Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Neato

Here is a very good article on some neat studies in evolution. We have been able to observe the results of evolution for quite a while, and we have also been able to examine microevolution, or the change in gene frequencies in a population, for a fair amount of time. But only recently have we begun to correlate specific mutations and groups of mutations with their evolutionary function at higher levels (like, say, social behavior) and that is REALLY exciting. Kudos to the author for giving a suitably sophisticated treatment of a complex subject.


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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Orthodox Paradox

Read this. It is a beautiful exploration of the difficulty of reconciling religious belief to modern, secular morality. It is also a very sensitive and personal account of someone who has rejected the fundamentalism of his birth community in favor of a more inclusive worldview. Jews can be fundamentalists too.





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Ouch

I'm still not sure why Bush's colonoscopy was such a headline grabber (although I guess Republicans profess to have a legislative interest in what gets stuck up who's ass). And I suppose the media and public couldn't resist a touch of schadenfreude at an asshole getting...what an asshole gets. But for this to repeatedly clog the newswires was yet another example of pandering, lowest-common-denominator, idiotic, irresponsible journalism. But if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Sigh. The Onion says it best.



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Monday, July 23, 2007

Constitution 101

Here's a decent op-ed from NYT. It saddens me that many Americans are evidently quite ignorant of not only what the Constitution says, but the historical context in which it was conceived. In any case, he makes a few nice (if seemingly obvious) points:

In the looming showdown, the founders and the Constitution are firmly on Congress’s side.

Given how intent the president is on expanding his authority, it is startling to recall how the Constitution’s framers viewed presidential power. They were revolutionaries who detested kings, and their great concern when they established the United States was that they not accidentally create a kingdom. To guard against it, they sharply limited presidential authority, which Edmund Randolph, a Constitutional Convention delegate and the first attorney general, called “the foetus of monarchy.”

The founders were particularly wary of giving the president power over war. They were haunted by Europe’s history of conflicts started by self-aggrandizing kings. John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States, noted in Federalist No. 4 that “absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal.”
Ouch. Anything else on that topic?
Many critics of the Iraq war are reluctant to suggest that President Bush went into it in anything but good faith. But James Madison, widely known as the father of the Constitution, might have been more skeptical. “In war, the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed,” he warned. “It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle.”
The take home is this:
The Constitution cannot enforce itself. It is, as the constitutional scholar Edwin Corwin famously observed, an “invitation to struggle” among the branches, but the founders wisely bequeathed to Congress some powerful tools for engaging in the struggle. It is no surprise that the current debate over a deeply unpopular war is arising in the context of a Congressional spending bill. That is precisely what the founders intended.

Members of Congress should not be intimidated into thinking that they are overstepping their constitutional bounds. If the founders were looking on now, it is not Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi who would strike them as out of line, but George W. Bush, who would seem less like a president than a king.






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Friday, July 20, 2007

It's A Numbers Game

This is a pretty shameful abuse of statistics. No, it's not "fuzzy math." It's straight-up BS.




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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Nostalgia

The Flight Of Dragons is truly an incredible movie. I hadn't seen it in about 20 years until, for some wild reason, the title popped into my head tonight. I had searched for it a bit about a year ago, but couldn't really find any copies that were decent and/or not absurdly expensive for a VHS I used to own. It is a much better story than I remembered. The points it makes are obviously for an adult audience, and some of the statements are actually fairly profound. In any case, it's a movie I adored in my childhood, and it was really cool to see it again. I found it on YouTube.



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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Alternative Science

...is an oxymoron. If your idea is right, the mainstream scientific community will have no problem accepting it. In fact, they literally have to. Those are the rules of the scientific method; if your theory is repeatedly confirmed by experiment (and is not trivial or tautological, poorly defined, or otherwise fundamentally logically flawed) it will gain acceptance. Conversely, it is not closed-minded to claim that your theory is BS if you can't back it up. I am most adamant about this point when it comes to the dishonest claims of the proponents of "alternative medicine," but the point is general to science.

Sean at Cosmic Variance posted an excellent guide for aspiring alternative scientists.

Scientists can’t possibly pay equal attention to every conceivable hypothesis, they would literally never do anything else...So what does it take for the truly important discoveries to get taken seriously?

Happily, we are here to help. It would be a shame if the correct theory to explain away dark matter or account for the origin of life were developed by someone without a conventional academic position, who didn’t really take a lot of science classes in college and didn’t have a great math background but was always interested in the big questions, only for that theory to be neglected because of some churlish prejudice. So we would like to present a simple checklist of things that alternative scientists should do in order to get taken seriously by the Man. And the good news is, it’s only three items! How hard can that be, really? True, each of the items might require a nontrivial amount of work to overcome. Hey, nobody ever said that being a lonely genius was easy.
The three points, which he expounds upon, are these:

1. Acquire basic competency in whatever field of science your discovery belongs to.

2. Understand, and make a good-faith effort to confront, the fundamental objections to your claims within established science.

3. Present your discovery in a way that is complete, transparent, and unambiguous.


That doesn't sound so hard. There are also some good comments, although a crackpot unfortunately showed up and hijacked much of the thread with people attacking his crackpottery.


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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Burning Bush

We all remember how many religious wars were fought for a religion of love and gentleness; how many bodies were burned alive with the genuinely kind intention of saving souls from the eternal fire of hell.
-- Sir Karl Popper, twentieth-century British philosopher of science


One of the principal dangers of vesting power in a leader who is convinced of his own righteousness -- who believes that, by virtue of his ascension to political power, he has been called to a crusade against Evil -- is that the moral imperative driving the mission will justify any and all means used to achieve it. Those who have become convinced that they are waging an epic and all-consuming existential war against Evil cannot, by the very premises of their belief system, accept any limitations -- moral, pragmatic, or otherwise -- on the methods adopted to triumph in this battle.

Efforts to impose limits on waging war against Evil will themselves be seen as impediments to Good, if not as an attempt to aid and abet Evil. In a Manichean worldview, there is no imperative that can compete with the mission of defeating Evil. The primacy of that mandate is unchallengeable. Hence, there are no valid reasons for declaring off-limits any weapons that can be deployed in service of the war against Evil.

Equally operative in the Manichean worldview is the principle that those who are warriors for a universal Good cannot recognize that the particular means they employ in service of their mission may be immoral or even misguided. The very fact that the instruments they embrace are employed in service of their Manichean mission renders any such objections incoherent. How can an act undertaken in order to strengthen the side of Good, and to weaken the forces of Evil, ever be anything other than Good in itself? Thus, any act undertaken by a warrior of Good in service of the war against Evil is inherently moral for that reason alone.

It is from these premises that the most amoral or even most reprehensible outcomes can be -- and often are -- produced by political movements and political leaders grounded in universal moral certainties. Intoxicated by his own righteousness and therefore immune from doubt, the Manichean warrior becomes capable of acts of moral monstrousness that would be unthinkable in the absence of such unquestionable moral conviction. One who believes himself to be leading a supreme war against Evil on behalf of Good will be incapable of understanding any claims that he himself is acting immorally.

These principles illuminate a central, and tragic, paradox at the heart of the Bush presidency.
(snip)

In sum, the great and tragic irony of the Bush presidency is that its morally convicted foundations have yielded some of the most morally grotesque acts and radical departures from American values in our country's history. The president who insists that he is driven by a clear and compelling moral framework, in which the forces of Good and Evil battle toward a decisive resolution, has done more than almost any American in history to make the world question on which side of that battle this country is fighting. The more convinced President Bush and his followers become of the unchallengeable righteousness of their cause, the fewer limits they recognize. And America's moral standing in the world, and our national character, continue to erode to previously unthinkable depths.

Strong words, but their consideration is warranted. Read the rest.

On a related note:



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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

You Don't Say

This is at once both outrageous and completely expected. Basically, the Surgeon General was repeatedly muzzled and/or forced to parrot positions that toed the party line, without regard to their scientific validity. Once again, this administration is fighting a war against science.



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Sunday, July 8, 2007

The War Apologists' Myth

Slowly but surely, I'm reading everything Matt Taibbi has ever written. Most of it will probably end up posted here. In this column he preemptively debunks what will most likely be the apologists' excuse for why this brilliantly conceived war didn't work out. Of course, "It was a good idea, but..." Yeah, okay, the catastrophe was compounded by incompetent execution. But it's time we admit that it was a bad idea, period.

What's amazing to me is that conservatives have been pushing this line of reasoning for five, six years now, and some people are apparently still buying it. Okay, yes, I jammed my own head up my ass -- but I didn't really, because look at how despicable the terrorists are! Why, they blew up a children's hospital! How could my own head be up my ass if terrorists can blow up a children's hospital? And the headless body points, gesticulates, etc.
(snip)

What we have to remember about America's half-baked propaganda machine is that, dumb as it is, it always keeps its eye on the ball. The war in Iraq is lost, everyone knows that, but there are future wars to think about. When a war goes wrong, the reason can never that the invasion was simply a bad, immoral decision, a hopelessly fucked-up idea that even a child could have seen through. No, we always have to make sure that the excuse for the next war is woven into the autopsy of the current military failure. That's why to this day we're still hearing about how Vietnam was lost because a) the media abandoned the war effort b) the peace movement undermined the national will and c) the public, and the Pentagon, misread the results of the Tet offensive, seeing defeat where there actually was a victory.

After a few decades of that, we were ready to go to war again -- all we had to do, we figured, was keep the cameras away from the bloody bits, ignore the peace movement, and blow off any and all bad news from the battlefield. And we did all of these things for quite a long time in Iraq, but, maddeningly, Iraq still turned out to be a failure.

That left the war apologists in a bind. If after fixing all of the long-held Vietnam excuses Iraq could still blow up in our faces, that must mean that we not only misjudged Iraq, but we were wrong about why Vietnam failed, too. Now, if we're ever going to pull one of these stunts again, we're going to need to come up with a grander, even more outlandish excuse for why both wars were horrible, bloody failures. Who could come up with such an excuse? Well, a man who counts on three hands sure can. Here's Friedman quoting author Robert Hormats:
'In every major war that we have fought, with the exception of Vietnam, there was an effort prior to the war or just after the inception to re-evaluate tax and spending policies and to shift resources from less vital national pursuits to the strategic objective of fighting and winning the war,' said Mr. Hormats, a vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International). He quotes Roosevelt's 1942 State of the Union address, when F.D.R. looked Americans in the eye and said: 'War costs money...That means taxes and bonds and bonds and taxes. It means cutting luxuries and other nonessentials. In a word, it means an 'all-out' war by individual effort and family effort in a united country.'(snip)
The notion that our problem in Iraq is a resource deficit is pure, unadulterated madness. Our enemies don't have airplanes or armor. They are fighting us with garage-door openers and fifty year-old artillery shells, sneaking around barefoot in the middle of the night around to plant roadside bombs. Anytime anyone dares oppose us in the daylight, we vaporize them practically from space using weapons that cost more than the annual budgets of most Arab countries to design. We outnumber the active combatants on the other side by at least five to one. This year, we will spend more on the military than the rest of the world combined -- more than six hundred billion dollars. And yet Tom Friedman thinks the problem in Iraq is that we ordinary Americans didn't tighten our belts enough to support the war effort.
(snip)

If the next president is John McCain, or even if it isn't, you can be damn sure that we're going to hear a lot about how we blew Iraq because there weren't enough troops or resources shifted into Iraq. You're going to hear that we didn't have money to pay for body armor, when the reality is that the reason troops didn't have body armor in recent years is that congressmen robbed the operations and maintenance accounts of the defense budget to pay for earmarks/pork projects (they took $9 billion in pork and earmarks out of the O&M allotment in 2005, for instance). They robbed the part of the budget that paid for ordinary soldiers' gear so they wouldn't have to touch the F-22 Raptor, the CVN(X) aircraft carrier, or any of the other mega-expensive and mostly useless weapons programs. I mean, think about it -- how else can you spend $600 billion dollars on the military every year and not have body armor for the soldiers deployed at war? Somewhere, someone who doesn't need it has to be sucking up that money.

But trust me, the myth is going to be that you didn't cough up enough for the war.

Incidentally, this piece seems to be almost a direct response to an idiot I recently stumbled upon, who thinks that people questioning the war is what's causing it to fail.


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Saturday, July 7, 2007

Comment

I left a comment on this long-abandoned post. I have a feeling the moderator, if he still maintains the blog, won't post it. If he does, I'm sure no one will read it. But I felt compelled to write something, as I was so shocked by the ignorance and irrationality of the blogger. I repost it here.

I normally disdain to dignify things like this, but I suppose I was just shocked to find a living, breathing example of the kind of thoughtless obedience that I thought was really only attainable by a clever satirist. A few more of his most offensively idiotic post are here and here.


***********************************************************************************

I see that this thread, and apparently the blog as well, have long since died, but I just came across it, so I can't resist. I hope these comments are no longer necessary, but I'm afraid they probably are.

"US wars are lost and won in the hearts and minds of the American people despite the actual results of combat operations in a conflict."

Wow, you must have read The Secret. Unfortunately, though, there are things that we are powerless to change through mere positive thinking. These things which exist objectively, regardless of our wishes, are known as reality. We are literally surrounded by this reality, which is troublesome to practitioners of your zen-like philosophy of "mind-over-insurgency." However, if we choose to entertain your notion of conflict, which states that the team with the more enthusiastic cheerleaders will win even if they should by all rights be thrashed by a superior opponent, it raises a few questions, like "why fight wars with troops at all?" and "haven't they defeated us already, since they clearly want us gone more than we want to stay?"

I wonder why no other great military strategist has ever exploited the power of positive thinking. If only Hannibal had had access to better self-help books, or better yet, the blogs of other comparably brilliant commanders, we might all be speaking Phoenician.

"Just as during the Vietnam war, our enemy is engaging in an intentional and coordinated media campaign designed to break the will of the American people."

No, just as in the Vietnam War, our enemy is engaging in a military campaign of guerrilla warfare designed to frustrate and defeat our troops by creating 1) an uncertainty as to who the enemy is and 2) an inability to pin them down en masse, bring our superior capabilities to bear, and cut the head off the snake and 3) an awareness that this conflict will not be over until they want it to be, which is (no sooner than) when we leave.

An international media campaign? Are you kidding me? The VC could barely afford to eat a few cups of rice a day (many were so malnourished they were night-blind from vitamin A deficiency), much less fuel a propaganda machine that extended more than a tiny bit beyond the territories they already controlled, even with the help of the NVA.

As for the Iraqi insurgents, they hardly even have access to the Western media. Their multiple abductions and murders of journalists, combined with our inability to provide security outside the Green Zone, and our failure to protect the few informants we have managed to cultivate from exposure and subsequent assassination, have effectively guaranteed that the voices of very few Iraqis will be heard. And they hardly need to engage in a propaganda war in order for Americans to get the point that things aren't going well.

The point is this: even if you had more correctly stated something like "a greater consensus of purpose on the homefront would assist in providing the political impetus to establish/maintain a dominant military presence in Iraq," you would still have missed the point.

First, you miss the point because, like in Vietnam, military dominance is not our problem; guerrillas know better than to fight battles they can't win, and they have the advantage of choosing where and when conflict will occur. This is essentially the definition of guerrilla warfare: the weak can only stand a chance against the strong by being very selective about when/where/how they fight. More importantly, you miss the point because unlike Vietnam, where a crushing defeat of the VC/NVA might have accomplished our stated goal of stemming the tide of communism, we don't have a goal that can be accomplished in Iraq. That is, while our goal was theoretically attainable, it was not attainable militarily; the weaker enemy wasn't about to come out and fight us by conventions that guaranteed their defeat. But in Iraq it's not a strategic or military impossibility for us to win, it's much worse. It is a LOGICAL impossibility for America to win the Iraqi Civil War. What do we seek to accomplish there? WMDs aren't an issue. So we're sticking around ostensibly to engender liberty and democracy. But guess what, a martial law occupation by its very nature negates those goals. If your allegiance to a political entity, be it one of the Iraqi factions or the US Army, is based entirely on your belief that they are most likely to keep you from getting killed, then you are not free. And if your right to vote is secured by the authority of soldiers who are not your fellow countrymen, then you do not live in a democracy.

You talk of knowing the truth of something by its fruit. What fruit has our Iraq occupation borne? As of this writing, 3600 American soldiers have died, not counting the many who fought under private contractors. Estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths range from 100,000 to upwards of 600,000. It is, to say the least, absolute carnage. Meanwhile, a National Intelligence Estimate has stated that the animosity the war has bred for us in the Muslim world has INCREASED the threat we face from terrorism. Are these manifestations of the media conspiracy masterminded by our so-poor-we-make-weapons-from-garage-door-openers enemy? No, my friend. This is reality.


**************************************

I forgot to mention that it has diverted our efforts away from the important actions in Afghanistan, which were going pretty well before we went to Iraq. Now, of course, the Taliban is resurgent. In any case, the occupation is, in terms a SEAL will understand, a clusterfuck.




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Friday, July 6, 2007

Romney

Republicans over the past few decades have been eager to play at the divisive game of faith-based politics. W's campaign took the strategy to a whole new level, demonstrating that a presidential campaign can be won on essentially the evangelical vote alone (watch the fantastic PBS documentary about it here).

I have, even when I was religiously inclined, always found this to be a cheap and particularly exploitative tactic. Of course Democrats have also, and nearly as frequently, kowtowed to the exigency of the religious vote in their campaigns, but they have never done it well. I am wont to believe this is because they are reluctant to prostitute private matters of spirituality for political support, but the better part of me knows that they're not so much good-hearted as bad pimps.

In any case, the recent Republican strategy of becoming super-cozy with our own homegrown fundamentalists will come back to bite them this election. None of the serious candidates are likely to turn out the evangelical vote, but perhaps the best candidate overall will probably be torpedoed in the primary because of his religion. It's about time Republicans found out that the faith-based voters they have befriended are not the tolerant and benevolent disciples they have professed to be; they are the bigots that we have always known them (by their fruits) to be.


This piece correctly picks out the problem:

But moderate Republicans aren't the ones who could derail a Romney candidacy. His obstacle is the evangelical base--a voting bloc that now makes up 30 percent of the Republican electorate and that wields particular influence in primary states like South Carolina and Virginia. Just as it is hard to overestimate the importance of evangelicalism in the modern Republican Party, it is nearly impossible to overemphasize the problem evangelicals have with Mormonism. Evangelicals don't have the same vague anti-LDS prejudice that some Americans do. For them it's a doctrinal thing, based on very specific theological disputes that can't be overcome by personality or charm or even shared positions on social issues. Romney's journalistic boosters either don't understand these doctrinal issues or try to sidestep them. But ignoring them won't make them go away. To evangelicals, Mormonism isn't just another religion. It's a cult.
(snip)

All of this leaves Romney in a real pickle. Thus far, he's tried to follow in the tradition of other Massachusetts politicians and "pull a John Kennedy," declaring personal faith irrelevant to his qualifications for office. This is a nonstarter. We live in a political era in which, thanks largely to Republicans, candidates are virtually required to talk openly about their religious views. There is no way a Republican, especially in a GOP primary, can avoid the issue--if for no other reason than the press won't let them.
(snip)

The tragedy--or, depending on your point of view, the irony--is that Mitt Romney may just be the most appealing candidate Republicans can field in 2008, the one most likely to win the White House by shoring up social conservatives and rallying business interests without frightening swing voters. Yet the modern GOP's reliance on evangelical voters and its elevation of personal religiosity--strategies which have served the party so well in recent years--may doom the chances of this most promising candidate. Or, to put it in evangelical terms, it might be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for Mitt Romney to win the Republican nomination.


The article is almost two years old, so I think Amy Sullivan (the author) should be patting herself on the back about now for her to-the-letter accuracy.



Of course, Fox tries to blame the liberals. Pretty hilarious. In a classic technique of PR judo, they try to support Romney by galvanizing the support of religious folk against those godless liberals who would criticize him (although the critics are, in fact, almost all conservative Republicans; after all, what do Dems care about a guy they won't vote for anyway?) The irony is disgusting, and all the more poignant because liberals have demonstrated the obvious fact that they are tolerant of different religions by electing him governor in a very liberal state. You think Romney could be governor of Mississippi? Fat chance.






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Happy Birthday

To my country. A Canadian says it best:

Those of us who didn't grow up in America, but under the sway of America's media, imbibed a very pure form of the American mythos and civic religion. The American Civil Religion, with its secular saints such as Jefferson, Hamilton and Washington and its written Constitutional scripture is also a source of wonderment. Canada has no equivalent, no deep sense of history, no touchstone that is written back to to justify the present. Those words of your founders, those words that resound through history are words that inspire men and women who have never seen America and never will.

The Declaration of Independence spoke to all humans, with its assertion that all men are created equal and have unalienable rights. The US system of government, with its checks and balances, seemed unique and able to take shocks that might topple other democratic forms of government.

The Statue of Liberty, holding its torch aloft in New York's harbor, proclaimed that in America the wretched masses of the world might find a home, hope, liberty and opportunity.

And, of course, there was the US's role in both World War II and the Cold War. When Europe was in chains, America freed it. It may be true that the German army died in the plains of Russia, but without the US, all of Europe would have fallen into the gray pit of Russian rule and despair.
(snip)

And then the Bush years happened. George Bush, with the acquiescence of Congress and the consent of the majority of voters, who elected him in 2004, made the US a unilateral actor on the world stage, a country that engaged in pre-emptive war and threatens to use nuclear weapons in a first strike. A nation, moreover, which has repudiated the freedoms that the rest of the world admired it for, has engaged in torture, struck down habeas corpus and openly mocked the Geneva Conventions.

America had become, in the eyes of the world, un-American.

The America we loved - the America which, if it did not always match words to ideals, still seemed to move more in jerks and starts towards those ideals, died, choking, gasping, in front of our very eyes.

What is so sad about this, to me, is that if America had lived up to its own ideals, America would be safer.
An American blogger is more bleak:
No matter how we the people want to be governed or how we decide we want our country to look, Bush sticks stubbornly to what he wants, to what he mandates and what he decides in his delusional world of absolute power and authority over all he surveys.

It's a bitter irony that what we celebrate today is deliverance from just such an absolute power and authority in the form of King George III, about whom the Founding Fathers railed in the majority of the Declaration of Independence and from whom they declared our freedom. We broke away from the colonial rule of a tyrant and, in the preamble to this sacred document, we stated that our leaders are ultimately governed by those for which government is created and that those elected president get "their just powers from the consent of the governed."
(snip)
His administration has also found a way to diminish a great holiday like our Independence Day, to make us feel less like proudly waving our flag and to even cause many like me, who have worn our country's uniform, to wonder what the hell it was for.

And, for that, every American who voted for Bush, should take time this July Fourth to perform a truly patriotic act and be profoundly ashamed.


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Wrestling

When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time scouring the internet for archives of good wrestling footage. I hardly ever found any. But now YouTube has tons. I accidentally came across this amazing match between Mo Lawal and a very game Russian opponent. Lawal is wrestling much heavier than he used to, and still looks awesome. The counter-wrestling in particular is amazing for both athletes.



I had the opportunity to see Lawal wrestle at the state championship when he was a senior (I was a sophomore), and he was by far the most impressive wrestler there. Even his finals match was totally lopsided. You see a lot of high school phenoms that don't pan out at higher levels, and this is especially true of wrestlers from states like Texas, where the competition isn't always top-notch (at least back then, I understand we're on the up-and-up). But Lawal has continually managed to elevate his game at successively higher levels of competition. He is one of the top wrestlers in the world at his weight (whether 84 or 96kg), and he's arguably the best wrestler to ever come out of Texas. Props to him.

The first time I watched the video I didn't have sound, but when watched it again with sound I wasn't surprised that the announcers had commented on exactly the thing I found most striking about this match. Most people who truly understand combat sports like wrestling, boxing, and MMA appreciate that the best fighters are usually the lightest. Pound for pound, upper weight divisions rarely compare. But as far as commercial appeal, it's always the heavyweights that draw the crowd. When Muhammad Ali hit the boxing scene, one of the greatest complements paid to him was that he was "a heavyweight who fights like a welterweight." And so it goes with this match; these are big athletes, yet they wrestle fast and aggressive like the smaller guys from the more technical weight classes. As one announcer puts it (is that Kendall Cross?), we should name these guys "honorary lightweights." This match is just awesome. It's great wrestling, and it's also great entertainment. That's great for wrestling.

By the way, I met him a very long time ago, and I've heard a few interviews with him and talked to a few of his former teammates. Everybody says he's a stellar guy, and I buy it. It's nice to see a class act of an athlete.

This match exemplifies the way great lightweights wrestle. John Smith is amazing. A really cool thing about this match is that while Smith is nothing short of legendary for his low single, he destroys this guy with a high crotch (he does hit his trademark single at the end though). He also has an incredibly effective leg lace, which I never knew, because I hadn't gotten to see him wrestle. I'd have to find some more Gable footage to compare, but I think the guy who posted this video may have a legit claim that Smith is the greatest (freestyler) of all time.


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Sicko

I haven't seen the movie yet, but this leaked memo from a top Blue Cross/Blue Shield type on what sort of talking points they should use to counter Michael Moore's message is pretty interesting. It certainly gives Moore a lot of credibility in his assertions that the powers that be are running scared from him. Moore sent out an accompanying letter that includes this statement:

And now a word from me to Capital BlueCross:

How 'bout a debate? No more secret memos and hand wringing about the millions seeing "Sicko." Just me and your CEO openly debating the merits of a system that kills thousands of innocent Americans every year.

In the meantime, I hope you don't mind me sharing your thoughts and impressions in your well-written memo. And if the rest of your executive team hasn't seen "Sicko," it opens in an additional 100 cities tonight for a total of over 700 screens across North America. Attendance went up a whopping 56% on the 4th of July, higher than any other film in the theaters right now. But don't be scared, and certainly don't be ashamed to be a capitalist. Greed is good! Especially good for you. There's nothing like having the pre-existing condition of being rich, should you ever get sick and need help.
I will see the film this weekend.




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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Slingbox

Since I heard of it, I've thought Slingbox is a pretty sweet idea. But I never considered how serious the legal and commercial issues it raises are until I found this 2-year old article.

Even when used as intended, Slingbox has serious potential to undermine copyright and, even more scary to broadcasters, to reduce the ability to make money from advertising, whether or not copyright restrictions are obeyed.

But place-shifting technology also provides some potential benefits for television, chiefly in that:

Place-shifting also conceivably could help affiliates face down their viewers' biggest distraction -- the Internet -- by replanting the TV signal where they lose viewers' attention most: the computer, particularly at work.

"The product allows me to reach the consumer in so many ways that they were starting to lose people," Krikorian said. "Broadcasters would love to reach you while you're at work."



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Monday, July 2, 2007

Larry Kilgore

I heard that this guy was going to challenge incumbent Senator Cornyn in the Republican primary, so I was interested in his story and his chances, especially because a much-copied site erroneously asserts that he garnered 40% of the vote in the District 93 Republican primary in 2004. (A quick look at the Tarrant County records for that election shows that he got only 30%, which was 474 total votes.) Evidently though, he did get about 8% of the vote in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

In doing a bit of research, I discovered a strange thing: he's running to the right of Cornyn. In fact, I saw him described as "slightly to the right of Attila the Hun." The first thing I found on his website was this quiz which, after a quick questionnaire, promptly assured me that I was going to hell. And I'm pretty sure it couldn't even see what else I do on the internet, so I found that rather harsh. (I took the quiz again, by the way, claiming that God was pretty forgiving, so I would in fact probably make it to heaven. God's webmaster, who has righteously chosen to eschew the immoral excesses of the heathen language Flash, sternly replied that I was incorrect.) Moving down the page in search of more heartening information on the candidate's platform, I was a bit surprised that he had chosen to display a photo of Nazi officers executing naked Jewish women on the front page of his campaign site. The image is preceded by an incoherent rant (it's actually too short to be a rant, let's call it a brain turd), which I take to imply that we are Nazis for allowing abortion to occur. It's a pretty strong argument, if you think about it.*

Moving on, his issues page lists a few of the Ten Commandments, with extensive biblical citations outlining his theory of jurisprudence. At the bottom of the page, he makes brief mention of a few of his secular, mainstream platform items, such as "Eliminat[ion of the Texas] budget for government indoctrination of children. (public education)" and secession of Texas from the United States. His views on separation of school from state are clearly articulated, but the First Amendment separation of church and state is conspicuously absent. It's a curious philosophy, but again, I think most Texans will see his point that having been forceably indoctrinated with reading, writing, and arithmetic skills is almost as great a travesty as having been born Americans. Am I right?**

His biography page is fairly uninteresting, aside from mentioning that he believes non-believers in Christ go to hell. This explains why the Nazi killings on his first page are doubly cruel, and presumably explains the pro-fetus argument. Unborn babies haven't even had a chance to be baptized; they really deserve a chance go to hell for the sins they inevitably commit by living, rather than for those they inevitably inherit by being conceived (which is when they become alive). It's another solid argument. [Actually, I may be misrepresenting him, as it's unclear whether or not he believes fetuses actively commit sins before exiting the womb. Fortunately, it doesn't much affect their ultimate hell-boundness.]

And finally, his FAQ page sums up his governmental philosophy succinctly:


What do you think of democracy?
Democracy and Terrorism: Two Faces Of The Same Evil.


Say no more. I'll see you in Jesusland.

*i.e., are a raving fucking lunatic asshole.
**No.

PS: Luckily, it won't take a Republican to beat Cornyn.


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Sunday, July 1, 2007

Sausage Fest

"Laws are like sausages; it's better not to see them being made." -Otto von Bismark

Matt Taibbi drives the point home in an extremely informative and engaging case study in legislation frustration. A worthy read.


As for a slightly different type of pork fest, it works like this:




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The Great American President George W

...ashington once said, "I do not mean to exclude altogether the idea of patriotism. I know it exists, and I know it has done much in the present contest. But I will venture to assert, that a great and lasting war can never be supported on this principle alone. It must be aided by a prospect of interest, or some reward."

That sounds rather topical, doesn't it? A few other quotes from knowledgeable men:

"Any nation's attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible."
-Dwight D. Eisenhower

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
-Theodore Roosevelt

"Patriotism: n. Combustible rubbish read to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name. In Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first."
-Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary


"Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
-Hermann Goering, Nazi Reichsmarshall


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McDonalds

Check this out:


But maybe it's not racist if....

Good commentary at this blog.

By the way:


And Bill Moyers calls out Rupert Murdoch for taking a shit on journalism. I won't belabor the point, but he definitely deserved it.



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