and it's more than just a bit ironic that most professional sports organizations are embroiled in one controversy or another at the time. Bonds may have used steroids to boost his home run totals, and I'm one of the many people who feel that an asterisk should appear next to his name because of it. But the fact that we're discussing the controversy instead of the feat says something about sports today. Or does it?

Michael Vick has been indicted for his role in dog fights, and during last night's CNN presidential primary debate, MSNBC was talking about Vick instead of politics. An NBA referee is being investigated by the FBI for betting on the games he officiated. Again, it's appeared elsewhere than just ESPN.

Growing up, I remember the sports, not the controversies. I remember Brett Favre winning a Super Bowl when I was in the fifth grade, but I don't really remember his brief stint in rehab over his addiction to painkillers.

I remember the race for the single-season home run record between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa--I don't remember the steroid discussion then, or the MLB strike a few years earlier.

So maybe nothing has changed. Maybe I've changed. And that's a little frightening. Controversy has always existed in sports, but as children, we don't care about the politics. We care about the championships and the memories of fun times at the ballpark.

Hopefully children today will have something good to remember, too. Like the Red Sox beating the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Vick agonistes

I watched, with a certain degree of vicious satisfaction, the announcement of Michael Vick's indictment as it ran for roughly six years on ESPN's ticker. Like the dogs that Vick allegedly tortured and made vicious, my own moral satisfaction ran amok. I have very, very limited reserves of compassion for petulant multi-millionaire jocks -- remember Vick giving the finger to the home crowd? -- but it looks like the sporting world has already convicted the embattled Falcons quarterback.

As I've said, I have little patience with rich, spoiled athletes. Anybody who bitches about being "underappreciated" while making millions of dollars a year is a greedy jackass. And the entire Indiana Pacers organization seems to be riven by pissy, short-tempered people. Imagine: the only office Christmas party when you can get decked by Ron Artest! (Which would still be better than listening to his CD.) Or what about those idiots who get drunk/coked-up/ptomaine poisoned from drunken, coked-up eating contest before the Super Bowl/World Series/Roller Derby? These guys should repeat the following at least five times a day: "I'm getting paid millions of dollars to play a freaking game. This is great!"

Of course, the reason that so many professional athletes (and their collegiate analogues) act like such morons is that they have been handed the world on a platter at the age of 19 or so. The guys -- and make no mistake, 99% of the folks we're talking about are guys -- who are going to star in Division I sports and maybe go pro know how talented they are. They've been told how talented they are for years. It is the sudden shock of getting that scholarship or signing that fat contract; the ugly, subconscious realization that hey, there are people here who can run as fast as I can that fuels the manic self-confidence necessary to maintain their impossibly glorified self-images.

So they act out. Pacman Jones. Tank Johnson. The nasty, racist granddaddy of them all, Ty Cobb. Closer to home, Pierre Pierce. I am a god; I have the power, these animals or men or women are entirely subject to me.

And sportswriters are ready. There's nothing more Pulitzer-worthy than the story of a glorious warrior's downfall; his armor tarnished by the stains of failure and rampant ego. The unsilent story of an anti-hero, with apologies to Gay Talese.

I don't know if Michael Vick did horrific things to dogs. But if he did, it's simply another example of ego without a leash.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Faithful Sure are Frightful

The cover of Time magazine features a donkey with a halo floating above its head. To the left of the donkey, in bold, reads "How the Democrats got Religion." It seems Time was interested in religion and American culture in this issue, because on page 15 they wrote another little fun article about religion:

The religion of Harry Potter.

So maybe I'm on a bit of a Potter kick this week. The final book in the beloved series is set for release at 12:01 AM Saturday; if you're hitting the bars Friday night, be sure to stop by Prairie Lights bookstore. I'll be the guy standing outside, waiting eagerly for Deathly Hallows.

In Time, Lev Grossman discusses "the doubting Harry," and writes perhaps the funniest sentence of 2007. Allow me to quote: "If you want to know who dies in Harry Potter, the answer is easy: God."

Grossman goes on to compare Harry Potter to both The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. In both of the latter examples, however, Grossman explains how the authors used their Christian faith as a guiding light while writing their famous fantasy series'. Apparently J.K. Rowling, the Potter author, doesn't share the same affinity for God (or so says Grossman.)

"In choosing Rowling as the reigning dreamer of our era, we have chosen a writer who dreams of a secular, bureaucratized, all-too-human sorcery..." Grossman says.

I may be jumping the gun a bit here, as I haven't read the last book, but isn't Harry Potter just another battle of good against evil? Besides, I always felt Harry Potter more closely resembled Star Wars than Lord of the Rings. Harry is like Luke, the chosen one with the dark past--yes, he must face the temptations of evil, but didn't Jesus do the same thing in the Bible?

Before you leave horrible comments, let me clarify: I'm not comparing Luke Skywalker to Jesus Christ. And I'm not comparing Harry Potter to either of them, either. In the end, the Potter books are a way to show children that evil exists in this world, but can ultimately be defeated by choosing wisely in your friendships and relying on love instead of hate.

Or maybe I'm wrong. If Harry dies in book seven, it's clear that J.K. Rowling is the anti-Christ and is using her demonic powers to create one of the best-selling series of books in the history of literature. All those who read the last book, upon finishing, will turn to the dark side, join her evil cult of Christianity-haters, and rise against humanity, establishing an Order of Evil never before seen on this earth.

But even if that were so--you still have to admit that they're damn good books.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Next Time Iraqis May Actually Be Involved

President Bush listed, among other things, an Iraqi connection to the September 11 terrorist attacks before the invasion in March 2003. While a majority of the "facts" on that list have proven false, including potential WMDs and the "Iraqis will welcome US troops as liberators" arguments, one of the lasting effects of the president's pre-war speeches is the Iraq connection.

In a Newsweek poll conducted this past June, 41 percent of Americans said they still believe that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks, even as several investigations have found no link between Hussein and al Qaeda.

A new intelligence report released this week, however, suggests that al Qaeda is now attempting to include allies in Iraq in planning new terror attacks inside the United States. The following question must then be asked: How has the war in Iraq made our country any safer?

I've never bought the "it's either here or there" argument. It seems obvious to me that a terrorist network based in the Middle East would prefer to attack Americans (in this case, soldiers) stationed and serving in the Middle East instead of trying to smuggle their own forces across our borders. The risks of their plot being disrupted is far too great when one can cross the border into Iraq and plant roadside bombs that murder Americans, creating the same terror stateside.

The number of Americans who have died in Iraq has surpassed the number killed on September 11, 2001. Though terrorists prefer larger targets (3,000 dead on one day as opposed to roughly the same amount over the course of four years is probably considered a greater "success"), the result is still the same.

Americans are dying in a war that has made our nation a more dangerous place to live. We are not safer than we were on September 10, 2001. Nor are we safer than we were the day after the attacks. With the foiled car bombings in London and Scotland and reports such as those stated above, it seems that Americans are finally beginning to comprehend the debacle that is Iraq.

There's no doubt in my mind that another attack on my native land is near, if not imminent. I'm not paranoid, nor an alarmist. In fact, I feel I'm acting quite rationally. Iraq is a broken nation with no signs of stability in sight. Our Congress is struggling to convince the most stubborn president in our nation's history that it's time for change.

And the next time American citizens are murdered at home by terrorists, the Iraq link may indeed be true. But it will only be true because our government made the decision to include them in the War on Terror. Iraq didn't strike first.

We'll have to live, and die, with that fact.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Shovels and explosions with a smile

The Discovery Channel can really waste your time.
In the roiling ocean that is TV, with advertisements, plot hooks, bleeped-out reality shows, and so much more, it's kind of endearing to find something as unpretentiously entertaining as "Mythbusters" or "Dirty Jobs". Many are the times I've come home from work, plopped into my mildly-difficult chair (it's just not comfortable enough to qualify as easy) and searched for a brief respite on the tube. I usually end up on the Discovery channel. My plan is to drink a beer, eat some dinner, and then get on with the evening.
Inexplicably, I awake -- as if from a daze or swoon -- after several hours, wondering where the time has gone. And why do I know how plastic is made? I believe the secret dweomer that clouds my mind is cast by the novelty of the everyday.
Just think: You are surrounded by objects and phenomena that, in all probability, you know little about. Who made your cubicle? And how? There are fantastic machines and astonishing techniques behind even this most workaday of objects.
The series "How it's made" epitomizes this idea. It's boring when you first tune in: An announcer seemingly hired straight from those "educational" videos they made you watch in school. Some goofy music that sounds like a sitcom theme written by robots, complete with curious beeps and boops.
And then you see an unimaginably massive and precise production line, making something everyday and innocuous like lightbulbs. There's a machine that shoves filaments into glass at a dizzying pace, another later on that belches blue flame to heat-treat the bulbs, and on and on. Truly, lightbulbs have come to us through steel and fire.
And back to earth. Some of Discovery's stuff is, as I said, simple and unpretentious. "Mythbusters" is all about cool explosions and painful falls. "Dirty Jobs" is kind of like the grown-up version of that Nickelodeon show where everybody got covered in green slime. "Cash Cab" is a simple quiz show with a personable host. And yet...
Holy crap, it's 8:30 already!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Avada kedavra, unfortunately

Tomorrow begins the most important Muggle holiday in recent memory. With the release of the fifth film in the Harry Potter franchise set for midnight tonight, the ten-day countdown to THE END begins.

On July 21 "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" goes on sale worldwide; if you haven't heard any buzz about it yet, take your eyes away from your new iPhone and start surfing the web (which, if you must, you can do on that "phone" as well).

For many years I was embarrassed to admit that I read Harry Potter books. When I picked up the first novel, the fate of Mr. Potter was still years away. Five years, a handful of movies, and two books later, and here I am anxiously awaiting the release of the seventh and final adventure of the Boy-Who-Lived.

The next ten days couldn't come faster.

Harry Potter fans rejoice. There will never be another week and a half like this. "Order of the Phoenix" tickets in hand, I'll begin my countdown tomorrow evening here in Iowa City. Over the next several days, only time will tell.

What I can say is this: There will be countless debates and arguments regarding whether Harry should live or die--and he should die, I recommend, to solidify his place as one of literature's most memorable characters.

The previous four films will be viewed, and then viewed again; the newest soundtrack will be a fixture on my iPod's play list (it was released today, just in case you didn't hear); and the previous six books will be skimmed for clues of what may yet come.

But here's what won't happen: There will be no viewing spoiler websites hell-bent on ruining my fun. Why wait years for the conclusion only to have it ruined by somebody who doesn't care enough to keep the ending to themselves?

Too bad the release of books wasn't always this popular.

Monday, July 9, 2007


Whatever happened to road rage?

Several years back it was--pun intended, of course--all the rage, motorists killing motorists over the simplest of infractions. From changing lanes without using turn signals to ugly stares from one car to another, Americans drivers were pissed off at each other and ready for some good-old vigilante fun on the highways.

It's not that I'm condoning road rage. I'm just curious about where it's gone. On today's roads drivers are constantly pre-occupied with cell phones, iPods, and in-car DVD players. And now that the iPhone is here (and does just about all of the above), lack of concentration on our roads is bound to decrease. Again.

As I drove from Milwaukee to Iowa City today, several drivers from a certain state I shall not name directly (the one between Wisconsin and Iowa, if you must know) glared at me as they passed--at 95 miles per hour. I don't drive slow. I just don't drive fast enough to get pulled over.

In the past some of these drivers would slow beside me to wave fingers, shake fists, and scream as if I could read lips through several panes of glass and several feet of open road. But not today. Or not recently either.

Maybe the fear of road rage decreased as the fear of West Nile Virus, SARS, and Bird Flu swept across America. Or killer bees. They've been buzzing at our borders for how long now?

Or maybe road rage wasn't as bad as my parents told me when I finally got my license some time back. "Don't do anything to cause an accident," I remember hearing. "Or road rage."

That's Pandertainment!

Friday night was a rare occasion with no presidential candidate appearances within 20 miles of my apartment. Since C-Span was showing “Road to the White House,” I decided to settle for watching them on TV. There were two democratic candidates talking to two very specific groups. I popped some corn, propped my feet up, and settled in to watch the PanderFest.

First up was John Edwards speaking to the United Steelworkers. Nobody can pander like this guy. There’s applause after nearly every sentence. He tells all about how, as president wants to raise the minimum wage and fight for the working man. He delivers the story he loves to tell... He didn't read about the working class in a book, he lived it. His dad worked in the mills, he worked in the mills himself, and he’ll do everything that they want to hear if they elect one of their own for president. The crowd loves him.

Next up, Joe Biden speaks to the gay community. I'm especially interested because it was filmed in Iowa City, and because I know that none of the candidates except Kucinich will go on record supporting gay marriage. Is Biden going to set himself apart from the rest? I'm excited to find out. Biden's going to have to bring out the big guns to beat Edwards in the pandering contest. I then wonder if Biden will go the “I’m one of you” route like Edwards. It would make for a much more interesting story.

So, I watch Biden and he's out of the running for the pandering crown. He mentions support for civil unions, but focuses on general issues rather than crowd-specific issues. Doesn't this guy know how to pander? Obviously not. At the end of the show, a young man asks him point blank, if he's president, will gay marriage being legal in five years? Biden puts his hand on the guy's shoulder, looks him in the eye and says, "No, and I'll tell you why." and goes on about how he’s going to remove any legal distinction at all between heterosexual and homosexual couples. That everyone is treated equally in the eyes of the law. But he doesn’t foresee being able to overcome the religious and political resistance to the word “marriage.”

At first, I thought “Wow. This guy sucks at pandering!” And then, I realized that this shows a flaw in our whole system. Edwards can’t single-handedly raise the minimum wage any more than Biden can legalize gay marriage. Currently, Biden is below the other candidates in the polls and in fundraising. Do we just pay people to tell us what we want to hear? Is that the election process in a nutshell? If so, it explains a lot. We elect candidates committed to our cause. When they’re up for reelection, they tell us that they tried, but couldn’t get past the opposition. “I tried, it’s not my fault, reelect me and I’ll try even harder.” Then we start pointing fingers. No wonder our country is so divided! Biden’s approach is different because he’s running on the compromise. Usually, they start with the promises, get elected, and in the end we get the compromise, but he’s telling us from the start what he can and can’t do. I’m not used to that. He explained that he voted to support the war funding because they didn’t have the votes to override a veto. Edwards can raise the minimum wage, rescue an orphan, stop a speeding bullet, and carry a piano up a flight of stairs all at the same time! Biden can’t override one little veto?

It makes me ask myself, what do we really want from our candidates? When was the last time we elected a “straight-talker?” Because I can’t help but think, of the two candidates I watched, Biden’s goals seemed much more realistic. Unfortunately, we reward idealism, not realism. We elect those that make promises, and then hold the opposition responsible when they can’t follow through. It’s nice to hear a candidate tell me what he can get done and acknowledge his limitations as president; Especially since the one we have in office now doesn’t seem to have any.

The Home-run Derby

Below are my impressions of one of the most out-and-out fun events in pro sports.

7:02 p.m. -- Ugh! Wrong-footed start, there. The Counting Crows played one of their narcotic hits before a deep-voiced announcer thundered about the importance of the Derby over a flashy graphics package.

7:04 -- The contestants jog in from center field. Chris Berman does his best Michael Buffer impression announcing them. "Llllet's get ready to rumble..." It turns out he's doing stand-up from near the pitcher's mound. He pulls a Giants hat (along with some cheap applause) from his back pocket and...

7:10 -- Hey, it's Willie McCovey, walking on those wrist crutches! Poor guy. He ceremonially doles out the contender's bats. How cool; Willie McCovey! It'd be like getting your six-shooter from Wyatt Earp!

7:11 -- Oh, and there's Joe Morgan. And Dusty Baker. Let's see some freaking home runs!

7:13 -- *Sigh.* Here's Kenny Mayne in a kayak. How cutesy. What the hell is he talking about with cameras?

7:15 -- Berman picks Albert Pujols to win the thing, even though he hasn't hit a home run since about mid-June. Reminds me of Krusty moaning "I thought the Generals were due!" Multi-hued kayaks and other craft in McCovey Cove look like massive spill of Mike and Ikes.

7:18 -- Justin Morneau stands in, and we're finally underway. He pulls three hard line drives towards right, then smacks one out of the deepest part of the park in right-center. Morneau doesn't look all that comfortable, recording three more outs in a row.

7:21 -- Spoke too soon! An absolute laser beam out to right, which looked like it could have seriously injured skulls. Unfortunately, he manages only two more, including a nice shot on the "gold ball" to dead center. Not bad.

7:27 -- Ravech and Kruk and that guy I care even less about are still talking earnestly about Morneau's swing. Alright, here's Matt Holliday of the Rockies who has two before I can grab a beer, and then accidentally taps the catcher with his follow through. Whoops, make it three, with four a truly titanic shot that goes over the foul pole. He is, as Berman and company point out, a very large young man, with muscles like hydraulic pumps, but, with another accidental(?) tap of the catcher's helmet, he bows out with five.

7:35 -- Magglio Ordonez is hitting, and the sound is still that of Barry Bonds' suspiciously high-pitched voice as he gives a plaintive interview! What a slight! Who cares what Bonds (who is not participating in the derby) has to say about Bud Selig? Ok, point taken; Ordonez is lucky to come away with two.

7:44 -- Update update update plug for Bronx is Burning series, and we're finally back. Albert Pujols immediately hits a thunderous 432-footer to center. And once again, why is there an interview going on over the main event? I mean, I'm well aware that there isn't all that much to talk about -- "He hit it out!" "He didn't hit it out!" -- but still, unless ESPN really wanted to share A-Rod's thoughts on the records that he hasn't set yet, why graft it on to the Home Run Derby? By the way, Pujols cools off to end up with four.

7:53 -- Alex Rios starts, as many of them have, strong. Joe Morgan still singing the praises of A-Rod for reasons beyond understanding. Rios still hitting the ball hard with six outs, but as the crew points out, this is a bad ballpark for home runs.

8:05 -- That does it, I'm way too steamed at ESPN. I don't want this post to end up looking like something out of Chuck Palahniuk.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Adrift among wings

I was about to board a flight from Milwaukee to Baltimore last week when the words "BREAKING NEWS" flashed across many of the television screens in the terminal. According to reports, two potential car bombs had been discovered in London, and the British government was treating the situation as a foiled terrorist attack.

Of course, I was in the one place where I couldn't say the B-O-M-B word; hand gestures didn't seem all that appropriate either, considering the setting. A few hours later I boarded a boat with no newspaper delivery (obviously) and a 13-inch television that broad casted one news station: CNN--in Spanish.

I was, for the first time, isolated.

Now I wouldn't call myself an average news viewer. I am, after all, a journalism and political science student that watches MSNBC in the morning, reads a handful of newspapers at lunch, and settles in for more political discussion in the evening. To call myself a news junkie is something of an understatement.

A potential terrorist attack in London, followed by a second attempt in Scotland a few days later, and I don't know anything about it--madness! It took me three days to find land, a copy of the New York Times, and a park bench. By then, a sweeping investigation had been launched, and I was 72 hours behind the curve.

How can anybody live like this?

Oh yeah, I heard something about the president commuting "Scooter" Libby's prison sentence, too.

What a bad week to vacation.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Bilingual? No Problemo

I'm writing this aboard a cruise ship en route from Nova Scotia, Canada to Boston, Massachusetts. Having spent the last two days in the land of our northern neighbors (even spending our Independence Day in a foreign land), I can't help thinking about something I too-often noticed.

Canada is a bilingual nation. Both English and French are considered official national languages, and all street signs (among other things) are required to be printed in both English and French. Considering the on-going debate in the United States, I was curious to see how such a system worked. I was impressed.

In Nova Scotia I was informed by a tour guide that only about 2 percent of that province actually spoke French, but the signs were required nevertheless. Even she, an ambassador of sorts, didn't speak French--but it didn't bother her much. Canadians don't seem to worry about language, and unlike Americans, don't link nationalism to the spoken word. English, French, it doesn't matter. A Canadian is a Canadian, and if they can accommodate their own, they will.

Restaurants handed me menus printed in two languages. Museums advertised in the same manner. Language matters little to these individuals. Americans should take the first step in doing the same.

Those who speak Spanish are no less American than those who speak English. Spanish-speaking citizens of this country contribute a great deal to our society, including sharing their culture and heritage with those of us who haven't experienced it.

Canada seems to be doing just fine with two languages, and I'm confident that America wouldn't have troubles either.

Rob Verhein
From Somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Down Goes Kobayashi! Down Goes Kobayashi!

It's beinng touted as "a great day" for America. Over 30,000 people crammed a few city blocks in New York City to watch participants stuff hot dogs and buns down their throats in the 92nd annual Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. Joey Chestnut finally defeated Japan's Takeru Kobayashi, ending Kobayashi's six year reign in the competition, and bringing the title back to America.

Both athletes shattered Chestnut's previous world record of 59 and 1/3 - and the competition's record of 53 and 3/4. Chestnut finished with an incredible 66 hot dogs in 12 minutes, and Kobayashi finished at 63. And I thought 73 home runs was an accomplishment.

Making Kobayashi's total more impressive is his struggles with his jaw: Only a few days ago he allegedly could only open his mouth wide enough to fit two fingers inside. Nonetheless, he performed with the spirit of a champion. Down the stretch run it appeared he make have a Jordanesque performance - think the 1998 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz - but ultimately he fell short to Chestnut.

The partisan crowd erupted when Chestnut was handed the Mustard Belt, but I'm more than a little upset. Kobayashi put the contest on the map - and ESPN - but it seemed nationalist feelings swept up the fans' hearts this July 4th. Without Kobayashi, I wouldn't have watched this contest the last four years. I only hope that "The Tsunami" comes back with a vengeance next year. Is 70 a possibility? Who knows.

But I'll definitely be watching.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Above the law

President George W. Bush has commuted Lewis "Scooter" Libby's jail sentence, claiming it "excessive." This is only the most recent step taken by this administration that shows they clearly think they are above the law. After revelations of warrantless wiretapping, refusing imprisoned persons in Guantanamo Bay due process, hundreds of signing statements - basically rewritten legislation passed by Congress - not to mention Vice President Dick Cheney's always-shady behavior, it seems that the law is only relevant when it suits the executive branch's purposes.

There have always been disputes over the limits of executive power - such a debate is necessary for a healthy democracy. But when an administration consistently refuses to comply with legislation passed by the people's branch, it establishes a dangerous precedent.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

I say, old bean: British politics?

Is it just me, or does Gordon Brown -- Britain's new Prime Minister -- talk a bit like Darth Vader? I just saw him being interviewed on CNN, and I kept expecting him to boom "I have you now," or telekinetically throttle the interviewer. He's probably feeling bad about tossing Tony Blair into the Death Star's innards. Blair himself, though, is far more the corrupted good guy than Gordon Brown.

Tony Blair, for a time, looked a lot like Britain's answer to Bill Clinton: bright, progressive, youthful, and popular. They both rose to power as the centralizing resurgence of their respective countries' left wing parties. "New Labour," as the anglicized spelling has it, revolutionized British politics and, for a time, made the opposition Conservative party look like political kindergarteners. Clinton had a similarly brief honeymoon, until he made like a chicken and got, shall we say, "plucked" by the 1994 elections that swept the GOP into power.

But then 9/11 happened. And as clever as Tony Blair was, he couldn't muster the political will to disagree with Dubya in the dark days of 2002-2003. You think the Iraq war is unpopular here and now? You should have seen Britain in 2003. Blair's own party was ready to butter him over the lawn of 10 Downing Street.

Gordon Brown is not the leader that Tony Blair was, even without the tarnish of the Iraq disaster. But he just might bring the British back from the dark side.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Why Bloomberg Matters

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is worth $5.5 billion according to Forbes online--more than enough to, say, finance a presidential election bid. Now I know that Mayor Bloomberg has consistently denied rumors that he'll seek the Oval Office as a third party candidate, but you have to admit that leaving the Republican party--as he announced last week--doesn't do a whole lot to quiet political pundits.

According to Forbes, Bloomberg spent $85 million in his 2005 mayoral race, about nine times more than his opponent. $85 million is a lot of money for the title of mayor. I haven't a doubt that Bloomberg might drop that $.5 billion--or roughly $500 million--tacked onto the end of his net worth in a presidential run. (Though it would drop him about 20 places on that coveted World Billions list.)

Win or lose, Michael Bloomberg would change the political landscape if he entered the 2008 race. Regardless of where one sits on the political spectrum, it's easy to see that the two-party system isn't working so well right now. According to a recent CNN/Opinions Research Corp. Poll, Al Gore is polling at 16 percent in the Democratic field, but he isn't even running. On the Republican side, more of the same: Fred Thompson is polling at 19 percent, sitting almost within the margin of error or Rudy Giuliani, the party's front runner.

Bloomberg could be the first viable candidate since the beginning of the modern two-party system. Pundits have discussed the possibility of Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator from Nebraska, joining forces with Bloomberg. While the Editorial Board has had a bit of fun at the name (Bloomberg-Hagel sounds a bit like a communicable disease), this duo's strengths might be infectious (I apologize for the pun). While the other candidates squabble over who would do a better job at running Washington, these two have no arguing to do: Together they'd already be a ticket just waiting for election day.

And that might be the sort of unity Americans are looking for.

reason without action

Not long ago I watched a PBS interview with a man by the name of Nick Gillespie. I had never heard of Mr. Gillespie, but he was introduced as the editor-in-chief of a magazine called “reason.” The magazine says it supports “free minds and free markets” which attempts to explain that it’s a Libertarian perspective. While I don’t necessarily support the libertarian ideology, I found Mr. Gillespie to be very interesting. He spoke of the changing political tide, and credited it to a large number of voters in the center, not only libertarians like himself, but independent voters who were once inclined to vote Republican that are now shifting toward Democratic candidates. This is in line with what many of the political analysts said after the 2006 election that resulted in Democratic control of the House and Senate. Many analysts believed that the shift of control was because the independent voters showed up and fired the Republicans.

Perhaps I was intrigued by Mr. Gillespie’s interview because I felt empowered. I’ve never belonged to a political party, and I often feel marginalized. Democrats dismiss my opinions and tell me I’m a conservative. Republicans call me a liberal. The truth is, I’m neither. I’m one of those independent voters that Gillespie talks about. I’ve always voted for the candidate over the party, I’ve voted for both Democrats and Republicans alike, and I had never voted in a mid-term election until last year. If Gillespie is right, it is people like myself that can tip the scales and make the difference in the elections. His philosophy has one potential flaw, though. Independents rarely vote in the Primaries or Caucus.

When I was home for Father’s Day, I talked to my Dad and brother about politics a bit. I have reason to believe that my Dad is a Libertarian, but he’ll never admit to any political affiliation. I was surprised to learn that my brother paid any attention to politics at all, but when the topic came up; he mentioned his interest in hearing that Rudy Giuliani was running for President. I’m not sure if this was new information to him, he may be very far out of the loop, but my Dad and my brother both agreed that they’d like to know more about Giuliani, but their overall opinion was favorable. The problem for them and for America’s Mayor is that neither one of them has ever voted in a primary or caucus.

I consider Giuliani to be one of the candidates nearest to the center. At one point I would have put McCain there as well, but lately he seems to be making a dash to the right. On the Democratic side, I would put Bill Richardson and Joe Biden as the two candidates closest to center. Of these four candidates, only Giuliani has been showed significant supports in the polls or in fundraising. While his numbers are high, many political analysts have serious doubts as to whether he can make it through a Republican primary. So, unless these four candidates decide to pull a Joe Lieberman and run as Independents when they lose the nomination to candidates that are more in line with their party, the influential block of voters that Mr. Gillespie speaks about will find themselves voting for the lesser of the two evils next November. Or perhaps instead of anyone going Lieberman in ’08, maybe it would make more sense for my Dad, my brother, and Gillespie’s gang to choose a side for a day and show up for those all-important primaries. This will be the first year that I will participate in the Iowa caucus, and it is long, long overdue.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The War on Islam

Almost six years have passed since the purposely vague War on Terror began in this country, and we're no closer to defining the slogan than we were on September 12, 2001. Terrorism is, above all, a tactic that can be easily applied to more than just the Islamic community. Our nation's sad attempt at stereotyping the entire Muslim community as the enemy has terrible implications, the first involving ethnic and social racism.

Since 2001 the word "terrorist" has been constantly and forcefully associated with fundamental Islam; most Americans, having little knowledge of the Muslim religion, have done nothing but accept that Islam is a dangerous and hate-filled faith. But let us remember that the Ku Klux Klan, also an illegal terrorist organization in this country, is at its base a Christian organization. I haven't met a Christian that accepts this rationale--to these individuals, members of the KKK are no more Christian than Adolph Hitler claimed to be. To the average Muslim, they feel the same about fundamental Islam.

The War on Terror is dangerous at face value, and deadly when implemented. If our president is so hell-bent on ridding the globe of terrorism, why have we concentrated our foreign policy efforts almost exclusively in the Middle East? Which nations dominate nightly news in the United States? Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran.

What of the IRA in Ireland? Or FARC, a Colombian terrorist organization that murdered three Americans in March 1999?

Or what about the genocide in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands have been murdered? Is it not terrorism when wives are raped beside the murdered bodies of their husbands?

Fundamentalist Islam is not the greatest threat to the United States: National ignorance promoted by our government is. Until our president, along with Congress, says otherwise, I refuse call our Middle Eastern occupation anything but a War on Islam.

God save Darfur. It doesn't seem like the United States wants to.

Rob Verhein
DI Editorial Writer

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Let me in...

(National Past-timers/Politicos),

I'm the consummate (ball-smasher/government-basher). For years, I have perfected my (swing/"by the people" speeches). And, while I may not be the best player in (baseball/Washington), I certainly have carved out a perfect niche for myself: (base hits/reducing taxes). Sure, I have some (sand in my protective cup/absurd ideas), I've made some poor (bets/party choices), but my (stats/roll-call votes) speak for themselves: I came to (Reds' Stadium/Capitol Hill) every day, fought off every (bad pitch/tax bill) released from the hand of (the pitcher/Jack Abramoff), and triumphed as the all-time (hits leader/anarcho-libertarian).

Now, (Bud Selig/party-line-toers) down at (the Baseball Hall of Fame/Iowans for Tax Relief) are trying to (downplay my statistical achievements/cast me into further obscurity) by barring me from the (Hall/Republican-candidate debate), though I am clearly meet the groups' criteria better than (any player who ever wore a mitt/Rudy, John, and Mitt).

Oh, well. Looks like I'll spend (the rest of my life/debate night) at the (track/Neglected and Battered Politicians Support Center).


(Pete Rose/Ron Paul)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A magnificent addiction

We are all around you. We are in your coffeeshops and your parks. We are in your libraries and...well, actually, that's about all. It's hard out there for a chessplayer.

Yes, to go with the main courses of my power-nerd persona -- video games, webcomics and talking like an amphetamine-hopped Woody Allen in the presence of pretty women -- I must confess to a side order of chess. I hereby out myself as a chess nut. It's like actually coming out, except for the newfound sexual opportunities. (And for the benefit of those of you who have no sense of humor at all, I was just kidding.)

Chess has different facets. When you're just learning -- the younger you do, the better you'll play -- it's very much a hobby:

"Oh, what an interesting set of abstract wooden dolls. You say this is a game as well? How quaint!"

Later on, once you've learned how it works, it becomes a game. You learn about basic tactical tricks. Fast. Nobody who's walked into a knight forking king and queen forgets it in a hurry. You learn to control the center in the opening, how to calculate exchanges, and the weird little rules like en passant and castling.

Warning: past this point lies addiction.

You'll read the great Yugoslav master who says that any reasonably intelligent adult can become a chess master. You'll buy a new set, because you didn't like how reflective your previous one was. You'll buy a clock, a carrying case, and vast stacks of books. And the openings! Volume after volume of analysis has been written about almost every possible combination of opening moves. (The Sicilian Defense alone is a leading cause of deforestation.) You'll lie awake at night, wondering whether 5...Ba4 works against the Evans Gambit (it can) and then wonder how you came to be a person to whom that thought makes sense.

And every single time you lose a game, you will want to die. Serious chess players are famous for making excuses in order to lessen the sting of defeats, leading to a famous chess saying: No healthy person has ever lost a chess game. Conversely, victory will transport you to realms of vicious delight unknown to the non-chess player.

Yes, it's an addiction, but one with which I'd like to infect others. To that end, I offer this little brain teaser:
White wins -- brilliantly -- in of one of the most famous chess games ever played. How?